Medium Format Less Sharp?

Discussion in 'Enlarging' started by Nathan King, Jul 4, 2014.

  1. Nathan King

    Nathan King Subscriber

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    I have noticed when enlarging my 6x7 negatives they show far less grain than my 35mm prints; however, the 35mm prints still appear slightly sharper. I am using the same enlarger for both, and lenses used for each format are the same Rodenstock model lens with only the obviously differing focal length. It's difficult to judge from the small contact prints if the negatives themselves are sharper or if something is going on during enlarging. I use the Mamiya with a tripod and mirror lock up, so I can't imagine technique is an issue. Out of curiosity I had a pro lab do some scans, and the results were in line with what I have been seeing from the darkroom. What gives?

    Could it be that my Leica camera lenses are simply noticeably sharper than those for my Mamiya RZ67? I'm not sure if it's a film flatness issue because within each print every area is uniformly sharp.

    P.S. Yes, I know sharpness isn't everything. I'm just really curious.
     
  2. ic-racer

    ic-racer Member

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    If you have access to the negatives, examining them is the only way to know what is going on.
     
  3. Jos Segers

    Jos Segers Member

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    I had the same experience when switching from Pentax LX (35mm) to a Pentax 67II. This was disappointing at first but now, after many years, I appreciate the amount of detail and tones which comes with the larger format (6x7).
     
  4. snapguy

    snapguy Member

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    well established

    It has been pretty well established by photogs who have worked in 35mm and larger formats for the last 50-plus years that a big negative is always better presuming that you have done everything right. Something is amiss with your process somewhere.
     
  5. Chrismat

    Chrismat Subscriber

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    I have heard that most 35mm lenses are (generally) sharper than medium and large format lenses because of the amount of magnification a 35mm negative or slide has to go through for printing.
     
  6. snapguy

    snapguy Member

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    green men

    One should not listen to little green men who come from outer space and spin impossible yarns.
     
  7. brian steinberger

    brian steinberger Member

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    The answer here seems pretty obvious. The larger neg will enlarge to a much larger size until it shows grain. If you're printing both the 35mm and 6x7 to the same print size the 6x7 will always look smoother and even slightly less sharp simply because it's a larger negative. Until you get to a larger print size. Enlarge both negatives to 20 x 24 and let us know what you think then. I bet you'll like the 6x7 neg better. Grain isn't always a bad thing. There is a sweet spot with a particular print size for each format where the grain gives just enough feel to promote sharpness. In 35mm it's around 5x7 or 6x9. If you enlarge your 6x7 negs to this size there won't be as much grain and they can appear soft. All that said I have no doubt the Leica glass is sharper than the sekor lenses.
     
  8. DannL.

    DannL. Member

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    You might want to verify using a test target with each camera . . . found here, and elsewhere on the web. Printed at 8x10 using a laser printer, it should work very well. At some point in the process, be it the negative stage or the printing/enlargement stage, a test target pattern on film could reveal any problems resolution-wise. It could also reveal problems involving contrast. Are your lens elements (front and rear) free of finger prints, mold, fungus, fogging, etc, anything that could interfere with sharpness or contrast or both? This would also include the enlarger lens. I'm assuming here that you're not using the same lens to print 35mm as 6x7.
     
  9. pdeeh

    pdeeh Member

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    Do you use the same developer for both formats?
     
  10. BetterSense

    BetterSense Member

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    "sharp" is a fuzzy concept.

    It's possible for smaller formats to appear more sharp at the same final print magnification either because of more visible grain, which can be perceived as enhancing sharpness, or because of accutance effects.

    Although larger film typically contains more information (i.e. resolution) I personally do not find that the larger formats appear sharper all the time. Larger formats are often praised for their "smoothness" and "detail" but that doesn't always translate into a superficial perception of "sharpness". You may well get a sharper-looking photograph from using rodinal than using D23, even if the former developer recovers less image information.

    A given film emulsion, exposure and developer will have certain MTF properties. Changing the magnification of the film image while holding the final print magnification constant is sort of like changing the "Radius" control of a digital unsharp mask.
     
  11. Two23

    Two23 Member

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    I have a couple of thoughts, having shot medium format for a number of years and also using a Leica:

    1. There is one less stop of DoF when you move from 35mm to MF. I.e., f4 on MF will look like f2.8 when shot on 35mm.

    2. The mirror on the Pentax is a big heavy thing. You can easily hear it go "WHOP!" when you take a shot. I generally use mirror lock up when shooting at speeds slower than 1/100s.

    3. MF has more detail, and will quickly show your deficiencies in less than perfect focus, unsteady tripod, etc.


    Kent in SD
     
  12. giannisg2004

    giannisg2004 Member

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    Well, the reason, based on decreasing probability is:

    1.) The graininess of the smaller negative gives you the impression of more sharpness.

    2.) The bigger format forces you to use either slower shutter speeds (for the same DoF), or wider apertures.
    Add to that the huge mirror slap (compared to Leicas), so it's easier to miss focus or have motion blur.

    Another possibility could be flare and contrast.
    Maybe the particular lens you used in MF flares easily and is lower contrast than the 135 lens you usually use.
    Contrast can make a big difference in sharpness perception.


    That said, almost all system MF cameras after '60s can easily outperform even the sharpest 35mm systems, due to the big difference in frame size.
     
  13. MattKing

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    You have to understand "sharpness".

    Sharpness is actually as much subjective as it is objective, and is made up of three components:
    1) acutance (aka as "edge contrast");
    2) contrast, both local contrast and overall contrast; and
    3) resolution.

