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The Perils of Testing

IQ180 Phase One Medium Format Camera Back versus 10x8 film camera

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Tim Parkin

Tim Parkin

Amateur Photographer who plays with big cameras and film when in between digital photographs.

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Quite recently, Luminous Landscape ran an article by Markus Zuber discussing a comparison between the new IQ180 Phase One medium format camera back and a 10x8 film camera. The results surprised quite a few people because the IQ180 outresolved the 10x8 by quite a large margin.

The critics were quick to call the test biased and pile insults onto the creator. However, knowing how difficult it is to make accurate tests and having seen some 10x8 results, I had the impression that there were a few different complicating factors that made the results less than clear cut. Whilst myself and a few others were discussing the results on the Large Format Photograph forum, Markus (who helped with the original tests) expressed his interest in getting someone to scan his 8x10 transparencies from the test and I offered.

This article follows my thinking as I looked into the test and I hope to explain what may be needed if you are planning your own tests. We will touch on topics such as diffraction, depth of field and equivalent focal lengths and apertures across camera formats along the way.

But first, a bit of background, the comparison used the following equipment

IQ180 80 megapixel back (sensor size 53.7mm x 40.4mm = 10328 x 7760 pixels)

Phase 645 camera
– Schneider Kreuznach f2.8 / 55 mm
– Schneider Kreuznach f2.8 / 110 mm

Alpa SWA
– Alpa APO-Helvetar f5.6/60 mm
– Schneider APO-Digitar f5.6/120 mm

The 8x10 was an Arca Swiss using Ektachrome film (I haven’t looked the the black and white film but it was very grainy in comparison with the Ektachrome)
– Schneider Apo-Symmar 5.6/240 mm
– Rodenstock Apo Ronar 9.0/480 mm

The photographs taken were at f/32 for the large format and at f/16 for the Phase

I won’t reproduce a lot of the test here so wander on over to Luminous Landscape and read the original article to catch up.

Assessing the Test Conditions

Focal Length

Well the first thing I looked at was the lens equivalents and calculating these is not immediately straightforward. However, after a little thinking (and having done similar conversions before). I had to presume that the shots will be cropped to the same size. In this case it means cropping the IQ180 image, which is naturally 4x3, to almost 4x5 (the 8x10 large format film is actually 196mm x 246mm).

So what we end up comparing are the short edges of the sensors. Well the ratio of the two short edges is 4.85 and this can be used to work out lens equivalents. So, what should the lenses be for the 8x10 given the 55mm/60mm and 110mm/120mm lenses used.

55/60 is equivalent to 267/291
110/120 is equivalent to 533/582

So, given that the actual lenses used are 240mm and 480mm, we have an advantage to the IQ180 results as follows (in terms of linear resolution or pixels across the width or height)

  • 55 = +11%
  • 60 = +22%
  • 110 = +11%
  • 120 = +22%

A not insignificant advantage but one we can now allow for in the following calculations.

Aperture, Depth of Field and Diffraction

The next step is to look at the chosen apertures and to work out what implications these have on depth of field and diffraction. For great articles on both of these issues, take a look at Cambridge in Colour which has a very nice article on diffraction (http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/diffraction-photography.htm) and depth of field.

We will look at the chosen aperture for the Phase and work out what the equivalent should be for the 8x10. Interestingly, the multiplication factor for this is exactly the same for that of focal length. So here are the aperture settings that should have been.

  • f/11 on IQ180 should be f/53 (or f/45⅔)
  • f/16 on IQ180 should be f/77 (or f/64⅔)

But we actually used f/32 on the 8x10 and so this has a large impact on depth of field.

To work out any depth of field, we need a good estimate of the distances involved. I’ll save you some maths here but in short I looked up the exact height of the Renault van, calculated how far away it would need to be to cover the same angle as shown in the pictures and Bob’s your uncle (as they say). The Van turns out to be about 25-30m away.

Talking to Markus, he said that they were focusing on the front of the second row of oil drums which I estimated to be about 15m away.

