There will always be the matter of opinion too. Sure you can measure 8x10 contact prints to smoke 35mm enlargements to the same print size.
Your eye may or may not appreciate the difference too. It's a matter of what you like. I'm in the camp of appreciating how the 35mm enlargement looks compared to the contact print, mainly because I dislike the baby skin smooth (lack of) texture in the print. I fully understand why others like the contact print better, and would hope for the same respect in return. It isn't right or wrong.
A question I find very important in this context is: "How much does it matter?"
After you look at what your needs are to express what you want to express, and how much your film format and resulting prints contribute to that, you will know whether you need to be shooting 8x10, or if you think enlargements from 35mm or 120 negatives will suffice.
My own reasoning is that enlargements up to 20x24 (or crops that correspond to the same level of magnification) look more than good enough from 35mm and 120 originals. I really never feel that a 4x5 negative of the same subject, with the same depth of field and view, would improve the photograph somehow. The grain would be smaller, tonal breaks from one gray tone to another would be less abrupt, and so on. But I find that it doesn't matter to me, and that sometimes I even prefer the grittier look.
At 8x10 print size I notice a pretty clear difference between a contact print and an enlargement. From 4x5 it might be more difficult. But from 120 and 35mm it's definitely evident. Which is better is subjective.
"Make good art!"
- Neil Gaiman
"...the heart and mind are the true lens of the camera".
- Yousuf Karsh
"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit".
Good Afternoon, Arcturus,
Obviously, there's a lot of subjectivity involved here. For example, I'm not a fan of grain, so that no doubt plays into my opinion.
After around forty-five years of printing experience, I have my own rough standards. Everything following assumes the use of high-quality camera lenses, a tripod when appropriate, competent, consistent film processing, high-quality enlarger lenses, and the use of modern ASA 100 T-grain film (T-Max 100 being my personal preference):
35mm--up to 5 x 7 for superb quality, 8 x 10 for excellent quality, 11 x 14 for very good quality
4.6 X 6--up to 8 x 10 for superb quality, 11 x 14 for excellent quality, 16 x 20 for very good quality
6 x 7--up to 11 x 14 for superb quality, 16 x 20 for excellent quality
4 x 5--up to 16 x 20 (and probably beyond) for superb quality
Going well beyond 16 x 20 with 4 x 5 negatives would be no problem, except that I rarely have need for anything larger, and the processing gets awkward. Even T-Max 400 negatives should look terrific at 16 x 20 or larger.
Konical, I turned that upside down when I made a small book of reduced images from 5x4 negatives printed about 3½" wide. I'd done a similar sized book before from 35mm negatives and even at this small size you can tell the difference in the format's quality, same film and developer for both.
I agree mostly with your comments except I'd say 6x4.6 & 6x6 are closer to superb quality at 12x16 (11x14 is a US size).
Back several years ago I spent some time comparing lenses for the different formats (35mm, MF, LF) and found that the lens performance (as measured by MTF (Modulation Transfer Function)) fell off considerably as the format size increased. What this means is that you can't directly equate image sharpness to film size - you have to look at the film size and lens quality as a team.
i can tell the difference between enlargements and contact prints
but i don't really see the difference being so great that i would stop enlarging
35mm film ... grain, and tonal change don't bother me at all, neither does "tonality" ...
whether you enlarge, or reduce, or contact, the main thing you need to make sure you do is ...
too many folks get caught up in all sorts of "stuff" and forget to have fun ...
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They look better yes and no, some subjects are better suited for 8x10 contact prints and some for 11x14 enlargements from a 35mm neg. There is no best or better it depends on the type of photography one does or on the aesthetics/look one wants. As Pro_pixel and other have said lenses for 35mm usually outperform their MF and LF equivalents but the drawback is the second lens a 2 x enlargement is not a lot and even a 4 element lens should be able to give great results but the more than 5 times enlargement one needs to get the same size from a 35mm neg requires a much better enlarger lens and even the best one degrades the image to a certain extent resulting in a huge loss of resolution. For the same size LF wipes the floor with 35mm in terms of resolution, for the same enlargement factor the 35mm will most likely beat LF. There are some exception use a Vacuum Filmpack coupled with a industrial high resolution lens that outperforms 35mm lenses (some can be used on LF cameras) and all the advantages the 35mm system might have had are gone.
Depends on the film selection. Sure, 4x5 is going to look noticeably better than anything from 35mm, but it's entirely possible to get a better image from 6x7 using a fine film than from 4x5 with a not-so-fine film.
For example and IMHO, 6x7 Acros looks better (in terms of detail, resolution, sharpness, etc) than 4x5 Fomapan 100, even in larger print sizes where you might expect the smaller negative to start suffering.
And none of it matters a damn in the face of content.
Ian--Your comments about the reduced-size prints are interesting. On the few occasions I've done that with 4 x 5 or 6 x 7 negatives, it's been an awkward process getting the small size and being able to maintain focus; I seem to recall having to put something under the easel to make things work out. I guess a longer enlarger lens would help.
Originally Posted by Konical
good evening to you too
if you have an omega D enlarger,
they make an "aux. focusing bellows" which is
basically a lens cone that is a L-O-N-G bellows used for making "jewel prints and reductions"
it also comes in handy to allow you not to need to buy any lens cones &c seeing omegas
always need those pesky cones and rails !
I don't think it's something that can be measured in resolution or lens selection, especially at 8x10. Under a loupe I couldn't find much meaningful difference between 6x6 or 4x5 when printed on 8x10. You're not really making the most of eithers enlargement potential. But the print from 4x5 seems to have a greater sense of realism to it, and an 8x10 contact print even more so. But not being able to quantify with numbers why I think small prints of LF negatives look better and more realistic I wonder if I'm just imagining it and I'm wasting my time and developer on 4x5/8x10 sheets when I intend to only print on 8x10 for that particular shot. Portraits for example; nobody wants a 20x25 print of their face, but LF portraits are striking in a way that I don't think medium format is. Or is it?