acceptable enlargement ratio, and advice about film choice

Discussion in 'Film and Processing' started by fredscal, Feb 7, 2009.

  1. Hello.
    I'm going from automatic 35mm SLR to manual Medium Format (6x12). I'm only interested in color photography. The reason why I went Medium Format is to be able to print larger pictures. Btw, I'm not really interested in the discussion whether a digital camera would give better, worse or equivalent results.
    (in case you wonder, i bought a Fotoman 612 on eBay, but the choice of camera is not the issue)
    My main question is: how large a print can I expect to make with sharp detail and little enough grain, from my 6x12cm negative ? The larger the better but I don't want to push it too far. I realize this depends on ISO and film brand, so I'll address each question at a time:
    ISO: I wouldn't mind using the slowest film available, but I've read somewhere that slow film don't render light like fast ones (that is, a 1sec exposure on ISO 25 wouldn't give the same result as a 1/16s exposure on ISO400). I've read something about lower contrasts... What does it mean and how does it work? I like landscapes with tormented weather and strong contrasts. Is it an issue, and are there valid workarounds (my plan for now is to scan the negs in high rez, color-time them in Photoshop, and print using Lambda technology... I've done this with 35mm and the result was awesome) ? If a compromise needs to be made, what could it be ?
    Film choice: Until now I've only used 35mm Agfa 200, Fuji 400, Fuji 800 color films and was happy with the results - just to give you an idea of my tastes. not that i'm closed to new experiences... so the 35mm films i liked were among the basic ones. Froom there i naturally went to Fujicolor Reala and Fujicolor Pro roll films... I would, however, welcome other suggestions, mostly if it helps reducing granularity.
    (ps: i'm currently experimeniting, but my first rolls aren't back from the lab yet ;)
  2. Hi Fred, I'm not totally sure I follow what you're asking, but I can tell you that my friends shooting 6x17 Fuji's are doing prints in the 36" tall range and they look great. Their technique tends to involve shooting Provia and doing a hi-res scan and printing digitally. That would give you a 3x6' print pretty comfortably. Don't know if that helps.
  3. ... how large a print can I expect to make with sharp detail and little enough grain ...​
    This is going to vary depending on film, but roughly under 6x enlargement for prints of minimal grain and flawless sharpness. Personally, a 10x enlargement is about it for something intended to stand up to close scrutiny.
    As for films, Fuji and Kodak are the only two credible manufacturers of color film left. Unfortunately, the new Ektar isn't available in 120. The best negative for highly detailed color landscapes is Fuji Reala. When the scene dynamic range is narrow, try Velvia. It will record a more deeply saturated image than what you originally saw.
    Oh, do get (and use) a nice, sturdy tripod - slow film and slow MF lenses is going to dictate it.
  4. Viewing distance is the secret... Who looks at a 36 inch tall picture from 1 or even 2 feet?
  5. david_henderson


    It depends how you do the printing. If you get a drum scan and print on something like a LightJet or Chromira, then a print 1.5m long is by no means impossible and depending on the quality of the original you may well get more. Other forms of film scanning will tend to give a little less. If analogue printing I'd be inclined to say less- maybe about a 6x enlargement. I wouldn't expect to see a lot of grain at these sizes , but clearly the original has to be very good, and on good film stock. For large prints from landscapes i've always preferred transparency films for their palette and a grain free print, and the fact that I find it easier to assess for having print potential than from a colour neg; but thats a question of personal preference outside of the obvious fact that slower films tend to look smoother.
    "Who looks at a 36 inch tall picture from 1 or even 2 feet?"

