on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

Big Camera Comparison – Editor’s Commentary

Tim Parkin gives his thoughts on the Big Camera Comparison

Skip to Comments
Tim Parkin

Tim Parkin

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

Flickr, Facebook, Twitter


When I first considered running this test I figured it would be quite hard work and would take a few days to complete. Little did I know I would end up spending around a hundred man hours completing it. The test started as a reaction to a few articles comparing digital with film over the years, all of which were lacking in some way. Some overestimated the resolution that can be laid onto film by large format lenses, others missed out on critical techniques to make the sharpest pictures on one platform or another. In all though, there was definitely room to make a definitive review of high resolution imaging technologies.

I was in a fortunate position to know the supplier of Phase One cameras in the North of the UK and to have a business partner who had a great deal of experience shooting digital and film cameras and hoped (naively perhaps) that including two ‘experts’ in the digital side of photograph would circumvent some of the criticism from that camp. We also spent some time making sure we had the best gear for the digital cameras, knowing that someone somewhere would say “Ah! You should really have been using a Alfalfa Alpagon on a steel reinforced concrete plinth!”; so we talked to Paula Pell-Johnson from Linhof Studio who loaned us the Alpa SWA with a Digaron 40mm lens which combined with the Phase One 645DF, Cambo Wide and Linhof Techno which we had access to already should be enough to cover a few different bases.

We also talked on various forums about how best to get the sharpest pictures and finally calculated the depth of field based on the pixel size of the IQ180 (turned out to be 10cm either side of the target at the 7m distance for our studio test) to ensure we weren’t asking too much of our focussing abilities!

It was also thought that a good test would be to include some DSLR’s and so we arranged for a colleague, John Robinson, to come with his Nikon D3X and combined with my Canon 5D2 and Dav Thomas’ Sony A900 and a couple of tilt shift lenses from “Lenses for Hire” we covered quite a range (not forgetting the legendary Mamiya 7 in the middle).

The Day of the Test

The day of the test turned into an epic 8am to 5pm marathon with the majority of this taken up in the studio. Each camera was focus checked at least three of the five people present (All four of us, Chris Ireland, Tim Parkin, Dav Thomas, Joe Cornish and John Robinson) and the Alpa was checked by everybody (we all wanted to see how astonishing the Alpa fresnel and ground glass was!).

Focussing wasn’t easy at times either. We were targeting the ‘resolution trumpet’ (we really need a better name for that) and we could only ever manage to see the low resolution version on all cameras apart from the 8x10 (which we hoped had a good ground glass registration - turned out it did). Even the live view on the Alpa was not the easiest thing to use because of the 1s refresh rate. We did spend some time taking multiple pictures with very small shifts of focus whilst checking the maximum resolution we could achieve afterward so became very confident that we were achieving the maximum we could get out of the cameras.

The most difficult focussing was probably the Mamiya 7 though, trying to get critical focus using the Rangefinder wasn’t that easy. However, I did find a ‘cheat’ way of doing it which was using the video camera on 100% zoom and pointing it through the rangefinder window! I shouldn’t have worried in the end because the effective depth of field for the Mamiya was even more than the IQ180.

Around 2pm, after 6 hours of studio shooting, we decamped to the Yorkshire Moors for the ‘landscape’ test. Joe found an excellent spot that he has used a few times in the past and we spent another two and a half hours getting very cold whilst setting up multiple cameras. The IQ180 on the Phase 645DF was as easy to use as the Sony A900 and Mamiya 7, taking very little time to set up beyond working out the best focussing point for hyperfocal operation.

Setting up the 4x5 wasn’t too much of a hassle either, only taking about ten minutes to get set up. The 8x10 was a different matter and even using two of us, it still took a good 15-20 minutes to get set up, stable and focussed (we were using two tripods on the 8x10 - pretty essential for sharp shooting as the camera flex is enough to degrade the image). The windy conditions had us thinking that the 8x10 would probably do worse than the 4x5 in these conditions but the combination of Joe and my skinny frames blocking the wind the results proved better than expected (although one of the Velvia frames was slightly fuzzy).

The Results

Well, I’ve refrained from commenting on the results until everybody else has chipped in so as not to influence people but here goes. What do I think? Well, I have to say I was incredibly impressed that the 8x10 could manage to nearly double the linear resolution of the 4x5. Most sources will tell you that you sacrifice a lot of detail using 8x10 but we definitely proved that if you can avoid stopping down too much then you can get astonishing resolution out of 8x10 photographs. However, at larger taking apertures this can be a different story, more on that later.

Let’s start with the results that started the exercise in the first place, the IQ180 vs 8x10. Well the results put that to bed and pretty authoritatively at that. The studio test shows that the difference in the capabilities of the two systems is enormous. The IQ180 files are 7,660x10,328 pixels whereas the resolving power of the 8x10 system can generate pixel sharp images at 22,400 x 28,000 pixels, nearly three times the linear resolving power and nine times the ‘megabyteage’ at an astonishing (and computer defying) 630 megapixels. Our 4000dpi scans of the 8x10 transparencies generated a 7.6Gb 16bit file, finally pushing me to upgrade my 8 core Mac Pro to 16Gb of RAM and a 64Gb SSD raid 0 scratch drive - and it was still painfully slow.

