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Big Camera Comparison

THE Epic Comparison

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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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This test originally came about as a response to a previous test on Luminous Landscape. Although the test below stands alone, you may wish to read the previous test and our response to it. If you do, please visit the luminous landscape page IQ180 vs 8x10 and the follow up posted in ‘On Landscape’ here.

We followed up the research on the first article by talking to a few different photographers in person in order to get their input on what a thorough test would look like, these subsequently helped with the actual running of the test (so a massive thanks to them!).

  • Joe Cornish, who owns a Phase One P45 but has spent much of his career shooting transparencies on 4x5 film
  • Dav Thomas, who started shooting digital DSLR’s but moved onto film and eventually large format
  • Chris Ireland, Phase One’s representative in the North East of England

We also talked about the project on a few online forums, including the ‘Large Format Photography’ forum, the ‘Luminous Landscape’ forum. These were very helpful in picking the right approach.

Following the test, we talked to other photographers who use large format film, high-end digital or both, including Hans Strand, Andrew Nadolski & David Ward

We started looking at which cameras to test and distilled the potential candidates to the following

Film Cameras

  • Toyo 810MII
  • Ebony 45SU
  • Mamiya 7

Digital Cameras

  • IQ180 on an Alpa
  • IQ180 on a Cambo
  • IQ180 on a Phase One 645DF
  • Phase One P45 on a Linhof Techno
  • Nikon D3X
  • Canon 5Dmk2

We would have liked to have tested the IQ180 on the Linhof Techno as well but the platform used (any of them) didn’t contribute a great deal of difference to the sharpness of the result under ideal conditions so we don’t think this would have produced vastly different results. The Alpa and lenses were loaned to us by Paula of Linhof Studio the tilt shift lenses were loaned by Lenses for Hire and the D3X was contributed and operated by John Robinson.

Our next job was to select a range of lenses that would give us a close enough focal length match. We made a presumption that most people interested in the results would probably be thinking about moving from 4x5 to digital and so we decided to settle on that as the aspect ratio for our conversions. Given this, the ratio of the short sides of the IQ180 (40.4mm) vs the short side of 10x8 (196mm) gives a ratio of 4.6:1 - these calculations were made for all of the cameras and as we wanted to use the Rodenstock Digaron W lenses, we only had 40mm, 50mm and 70mm lenses to choose from. Here is the conversion table we came up with..

Bear in mind that the table below uses the IQ180 as the baseline. Hence the multiplier is 'how much do I need to multiply aperture or focal length to get the equivalent'. The %ge values next to each lens is a representation of how close it is to a perfect match for the IQ180 lens. This is mainly relevant for the landscape photograph shown later as we recomposed the picture by moving backwards and forwards to compensate for these changes (obviously we didn't want the difference to be too much because of perspective effects).

short side / mm multiplier f/stop equiv
IQ180 40.4 1.0 5.6 40mm 50mm 70mm
8x10 196.0 4.9 27.2 210 8% 240 -1% 360 6%
4x5 96.0 2.4 13.3 90 -5% 110 -7% 180 8%
6x7 56.0 1.4 7.8 55 -1% 80 15% 80 -18%
35mm 24.0 0.6 3.3 24 1% 24 -19% 50 20%

The table above also shows the f/stop equivalents. We estimated that the sharpest aperture for the IQ180 would be f/5.6 and so bracketed the photographs around this aperture. Obviously this needed converting to keep the same depth of field for each size of film/sensor and so the equivalent f/stop for 8x10 was f/22⅔ : 4x5 was f/11⅓ : 6x7 was f/8 and 35mm was f/4.. In reality, we realised that imperfect lens design would mean the optimum aperture may be larger than these and hence we bracketed with smaller apertures to make sure we found the sharpest point.

Given the available focal lengths in 8x10 and 4x5 we decided to use the 40mm and 70mm Digaron W lenses which gave the following equivalent lenses.


For the 40mm equivalent we chose the Fujinon 240A, a very popular 4x5 lens which covers 8x10 with some room to spare. The resolution figures suggested it to be a fairly sharp performer. It was a bit longer that we would have liked but for the studio test we were able to move the camera back to compensate and ensure the same framing.

For the 70mm equivalent we shopped around and finally Mr CAD loaned use a huge 360mm Schneider Symmar-S which we knew would perform exceptionally well and only had a 6% difference in focal length* giving a small advantage to the 8x10 for the landscape view.


For the 40mm equivalent we chose the Rodenstock 90mm f/4.5 Grandagon N, one of the best 90mm lenses available.

For the 70mm equivalent we chose the Fujinon 180A, another classic large format lens and one that matches the 70mm fairly well although gives an 8% advantage to 4x5 over the IQ180*

* i.e. If the cameras were shot from exactly the same position, the %ge difference would be a magnification ration. This translates directly into a %ge difference in resolving power. However, for the studio tests, we repositioned the cameras to compensate for this effect.


For the 40mm equivalent we chose the 55mm. The Mamiya 7 does not have a great range of lenses for quantity but for quality they are amongst the sharpest lenses ever made and this matched the focal length well.

For the 70mm equivalent we again didn’t have a close match and the resulting shots have a disadvantage of nearly 20%.


The 40mm equivalent on 35mm cameras was a handy 24mm and we decided to compare using tilt shift lenses on both the Nikon and Canon systems (the latest versions).

The 70mm equivalent wasn’t really a great match again, giving a 20% advantage to 35mm.

Test Targets

Here is a sample picture of the test target used.

The areas that we will show in our tests are marked in red. The sample that is used in the absolute resolution test is marked in green

We were very keen on having some real world targets for the resolution testing but after some debate we also decided to include proper resolution targets and in retrospect it was a wise decision. The tests used were the slanted edge target supplied by Imatest (printed on matt paper using an Epson 4800). The slanted edge target also includes a ‘resolution trumpet’ (I’m sure there is a proper name for this) which is a set of lines which gradually get finer and closer together. We calculated the resolution of these lines so that even in the very best scenario of 8000dpi 8x10 being pin sharp we would still have resolution to spare. We also included a few slanted edge lines in different colours to take a look at possible bayer array issues.

The test on the right was for a 'readability' test. This is to combat the potential for raw converters or sharpening to add data that wasn't in the original image. Again these were included in the three primary colours. Two colour targets were included as well, one a colorchecker and the other a Wolf Faust IT8 target. The light box used for the main resolution tests is a Just Normlicht Colormatch 5000 which has a colour balanced proofing light and lightbox. The lightbox is used to display four transparencies that include typical landscape scenes.

We have also included a five pound note and a twenty pound note which provide very fine detail to check rendering. Finally, we raided Joe Cornish's camera cupboard and laid out a few lenses and cameras. The results show extracts from the Hassleblad, Nikkor Lens, Transparencies and the twenty pound note.

The exposures were made based on the different films used. For instance for the digital cameras we exposed using the histogram and checked this with the light meter. For transparency film we spot metered the paper white and set this at +1⅔; the negative exposure was made by setting the darkest shadow at -2 (we chose the darkest part of the 8x10 camera bellows) and the black and white was set with the paper whites on the lightbox at +3 stops.

The photographs were taken over the space of a three hours and the ambient light in the room changed by about a stop over this period. Obviously the illumination of the lightbox remained constant throughout.