So, what depth of field can we get? Well, the first thing we should think about is how can we measure depth of field? I personally think it would be good to measure it in terms of number of pixels we could get in relation to the maximum resolution of the IQ180 (actually we’ll measure circle of confusion for these but that’s far too technical and not as simple to scan read). So the IQ 180 has 100% resolution on the focal plane when using an optimum aperture.

How much resolution can the IQ180 get at f/16? Skip the next paragraph if you don't care about the maths.

Well at f/16 the circle of confusion (based on airy disk = 21.3um and 2.5x factor as mentioned in Cambridge in Colour) is 8.5um so for a 40.4mm sensor we have 40,400um divided by 8.5um which gives 4741 so the Phase should render this number of pixels which works out at 61% of the maximum possible.

I won’t go through the rest of the figures like this but at f/16 you can get 61% of max and at f/11 you can get 88% of max.

At f/32 for the 8x10 we have a potential 150% of max IQ180 resolution [circle of confusion (CoC) of 17um which means a potential number of pixels of 196,000um (film size) divided by 17um = 11,500 pixels which works out as 150% of max IQ180]

In summary

  • f/11 on Phase gives 88% of max
  • f/16 on Phase gives 61% of max
  • f/32 on 8x10 gives 150% of max

Now this presumes we are working on the exact focal plane but in actual fact, the number plate test is 15m away from the focal plane.

What we need to work out now is what the circle of confusion is at the number plate based on depth of field calculations. I’ve leave the maths of this one alone for a bit but you can use a website such as this (http://www.dofmaster.com/dofjs.html) and change the circle of confusion value in the first drop down (below all of the cameras) until the you get the right far limit of focus.

This turns out to be about 80um for the 8x10 at f/32 which means that instead of the 150% of max resolution, we have 31% of max resolution - quite a difference.

If we do the same for the Phase we get

  • 55mm at f/16 the CoC is 6um which is less than the diffraction limit of 8.5um and so the resolution is still 61% of max.
  • 60mm at f/16 the CoC is 9um and so the resolution is 57% of max

You’ll notice I’m only working on the wider view test of the barrels and van at the moment as I haven’t worked out the figures for this yet.

So, given these figures, the 8x10 can resolve 31% of max and the IQ180 can resolve 66% of max.

And then we have to take into account the focal length multipliers and so the 8x10 can resolve 20% less than that figure (because it is effectively using a wider lens) which makes it aprrox 26% of max resolution.

So, in conclusion the maths tells us that the 8x10 should be 42% of the resolution that the IQ180 is getting at the number plate.

Did we actually focus on the right place?

The final test is to see if the camera was actually focused on the right place. Markus fortunately took photographs at various apertures and if we take a look at the f/5.6 aperture on the 60mm lens, it is easy to see that the actual focal point is somewhere between the last oil drum at the back and the number plate (see attached image). In reality, this made little difference as the number plate was diffraction limited anyway.

The 10x8, as far as we can tell, was focused almost exactly in the right place (worked out by finding out where resolution dropped off either side and splitting the difference).

Was the scan at an appropriate resolution?

Given the 8x10 was only working at 26% of IQ180 resolution, for a pin sharp picture it only needed 2000 pixels across the height of the frame which works out as 2000px/8 inches = 252 pixels per inch. Hence the 745 dpi was over sampling and more than enough in theory.

We did run a 4000dpi scan however and using deconvolution sharpening we got the following results as a comparison. We also took a photograph of of the transparency through a stereo microscope and included the results here. Ignore the bottom left result for the moment, we'll come back to that one later.

Interestingly it looks like the 8x10 is almost equal to the IQ180? How can this be? Well I would guess that the oversampling of the 8x10 image, even though out of focus, allows the sharpening algorithm to bring the contrast up at higher frequency. Sharpening to remove out of focus effects is arguably cheating as we end up oversharpening more in-focus areas.

