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Friday, 31 January 2014


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It's not just better. IMHO it's a LOT better.

Hell, under the right conditions the iPhone is better.

My colour prints from M4/3 are beyond comparison better than anything I got from 35mm slide film and Cibachrome. That could just be my ineptitude.

Well yes, by several orders of magnitude. I'd have thought that there must be a few even smaller formats that, these days, are better than 35mm? No link to this article Mike? I'd like to read more…

Oh, and are you feeling better?

Better in what way? As a file, in colour depth, as a print or maybe as a projected image (slide)? Possibly, as as a file, but a scan of 35mm film frame would certainly have better colour depth compared to a 12bit Micro 4/3 camera.

I seem to recall Olympus saying, back when their first 4/3 DSLRs came out, they expected 4/3 sensors to some day equal medium format film.

Seems to me they are pretty much there. My prints from m4/3 pretty well beat anything I have from 645 medium format and match all but my best from 6x7 cm.

Micro 4/3 is the new half frame
APS-C is the new 35mm
Full Frame is the new Medium format
Medium format is the new sheet film
Just saying.

I'm in the process -- still -- of scanning all my thousands of slides. These are mostly Kodachrome (lovely to project--difficult to scan) with some Ektachrome, Velvia, Provia, and even a few negatives. While I would agree that most of what I shoot digitally exceeds what I shot on film (perhaps I learned something along the way!), there are some film images that are delightful and lovely in a way that digital cannot replicate.


I don't doubt that in some ways, MFT is superior to 35mm film, but APS-C is superior to MFT, and FF is superior to APS-C, if IQ is the only factor that is under consideration. But the biggest advantage that almost any digital format has over film is that it does not require scanning. When I think of the endless hours of tedium that I spent scanning 35mm slide film, it's almost like a PTSD flashback. However, in fairness, I must add that some of those scans were very good indeed.

For some value of "better" and "used to be."

Well, except LOTS of sports and wildlife photographers are using full frame heavily, and those categories were not big users of medium format in the good old days (okay, bad old days).

And Ctein is routinely using Micro 4/3 to create works that he previously needed the large end of medium format to make.

As Katherine Hepburn's character said to Spencer Tracy in the 1957 film "Desk Set", "Well, yah." For that matter my old Canon Powershot S100 is better than film photography used to be.

Funny what a positive effect a few dozen billion dollars of r&d can have on something like photography, eh?

I've noticed that the folks who are using macro lenses to 'scan' 35mm slides are reporting that the 12mp micro four thirds sensors don't quite get all the detail that is present, but that the 16mp sensors are more than enough. They've been using file resizing to determine this, as well as direct inspection via microscope.

This is pretty extraordinary, really, since the resolution losses involved in using such a setup are significant. To me, it suggests that the earlier 12mp sensor (that I still use) is really very good indeed. Definitely better than anything I shot on 35mm. Particularly since lots of what I used was consumer grade 400 speed color film. For anything over ISO 100, the difference is immense. Certainly the newer 16mp sensors seem to have the most of the dynamic range I played with in B&W, at least for the level of exposing & printing skill I had.

Thanks for bringing in that assessment, Crabby.

The world has changed recently - as in the last few years.

I tried MFT a few years ago (maybe 6?) and it was not good enough for what I was trying to do at the time, so I set it aside.

Could try it again I suppose, but I'm suffering from a lack of cameras...

Maybe. But real Tri-X still looks better than digital, pseudo Tri-X. Cue some smartass posting a comparison series and asking, "OK, Mr Inglés, which are film and which are iPhone?"

As a PS to my previous post, if we accept grudgingly that digital is technically better than film, is there a digital camera that's as relaxing and pleasurable to use as its film equivalent?

Absolutely! In fact, I'd venture to say that in many situations my cheap pocket point-and-shoot--with its pinky-fingernail-sized sensor--gives better results than 35mm. The "Which gives better images?" argument was settled for me several years ago, with digital winning easily. No contest. (As a prominent landscape photographer lamented on TOP, "The only downside of digital is that it's almost too easy.")

