Advantages of MF over 35mm

Discussion in 'Medium Format Cameras and Accessories' started by xtolsniffer, Sep 29, 2012.

  1. xtolsniffer

    xtolsniffer Member

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    I was wondering at what level of enlargement you think you can see the advantage of medium format over 35mm? I ask because I set myself this little task and compared 35mm and 6x7 like for like and was rather surprised by the result. To put it into context, I mainly shoot Nikon 35mm, usually prime lenses and usually on a tripod, but when I have the time I like to take out my Mamiya RB67. I shoot Ilford HP5 and FP4, Velvia and Portra on both formats. I process and print my own monochrome, but send out the colour work to a good lab. I tend to enlarge mostly to 10"x8" with occasional images up to 12"x16". I know quality is not the prime consideration sometimes, there are so many other things that make a photo great but I was using this as an exercise to judge when to take a 35mm outfit out with me vs the heavier medium format. Really I was using it as a justification to myself and to my familiy why I was lugging around the RB67.
     
  2. jp498

    jp498 Member

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    I shoot mostly iso400 film, and good iso400 film at that. I'm not into crunchy 1970's grain/grit aesthetic so I use films like tmax400 and acros100. 6x6 MF is so much smoother and cleaner than 35mm. I also do a lot of LF, so I like smooth tones. If you don't enlarge past 8x10, perhaps 35mm is fine. I like slightly larger than that sometimes. If you're shooting live activities the 35mm versatility and speed might be good. If you're taking the time to use a tripod, etc. then MF is going to be a big step up in quality.
     
  3. xtolsniffer

    xtolsniffer Member

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    Well I did a partially blind comparison in that I got a bunch of prints and compared side by side and sorted them into piles of either 'really nice and sharp' vs 'fine but not as good as the others' then went back to the negatives and saw which were from 35mm and which from 6x7. I was surprised to find that there was a difference even in 5"x7" prints. I thought I might start to see differences at about 10"x8" so I was a little surprised to see it in even these smaller prints. Obviously the RB67 is suited to some types of photography and the 35mm to others but it was interesting to see the difference in prints that small. The difference for me was in the tonality, hard to define really, but there was a smoothness to the prints from medium format. For me, that's the justification for taking out the RB67 when I can.
     
  4. E. von Hoegh

    E. von Hoegh Member

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    You should see the tones you get from an 8x10 negative, contact printed.:D
     
  5. bushpig

    bushpig Member

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    Here's the question, xtolsniffer: You enlarge up to 12x16. Do YOU see a difference in your prints?

    If you don't see a difference at the size you like, then I'd say you have your answer. However, I know there can be many reasons for hauling around the RB67 (I have a Pro-S and it's my main shooter!).

    Shoot what's most fun to you. That's what matters. That should be justification enough!
     
  6. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    I think this is a controversial subject, because it's in the eye of the beholder what is good.
    With 35mm everything becomes more critical, because it's magnified more, so the it's absolutely critical that everything is perfectly aligned, that your negatives are optimal, and extra care must be taken at printing time, etc.
    35mm has a few things going for it, like lens resolution. Some films today are so good that medium format lenses start to run out of resolution before the film does, which isn't necessarily true with 35mm lenses. So sharpness should never be an issue.
    But we can never get away from the fact that 35mm will not offer tone shifts that are as smooth as those from a larger neg. if you like really smooth tonality you need the larger negative.

    Personally I have series of pictures that contain prints from 35mm and 120 both, and I'm perfectly happy showing them side by side. Only you can answer what sort of quality you like in your prints. For me, I actually prefer what I get from 35mm up to 16x20" (I can't print larger in my darkroom) for the most part, but the quality is so good from both that camera choice becomes a choice of what the lens does and how the camera makes me work, rather than worrying about print quality. You ought to be using the camera, the tool, that fits the description of what you wish to achieve. Then use your best technique to get what you want, and that is down to taste and individual work flow.
     
  7. Aron

    Aron Subscriber

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    Printing from a larger negative is always a luxurious experience. In my opinion, if one is after really fine tonality, then it's got to be a no more than 3-4x enlargement, even if an 8-10x enlargement will barely show any grain from a Pan F+/Acros/TMX/etc. negative. I often enlarge my 35 mm negatives considerably, but even at 8x10" a full frame 6x6 image will print with considerably more delicacy, than 35 mm.

    Whenever I can think a little before grabbing the shot, I reach for my TLR.

    For me the real question is not MF or 35 mm, but LF or MF.

    Shooting Delta 3200 in old medium format cameras with lenses that need to be stopped down well is great fun, BTW.
     
  8. thegman

    thegman Member

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    I have 10x8" prints on my wall from both MF and 35mm, very little difference to my eye at normal viewing distance.
     
  9. Slixtiesix

    Slixtiesix Subscriber

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    This will depend on the film and developer used, but I think with 9,5x12" you will see a clear difference at first glance even with films like Delta 100. Maybe already at 8x10" if you use Hp5+ or Delta 3200.
     