It’s worth mentioning that most talk about resolution has to incorporate contrast and this is why most resolution figures state the contrast at which the resolution can be seen. If we look at 50% contrast resolution (often termed 50% MTF) it will be a lot less than 10% contrast resolution.

I would assume that even though the resolution of the 8x10 has been reduced dramatically, somewhere in there we can still get some higher resolution although at a very low contrast. Sharpening algorithms can increase that contrast and also refocus the blurred image to some extent. In addition to this, because of the Bayer array, it has been estimated that the actual resolution of a digital camera is a small amount less than 100% (I can’t show sources for this at the moment though - does anybody have links for this?).

What can we do to fix the test

Using a different aperture for the IQ180.

Markus fortunately took multiple photographs using the IQ180 at different apertures and so we have an f/8 shot on the 55mm lens which was focussed almost on the right place. f/8 is not quite the f/6.6 we really needed but we get a better test out of this.

The f/8 shot is not diffraction limited and should potentially be able to render the full maximum resolution of the sensor at the focal plane. Working out how this is reduced by the depth of field gives us a 16um CoC at the number plate and hence a value of 25% of maximum resolution.

The 8x10 was managing 31% of resolution but if we include the 10% advantage to the 55mm lens this works out as 28%. In other words we should get almost an exact match. However, given the fact that the 8x10 can resolve slightly more at lower contrasts we might expect a little advantage.

Here is the comparison.

The top result shows the IQ180 with 55mm lens at f/8, the bottom shows the 8x10 f/32 result scanned at 4000dpi and sharpened

It should also be noted that another factor came into play with the 60mm IQ180 test. That is the difference in lighting between the 8x10, 55mm and 60mm shots. The 8x10 and 55mm were taken at approimately the same time and at that point, the sun was not directly illuminating the number plate (although there was a small highlight on the embossed numbers).

Top is the 55mm with little direct sunshine. Bottom is 60mm with direct sunshine (and focal point shift). These are both at f/8

However, when the 60mm test was shot the sun had moved around enough to directly illiuminate the number plate and at an almost 90 degree angle, sidelighting the embossed numbers and creating a large contrast difference betweem the numeral and it’s right hand edge. This contrast difference could easily double resolution/contrast figures (i.e. perceived resolution).

What next?

We’ve also taken a look at the longer lens tests and again the IQ180 results are just about diffraction limited and at an estimated 50m to the subject, we can choose anywhere between 40m and 70m away for our comparison as it will all be at approx the same resolution. Looking at our comparison of diffraction limits for 8x10 at f/32 and IQ180 at f/11 we should have 88% of max for the IQ180 and 150% of max for the 8x10 (or 62 megapixels for IQ180 and 180 megapixels for the 8x10 - if you want the calculations, just let me know).

We have taken an area that we think is the maximum resolution for the 8x10 and reproduced the comparison here.


The two images above compare the 8x10 480mm f/32 on the left with the IQ180 110mm f/11 on the right. The 8x10 images have been transformed to align them and you can drag the green slider left and right to compare the two shots.

I don't think this is the end of the matter as the IQ180 should really have been shot at f/6.5 which would have allowed more resolution but less depth of field.

What next then

Well Markus and I both think a retest would be a good idea and we have spent the last week putting it together with help from Linhof Studio, Mr CAD, Phase One, IMATEST, Joe Cornish, Dav Thomas and many people at the large format photography forum. By the next issue we will have completed the initial test and will have gone a long way to some initial results which we will document. It will probably take a while to prepare a full set of results but we will pull all of the stops out for this.


Because photography is a combination of art and craft and this is a test that it would be difficult for most people to make. We'll also be throwing 4x5, medium format film, the P45+ and a range of full frame DSLRs to give a full range of cameras types and costs. The best answer is probably "So you don't have to...".


The original test had a few different issues. The first was that the focal lengths tested were not equivalents which gave between 10% and 20% advantage to the IQ180. The second was that the apertures tested were not equivalent and that the IQ180 had much more depth of field than the 8x10 and because the test areas were not on the plane of sharp focus, this depth of field was more important than system resolution. The 60mm test (which gave a 20% advantage already) was also shot with direct sunlight cross lighting the number plate, giving a significant contrast advantage to the IQ180 and was also focussed on a point a lot closer to the number plate than the 8x10.

