Best-of-the-best 35mm / Pan F vs 6x7cm / HP5
I don't want to get into a film vs digital debate, I am specifically looking for opinions from experienced 35mm film shooters (preferably über-quality such as Leica M) that shoot monochrome film and print in the darkroom.
I extensively use two photographic systems, Olympus OM and Mamya RB67. Both systems are kitted with top-quality glass, with my most widely-used being the 24mm F2, 90mm F2 Macro, 250mm F2 for the Olympus, and the 140mm f/4.5 Macro for the Mamiya.
Based on nothing more than gut feel, I always harboured an "understanding" that my two systems (the mamiya with its ~f/4 lenses, the OM with its ~f/2 lenses) are rather "equal" when I shoot B&W film two stops different in them, i.e. FP4 (ISO125) in the OM, and HP5 (ISO400) in the Mamiya.
This was until I printed the following image (which is simply a direct film scan, since my scanner is too small to scan the print) to 16x20in, the first time I had ever printed such a large image (I am slowly working my way up):
The image was taken hand-held (an RB67 hanging off the neck, with its weight, is one of the stablest hand-held cameras) with the 140mm f/4.5 C-series Macro lens set to f/8, on Ilford HP5+, self-developed in a D67-equivalent developer (diluted 1+1, 20ºC, 11min).
The print was made through an EL-Nikkor 135mm f/5.6 enlarging lens (the best I've ever used, and bloody near to the ceiling at this magnification!) on Ilford MG IV multigrade paper, not even fibre-based or anything.
I have, in full, experienced the epiphany which surely everybody must feel when making their first quite large print from a medium-format negative.
My most carefuly-made 35mm image shot on Pan F (enlarged through a Rodenstock Rodagon 50mm f/2.8), taken with the undisputed best lens in the OM lens lineup (250mm f/2.0 shot at f/5.6), printed to a smaller size (9x12in) does not even come close. Prints of my own previous work on a Canon 1Ds MkII / L-lenses, or downloaded full-size images from a Leica M9, does not even come nearly close. But, as I said, I do not want to discuss film vs digital, I wish to remain in the analogue domain.
I "knew" 6x7cm was better, but I was well and truly shocked to see for myself, the first time, just how much better it is - after accumulating almost two years' experience in the wet darkroom. This experience with HP5 (which has produced a completely grain-less print to my eyes) has totaly changed the way I look at this film (which produces rather grainy prints from 35mm).
I have shot Ilford Delta 100 / 400 before, but I much prefer the characteristics of the "traditional" (FP4/HP5/PanF) films. I really can't wait to set the darkroom up to more easily make such big prints (get bigger trays, and a wider 6x7cm enlaring lens) - the quality and satisfaction is just unbelievable.
So - my final words are a question to anybody who has experience in using both mediums: Considering the same mildy large print size (say, 12x16in) - is there anything that could be done in 35mm which would yield a print with similar smoothness, detail and clarity, as an ISO 400 6x7cm image shot with a great lens such as the Mamiya Sekor-C 140mm Macro?
Pan F, and the highest-resolution / contrast 35mm lens I have access to clearly does not cut it. Sure, it does other things no Medium-format camera can... But the quality difference is so much more dramatic than what I had imagined, and this is only at "modestly large" print sizes.
Wait until you move up to LF and see what even larger negatives are capable of producing.
i have used all three systems you speak of and they are as follows:
35mm- canon 1V with 28 1.8, 50 1.8, 85 1.8, sigma 120-300 2.8, and nikon 400 2.8 via adapter
with 35mm ive shot from tech pan, pan f, px 125, hp5, tmx 3200,
for MF- Mamiya RZ67 proii with 50 4.5 ULD, 110 2.8, and the 140 macro you have
plus-x 125, technical pan, pan f, tri-x 400, and panatomic-x...probably more but i forget at the moment
digital- canon 40d and now a canon 1d3
with the same lenses as listed with my 35mm
i englarge my 35mm negatives with a nikkor 50 2.8 and all my 6x7 negatives with a nikkor 105 5.6. the enlarging lenses are simple awesome, i see no point in getting a schneider or rodenstock APO lens unless i am trying to print 35mm 16x20 on 20x24 paper which is something i wont do because i feel thats already past the limit of 35mm...sans one particular film.
i print on ilford MGIV fiber, Adox MC110, and Arista EDU paper.
i forgot to mention, for both formats i use glassless carries and its never been a problem thus far.
ok, now on to the good stuff. i totally agree with you however there is one, and only one exception to the rule that you have come to realize and many have...and that exception is Kodak Technical pan. in 35mm, it rivals almost all non tech-pan 120 films, and in 120 format it rivals all the 4x5 ive seen except 4x5 tech pan. pan F is close but no cigar, they are very different films. so, pretend we take out technical pan and you my friend have realized the joys of medium format. a grainless print from HP5 in 35mm is unheard of, unless you print 8x10 or smaller, its a damn grainy print. you should try to plus-x 125 in your RB and youll be amazed, my prints are grainless and while i havent printed that big i have cropped the sh*t out of my images at times. i hardly shoot 35mm and when i do its for telephoto reasons or because i need quick action and its super sunny and i have technical pan on hand.
so to answer your question, as far as resolution goes, yes, i believe 35mm technical pan can match 120 HP5. smoothness and tonality- ehhh idk about that one. detail and clarity- very posssible. buuttttt, and its a big but, you are shooting at ISO 25/32/or 50 to get the same results as an ISO 400 film. and try the 50 ULD with the floating element, i think it beats my 140 macro, simply unbelievable resolution. sorry for the rant, i could go on and on about this epiphany you had, which i also had at one point.