But there's the element of fun to consider, and "winning easily," with "no contest," often takes the fun out of any endeavor. Maybe that's why I keep shooting more and more 35mm film....

I can't say for certain that micro 4/3 is better than 35mm. I think I am much better photographer now than I was when I hung up the 35mm gear (my anniversary for the switch is fast approaching, Valentines Day 2001).

I took an even sharper stance:


Back when we only had 1- or 2-MP cameras, affordable, I asked a pro what we needed to match 35mm quality. He said "6 megapixels". I'd say he's about right.
Mike Reichman even said about the 3-MP Canon D30 that it was at least as good as 35mm. So I shouldn't be all that surprised to get the same realization about my 8-MP iPhone camera.
It's just surprising because... a camera the size of a pea? I mean, come on! You can't really believe it.

Here's an iPhone series I'm pleased with:

... Leafage was always an issue, but I had no compunctions about using my iPhone on this.

By the way, do we all realize that one day, not long away, electronics will have made *all* cameras so good that the Good Camera Joy we enjoy will be gone? Sadly, great engineering will be so surpassed by electronic magic that it will be pretty meaningless. A $20 plastic splinter will make better pictures than any film camera in history. Ah damn.

(Uhm, who is Crabby Umbo?)

Dear Paul,

It's from a comment by Crabby at the end of my Wednesday column: http://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2014/01/small-format-professionalism.html


Dear Mike Jones,

No, it wouldn't. Your scanner may put out "16-bits" but the lower order bits are nothing but noise-- photograph noise or scanner noise (mostly the former in a good scan). It's just garbage-- empty data. A good 12-bit color camera has MUCH better color information than a 35mm film scan, from any film, made n any scanner.

pax / Ctein
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

Well, I use all the Full-Frame, APS-C, and Micro 4/3 cameras. The reason why I still carry FF cameras is mainly for shallow DOF (depth of field), or isolation.


Maybe in some version of reality, but never in any version of my memories...

Um, what was the question?

Odds are that if a sensor the size of the 4/3s sensor had come first, and that there have never been 35 mm film, lots of people would be sitting around scratching their heads right about now, wondering why Nikon/Canon/Sony were bothering with "full frame".

Didn't Ctein say the same thing the other day? (Actually what he said was that his old Fuji bridge camera was a bit better than 35mm and his m4/3 EM5 is "massively better" than that.)

Glad you're feeling better Mike (judging from the posting frequency, a lot better), and thanks for the brief "Best of TOP" series. I'd developed a habit of catching up with the older site when you take a break, so I appreciated the effort saved and the editorial selection!

Agree with your quote 100% and so glad you didn't say "M4/3 is better than 35mm." That would be like declaring the new Mini better than the old Mini - probably true in every technical respect but besides the point. Anyone shooting 35mm (or driving an old Mini) these days is entirely at home with their old-tech and likely doing it for reasons other than best-performance.

in the absence of some definition of "better" that's a pretty meaningless statement . . . .

Digital blows.

I can believe Micro 4/3 is better than 35mm film. I have found that my Nikon V1's CX format sensor, which is even smaller than a Micro 4/3 sensor, produces images as good as (better than?) 35mm photos shot on ISO 100 (or slower) slide film. The technology available to photographers these days is simply amazing.

As I was scanning hundreds of 35mm slides I was struck by one thing; many of the slides were accurately exposed and showed pleasing color but many just weren't sharp. They looked OK when held up to a light source but when projected or scanned and reviewed on my monitor they just lacked sharpness. I think that our digital cameras have provided for us far more accurate AF than we had with our film cameras and equally importantly, very effective image stabilization which we simply didn't have in the "old" days.

Better at what? Bloody meaningless unless you define the basis for comparison.

Film can be somewhat charming, still, like going out and trying to replicate "pictorial" photographs can be charming.* But I once worked as an archaeological photographer, where what you photographed was immediately destroyed, and I can tell you, there is no more terrifying question in film photography than "You sure you got the shot?" when the questioner has a shovel in his hand.

*Women like pictorial portraits (of themselves.)

Marc Hauser is now using Panasonic GH3's for professional portrait work with a little help from Will Crockett. Some of them are on his front page slide show. Bet you can't tell which are and which aren't:



I'm sure technically that is true.