    The person who made it, the photographer who ordered the print, the person who bought the print, and most other photographers that happen to see it and want to find out just how sharp it is. Promise. And once you've looked at it from close and found it wanting, it'll never seem right to you.
  6. 120 film is close to twice as wide as 35mm. All else being equal, you can make a print twice as wide. If you were happy with 35 mm in 8x10 and a certain film, a 16x20 can be made from 120 with similar results.
  7. Thank you all for your helpful responses.
    It is exactly what I was asking, thanks. And it roughly corresponds to what I expected.
    Are you saying that the acceptable enlargement factor varies from 6x to 10x depending on film type ?
    Thanks for the film brand tips. Let's hope they don't quit making color roll film too soon...
    As for a tripod, I've bought this chinese imitation for 120€ (about $160), I think the brand is Digipod, and it was advertised as professional in a professional shop. Does that seem realistic to you ? I'll see the results in about a week anyway (the lab is so sloooow...!)
    Call me a lunatic, but I do ;-)
    By transparency films, do you mean slides ? I didn't know that slide films gave less grainy results, so if that's what you mean, thanks for the tip. I've considered using slide film, but since i've been told they are very unforgiving exposurewise, and i'm only a beginner in manual photography, i think not to begin with. Or maybe for low-contrast subjects, like a fog scene or so...?
    For scanning, I was considering an Epson V700 (6400dpi) flatbed scanner. Does drum scan really give preferable result? I thought as long as pixel is smaller than grain i would be safe... Too naive maybe ?
    Obviously. But I wasn't happy with 35mm in terms of detail and print size. Btw, I suppose you're expressing dimensions in thumbs ? (I'm a Continental European, so i don't get implicit non-metric units very intuitively, sorry)
    Thanks again. I'll come by later.
  8. What about this "contrast depending on film speed (ISO)" thing ? Is it just a rumor, or a misinterpretation, or is there some truth in it ?
  9. I remember the huge pictures in Grand central in the 70's they were taken on 35mm Kodachrome. Judging like that is counter productive. i also look real close but I also only had enlargements made into Posters.... I understand and grain is to me not important because i guess I look at the world from a wider angel.. No offense or diversion meant.
  10. Larry:
    No offense taken. It is a question of taste and I respect yours.
    Me, I like to be able to make out every blade of grass in a landscape view. It contributes to beauty in my opinion - although it is not an absolute requirement, I just like it better ;-)
    With offset-printed posters, you can't reach the same detail level as with a photographic print anyway (but the process has other advantages of course).
  11. I understand Fred but sometimes when the wind blos it takes the static out of sharp and gives a feeling. :) nothing but respect my friend just a differing way at looking at life.
  12. Re: Viewing distance is the secret... Who looks at a 36 inch tall picture from 1 or even 2 feet?
    This is done in mapping and aerial photography all the time. Both a giant wall map or an aerial image used for urban planning will be looked at with closeness. In Simi Valley the City Government wants to see that shed in your backyard you just built; even if it can only be seen from an airplane and NO neighbors can see it. If its above 120 square foot in size; you are busted; you broke the rules.
    The how big can I enlarge a piece of film or digital image will be asked many times each week on until the end of time.

    In a pro application there is a defined application; a mall kiosk; a 12x48 foot billboard on a desert highway before Las Vegas.

    The billboard can be shot with a cellphone; or a 14 year old VGA camera. One has 640 pixels across 48 feet/576 inches.

    Lets say you believe that 400 ppi looks great at 1 foot away; ie balls to the wall sharpness and detail. The non upsized VGA billboard is just 1.1 pixels per inch; ie 640/576. Thats a giant 12 x48 foot billboard; a CROPPED VGA image thats just 160x64o pixels; a 1 to 4 ratio.
    The billboard will look totally killer sharp at a distance of 400/1.1= 363 feet away; thus OVERKILL since the billboard is really viewed father away; say 500 feet.

    If one's criteria at 1 foot was a typical 300 ppi dinky print; then the totally sharp distance would be 300/1.1= 270 feet.

    These are super best case numbers; like one stopped one's car fixing a flat and one was not driving; and one had the best case eyesite; best case lighting for the eyes to see details.

