View Full Version : Mulitformat Shooters

Ron Bose
26-Jan-2004, 15:48
After going through an LF frenzy in the last couple of years, I was confronted with a beautiful little gem in the shape of a used Leica M6 and a 35mm f2 (Summicron) lens.

Now my staple, before my fall into LF, was MF (Mamiya 7 II), so looking at the results of scanned B&W 35mm negs is somewhat disappointing.

The scans are done at my lab on their photofinishing machine.

I want to understand why the scans look so average ?

- am I caught in the mystique of a Leitz glass ?

- are todays modern develop/scan/print photofinishing machines incapable of scanning B&W accurately ?

- is 35mm absolutely incapable of producing good sharp images ?

- my rangefinder needs adjustment ?

- have I been spoilt by big negs ?

Please don't get me wrong, the handling, convenience (and mystique) of the Leica make it a joy to use. It's so light compared to the Mamiya 7 not to mention the Wisner !!

btw, when I look at the trannies I've shot with the Leica they're pretty good, it's just the scans that leave me disappointed.

So my query is to all the LF'ers out there: once you are hooked on LF do smaller formats ever look the same ???

bob moulton
26-Jan-2004, 16:00
I have two Leicas, an M3 and an M2. My main camera is LF. I don't expect images from the two formats to resemble each othjer. I may shoot the 35mm more loosely--Duh!- and I think the "look" of the 35 is different. Sports, theatre, informal portraits, street images, musical groups, "street photography". As far as the scans are concerned, that is a complex situation. The quality of the scanner, the scanner software, the operator's expertise, his/her understanding of yoyur requests and needs--all those items at least could affect the ouput of the scans. Are the scans being viewed or are you outputting them via a printers? Monitor calibration, etc.--Those factors influence what you are seeing. Bob

26-Jan-2004, 16:20
6x6 turned me off 35mm. 4x5 just closed the coffin. It's okay for things that need to be quick and light but I can't really see myself needing one of those big or expensive 35mm cameras.

Paul Schilliger
26-Jan-2004, 16:41
After shooting LF for many years, I thought the other day "wouldn't it be nice to be able to jump out of the car and to quickly point and shoot that beautiful winter scenery and leave the place before the next car arrives?" Instead, I had to keep driving, for there was no place to park the car and the road sides where packed with snow. There are many occasions when we see things that are worth a picture, but we know the setting time of the big cameras will be too much, or the shots are not quite worth a large chrome, but could be a good seller for one of those calendars. Of course, I still have my Nikon but the results are somewhat disappointing when it comes to print. I also have a Pentax 67 which produces very nice prints on par with LF, but it is not really point and shoot and a tripod is recommended, I don't have the big zoom and I'm not sure it can be handheld either. Then I though, maybe I should have a Fuji GA 645 ZI, or a Pentax 645 with a couple of zooms. These should produce sharp images handheld and have automated operation that would make them convenient for people photography as well... just some rambling!

26-Jan-2004, 17:21
A "Prosumer" digicam, like Canon Rebel, Nikon 4500, etc is just the thing. Smaller than many 35mm, no need to wait on film processing, no need to scan for digital output, and image quality at the 5 or 6 megapixel level is intermediate between 35mm and 645, at least at the 11x14 or 13x19 print size. Just the thing for jump-shooting.

I have not seen any digital prints (including Canon 1Ds) that make me want to get rid of my 8x10 Gowland, but the prints from 1Ds are superior to those from my Mamiya 645, and awfully close to the quality from my Fuji GSW690. $$ is a wash, since you're scanning film for digital output. Why not skip the film step entirely??

And I won't start whining about the lousy film loading of the Leica M series...much!!

Ralph Barker
26-Jan-2004, 17:27
A Leica M6 makes a perfect companion for your LF camera, Ron. I almost always take my M6 along on LF field trips, using the Leica to capture supplemental images that might not warrant a larger negative.

That said, scanning 35mm does take considerably more care to get a good image, and B&W does seem to cause problems for many scanners. It's a PEBCAS - problem exists between chair and scanner. ;-) Naturally, a 35mm negative won't compare to a larger format, but decent images can still be made. Here's a scan of a 35mm FP4+ image created with an old 50mm DR Summicron on the M6:


Note that this was scanned on an Epson 3200 - not the best for 35mm, but passable.

