Bigger IS Better

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by fhovie, Oct 6, 2004.

  1. fhovie

    fhovie Subscriber

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    I have had this idea that is best to use the largerst format you can use in any application. Most of this year I have been able to use 4x5 or 8x10 and that sets the standard for sharpness, detail and smoothness of tonality for my prints. Last night I spent some time making 11x14 prints from a few trips I took where I had to settle for 35mm or 645 format. The 35mm was using techpan in TD3 and the 645 was using FP4 in Pyrocat. I also did some portraits in 6x6 with TRI-X in pyrocat.

    You see I have this theory that with techpan, I can get MF performance out of a 35mm. Which in the prints is almost true. Certainly the grain from an 11x14 print from a techpan 35mm neg compares in smoothness with the 645 format prints using FP4 but there is a cost - sharpness - the 35mm techpan will give the smoothness and tonality but not the sharpness of the larger formats. Then the MF prints done from FP4 and Tri-x - same smoothness as the 35mm techpan but with added sharpness. Still no where near what I am used to with the 4x5. I kept looking at the 11x14 prints made from these and thinking how vastly different they are from the 4x5 format 11x14 (or 16x20) enlargements. I am sure that in 8x10 I am golden on both roll film strategies. I made some very nice 16x20 prints from my vacation shots done in 6x6 but the success of those is the glass - my Bronica glass in 645 is nothing like the Zeiss glass of the Rollei when you enlarge the print greatly. All in all, I think I can be satified with 8x10 prints from 35mm techpan. (probably the only reason to do 35mm at all outside of color point and shoot stuff) On the 645, 11x14 prints from FP4 in pyrocat is nice - they would probably look better as 8x10 prints as well though.

    Bottom line - the 4x5 is not so heavy and setup is not so much longer and the satisfaction in the prints is an order of magnitude nicer when the print is on the wall. I think I am still searching for a better mousetrap for smaller roll film cameras though.
     
  2. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    I think you're right. I recently took the plunge with 4x5, and will, as soon as my wallet can allow it, go for even bigger formats. The added sharpness is considerable.
    But, why do you have to print your images so large? I always thought that 35mm and MF was best suited for 5x7 and maybe 8x10 prints. Like you pointed out, a lot of the inherent sharpness is lost due to the vast magnification. Already a 5x7 is quite a large enlargement for 35mm.
    To me outstanding quality can be produced from 35mm and especially MF. But the print size must be kept down, even with ultrafine film like TechPan and APX25.

    My 2 cents,

    - Thomas
    Saint Paul, MN
     
  3. fhovie

    fhovie Subscriber

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    That is true! TRI-x in 35mm done in pyrocat makes a stunning 5x7. Print size is an interesting aspect to photographic art. A small print is "intimate" A large print is gradiose! On my walls or in my albums I prefer 8x10, 11x14 or 16x20. I like to get into the image. Most of my landscapes require a large print to open them up so they don't look too busy. There are often many fine details that cannot be appreciated in a 5x7. I love 11x14 portraits or larger where you can see details you would never be able to see otherwise. I am amazed by 8x10 contact prints on AZO or Kalitypes - they have a 3-D quality to them. They are the gold standard of tonality and sharpness.
     
  4. Joe Symchyshyn

    Joe Symchyshyn Member

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    Personally, I prefer big images on small paper... (ie: to me anything larger than 11x14 is too big.. But that's just my opinion)

    I have seen specatular prints, and large ones at that, shot on 35mm by others that just sing... I just can't seem to make one that I like myself. I prefer to use 8x10 paper and keep it smaller if I can.

    I do agree that certain sizes dictate something, but for me the issue is more style of shooting/type of work.

    I find that I work differently in 35mm than I do when I'm shooting LF. Same goes for MF... I respond to my tools and thus the situation differently. At least for me this isn't about maintaining a certain level of grain/lack of grain in my prints...

    Chipping in my 2 cents as well,

    joe :smile:
     
  5. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    Hi,

    fhovie said:
    "Most of my landscapes require a large print to open them up so they don't look too busy. There are often many fine details that cannot be appreciated in a 5x7."

    I was given the task of making a portrait of a dog. I thought since animals like to move around a lot, especially this pup, I'd go for something that I can hand hold with success. So I grabbed my 35mm camera and loaded with Efke KB25 and went off for a very long walk with this cool dog and its owner.
    It was incredibly difficult to get this dog still, and only 5 frames on the whole roll turned out OK. I made 5x7 prints by all of them and presented them to the owner. She was very happy with two of them and ordered a larger print of one of them, an 11x14. It was impossible to recreate the sharp, smooth look of the 5x7. I could not do it, for the life of me. Fortunately, the owner was happy with the image anyway, and seemed to understand that 11x14 is large for such a small format, even with such fine grained film.
    I much preferred the 5x7, even though details of the dog was revealed at a larger size that could not be seen on the smaller size.

    With that said, it's probably better with a larger print for landscapes, but then why not use a bigger camera/negative? The landscape isn't going anywhere. The dog just might be, though... and fast.