This isn’t quite the end of the story though, as seen in Hans Strand’s comments where he says he is getting better results from his medium format back than he was getting from 5x4 and 8x10. Digging a little deeper, Hans was using much larger apertures that used in the tests so I did a few calculations. The following table might look really confusing at first but bear with me. What I've done is to provide, for each platform, a list of aperture's used in the test where each row shows an equivalent aperture for each platform. i.e. the first row in each table is the aperture that gives the same depth of field for that platform. What follows this is the theoretical maximum enlargement based on diffraction (based on the table here) - however I've modified these to limit the maximum enlargement based on a couple of different factors. The first limitation is the maximum enlargement of a 35mm digital ~20Mp camera which is 12" x 18" (at 300dpi). The next limitation is placed on the Phase IQ180 system because it has a maximum enlargement of 26" x 32" (based on 300dpi). The next limitation the maximum resolution for lenses for the Mamiya 7 which is about 100 line pairs per mm. The final limitation is the resolution of LF lenses which is about 70 line pairs per mm. Each of these tables now shows the largest enlargement in mm for each platform and each f-stop for equivalent depth of fields. Fortunately you can ignore all of that maths and skip your way down to the very last table which shows the ratio of the different platforms to each other at equivalent focal lengths.

f/stop multiplier height/mm
2⅔ 13 312
2.8⅔ 13 312
4⅔ 13 312
5.6⅔ 13 312
8⅔ 13 312
f/stop multiplier height/mm
4 16 646
5.6 16 646
8 16 646
11 16 646
16 13 525
Mamiya 7 - 6x7
f/stop multiplier height/mm
5.6 13 728
8 13 728
11 13 728
16 13 728
22 8 448
f/stop multiplier height/mm
8⅔ 7.5 720
11⅔ 7.5 720
16⅔ 7.5 720
22⅔ 7.5 720
32⅔ 5 480
f/stop multiplier height/mm
11⅔ 7.5 1470
22⅔ 7 1372
32⅔ 5 980
45⅔ 3.5 686
64⅔ 2.5 490
4x5 vs 8x10 IQ180 vs 8x10 IQ180 vs 4x5
(8⅔/16⅔) 2.0x (4/16⅔) 2.3x (4/8⅔) 1.1x
(11⅔/22⅔) 1.9x (5.6/22⅔) 2.1x (5.6/11⅔) 1.1x
(16⅔/32⅔) 1.4x (8/32⅔) 1.5x (8/16⅔) 1.1x
(22⅔/45⅔) 1.0x (11/45⅔) 1.1x (11/22⅔) 1.1x
(32⅔/64⅔) 1.0x (16/64⅔) 0.9x (16/32⅔) 0.9x

In summary, this table shows the maximum critical enlargement for each camera type at each aperture taking into account diffraction and 'best lenses'. e.g. 35mm and Mamiya 7 are film limited at 13x but the IQ180 sensor will allow a 19x enlargement before diffraction kicks in. The last table shows the relative enlargement ratios of the camera pairs shown. e.g comparing IQ180 and 8x10 shows that at smaller apertures the advantage to 8x10 is 2.3x but this falls behind at f/90 to 0.9x - diffraction has killed 8x10's advantage

The last section shows the aperture for each platform and the ratio difference in achievable resolution. As you can see, when we are working at the operating apertures we used in the Studio test, the 8x10 is capable of over 200% of the resolution of the IQ180; However, as the need for depth of field increases this advantage starts to disappear. By the time you are using an aperture equivalent to f/5.6 on 35mm cameras, the advantage of the 8x10 over the IQ180 has dropped to 50% and if you should need to stop down to the equivalent of f/11 then the advantage of 8x10 has disappeared. The advantage for 4x5 is is minimal - the theoretical advantage is 10% for smaller apertures but this disappears by the time you get to around f/8 equivalent and for apertures smaller than f/8, the IQ180 has a distinct advantage over 4x5. (don't forget that these are 'equivalent' apertures based on 35mm - the actual aperture is shown in the table above - pick a row from each table to see the equivalents, e.g. the first row in each table is the equivalent in terms of depth of field).

Now this matches up with our studio and field work quite well. The distinct advantage to 10x8 is rapidly degraded by the time you get to the field work where it has maybe 50% advantage in resolution. The same is true of the 5x4 shots where at the taking apertures of f/22⅔ showed a similar resolution to the IQ180.

Just as an aside, the Mamiya 7 did very well in the resolution tests and yet the files looked a lot worse than the absolute resolution would indicate. This is due to the grain of the film starting to obscure tonality and fine detailed textures. Low contrast elements got lost within the grain in most cases. The Mamiya 7 ended up resolving considerably more than the DSLRs but looking only slightly better than them.

Comparing Canon 5Dmk2 with Mamiya 7, Portra 160 Noise Reduction

Choose Which Cameras/Films to Compare

Before side
  • Nikon D3X
  • Mamiya 7, Portra 160
  • Mamiya 7, Portra 160 Noise Reduction
  • Mamiya 7, T-Max 100
  • Canon 5Dmk2
After side
  • Nikon D3X
  • Mamiya 7, Portra 160
  • Mamiya 7, Portra 160 Noise Reduction
  • Mamiya 7, T-Max 100
  • Canon 5Dmk2

At first it looks like the DSLR's are quite a bit sharper but once you look closer you see that the details are quite mushy. this is something that has been observed in the IQ180/film results also and is symptom of the way digital and film resolve fine detail. With digital, the finer and finer detail in an image are quite contrasty all the way to the resolution of the sensor and then, at that point, there is no more detail. The camera detail hits a resolution brick wall beyond which it cannot go because of the size of the pixel. Film, on the other hand, renders detail quite differently. Finer and finer detail loses more and more contrast so that at the point where digital hits a brick wall, film has lower contrast so the digital looks sharper. However, the film keeps on going finer and finer until either the grain overwhelms it or the scanner runs out of resolution.

What this can mean is that digital can look sharper "at a certain critical resolution". This resolution is dependent on the format but having printed out lots of tests, seems to be at the point of a 300dpi print at native resolution. Once you enlarge beyond this, film carries on looking good but digital starts to look 'plasticky'. Having said that, this critical resolution for the IQ180 is 26" x 32" print - quite good enough for nearly all purposes. In our final print comparison, once you enlarge beyond this to 40" x 50" for example, the 4x5 and definitely the 10x8 start to look better than the IQ180.

