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Thread: Interesting comparison between 4x5 and digital

  1. #1

    Join Date
    Nov 2004
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    Interesting comparison between 4x5 and digital

    I just ran an interesting if unscientific comparison between 4x5 (Wista DX, 150mm f5.6 Caltar (recent version), Velvia quickload in a Polaroid 545) and a decent digital SLR (Nikon D70 with the kit lens). The Velvia was scanned with an Epson Perfection 3200 (the sometimes-maligned two year old one, NOT the brand-new filmscanner) at only 1600 dpi. I wanted to stay under the REAL resolution of the scanner, and I know that critter doesn't actually get 3200 dpi-opinions vary between about 1600 and 2400 dpi actually resolved. This wasn't a scientific "same picture" comparison at all-it was just a look at what each could do with real-world shots.

    Of course the 4x5 is going to WALK away with this test at huge magnification-4x5 beats much fancier digital cameras than this all the time. I wasn't interested in "actual pixel" magnifications or uprezzed files that equate to a print 4 feet wide-who ever prints that big? The digital shots were specifically chosen NOT to test the limits of the technology-no outrageous dynamic range or high ISO, normal focal length) I wondered what would happen in a real print, at sizes that I actually print. I have access to two nice photo printers, both from Hewlett-Packard. The big printer (at school) is a DesignJet 130, and the little one (my own) is a Photosmart 8450. The first test was a 16x20 (about 14x20 from digital, due to the aspect ratio) on the DesignJet. I had to scale the D70 file up, of course, in order to print it that big-I did this using Photoshop's bicubic interpolation routine. Everything was Unsharp Masked by eye for best appearance at final size. I couldn't find any HP paper that big, so I used Epson Photo Quality Gloss, profiling it as HP Premium Glossy. The 4x5 absolutely ran away with that test. The D70 print looks OK, so long as there isn't a print from 4x5 in the room, while the 4x5 is gorgeous! After seeing this, I must say that I really no longer consider the D70 a 16x20 capable camera...

    After looking at these results, I decided to see how small a print still had a difference. Many people claim that 6MP digital is essentially perfect at 8x10, that there's no need to shoot anything else unless you're printing bigger than that. Time to fire up the Photosmart 8450, a brand new 8.5x11 printer with a reputation for very high resolution and wide color gamut (its native color space is Adobe RGB, not the usual sRGB). There's nothing better for small prints (excluding, of course, contact printing 8x10 Velvia on Ilfochrome and similar esoteric wet processes). I expected the two to be essentially indistinguishable at such a small size. I was surprised when the big camera still showed a clear advantage in an 8x10 print. Unlike the 16x20, you DO have to look closely to see this one. If you take a cursory glance, the digital print is just as nice, but any sort of inspection shows a great depth to the 4x5 that the digital lacks. Whether this is due to extraordinary detail, or to dynamic range (and the characteristic curve of the film), I don't know, but the advantage is clear even in a small print.

  2. #2
    Doug Dolde
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    Interesting comparison between 4x5 and digital

    Why am I not surprised with your results?

  3. #3
    Geos
    Join Date
    Mar 2004
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    Interesting comparison between 4x5 and digital

    If the 4x5 had been scanned with a pro-level scanner, the resulting image would be an order of magnitude better than that scanned on a home scanner.

  4. #4

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    Interesting comparison between 4x5 and digital

    You better hide. The digitheads will burn you at the stake.

  5. #5

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    Aug 2004
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    Interesting comparison between 4x5 and digital

    Dan,

    Most of the users on this forum would agree with your findings a priori. Although the method is suspect, the intuition behind the comparison is heart-felt.

    Strikingly, the digital photographers I come in contact with express an indifference to the subtlety of the large format print which you touch on here. The print-buyer who is unaware, responds with an eagerness to see the difference in quality - akin to a revelation of the senses when the subtlety of tonal scale and hues becomes a moment of eureka for him.

    Whereas our digital colleagues may try and blind us with the science of digital technology which has blinded them through the consumer and convenience route, we might do better to respond by pointing to the traditional cibachrome or silver gelatin print.

  6. #6

    Join Date
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    Baraboo, Wisconsin
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    Interesting comparison between 4x5 and digital

    These reults with this camera and a $250 kit lens don't surprise me but I'd be very surprised if you got the same degree of difference, especially at 8x10, with a top of the line digital camera and lens. My 6mp Nikon D100 with a pro Nikon lens produces results pretty much indistinguishable from even 4x5 at 8x10. 4x5 doesn't start to become dramatically better until I make prints in the 11x14 range. That's using a somewhat better scanner than you used (a Linoscan 1400) but still not a drum scanner. That's also shooting in RAW mode with the D100 and then converting with Nikon Capture 4. Were you shooting RAW or jpeg with this comparison?

    I'm not trying to start yet another film vs digital argument, I'm firmly committed to 4x5 film as long as it's available (and it damn well better produce a noticeably better result than an inexpensive digital camera and kit lens given all the other advantages of digital). This kind of comparison always makes for interesting reading and it was good of Dan to post it. But I think we're kidding ourselves if we generalize from it to say that there is no digital camera and lens that can make an image comparable to 4x5 (i.e. that digital at this point and at any price level is simply an inherently inferior medium).
    Brian Ellis
    Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you do criticize them you'll be
    a mile away and you'll have their shoes.

  7. #7

    Join Date
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    Interesting comparison between 4x5 and digital

    But Brian;
    You just bought another 8x10 Dorff. Oh and a 4x5 Linhof last year. Don't fib, Santa's watching.

  8. #8

    Join Date
    Nov 2004
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    49

    Interesting comparison between 4x5 and digital

    I do a similar comparison, but with 4x5 Provia vs 35mm Provia often as I use a 35mm SLR as a meter and framing aid. This means I end up taking the same scene with both cameras and am able to compare 4x5 scanned on a Canon DU2400F flatbed and the 35mm scanned on a 'proper' film scanner (Minolta SDIII).
    My experience has been the same as Dan's, (and I realise neither scanner is exactly state of the art).
    I am interested to know where a roll film back and dedicated MF film scanner would compare with the above, I would expect this combination to be considerably better, and it should be bearing in mind the purchase prices.
    I don't shoot enough 4x5 for me to consider this economical, as I would also need a shorter focal length lens to cover wideangle.
    As above we as LF users often forget there are millions of others out there to whom the difference in quality we are talking about here means absolutely nothing, illustrated by the general perception of 8mp digicams among the masses as fantastically good quality.

  9. #9

    Interesting comparison between 4x5 and digital

    If you are interested the 4X5 6X9cm vs digital camera check out my comparison images between 4X5 and 6X9cm Velvia scanned on an Epson 2450 and my new Canon 1Ds Mk II 16.7 mp DSLR.


    http://www.sphoto.com/techinfo/dslrvsfilm.htm


    You can read my article or jump down to the new comparison image page links.

    Yes, I know the Epson can hardly do justice to film. I was interested to see how the new DSLR compared to 4X5 with the scanning equipment that I have available to use.

  10. #10

    Join Date
    Nov 2003
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    Interesting comparison between 4x5 and digital

    I have a Nikon D70 and I scan 4 x 5 with an Epson 3200. I haven't made any D70 prints larger than 8 x 10, but comparing scans on my monitor at magnification comparable to what I would see in a 16 x 20 print, the 4 x 5 results are clearly better. That is true even after rescaling the 4 x 5 scan to 2000 x 2500, comparable to the D70 default 2000 x 3000.

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