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Monday, 07 March 2016


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Reminds me of when I was at University around 1990 and my professor told me he was working on colour sensors for photocopiers that would someday be good enough to use in cameras.

"You'll never match the quality of 35 mm film!" I exclaimed.

Oh well, I certainly got that one wrong!

Well, I suppose one might pronounce it 'teen' but that would not sit well with the splendid grey beard.

I bought one of the bridge prints, and subsequently switched to M4/3, so I'm happy to agree with Ctein.

It's important to differentiate between usable image quality and maximum image quality. 4/3 is enough for most people and most print sizes.

But there is plenty of data (see Tim Parkin's big camera comparison) that shows with a good scan you can get well over 50mp of resolution out of medium format film, and several hundred mp out of 4x5.

For what it's worth, yes I use film (4x5) and print from scans regularly. It's way more work but a nice break from the technology-does-everything-for-me of digital cameras. And a 300mp 4x5 scan looks substantially better than my D800 files at print sizes at or above 16x20. But, most people never print that large, so it's a moot point I guess.

There may be not be "any other way to pronounce "tine." ", but there's all kinds of guesses as to "tein".

Ctein published an excellent article in Photo Techniques magazine about digital capture and comparisons to film imaging about (I think!) 7 years back. The main take-home message was that the smooth tonal quality of digital capture yielded perceptual image quality one or two formats larger than you'd expect. That is, back then, a 24 x 36 mm sensor provided image quality leap-frogging medium format and approaching 4x5" film, assuming good lens quality and excellent photographic technique. Film isn't getting any better, while sensors continue to improve, so this simply confirms Ctein's previous highly informed assessment.

Very interesting. This backs up my own experience—i had a double truck printed that was shot with an 8Mp Canon 20D back in 2006. For the kind of work I do 16Mp seems to be the sweet spot.

As someone who has worked extensively with 6cm x 9cm (medium format) and micro 4/3, I completely agree.

When I was on my honeymoon last year we stopped for lunch at a diner in Virginia City, NV. The restaurant had a giant place setting on the wall, and the fork had 5 teeth. I told them it was too tiney.

Thank you, and remember to tip your waitress.


That is extraordinary. I must say I love my EM5 with 17/1.7 ...and have been impressed with it. Lovely colours and lovely for landscapes. You cant get get bokeh in the same way but I am so often wanting everything from front to back in focus ...and of course the small sensor size is an advantage

All the same excited to be about to restart using all my old Pentax Primes again

I think I realized fairly soon after my "return to film" in 2011 that you could really do it all with digital these days. Nevertheless, I shoot film for almost all the photography I do that isn't for money. The reason is mainly that I like handling the cameras and seeing the images on a roll of film. I think some film photographers would argue that it's hard to get the same soft highlight roll off that black and white film produces, but I actually see more difference in my colour results. Sometimes the palette produced by film images does look different, although someone more skilled than I am could no doubt manipulate a digital image to get the same look. I also enjoy making instant photos for kids with an old Polaroid pack film camera. Sadly, Fuji just announced they have discontinued FP-100c, the last peel-apart film.

The reason I am going to sell my Rolleiflex and Mamiya 7 is not because they are surpassed by my Olympus. It is because shooting film is getting so expensive. It also is often a struggle before you get the right colors out of the lab. And at some point, maybe also around -6 years my attitude changed. In the past I was busy getting my images from my computer into print. At the moment I spend a lot of time getting my old prints and slides into the computer.

The advantage of film over digital is of course that as soon as you notice the structure, film grain can be very charming. Digital structure is always terrible.

Still don's understand how to pronounce the name of master Ctein. "Tine' is clear, but is "Kuh" like a German cow?

Depends on what your definition of "equal" is. Technically, big-whoop, it beats or matches. The technical side of things is but one small aspect of my photography, an important one but not exactly the "artistic" side of things. When I want the character I get from older glass on my interchangeable 4x5 with MF roll-films backs, or the terrific Sonnar lens of my Tele-rolleiflex (amongst other examples I could give, and I also enjoy and desire the look I get from certain films and developers) then most if not all of this argument goes out the window. But fun to compare I guess.

And don't get me going on the completely different process one typically goes through in shooting film vs digital (and face it we all cannot help "chimping"...)

"I believe the technical term is 'talking through one's hat.'"

