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About Scan Time!

Having just freshly shot some more large format photos up north, I decided it was finally time to jump into the final phases of my experimenting with large format film, scanning!

The whole reason I decided to jump into 5×4 film, aside from experiencing new challenges, is that large format film produces arguably the best picture quality one can achieve without spending tens of thousands of pounds on acquiring the latest and greatest digital MF cameras. Scans from large format film can easily be used to print at whatever crazy huge size you may ever desire. Before digital turned photography upside down, Large format cameras were frequently used for billboard shoots.

What am I doing?!

However I was forced to go on a lot of blind faith, LF information online, is in my opinion rather poor and scattered about compared to more modern subjects, where everything is intricately covered the second the public catches a whiff of information.

So when I decided that I had enough quality photos worth scanning in, I admittedly felt trepidation. Was all this money and time I spent over the past two years going to be worthwhile? Are these scans going to be terrible, like nearly every other sample I have found while looking around? The maths made sense in my head, but there is little in the way of previous, qualified success made public online. It was necessary to forge on ahead without the backup of others to advise me on what I was doing.

The main reason nothing had been scanned before this point is that you book time on an extraordinarily expensive scanner, I wanted to make sure that there were enough photos to make my time and money worthwhile.

Due to some of the photos being part of various film productions I can’t show off everything yet, however I will let you lovely people examine one photo of mine; shot in that lovely location we all know as West Dean. (click to embiggen!)

Click to embiggen!

The colouring isn’t done, and what you’re seeing here is a hugely reduced image, but as you can clearly see, IT WORKED!

A piddly web-optimised jpeg isn’t really going to do it justice though, is it? That jpeg is 1171 x 935 pixels large, the full resolution scan weighs in at a colossal  9376 x 7474! 70 megapixels! Crikey!

No, I’m not about to slap up the original 70MB jpeg. However I will something a bit more interesting; comparison images with my DSLR! I’ve up-scaled my DSLR images to roughly the same size as the 5×4 file so that you can see, plainly, just how much more detail is in the 5×4 film. Totally unscientific, but accuracy isn’t as important as the photography forum dwelling pixel-peepers would like to tell you it is.

For reference: Here is the DSLR image, shot with a Canon 17-40mm f/4 L.

Click to embiggen!

Clearly they were shot in very different times of day, however the colouring isn’t what’s important here, right now we’re all about the details!

Lets look at the first crop, at the centre of frame. The LF image is viewed at 100% on photoshop, with the DSLR up-scaled to provide a similar view. (click to see it in it’s full glory!)

comp2

One word: Sharp.

The 40 year-old Schneider Kreuznach lens on the 5×4 camera massively out-resolves any detail captured by the DSLR. Detailed plants and leaves are rendered as vague green textures by the DSLR. The red berries on the centre-left are barely visible at all on the DSLR.

Crop #2 : Far left of frame (click to see big!)

Comp1

This is taken from the far left of frame, and looking at the DSLR crop, it really shows, Chromatic Aberations (vibrant pink and blue discolouration)  rears it’s ugly face alongside with the loss of sharpness. The Schneider Kreuznach lens however, is tack sharp right to the very edge of frame, this could have been taken from the centre of frame and I’d be none the wiser. Hints of chromatic aberrations do exist, but they’re so barely visible it really doesn’t matter.

The interesting bit for me, is that the pillar on the left is arguably out of focus on the 5×4, yet however it still retains more detail than the DSLR. Also, look at how much more detailed the texture of the hut is on the 5×4 shot. You can tell that is a straw roof, whereas the DSLR barely retains the texture enough for you recognise that yeah, it probably is made of straw.

Crop #3: Upper-middle frame (click to enlargen it up!)

Comp5

This example really shows the huge chasm of quality between the two formats. Barely visible branches that line the wooden bars are clearly visible, as is the texture of the wooden bar itself. The complex textures of the fine branches and small leaves are blurred into a mess by the DSLR.

Crop #4: Centre-Left (make it bigger, by clicking that mouse!)

comp3

Have you started seeing the trend yet? This sample is particularly expressive of what’s going on. No matter which way you try to cut it, the Large Format always comes out on top.

Conclusion!

Personally, I’m super pleased with the results. Despite the difficulty curve and the potentially photo-wrecking pitfalls throughout every stage of the shooting process, the results are inarguably amazing. I’ve learnt that while focusing by eye is good enough, I need to buy myself a decent magnifying loupe to make sure that the plane of focus is exactly where I want it to be, rather than kind of guessing it out on the very dark focusing screen.

Now that I have some solid, usable results, hopefully I’ll now be able to progress with the camera and use it for bigger, better and more frequent projects. I definitely can’t wait to show you all the other scans!

If you have any questions about me, my work, or large format photography in general please feel free to send me an email at marc@marchankins.co.uk

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