Digital Artefacts

One of the inevitable side effects of the digital cameras used is that caused by the Bayer Array. The bayer array means that not every pixel counts for full colour information. In fact, for red and blue, only one in four pixel counts. These effects are not generally seen but as you approach the resolution limit of these cameras, strange things start to happen. The obvious effect is that occasionally colour will appear where there was none in the original picture, or colour will disappear where there was some. For instance, if you look at the close up detail of the nikon lens, the white numbering on the aperture rings have begin to be coloured on the IQ180 files. Also, some of the red berries in the water in one of the transparency tests have almost completely lost there colour. Less obvious is why we appear to have some sort of grid pattern on the resolution chart for the IQ180 and why this grid pattern is overlaid with blue and red colouring (image shown below).

There are a few things going on here - firstly we have the fact that once the resolution of the lines gets higher than the resolution of the sensor, we get lots of aliasing happening. This means that the raw conversion algorithms can't work out what is a line and what is a dot. Why should they be working these things out in the first place? Well the aim of raw conversion is to take the data given and to create something that looks as sharp as possible. In order to do this, the algorithm takes the individual pixel data from each of the colour channels and tries to work out whether there are any contiguous lines or shapes. If there are, then the system can sample the brightness of each of the green, red and blue pixels along this line to work out what colour it should be (adding in the missing data for places where there are no red or blue pixels). When there is no obvious lines, the system hunts around trying to find anything that looks like one and in this case, mistakenly thinks that we have some vertical and horizontal lines and also mistakenly works out the colour as either red or blue depending on exactly which pixels happen to sit over these lines. The means that instead of a blurred effect, we get a mosaic like grid effect; and instead of a lower contrast grey colour we get a textured, coloured effect.

As well as on the nikon 50mm lens, the effect is also very clear on the Nikon logo on the larger lens. Here is an image showing the individual pixels that represent the Nikon text. As the small lines of white text pass over the different coloured bayer filters, the colouring tends to either blue or red. You may wonder why you never see a green effect? Well this is because each row of pixels always contains green, in fact every other pixel. However, each row also contains either red or blue pixels. So one row will be green red green red and another will be green blue green blue. So depending on which row or column the white text hits will result in a different coloured tint. If the white line of the text spans two rows, then the blue and red cancel each other out and we get back to white again.

Scanning Film

All of the film was scanned on a 4000dpi Howtek 4500 drum scanner that can be purchased from between £800 and £1,200. These scans have picked up all of the detail of the 8x10 film but for the f/11⅔ 4x5 file, the microscope results tell us that there is more detail to be scanned. This does suggest that it may be possible to get more detail out but we would have to have access to a 12,000 dpi scanner to do so (the 8,000 dpi scanner we tried did not give a significantly greater amount of data).

The Mamiya 7 results were very surprising though. The scans provided a great deal of detail but when we examined the results through our microscope we were amazed to see a significant amount of extra detail still left. For the Mamiya 7 T-Max image, the resolution detail matched the 4x5 4000dpi scan! This does suggest that it may be possible to get a result from the Mamiya that would compete with the IQ180 in a very, very good darkroom. Achieving this in practise is unlikely though, but that won't stop me trying.

We also had a look at how much detail we could get out of the film if we only had access to an Epson flat bed scanner (V750). It was no great surprise to see that the Mamiya 7 results were degraded to a point where they were only really a match for the Canon 5Dmk2, not quite matching the Nikon D3X. The quality of the 4x5 files was degraded to a point where the detail resolution was a little worse than the IQ180 but the overall result was aesthetically a lot worse for the transparency (you can see this comparison on the Nikon Lens test in the smaller sample of side by side comparisons). However, scanning the Portra 400 on the Epson resulted in a file that was not a huge amount worse than the drum scan in terms of resolution and colour fringing. This would suggest that if you don't have access to a drum scanner, you may be better off shooting negative film? The 8x10 Portra 400 scan was hardly degraded at all however; the results showed a similar level of sharpness of that of the drum scan with very little evidence of the colour fringing and halation that flatbed scanners are renowned for (all Epson V750 scans were made at 4800dpi and down sampled to reduce noise).

Printed Results

The very last task that I undertook was to make prints of all of these images at various sizes from 20"x24" to 64"x80". Obviously I didn't print them at full size but I did make 12"x17" crops. The results of these were quite enlightening. At 64"x80", the 8x10 print was considerably better, it held more detail and the tonality was smooth even though it was slightly grainy. The IQ180 image had that 'plastic wrap' look to it that wasn't particularly pleasing. I did wonder whether adding noise to the IQ180 file would improve that and to a certain extent it did. Although the IQ180 still looked soft in comparison with the 8x10, once noise was added (using Alien Skin's 'Exposure' plugin) the 4x5 and IQ180 prints looked on a par with one another.

At a more realistic gallery hero image of 30x40" print, the images started to look on a par with each other with the edge given to the 8x10 if you really 'nosed' the print (i.e. it has sharp detail in the 20 lines per mm range) and the edge to the IQ180 because of the high acutance at around 5 lines per mm. The 4x5 print holds the same detail as the IQ180 now but looks less sharp because it doesn't have that high level of acutance. However, there is something aesthetically pleasing about the 4x5 and 8x10 images because they don't have this acutance - this is a purely subjective thing though

When you come down to 20x24 prints, the difference between the difference cameras is very difficult to discern a difference between the 4x5, IQ180 and 10x8 images beyond a difference in tonality. The Portra 400 and IQ180 produced very similar images but the Velvia 50 had a definite ability to separate tones, especially in foliage, that both the IQ180 and Portra 400 couldn't manage. This wasn't possibly replicated in Photoshop either. Whether you like that difference or not is a subjective decision - personally I like it in some images and not in others. It's also as impossible to emulate as it is to remove so if you get your Velvia image, you won't be able to wind it back out again - it isn't just saturation by a long shot.

