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Photography Question 

BetterPhoto Member Since: 10/28/2003

Medium Format and Digital

Not to beat a dead horse, and I really am not making judgment: Does a top-of-the-line digital SLR replace a medium format (MF) film camera? In other words, are the results about the same as far as image size, clarity, sharpness, etc.?

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5/18/2004 1:11:13 PM

Dave Cross   Hi Jerry. A top-end DSLR will compete with 35mm film resolution in most cases. There are notable exceptions where film scores (low light, etc.), there are fewer times when digital wins out (mainly "instant gratification" factor). In my opinion, digital has a long way to go to compete with MF particularly with the "look" of MF - e.g., the H-U-G-E depth of field available on landscape shots, and even 35mm film simply cannot compete. Look at some of the old (50's) U.S. advertising posters (mainly found in TexMex restaurants in Europe), pin-sharp from about 4 feet to the mountains in the distance, wow!!

A lot depends on your application. If 35mm will do the job for you, then a DSLR will be more than adequate. If you insist on the MF "look," stick with the real thing :-) Just my 2c. Cheers.

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5/19/2004 4:38:23 AM

Pamela C.M Lammersen
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/19/2004
  Hello Jerry. My 2c is I agree with Dave - well put.

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5/19/2004 4:45:31 AM

David Ziff   David, I agree with Pam - a good and balanced answer. In my experience to date there is no digital counterpart of a MF slide (or even a 35mm slide) or the texture and richness of a black and white print from a MF negative. That said, I'm working my butt off at the moment to learn and exploit the full potential of my Nikon D100. The strengths of the digital format offer an exciting new world on their own. I hope to master both mediums. David

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5/25/2004 1:53:06 AM

Gregg Vieregge   I have shot with both 35mm and medium format for years. for the past 3 years I have shot digitally with the Fuji S2 pro. The auto focus alone has made the consistency of the image quality better. I have noticed a much sharper quality than 35mm and equal quality compared to medium format. Because I can view images imediately, I can make adjustments if needed for better lighting exposure. I realize this comment will open can of worms in the debate of film vs digital.

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5/25/2004 6:36:07 AM

Mitchell T. Hald   For the most part I agree with Dave. But,pin sharp from 4ft to the mountains...more than likely large format which a good DSLR & digital darkroom can duplicate without the swings and tilts of a view or press camera. IMHO, the Canon 1Ds comes close to replacing the MF and infact has for a number of working photographers I have talked to. If Kodak can get theirs right, it looks like it will be just a little closer. Don't get me wrong I love my 4x5 & 2 1/4. There is something about the large finder of the 2 1/4 or draping the focusing cloth over your head and watching the image come into focus on the ground glass of the 4x5, but being able to inspect the images before leaving the location has it's advantages. Just my opinion. Mitch

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5/25/2004 6:58:18 AM

Dave Cross   Hi again.
Having re-read my original posting, I'm tempted to agree with Mitch that the posters were produced with an LF viewcam :-)

I'm still not convinced that you can get the 2 1/4 or 4x5 'look' from a DSLR, they are VERY close though, and careful use of hyperfocal distances can give great DOF for that 'MF look':-)

BTW, I've not shot MF for some (lots of) years and I've not shot 35mm for the last 18 months, digital rules!!!


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5/25/2004 7:32:46 AM

Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
  Heard of some who have used RAW and high end printing to get pictures, large ones done, that people don't believe at first that they were done with digital.
But a little off topic but it was mentioned earlier. I've heard most say, and what I've seen, that digital has the advantage over film in low light.

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5/25/2004 11:41:57 AM


BetterPhoto Member Since: 10/28/2003
  Thanks Gregory. I've heard that before, but then, at the same time, I always hear about noise. Film doesn't have noise, so why is digital better in low light situations?

For what it's worth, I don't have an opinion, just wondering. I'm going to give it a shot soon and see for myself.


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5/25/2004 12:36:29 PM

Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
  Film has grain, which becomes more evident in under exposure. Grain and noise are really now different in what comes out on the how the picture looks. Noise on a digital looks just like grain.
If you under expose film, you can get a print but you will see the grain in it, grain that isn't noticeable for a correct exposure. you don't have to go very far under to make a negative not acceptable. A digital image can be under exposed a pretty good deal, and with good use of levels and curves, you can get a better image than film, at lower levels of under exposure. I'm not saying you'll have a good image, but what's acceptable there will be a greater range.
And if you ask what's acceptable, a like amount of under exposure to film and digital, you work the digital correctly you'll get a print that won't look as bad as the film. And to somebody who didn't know, they may think the digital was closer to the correct exposure than the film.

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5/25/2004 4:44:28 PM

Gregg Vieregge   Make a test. Shoot a scene both with film and with digital. Have your film scanned to a CD. Now open both files and see where you have the best success. Digital will win. The next generation of digital is coming with the Fuji S3 and it will look more like film with a sharper image. (coming in the fall) (The film/digital battle continues) This thread will go on forever!

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5/25/2004 7:10:44 PM

David Ziff   Once you scan to CD then you are comparing digital to digital - not film to digital. Go ahead and take the same shots and compare a slide on a light table to a digital image, now project that slide (35mm or MF) and compare. Also compare, for example, a 4 by 6 foot black/white print of an 8 by 10 negative (see Ansel Adams' work or Clyde Butcher's contemporary studio in Florida) to a black and white print produced entirely digitally or compare a print from a color negative developed and printed chemically to a digitized image. At least now you would have a valid comparison.

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5/26/2004 4:45:32 AM

Peter K. Burian
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/8/2004
  Interesting discussion. A few comments:

* You can buy a digital back for a MF camera = the best of both worlds, but far too expensive

* The new Kodak cameras (Pro SLR/n with Nikon mount and SLR/c with Canon mount) produce incredible image quality at ISO 160 and very good at ISO 400, per two friends who beta tested both cameras.

* Digital noise is minimal with the EOS 1Ds and 1D Mark II even at ISO 800. Fast film is more grainy than slow film. Each medium has a different look but at ISO 800, both are highly acceptable.

* The auto focus alone has made the consistency of the image quality better. .> You can buy some medium format 645 cameras (and one Rollei 6x6) with autofocus

* How large a print would you routinely make? 11x16"? You would be impressed with the quality from the D70 or Digital Rebel. 13x19"? Superb quality from the 1Ds, 1D Mark II or the Kodak cameras. 16x24"? A custom print made by a pro lab from a large negative might be better.

* A print made from a digital image has a different "look"; however, in the digital darkroom, you can use techniques that will emulate the look of film. But why would you want to? Digital image prints are so smooth.

* Digital camera sales are dropping dramatically. Mamiya did not even have a booth at the PMA show; Hasselblad had only a miniature booth. Clearly, there is a move to digital (35mm size) SLR cameras by many types of photographers.

Cheers! Peter Burian

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5/26/2004 6:16:09 AM

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