D850 vs 8x10 film

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by alastairanderson, Feb 16, 2018.

  1. I'm sure everyone is heartily sick of 'digital vs film' threads, which I understood had been emphatically answered in favour of the former in almost every respect, and particularly as regards the resolution of fine detail.

    However, I saw a BBC programme about a year ago about Howard Carter's photographer, Harry Burton, 'The Man Who Shot Tutankhamun'. Basically a presenter showcased Burton's images. She travelled to Luxor accompanied by a photographer who attempted to recreate a couple of the shots using equipment similar to what Burton had used. (Incidentally, in my opinion, he failed dismally.)

    What I found particularly interesting was that the modern photographer (Harry Cory Wright), when looking for somewhere to process his negatives, discovered a fully equipped state of the art dark room set up by The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, which is engaged in an ongoing archaeological 'Epigraphic Survey' (The Epigraphic Survey | The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago). The Chicago photographer (Yarko Korbylecky) was asked why he used a large format film camera in preference to a digital SLR and his response was that digital couldn't yet match the resolution that he could get with film. "It will happen," he said, "But it hasn't yet. Film still gives finer detail." or words to that effect.

    I want to emphasise that he was using the view camera not because of the front/back movement advantage - he was basically photographing hieroglyphic inscriptions on flat surfaces - but because of the superior resolution.

    This came as a surprise to me. Surely the Chicago academics running such a technical project would get this right.

    As I say, I saw this film about a year ago and I suspect that it was produced in 2017 or perhaps 2016. A certain amount of time has passed since then of course, but not that much.

    I'm considering buying a D850. Clearly there's enough resolution there (with the right glass) for pretty much every application, but it's an interesting thought that Harry Burton may have been able to match it in 1923.
  2. Within the area on the tilm the same size as the sensor from the D810 the 8x10 view camera only need to produce the equivalent of 1MP in order to produce an image equivalent of 60MP. So I think the 8x10 would yield better details than the D810 or D850.
  3. The real issue here is consideration of cameras / process. A view camera is so much more capable than a slr....*in the right hands*. Even with low par film / bad scans / bad lens/ bad developing, an expert can achieve excellent results. In the hands of an inexperienced photographer, the greatest gear in the world would not help.

    A few years ago Kerby switched from nikon to canon beceause of sharpness issues. Maybe the d850 is not a good choice to compare.

    All that said, my suggestion would be to use the best gear the user has experience with. I shoot much better with film than digital. I have over 40 years on film. I should be better. If you put me on an 8x10, I likely would suck; never shot with one before....skills involved that I don't have.
  4. One thing to keep in mind is that just due to optical limits, even the best large format lenses tend to be somewhat lower resolution than their smaller format counterparts. This becomes even more pronounced as you move up in format, and also keep in mind that a lens is expected to produce an image circle a fair bit larger than the film.

    Here's a nice chart from Schneider illustrating this(~300mm is roughly "normal" on 8x10)


    The requirement for a larger than film format image circle also kills absolute resolution somewhat.

    In fact, I'd say that-stopped down a bit-it's not a stretch to say that one of my best resolving lenses LF lenses is the 135mm f/4.5 Wollenstock Raptar that came on my Speed Graphic. It's a single coated Tessar-type lens. I've been told that it will cover 5x7, but only with no movements, and I know it's "tight" on 4x5 to the point that at infinity I can start getting vignetting and losing corner performance even with relatively minor movements(the amount of shift I show in my avatar would be impossible with that lens).

    I suspect that the King Tut images would have likely been shot on dry plates if not film. With that said, due to the way the emulsion is formed and then developed, wet plates essentially do not have grain. Dry plates are not THAT different, and consequently the grain is quite "tight" on them-much more so than any film I've ever used(even the legendary Tech Pan). Even an 1880s 8x10 wet plate is truly a sight to behold as you can just keep digging deeper and deeper-the optical system IS the limit to resolution in wet plate photography. TMAX-100 is my go-to when I want to test resolution in LF(although I only do 4x5) but it still pales in comparison even to the dry plates I have.

    We have a bit of a different situation in 35mm and 35mm-based formats. Even cheap optics are-relatively speaking-outstanding. They have to be-even when used on film-to milk all they can out of a tiny film/sensor area. This has become even more pronounced as pixel densities have increased. It's hard to compare side-by-side but most folks seem to estimate high resolving, fine grained(and available) 35mm films like TMX and RDP-III at somewhere in the 16-24mp range. Even 10+ year old cameras like my D200 and D2X are equal to if not better than that when comparing pixel densities side by side(I'm too lazy to do the math as to what a 10-12mp DX sensor would extrapolate to as an FX sensor). The D850 now has a pixel density roughly comparable to a 20mp DX camera, and Nikon's consumer cameras at ~24mp are even higher. This is why many lenses that were previously put on a pedestal for their resolution(like the venerable 105mm 2.5 or various 55mm Micros) are falling apart, and-aside from selling new lenses-Nikon keeps pushing new versions of their "staple" zooms every few years. What good is selling a 45mp camera if you don't make glass that can keep up with it?
    mag_miksch and Albin''s images like this.
  5. Just multiply by 2.25 (crop factor squared):D
  6. I guess if the whole story proves one thing, it is that resolution isn't the only benchmark for a camera. While I never shot with a large format camera, I have little doubt it would be capable of higher resolution than the highest resolution digital camera available today: the negatives are huge, and size does matter in this case.
    But shooting a sports match with a large format camera is a rather different proposition, yet a D850 will still hold up just fine for that. Shooting architecture where perspective correction matters: large format has a clear advantage. Resolution is just one variable among many, and that may also mean inferior resolution might still make a better choice for the job at hand.