My Pen F, a gaggle of VF Pens, OM-1, Fujica ST605n, a $5 Ricoh KR-5 with a 50 f2 Rikenon lens, (that included a working meter with battery) and yes, even a Zeiss Box Tengor are much more interesting cameras. At least to me.

Sigh, more digital vs. film. Look folks, digital has won, digital is the future. Film is in it's sunset. I just wish that the victors would move on and not continue to crow about how much 'better' their tool is. Since digital has won I find it strange that the digital crowd continues to bash film. Are they a little insecure in their assessment? Or is it winner take all, crush your enemy under your boot until there is nothing left.

For me it comes down to preference. I prefer film. I only shoot black and white 400 speed 35 mm film, I only print up to 7 x 10.5 inches. The prints are plenty sharp for me. I prefer the workflow, time away from the computer is a healthy thing for me.

Before I am called out as a Luddite, I dipped my toe in the digital world. I own a D70 and I was an operator of a Océ LightJet 430 for five and half years. So I have experience in the digital realm. I just did not like the look of my work when output digitally.

This year I am simplifying. I'm doing my modified 'Leica Year'. One film, one developer, my Nikon F3 and a 50 mm. Modified meaning when I head out on a road trip or shoot a personal assignment I'll take a couple of extra primes with me. My everyday carry along camera however, will be the F3 and a 50 mm. Immersion vs. distraction. I think I'll come out better for it.

"...I have to say that in terms of sharpness and 'blow-up-ability,' modern digital is better..."

That's rather like saying a 4H pencil is better than a 6B because it'll take and hold a finer point for longer.

its amazing that this debate is still about sharpness. to say that a Nikon 1 sensor equalls 35mm must only be based on percieved sharpness of the picture. What I struggled with on aps-c and 4/3 format was that I could never seem to reproduce the look of pictures as i expected them. This was because I had shot for many years primarily with a 35mm camera with a 50mm lens. So you get used to a certain rendering of space. Isolation between foreground and background especially, the percived distance and size of these elements in the print. So to get the same shot that you would from a 50mm lens on film, I would need a 25mm on a 4/3 sensor. Which did not exist at the time. But even if it did, imagine shootin a 25mm lens on your film camera and croping half the image to get the same frame as on a 4/3 - would that look the same as shooting the same pic with a 50mm on a film camera? of course not. Because 25mm and 50mm renders space differently from eachother no matter if you crop or not. So until FF, no digital format could reproduce the LOOK of space and distance in a shot that you could get with an analogue 35mm camera. And it amazes me that this is no longer mentioned in the camera press. Its all megapixels and sharpness. Photography is more than sharpness!

Sharpness is not everything and being bitingly sharp does not necessarily do justice to, say, people pictures.

Film is to oil painting as digital is to watercolor. Nothing wrong with each of them in their own rights and terribly off the mark to compare them side by side.

I shoot film and I shoot digital, whether in 35mm or 120 formats or in 4/3 or full frame or CMOS or what have you. Ultimately, its the impact of the image on the viewer that counts.

Interesting that virtually ALL these comments are in agreement with the quote. I am too. I shot Kodachrome and the E6 films for many years and I have to say my Nikon 4000ED scans showed up many defects. Poor edge sharpness from slide mounts and curvature of the film. I had a Leitz slide projector with the Colorplan CF lens for a while, but it wasn't good enough. (Not to mention the awful pop of focus as slides warmed up - I hated it.)

And the time needed to scan! To do it well took me around 15 mins per slide. Then another half hour spotting the result in Photoshop. Boring waste of time.

Now I have Pentax K-5 and Olympus E-M1 and I'm in heaven. I'll post some pictures of Heaven if you like.

Oh, one other point - I'm making PhotoBooks at the moment and a big majority of my images were shot on film. They look really nice printed on 15" x 11" pages.

But then a digital image comes along and the difference in sharpness and colour just leaps off the page. I'm a digital man thank you.