    Take a typical driving conditions; a moving car; some glare; then a bubble pack Hanna Montona digital cameras image; downsized to say 1/4 VGA; ie 240x320 is great for a 12x48 foot giant billboard.
  13. david_henderson


    Whilst flatbed scanners have improved there is no doubt that you will get a sharper, more detailed scan from a film scanner by which I mean (in ascending order of quality and cost) a nikon 9000; a Hasselblad/Imacon ; or a drum scanner). You will not get the shadow detail in a flatbed scan. I have a V700 myself, and I think its pretty good at what I use it for which is to scan anything for viewing on a screen. A sensible scanning strategy for many people is to get a flatbed to handle the high volume , medium quality requirements and then have a lab scan on a drum or an Imacon for the relatively few that you'll want to make into large prints.
    If you search you'll find a lot of info on here to the effect that the quoted ppi from flatbed scanners is not a realistic expectation in practice. If you could really get as much out of a square inch of film on a flatbed as you could ona drum or other film scanner costing 10 to 100 times as much, I'd guess there wouldn't be any need for the latter. Seriously if you want to make seriously large prints from MF and you want to see maximum detail, then forget flatbeds and start looking for a lab that will make great drum or Imacon scans for you. If you are pushing the boundaries a bit on enlargement size you don't want anything in your chain to be sub-optimal
  14. In printing giant posters for the public for a decade or two; one things stands out like gangbusters.

    The customers who get all wrapped up in ppi/dpi; upsizing;scanning *tend* to use the worst images; they are so wrapped up in micromanaging the printer and "whats ok" that their brains choose a lifeless; bland image with zero soul; little impact.

    SOME effort needs to be steered towards using an image with IMPACT; than a constant dwelling on ppi/dpi; upsizing; films etc.

    Thus some of the BEST giant poster inputs I have recieved are from a disposible waterresistant Kodak; shot by a teenage girl on a white water rafting tour; the WORST by folks with radically better tools but all wrapped up in bellybutton fuzz; ie pixels.
  15. Fred;

    Here is what we did in 4H club 50 years ago in grade school:

    *****We took all our physical prints we enlarged and figured the enlarging ratio for that print; and penciled it on the back of the print.
    Thus an 8x10 from a 4x5 speed graphic with a slight crop might have a 2.5X mark;

    a 35mm shot from an Argus C3 might have a 9X mark for an 8x10 with a slight crop;

    a shot from a 2x3" Vigilant 620 camera would have a 4.5X mark with a slight crop;

    a shot from a 16mm HIT camera for an 8x10 would have a 16x mark.

    Maybe a alot more cropped shot from the 2x3" Vigilant would be just like full frame 35mm and be a 9X for an 8x10 print; or a cropped section of 4x5 might be used to make a 9X print; ie an 8x10
    *****After awhile one has all these prints with different cameras and enlarging ratios.
    One finds that 4x prints with tri-x all have great tonality; and 9x looks worse; maybe 20x with warts.
    This is just a 1950's thing to do; a rehash of the 1930's Kodak databooks images showing grain and details versus enlargement; a popular thing when Panatomic came out in 35mm.
    Many of us tend to think like the cameras we own; my 2x3" Medalist allows twice the print size of my 35mm Argus; Exakta VX; Nikon F etc.
    The 2x3" negative is twice the length of a 1x1.5" Nikon F negative; 4 times the surface area. Thus a fine 8x10 from a Nikon F will be like a fine 16x20 from a Medalist.
    ***If one likes 16x20 inch prints from a 35mm camera;

    then one might like a 32x40 inch print from a Medalist;
    they are at the same enlargement ratio.