Ensuring Stability and Sharpness

  • Making sure that the cameras produce the sharpest results possible is an art in of itself. Instead of going through all of the steps taken, here is a summary
  • Using a five series Gitzo tripod with a BH55 ball head with spikes
  • Ensuring no one moving when exposures were taken and give time for system to settle (no main roads nearby etc)
  • Use two tripods for the 8x10 shot (a Velbon Sharpa/Carmagne CF tripod and a five series Gitzo tripod) the smaller tripod supporting the lens end of the camera.
  • Use double sided tape for the dark slides for 4x5 and 8x10 (more about that later)
  • Final focus with an 8x Schneider loupe for 4x5 and 8x10
  • Use live view for digital focussing
  • For the main aperture chosen, take multiple shots (this includes film e.g. 3 sheets of Provia for both 8x10 and 4x5)
  • For outdoor shots, ensure that tripod legs are firmly bedded into subsurface of soil
  • Protect camera from wind (using bodies for larger cameras)

The studio IQ180 photographs were taken using three different camera systems, an Alpa SWA, a Cambo Wide RS and a Phase One 645DF. Although we used the 40mm Rodenstock Digaron W on the Alpa, the lens used on the Cambo was a Schneider 35mm f/5.6 APO Digitar XL and the lens used on the Phase One 645 was the Phase One 45mm Digital AF f/2.8. Remember that the position of all cameras was changed to ensure the same view on the sensor/film.

The film was developed at Peak Imaging, Sheffield (Xtol was used for the black and white processing) and the 8x10 black and whites were developed by Palm Labs, Birmingham. The film was checked using an 80x stereo microscope and photographs were taken through the microscope to record absolute resolution on film. 4000dpi scans were then made using a Howtek 4500 drum scanner with higher resolution scans made by Matt Kaye of Karmaan on an ICG and Lanovia. It should be noted that the scans were made at an aperture of 6 micron which gets the sharpest pictures but does mean grainy results, scanning with an aperture of 13 micron reduces the noise considerably at a very slight loss of resolution. The following image shows the resolution target results that have been aligned to keep the resolution axis label consistent. Some of the resolution axes were so long that we had to composite the final microscope images from multiple photographs (e.g. the 8x10 black and white result). Digital images were uprezed using Capture One - we tried alternative methods but the results did not change the underlying resolution results. Some of the details are too fine to see on this version - click here for a 1600px wide version.

It is worth noting that we have based our results on the highest resolution camera in our test, in this case it was the 8x10, and enlarged the other results to compare.

We should also mention the sharpest aperture chosen for each platform. The sharpest aperture on the IQ180 was generally f/4 although more contrasty is a better description (see later). The sharpest aperture on 5x4 was f/16⅔ and on 8x10 was also f/16⅔ - this shouldn't completely surprise us as the most large format lenses perform best at the centre of their image circle at between f/16 and f/22. We also shot images at smaller apertures and the reduction in resolution was quite interesting and is reproduced in a separate table below the results here. The 35mm sharpest aperture was f/5.6 but like the medium format, very little extra information was recorded, the contrast was just higher.

You may ask why we are using a microscope to look at the film (and possibly how did we get pictures?). Well many people say that you can get sharper images by enlarging film and the only way to find out the true capability of the film without enlarging is to check through a microscope, the following image shows our 80x stereo microscope. The images were taken using a Canon 5Dmk2 but even this was not able to show the very finest of lines visible through the microscope. e.g. the Mamiya 7 T-Max result shows 7 as the highest value when photographed through the microscope but we can clearly see a value of 9 by eye (the microscope has a higher magnification when used by eye). This suggests that it may be possible for the Mamiya 7 to resolve as much as 4x5 with a very good enlarger. This remains to be tested.

We have used these images to work out what the optimum scan size is by assuming that you need at least one pixel per line to represent the test chart. For example, the 8x10 delta 100 result shows a maximum figure of 14 (i.e. you can see a separation of lines at the number 14 on the chart). At this position on the chart, we can work out what percentage of the frame height is represented by the group of fifteen lines which is 0.134% hence if we need 30 pixels to represent 15 lines, we should have 30/0.00134 approx 22400 pixels for the frame height. We can work out the frame width by dividing by 8 and multiplying by 10 = 28000 pixels and hence we can work out how many megapixels this represents = 28,000 x 22,400 = 627 megapixels. We can also work out how big a print this is by dividing the 22,400 pixels in height by a 300dpi print resolution which makes a 75" wide, 93" high print.

max resolved height in pixels Mp print size (inch) where dpi=300
8x10 Delta 100 (microscope) 14 22400 627Mp 75" 93"
8x10 Delta 100 (4000dpi) 14 22400 627Mp 75" 93"
4x5 Delta 100 (microscope) 12 19200 461Mp 64" 80"
4x5 Delta 100 (8000dpi) 11 17600 387Mp 59" 73"
4x5 Delta 100 (4000dpi) 10 16000 320Mp 53" 67"
4x5 Provia 100 (microscope) 11 17600 387Mp 59" 73"
4x5 Provia 100 (4000dpi) 8 12800 205Mp 43" 53"
IQ180 5 7760 80Mp 26" 32"
Mamiya 7 Portra (microscope) 6 9600 115Mp 32" 43"
Mamiya 7 T-Max (microscope) 7 11200 157Mp 37" 47"
Mamiya 7 T-Max (8000dpi) 5 8000 80Mp 27" 33"
Mamiya 7 T-Max (4000dpi) 4 6400 51Mp 21" 27"
Nikon D3X 2.4 4000 24Mp 13" 20"
Canon 5D2 2 3700 21Mp 12" 19"

These figures should not be taken as bare facts of perceivable differences as different cameras have more or less grain for instance and even though the target resolution was visible, they may have been at less contrast. This does indicate our evaluation of resolving power of these systems though. Items in grey italics are the theoretical results based on microscope analysis. Also it should be mentioned that these figures work out slightly higher than mathematically calculated resolving powers due to diffraction - however these assume a certain level of contrast and we are looking at the 'extinction' value where the detail actually disappears. This has given us an extra 10-15% of resolution compared with theoretical values of maximum enlargement.

Below are the examples showing reduction in resolution at smaller apertures - italics here are used to show the smaller aperture results. I haven't included the results from the IQ180 at different apertures as the camera was sensor limited and resolved the same amount of lines for f/4 f/5.6 f/8 and f/11 - the only difference was that the f/4 and f/5.6 were contrastier and showed more moire. The f/11 result was lower contrast but showed no moire - I've included a photo of the details here which have been scaled up using 'preserve edges' to show actual pixel detail. There was some concern about whether the IQ180 results were in focus; we used live view to focus check but the 1s refresh didn't allow us to do the normal 'sweep' through the focus range to pick the sharpest point. However, it did let us confirm that moving the focus back and forth did not change focus at all and hence we were fairly sure we were at peak focus. We also checked what the depth of field was using the 5 micron pixel size and calculated a value of 20cm front to back. This gave enough room to focus on the chart and still get the cameras within the focus spread. It also confirmed that the camera is sensor limited. i.e. the lens is outresolving the camera,

max resolved height in pixels Mp print size (inch) where dpi=300
4x5 Provia 100 f/16⅔ (4000dpi) 8 12800 205Mp 43" 53"
4x5 Provia 100 f/22⅔ 7 11200 157Mp 37" 47"
4x5 Provia 100 f/32⅔ 6 9600 115Mp 32" 43"
4x5 Provia 100 f/45⅔ (extrapolated) 4.3 6912 60Mp 23" 28"
8x10 Delta 100 f/16⅔ (4000dpi) 14 22400 627Mp 75" 93"
8x10 Delta 100 f/22⅔ 12 19200 461Mp 64" 80"
8x10 Delta 100 f/32⅔ 9 14400 259Mp 48" 60"
8x10 Delta 100 f/45⅔ (extrapolated) 6.5 10400 134Mp 34" 43"
8x10 Delta 100 f/64⅔ (extrapolated) 4.7 7500 70Mp 25" 31"

The results for the Mamiya 7 when observed through the microscope directly gave higher figures than the photos through the microscope. At f/5.6=8, f/8=9, f/11=7, f/16=6 - obviously these results will probably all resolve down to 4 or 5 when drum scanned on a 4000dpi scanner. This does suggest that darkroom prints may be able to made to a scale similar to 4x5 if very high end equipment and techniques are used.