    The whole idea that the "digital-vs-film"-debate needs an answer in favour of either medium, or worse one winner, is just nonsens. Never quite understood why people feel this need to compare and select a winner. There are pros and cons to either medium, strong and weak points. For the vast majority of people, digital will make more sense, but that doesn't mean film is useless, nor does it need to mean that. Just use whatever you feel comfortable using, and in that sense the D850 will no doubt make a great choice. I'm mainly grateful for the D850 because it brought the price of the D810 to a level I felt OK with, which means more money left to spend on film for the other cameras in the cupboard :)
  7. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    A view camera could be really capable if you are a landscape photographer, provided that you can carry the entire set up to the desired locations or can hire someone else to carry it for you.

    If you shoot sports or wildlife, I don't think a view camera is capable at all, regardless of whose hands it is in.
  8. Well, of course it's possible to record more detail on 8x10 inch film than 35mm digital; the former has almost 60 times the area of the latter. The problem with large format digital is the cost. With film they could just cut it to any size. What you can do with digital is, however, stiching, which should allow such material to be reproduced with a digital camera, given that it stays still during the course of the making of the constituent images.

    A few years ago Kerby switched from nikon to canon beceause of sharpness issues. Maybe the d850 is not a good choice to compare.

    Who is "Kerby"? Wow, did he or she have a D850 "a few years ago" and was able to determine that it wasn't giving sharp images. That's amazing, some people are so well connected these days they get to use cameras before even their design has started. Hint: I would recommended checking sponsorship.
    anton_de_flon likes this.
  9. Alright-easy enough :)

    That puts both cameras in the range where they have as much if not more than the resolving power of good films that are actually obtainable and useable.

    Of course, the final result is still lower since you're not using the full area, but you're also using the BEST area of the image circle.
  10. Archival photos of museum objects is one of the applications for which the new 100 MP Hasselblad with pixel shifting was designed. I doubt that Hasselblad lenses of the generation I use would be up to the task, although they work well enough at 16 MP. Fortunately lenses have undergone a lot of improvement too.

    A lens for an 8x10 camera need only deliver 35-40 lp/mm for enlargements of the sort Ansel Adams is noted for. Indeed, it is my recollection that lenses for 8x10 fall in this range. It would be the equivalent of 256-320 lp/mm for a full frame lens, This is roughly equivalent to 90 MP in a 3:2 image format, less for 10:8. Because uncertainty is additive (variance, actually), the net resolution would be half that of the medium and lens taken separately. In order to take full advantage of a digital sensor, the lens must deliver at least 2x the resolution (more would be better). Modern lenses, measured with a microscope on a virtual image, are in the 400 lp/mm range, so we have a way to go.

    My experience with a 42 MP Sony A8m2, is that not all lenses can resolve at the pixel level. Of the Nikon lenses I own, only the venerable 55/2.8 Micro-Nikkor qualifies, whereas lenses I own, designed for the Sony, make the grade. In lieu of a $40K Zeiss optical bench I look at scenes in nature, which have almost infinite levels of detail, but at low contrast. By pixel-peeping, I can look for details only one pixel wide. The most common objects are spider webs. Another subject would be stars on a clear night, but due to high contrast, they do no better than a bright center pixel flanked by two weaker ones.

    At this point in time, medium format is the most likely candidate to replace 8x10 film in the museum. Until the death of their founder, Luminous-Landscape was the principal source for information on medium format, digital photography. The trend is to use "technical" cameras, which are much more precise than cameras with standards and bellows. Again, lenses are the key. Finding conventional MF lenses lacking, Luminous-Landscapes used Schneider lenses specifically designed for MF digital. They are highly corrected, and eschew the usually inverse-telephoto design used for MF reflex cameras. There are direct comparisons somewhere in their archives.
  11. I've shot basketball with a Speed Graphic. It's not easy, but it's doable. Of course, a good venue is key-something lit for broadcast(many high school gyms these days) that will also let you get close helps things a whole lot. Pre-focusing and shot timing are key. A Speed isn't a full blown view camera either-it IS a press camera, and as such is equipped with some features that make that action easier. In my case, I focused with the rangefinder-counting on DOF to help me out-and used the wire frame sports finder along with generous composition. I also used the leaf shutter-even though the FP shutter gives you abnormally high LF shutter speeds(1/1000), the curtain speed is low enough that you can get some funky effects if you're catching someone jumping-for example.