My guess is that for most people, this statement holds true. However, I'd like to see micro-4/3 compared to a properly focussed, well exposed and free-of-motion-blur picture taken on fine grain film which is then drum scanned. Very few photographers have seen this, and so most are unable to make this judgement.

I forgot to mention - I posted a little item on my own blog last week about chromatic aberration. On film, bad luck. Buy a better, more expensive lens. Same for lens distortions.

But with digital, put it through Lightroom and the CA is fixed, just like that. Do an entire folder as a batch if you like.

I'm talking particularly about the Fuji S100fs that I share Ctein's enthusiasm for. We have to admit, the CA of the lens is fairly bad. But it's fixable in Lightroom. Same for lens bendys. Problem solved. Couldn't do that with film. Love it.

Dear Eolake,

Regarding your comment:

"Sadly, great engineering will be so surpassed by electronic magic that it will be pretty meaningless"

Electronic has nothing magic. I work in microelectronics designing microchips and can tell you that is a lot of great engineering going on there.

Best regards

I'm continually amazed at how many people use incredibly low-quality 35mm old images taken with questionable gear and processed and kept under questionable conditions, as "proof" that digital is better...
I use m4/3 and aps-c, as well as 35mm, 6X4.5 and 6X7 gear. But my film is modern. And the gear is NOT 50 year old lenses and cameras. Also, quality scanners, not the "$50 jpg scanner" or the OOF flatbeds that are the norm nowadays.
Under those conditions m4/3 is (now!) just about as good as 35mm film up to about 200ISO.
North of that ISO, digital is waaaaaay easier and better to use! (although I have a soft spot for Fuji's Superia 800: it can indeed produce amazing results in 120 format)
But what I find amazing is how in this day and age there are still folks rattling on about "this versus that". About time folks grew up and let others use whatever they like, instead of trying to force them into pigeon-holes!

Saying that "Micro 4/3 is better than 35mm used to be." Is like saying, the young tech savvy hipster of today is better than a 70 years old man in his tweed jacket.

35mm film is better than its reputation. It is indeed the optical enlargement process that caused the loss of sharpness. I attended a digital printing workshop with Thomas Hoepker a few years ago and the billboard sized prints from his slides and negatives were phantastic - and this means I could press my nose on them and they still were good! Among them was his famous picknick photo of 9 11. This one: http://www.magda.de/der-mann-der-die-new-yorker-traf/
That said: this photo was one of his last on film. He has gone digital then and never looked back, and the prints from his digital files are just as good!

"I should qualify that statement! It's still tough to get 'film look' in all digital..."

OK, but then wouldn't it be equally tough to get the "digital look" from film? I'm serious. Why, other than than film came before digital and we think of old as having value, do some imagine that film has a better look than digital?

To some extent both have "looks" - though part of this is the result of less than completely skillful work with digital media by some photographers - in other words, most of us see far more examples of mediocre digital work and far fewer of mediocre film work. (And those of us who come from the film age can, indeed, recall a ton of very mediocre film photography!)

And just because two things are different, must one be designated "better" or "best?" Sometime things that are different are simply different. Think of your two best friends in the world. Which is the best person? Crazy question, right? They are both great people, just in somewhat different ways.

And, finally, why should the ideal of digital photography output be film photography output?

People knew 35mm was not the last word in sharp decades before digital entered the fray; wanting to say 'x is sharper/better than 35mm' are just wasting time. If it was unusable no-one would even know what it was - and anyone wanting sharper/larger just used a different camera. Has digital got a totally different character? Yes. Is it 'better'? Maybe. Did we know a Rolleiflex frame would blow a 35mm one away most of the time? Yes. And the conclusion was simple - horses for courses.

Well. . .maybe. But the 13x19-inch files from Fujichrome RDP 100 scanned in my Minolta Dimage ScanElite 5400 hold up very nicely in company with files from my digital cameras, both m4/3s and full frame.

Erwin Puts has explored this subject in depth.

I absolutely agree with the comment, I have long since promoted that viewpoint, I shot on 35mm for more years than I care to remember and every film stock,and developer combination, although I do admit my favourite was B&W.

I would also agree that when looking at some of the great and good of yesteryear the sharpness was at times none existent, however the images still captivated the viewer because the content was so good, together with the implied narrative.