What was a surprise out of all of this was how bad the Phase One P45 managed. The resolution wasn't a great deal better than the Sony A900 - which was evident when we produced prints of both of them side by side - but the colour was terrible. There was no way to compare the files without making quite dramatic selective colour changes (i.e. removing yellow from the greens and yellow/greens, removing magenta/red from everything and also desaturating the greens). I have an idea that this may be something to do with a clash of the frequency spectrum of the bayer filters/sensor and the spiky frequency spectrum of light reflected from chlorophyll. The reason this may be so is that although plants look green, the actual colour spectrum of chloropyll is a combination of almost an almost ultraviolet purple/blue with an almost infra-red red. Because of metamerism, these two colours get detected in our eye and combine together to give us green. However, digital sensors have all sorts of strange behaviour around the ultra-violet and infra-red ends of the spectrum and any slight imbalance between these two ends will end up with chlorophyll looking a weird colour. However a synthetic green patch that looks identical to our eyes may render perfectly correctly. OK - as a colleague of mine would say "back away from the science Tim"...

Back to the Sony A900 for a moment. I was incredibly impressed with the output of this camera on the landscape test - the colour rendering was very natural and looked very similar to the IQ180. During this test the results from both this camera and the Nikon D3X have been very impressive and although I'm a bit tested out, I would love to do a comparison of DSLR colour at some point in the future.

Overall Conclusion

OK - what do I think of all this after spending so long on it. Well, first things first; The IQ180 is the first digital camera that really competes with the best that film can manage. It has the resolution to compete with 4x5 and 8x10 for prints up to 30"x40" and, more importantly for me, it has the colour rendering to compete with negative film. In all respects it is a very highly desirable item. So I would say that if you have the money, either through the volume of work you do or personal reserves, then think about buying one of these. They will produce results that will cope with almost all jobs. I say almost all jobs because there are still three areas where film excels.

Dynamic Range

The IQ180 has one of the highest dynamic ranges of any production digital camera and yet it is still a long way from matching the dynamic range offered by colour negative film, especially the film that has just been released by Kodak, Portra 400 and Portra 160. The truth is that in many situations, especially if you are working at sunrise and sunset, you will still occasionally have to use graduated filters or blend multiple exposures together. It is estimated that the IQ180 has about a theoretical 13.5 stops of dynamic range but in fact has about 10 stops of usable range. Portra 400 has a theoretical 19 stops of dynamic range and a usable 15 stops (see here) and although could arguably benefit from a graduated filter occasionally, most people don't use them and don't need to. I have accidentally left a lens aperture open on a Fuji 6x17 after using the ground glass to focus and only noticed after a minute. That was 10 stops of overexposure on the film that I had just loaded into the camera. I was stunned when there was still an image scannable on the developed film (albeit a little grainy).


The IQ180 has stunning colour and I would say that this is a more important reason to buy this camera than it's resolution. However, the different colour film stocks available - especially Velvia 50 - give a range of palettes that just are not achievable even through photoshop work. Some artists, such as David Ward, using the idiosyncrasies of these palettes to their advantage in their creative colour work. Until film disappears, this gives a unique rendering of the world.


Until the IQ180 has a bluetooth tether to an iPad and at least a 15 frames per second live view, a ground glass screen is still one of the most accurate ways of composing images. There is no replacement for working with a reasonably large image in an environment abstracted from the real world. Even the upside down nature of the ground glass is argued by some as an advantage. Obviously many artists can work without this but on the other hand, many artists (just like many art directors in studios) find working on a large scale representation of the image a critical part of their compositional workflow.


Well - I had to say this one didn't I? Myself and Dav Thomas hold large format workshops and we have some recommended kit for clients that would allow them to build a two lens large format system for under £1000. Quite recently I bought an 8x10 camera with reducing back and dark slides for £1000 also. I develop my own film so each frame of 5x4 only costs me about £4 a sheet (or £2.50 if I shop around for short dated stock). I shoot about 300 sheets a year which ends up costing about £1000-1500. In other words the outright purchase of a 5x4 system and two years shooting could cost less than a two lens DSLR system. My 10x8 shooting is a bit more expensive at about £8 a sheet (which would be £15 a sheet if I bought new film and sent it off for developing). I operate an Epson V750 scanner and a drum scanner (got to get a plug in! http://cheapdrumscanning.com/) and hence my scanning outlay was an initial £1200 on top of which consumables cost about £50 per scan.


Do I need to go into these? Loading dark slides, carrying the equipment (although a minimal 4x5 kit can weight less than an IQ180 set up), developing, scanning, spotting film, inverting negatives, missing transitory light, processing huge files, etc, etc. All of these are true.

My conclusion? Well, If the IQ180 were £10k and lenses for it were about £1k each then I'd be saving up. Would I get rid of my film equipment as well? No.. The process of shooting large format and some of films unique characteristics (i.e. Velvia colour, Portra 160/400 dynamic range) still give me something I want.

The real answer is, of course, to use both :-)

Tim Parkin - http://www.timparkin.co.uk

  • So, firmly sitting on the fence then! ;-)

    My conclusion from all this is that acutance is not the ultimate or even the most important measure of photographic quality. But it is almost bound to be the one that a digital back manufacturer wants to trumpet. How else can they show the enormous strides – and I won’t deny this – that digital has made in the last few years?

    However, for me the feel of film is still more appealing than digital output. I’m reminded of the fact that when television companies want their dramas to have a ‘quality feel’ they often use post-production techniques to make their video output look like film… But if you were going to do this with an IQ180 you could cut out the middleman and save yourself a fortune by sticking to film! Surely the point is that you either need digital output for your workflow (because of the quantity of images you are making or because a client demands it or because it’s easier to stitch) or you can get by perfectly well by sticking to film and having the best images scanned on a Howteck.

    Opinionated? Me? ;-)

  • One important thing that almost always escapes in these tests is that for DSLR with resolution doubling that of a 12MP packed into 36x24mm frame, it gets very difficult to extract a full resolution out of a sensor. As the pixels get smaller, the shakes of the camera/lens combo gets more pronounced. The ordinary tripods might not even be good enough to get full sensor resolution (a good lens not inhibiting sensor resolution is also a must) and you may consider to put camera on a more solid platform (like a vice bolted on very heavy base to exclude any vibrations). Also for most amount of detail in raw files you’d need to use something like RPP – ACR and most other commercial raw convertors “eat” resolution due to their integer math.