We also have comparison samples from some of the areas of the test target.

Studio Nikon Lens

You can download the psd file by clicking here.

Comparing 8x10 Provia with IQ180 Alpa 1s

The right hand side is the IQ180 on the Alpa - by default the left hand side is the 8x10 Provia but you can change this by clicking on the links below (noise reduction has been applied using Imagenomic Noiseware to the second set)

  • 8x10 Provia
  • 4x5 Provia
  • 8x10 Provia (noiseware)
  • 4x5 Provia (noiseware)
  • 8x10 Provia (noiseware/photokit)
  • 4x5 Provia (noiseware/photokit)

Now the IQ180 result doesn't look particularly great here but this has been enlarged considerably to bring it up to the same size as the 8x10 4000dpi scan. You can see in the image below a 100% view of the area including the Nikon lens and if you click on it you can see the whole of the target area at 100%. You can download a sample of the 8x10 black and white file although be aware that it is a 26Mb zip file.

The studio test is the main result of our work but we can't finish here. We need to take some real pictures in real conditions. It's always been suggested that although you can theoretically get high resolution results out of 4x5 and 10x8, there are lots of compromises in real world use that mean it is unlikely that studio based results can be repeated. Well nearby to our studio work is a handy sandstone edge with a great view to the horizon. The view is from Kildale looking over to Roseberry Topping with the city of Middlesborough in the background. The following picture shows the 4x5 Velvia photograph taken without using a grad (showing more dynamic range than many people would credit Velvia with - the sky was reading about 13EV and the foreground about 5-6EV in the darkest areas).

The one issue with taking images of long distance views is that any difference in focal lengths can't be compensated for by 'just getting a little closer' so we can't use these results as a resolution comparison without taking into account the slight differences in focal length. These differences can be summarised as a 7% advantage for 4x5 and 8x10 over the IQ180, a 20% disadvantage for the Mamiya 7 and a 20% advantage for the Sony A900. In real terms, the 7% advantage for the 4x5 and 8x10 is small enough to be difficult to notice (effectively this is smaller than a 1/10 of a pixel advantage in fine detail) and is equivalent to the difference between 18Mp and 21Mp cameras. The 20% disadvantage for the Mamiya is fairly large and would be noticeable and represents the difference between 10Mp and a 16Mp camera - something people pay a lot of money for!

The idea of this test is more about comparing the way the results are rendered, the tonality and colour. The resolution of the IQ180, 4x5 and 8x10 are close enough in focal lengths that comparing them as 'equivalent' is fine for all but absolute resolution purposes.

The image was taken under quite windy conditions, probably about 20-30 mph with the occasional stronger gust. We used a firmly grounded tripod and a second tripod on the 8x10 supporting the front element. We tried to protect the cameras from the wind with our body (bodies for the 8x10) but it was coming toward the front of the camera so was difficult to stop easily.

We have done basic colour and contrast adjustments to match the images where possible (using the Portra as a baseline) but we made sure that we only use a simple central colour picker for the colour balancing and a simple photoshop curve (two control points) for the contrast. We thought that this would be better than comparing images with vastly different colour balances.

It should be noted in all of these tests that whilst some of the cameras look particularly bad (i.e. the Mamiya 7, P45 and DSLR's) this is only because they are being enlarged a great deal more than you would ever do in a real world situation. These shots on screen represent looking at a 12m by 8m print (assuming screen resolution of 100dpi) or a 6m by 4m print in the cases where the tests are marked by "50%".

All of the extra tests are currently available on the following pages. Please note the following

Sharpening was done with a combination of Smart Sharpen (which uses a deconvolution sharpening depending on size of radius) or Photokit Sharpener. Noise reduction was done with Imagenomic's Noiseware plugin. Additional noise was added to one of the IQ180 scans (noted in the tests) using Photoshop's 'add noise'.



We recorded some video but didn't really do a good enough job to make it into anything exciting but thought it may add some background.

We solicited a few opinions on the results from various photographers who use different platforms discussed which you can read here. I have also written my thoughts on the results combined with a few more calculations and conclusions here.

This article was featured in our bumper christmas issue which you can access here.

The Perils of Testing

Other Related Large Film Camera Articles

The Perils of Testing

36 Megapixels vs 6×7 Velvia

Jem Southam in conversation

John Blakemore - Conference video

Tristan Campbell - Featured Photographer

  • richard laughlin

    just in time for the gravestone ….

  • Bruce Cairns

    This is an amazing piece of work. Thanks Tim, Joe and the others who put so much effort in, for the time, work and care.

    Now I’ll start looking at the results. A festive drink is called for to give me sustenance. Merry Christmas, everyone.

  • Hi Tim,

    Thanks for your work. Great piece of information!

    Best regards
    Erik Kaffehr

  • Steve Ashton

    A fantastic body of research, this is going to take some digesting. It will be getting some serious attenttion after lunch tomorrow. Thanks for the work you guys have put into this.

  • cedric muscat

    Thanks to the in detail explanation of the methodology that alone was interesting and gives one the feeling that the project was in very sober and serious hands. Now I will digest the results with relish. Again kudos to all.

  • Thankyou for doing this.
    Ian Kraus

  • fishjump

    Did you consider the Pentax 645D?


    • We didn’t have access to one unfortunately – once I’ve recovered from this test I may be intersted in including a couple more cameras. There is the possibility that I may review mid range cameras at some point – i.e. entry level MFDB, medium format and 35mm film and DSLRs.

  • Howie Speight

    Fantastically interesting.

  • A really terrific piece of research. Thanks for all your hard work. Fascinating reading.
    PS, all the best for 2012!
    – Paul Coghlin

  • Everything looked great, until you set up LF cameras outside in a gale! I think most 8×10 and even 4×5 shooters would be reticent to even setup in such wind, must less do it for a resolution test. To me, the studio shots on the 8×10 are better than the IQ180 while the it is clearly reversed outside.

    • And yet we still got enough detail to warrant a 4000 dpi 7.6Gb scan of the 8×10. Out of interest which parts of the IQ180 out resolved the 8×10 Portra (for example)?

  • Emmanuel Amarger

    Very very interesting thanks a lot for all the work achieved here.
    To my eyes 8×10 out resolve anything except for depp shadows where the iq 180 is clearly better.
    The iq 180 images are more “clean” but there is few details compared to 8×10 (except in deep shadows)

  • Tim,

    I am looking at the Topping Houses. But I was looking at the Velvia. Looking at the Portra, the 8×10 was clearly better. Given the very wide dynamic range of Portra, do you think more exposure would have brought out more detail in the dark areas.

    There is one more cut you could do using this data – what are the relative print sizes where the difference does not matter? That is the critical question for many of us. Will a m4/3s do as well as an 8×10 for an 8×10 print?:-)

    As a black and white film photographer, I really appreciate the inclusion of the Delta images. The most interesting comparison for me was the 8×10 and 4×5 Delta, where the real difference is tonality.
    Thanks for the great work!