Or as the character Patrick Jane said in an episode of The Mentalist, ". . . talking out of the side of your neck."

Pretty amazing how good Micro 4/3 is -- between 6x7 cm and 4x5"! Thanks for posting that info.

this post pair well with a plate of delicious poutine. =)

*Pronounced kuh-TINE and it is his only name. "Tine" as in the first syllable of "tiny" or the tine of a fork—some people get confused over this, although I honestly don't see any other way to pronounce "tine." —Ed.

Ah, OK. How do you pronounce Ovaltine the milk additive? :-)

Believe me Mike it is quite simple to be confused by that moniker...

Until I saw him interviewed on LuLa, I thought the name was see-teen.

But that's Brits for you!

Agreed, for color. B&W may be a little more controversial.

As someone who switched from a Nikon 800e to an Olympus OMD EM1, but still shoots MF film, I'll take what Ctein says as gospel.

At the same time, I will argue that it isn't relevant. Taking this out of the realm of photography, the most basic sedan of today can run rings around the sports cars of a few years ago. However, the newest sports cars remain orders of magnitude better than basic sedans.

I miss my 800e. Like a sports car that one never drives much above the speed limit I will probably not print 60x40 prints (I did once though and also had my Audi S5 up to 130MPH once).

My point is that I agree that if one's standard for quality is MF film, you will be well served by MFT. But the bar is moving up and accessibility to that higher bar is becoming easier, e.g., Pentax K-1.

Thanks for the link to the $19.95 print sale article. As an M4/3 guy that article is especially interesting (as was this one).

At the end of that article is a line mentioning that the process of making the bridge print will be described in an article to be posted the next Friday. How can I find the that Friday article from back in April of 2012?

Never mind the question about searching for old articles. I'm new here and didn't realize how well the search feature worked.

Not sure about "quality," but I know that the "character" of images is different when there is silver in the work flow. This may be why I prefer film for black-and-white images and digital for color most of the time. Yes, I make monochrome conversions from digital files, and the quality is fine. But they do not have the character of an image that originated on film. I no longer have a darkroom and can't print silver anymore, but even in a file from scanned film the difference is obvious--at least to me.

I'm glad you pointed out the correct pronunciation.

Those with a francophone background could easily pronounce tine as "teen". That's how I first thought of it. Also, I am more familiar with pronouncing "Stein" as "Stine" (as in tine of a fork), so that association would have led me astray as well.

Cteine knows of what he speaks. Years of experience in the photographic arts and science. But...somehow I just feel that it must take far more blood, sweat and tears to produce a m4/3 print of the same or better quality than from a larger format file. At least up to a certain size print. As the print gets larger I suspect files from a larger format win out. Or not...maybe I'm just "talking through my hat."

In silver-halide based imaging, a color image is formed by a dye-cloud, and a black-and white image is formed by a silver particle. Subjectively, I have found black-and-white silver images to be sharper than color film based images since individual grains are distinct and appear sharper than the dye-clouds.

Compared to black and white film, how capable are the 4/3rds sensors for black and white work?

*A Belated Valen-tine, NSFW, or anyplace else…

I pass on to you a pronouncement from an amiable Argentine, who is a demonstrably dishonest seer, to wit: "Our fearless friends Justine, Albertine, and Martine embarked in a gigantine brigantine on a serpentine sail from Cape Cod to quiet Quebec seeking a portion of poutine, served with a saltine, following a fine french tartine, suffering damage neither to their dentures’ dentine nor from threat of quarantine nor by sentence structure byzantine. Sent from the Sistine Chapel by iTines." Cheers, Mark

Now that we have the answer about M4/3, the question now is: have 1 inch sensors equalled medium format film? I suspect that they have.

Well then, with Fuji's APS-C (DX) size sensor some 55% larger in area than micro 4/3 size, their new XPro-2 and the best Fuji primes must be right there at the 4x5 sheet film level. And since 135 format FX full frame sensor areas are 2.3X bigger than DX (APS-C) size, then Canikon FX digital must be pushing 8x10 view camera quality.

Hey, Ctein, does this kind of comparison approach reality?

Thanks. Pretty much confirms the view I have held for some time. I did a fair amount of work on 6x7 film back in the day and have been using 4/3 sensors since about 2005 or 6. The prints I'm making today will match anything I ever did from film, except possibly my very best 4x5 work.