Finally, with the help of Markus, we compared the 10x8 on the long lens with an IQ180 shot at a different aperture and were able to show some results that may be more accurate. There has been a lot of criticism of Markus in the forums but he at least made the effort and motivated a discussion and we should applaud him for that.

Thank you for your patience with the maths in this article. If any of the terms or maths was not clear and you want to know more, I am happy to extend this with some extra 'detail boxes' that go into each part.

  • EOTS

    Hi Tim,
    I’m looking forward to see the results of your retesting!
    As for the “Perils of Testing” topic, there’s another confusing report on the large format photography forum … http://www.largeformatphotography.info/forum/showthread.php?t=81463 :-)

  • Bruce Cairns

    Great stuff, Tim. The new tests will be very interesting. “Perils” is correct. People seem to have little idea of the scientific rigour that is needed to conduct these “shootouts” properly (I’ve seen some ludicrous ones – not on LL). Fortunately, you do!

    You probably already know, but just in case you don’t, there are some old (antediluvian?) comparative tests on Luminous Landscape, including one at http://www.luminous-landscape.com/essays/Cramer.shtml#update. I also saw one, which I can’t find, where Michael Reichmann, Charles Cramer and others carried out tests with various different formats and films, including the then state of the art digital back (whatever that was), photographing a still life setup.

  • LensView

    Very interesting. Though, personally, and not because I only use a 12 MPix APS DSLR, I’m not sure if there is much practical use in knowing which camera/system produces the technically best quality at such a high level. I don’t care for the difference between excellent and very excellent. But it’s still interesting.

    • Hi LensView, your comment is very true which is why we’re including a few old film cameras and DSLR’s in the comparison and why we’re looking at the aesthetic differences as well as the objective differences. Thanks for the comment!

  • As we discovered in our last techy discussion, we all like to get into the nitty gritty now and again. Nothing wrong with that. But I have to admit my reaction to the LL post (and this one) was one of bemusement. You might as well ask, which is best, a Rolls Royce or a Ferrari? The answer – obviously – is that both are superb but completely different in almost every way. What surely isn’t in dispute is that either car/camera has more than enough horsepower/resolution to satisfy even the most discerning (and wealthy) driver/photographer.

    • Absolutely! Although I picked up an 8×10 system for £800 pound so not too expensive.. I suppose it’s more like a battered Dodge Charger..

      • EOTS

        Wow! What stuff did you get for that price?

        • Toyo 810MII, very nice camera (if heavy)

      • I like the classic car analogy, Tim, seems to fit quite nicely. And, of course, everyone loves a classic car. At least to look it, if not necessarily to own for themselves. Not sure I could cope with the hassles of running an 8×10, for example. Lovely bodywork though, especially in mohogany and brass – surely the British racing green of field cameras!

  • Richard

    Yeah very interesting and alot of work went into it! I do enjoy tests and reviews like this but regardless of the end result i still wouldn’t swop film for digital even if the latter was twice as good resolution wise. I love film cameras and the process of using / developing film….

  • I am a bit slow, perhaps, but didn’t understand the pix with the green sliders on – the left hand with grain seemed much more fine detail – was that the 8×10 film camera?

    Presently, I am trying to decide what film camera will give me the best results – I can only afford either a 6×6 or a 645 camera, but need advice which format, and which camera/lens combination will give me the greatest fine definition in landscape photography. If anyone can help, please email or post for me – I presently am thinking of either a Hasselblad 500cm with an 80 planar, or a 50mm Distagon, or one of the Bronica ETRSi cameras with the recent improved lenses, or an m645 with the Mamiya lenses, perhaps an 80mm, something either in the 45-ish or 35mm range. Any advice about which will give me finest reproduction of fine detail will be most helpful, as I don’t want to buy them one at a time, and then test them, finally deciding, and then buying the chosen one again – thanks in anticipation

    • AndrewNadolski

      Pick up a used Bronica SQA with a PS lens. I used one for years. The PS lenses stand up well to Hasselblad and are much, much cheaper.