    • The velvia was a bit underexposed even for the sky and so it was heavily underexposed for the foreground. In reality we would have used a graduated filter but this was meant to challenge the cameras a little as well. Turns out velvia managed pretty damned well for the GNDless shot. It was have been a lot better with a two stop grad though.

      We’re looking to do a test of smaller format cameras in a few months time, hopefully this will be a little less time consuming than dealing with so much medium and large format film and massive files from the IQ180!

      The black and white results to me showed a dramatic difference between the IQ180 and 4×5 even. I’ve included a sample comparing the iq180 with 4×5 delta 100

  • Bryan Geyer

    Regarding Mamiya 7 lenses—for the 40mm equivalent you cite the use of a Mamiya 7 “55mm” lens. This is likely a typo—I think that you meant to cite the Mamiya 7 65mm lens. Correct?

    • Ah yes, indeed it was – my apologies..

  • Bryan Geyer

    Re. Mamiya 7 lenses—sorry—it was probably the Mamiya 7 50mm lens that was used, not 55mm. (Mamiya 7 lens lineup includes 50mm and 65mm, but there is no 55mm lens available—at least, not to the best of my knowledge.)

  • Terrific guys, really enjoyed this and appreciate the effort made.
    Was a bit surprised looking at the outdoor shots comparing the 4×5 with the IQ, I felt the IQ did really well in comparison..

    • Indeed… you’d be hard pushed to tell the difference in resolution in a print and many people thought the IQ180 had more detail because of high contrast in the critical 10 lines per mm resolution.

  • Wow, what a test. Thanks for all of your hard work on this. I’ve gone back to shooting film after 7 years of digital only. A couple of months ago I got my first 10×8 camera. There are so many reasons why I love using film so much but your test confirmed what I keep telling people – digital is convenient compared to using film but not necessarily better.

  • Tim,
    many thanks for that immense time-investment to run a test like this one! Despite the danger for each type of photographer to just look for “self fulfilling prophecies”, the test gives much, much more than finding out wether film or digital is “better”. If one has read all (comparisions, comments etc) parts of the test, you can have a very fine overview of what makes sense to each and everyone of us, given the many, many facettes of photography!
    Happy New Year!
    Verena Popp-Hackner & Georg Popp

    • Thanks Verena/Georg – I appreciate the support. Have a great New Year!

  • I’m considering the addition of a 645 or 6×7 MF film system to supplement my 5D Mark II and this comparison has been hugely helpful. Thanks so much for taking the time to put it together. I’ve only breezed through but will now go back and read the entire post.

  • Flyby34

    Wow what a great comparison! It still gives me the feeling that I made the right choice to switch to LF and film, despite some of my friends think I’m a bit foolish-)) Thanks for the effort and keep up the good work, job well done!!!

  • AB

    Thankyou for such a fascinating and thorough test! I found the luminous landscape test staggeringly naive, on several counts.
    I think for many of us the choice of shooting with a view camera and film over a digital body is down to a lot more than resolution, but I am really impressed with the quality of the IQ180, it comes a lot closer to 10×8 quality than I thought it would.
    I also found the Mamiya 7 surprisingly impressive, and annoying as I’ve just sold mine!
    I’m most intrigued by the vast difference between the ‘ideal studio’ and the ‘real world’ images that are highlighted especially when comparing the IQ180 with the 10×8″.

    • Regarding the difference between ideal and real world is, I think, mostly down to diffraction. There was some wind movement but the 8×10 Portra had nearly as much detail as the studio test although obviously with less high contrast material that just happened to be on the focal plane :-) In my ad-hoc print tests over christmas, it was only in the 50″x40″ and larger prints that the different between the IQ180 and the 8×10 could be consistently recognised by people.

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  • Since you made all these prints:
    There was something in the comments of the photographers (not sure who it was, but I could look it up), that a film image is more 3-dimensional in comparison with the digital capture, which renders scenes in 2-D and therfore looks flat. Now, that would be VERY interesting, if this holds up to the truth, when comparing 50×40″ prints. (and if it is detectable)
    I personally have tested the IQ 180 on a Linhof Techno and printed as large as you have, but would sure love to hear other opinions!


    • It’s something that was mentioned by people looking at the pictures – when cued to say which ones looked more 3D, most picked the film shots. Very non-scientific though and it’s something I would like to do a proper blind test on. I should add that the IQ180 did very well at smaller sizes though – differences only kicked in at about 30″x40″

      • AB

        I’d be really fascinated to see how hand prints stood up in a blind test.

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  • Duncan

    Very Interesting! Thanks for all this work. I find it interesting that the people who mostly work with film feel this test shows strong advantages to film, and those who primarily work with digital find that this test shows digital to hold its own.
    A few questions: What contrast level did you require when determining the max resolution reading on the test charts? I can’t see any contrast at all on the 8×10 at 14, but I am only looking at the screen image. What is the reading for the 8×10 where the contrast is the same as the IQ180 at 5?
    Did you work with any “Photoshop Wizards” to help try to equalize the “look” of the images? For instance, color is almost infinitely controllable in PS. If you are willing to create your own color profiles, you can map any color to “read” the same as a specific film does if you shoot a color test target with both and then build a profile. Also, the perception of sharpness in a print is strongly effected by the presence of “grain”, and acuance can easily be reduced if that is your preference. It seems that the IQ180 image could be made virtually identical to the 4×5 print if a highly skilled PS programer was asked to.
    Finally, I was wondering how often you shoot your 8×10 at apertures of f/16 or f/22 when making your real photos? (rather then test prints)

    • Hi Duncan, I think the critical thing about the 4×5 and IQ180 is that they are comparable but different. Like you say, the contrast at limit of the IQ180’s resolution is higher than the equivalent for the 4×5 and yet the 4×5 as more detail (the contrast looks to be very high for the 8×10 all the way up to 10 or 11). I’m happy to let you have the IQ180 file to do what you will with – just email me. When I was printing the files we did try to equalize the files but there is only so much you can do.

      Regarding colour, it is actually impossible to make two results look the same because in the reduction from light spectrum to tristimulus (RGB in camera) data is distorted and then reduced. Hence, for instance, the green colour of grass can end up being shifted to a more lime green where different green, because it isn’t the same metameric pair, isn’t shifted. In correcting for the first green, you can shift the second. It may be possible to make selective colour shifts to various parts of a scene to bring make them look the same but having tried this I can assure you it isn’t easy and if you have different types of green that shift at different amounts, it may be impossible (e.g. if a pure green got shifted to yellow-green and yet another item was already yellow green, there is no way to separate them again). It’s worth looking at metamerism and metameric pairs to understand that the reduction from the emitted light spectrum from an object and then to RGB is one that isnt always perfect and one that can’t be reversed.

      As for the presence of grain in a print, we did make some prints where we added grain to the IQ180 file when it was enlarged and it did make it look ‘different’ and possibly perceived as sharper (definitely looked a bit better) but it didn’t make up any extra detail.

      As for shooting 8×10 at f/22, the test shot of Roseberry topping was done at f/22 f/32 and f/45 and the f/32 was used in the comparisons and I have shot various longer distance scenics at f/22 – mostly I shoot at f/32-45 though. As shown on the final analysis, shooting at f/45 does reduce sharpness somewhat but the advantage over the IQ180 is still 1.5x instead of the 2x shown in the main studio results.