    These articles are great – thanks for fascinating read.

    • Just wanted to add that with all those difficulties extracting max resolution from FF digital sensors (and 20+ MP cameras like Nikon D3x etc), it really makes it a no brainer to use MF or large format film. Even though the costs may not look the same it will in retrospective be cheaper than getting D3x or the likes. With MF area size and the finest resolution film it will be a lot easier to extract better resolution from the film than say D3x.

  • wwelti

    Thanks for this test, Tim! It was never a question for me that film is still far superior as digital. And you managed to show this quite clearly. Great work! As soon scanner technology further improves, the lead will become even more substantial.
    Merry Christmas!

    • Well I wouldn’t say film is superior absolutely. I would say that larger formats of film still manage to outresolve and out dynamic range digital sensors but the Sony A900 is nearly as good as medium format film which is impressive and the IQ180 almost matches 4×5 which, again, is really quite impressive – especially as the colour rendering is getting a lot better on these digital platforms than other ones I have tried. I think we’ve seen the end of high end scanner technology…. apart from this maybe? Perhaps I should get one and specialise in ultra resolution scanning :-)

      • wwelti

        Hi Tim! I’m not sure if you received the e-mail I sent you about a month ago. Maybe you replied, but I somehow lost your reply? :-(
        Of course it’s impressive how fast digital technology is advancing. Sure, it’s difficult to argue about “superiority”, but it’s obvious that digital photography isn’t good enough yet to seamlessly replace 8×10″ or even 4×5″.
        Have you ever tried hi resolution b/w film? I’m using Adox CMS 20 for some experiments. Really fantastic stuff, but an “ordinary” hi-end scanner won’t cut it.

      • You are right, I did miss that email – I’ll be interested in seeing how you do. By the way, I do have some ultra hi res film from this test waiting to be developed. It was Rollei ATO supplied by a reader. I need to mix some chemicals and change the settings on my dev unit to process but we should have some 4×5 and an 8×10 sheets of it!

        • wwelti

          Wow, now that sounds exciting! :-)

  • Merry Christmas Tim
    To help make your digital images look more like film, photograph a Macbeth or Kodak step wedge with say Velvia. Scan it and using Photoshop make a curve that matches the greyscale. Use this curve (which isn’t as smooth a shape as you would think) and all of a sudden things start to come together. The other thing is to avoid oversharpening at all costs. The digital image is very clean and a lot of “edginess” results from too much sharpening.

    Following on from David Ward’s comment. I worked in television as an editor for more years than I should have and saw the transition to electronic pictures first hand. Indeed there are many techniques used to give a “filmic” look. However some are based upon the same sort of urban myths that we see in the digital/film argument. The real improvements came when the manufacturers started to apply image processing in camera. It’s also amazing how convincing adding a bit of grain is.
    Yet again it’s great to have a magazine where it’s possible to have an intelligent discussion. Best wishes for 2012

  • WB

    Shakes are a function of lens fl, not pixel density. If all the formats have the same FOV, their IQ is compromised equally by the shakes.

  • Very interesting and brain exhausting exercise. Ive always wanted to see what the comparisons would be, between the larger formats of film really than anything else. Its helped me see that my new 4×5 set up was the correct choice. Ive been advising people for quite some time to chose film over digital, especially when investing in a LF setup. I had a 5DMKll and L lenses and even bought Zeiss glass, however, the results were terrible compared to 4×5. Diffraction and colour fringing, blurred corners were the obvious issues, but the colour, tonality, ‘depth’ and realism I personally never was happy about, and I never felt right producing prints from substandard images that people would buy. It felt like daylight robbery. Comparrsions are good, but in the real world no one has the multiple thousands to go and purchase these high end digital backs. Something I teach in my workshops, something not touched on in this article is “integrity”. Photography has always been about the photographer, not the equipment only. Even though these reviews stand in their own right, I believe, more emphasis should be on making the point that equipment doesnt make one a photographer, and neither does Photoshop. I make photographs using a Holga, and Ive never questioned its “technical” downsides. Despite the cameras obvious low quality, it doesnt stop someone enjoying photography and image making. One of the benefits of using film I believe is that it pushes a photographers skill. Getting it right in camera for me has always been the “thing” that keeps the excitement ever present when in the field. I found all my excitement vanished when I was using the Canon. I personally find no joy or challenge using digital cameras, its almost a sterile process. Nothing can beat that feeling than seeing a well exposed, technically correct transparency on the lightbox. Whether you use a Holga or an 8×10, theres an HONESTY in using film (and Im not talking about colour palette) that suggests the photographer knows his/her stuff and has worked hard in achieving the result. There are no arguments about what has been “edited” in Photoshop, you can simply show someone the real thing. Its this complete tactile process throughout every stage that I love. Photography should be enjoyed by anyone, and not just for the super rich. A Holga for instance ignores technical merits and simply gently pushes someone to enjoy the craft, the process and the environment. Photography is both simple, and can be incredibly skillful. It doesnt have to be about costs, equipment or even what camera you use. Simply enjoy the craft for what it should be…challenging, fun and rewarding…

    • The merits or otherwise of film aside. I can’t understand your experience with a 5D. I have seen stunning 30×24 (old money) enlargements that I would have been more than pleased to produce. All I can say is that digital is a skill that has to be learnt in its own right. Focussing and depth of field are far more critical than equivalent film. I have a 1Ds3 and my more or less standard lens is a TS-E 24mm. Yes, you have to learn how to use it and you have to spend time and effort getting it right but it is the best lens that I have ever had. It also slows me down when using it but at the end of the day, accepting that I rarely print bigger than A2, I am more than happy with digital. I have control over the rendition and “film” speed without having to have buckets full of different films and Photoshop allows me to do all of the things that I never had time to do in the darkroom with better and more consistent results.