How about a new $19.99 print offer using the new Fuji Xpro2 to see how far mirrorless has come in 6 years?

The one thing left out of this discussion is the "look" that medium format and large format lenses give an image. Large format lenses in particular have a distinct look and I haven't seen anything digital come close... Not that it has to... But to compare prints by print quality alone seems to leave out the fact that medium & large format lenses will render images quite differently. It is that variety of format/lens/film/developer/development/paper/process that keeps me working in my darkroom. Digital for me has eliminated too many of the choices that helped photographers set their work apart from others.

"Image quality is a multidimensional thing, some of which can be quantified and some not"

Photography itself is jam packed with significant but non-quantifiable dimensions.

Remember that delicious feeling when your right thumb advanced the film? The purring of meshing gears and the click of the end stop? And most of all that sense, like you'd turned a fresh page on a sketch pad, and were now cocked and ready to make something lasting, authentic, and original?

Good stuff like that also deserves a place on the balance scales.

Since most of us use only digital, and those of us who print don't usually have commercial-sized printers, another useful comment from Ctein might reflect on the respective qualities of m4/3, APS-C and FF as printed 16x20 or 20x24. In other words, do you gain much (in a print that size) by going with a larger sensor?

By the way, the spell checker on my Apple repeatedly spell-checked Ctein as Stein. Without asking.

(I guess my comment from this morning didn't make it through, or was deleted?)

It's important to differentiate between usable image quality and maximum image quality. 4/3 is enough for most people and most print sizes.

But there is plenty of data out there showing that you can get well over 50mp of real resolution with medium format film, and several hundred megapixels out of 4x5 film.

For what it's worth, I still use film (4x5) and print from scans regularly (4000dpi drum). It's way more work but a nice break from the technology-does-everything-for-me of digital cameras. And a 300mp 4x5 scan looks substantially better than my D800 files when digitally printed at or above 16x20.

But, most people never print that large, so it's a moot point for I guess.

The difference between expert printing and an inexpert home-made effort is worth a lot more than a sensor size (or two).

Which makes pixel peeping all the more pointless.

I've worked with FourThirds and Micro-FourThirds since 2007. These cameras make excellent quality photographs.

The primary advantage I see when working with larger sensor cameras is greater control of depth of field. This comes at the price of larger, heavier lenses and camera bodies.

Although I still like shooting with my 6x6 format film cameras, and they still produce lovely photographs, I do it more for a combination of the nostalgia and for the specific imaging qualities that only film images have.

I coincide with Henning Wulff and also used Mamiya 645 gear for my aerial work for many years until I decided to switch to a Canon 1Ds which was an 11Mp full frame. As the equipment layout was a lot of money - just the camera body cost over 9000€ in 2000 - buying not only the camera and lens but also an Epson 7600 printer and a Mac and other necessary ancillaries - I financed it in monthly installments for three years. Said installment was just about par with my previous lab costs! The images needless to say had much more in them than from the 645 negatives.
Another poster asks whether today's 1" sensors have equalled medium format. I'm not sure about that but on a par with 35mm film? There's no doubt about that.

I have to wonder how much of the image quality from a 4/3 (or other) sensor is due to digital post processing. In enlarging a digital photograph beyond the native file size, interpolation will do what a film enlarger could not. So, would a good scan of a 6x6cm Kodachrome 64 positive also provide a digital file that could be enlarged -thru interpolation- beyond what an enlarger would?

The first featured comment (M4316mp-FF21mp) also brings home a point that is often forgotten in this measure heavy world and that is "how much is enough". Better is often the enemy of more than good enough. When asked whether M43 is good enough, I reply that I am looking at a new A2 printer, because I have grown out of my A3!

Dear Bill & Joseph

Indeed, “look” is an entirely different thing. It's not even rankable, as measures of image quality are. Some people liked the look of slides vs. prints. Some people liked the look of black-and-white vs. color. Get the aficionados of Kodachrome, Velvia, and Ektachrome Professional (EPN) in a room together and see if they will settle on which one is “best.”

Well, don't, really. You would just be wasting everyone's time.

(Interesting aside: the film designers at Kodak were always disappointed that EPN didn't have more of a following among photographers. It was by far the most accurate color transparency film they had developed and they were very proud of it. Unfortunately, most photographers didn't want accuracy, they wanted the “look” that they liked.)