      • Duncan

        Hi Tim,
        I guess what I am looking at are lower contrast parts of the field photos where the IQ180 seems to outperform the 4×5 in both contrast and resolution, like if you look at the Topping Hut Bridge clip comparing Portra 400 4×5 to IQ180 sharpened (the act of recording a digital file de-sharpens it slightly so all digital captures should be sharpened to some extent) the IQ180 shows the tower with structure and detail in front of a smooth sky and mid value details in the trees behind it. In the Portra 400 clip it would be hard to identify the tower at all if one had not seen the IQ180 image. Likewise in the Topping Moss crop, looking at the water in the lower left corner, the 4×5 films both produce enough grain so that most of the low contrast detail is obscured. You might call the IQ180 image “plastic”, but to me it looks clear and detailed in comparison.

        Regarding Metamerism, I see what you are saying, but I still don’t see the challenge. As a landscape photographer, how many different light sources do you work with? One, sunlight, and so if you really want “Velvia” color, shoot the same landscape scene (including foliage) with some Velvia and your digital camera of choice in sunlight and make a profile. Both film and digital are reducing and distorting the color spectrum to reach your computer screen, and you can work to have them do it with the same transfer function by using the same subject and the same illumination as the majority of your images. I do understand that some photographers learn to “see” in Velvia, but to say that film is more flexible or accurate when it comes to color image production is to ignore many tools available to you. Many many other nature photographers have managed to produce pleasing colors from digital capture. If you still prefer film color, that is fine with me, but I hesitate to believe that it is an inherent advantage to the medium over digital capture.

        You did show that there is a resolution advantage to shoot 8×10 film, with high contrast subjects, at the cost of some visible grain. This allows you to print very large sharp images when your shooting methods are perfectly controlled, you have plenty of time to set up, your subject is not moving, and you are able to use a wide aperture faster then f/64 (don’t need much DOF). This resolution advantage only shows clearly when printing 50″ wide or wider. The issue I have with this is, what is the opportunity cost of only using 8×10 film? What happens if the subject is moving? or if you need more DOF? or if the light is changing quickly? What happens if you are photographing something including moving water, which always shows a different pattern in each new photo?

        I guess this is what makes art “Art”, all the choices we make effect the final product and are the result of the artist’s vision. Some people like to wet print, some still make daguerreotypes.

        But that is distinct from the technical discussion of the advantages of each system. From your tests, it seems clear that only 8×10 film has more resolution then the IQ180 in any field relevant way, and then only in a very narrow set of conditions and only when making 50″ prints or larger.

        No mater the difference of interpretations, a very interesting and thorough test, and I thank you for doing it and sharing it with everyone! Happy shooting to you!

        • i Duncan – thanks for the comment. I’ve had a look at a the images and most of the issue is in the highlights with Portra 400 which, being a 400 speed film and having a huge dynamic range, does get noisy in the highlights (where the IQ180 shows the best separation of contrast). If you run some post processing on the images you get a better comparison and if you compare the Velvia 50 you can see that 4×5 and the IQ180 are *similar*. Using these systems are very different though and where the IQ180 tends to look more ‘plastic’ (for want of a better word) the film files look ‘grainy’. You can compensate for both which I’ve tried to do here. Bridge Hut, Topping Moss.

          You can draw any conclusion you like from these images of course – in my mind I would say that the 4×5 and 10×8 are close and I won’t bother choosing ‘winners’.

          Regarding metamerism, it’s not just about different light sources, it’s about how the substances absorb and emit light and how the spectrum of the light source interacts with the sensor or film. Even if you make a profile of your scene it still *can’t* correct the results. For instance, if you took a pantone chip (hopefully metamerism free) and placed it next to some greenery of exactly the same colour, different cameras will show different results. Some cameras will show the two having the same colour and some cameras will show the two having different colours. If you have different colours, any correction to one colour will shift the other. Try comparing the Phase P45 files with the IQ180 files and Sony A900 files – it isn’t just a film/digital thing. It’s one of the persistent myths of post processing that you can just ‘profile’ your colour and you can make any two devices look the same.

          As for the usability of 10×8, yes it’s a pain – I use 5×4 most of the time because I can’t afford an IQ180. If I could buy one I definitely would – although I would probably use film as well. As for that moving water conundrum, I would use my digital camera to observe the effects and movement of water and then pick my moments – perhaps I wouldn’t get the absolute perfect frame but these are the advantages/disadvantges of both platforms. The 35mm rangefinder user would say that you’d have missed the shot just setting up the camera ;-)

          And the art thing or is definitely about not just what cameras you use but also how you feel about them. Your environment affects your pictures I think and so different camera systems will have an effect on photographic output. Here’s hoping the IQ series come down in price sometime soon!

  • Hi Tim

    Thank you! The best comparative work I have ever seen regarding film vs digital, formats, films and cameras. Amazing. I used 35mm provia and velvia film for a few years and I now also use digital 35 mm (Nikon D700). Regarding metamerism and particularly the reproduction of greens I think that based on my skills with post processing I would be able to push IQ180 shots further to match Velvia. There is a simple method to work with that makes a huge difference. Would you mind if I work on your file? Perhaps a crop of a critical area would be enough. Shall I send you the results via e-mail?

  • A truly outstanding write-up. I have bookmarked this and your site. I am often asked in this horrible technical world why I “pay so much for film and development” instead of forking out for a digital body. Having just bought a Hasselblad 501CM, I am happy to have read this. Incdientally, I notice a blad is pictured but not mentioned or used. I’d sure have been interested to see how a V-System Hasselblad with an 80mm Plannar lens would have matched up.

    Once again, many thanks for the details. Lots of time and effort has gone into it and I am appreciative of your work.


  • Nathan Lewis

    I think what you are seeing to some degree is diffraction issues.

    If you go to this online diffraction calculator:


    You can do some computations. What it amounts to is that, for a given depth of field, the max resolution is the same no matter how big the film is or how many megapixels. For example, for f/8 on 35mm format (i.e. full frame), you get a theoretical max of 35 megapixels. Note that digital camera megapixels possibly give only half the resolution as defined by this, so maybe that would be “70mp digital equivalent megapixels.”

    On 8×10, the equivalent DOF would be near f/64, which gives 29mp of resolvable data. f/16 on 8×10 gives 460mp. If we assume that film has 6mp of resolution for a 35mm frame (conservative), then an 8×10 sheet of film would have about 300mp of resolution.

    The gist of the story is, if you have a shallow DOF, your theoretical resolution on 8×10 is incredible, depending on your lenses and so forth. But, in a typical landscape situation where you’re using f/64 on 8×10 for deep DOF, you’re not getting nearly that much.

    • Hi Nathan – Indeed it is, I used that website for some of my calculations. In fact if you have a look at my comments (http://www.onlandscape.co.uk/2011/12/camera-test-editors-commentary/) you will see a table that shows just how much advantage over 4×5 has for different apertures. Effectively if you stop down to f/32 then you have almost double the resolution of 4×5 (about 80% more) but when you stop down to f/45 it becomes only 30% more resolution and if you use f/64 which is equivalent to f/8 on 35mm cameras, you don’t get any advantage using 8×10 over 4×5 (in terms of resolution). And if, God forbid, you used f/128 then you only have about 10-20% extra resolution over a Mamiya 7 at f/22.

  • Tareq Alhamrani

    Nice comparison.

    I just use Hasselblad H4D-60 for highest resolution i want, my DSLRs are fine, but for larger prints then my Hasselblad is the choice for me, i hope to use my 4×5 more in the future, i don’t have a drum scanner to get the best out of it or even my film MFs.