Eric Rose
26-Jan-2004, 18:41
I pack around a Bessa R with 35mm lens and 90mm Leica lens when out with my LF gear. Get lots of neat grab shots that work well for smaller prints. Since I don't blow every neg I have up to 30x40 my 35 gear gets used about as much as my MF stuff. Still 75% LF tho.

clay harmon
26-Jan-2004, 18:41
I shoot big film mostly - 12x20 and 7x17. But I also carry around an Xpan and a leica for lunchtime strolls and quick shots. I find that 35mm is a totally different idiom than ULF photography. Grain is part of the language. No zonie head scratching and individual development of each image. Compose, overexpose a stop or so if there are really bright areas in the picture area, and then move along.

My philosophy is that if I have to put the thing on a tripod, then I might as well get out a 'real' camera. So I stick mostly to fast films in the ISO400 range, which allows me to handhold most of the outdoor photography that I am doing with the small cameras. Even so, I always look for something to brace either my body or my camera if possible.

I have found that the secret to high quality results is to set the camera meter 2/3 to 1 stop below the manufacturers rating, and then develop the film the bare minimum to get the CI to about .45 or .50. This will keep the grain small and sharp. I also use acutance developers such as Acutol or FX39, which give nice tight grain, which will give the eye the illusion of more sharpness than your system may actually be delivering, as well as some compensation in the highlights.

Finally, if you really get a keeper photo in the roll and want to photoshop it into a real work of art, you pretty much gotta pay the piper and get a high quality 16 bit drum scan of the neg. I have a dedicated desktop film scanner (Nikon Coolscan) and the Epson 2450 scanner, and a good drumscan will just clobber either of those in terms of quality. That said, I can get plenty good enough results from the desktop film scanners for images up to about 8x12. If you are going larger than that, better get the drum scan. NancyScans in NY has done excellent, albeit pricey, work for me in the past.

<Nomex flame retardant suit>/ON Of course, doing a wet darkroom print on real photo paper is the best route if possible. Richness, depth, feeling of real accomplishment, etc... <Nomex flame retardant suit>/OFF

And the cost of shooting a 36 exposure roll at lunchtime is about 1/3 that of shooting just one 12x20!

Frank Petronio
26-Jan-2004, 19:18
BTW, a few of Clay's photos are in View Camera magazine this month. Congrats Clay (I bought a Veriwide from you last year...)

Ron Bose
26-Jan-2004, 19:25
Thanks for the responses guys, it's a pleasant surprise to see some names who are more familiar to me over at the Leica forum !

I suppose that 35mm, MF and LF have their place in each of our arsenals. I'm beginning to realise that I should use the Leica for what the Leica excels at (B&W indoor low light or artifical room lights), MF for scenics (such as a cemetery) and LF for really interesting buildings, landscapes or where I want to play with movements.

My big mistake was taking the Leica to the cemetery on a sunny day with snow all around. And mistake number two was shooting B&W (APX-100 and Tri-X) with an orange filter, when it really was a Reala sort of a day ....

Ron Bose
26-Jan-2004, 20:46
I should add, that had it not been so cold I would have been out at the cemetery with my Ries slung over my shoulder with the trusty 4x5 Wisner or the erstwhile 8x10 Ansco in tow.

26-Jan-2004, 22:25
I really like a Rollie tlr for cemetary shots here in New England. Seems just right! The best of all worlds.Though in the last snow storm a Leica w/noctilux in low light at f1 to 2.8 really was a gas. Atmospheric gravestones with the snow falling. But ...you really cant beat the DR summicron for overall resolution, a fabulous lens. But when I look at a 12x20 contact print...it never ceases to amaze me. It's like a living thing! Try some tech pan in your Leica....pretty amazing stuff.

Ralph Barker
26-Jan-2004, 22:39
While I heartily agree that each format has a place in the photographic arsenal, Ron, I disagree that any of the formats should be type-cast by subject. I think it is better to consider both the physical and artistic objectives of the image, and then use the appropriate tool. The medium plays into that consideration, as do the choice of lens and the aspect of convenience in shooting. But, I think the connection between the choices and the outcome are more clear if we just think of them all as photon collectors, each capable of doing similar tasks, but with a distinctive twist.

clay harmon
27-Jan-2004, 05:07
Frank, thanks for the mention of the VC photos. That was one hot, but very fun day. Hope the Veriwide is working out for you.

Ralph wrote: "While I heartily agree that each format has a place in the photographic arsenal, Ron, I disagree that any of the formats should be type-cast by subject. I think it is better to consider both the physical and artistic objectives of the image, and then use the appropriate tool."

Or maybe consider the tool and see what artistic objectives it will let you accomplish.

Lately I have taken a few 35mm negatives that I have enlarged by various means to 12x18, and printed them in platinum. They do not have the fine detail and tonality of an in-camera contact print, but the graininess actually gives them a nice soft feel that the platinum process just enhances. A few of them I feel are real keepers. It has really opened my eyes to the fact that so called technical 'shortcomings' of a particular format or method may also represent an opportunity to do something different.

