View Full Version : Help me understand

9-Mar-2010, 09:15
I take thousands of digital pictures a year, of subjects I love--family and nature. The camera I'm currently using is a Nikon D90.

I make digital albums with my favorites and I like them well enough.

About once a year, usually on vacation, I take out the Wisner 4x5 and make half a dozen images. I'll scan two or three of them using my Epson flat bed scanner.

I use Lightroom to organize all of the images; and then I forget about them for the most part.

Now here's the thing. Infrequently, I'll brouse my image library (full size not thumbnails), I'll sometimes unexpectedly bring up one of the large format pictures. For a split second, my mind and eye say "Now that's a good image!"

I am not a pixel peeper, and I honestly don't know why I respond differently to those images. They're definitely not as sharp as the D90 photos (due to the scanning probably). Their tonality is better, I think (especially with things like sunrises). The moments captured are sometimes better--people seem to be more relaxed and relate better to the largeformat camera.

The same thing holds for 8x10 (and in a few cases larger) prints that I have made on an Epson 4000 printer. To a lesser extent, I even prefer the prints that originated from 35mm film to those made from the D90 (and Nikon D2H and Nikon D70 and Nikon D40 and a Canon that I used once).

I am not sure of the reason, but overall, I respond better to the images that originated with film, especially large format, even before my mind has processed the fact that they are large format images. I am pretty sure I am not imagining things, because it always happens months after I've made the print, and it always takes me by surprise before my conscious mind has analyzed the print.

Has anyone experienced anything like this?

Robert Hughes
9-Mar-2010, 09:30
Perhaps you have an ingrained predisposition to your LF photo work, or perhaps your scanner works better than your digicam. Show the screenshots or prints to other people and ask them to identify which are the "better" photos for an unbiased response.

9-Mar-2010, 09:48
Hmm, I shoot digital Dx, Fx and P45 with an AS M Line and films from 6x7cm to 4x5" and my favorites lean towards composition/content more than anything. Maybe some people can see the difference between plastic film based imagery and pixel imagery, but I cannot say that I can distinguish on that difference alone. Just my 2 cents.

Brian Ellis
9-Mar-2010, 09:56

Many of my all-time favorite photographs, the ones that are now or at one time were exhibited or hung on the walls of my home, were made with a 6x7 camera or more recently a digital camera. Looking around my den and our family room right now to see what's on the walls, there's one 35mm, four 6x7s, one 4x5, three from a digital camera, and two contact prints from an 8x10 camera.

9-Mar-2010, 10:05
Maybe the big camera is forcing you to be more careful about what you see and what it means to you. When I'm wandering around with a digital camera, I make many photos "on spec". I'm not sure if the subject interests me that much, but I see if I can make an interesting picture of it just as a matter of practice and fun. But I have to really be motivated to make images with the big camera, and many times I've gotten halfway through my normal half-hour setup and realized the image wasn't worth the effort and just picked up the camera and moved on. That's sort of an unconscious form of self-editing that is enforced by the costs of doing it in large format, versus the nearly zero marginal cost of making one more image on a digital camera.

Thus, there is no requirement that you are not responding to the image just as Brian does, regardless of the medium or format. We interact with the tools, and that interaction affects the choices we make. We can make those choices with any camera, but we usually don't.

Rick "who often goes back to his old images with more seeing and less technique" Denney

9-Mar-2010, 12:42
I've considered some possible reasons:

(1) I shoot better when I shoot in LF. Not likely. I am actually not very proficient.

(2) I'm fooling myself. It has happened too often and, like I said, some of the LF images that I hadn't seen for a while catch my attention before I'm consciously aware of them. Not every image, but enough.

(3) I don't know how to post-process digital prints. Very likely, especially when it comes to tonality and gradation. But why don't the LF prints require the same knowledge of post-processing? [From an exposure standpoint. I've made tons of non-salvagable 35mm negatives and DSLR captures, both in sheer number and as a percentage, but not too many LF.]

(4) LF captures look different because of the physics of light. They certainly do--as we all know a scene captured with a 180mm lens on a 4x5 neg is not just a magnified version of the same scene captured with a 50mm lens on a 35mm neg. But this doesn't seem to be the whole answer.

(5) Subject matter interaction, and photographer-equipment interaction. Could be part of the reason. I haven't seen many above the age of 2, other than professional models, who really respond well to an SLR pointed at them. As a result you capture what's in front of the camera, but the subjects don't really give of themselves.

I am surprised not many others here have had the same experience; perhaps others are better at using DSLRs than I am. Not that I haven't tried--I've been very diligent at trying, and even enjoy it at times. DSLRs are irreplacable for capturing many of the images I treasure, but that's because the image was there to be captured and it had to be captured quickly. But I continue to be surprised how a handful of LF images continue to take my breath away--either because of the sheer beauty of the pixels (onces scanned) or because the subject really connected with the lens--whereas I cannot, alas, say the same for any of my DSLR captures.

9-Mar-2010, 13:05
...I am not sure of the reason, but overall, I respond better to the images that originated with film, especially large format, even before my mind has processed the fact that they are large format images...

You’ve shared interesting things about how you respond to LF results vs. digital results.

However, do you also “respond better” to the process of taking an LF photo?

I’d enjoy hearing a little more about how you feel about that step.

My psychological diagnosis – you may simply enjoy the LF picture-taking process more than the digital one. And this greater enjoyment might help you compose images that please you more…

David de Gruyl
9-Mar-2010, 13:17
I have found that as I increase the size of my medium (film or digital, but specifically film) I have been getting a higher percentage of "good" shots. I have always suspected it related to not wanting to change film (or run out , when I got to 4x5, or pay for it, when I got to 8x10) for a crappy shot...

I literally throw away rolls of 35mm. (or digital images). 6x7, it is very rare that I have a roll without two decent pictures on it. More often, there are four or so. 4x5, barring mechanical difficulty with the grafmatic, I get somewhere better than half.

Now, I am talking "good". Good exposure, good composition, somewhat interesting. Something people are happy to look at.

Great?, I have no idea, but I doubt that the format matters much for that. I would like to have it on MF or better, but would not complain if I got the shot.

Robert Hughes
9-Mar-2010, 13:30
I've got to admit that, a few weeks after one of my photos has gone to print or jpeg file, I become format agnostic. A cell phone photo is as good as a 6x6 or 4x5, it's just different. For one thing, the cell phone photo is in color ...:p

10-Mar-2010, 04:03
In 2008 I my publishing company published my first photo book about Pineau des Charentes. I spent five years photographing in the vineyards, cellars and homes of pineau producers, shooting 'mostly' digital images because it's easier to carry a DSLR through miles of vines when there are literally thousands of images to shoot with every step.

I did shoot some medium format with my Bronica SQA, my Kiev 60s and Mamiya 645. I shot one photo with a 4 x 5. Digital was with my D200 (now D700).

When the book launched I had a gallery exhibit of about 45 prints from the book.

Not only were all prints of the film shots sold during the exhibit, but whenever someone who has bought my book mentions their favourite shot it is inevitably a film image.

I went through about 5000 digital images and only 40 or so MF shots. The difference in 'ambience' is obvious between the digital and film shots. Not because of the time it took to make the image - I shoot thousands in dark wine/cognac/pineau cellars, never using flash or any unnatural lights - just long exposures. I often took two or three hours in a chai (cellar) to grab four or five digital shots.

There is a difference, but maybe it's not readily obvious with wide-open landscape shots.

I've been Photoshop certified since 1998 and work with PS and Aperture all day - it's my job. Film imagery does stick out like a sore thumb from those shot with digital. :p