    • I do a big of drum scanning if you ever need it (and you’ll help to fund On Landscape if you do!) http://www.cheapdrumscanning.com

      • Tareq Alhamrani

        Well, in fact i am searching to buy a drum scanner to do by myself, i live in UAE, and sending my films and receive it will not be easy or cheap for me at all, we have a lab who can scan with Imacon, and they said they have a drum scanner for 8×10 but i don’t shoot with 8×10, so i will keep searching where i can find a decent drum scanner than can go up to 8×10.

        • If it can do 8×10 it should do 4×5 as well – email me privately and I’ll help where I can

          • Tareq Alhamrani

            I am sure if it can do 8×10 then automatically it can do smaller, but it seems they use imacon for up to 4×5, not sure if i will ask them to use that 8×10 drum scanner instead.

            How can i send a PM for you? I hope to visit UK again and shoot with film this time, i would like to use film more by now.

            So i am confused if i should use this digital MF or film MF or 4×5, 8×10 will be heavy and too much for field if i travel, i have lightweight 4×5 camera that i can carry when travel, and this article here about comparisons making me to wish getting 8×10 or even upgrade to 80mp digital back but i can’t afford it anymore.

          • My recommendation would be to use 4×5 definitely (8×10 is great but not in all situations and the extra resolution would only be visible at > 50″x40″ prints and only then if you have taken it with a large enough aperture). Then I would get the IQ180 if you can afford it but if you can’t I would stick with the ‘blad. The two systems seem complementary. Email me on info@ the domain name of the website.

            • Tareq Alhamrani

              Ah ok, thank you very much for this comment.

              I will send a private message if i need something, i always check your website when i want to see the best LF images, and i wish to live within landscape/nature place then i will burn all my film on landscapes rather than my digital gear.

  • WJ

    Firstly, thank you for the work and sharing it with everyone. I’m just a casual shooter who still have some affinity towards film and always wanted to see test like this done properly as it has been done here. Anyway as to 3d looks, Sigma shooters also say that foveon sensor gives more 3D look. Maybe it has to do with uneven colour resolution of beyer sensors making it less 3D. I don’t know whether you know but this site does some colour resolution testing on beyer sensor comparing it to foveon sensor: http://www.ddisoftware.com/sd14-5d/

  • B White

    Thanks, an interesting test for sure. One thing that struck me was the placement of your absolute resolution area so far from the center of the lens. I would think that a fairer position would have been in the center of frame to show the best possible resolution from each lens. I have tested my 35mm lenses and at wide apertures the sharpness and abberations close to the edge are much worse. I would imagine that holds for the IQ180 as well.

    • Hi – I appreciate the comment but the lens was outresolving the sensor as it was (have a look at the pixel level detail). Extra resolution would only have potentially added contrast but that is debatable when close to the diffraction limit.

      Also the resolution test was only approx 4mm away from the centre of the image as seen on the IQ180 sensor. The image circle diameter of the lens was 90mm and hence the resolution target was within the central 10% area and hence any resolution fall off would be indiscernible (and in fact for 80 line pairs per mm, the saggital contrast actually goes up fractionally within the central 25% area i.e. the centre isn’t necessarily the sharpest according to the MTF charts).

  • B White

    Apologies, I went back and watched the video and realised that the second shot of the test target is a crop, must concentrate more :) Thanks for the insight, a truly remarkable test.

  • Tareq Alhamrani

    Hey Tim,
    Hope you can give a visit to my country UAE, you are welcome here, i want you to come and teach us something about film and scanning, there is no people interested in in, but i need an instructor or expert for that, so if you come over i will be so willing to learn from you, i know 1 or 2 film shooters and sure they are interested in to learn, and i am sure they know many others who are in film side, just if you plan a visit here let me know.


  • Al

    Just great. Thank you Tim!
    I have a question: 1600 version, 3 pictures of Mamiya 7 T-Max Microscope, 8000 dpi scan, 4000 dpi scan. On a microscope I can see up to 8, but on a 8000 and 4000 everything equally stops at 5,5 (at my estimate). I wonder how can it be: maybe that was not the best focus for 8000 scan? Thanks again. Al

    • Yes, the 8000dpi scan wasn’t particularly sharp – I’m looking at getting some more hi-red scans done

  • Nathan

    Thanks for doing this test, wonderful results, and great to have a second opinion on 8×10 vs IQ180. In the past couple of years I’ve shot on 8×10 with Ilford Grade 3 RC paper for a negative, and then scanned it. I just use an epson flatbed scanner, and the lens I use is just a Symmar (not a Symmar-S). I wondered if you think the results would have even less noticeable grain in a scan from a paper negative? The iso is usually somewhere around .75 – 3, so it seems like paper, perhaps, would have a finer grain? (I also shoot on paper because it’s $1/shot instead of $10/shot, and it develops in 2 mins under a safelight instead of in 8 mins in the pitch black. Very convenient). I’d love to hear your thoughts about the grain size (as I don’t have drum scanned negatives to compare with)


  • David

    Interesting that the B&W film could yield higher resolution with different developers, concentrations, times, temperatures, agitations, film choice, exposure. Lots that can be done to optimise results for a certain situation. You could go as far as developing with a lith developer and effectively remove all halftones which I’m sure would yield higher resolution, but i doubt that is practical.

    Money wise, i’d point the finger at 4×5 being the best value for money. I think you could get a decent camera and lens for the same price as a mamiya 7 (around £900-£1200).

    I feel the added resolution from 10×8 is balanced with the problems of diffraction, vibrations and so on. Its all very subjective. Reasons for shooting 10×8 over 5×4 etc aren’t purely for resolution. An analogy used by Stephen Shore described 35mm as having 256 colours, 120 as thousands, and 10×8 as millions. I guess its similar to watching a movie on your iPhone 12inches away, and watching the same movie at an IMAX theatre with the screen 60metres away.

    Its important to bear in mind outputs. Most people don’t have access to a drum scanner, or imacon. I have an epson v750 which is able to scan a 4×5 sheet of film using a better lens and film holder than for 10×8 which is scanned using a lower quality lens, and on the document glass. So for me, i’d expect the extra resolution gained from shooting 8×10 over 5×4 to be lost from having to use a lower quality scan.
    But everything changes again once I’m in my darkroom, especially if i wanted to do 8×10 prints on 9.5×12 paper. 8×10 i could simply contact print. The only losses would come from uneven emulsion of the paper. 5×4 however would need to go through my enlarging lens, losing further resolution, and sharpness. In this test, the 8×10 would be much better.
    I know this is not the most empirical test/statement, but its important to assess what is best for you.

    • I think most of the development changes you can make seem to affect the contrast at certain frequencies, redistributing sharpess as it were. This can often make lower resolution results look sharper than higher resolution results. We did try some lith film in the comparison test but I haven’t developed it yet :-) soon though!

      4×5 scans very well on an Epson and is easily enough in terms of resolution for most purposes. It’s weakness is typically in Dmax and light bleeding from light to dark areas. Scanning neg film works a lot better on an Epson.

      I agree with Stephen Shores metaphor for 8×10 – colours just seem so much more convincing in larger formats. And you can’t beat contact printing which has been known to hit 600 or more dpi!! Each format has it’s advantages and disadvantages – my problem is avoiding using all of them!! :-)

    • Duncan

      It is a little bit ridiculous to talk about one of these formats having “much better” resolution or sharpness on an 8×10 print then the others, when they can all fathfully reproduce objects smaller then 40 microns (0.04 mm) on the print. Trying to push the importance of these numbers past plausibility just convinces me you are more interested in chasing numbers then in making photographs.