      All of your other points I completely agree with, although I would say though that “honesty” is an individual ethic and is personal to the photographer whether using digital or film. Paraphrasing a political saying, “It’s the picture – stupid”. That’s what matters, not how you make it.

      • Hi Robin – I didn’t mean to say that you can’t make bigger enlargements. My point was that at some point the enlargement isn’t showing any more detail at 300dpi. The sizes mentioned refer to this point. Hence you can make 30″x40″ enlargements from iPhone pictures but they won’t be critically sharp at 300dpi.

  • I know that this will have been said before but all this tosh about ‘honesty’ and ‘the now’ is a bit pretentious, isn’t it? There re two aspects to be considered when taking/making a picture: the taking and the viewing. As a long-term taker/maker, I revel in any aspect of the process, deriving much pleasure from the conception through to the mounting of the print. I would not proclaim that my method or enjoyment is better or more wory than any other and I so often hear folk say that to ‘get it right in the camera’ is the only ‘honest’ way to go about it. What nonsense. Make your picture in whatever you you choose, if it suits you. Leave it to the general viewing public to decided its worthiness beyond that and if it archives acclaim, then you can swell with pride and consider the job well done. But don’t try to tell me that my image composed from several frames after hours in photoshop is not as valuable as your piece of 5×4 untouched film. Whilst i have no evidence to offer in respect of the correspondents herein, time after time advocates of ‘leave it as it is’ will be found to be software-unable and rather than admit it, pretend to have chosen their path, rather than having been forced down it.
    C’mon guys, get real….beauty is in the eye of the beholder, not the exclusive domain of the producer!

    • Totally agree – however the art community does seem that many consumers do have a confusion about the medium. Whatever we say about “it’s the end results that matter”, buyers seem to place a premium on ‘high quality’ and ‘hand made’. Even digital photographers prefer to use ‘rag paper’ and the like. Does it matter? No – if you like what you see then you buy it.

      p.s. I’m an LF junk with a PhD in computational engeineering so perhaps I don’t meet your hypothesis so well.

      • ..ah….I did try to exclude present company, Tim! No offence intended but I do get a wee bit riled when I see ‘get it right in camera’ foisted about as the only mantra of worth. I’m old enough to have experienced ‘daylight printing paper’ and (sometimes) yearn for those less complicated times but the liberation provided by digital stuff and my hard-won abilities with the use of software didn’t happen by accident, nor was I forced into it – they were born from fingers stained with hydroquinone and hypo and long, long hours striving for the desired result in the face of the impossibilities imposed by wet media. I wouldn’t advocate reducing the effort in attempting to achieve technical perfection in any aspect of life, let alone photography (how else do boundaries get pushed back?) but for us mere photographic artisans more time should be spent on carving the wood than worrying about how the chisel is forged, if you see wot I means.

      • Absolutely! I get accused of a bias toward film and large format quite often but this is only part of my pantheon of capture media. A recent commission for the National Parks saw me using my Canon A1, Mamiya 7, 4×5 and 8×10 plus a few photos from my 5Dmk2, Panasonic LX5 and I even submitted a shot taken on the iPhone :-)

        What we need is a pragmatic, non-denominational approach to image making..

  • Jeezo Tim, here’s me wondering what you do in between issues ;) I think I might need to chew this article and digest at a later date. :)

    • It took a bit longer than I thought it would :-)

  • [shush reason=”Off Topic (honesty in photography)”]Its funny how many people get riled just because someone shares an opinion. Talk about pride. Anyone commenting on this website should be allowed to express their opinions. If you dont agree with what I say ‘iant’ then fine, but theres no need to start going off on one. If Im to welcome what you have to say with a sense of openess, then you have to share the same. Ive always taken my landscape images with a sense of honesty…in myself. Why would I want to edit a photograph in order for it to meet my expectations, when all I have to do is take the photograph at the right moment for me to meet my very own criteria? I agree, everyone is different, however, Im sorry, but I strongly disagree with anyone who goes out to take landscape photographs and comes back into their home and ‘edit’ the hell out of it, surely somewhere along the line I question why they are taking the image at all? Whats the point of taking a photograph of a vista or intimate scene if its not fullfilling your own objectives, or indeed, presenting itself in its setting as something that you want to photograph? Its trying to make an ordinary image into a fantastic one? Its never going to work. Take the photograph if you are happy with what is there, if not, dont take it! I cannot see the issue here…However, seeing your own work, I can see you are not just a landscape photographer, and anyone whos into portraiture will indeed use PS quite a lot. Thats fine if thats what you want to do, but I dont see why the landscape and the environment needs ‘adjusting’ to fit into someones purposes, surely when it comes to landscape photography, which is what this site is all about, it should be the landscape that does the talking, not ‘photographers’ imposing themselves on to it.[/shush]

    • [shush reason=”Off Topic (honesty in photography)”]Of course everyone can express their opinion and you have a right to disagree as long as it is expressed as opinion and not fact.

      Personally my opinion is that you absolutely cannot represent the landscape honestly. The mere use of a camera creates an interpretation. The choice of focal length adds a distortion, the type of sensor or film adds a transformation of tone and colour, the printing adds a another level of interpretation. Even if you manage to combine these together into something that you think resembles reality, you are still a great distance away from how the eye works.

      We don’t take ‘pictures’ with out eyes, we assemble montages over time and collate those into grammatical memory structures. We flick from light to dark but each preserving contrast. We adapt to low light levels by changing the colour response of our eyes. Just take the last, scotopic vision. If you wanted to accurately represent your twighlight shots, you should really be using photoshop to reduce the levels of red in your picture according the absolute light levels. And then do we want to represent the reality of someone who has just been indoors in lighted room – all dark with only the horizon and a few details, or the person who has just had a kip in the car with their eyes shut having dark adapted vision?