Edward (Halifax,NS)
27-Jan-2004, 06:09
I use 35mm for nature and snapshots. I am thinking about picking up digital for snapshots because most of them end up being scanned and e-mailed anyway. I was never happy with enlargements over 8X10 with my 35mm so I bought a Yashicamat which gave me pleasing results with 11X11s. I have actually been happier with B&W from the Yashicamat than from my 4X5. I have gotten excellent colour 11X14s from my 4X5 and one OK 16X20. The one time I tried enlarging 35mm to 16X20 the results were disasterous. Here is a pisture that I could never get with a 4X5. Excuse the lousy scan.


Jonathan Lee
27-Jan-2004, 07:37

Be careful of that Leica, it may empty your wallet! I use LF and 35mm mainly and have a Leica M6 and M7. The real glory of Leica glass is found in the modern, very expensive lenses (ASPH series). If you have the early versions of the 35 Summicron, you must remember that this lens design is 50+ years old now. Do not expect it to give you the performance of a modern lens. If you really want to get exceptional 35mm scans you should have a dedicated, not flatbed, film scanner. It won't be LF quality, but you can't expect that!

Steve J Murray
27-Jan-2004, 08:27
Hi Ron,

Like many others, I enjoy all formats. 4x5 is great for landscapes, still lifes and some portraits. I love the look of 35mm for portraits of a more spontaneous nature, and street photography. I also use medium format, mainly for people. Each format has its own charm and "look." I really wouldn't want to be limited by just one format. For this reason you really can't critically compare the formats either; since they each shine in different areas. Hence, keep the Leica and use it for spontaneous shots, or for a softer look in portraits. Use it for candid photos of your kids, family, animals, anything you can't easily do with larger format. You don't need a "modern" lens to be happy with it. Older, lesser coated lenses have a look all their own. Sharper and less flare is not necessarily artistically "better." All my lenses are between 25 and 50 plus years old, and I would't trade them.

You do need a dedicated film scanner to milk the qualities out of those small negs. I use a cheap Minolta Scan Dual 3. I am very happy with the 8x10's I am getting. Scanning and digital work takes some learning and practice, but you can match a darkroom print with practice. Have fun!

Christopher Condit
27-Jan-2004, 10:48
I've sold off my 35mm stuff -- I never used it again once I got the hang of LF. I still use one of my MF cameras regularly, a Mamiya TLR.

I think it is a cross product of what I like to shoot, and what my goal is. I never shoot people, or the 'street', or moving objects/animals, preferring land and city scapes, so I have no need for rapidity or handholdability. My goal is an 11"x11" or larger print that is good and interesting enough to hang on the wall. Therefore I use the largest camera I can be bothered with (up to 8x10), given the subject, its accessibility, and my mood and whim of the moment.

I never go out shooting with more than one camera; I guess that puts me in the tiny minority. In fact I rarely take more than 2 lenses (of 6). My attitude is that there are always a gazillion pictures out there to take, and I can surely find something worthwhile with whatever equipment I have at hand. Don't worry about the ones that get away, focus on making what you do take as good as possible.

That's my slightly different take on the issue,


Christopher Condit
27-Jan-2004, 10:49
Oops, ignore the trailing 'attitude'. A Freudian typo...

Ole Tjugen
28-Jan-2004, 04:45
Ron, I htink the answer to all your questions - except the last one - is "yes". The last one, of course, is "No".

I shoot all formats from 35mm to 5x7". They all have their use, but nothing compares to big negatives. My 35mm is a FED, a Soviet Leica-copy. It is a surprisingly good camera, and the lens is absolutely top (FED Elmar-copy). But the negative is just too small! If I care about resolution and tonality, I'll use a bigger film - at least MF.

John D Gerndt
28-Jan-2004, 09:11
Ole hit it hard on the head, with one exception. Yes, you can make good, even very good negatives with 35mm equipment. They will always be 1/36 or so as good as an 8x10 though.

I have read somewhere in this forum that a 35mm negative has approximately 80 mega pixels of data in the form of silver receptors. 1) How is digital anything every going to beat film which has molecular (size) receptors? 2) How can 1.5 square inches of these receptors ever compare to 80 square inches?

Someone can shoot me down if my numbers are too far off but the principles are a constant. Definition comes from the fineness of your search/report. Quality is subjective. Timing is an issue to for what we capture is a slice out of the continuum. You must explore what playing with each of these factors does to your results, anticipate what kind of slice you are searching for and use the appropriate tools for it. The possibilities are nearly infinite. Enjoy!