      I am not saying that there won’t be differences between 8×10 prints from the different formats, there will be. They just won’t be due to the resolution of the format!

      • I’m not sure who is pushing these numbers past plausibility? As far as I am aware, none of the digital cameras can put 40 micron onto a print because inkjet printers only resolve about 300 dpi or 80 ish micron. Now you’ll only see this detail in high contrast thin lines, such as branches against a sky or hair textures. Much better? Depends on your technique I suppose – contact prints are a lot easier to get right. Do you disagree?

        As for more interested in chasing numbers? Disappointed you think so – were my photographs that bad? :-)

        • Duncan

          One could build an 8×10 image out of individual atoms using a scanning tunneling electron microscope, but no one could see the “increased resolution” simply because our eyes can’t see things that small!

          I will say it more clearly: at a 12 inch viewing distance, viewing an 8×10 print, the human eye will not be able to perceive the difference in resolution between 8×10 film, 4×5 film, or the IQ 180 because of the resolution limit of the human eye.

          See: http://www.ndt-ed.org/EducationResources/CommunityCollege/PenetrantTest/Introduction/visualacuity.htm

          The eye can’t see anything smaller then about 88 microns at 12 inches. All of these capture tools (as that is what we are discussing. and yes, there are other output methods that can beat 300 ppi resolution, but they are not common because they are not needed for high quality output) can easily beat that, and thus there is no meaningful difference between them at that print size and David’s comment, “In this test, the 8×10 would be much better.” is ridiculous. My comment was a reply to David, so no Tim, I was not attacking your photographs. That said, if you read the suggestions of high level pros like Frans Lanting’s in Outdoor Photographer, he often recommends you work a subject, take many photographs, develop a strong message and work to distill that message down to a single image. From a quick peek in your gallery, you have some excellent images, but some look as if you could gain from trying this practice, which is greatly facilitated by the use of digital equipment. And no, I don’t mean the way LF photographers used to use a Polaroid camera to “sketch” the scene. I mean, making many more real, high quality images in pursuit of the one that will speak more strongly.

          As long as you are convinced of the inferiority of such systems even at 8×10 print sizes, you will never embrace them, and your photography will suffer because of it. Many experienced pros have said that the big difference they see with the advent of digital photography is the rate of improvement that photographers new to the field are able to achieve.

          If you want to continue to improve (and lest face it, even Frans Lanting says that he is still improving and learning as he works) then it might be time to admit that a 5D mk II can make a darn good 24″ x 36″ print, and try it out for a bit.

          Then again, an artist’s tools clearly do affect his art. I am certainly not one to tell an artist what medium he/she should use to make art. But that is a very different thing then claiming technical superiority as the deciding factor when making 8×10 prints!

          It is a little like claiming better taste when preferring French wines to California wines… (have you seen Bottle Shock? http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0914797/ )

          • First, the semantics of the word “much” — it’s often used to describe a 20% increase in linear resolution of digital cameras – or a 10% better traction in cornering in cars – or a 15% better corner resolution in lenses — also the 88micron at 12 inches can become a 44 micron resolution at 6 inches (the typical close focussing distance of 40 year olds – wikipedia). A 44 micron resolving power works out as 640dpi. We have to compare this with the best ‘typical’ printers that are used for digital printing and these seem to be 300dpi (even the 360dpi Epson only just resolves 330 ish when you put it on extra fine, reduce ink density, drying time etc). Even so, I would say that an approx 100% improvement in visible resolving power definitely qualifies as ‘much’.

            As for what we can see in reality – a side by side comparisons run by printers such as Ctein suggest that 30 lines per mm the maximum sharpness in blind test and this works out as 750dpi and contact prints will create details of at least that resolution. Academic papers from Rochester and Utah unversity’s (plus more papers behind paywalls – sucks) support the approx 700dpi max resolving power of the eye. They also got about a 500dpi average.

            Does this mean people enjoy pictures more with that much detail? Well, Frederick Evans probably only managed about four or five lines per mm but his images still move me.

            I also think it’s a poor ad hominem attack to suggest that an interest in the craft of photography negates any artistic skill. I never suggested that a system is bad just because it doesn’t resolve as many lines per mm as another system. If I mention that one system is better than another when talking about resolution – that is it’s only context.

            I’d also be interested in where it has been suggested that superior resolution should be the deciding factor when choosing a source system to generate 8×10 prints. A classic straw man move – redefine what someone said and then knock it down (a politicians trick that we’ve all seen).

            As for your suggestion that I should rethink the Canon 5Dmk2’s ability to make a fine 24″ x 36″ print – well, I tried it out as part of this camera comparison and the results were fairly dreadful unless you step quite a way back. The optimum enlargement of a detailed landscape with the 5dmk2 was about 10″x15″ – Testing the A900 vs IQ180 vs 8×10 printed on the Epson, I easily see the difference between the A900 and the IQ180/8×10 at 12″x18″ for real world detail (in this case the bars of a fence and the straps on a water tank in the test shots). At 8×10 from an inkjet printer, you can’t tell the difference – however, if you could print past the 360 dpi, it may be a different matter. and, yes, I’ve just tried this by printing off our test images at the different sizes and comparing the detail by eye and then working on by looking at the print through a microscope and analysing in photoshop what resolution the detail that has been recorded corresponds to. (I also ad hoc tested my eyesight against an 8×10 transparency of the resolution target. I think I can see about 450 – 500dpi equivalent.

            Your comments about me ‘working toward an image’ are a bit off the mark too. I don’t exclusively use large format, I used a Mamiya 7 for most of the images shot on a recent commission for the National Park’s authority (plus a bunch of 35mm shots taken on Portra 160 film that were used on interactive consoles and banner images) and I own three digital cameras and five medium format/35mm film cameras. I also use a digital camera when I’m out looking for a photograph and have taken quite a few images with it whilst looking for ‘that’ picture.

            If you can see that I haven’t done this ‘shooting towards a picture’ with some shots, I presume you can see the ones where I have done this too. I’d be impressed if you could pick five where I’ve worked towards the image with a digital camera and then five where you can see that I haven’t and I’ll let you know if you got close.

            The A900 is a bit of a revelation for me because as opposed to the Canon, whose colour I didn’t like. the Sony has produced images that look the way I want them to almost directly out of camera and hence it will be used more – I’ll still be taking LF images though (and the rest)

            As for Frans Lanting, his most famous pictures were taken on film where he wouldn’t have had hundreds of images to work with and for the vast majority (you can check his pre 2005 website on archive.org). The lighting and location conditions would precluded taking the same image on two different visits and as a stock photographer primarily, he also wouldn’t have been able to spend a long time in each location working on a single picture. Listening to his videos he returned to locations but the different compositions were mostly implied by lighting conditions. Most tellingly though, the vast majority of images are wildlife and I can agree completely that being able to take multiple photographs of such an unpredictable subject is of great advantage.

            However, for landscape it’s a different matter where Gem Southam, John Blakemore, Peter Dombrovskis, Eliot Porter, Christopher Burkett, Ansel Adams and pretty much every other large and medium format photographer managed without digital to get some OK images. Like them, I try to do the distillation without having to press the shutter. My personal feeling is that the use of a digital camera doesn’t mean better pictures just as using film doesn’t mean better pictures – neither does any particular technique. Some may facilitate a different way of working that has associated advantages and disadvantages, that is all.

            This wasn’t meant to be an essay but I’ve been researching visual acuity recently and also writing an article on print resolution and depth of field.