Dear Joe, Omer, et.al,

No, format has nothing to do with how easy or difficult a photograph is to print, in any print size. It only matters if you're doing “hero” experiments––“Can I make a print from a one quarter-scale sensor that looks as good as one from a Phase One back?” --htat sort of thing. Where you're trying to push into the realm of ultimate extremism. Years ago there was an article in one of those goldarn darkroom magazines that demonstrated that if one was willing to go to enough work, one could get prints of 4 x 5 quality starting with 35mm film.

I pretty much don't do that (again, I emphasize that the $19.95 print was not one of those hero experiments). If you're working within the normal capabilities of your medium, merely using good and careful technique, there is no difference whatsoever in how much work goes into printing a photograph.

I rarely engage in such fun and games and extraordinary tricks or techniques. Few photographs are worth that kind of time and effort.


Dear Andre, Bryan, John, et.al.,

As I have not recently worked with any other formats than micro 4/3, I have no opinion on how other formats compared to film quality. I would note one important correction, though, Bryan, to your remarks. None of the metrics of image quality scale with the area of the film/sensor. They all scale with the linear dimension. So, for example, full frame is “twice as big” as micro 4/3, not “four times as big.” Comparisons based on area are simply wrong.

You can't easily extrapolate by size unless you postulate the same sensor technology, pixel pitch, and signal processing electronics in the camera. That almost never happens.


To everyone and anyone who asks,

No, there is not going to be a new $19.95 print offer. Do remember that it was a large amount of work for a relatively low rate of return. I did it to make a point. I have made my point. I have no reason to remake it; I have better things to do with my time.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

My first digital camera was a Canon 10D, purchased in 2003. Just after I got it, I had a wedding portrait assignment, for which I packed my usual equipment – a Pentax 6x7 loaded with Fuji NPH color negative film. Just for fun, I decided to take along the new 10D and do a few shots with it as well. I wound up shooting every pose with both cameras, and because I didn’t yet know about the advantages of RAW, I shot jpegs in the 10D.

After looking at the files, I said to myself “Hummmh!” I selected a file and a 6x7 negative from similar poses and took them to my local, very good, professional lab and had a 16x20 print made from each. When the lab owner gave me the prints, he said “Hummmh!” Another commercial photographer friend, a Mamiya RZ67 shooter, walked in just then and when he saw the prints and was told what they were, he also said “Hummmh!”

Then he said “I was saving some money for a trip to Europe this summer, but maybe I need to look into this digital thing instead!”

I showed the prints to a number of my experienced commercial photographer friends and some of the art directors I worked with and asked them to tell me which was which. Almost all of them flunked the test. And that was comparing a 16x20 print from a jpeg from a six-megapixel camera with a 16x20 made from a 6x7cm color negative.

My daughter and I just did a whirlwind tour of the Death Valley National Park for a few days, and I exposed 41 sheets of 4x5 and 9 rolls of 120 with a Hasselblad. I just love the visceral experience of using the large ground glass. The Portra film is sublime. Here's one of the Zabriskie Point:


Some time ago I got an Olympus OM-D (I think EM-5) with an 45 1.8. I was told it's the perfect portrait combo. Well. Turned out, it isn't. So for the question, when will it match medium format, the answer, for me, is - never.

[I won't argue, but I will say that's a pretty inscrutable comment Marcin. Could you say a little about why it isn't, doesn't, and can't? Not meant as a challenge to you, mind you; I'm just curious. --Mike]

The film/digital debate ceased being an issue long ago, but now, I'm only using my 35mm bodies out of love for the equipment - the format, ugh. 120 black and white, however, still sings - my X-T1 creates a better file, but darkroom work, however rare it is now, is still _fun_, and gives a result that makes me smile. And until I can afford a 4k projector, 120 Velvia on the wall makes for a pretty grand statement. Once. And then everyone's bored. :)

"As always, don't count on this illustration to do the print justice. It's a remarkably delicate and finely-detailed photograph."

Exactly so. I was just looking closely at it again recently.

I was teetering on the edge, and my copy helped me make the jump.

Perhaps not clear in this post is that it was taken with the 12 MP E-P1. The 16 MP sensor from the E-M5 forward is not only slightly higher nominal resolution, but a better sensor overall.

And now 20 MP has shown up , with the GX8 and Pen-F.

