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Thread: How sharp can you get?

  1. #1

    Join Date
    Jun 2008

    How sharp can you get?

    Ive come from using MF (a Hassy) to 5x4 and I really enjoy LF, BUT something has happened which has totally blown me away....
    I just did my first print exchange on APUG, the print that arrived through my front door was shot using a Mamiya 7 and I just cant believe how sharp it is, I mean it really is sharp, sharper than my Hasselblad and dare I say it but it is sharper than my 5x4!

    So this got me thinking...Just what am I doing wrong? Is it my technique, my equipment, my darkroom practice?
    I use modern multi coated lenses and although I have not got years of LF experience I'm pretty happy with using my camera and my darkroom practice is improving all the time.

    So is the Mamiya sharper than 5x4? Are the lenses really that good?
    Or should I be looking at myself to somehow improve my prints to the sharpness of the Mamiyas?

    BTW, I'm not about to go out and get a Mamiya 7, I'm hooked on LF!!


  2. #2

    Join Date
    Jul 2006

    Re: How sharp can you get?

    It depends on the lens and the film I think. It also depends how steady the camera is, and whether there's tripod or flash use.

    I've been blown away by the quality from a Hasselblad SWC at f/22, but then again I've shot 5x4 in the studio at f/5,6 with flash at 1/60 and I can see hairs on the skin of a fully body shot.

  3. #3

    Join Date
    Feb 2004
    Scottsdale, AZ

    Re: How sharp can you get?

    The Mamiya 6 & 7 are known to have some of the best lenses in the industry - esp. when it comes to sharpness.

  4. #4

    Join Date
    May 2006
    Westminster, MD

    Re: How sharp can you get?

    Mamiya 7II system is wonderful. Lenses are amazing.

    But to compare 6x7 roll film to 4x5 is like comparing two different fruits. They both taste good, and are good for you, but the are different.

    Sharpness isn't everything. I do not use the Mamiya when I need to use my 4x5 or 8x10. Each is a unique tool.
    When I grow up, I want to be a photographer.

  5. #5

    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Massachusetts USA

    Re: How sharp can you get?

    Because the perception of sharpness depends on many factors - including the subject and lighting - when making a comparison, it's best to compare apples to apples. If you are making darkroom prints, then you need to remove all the variables except the camera and lens. This means: the same subject, shot with both cameras at the same time, with the same film, same film developer, same enlarger, same enlarging lens, same paper, etc.

    There have been many respectable contributions on this forum which show that with top glass and film, 6x7 can sometimes exceed 4x5, due to simple arithmetic. However, once you introduce cropping, things get a bit more... dicey. A 6x9 rangefinder camera like the Fujinon, even with its lesser quality lens, can probably outperform a Mamiya 7, when X% less enlargement is required to make a shot whose format is 2:3.

    If you've ever used a Mamiya 7, you know it's not always a good substitute for a View Camera. You need to keep the rangefinder calibrated by Mamiya, especially when using the longer lenses. To get adequate depth of field, you may need to stop down past the optimum f/stop of the lens. The Mamiya 7 portrait-length lens, superb as it is, focuses to a reasonable, but limited distance. It's too far to get a face shot, unless you crop. Did someone say "cropping" ?

    Similarly, you can't make really close images, even with the normal lens, because it's a rangefinder camera after all, and it wasn't designed for that. It's really intended for hand-held use. Which is ironic, because without a tripod, you can't get the best performance out of the lenses, except when you're shooting at high shutter speeds, or with a flash. Unlike with an SLR or view camera, you can't actually see the depth of field, only estimate it on the barrel of the lens.

    So within it's intended sphere of usefulness, it's simply the best there is. Outside of that, less so.

  6. #6

    Join Date
    Dec 2007
    Washington, D.C.

    Re: How sharp can you get?

    I found something similar in a print exchange before I got into large format. My Fuji GSW690II print was sharper than many of the large format prints I received. I think part of it was the small size of the prints because LF really shines at large sizes where the tonality of MF negs starts to break down. I decided to get into LF when I started making 20x24 prints from my Fuji and Hasselblads and I saw they didn't hold up very well. I love LF when I need the movements, or to contact print, or to blow up really big.

  7. #7

    Join Date
    Feb 2005

    Re: How sharp can you get?

    With some films, some of the Mamiya 7 lenses will put about twice the resolution on film as some LF lenses. Then there are other confounding variables such as poor technique and diffraction etc.

    No doubt many MF lenses are capable of higher resolutions than many LF lenses, but MF is not LF. With most MF cameras no movements are possible. Greater enlargement makes film grain an issue with MF, and tonality is not as smooth. I use both a Mamiya 7 and LF, neither is a complete substitute for the other.

  8. #8

    Join Date
    Oct 2003
    Whittier, CA

    Re: How sharp can you get?

    I don't think that choosing 4x5 over MF for sharpness is the best criteria.
    The choice of 4x5 over MF should be dictated by a need of better tonalities.

  9. #9

    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    Austin TX

    Re: How sharp can you get?

    Mentioned often on this forum is the DOF issue. Normal 4X5 lenses have shallower DOF than normal 6X7 lenses. Simple telephoto effect. Critical focusing of 4X5 can be difficult on a ground glass but is necessary for really sharp images. Add some swing and tilt to the equation and it's even more difficult to asses critical focus at the periphery of the image. Now include the dismaying fact that the lens standard is poorly connected to the film standard through a flimsy bellows and possibly a shaky rail and you have the ingredients for a blurry image. Add wind and tripod vibration to the whole and one may have additional undesirable vibrational modes.

    Bottom line - really pay close attention to focus and stability when shooting 4X5 if you want critically sharp images. That's why I gravitated to a Technikardan with a double tripod setup when high sharpness is required.

    Nate Potter, Austin TX.

  10. #10

    Join Date
    Aug 2004
    New Hampshire

    Re: How sharp can you get?

    Critical focusing and management of camera movement make a big difference when you're trying to get the most out of big cameras. My eyes aren't what they used to be so I use a magnifier for good focus with LF.


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