  10. E. von Hoegh

    E. von Hoegh Member

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    With good negatives from both formats and good printing technique, the difference is very apparent at 8x10 inches. Films like Techpan and Panatomic-X were the best for smooth tones.

    The difference in quality between 35mm and 6x7/6x9 is very pronounced, more so than the difference between MF and 4x5.
     
  11. mcgrattan

    mcgrattan Member

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    I don't wet print any medium format at the moment as for reasons of space I only have a little suitcase 35mm enlarger. However, when I did print both, the difference was apparent to me at pretty much all print sizes. Even when I scan 35mm and 120 negatives for web use I find I much prefer the shots from 120 [6x6 and 6x4.5 in my case].

    It's about the tonality, and also the different look, including the transitions between in and out of focus that a longer lens combined with a larger format seems to bring. I've shot a little 5x4 and the step up between MF and 5x4 was (as per the obvious of the difference mentioned in the previous post) not enough for me to justify using 5x4 over 120.

    I consider it a hallmark of the very best 35mm kit that I've used/owned that it approaches (but doesn't really completely match) something like the look I get from MF cameras. There are other reasons to shoot 35mm, and I use both formats, but the difference between 35mm and 120 is dramatic (for me, anyway).
     
  12. mcgrattan

    mcgrattan Member

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    'obviousness of the difference', I meant.
     
  13. Ken Nadvornick

    Ken Nadvornick Subscriber

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    I've done 16x20s from 35mm and 8x10s from 8x10, and everything in between. You know the old street drag saying...

    "Nothing beats cubic* inches."

    Ken

    * or in our cases, square...
     
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  15. Pasto

    Pasto Member

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    I agree with the conventional wisdom on this issue. For some "looks" and modes of shooting 35mm is perfect. For smoothness/tonality and detail, MF is far superior. I could tell a "big" difference even at 5x7. 4x6 prints from 35mm look as smooth as MF to my eyes. At 16x20 and 20x24 (the biggest I can print in my darkroom) MF is definitely better in this respect (smoothness/tonality).
     
  16. E. von Hoegh

    E. von Hoegh Member

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    Another point, I never really appreciated just how good a job 35mm can do until I had accumulated a good deal of experience using 4x5 and 8x10. For a negative of 1 1/2 square inches, it does a stellar job.
     
  17. F/1.4

    F/1.4 Member

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    It's impossible to get the shallow DOF on 35mm that I can get with the Contax 645 at f/2 and still retain a really sharp image.
     
  18. piu58

    piu58 Member

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    I am striving for very sharp images, und use MF a lot. If I make a small print (18cm x 24cm) for a 100 ASA film, I don't see any difference in most cases. Things start to change in 24cm x 30cm images. It is then hard to get a very sharp image form 35 mm. I don't print 30x40 images form 35 mm, because has to less sharpness and definition. Even document films (Copex) don't give my the quality I want.
    I know, sharpness and absence of grain are not the basic ingredients for a good image. And I enjoy others's images even if thy ar not as sharp or grainier in comparision to mine. But for my nature ant architectural images I want the most sharpness I can get with reasonable effort. And that is MF.
     
  19. piu58

    piu58 Member

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    double post.
     
  20. E. von Hoegh

    E. von Hoegh Member

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    Try a good f:1.4 lens wide open and a tripod.
     
  21. xtolsniffer

    xtolsniffer Member

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    I have to agree, I have some fantastic 12"x16" prints on my kitchen wall made from 35mm Velvia 50 transparencies. They really are extraordinary considering the degree of enlargement. If they were there on their own, I would be delighted with the quality. The problem is they're next to 12"x16" prints made from 6x7 velvia transparencies. If you're about eight feet away, the difference is marginal, at four feet the difference is obvious and at two feet you start to wonder how a little rectangle of film can hold that much information. Don't get me started on 4x5 guys, I can't afford it!
     
  22. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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    When you mention quality, I would suggest that it is a different quality rather than better or worse. A factor that has not been mentioned so far is the different optimum viewing distance for a given print magnification from the original format and my preference is for 35mm.
     
  23. E. von Hoegh

    E. von Hoegh Member

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    I have some prints - Cibachromes - made from 6x7 Kodachromes. I wish I'd made more when the Ciba stuff was available.
     
  24. RalphLambrecht

    RalphLambrecht Subscriber

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    what was the surprise?
     
  25. wiltw

    wiltw Subscriber

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    You likely aren't going to really appreciate the difference in a mere 8x10" print, but enlarge to 16x20 and larger and the difference becomes quite obvious!

    Since the same subject covers more film area on a larger format, you have less graininess, better tonal gradation and color gradation visible from medium format when viewed at the same final size.

    I once was enrolled in a workshop at the local community college, and we would have slide viewings of three shots from each class member. I shot in medium format, and the ooh's and ahh's from the class were notable when my slides were projected because of reduced graininess and better tonal and color representation, and the instructor (who was a contemporary of Ansel Adams) used that as an opportunity to tell the class about the reasons for the visual impact of the larger format.
     
  26. ric_kb

    ric_kb Member

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    the bigger negative is easier to retouch -- mask, etc.