            Also it might be best to refrain from making blanket statements such as “just convinces me you are more interested in chasing numbers then in making photographs.” – it only winds people up, smacks of pettiness and adds little to the enjoyment of people trying to read comments. Other than that – I appreciate you taking the time to take part in the conversation.

            p.s. The 5Dmk2 can only achieve about 60 lines per mm on a lens like the Canon 24mm f/1.4 at optimum apertere at 1/3 field – this translates as 7 lines per mm on an 8″x12″ print. which is 360 dpi and the equivalent to about a 150 micron spot size – definintley below visual acuity.

            • Duncan

              Wow! I didn’t realize you felt so strongly about the resolution advantages of contact printing!

              I thought we were discussing and comparing capture technologies? Your own tests seem to show that 8×10, 4×5, and the IQ 180 all would be able to capture and reproduce detail smaller then 40 microns on an 8×10 print… ? (speaking about using logical tricks to win arguments… shifting the subject?)

              It is also entertaining that you think Frans Lanting would not have had hundreds of images when he was shooting film… I bet you are incorrect on that point, and I also feel that he continues to make powerful images to this day… maybe even he is still improving?

              Likewise, I never said “an interest in the craft of photography negates any artistic skill.” Quite the opposite, the technical nature of photography requires understanding of the craft of photography, which I would extend to include the nature of human visual perception, to clearly express artistic vision with this medium. It is true however, that it can be a distraction if one focuses on it to much.

              This all reminds me of the argument between analog and digital music recording. So many people convinced that they can hear the effects of cd’s cutting out above 22 kHz… some people claiming they have “golden ears” It sounds like you must have “golden eyes”. Must be bothersome looking at all those halftone dots instead of seeing images as you flip through national geographic magazine or the newspaper.

              After extensive research, studies found that the aspects of the analog sound which people preferred over digital were not due to any “increased fidelity” (the digital recordings had higher measured fidelity) but were due to the distortion/coloration the medium added.

              In any case, I think we can agree to disagree on the importance of sub 100 micron detail reproduction on large scale landscape photographs, and then continue to agree that the artist gets to choose the medium, and we should only judge the success of the photograph, not the capture method.

              Happy shooting!

  • David

    Its hard to argue. Shooting digital is great, as you can tell there and then if your shot is wrong, and reshoot. Or shoot thousands of tests and review the effects of altering a variable.
    I benefit from knowing that if i screw up this shot, it will cost me £7. Knowing if i was up the side of a mountain, i only have 10 shots. Shooting film makes you learn a different way. I find i’m more diligent. I look before taking the photo, rather than after.

    Improving with digital is one of those things that is different to improving with film. Each is as valid as the other, despite how much moral high ground is attempted to be claimed by each party, polemically.

    Duncan, my comment about “in this test, 8×10 would be better” is taking into consideration the loss of resolution and sharpness, vignette, distortion, aberrations etc of the lens being used to enlarge compared to the contact print of the negative and paper sandwiched together.
    When i say ‘better’ i mean in a technical sense. I personally wouldn’t regard an image taken on 8×10 to be any more valid than a photo taken on an iPhone. In fact, there are a lot of people who validate their work by using a large format camera, and reeling out the verbatim of viewing an image inverted vertically and horizontally as an aid to composition. I would personally find it refreshing to see someone working seriously with their iPhone.

    The point i was trying to make is that you need to find the format best suited to you and your resources. Theres absolutely no point shooting medium format if your scanner can’t give you a file better than a 5dMkII – you would simply shoot on a 5D!

    I shall keep quiet about the frans lanting comment. Making multiple images in pursuit of one, is one approach. In your eyes you may be ‘distilling’ the subject, but to me, i’d probably say ‘stagnant’.

    • Duncan

      David, Thank you for your considered comment.

      I quite agree with you about “Improving with digital is one of those things that is different to improving with film.” It is the nature of art that each decision you make effects the final outcome of the artwork produced, and often in ways that we can not predict before it is made. They are different, and equally valid means to creative outlet. They force you to think in different ways, just like the differences between writing a novel is different then writing poetry is different from writing a column for a newspaper, or hand writing on a pad of paper is different from typing into a computer. Here an XKCD comic seems relevant to me: http://xkcd.com/1045/

      In the discussion about the contact print vs the enlarged 4×5… I understand the theoretical improvement, but my comment was that I doubt the differences would be visible to the unaided human eye unless there is something wrong with your enlargement system.

      I wholeheartedly agree with your statement “you need to find the format best suited to you and your resources.” Absolutely! and also the format that makes you excited to go out and shoot! If it isn’t about passion and excitement, why are you doing it!

      Funny you say “Stagnant” as the images he discusses are all very different, with greatly varying angle of view, subject, lighting, distance, etc.

      Anyway David, we are mostly in agreement, aside from the visibility of resolution differences in 8×10 prints. I hope you find success!

  • Brett Rogers

    “However, for landscape it’s a different matter where Gem Southam, John Blakemore, Peter Dombrovskis, Eliot Porter, Christopher Burkett, Ansel Adams and pretty much every other large and medium format photographer managed without digital to get some OK images. ”

    it was nice to see Peter Dombrovskis get a mention. He’s sadly missed, now, but his remarkable body of large format transparency images captured with his Linhof 5×4 continue to inspire and were also crucial in preserving large tracts of Tasmanian wilderness for future generations.

  • Pingback: New Article on Large Format Film and Digital Comparisons | Black and White Photography()

  • pierto chelli

    Dear Tim, your big camera comparison is an outstanding piece of research.

    I am very happy to come across it, as I am deciding if to move into 4×5 or digital medium format.

    In regards to this, I have a few questions that would need your precious help:

    1) Do you have any suggestions on what the Portra 160NC would have resolved on the 4×5?

    2) You suggest that the Mamiya 7, which you see resolve up until a level of 9 by naked eye, could resolve as much as a 4×5 with a good enlarger. ( ! )
    Does this mean that a good enlarger will produce a wet print which will always be better than scanning the film, then printing from the scanned file?

    3) On a closer reading, I realize that those who are, so to speak, in favour of a DMF over a 4×5 (Mr. Bradford, Sami Nabeel and others),
    are comparing its prints over ones coming from an Imacon scan of a 4×5 transparency.
    Would the judgement from the comparison be substantially different if they were using a drum scanner instead? And, again, if using a 160NC negative?

    Again, many thanks for posting this. It is invaluable, and so are also the comments and the perspective of all the photographers that are sharing the experiences with their equipment and image making.

    best, pietro

  • Californian

    Where is the CONCLUDING paragraph? I can’t read through all this…

    • If you’d read the last paragraph you can see that we asked a few different photographers for their comments and conclusions. The reason we haven’t made a broad statement from the magazine is that it wouldn’t have any context. If you skim read the results you can see tables of resolution comparisons with some visuals to show the overal differences. The results are about more than just resolution though; each camera system renders the scene differently and depending on your requirements, both technical and aesthetic, you will prefer different camera systems to somebody else. The only absolute conclusion we can make is that large format colour and the IQ180 are on a par in terms of resolution with a good drum scan. Large format black and white resolves better than the IQ180. Mamiya 7 can outresolve the IQ180 but it would take a very good drum scan (we’ve since seen Adox CMS 20 blow away even 4×5 black and white when darkroom printed). I’d suggest that if you are interested in the results I would read the comments and then come back and explore this article.

  • Michael Taylor

    Hi Tim

    Phase One IQ260 (March 2013).

    Would be interesting for you to set up again and compare IQ260 results.

    Also, Capture One Pro V7 has an amazing new algorithm to capture finest nuances of shadow and highlight detail.

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