I also think that the ricoh GR series are worthy of mention as in the right conditions they can produce stunning results and prints.

Ctein, film is no more natural than digital, but it is an analog process. Higher bit colour doesn't describe the colour space just the number of graduations captured, so while perhaps not relevant to the final output, what would this noise be?

However, what I was really getting at, is what is the final output that says one (digital/film) is better than the other? If the final output was a projected image a slide would win, but if just looking a pixels on a screen.....

Some would say, if not you, that a digital print (at normal sizes)is not yet equal to a chromogenic one. I think that old Cibachrome prints were the best, but I know Mike thinks otherwise.

Am told that a single frame of 35mm film image (i.e. 24mm x 36mm) holds at least an equivalent 25MB of digital information. So based on that issue alone, I cannot agree that 4/3 is better than film.

"They looked OK when held up to a light source but when projected or scanned and reviewed on my monitor they just lacked sharpness."

Well, there are just too many variables for that to be meaningful. By far most 35mm transparencies were taken hand-held, without lens or in-body stabilisation. And the lens designs/technology, while not shabby at all for top shelf glass, is, by definition, decades older. Within that time we have moved from IBM mainframes, DEC Vaxes, Sun Sparc workstations to personal computers that can do in mere minutes or even seconds what would take perhaps hours for those computers to accomplish if they did not go up in smoke first.

So, what exactly are we comparing? Shooting technique? Lenses? ISO?

I am NOT saying that a m4/3 sensor can't outresolve 35mm films -- and BTW, WHICH film are we talking about? 3M/Scotch 1000? Ektachrome 200? K25?

As others have pointed out, the criteria for comparison haven't been defined except for, perhaps< the general body of work by all photographers using all of the camera/lens/film/sensor combinations under discussion.

And while I would love to have a digital camera that is as straightforward simple and ergonomically satisfying as an OM, Konica Autoreflex, Spotmatic (or name your favourite,) I am certain I will have to compromise in that respect. Look at what Nikon did with the Df -- they couldn't (or at least didn't) get it right. Maitani, for example, was a photographer before he was an engineer. I suspect that was the case with some other manufacturers.

As for chromogenic b&w film revealing the lack of sharpness of 35mm, this show made with a lowly Olympus XA may belie that.


How's this post for being "Crabby"? ;)

If I may be allowed to go beyond mere 35mm, let's consider the 120 format.

The surface area of the 120 film image is 3.5x that of 35mm. So if the digital information captured by 35mm is, say, 25MB, then 120 will give us almost 100MB of information. That's biggy!

What is the price that an average MF digital camera costs? Like the price of a nice car? If so, that's big money.

My Rolleiflex is $700 and a roll of 120 film is $7. I scan my 12 images into digital professionally for $12. My negative is my archive which will almost never disappear, unlike a hard disk that can conk out sooner or later.

Digital photography is great for pros who need the immediacy. Their livelihood depends on delivering the goods in shortest time possible. No issues with that.

As for most of us amateurs, how much immediacy do you really need? Will a wait of a few days make a great dent to your quality of life?

Moreover, your digital gear will depreciate the moment you take it past the storefront.

And you still really and seriously think micro 4/3 is better than 35mm?

Sharpness is an overrated concept.

Here is a hand held image from a 35mm camera using 1600 speed Superia film...


Looks pretty good to me

Here's a D800E vs a Mamiya 7 and Fuji Velvia 50


and vs a fine grained black and white film


m43 has a little way to go before it even approaches medium format.


p.s. scanned on a flatbed if anyone is thinking drum scan...

p.p.s. Here's a Mamiya 7 and Adox black and white film vs an IQ180


That's specialist black and white film though. For 'normal' film 6x7 medium format scans to about 60-80mp which means 35mm is about 16 megapixels. Obviously this needs the best that 35mm camera has to offer in lenses and a cracking scanner. For most people their scanner or enlarger is killing more than half the megapixellage and so m43 is better than their 35mm

Anyone remember Kodak 2475 recording film (commonly shot at 3200)? Compare that to an E-M5 at 3200.

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