Format size counts for a lot in terms of image quality, and there isn't really anything that can be done to overcome that, all other things being equal.
As it is, though, all other things aren't equal, and there are some shots that aren't so easy to get with a larger format. In low light, you're probably going to be happier with a grainier small format print made with a fast lens than with medium or large format. Really long lenses aren't as much of an option for medium or large format.
One of the reasons to shoot a few different formats is to find out what each does best and use them as indicated when you can, and figure out how to make what you have work for you when the camera in your hand isn't necessarily the best option for the photo that presents itself at any given moment.
Ha! rainphot, a moment after I posted my thread, I knew that somebody would say "you think that's cool, you should see large format"! You are, of course, right. I feel I do have some insight, I sometimes shoot 6x17cm panoramics with my Linhof Technorama, although I don't have an enlarger big enough to do optical printing, but the 120 megapixel scans from colour slide film are impressive (the SA 90/5.6 XL lens is really quite special).
For my kind of work, however, 6x7cm works well most of the time... I have not yet worked up the patience (or funds) to shoot one sheet at a time :-) But one day...
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Have you explored the effects of developers? It comes to mind that, especially with more traditional films, the developer can drastically effect the properties of the negative.
D-76 is a "middle of the raod" developer, with reasonable accutance and grain. You could use a higher accutance developer, such as Rodinal, and get amazing sharpness, at the sacrifice of grain. I have a 6x7 neg that I just printed (Fuji across in Rodinal 1:50) in 11x14 that I feel has the grain of a 35mm neg, but is amazingly sharp.
On the other end of the spectrum, you have fine grain developers like Microdol-X. I've tried it, and found the results not to my liking, as I felt the edges were too undefined. However, I didn't work with it extensively, so it may get better.
I often use the efke/adox CHS films. I find that the older style emulsions respond more pronouncedly to different developers. Modern (t-grain) films also respond to different developers, but it's a more subtle response.
3e8, I am aware of the effects of various developers, but have not personally tried many, I am trying to minimize the number of parameters to my experimentation. But you do raise an important point, it seems as if the right developer, together with an extremely fine-grained film (how sad that Tech Pan was discontinued...) together with extremely high resolution lenses might get "close" to MF results, but then you are four or five stops down, which ironically dispels the myth that MF has "shallower" DOF than 35mm.
On 6x7cm, one can close the lens down the required two stops to get the same DOF as the "equivalent" 35mm shot and still be a stop ahead in terms of shutter speed, by using faster film, and still get potentially superior results.
Anyway, with this thread, I am actually just re-iterating a lot of things we all know, I was simply sharing my joy at the unexpectedly high quality of a large print from a 6x7cm HP5 negative.
I am so glad I went the all-analogue road... But digital will have to be pretty good by the time I return to it
ADOX CMS 20 in adotech developer. There is nothing sharper in 35mm format.
I've heard that ADOX film is sharp. I think there is one called SPUR which is sharp too.
Actually though, is TMAX 100 sharper or finer grained than PanF+?
You might wish to consider magnification factor and enlarger setups. When you enlarge more, a 16x20 from 35mm compared to 6x7, the quality of your enlarger setup becomes much more critical. Enlarger alignment, lens quality, negative flatness, etc all becomes magnified so much more.
I sometimes photograph using Tmax 100 and process that film in replenished Xtol. I don't usually print as large as 16x20, the largest I normally make is 11x14 or 12x16. But comparatively, via my Pentax 55mm f/2 lens I can get quality that is fairly close to my Hasselblad setup with the 80mm Planar using Tmax 400 film, also processed in replenished Xtol.
It's a painstaking process, and attention to every detail has to be paid. Just focusing the 35mm negative is that much harder, to get each grain sharp.
For 35mm I use an 80mm Rodenstock lens, and for MF I use a 135mm Schneider lens.
For some things I prefer the less clean look of the 35mm print, and for others I prefer the sweet lens signature and clean crisp prints from MF. There is a difference, of course, but I never really paid that much attention to it. Grain and resolution is cool under a loupe, while tonality will yell 'LOOK AT ME!' from across the room. So I focus much more on tonality than sharpness and grain; this way I am able to make a series of work shot in both formats look coherent.
"Often moments come looking for us". - Robert Frank
"Make good art!" - Neil Gaiman
"...the heart and mind are the true lens of the camera". - Yousuf Karsh