    BTW, I'd consider a Grafmatic essential in this situation also-you pre-load it with 6 sheets and "advancing" to the next sheet can be done pretty swiftly with practice and doesn't require messing with a dark slide until you're ready to take it out.

    Still, it's an academic exercise and was done with expired HP5+ pushed to 800-it's not exactly something I'd make a habit of doing.
  12. It's true that large format lenses have low resolution but enough resolution to resolve an equivalent of 2MP on an area of the 35mm film. With that the 8x10 can produce image equivalent to more than 100MP.
  13. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    (Barely) doable is very different from being capable, and I also wonder what kind of results you got.
  14. My $.02:

    Having been to an exhibition a few years back, I was surprised how sharp an official print of Clearing Winter Storm wasn't. Depth of field tends to make everything cancel out - the diffraction you get from shooting at f/64 on large format undoes a lot of the benefits of the image size (and the lack of flatness of the film plane doesn't help). That said, if you can shoot at a larger depth of field, you can get very good resolution at a smaller relative aperture (thus reducing many optical aberrations) with larger formats; you do have to cover a larger image circle, but at least for longer lenses that seems to be less troublesome than the aperture-related aberrations. Scanning backs seem to do very well for resolution (but then so do many of the more expensive medium format cameras, or smaller cameras using sensor-shift stacking). Getting a sharp image of a moving subject at high resolution is another matter.

    I could completely believe someone choosing to switch from Nikon to Canon in the D700/D3/D3s era due to camera-related sharpness issues - the resolution was well behind the 5D2, and the low-pass filter on those bodies was very strong as well. I strongly doubt anyone would have similar concerns with the D800e or later. Specific lenses in either system may be inferior, but not as a generalisation.

    I'd still like a 5x4 at some point, but mostly for the experience, to see whether enforced slow-down helps my technique, and because I suspect movements are easier to control than my experience with tilt-shift lenses. I'm highly unlikely to have an epiphany and switch away from mainstream DSLRs.
  15. I suppose that he refers to Scott Kelby - there's a video out there he made explaining his reasons (better high ISO performance of the Canon being one strangely enough); sharpness/resolution isn't even mentioned once in the video. All that happened back in 2013, so D4/D800 days.
  16. Ah, possibly it refers to this article. He claims (oddly) that the D4 was less "sharp" than the D3; I'm not sure I can explain that. He also says the AF was better on the 1Dx, which may be true - Canon had just upgraded their AF system, whereas Nikon were still going with MultiCAM 3500 derivatives until the D5. Then again, he says glowing things about the sharpness of the 28-300, so I'm not sure how I'd judge his idea of "sharp". He seems to prefer the Canon handling too; some issues I agree with, some have been improved especially with the touchscreen interface. Interesting that he claims the extra speed of the 1Dx does matter to him, which has always concerned me when it came to Nikon's flagship. Of course, both systems still have their advantages.
  17. I'll have to dig out and post the scans. I actually got a decent "hit" rate.

    I agree that doable is different from capable-it was mostly proof of concept. Also, I basically planted myself next to the basket on the sidelines and didn't try for anything much more than basket shots. I mentioned rangefinder focusing, and I focused on the net and set the focus lock. That was the only feasible way I could see to do it. Fortunately, a wire frame finder lets you see action out of the frame, and as designed on the Speed Graphic does have SOME degree of parallax correction(although generous composition also plays into that).

    Still, once I'd shot my one Grafmatic holder I went back to the DSLR.
  18. I stand corrected, so he does cite sharpness as one of the reasons for the switch.
    no comment ;)

    Maybe once Sony has the 400/2.8 out, he'll switch to the A9 - 20 fps are better than 14 from his Can(n)on.:p
  19. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Over a decade ago, I took some one-day PhotoShop seminars from Scott Kelby's company. He is an entertaining speaker but tends to be over the top. Kelby certainly knows about PhotoShop and LightRoom, but as a photographer, I still recall that he was using an entry-level Nikon D70 while I had a D2X. If one cannot get sharp images from the D3, D4, or D800, I don't think it is the camera.

    It is like the recent development that long-time Canon user Arthur Morris switching to Nikon:
    Ha! Arthur Morris switching from Canon to Nikon D850

    I have met Morris a couple of times back in the 1990's when Canon sponsored him, and he used to trash talk Nikon equipment. A good photographer should be able to get excellent results from either brand and most likely with Sony also. Most pros switch brands due to financial reasons. Back in 1998, I talked to Art Wolfe a few times. A year before around 1997, his vehicle wasn't broken into in San Francisco and all of his Nikon equipment plus lots of film from two months of shooting were stolen. He asked Nikon to sponsor him to fund new equipment purchase, but Nikon declined. Art Wolfe has since switched to Canon.

    However, I definitely don't think an 8x10 view camera would work very well for my wildlife photography.
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2018

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