12 to 16 MP is 14% increase in linear resolution, right on the border where a real increase is visible at 100% with ordinary lenses and subjects. 16 to 20 MP is another 13%, for a total of 28%, a very real increase.

Of further interest on the resolution front, the 12-50 lens seems fully up to the HD resolution mode of the E-M5 II. It seems most of the µ4/3 lenses have been handily out resolving the sensors. So even future sensor MP increases should not outstrip the existing lenses.

Well, "The Master Printer" is certainly (or should that be Kuhtinely) getting what he wanted when he changed his name, isn't he?
Anyway I always thought it was pronounced "curtain" as in a pair of curtains. ;-)

Dear Folks,

I've gotten enough requests that I'm going to make the “Moon and Bay Bridge” print available at considerably less than my normal selling price. See the update at the bottom of the column for details.

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

Dear Moose,

(Which, possibly unsurprisingly, my dictation software insists upon transcribing as “deer Moose”…)

Apropos of the myriad dimensions to image quality, what got me to move from the Olympus Pen to the OMD was not the very modest increase in resolution, but the 1-2 stop improvement in noise at high ISOs and most importantly to me, a 2-stop improvement in exposure range. The 10+ stop range of the Pen exceeded what I'd normally be rendering in a print (even digitally, certainly the case back in the darkroom days) but it had me watching my exposures and bracketing far too much for comfort to be sure I wasn't clipping. The 12+ stop range of the OMD leaves me plenty of wiggle room, and even a subtle application of HDR techniques deals with remarkably contrasty scenes.

I'm holding off on the 20 megapixel cameras until I see if there's a significant improvement in other aspects of image quality because, again, the resolution jump from 16 to 20 isn't important enough to matter. On the other hand, you have convinced me to spring for the EM5 Mark II. As we've discussed privately, there is some interesting and attractive stuff going on with with respect to tone and color rendition in that superresolution mode, and some of those stacking features… well, you sold me.

Watch, next week Olympus'll announce the 20-megapixel Mark III.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

You say Steeglitz, I say Styglitz.

Let's call the whole thing off.

I know we're talking about "aggregate image quality," and that's a very impressive claim by Ctein (and I haven't had the chance to make a comparison), but there are other qualities that make me shy away from Micro 4/3 and other smaller-sensor cameras -- like depth of field.

Am I mistaken in believing that I cannot get nearly as a shallow depth of field with a Micro 4/3 camera as I can with a medium format? Or is there some formula for lens and distance to achieve the same apparent DOF with small-sensor cameras?

I partially disagree with the preponderance of pro-m4/3 opinions here, as applied to 6x7 (and larger, such as 6x8 and 6x9) format photos made with decent lenses on fined grained film (color neg and reversal). My contrary opinion is past on my own past shooting with just about every format from 35mm to 8x10, having purchased one of Ctein's superb prints made with a m4/3 camera, and having had some commercial prints made of my own m4/3 shots (a camera which I no longer own). The m4/3 shots don't even approach in any way the resolution and detail from 6x7 shots. The same is probably true of 6x6. So if resolution doesn't matter much, then sure, the other qualities of m4/3 are close. But the comparison that the quality starts to approach 4x5? Give me a break!

Oh boy, did we open a can of worms here. Technically, M4/3 might surpass medium format film. Aesthetically, a used medium format outfit, say a used Hasselblad with an 80mm lens is a whole different animal. I would say that if you used to shoot slide film, then M4/3 is a good replacement. If you prefer negative film, then keep shooting medium format.

I am part of a large group of Los Angeles based fine art photographers, and a high percentage of the members shoot medium format film. Many of them create stunning work and they could care less about things like sharpness etc. Even though the theoretical latitude of digital is supposedly close to negative film, overexposing digital leads to ugly clipped highlights, yet protecting the highlights and pushing the shadows in post creates an artificial HDR look.

As you said "image quality is a multidimensional thing" and your conclusion leaves out one of the less tangible dimensions of medium format color negative.