    Or one might like a 5x7 to 8x10 print from a dime store HIT camera! :)
    With the 2 buck HIT 16mm camera; it only has a single element lens; thus the "enlargeabilty" is NOT going to be say as good as a Medalist or Nikon F; its the lens that spoils the party.
  16. A real film scanner like a drum scan or Nikon 9000 pulls out more usefull info than a Flatbed like a V700; thus dwelling on lenses and films and using a lowpass device like a flatbed throws away info; a Hasslebald shot becomes more box camera like.:)
  17. Kelly well said I agree i hope that does not make you an enemy of the state. :{
  18. You might want to consider didcated film scanners. The V700 won't stand up well beyond about 30" tops. I use the V700 for 4x5 and find that for the highest quality, it tops out for prints at 24x30. You can pull a 32x40 print from sheet film....but the limitations of the scanner becomes apparent. For MF film, I'd say 16x20 (from a 6x7 neg) is about it.
  19. Viewing distance is the secret... Who looks at a 36 inch tall picture from 1 or even 2 feet?​
    I do. I want to see the quality. I also then want to see it from a 'proper' veiwing distance.
    Cool...never did quotes before
  20. Are you saying that the acceptable enlargement factor varies from 6x to 10x depending on film type ?​
    No, not quite. It's just a rule of thumb for commonly available film of up to about 400ISO. You've used a lot of 35mm (135) film SLR's right? Okay, a 6x enlargement of this yields a 6in x 9in print. At this size, even for a low resolution, grainy film like the B&W Tri-X the print is near grainless. It certainly carries more detail than what the unaided eye can see, at any distance.
    Now, take the same negative and enlarge (somewhat more than 10x) to a 12x18 print. It's can look really good at a "reasonable" viewing distance. Up close, however, the film is clearly past its limits.
    For what it's worth, I find traditional landscapes most satisfying at conservative enlargements. When looking at large prints, the tendency is to first step back and take in the whole composition, then to step forward to revel in the details.
    As for a tripod, I've bought this chinese imitation for 120€ (about $160), I think the brand is Digipod...​
    I can't comment on this brand, but to a large extent it doesn't matter. The sharpness difference between shooting handheld and the cheapest $30 tripod is huge, and not so much between this and a $1000 Gitzo 3541.
  21. Les:
    My 35mm work is no reference, since i've used different shops' different scanners. For conservative-sized prints, i had found a shop that made decent photo-cds (with an agfa scanner), and for larger, thus grainy, prints, i went to a professional company who made one 500Mb scan per 35mm frame (a grain was thus more about 20 pixels wide if i remember well !). Now I would have liked to control scanning myself, but maybe i'd rather follow David's advice and do on what I used to...
    David H.:
    Makes sense. I'll take your advice seriously.
    I see your point. I'm worrying about technicalities because I'm changing my equipment and work chain. So if I seem a bit overtechnical, it is because I want to put those questions past me as soon as possible, derive a routine from them, and concentrate back on photography.
    In what unit are you talking ? Thumbs or cm ?
    I see your point anyway.
  22. I print 16x20 from 35mm Velvia, TMX and now Ektar without a compromise and I can get nose-close.
    From 120 (I - with my technique and workflow) could print 44" wide if I had the printer without any compromises either.
  23. OP, this is a 21 megapixel scan from 35mm ektar, give it a shot at printing it:
  24. Assuming the film emulsions are the same in the 35mm and 120 film (sometimes the formula is a bit different), you should be able to get the exact same ratio then you got out of your 35mm, if you were getting a 10x enlargement and were satisfied then that should work for you... in theory. In practice, viewing distance needs to be taken in consideration, you might be holding a large 35mm prints in your hands, but you'll be at least an arm's length away when looking at the finished print out of a 6*12. Also the larger you print, the more detectable little flaws become. Our eyes are trained to see things differently when viewing different things. Because you're printing so big , objects seem to detach themselves from each other in a print (they become 3D) as our eyes have an easier time visualizing the scene in 3D (especially true with landscapes and even more so with mild panoramas). The same piece of dust will stick out more so then before because of this phenomenon, even though it shouldn't when you consider enlargement ratio. Take your time to post process thoroughly, when i do film scans, afterward, i magnify to 85-100% an scroll through the entire image slowly to look for tiny flaws, dust, scratches lint. Depending on the film size and resolution of the scan, this could take me 1/2 hour, but it's the bet way to ensure that you won't wait a couple hundred bucks on a print because of the tiniest piece of dust in your sky.
  25. I print 16x20 from 35mm Velvia, TMX and now Ektar without a compromise and I can get nose-close.​
    This is true, but it is also as much a judgment call as is anything else. A 16x20 print of a highly detailed landscape scene from 135 Velvia might well be excellent. However, it is a certainty that a 6x7 MF frame of the same will be smoother, sharper, tonally deeper - a print from 4x5 LF Velvia even more satisfying.