      • Got to agree with this one. For value for money the Bronica value is very good and the lenses compete very well.

    • The left hand side is the 8×10 film yes..

  • Adrian McTiernan

    Thank you for your most helpful comments – at last, I seem to be getting somewhere – it seems to me that the film shows more grain, but much finer detail, so I am hoping that the recommended Bronica will be able to give me more crispy detail than I am presently getting.

    I will see how it goes and let you know – thanks again for your comments!

    • I suspect that the medium format should be capable of results in the order of 30 megapixels from a drum scanner (probably 20-24 megapixels from an Epson or the like). However the rendering of fine colour textures and low contrast textures will be equivalent of a 30 megapixel back, even from an Epson. (comparisons like this are never accurate but they should give you an idea what to expect. Digital is exceptionally good at extracting the fine monochromatic edges and lines such as trees branches against sky but fall down a little is soft textures).

  • A nice little article Tim, I’m sure that had you scratching your head a few times deciding how best to normalise the tests. I’ll admit to enjoying a bit of math myself! That said, I’ve found it informative and educational, particularly giving attention to intended dof and choice of aperture to maximise the capabilities of camera / lens combo’s. I’ve picked up a few tips throughout, for that alone thanks and look forward to the next installment…

  • Dave

    Markus and Tim, Thank you very much for doing this testing. Work is difficult to do, while criticizing is easy.

    I made my living doing 8×10 landscape and architectural shooting for over 20 years. Recently, I have been scanning my old transparencies and comparing the results (scans and loupe) to what I get on my 5D mkII. Your results are very indicative of real-world results. I don’t disagree that your 8×10 testing could have been better optimized, but that is not seeing the forest for the trees. Digital has clearly surpassed 4×5 and 8×10 film in most ways.

    Thanks again.

    • James

      @ Dave
      “Digital has clearly surpassed 4×5 and 8×10 film in most ways”

      It is like saying digital watches surpassed Patek Philippe mechanical watches in most ways… It is very unclear and meaningless of what you’d said.

      You need to list out as many aspects of the two systems as possible, and people will make up their own minds. You are a commercial guy, and I am sure your VIP don’t want to wait for 48 hours to see the result right? That would not be the problem for a landscape photographer who does photography for fun.

      I have a 5D MkII also, and I use it to shoot low light scenes and family gatherings. However, I do 90% of the landscape shooting using 4×5. I recently conducted a test of 4×5 vs 5D-II, and I can confidently tell you resolution wise, 5D-II is no match to a 4×5.

      • Martin Helthuis

        Please let me see that test?.I have wed darkroom prints taken whit a Hasselblad 500CM together whit Zeiss lenses on tripod .mirrorlockup and cable release 4×4 feet big.They are clearly not as sharp and clean as pictures taken whit my 5d2 also on tripod,mirror lockup and electronic cable release.

        • Which test are you referring? I may be able to help though – if you look at the Mamiya 7 shots in Big Camera Comparison (http://www.onlandscape.co.uk/2011/12/big-camera-comparison/) you can clearly see that they are resolving a lot more than the Canon 5D2 and the Nikon D3X. In field terms, they are pretty close though with the film showing more detail but also showing more grain (we didn’t shoot any Velvia which would have been a good test – one to try next time). As these were a side by side comparison in perfect conditions and I can see pixel level detail clearly on the digital files, I think this should be comprehensive proof. Whether you can achieve the results we did in your darkroom with Hassleblad images I don’t really know though.

        • James

          @Martin Helthuis
          My test was 5DII vs large format 4×5, not medium format 120/220 film.
          Go to Flickr and search “Resolution: 5D Mk-II vs 4×5 Velvia 100 (#2) – 4×5 Full Size Scan Crops”

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