Slightly off topic, sort of, but..... Rank amateur here. I used to shoot a Nikon FE2 and had "ok" prints made at the local lab. Now I take my "old Nikon D90", and my "recent OMD-EM5 " pictures into Lightroom 4 ( I'm cheap ), eyedropper for white balance, slide some sliders, and wheee, veery nice 8 x 10's. They beat the pants off anything I ever shot on film. I sure don't miss the whole roll of orange or blue prints because the lab did an oops. I shoot mostly macro, bugs and flowers, and the odd travel snapshot. Digital for me is great as I can shoot 300 pics, select the few nice ones, edit them easily, and get great results. Sure, they are not as nice as Cteins prints, but for the average person like me, digital has revived my love of photography. And my EM5 with a few lenses makes a veery nice little kit to take with me to the market, and local events. Quite a few years ago my mother got a D90 with kit lens, she has a huge flower garden, she prints at home with an old Epson R340 and has albums full of beautiful flower pictures. Also a few years ago at the local camera show, both Olympus and Fuji had large prints on display. Veeery nice stuff. So yes, quite a few years ago, digital got good enough. ( I still have a very nice old Century Graphic and Yashica Mat 124 on the shelf though, nostalgia you see.... ). I have to add, Mike, your blog is the first thing I read every day. Great stuff.!!!! From Jeroen, way up north near Edmonton, Alberta.

I've shot a lot of 4x5 color and 5x7 BW since the 1970s, using quality lenses.

The large print quality from my M43 OM-D cameras is noticeably better, at least if I'm using excellent lenses and working carefully.

There's also the greater spontaneity, lower cost, and more predictable and controllable processing and printing, of course. I still have my large format camera kits, but, realistically, they're an anachronism.

Having managed a film and digital lab for twenty years I would totally agree for colour, but since for personal work I only use black and white I believe the situation is quite different. My D810 on a tripod at low ISO is nowhere near my linhof technika 4x5 with monochrome film, plus every lens is a shift lens and the look of the photo is very different with magical transition from focussed subject to blurred background. I would say for monochrome work my D810 about equals my rolleiflex 6x6. I tried micro 4/3 and for me it was appalling for black and white, but for colour, yeah, probably good, but really, who cares about colour? Despite owning a lab, I thought all colour film except Kodachrome was rubbish, and none more so than colour neg film, yuk.

I think it has been true for colour for a while now. I think black and white printed optically is a different matter though.

http://www.morewords.com/ends-with/tine/ : )

My love of film has very little to do with quality and a whole lot to do with the work-flow, and the preciousness, and storability, of the finite piece of film. The recent announcement of Fuji pulling the plug on "test-back" size Fujiroid, means for all intents and purposes, my film days are over (gone my favorite color trans, now gone my test film)...

That said, I started digital with a Nikon and ended up with Panasonic and Olympus M4/3rd's because for everything I did, I basically couldn't see any quality difference in them. Olympus, as well as Fuji (and you can put Pentax in there), also made prime lenses for their formats: tiny, nice, primes, so we wouldn't be hauling lenses around the size of coffee cans (or paying the cost of half my used car to get a sharp one).

Pre-digital, it seemed like people who were really interested in photography, learned to use what the pros were using, post the digital change-over, a lot of pros have to learn to use what camera company engineers build for the "pro-ams" who WANT to walk around with a 15mm-500mm lens as part show off. I've said before, if you accepted 35mm as a 'pro' format during film, then M 4/3rd's is easily that good, so why bother with full frame.

What we really need is 16 bit color in every camera...

I agree. I have a Pentax 6x7 bag and a 4x5 rig in a closet, and pounds and pounds of film, scanned and unscanned. I'm also shooting Olympus now. I'm getting better prints than I ever got before.

The main thing though is specular highlights. Those are pretty ugly on the Oly, better on the Nikon d800e, and much much better on the big film.

Your post is swaying my decision about some travel I have planned. I've been struggling with the decision whether to carry the FF Nikon bag in addition to the MFT bag on an international trip. I do that for normal travel and walks. But you are right, the MFT is really quite good, and I don't need to be crazy all the time..

I have a favourite shot of a small stone temple in southeastern Turkey made using my Fuji X-Pro and 35mm lens at f8 and 1/350 and converted to B&W that I admire daily as the background image when I fire up my 27 inch retina screen iMac. It's nice and sharp.