    In the absolute limit, the source image only has to provide enough pixels as the printer is capable of rendering. Fred originally mentioned his intent to do Lambda prints. The native resolution here is 400ppi. Since the Lambda print is truly continous tone, it's easy enough to work backwards from the desired print size what the maximum number of real pixels are required from the file.
  26. "A 16x20 print of a highly detailed landscape scene from 135 Velvia might well be excellent. However, it is a certainty that a 6x7 MF frame of the same will be smoother, sharper, tonally deeper"
    True, but, using my workflow, 95% of people wouldn't be able to tell. I am in the 5% though.
    "a print from 4x5 LF Velvia even more satisfying"
    Possible but very unlikely, if I print smaller than 16x20 from Velvia 50 or TMX/XTOL, say 11x14, detail is lost in the print due to the size but I don't gain any extra sharpnes or tonality (this is 800dpi on the print straight from my Coolscan 9000).
    But it is true that I can blast the contrast on a 6x7 scan, say with a 70 radius sharpening/50%, (to the point I loose some of the tonal gradation) but then I can print 11x14 with the smothest gradation. It definitely gives you more to work with.
  27. My favorite color negative film is Fuji Pro 160C in 120. Silky smooth grain, excellent contrast, and beautiful color range.
  28. Mr. Flanigan...
    Hit??!! I did not think anyone else remembered that camera. I used one and still have it. I don't remember anyone making either color or positive film for it but it could be done using a slitter like was done with Kodachrome for the Minox. The negatives were 14mm x 14mm, square like a 126 or a Rollei. The long side of an 8x10 would require an 18+ enlargement. With the tiny meniscus lens you would have to put the print and viewer on opposite sides of Texas to make it look sharp. Also, thank you for the sharing of your photos on the old Ektar 25 vs. Ektar 100 thread.
    Mr. Scalliet...
    The old rule of thumb for enlarging was 10x. Some lens/film combos would do a little better, many would do worse. Also as the lens/film combination gets larger the resolution gets lower. I.e. A top end 35mm lens usually has more resolution than a top end Medium Format lens which usually has more resolution than a top end Large Format lens. There are exceptions. So if your enlargement standard are 10x for a "good" 35mm lens and film, then a 6x7 might have the same detail at 8x or 9x with a "good" rated lens. A 6x9 would have more than double the size. A 35mm is 24x36. 6x9s vary but the Fuji is 54x81 which is more than twice the size. With a "good" rated lens you might get a print of equal quality about twice as large, the lens being a little less sharp but having more area to work with. Large format 4x5 film holders have some variance in exposure dimensions. I just measured a 4x5 positive and got 95mm on the short side and 118mm on the long to the film notch. You can see that it does not double either of the 6x9 dimensions and will usually be behind a lens of a little less resolution. The 4" side is almost 4 times the corresponding 24mm side of 35mm film but the long side is quite short of 4 times. You also have two slight down steps in lens quality. So even if you cropped the long side, you would still only get a 3 times larger print at the same detail/resolution standard.
    Tom Burke
  29. The most direct example of viewing distance I can think of is movies. The most common film stock for movies is 35mm film, shot sideways like on a half-frame camera. In fact, the negatives are each smaller than a half-frame negative due to being a shorter and wider format. And then they project it the size of a wall and it looks great. Of course, all of the grain is screaming by at 24 frames per second... but you get the basic idea. There's two ways to go with large projections in my mind... shoot super high rez slide film, or shoot a grainy B&W film and let the grain be a part of the show.
  30. A 1950's approach is to just use a big negative.
    Here is a Klaw negative scanned with an old Epson 2450; with a stock holder
  31. 127mm Ektar; Ektachrome; 4x5 transparency. Scanned with an Epson 2450 @2400 dpi; shot eons ago
  32. I have to chime in again about scanners and film. I get great enlargements printed on photo paper both Digitaly and opticaly with 35mm up to 11x14 with most of my 35mm films but I have gone much larger with MF films using the V700. when shooting MF the flatbed is the only option within my price range other than a drum scan and that is a 1 off because of price. Using Velvia 50 and 100 I have gon bigger in both formats but using B&W I still have 100 feet of APX 25 and also my microfilm I use Diafine with.
    It all boils down to cost and what you can afford and are willing to make a few trade offs with.
    I use Tri-X in 35mm and make 11x14s from the V700 with people going Ohhhh that is great. so when you need something like Patrick said remember a movie screen.
  33. Tom:
    Good to know. Unfortunately then, my MF camera uses LF lenses.
    Larry, Patrick:
    I've had the same thought about a movie screen. But at the movies you're cought in the action and following the subject in motion; you hardly stop to look at the details in the picture. Not as much as you would watching a photo in an exhibition, anyway.
  34. Tom:
    If LF lenses are less sharp than 35mm-SLR lenses, then how comes they're more expensive ? (Or did you mean: at equal price, small format lenses are sharper ?)
  35. James G. Dainis

