Edge-to-edge Sharpness in 35mm

Discussion in '35mm Cameras and Accessories' started by FilmOnly, Apr 6, 2010.

  1. FilmOnly

    FilmOnly Member

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    In the last couple of years, I have been using my equipment more frequently, taking more photographs. Yesterday, I was reviewing some of my 4"x6" prints. With the prices of better quality medium and large format film gear being so low, I decided to examine my prints in terms of shaprness. I constantly hear of the inferiority of the "small" 35mm negative, and am tempted by the promise of absolute or "edge-to-edge" sharpness. After having taken a fair selection of photographs in 35mm, I am surprised by my findings.

    Most of the numerous shots I examined showed very good to excellent overall sharpness. There were a number, that to me at least, were amazingly sharp--edge-to-edge. For example, some shots I had taken of trains are simply "reach-out-and-touch-it" sharp. These shots were taken hand-held, and my subject was moving. I believe I used a Nikkor NPK 50/2 at 1/250 or 1/500 at either F/8 or f/11. I used Kodak Ektar 100 film. In any case, most lenses (35mm or otherwise) will perform better when stopped down (as mine was), but the fact that the shots were hand-held and of an object in motion increased my surprise. I was also fairly close to the subject. I welcome any comments or opinions, especially if you have observed similar (or dissimilar?) results.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 6, 2010
  2. ic-racer

    ic-racer Member

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    I agree that 35mm works well in the 4x6" size. I have been printing my 35mm at about 4x6" on an 8x10 sheet. These images seem to hold up well when compared to my Large Format bigger prints.
     
  3. Rol_Lei Nut

    Rol_Lei Nut Member

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    As a minimum I expect 35mm, shot with good equipment and technique, to be extremely sharp at 4x6' (and also quite a bit larger).
     
  4. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    Sharpness is certainly not something I lack from my 35mm negatives. What seems to be lacking compared to larger formats is more in the realm of tonal gradation where one shade of a particular color fades into another shade. Or in abrupt tonal shifts, like a sharp line between shadow and a bright surface, where the border between the two becomes less crisp with higher magnification.

    The above doesn't stop me from thoroughly enjoying 16x20" prints from 35mm, which can be beautiful if done right.

    Keep shooting. Keep smiling. Have fun.
     
  5. BetterSense

    BetterSense Member

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    IMO, that's where 35mm is best at home. It makes very good 4x6 prints. At sizes above 5x7, the medium format differences start to become more apparent.
     
  6. tkamiya

    tkamiya Member

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    I'm afraid, looking at 4x6 print is not a good way to judge sharpness. Just about anything can produce sharp looking image on that size. In fact, one of the tricks for using slightly out of focus image IS to print smaller.... For 35mm, you would probably need to enlarge to 8x10 to better see focus problems at corners. Or, you can get a lope and see negatives under magnification.

    I use a 10x to 40x stereo microscope for this purpose (yes, an overkill! but I already have it) but you could use 8x lope as well.
     
  7. FilmOnly

    FilmOnly Member

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    I appreciate the feedback. Indeed, a larger print would tell more of the story. I plan on doing 8x12 prints of the nicer ones. After seeing many small and large prints, I am all but certain that these will print well at 8x12 (or perhaps larger).
     
  8. jbbooks

    jbbooks Member

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    You are not going to see much difference with paper sizes smaller than 11x14 with a 35mm camera that has a decent lens. Using a film with less grain will allow enlarging more, with a quality lens, but 16x20 is about the limit for 35mm--at least for me.
     
  9. benjiboy

    benjiboy Subscriber

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    I used to think all my 35mm slides were sharp until the first time I saw them projected on a 6 ft screen, then I started to take a lot more care.
     
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  10. fotch

    fotch Member

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    When you do your own darkroom work, you are more likely to make more 8x10 prints. Then, the difference of choice of film choice, film size, shutter speed, focusing, tripod, all become more apparent.

    Color itself seems like it can mask some of these details compared to B&W sometimes.

    JMHO
     
  11. jmal

    jmal Member

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    Wait a minute. Are we talking about edge-to-edge sharpness or are we talking about enlargement capacity? If we are talking about enlargement capacity, then, of course, larger formats have an edge. However, 35mm lenses are every bit as sharp as any other lenses, edge-to-edge. Losing apparent sharpness as you enlarge is not a function of the lens (in this case), but rather of the format size.
     
  12. FilmOnly

    FilmOnly Member

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    This is an excellent point. In fact, many 35mm lenses (if not most) are actually sharper than their corresponding medium format designs. MF benefits by virtue of the size of the MF negative (more area, more resolution).
     
  13. sepiareverb

    sepiareverb Member

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    I've found that my Leica lenses out-perform any others when looking at the negatives with a loupe. I regularly print at 16x20" from them and have excellent quality prints. There is of course much more room for error when printing at this size from a 35mm neg than a 120 or sheet film, but again and again I am surprised at just how good the prints are. I've printed 810 negs to 20x24 and had much crisper looking prints of course, but when looking at the negatives there is a clear difference.
     
  14. Q.G.

    Q.G. Inactive

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    But is that so?

    Many MF lenses actually are sharper than many 35 mm format lenses. MF benefits by virtue of being the "more grown up" format in other respects (like more resolution per unit of area) as well as enlargeability.
     
  15. craigclu

    craigclu Subscriber

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    I shoot from 35 through 4x5 and have decent gear at the various levels and in my darkroom. Yes, you can get surprising results from well-crafted 35mm but the big difference is in the subtle tonal transitions between the formats. Each can easily have their place in your tool box.

    I don't think it's accurate to look at format advantage as a linear improvement, marching along at a direct relationship to pure size. Many other elements introduce themselves as you increase format size. The equipment increases by cubic size, requiring more and more serious support systems, especially if controlling slr mechanisms and the mechanical commotion that goes with it. Optics are generally better corrected and controllable at wider ƒ stops in smaller formats, allowing for more reasonable shutter speeds for similar depth of field. Smaller film is more easily kept flatter and in the proper plane for best edge-to-edge performance.

    A good, sharp medium or large format negative is a joy to work with and I find easier to print subtle tones (especially skin tones). They're sharper in the final product but when forced to deal with projects that only 35mm can handle, I'm usually surprised at how well the whole thing works out.

    Each increment up in quality exposes a new issue to deal with. For instance, APO enlarging lenses help squeeze what a negative has to offer but their wider apertures require absolute, perfect alignment of enlargers (all planes) to take advantage of them. Raising the bar keeps raising the bar on your total routine and protocols. After 40 years of learning and upgrading equipment, I now have only myself to blame if things don't print sharp and precise! The reality was that I was at the core of most problems before becoming excuse-proof via gear acquisition!
     
  16. FilmOnly

    FilmOnly Member

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    Indeed, the shortcomings are with the photographer, not the equipment.
     
  17. jp498

    jp498 Member

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    A quality overkill scan, where the grain is clear in your scan, shows off 35mm sharpness issues pretty honestly.

    If the shooting technique is equally good, I've noticed color shows off lens issues much more than B&W. Digital even more so, since you can quickly zoom in and compare and jump to conclusions.
     
  18. FilmOnly

    FilmOnly Member

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    I would have to agree about color (as opposed to b&w) revealing lens issues. I find that, overall, color seems to reveal more (both positive and negative).