But the image quality of that shot falls way short of the sheer fantastic quality of my photographs of ancient architecture made on either 4x5 sheet film or 6x12cm format roll film using the 58mm, 72mm and 90mm wide angle Schneider Super-Angulons. Those images, even in inexpensive scans, have so much extra micro-detail in the granularity of the stone work, the carved ornamentation and even the foreground gravel that they are a quantum leap (to borrow the vernacular) above the images from the X-Pro. They simply amaze me every time I look at them. Plus, they have vertical verticals and a distinctive dynamic from being shot at close range using wide angle lenses.

Pronounced kuh-TYNE, not kuh-TINE (which has multiple sounds...unless your saltines are pronounced sal-tynes).

Here's a sample of 36mp D800E vs 6x7 Velvia 50


and here's the article


Yes you need a drum scanner to get that detail out but medium format slide film can equate to approximately 60mp (using a Mamiya 7).

For black and white film, you're possibly getting 100mp or more


Intriguing. So if that was 6 years ago in the days of, what, 16-megapixel m4/3rds or so, then what wacky comparison is there with the sensor-shift 40, 50 or 80MPel images?

Back when I scanned film on a V700, I'd aim for 6000px (6x6) or 7000px (5x4), partly for ease of processing, partly because there wasn't *that* much more to be had. Those pixels would be weakened by the glass in the way (I wasn't about to afford any better) and the ones that weren't grain were dust and unmentionable crud.

I loved my shen-hao - an extension of my fingertips - but I haven't missed the film process for several years now.

With full-frame mirrorless bodies, and a wide range of adapters for various lens mounts, it's now much easier than it used to be for somebody to do a set of example photos where the only variable from shot to shot is the lens used. Such examples ought to be a valuable starting point for developing at least a subjective characterization of the differences between how lenses "draw" the images passing through them.

I've never been sure I could see it, myself; at least beyond resolution and various aberrations and bokeh. But maybe it comes down mostly to different combinations of those things?

In any case, eliminating all but one variable should make it far easier to focus in on the thing being studied.

(Now that I have the idea, I see that it could actually have been done before. Very crude attachment of the lenses to a 4x5 lens board, and a 120 back, in a basic view camera would let somebody do something similar any time in the last 100 years, if you used long enough exposure times that just waving your hat in front of the lens was good enough (since there's no shutter in the lash-up I described). Maybe the focus accuracy or the film flatness would have been an issue, and you'd have to be very careful in processing and printing not to introduce variables.)

Enough very good photographers see these differences that it's more than likely I just don't look closely enough, or know what to look for. Having clearer examples could help people like me learn.

Or, maybe it's rather exaggerated; controlled tests would let us determine that, too.

The one time somebody (a good photographer, familiar with the equipment in question) said he really liked the look of one of my photos and thought it must have been taken with my Summicron 90mm, I had to tell him it was in fact taken with my Pentax Spotmatic with a Tamron Adaptall 85-205 zoom (first zoom I owned, bought in 1975). This has probably pre-disposed me to being suspicious of the idea of characteristic looks particular to the upper crust of lenses!

Dear folks,

Several of you have equated “image quality” with pixel counts and pure resolution. Unless that is the only thing one cares about in a print, and far and away most viewers don't, that's an error.

Several of you have also engaged in extreme pixel peeping, which is useful for ferreting out technical information but does not represent how prints, even large prints, look in the real world.

(I would note, even emphasize, that if you are not talking prints, none of this matters. The best displays out there don't markedly exceed the resolution of moderately priced digital cameras.)

While the majority of my work is in color, I started out as a custom black-and-white printer and never stopped being a black-and-white printer. I will stand by my assertion for both color and black and white.

Finally, again, I remind you not to confuse “the look” with “image quality.” If, for example, you complain that you can't get the same tonal placement from a digital photograph (black and white or color, doesn't matter), as film, that's a “look.”

Looks are matters of personal taste. They are not rankable nor arguable. I cannot repeat that often enough.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

Until the middle of last year I was working almost exclusively with film, using 35mm, medium format and 4x5. Circumstances forced me to move to digital, and my OMD EM5 became my camera of choice...that is until I saw the results from a Sigma DP2M. Comparing the raw files left no doubt at all - there is a major difference in quality. I don't know whether it's useful to describe this difference in terms of film formats, but it certainly objectively exists. Of course, Foveon sensors have real limitations, and are not appropriate tools for every photographic situation, and I am very impressed by the qualities of my OMD for higher ISO colour situations. My film experience was exactly he same - horses for courses!