    James G. Dainis Moderator


    Will the Epson 2450 handle 8x10 negatives?
  36. The original poster hasn't said whether he wants to sell the prints (or if he said it, I must have missed it). If he only has to satisfy himself, then the very best solution would be to find someone who is using one of the Epsons and knows how to scan, and let him go to work scanning a couple of those 6x12s and printing the results at various sizes (be sure to pay him for the consumables--the investment will be well worth it). If he likes what he sees, there's his answer, and there's nothing to prevent him from having drum scans made of his truly best work intended for large print sizes. In fact, it would be a good idea to have a drum scan made of one of the test negatives, just so he can see the difference for himself and decide how important it is to him.
  37. Mr. Scalliet...
    The cost of any lens is determined by production costs and the marketplace. In my comparison, I was trying to be fair by comparing a top of the line large format lens to a top of the line 35mm lens. For instance, ten years ago, in the days of film cameras, the big three 35mm system camera makers usually had three levels of lenses for some of the focal lengths. Take Canon. Those big white lenses you see at a sporting event are often their top line lens. The lens that came bundled with a lower level camera like the Rebel usually had their entry level lens. Often there would be another one with both price and quality in between. It would not have been fair for me to have compared the resolution of a Canon "L" lens and a Schneider Radionar medium format lens. The Canon "L" was a top priced, top quality 35mm lens. The Radionar was their entry level lens of only three elements. I should more fairly compare the 35mm "L" with a Schneider Xenon of 5 or 6 elements. That's the type of comparison I was trying to put across. Most high quality or high line medium and large format lenses cost more than high line 35mm lenses because of the size of the glass and the limited production quantities. For my illustration, I was doing the best I could to compare apples with apples.
    I've heard all sorts of reasons that large format lenses aren't produced to deliver the same resolution as 35mm lenses. Most reasons given revolve around the production rejection rate, cost to produce in the first place, low numbers manufactured and sold, plus "with a larger negative, resolution isn't all that important." I'm not an optical expert by any means, but from what I've read, I see no reason a large lens can't be made to the same resolution standard of, say, a Canon "L". I also understand that some government entities around the world have had custom made large lenses that would indeed meet or exceed Canon "L" resolution. The rumored cost of these certainly exceeds the ability of any commercial photographer to afford.
  38. All my Mamiya 6x7 lenses resolve at least 200 lines per milimeter per my own test using TMX/XTOL.

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