    - Thomas
    Saint Paul, MN
     
  6. Tom Duffy

    Tom Duffy Member

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    There's a lot to agree with in all these posts. In the ideal world you should use the largest format possible for the subject and conditions. Sometimes that's 11x14; sometimes it's 35mm. And, yes, I appreciate the difference even between a 4x6 print from a 100 speed 35mm film vs. the same 4x6 print from a 400 speed 35mm negative.

    To me, some of the most impressive photos I've seen are large format pictures of subject that most of us would have used a smaller format for, e.g., people pictures.
    Many of the photos taken with large format have a presence that only a contact print seems to provide.

    This approach is certainly not for all subjects. In fact, and especially on this forum, I think we often ask the question backwards. We ask, "would this picture I took with my 8x10 look nearly as good if I took it with my medium format or 35mm?" (of course it wouldn't!) But I think the question we ought ask ourselves more often is, "Craft aside, (admitting that is a real big aside) why bother taking this picture?" A great picture taken with a 35mm camera is a great picture. (Usually because of emotional content.) 8x10 "craft" prints often have no reason for being other than craft. Would they have any merit if taken with a 35mm camera?

    I think we need to strive to take pictures that would be good irrespective of the format used, otherwise it's more self-therapy than communication.
     
  7. matt miller

    matt miller Subscriber

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    Excellent point.
     
  8. Tom Duffy

    Tom Duffy Member

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    To clarify, I don't think there's anything wrong with self-therapy; it's one of the major reasons I photograph. I love taking pictures and I love working over a print in the darkroom. I find it relaxing in a anxious, obsessive kind of way! :smile:
     
  9. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    No, all negatives with 35mm and MF cannot ever be printed on anything larger than 8x10 paper. :smile:

    I am fortunate enough to work at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. In memoriam of great photographer Richard Avedon, the Institute decided to hang a copy of his "Dovima with Elephants" from 1979. More of his work will be displayed.
    This print is HUGE, probably 4x5 foot, and my my is that image impressive. Grain is so tight that I suspect it's made with 8x10 equipment, but I could be wrong. It could be some ludicrously finegrained film and 4x5. Either way, this humongous print is very very impressive, it takes my breath away.

    With all else said in this thread, I think Tom Duffy put it best:
    "I think we need to strive to take pictures that would be good irrespective of the format used, otherwise it's more self-therapy than communication."
    I don't mind self therapy, it's the reason many people are into photography. My dad is an excellent photographer, but he has never showed his work to anyone but a few of us family members who bumped into him in his darkroom. He does it for himself, and to him that's important.

    However, drifting off the thread here. I too think all formats are valid, and that the best possible quality should try to be obtianed no matter which format is used. Since Henri Cartier-Bresson passed away, there has been a small exhibit here at the museum with 7 of his best prints, and they are fairly large, between 11x14 and 16x20, it's hard to tell. But they are from 35mm and they are gorgeous!

    - Thomas
    Saint Paul, MN
     
  10. Aggie

    Aggie Member

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    I really disagree with this. I have a very good medium format that will make excellent 11x14's that rival even a 4x5 printed at 11x14. The 4x5 has the edge when I go up to 16x20. Many would not know the difference between my 16x20's from the medium format and the 4x5, but I do. To lump all medium format into the same catagory is wrong. Of course you might mean a 645 negative verses a 6x7 which is almost twice the size. Not all medium formats are created equal.
     
  11. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    It was a joke, hence the smiley.
     
  12. Sjixxxy

    Sjixxxy Member

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    I always figure that is Rosenthal could take his 4x5 to the top of Mt. Suribachi where people are hiding out trying to kill him, then I can take mine to the park, or anywhere else, and not complain about being discomforted. I've taken my 4x5 rig into plenty of situations that are typically the realm of 35, and MF gear (like scaling seven foot walls to enter abandoned places), and in the end, the results where just that much more satisfying with the big negative. Pain & fatigue is temporary.
     
  13. fhovie

    fhovie Subscriber

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    Very true ... BUT - Imagine listening to the overture of 1812 on a 2" speaker and being told that for all its power, you will never be able to listen to it on a great stereo system.

    I was in Miami when Jeanne hit. I was on the 16th floor of the Fountainbleau on Miami beach and at night I put my Minolta SRT 102 on a window sill with techpan and left the shutter open for 30 minutes. The image is really interesting - the way the clouds streaked the sky and the palm trees became soft q-tips - The buildings stayed sharp and the surf flattened out. And for this pretty neat image, I will never be happy with it larger than 8x10 because at 11x14 it starts to get soft and this image deserves better. I just couln't bring anything of a higher caliber for this trip. I wish I had my 4x5. The point is - I created a very satisfying image that will never reach its full potential because of the format available. Such is the way it is with so many images.

    I guess I can photoshop the heck out of it ... OOPS DID I SAY THAT ... sorry
     
  14. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    Tom Duffy said: "I think we need to strive to take pictures that would be good irrespective of the format used, otherwise it's more self-therapy than communication."