Thinking more about this, I don't think it's a fair comparison. Printing from digital files is essentially 'lossless' - all the data in the file makes it onto the print. Darkroom printing is very 'lossy' - enlargers, lenses, chemicals etc.

For a future article, I'd ask Ctein to dig up some of his favorite MF negatives, professionally scan them (ideally drum or Nikon Coolscan) and then compare the digital prints of those files to the digital 4/3 prints. I think the conclusions will be quite different.

Or conversely, make a sensor-sized negative of the 4/3 file and then put it through an enlarger and darkroom print...

Dear Sven,

"I think the conclusions will be quite different."

And you'd be entirely wrong. What in the world makes you think I haven't done a LOT of printing of my very best negatives digitally? There've even been three TOP sales (at least) of such prints.

What is relevant is that when I compare a whole lot of 16x20 and 20x24** prints of my very best medium format film photographs with a whole lot from micro 4/3, the aggregate image quality of the micro 4/3 prints is as good or better.

As I said, it's not about raw resolution numbers nor pixel peeping-- it's how prints look in the real world. Which is not to be confused with "a look", as previously discussed.

"Fairness" is not relevant. It's not a contest, there are no prizes.

(** and, no, there's no need to go to bigger prints for comparison ... although I have ... nothing magical happens at larger print sizes)

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

In case anyone was wondering whether the tests I linked to earlier were just extreme pixel peeping, here's a photograph of some of the many prints that were made of each of our images which were then put to a collection of photographers and non-photographers to first assess which has the most detail and secondly which they prefer.


The results rated medium format film at about the same level as a 40mp digital camera back for real world photography (on a windy hill in Yorkshire). However the majority of people preferred the film results to the digital results (although it depended on print size - at smaller sizes a few thought the digital looked better but at larger sizes the majority preferred the film). Digital cameras have changed a lot since then so I'm happy to do another test. It should also be added that there is a cross over point between film and digital where a digital photograph starts to break down at bigger enlargements but the film doesn't because it keeps rendering detail at lower and lower contrasts. i.e. detail fades out rather than hitting a brick wall near the pixel level.

Finally I spent a while with the ministry of defence when I used to take battalion photos and we did a test of the Mamiya 7 vs a Phase P45 back. For the enlargements that the military wanted they preferred the Mamiya 7 results. However the results from 5x4 were assessed as better than the IQ180 they were testing and so for the period that I was photographing battalions we used two 5x4 cameras (belt and braces). These images were enlarged to 60" by 20". Here's a sample from an Ebony 5x4 and Schneider 150mm Symmar S lens on Portra 160


If the new Olympus is approaching this quality then I'm really looking forward to testing it!

It may be my limitation, but using a variety of micro 4/3 cameras and fine lenses I own or have owned, man, I wish I could even approach the quality of medium format black and white prints. I don't see the smooth and lazy tonal gradations I get from medium format film, and instead see a tendency for lighter gray tones to quickly converge into the same almost whiteishness.
Was it the lens design philosophies of the past that allowed a more rounded and dimensional look than the blazingly sharp but machine like antiseptic quality of the micro 4/3 lenses?
Dunno, it may be me, but I'd be more than happy to get results in even the same ballpark from my Olympus or Panasonic as from even say a Mamiya C330 kit.

Dear Ronin,

I hope this does not sound unkind, because I do not mean it that way, but, yes, it is your limitations.

You need to learn how to print better. Just because you print well in the darkroom doesn't mean you'll automatically print well on the computer.

In particular, you need to learn how to use Curves and local contrast controls to get the look you desire.

That's normal; you are working in a different medium. It is not a problem that is fundamentally inherent in digital photographs or even in your particular equipment.

This has more to do with "look" than image quality (some people don't want their digital photographs to look like film); fortunately "looks" are highly alterable.

This column should convey just how alterable they are:


pax / Ctein

As an addendum to my previous post, I am doing 2 4x5 portrait projects. So far I have exposed well over 200+ sheets for the projects. The clarity and the look of 4x5 film is unmistakeable.

Being on the fence to buy that beautiful Pen F with a couple of primes this article is for sure giving me more confidence. Only still a few doubts about the focus/out of focus issue (mainly regarding portraits in available light) where I see many different opinions but I believe the only real way to answer it is to try myself and get my own conclusion.
Thanks anyway for this interesting article, always something to learn...

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