    Acutance has the largest role in the way we form our observation of sharpness. The roles of contrast and resolution are less important.

    A low resolution image with very sharp edge detail will look "sharper" to most people than a high resolution image where the edges of the fine detail in the image show smoother gradation.

    The so called "sharpening" tool used in software programs like Photoshop essentially just makes the edges of details more prominent - often in a very artificial manner.

    Some lens designers, as well as some film and developer designers, make choices based on optimizing acutance at the expense of contrast or resolution.

    Spend some time looking at two similar photos - one from 35mm and the other from medium format - and over time you will realize there are other visible factors in the larger negative that offer similar pleasures to the "sharpness" offered by the 35mm versions.

    In the darkroom, unsharp masking techniques have a similar effect.
     
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  15. Nathan King

    Nathan King Subscriber

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    This is quite possible. With my limited amount of space I only print as large as 11x14, and rarely that large (usually 8x10).

    I use Tri-X developed in HC-110 dilution B (6min @ 20C) for both formats. The same tank and reels are used.

    I suppose it's time to break down and purchase a light table. Examining negatives by holding them between my loupe and a light creates uneven illumination that makes extremely detailed examination difficult.
     
  16. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    Light tables are great, but a blank, white computer screen web page is a decent substitute until you get one.

    Try this one: http://blank.org/
     
  17. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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    The reason could be related to DOF, which is greater in small formats.
     
  18. jp498

    jp498 Member

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    Use the same enlarger lens for both to help narrow things down
     
  19. Truzi

    Truzi Subscriber

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    Most web browsers have this built-in. Just type into the address field:
    about:blank
    And hit "enter."

    I set my home page to that, as I don't like annoying clutter of a real site when I open the browser. Plus it works offline.
     
  20. Pioneer

    Pioneer Member

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    If the print does not look sharp to you, it probably isn't. I shoot quite a bit of medium format as well as 35mm and I have a couple of medium format cameras that are very difficult to work with. I don't know whether it is DOF, my technique, the lens isn't adjusted properly, the film isn't lying properly flat, or whatever. There are dozens of possible reasons and I don't have the time, nor the desire, to troubleshoot it. If it isn't something that is easily resolved I put the camera or the lens away and move one to the next camera. The biggest culprits in my experience are the negatives 6x7 or larger. I suspect that the film is just not being held flat enough in the camera, and this shows when I print.

    All I can tell you is this, when the print is sharp, your eyes will know it, and medium format can be just as sharp as any 35mm picture.
     
  21. RalphLambrecht

    RalphLambrecht Subscriber

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    what you describe isunlikely the casebut, I suggest you start by defining what sharpness means to you.The Mamiya on MFfilm will definately outperform the Leica on 35mm film,given the same film type and developer. the fact that the MF negative needs less enlargement alone would speak for thatAlso,Mamiya has top-notch glassMy Mamiya lenses beat my Hasselblad lenses,which beat my Nikon lenses.I never was a Leiconian,so, I cannot comment on that.Have you tried to photograph a standard target such as the USAF1951,or is this a subjective evaluation from an everydayscene?
     
  22. momus

    momus Member

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    Right, 35mm lenses are optimized for sharpness. As you go up in format size, they are more optimized for coverage.
     
  23. Kawaiithulhu

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    I have a xenotar 80mm f2.8 that begs to differ in 6x9 and 2x3, in both sharpness and coverage potential :tongue:
     
  24. Chris Lange

    Chris Lange Member

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    stochastic grain patterns give the illusion of increased sharpness. the more visible the grain, the more apparent sharpness the print will have, until you look closely.
     
  25. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    I like that BetterSense.

    Nathan King, while there are certain things in photography that are "straight forward and simple", I would not classify "visual effects" or "comparing shots from different formats and lenses" in that category.

    A single lens is even hard to compare to itself because the characteristics of most any given camera lens varies between f-stops and in relation to extraneous light. The corners may get soft as you open up, the effect flare changes, the propensity for ghosting changes... I had been using a 50mm AF-D Nikon lens for my main studio lens for a while and picked up a 35mm Nikkor "O" lens and was having great fun with it in the field and needed to shoot a small group so I slapped it on the camera for a few test shots well ahead of time thank goodness. That Nikkor "O" without a hood turned properly exposed shots into visions of a snowstorm because there was so much flare.

    The point I'm getting at is that shots from different setups and situations will look different for a variety of reasons.

    With that said, it is important for me to remember that all the issues I've ever had with lack of sharpness have been traceable back to my use or my choice of the tools.
     
  26. Poisson Du Jour

    Poisson Du Jour Member

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    Sharpness isn't everything, true, but in medium format, it is an inherent quality far and above what is achievable in 35mm.

    That said, the "far less grain" you are noticing in the 6x7 negative is a product of that format being 400% bigger than 35mm. If the 6x7 images have clear and obvious sharpness when viewed on the lightbox, then the problem is at the enlarger. Film flatness is very rarely a problem in medium format, but it is critical in astrophotography (e.g. fitting a vacuum back). The use of a tripod and mirror lock with these big cameras is standard good practice and will alleviate most incidences of mirror/shutter-induced vibration, but the risk increases the larger the lens used.

    When an image is scanned (even by a pro lab), it will lose at least 50% of its inherent sharpness until USM is applied in post. I don't know if the lab you deal with has a policy of not making any change to the scanned image ('as is') when presenting it back to you; anything added to the scan is usually specified by the photographer, including baseline sharpness, contrast etc.