      All of these would need a manipulation of some sort to represent ‘truthfully’. And then that is just trying to represent instantaneous vision. How about trying to represent the memory of an event. Research has shown that our memory of colour becomes more saturated over time and tends to drift towards our accepted primary colours. There is a tribe in africa that can’t differentiate blues but has words for many variety of greens. Their recollection would lose all the subtelty in blue colourings but would show a distinct differentation in all of those green tones; perhaps they do have “Velvia Vision”. We also selectively edit out aspects of a view that didn’t play a part in our vision at the time. The ugly oil drum by the farmers gate gets cloned over in a temporal blind spot.

      So can we really be honest? My opinion is that you can’t – What you can do is recreate an emotional connection with your experience at the location, this can still be documentary in nature but taken to another level it tends to the artistic end of the spectrum.[/shush]

  • [shush reason=”Off Topic (honesty in photography)”]I think we have drifted off of topic slightly as my first reply was in direct answer to the questions raised about the IQ180 and 8×10 and that of looking at equipment and comparisons, rather than what I was trying to say was to focus on the photography being the important thing, no matter what you use, my example was the Holga. I wasnt trying to say that the whole article isnt worth while, as it is indeed worthwhile, as I said, rather, just a personal comment based upon my own experiences. I also believe the word ‘honesty’ has also been misued again. I stated I wasnt talking about ‘colours’ as every film user knows too well that each film has its own character. Rather, my use of honesty was indeed refering to taking an image as I wanted it, at the time, in camera, and indeed being happy with the result without any need of further processing, tweaking, editing, cloning etc. An honest representation of the landscape I believe can actually be done. Not using wide angle lenses, chosing a film that has a neutral palette etc. We dont all need to be Velvia-fied…print film I believe is superior to Velvia. Its all a matter of taste and what end result, enlargements, print type you want. I just think that as landscape photographers, surely we are into the art of appreciating the landscape, and desiring to photograph what is naturally beautiful. If photographers are editing their landscape work to suit a personal vision, how does this weigh up with why they are photographing the created landscape? It doesnt make sense to photograph what man has not made, and yet, then go and stamp mans ideas all over it? I just do not understand the logic in this? Its like as photographers, we arent happy with ‘what we see’ or ‘whats in front of us’ at the time, people need to somehow try and make it better, perfect it..this is indeed futile I think. What can be more beautiful than whats already there? How can a landscape photograph be ‘bettered’…isnt the original worth accepting for what it is? If its not, then I guess photographers are not indeed happy with what is acceptable, and somehow, there own ideas, their own mark, needs to be made on the landscape. If thats not trying to be like God, I dont know what is…[/shush]

    • [shush reason=”Off Topic (honesty in photography)”]I think bring religion up isn’t a good idea – however I think this discussion would make a good article. However, we need to understand that people make a choice between the documentary side of landscape photography and the artistic side. Surely your argument should also pertain to painting, hence the goal would be to produce photorealistic work – not to ‘interpret’ the landscape. If not, then why should photography be limited to reproduction, not art?

      And if you want to use a Holga – you have made a choice of ‘interpretation’ of the scene. Why should the available interpretations only be those that can be evinced through mechanical means? The iPhone has a holga setting built in – presumably you don’t have a problem with this as it produces very similar results; hence if you change the preset to something that doesn’t have a mechanical couterpart, why does this become wrong. And to extend the argument, why do I need to make my choice of ‘interpretation’ whilst at the scene. Hence using photoshop as an interpretation isn’t really any different than using a holga as an interpretation – unless of course the boundaries that you suggest are arbitrary?[/shush]

  • [shush reason=”Off Topic (honesty in photography)”]Im not ‘bringing up religion’ as such, rather Im making a statement. Landscape photography isnt ‘only’ documenting the scene, agreed, and of course ‘art’ does come in somewhere. However, more to the point, maybe more questions should be raised as to what is art when photography is the medium? In terms of photography, and in particular landscape, how far can one go then before the ‘landscape’ becomes lost and you end up with interpretations of landscape that pervert the very truth about the landscape scene one is photographing? Whats the point in ‘interpretation’ in landscape photography? If one is not photographing landscape with the emphasis on producing work that glorifies and presents the landscape to viewers to see, what is the point of landscape photography? Why bother taking an image, to manipulate it or change it, however one does, in order just to raise a ‘point of view’? Is ones point of view necessary, seeing that landscape photography is about photographing a real subject matter? Its not made up is it? So why then go and ‘make something up’, in other words, subjecting it to ones own hands? The issue of beliefs does make an appearence because the landscape itself represents something…its creator. If you dont know, or dont want to know its creator, men want to stamp their own ideas on to it. It makes something they have not created, their own. Landscape photography for most is actually a kind of worship, an idol. However, the landscape itself is what is worshipped, not the creator. Without knowing the creator, the landscape is meaningless. You only have to read a David Ward book and see all the phillosphy in it to see that question upon question is made in the ‘search’ for something and meaning. Just that David never finds his answers.
    With painting, I would say that one can never produce definate realism. They come close, some are wonderfully realistic, but theyre not are they. Cameras make ‘real’ images, they represent the real world. Take away colour pallets, contrast curves etc, Im talking about seeing something on film that is not man made. It exists, its not an interpretation of the subject, its actually there, and all its details can be clearly seen. No one ‘made it up’ using a brush or ones own memory. Painting is a different art and not something I think needs discussion. Its so different to photography (although of course with light, there are some shared points, but not much).
    With regards to the Holga, yes it ‘stamps’ its mark, but not because it somehow records the scene differently from other cameras. It sees exactly what a LF would see. The fact that the lens is plastic and has blurred edges doesnt mean that I cant photograph a real subject in a life like manner. I dont think a camera ‘interprets’ the landscape. Its just something to get the landscape recorded with. This is why I dont discuss ‘kit’ full stop. Photography is about photographing, not as we are discussing here, about interpretation. The facts is its a dirt cheap camera and allows a person with next to no money to get out there and enjoy photography. Thats the truth of the matter! I use it because I like the soft focus, however, it doesnt stamp ‘me’ all over the landscape, it still allows the landscape to speak for itself I believe.
    We know that PS can be abused, and having had many a digital camera, was never happy with any result from it. PS can be leaned on too much, instead of integrity and an honest approach to photography. Surely getting it right in camera is the fun? But when PS gets used heavily to ‘interpret’ a scene, and you end up with a ‘Disneyland’ creation for an image half the time,what good is this? What does it acheive, apart from making what is already beautiful look stupid? Is this really landscape photography? I dont think so. Its digital art, and Ive been saying this for years. I can appreciate someone making slight WB changes or contrast and colour adjustments, but surely even this should be to make sure the scene you photographed is presented as you saw it? Otherwise, anything other is surely just making it up?
    The end of the day, landscape photography is simple. Its about photographing a lovely scene or place that means something to us. Its been turned, like many things, into something that its not. Pompous, pretencious and self promoting. Its not about the landscape anymore, its about the photographer. Sorry, but that simply doesnt work for me. Landscape is landscape, at the end of the day, its about photographing it and enjoying it for what it is. I dont think it needs ‘help’ from any of us. If you want to call it interpretation or any other word. Man cannot better the already existing landscape, no matter what camera or lens we have, what software we have and what finance we have available. Simply waiting for the perfect moment should be more than enough for anyone?[/shush]