    Who said that photography has to be about communication? Or for that matter what is wrong with allowing our unconscious to communicate to us through our photography?
     
  15. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    I have a 30x20 print on the wall that was made from a 35mm negative. Is it as sharp as the same scene taken on an 8x10 negative? No, it is not. Does it look bad in any way. No, it doesn't.

    One thing to consider when debating about enlarging; how many of us can contend with an enlarger of greater than 5x7? Probably not too many. My 4x5 Beseler sits on top of my rolling tool cabinet and I can pick it up and move it if necessary. Don't think I could do that with an 8x10 enlarger. In addition to its size, an 8x10 is a serious investment. So, the availablity of the enlarging equipment is most likely what dictates what camera format a person is limited to. But this argument reverses for contact printing.
     
  16. George Losse

    George Losse Member

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    Don,

    Photography does not have to be about communication. But Art is.

    Even if its only showing the world how we see it. We are saying something, about the world, and also about ourselves.

    And in that context, a photograph doesn't care what format or size camera is used, it cares if its the right choice to communicate the artist's thought.
     
  17. colrehogan

    colrehogan Member

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    I have a 20x30 Cibachrome made from a 35 mm EIR slide on my wall, so I know where you're coming from, Alex.

    As for enlarging, I don't own an enlarger, nor do I have room for one. I got an 8x10 last year so I could do some contact printing myself and I'm having a blast with it!
     
  18. mark

    mark Member

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    This is a great point and i agree whole heartedly. A snap shot is a snap shot if it was taken with a 35mm disposable or 12x20. Both are meaningless. There are those who feel that their control of the craft and the fact that they use a big camera, makes it okay.

    Of course without the craft masters bumblers like me would be completely lost.
     
  19. mark

    mark Member

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    Very nice.

    Is there art in craft? Maybe on a very small level, but for a photograph to sing, and cause the viewer stop for longer than a few seconds it has to say something.
     
  20. Joe Symchyshyn

    Joe Symchyshyn Member

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    I once heard someone say about a fellow photographer... "He takes pictures that only other photographers will appreciate". We get so hung up on techniques etc... That it's easy to lose sight of the fact that the CONTENT is what is important. Format is the tool... We choose the tools that we feel work for US.


    Exactly!

    joe :smile:
     
  21. Tom Duffy

    Tom Duffy Member

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    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Tom Duffy
    snip
    I think we need to strive to take pictures that would be good irrespective of the format used, otherwise it's more self-therapy than communication.

    fhovie wrote:
    "Very true ... BUT - Imagine listening to the overture of 1812 on a 2" speaker and being told that for all its power, you will never be able to listen to it on a great stereo system."

    I agree with what you are saying. I'm a multiformat shooter and can debate the the merits of different formats until the cows come home. :smile:

    I wish I could attribute this quote to the photographer who said it (or even remember the quote precisely. He was quoted in an old issue of viewcamera. "I find when I don't use a least a 4x10 or 5x7 the results are low fidelity, like a recording that's full of tape hiss. I am always disappointed in the result". I agree with this. My single favorite favorite format is 5x7, in terms of the presence of the image. And I do think it's a great exercise to force ourselves to use a view camera for subjects that might more rationally be shot handheld. We'll be pleasantly surprised by the quality of the work, as compared with a smaller format. Much of Weston's great work was the result of having to use a view camera, instead of a smaller format.

    But, in the interest of balanced debate, I don't see sharpness or "fidelity" as the most important aspect of a photograph.
    Bill Pierce had a great line, "Never confuse sharp with good, or you'll be shaving with an ice cream cone and licking a razor."

    I was somewhat annoyed by the tone Jim Moore used in thread today about preferring his medium format work to his large format work. There's an undercurrent of apology/frustration that he wasn't proceeding up the format chain to the holy grail, the large format contact print. There is no logical progression, its about using the tool that works for you.

    Although tough to do a apples to apples comparison, Henri Cartier-Bresson's work is at least as valuable as Ansel Adams'.
    Take care,
    Tom
     
  22. inthedark

    inthedark Member

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    Gosh, I live on a different planet from you folks. Again, my equipment is beyond overkill, but I use 35mm to print 24 x 36 and larger. So far all of my customers are more than pleased and a couple are especially pleased because they no longer need to carry all of the LF camera stuff. Most are settling in the 4X5 negative size rather than going to just 35mm.
     
  23. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    If a photograph has "impact" then it is successful to both the photographer and the viewer.

    If it has no impact then it is only possibly successful to the photographer.

    Size and technique don't really enter into this particular equation.


    Michael McBlane
     
  24. Francesco

    Francesco Member

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    It may surpise a certain few that one of the main reasons I enjoy LF, and 8x10 in particular is that it has simplified my darkroom life. Prior to that with my Hassie and Leica I had all the trimmings - super duper enlarger, special air conditioning, light tight darkroom, etc. I do not have a darkroom now. I print in the living room, kitchen, shower room, hallway of my house as the mood suits. I can narrow my equipment to lightbulb, contact printing frame and trays. BIGGER IS NOT BETTER. For me, BIGGER IS SIMPLER!