    • [shush reason=”Off Topic (honesty in photography)”]In your opinion ;-) Best we carry this conversion on when this gets written about in a future issue. However, if you can let me know which photographers you think conform to this ethic I can discuss them specifically.[/shush]

  • [shush reason=”Off Topic (honesty in photography)”]Which ethic? Ones own interpretation or a more documented exposure? Either, I dont think its fair for me to prove a point. Id rather discuss interpretation in general such as whether landscape photography needs interpretation for instance, and how far one can go before interpretation causes a photograph to detatch itself from its meaning. Id like to even really know if interpretation in landscape photography truely exists? However, from reading previous entries since your launch and taking in your own views as written above, is there any point? You seem quite closed to others views? After all, you will only defend your own view, is there much point Id ask? I wouldnt want it to lead to further defensive discussions?[/shush]

  • Custard

    If you plan a significant amount of Photoshop work on an image then digital capture brings decisive advantages. For my applications this single issue trumps everything else.

    I use a P65+ on both a Linhof M679cs and a Phase One 645, for architectural work. Removing (or ocasionally inserting) cars, road signs, street furniture, and pedestrians is all in a day’s work. But it would be the labours of Hercules, and of unpredictable quality, if working with film.

    I’d argue this really is the decider in this debate. You’re either a “Photoshop photographer” (where the original shot is just the starting point in content terms for the final image), in which case you’ll be more effective and successful with a cleaner digital capture. Or you’re a “camera photographer” (where the original shot essentially constitutes the final image less tonal adjustments), in which case film offers a lower capital cost alternative with specific advantages for occasional giant enlargements or extreme tonal ranges.

    • What is the difference between a digital file from scanned film and a digital file from a DSLR that makes the film originated file so hard to work with and unpredictable in quality?

  • Custard

    Top of mind….movements in the film location within the camera on multiple shots, warped film introducing patches of softness within the image which complicates some Photoshop techniques, the longer exposure times on 4×5 introducing subject movement which again complicates editing, grain (affecting the efficiency and accuracy of some photoshop tools, ie keystone correction), additional colour and tonal differences introduced in processing multiple shots, scanning artifacts, dust and scratches (in different locations in different shots complicating compositing), the additional time taken between shots introducing more variability in multiple shots.

    • Ah OK – I see what you mean. If you are stitching then it can be a little more difficult but I regularly stitch 4×5’s and have little problem with blending (or at least I haven’t). I also agree that if you are taking multiple shots to end up with a single shot with nobody in it then film would pretty much preclude this (although You could go for a very long exposure!). p.s. never had warped film using 5×4 – at typical taking apertures any potential sag is still within the diffraction limited depth of field an invisible. For 10×8 it’s an issue and taped dark slides are pretty essential unless you are shooting straight ahead or up. A good drum or high end desktop scanner is fairly essential for compositing pictures but I have happily HDR/blended two 4×5 scans together before now and hence geometrical distortions must be tiny. I initially thought you meant that a straight scan itself would cause issues.

  • Tim. Thanks!! I do love large prints. My studio is based in Hong Kong and the information you have provided here is very valuable. This is actually going to save me a great deal of money. Least I could do was subscribe to the site and try to support it, which I did :)

  • Jon

    Tim, given you mention that the “Mamiya 7 ended up resolving considerably more than the DSLRs but looking only slightly better than them” …. I was wondering if it’s correct to assume that you therefore think that a high-end DSLR (D3X or 5d Mark 2) looks substantially better than 35mm Film (eg, drum-scanned 35mm Velvia), and indicate up to what size of print that’s the case if relevant? In other words, can high-end DSLRs such as the D3X or 5D Mark 2 do better than a 35mm Film camera can achieve in terms of resolution / apparent sharpness? I have to say, I am a bit confused, given some people seem to argue that you need a 20-25MP DSLR to achieve just what 35mm Film cameras can capture in terms of resolution, and yet after your very extensive and credible tests, you’re apparently suggesting that DSLRs like the D3X / 5D Mark 2 are not that far off what can be achieved from the larger Medium Format film — are other tests just looking at “resolution” and ignoring the fact that the grain of the film starts to obscure tonality and fine detailed textures? Congratulations on the excellent work that you put into this test ….. as a 35mm Film, 10MP Canon DSLR, Mamiya 7 and Ebony 4×5 user, I appreciate the benefits of all forms! I’m just not clear on where high-end DSLRs (such as the D3X or 5D Mark 2) stand vs. 35mm Film, however.

On Landscape is part of Landscape Media Limited , a company registered in England and Wales . Registered Number: 07120795. Registered Office: 1, Clarke Hall Farm, Aberford Road, WF1 4AL