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As good as drum scanned 4x5


Active Member
In the last year or so, I have read MF digital imaging articles by Luminous Landscape writers about the image quality of high end digital backs.

Twice I have read the comment "image quality that beats a drum scanned 4x5 image"! Personally I doubt that, but I have no technical facts or user experience to make such a statement.

So, among those of you using high end MF digital backs, do you agree that say Phase One or Imacon's best actually produce image quality that equals or exceeds that from a drum scanned 4x5 film frame?

Over the years we read similar comments claiming that some 35mm full frame digital cameras produce images equal to or better than MF film images - a claim mostly argued against by experienced high end digital SLR users. So, is the claim about digital MF image quality true?
It's possible to produce ex&les that support each side of the argument. It also depends on which back and which film.I would think the 39mp backs are giving 5x4 a run for it's money, it will depend on what you shoot as well, in some cases 35mm is better than 5x4!
If I had a high end MF back I don't think I would bother with 5x4, wether under a loupe you can tell the difference is not really of any practical importance. You also have options with digital you don't have with film, I shoot digital and film. Although I like the look and feel of film I don't miss it much when I shoot digi. The only way to decide on the pro's and cons is to try one on the things you shoot. The scanned image never looks as good as the original anyway and if most of your scans are done on something like a flextight the quality of a top end drum scan doesn't matter either. Final output is the way to judge the quality, not a computer screen or resolution charts or other peoples reviews etc.
From my limited experience of MF backs I would say "yes" in practical terms the quality is up to 5x4 and for handling beats it easily.

I stopped comparing because film and digtal imaging are two different means to record images.
Both have pros and cons.

I use older digital backs from Sinar and my experience is that these 25 Mp backs give me at least 4 X 5 " quality.Digital backs from this quality level also show that only a select number of CZ lenses are up to this.
The new 40 IF, the 120 Makro-Planar for close up applications and the 100 mm CFi.
Most other lenses show their limits with digital backs.

We have to accept that new developments from CZ have stopped with the arrival of the 40 IF lens.
Hasselblad and or CZ were no longer interested to improve the current line of lenses where quite a few designs were several decades old.
It is save to say development stopped at the end of the last century.
With the arrival of the 40 IF lens CZ indicated that other designs were to be improved upon as well.
It was not to be.

To get an idea what is possible look at the 120 Makro-PLanar CZ designed for the Contax 645.
That lens beats the old 120 Makro-Planar for Hasselblad on all counts.
The last lenses are now being sold for half price because there is no future in the Contax 645 anymore.
I wish I could use this Contax Makro-Planar with a leafshutter with a V 500 series body.
This may be true... but I am amoung the many that can not afford the $30,000 entry fee it costs to get the top level MF backs. There is no reason that the cost can't be reduced on this stuff. Once you have the design and the R&D and it works manufacturing is a cookie cutter operation. These companies are greedy and therefore the high-end digital club will be and exclusive one.

I wish it could be done for the amount you mentioned.
All in all the cost is a lot higher.

There is absolutely no reason not to use film for many applications.
Only those who have a high volume and need to deliver digital files will benefit from these developments.

The cost has come down through the years and the quality has gone up.
Some twenty years ago the first digital backs for Hasselblad delivered a staggering 4 Mp for only 60.000 USD.
Some of us earned their money with these early digital backs.
I am thinking iof buying a used Nikon CoolScan 9000 to digitize my 6X6 and 35mm film. Not a flextight... but a good machine?
I have been using one for close to 2 years now. I've mostly used it to scan Kodachrome 25 (35mm) and Velvia 50 (6x6).
I am very satisfied with the results. Printed, the 35mm scans are as good (up to 13x19), and depending on the subjects, more pleasant to me than prints from my D200. Interestingly enough (and again, this is my subjective impression) the digital files from the D200 look better - cleaner - in a monitor than the scanned files but in many cases the opposite is true when printed.
At the beginning I didn't use the glass carrier for 6x6 but I eventually caved in and got one. The scans benefited a lot (in terms of edge to edge sharpness) but using it it's a bit of a pain, I have had to redo quite a few scans due to Newton rings.
YMMV depending on your expectations, skills and patience but I consider it a good investment compared to $30K for a drum scanner or digital back.
"I stopped comparing because film and digtal imaging are two different means to record images.
Both have pros and cons"

Agreed, but it is the differences that make the comparison so interesting.
> I would definitely get the glass holder with the anti-newton glass. > For 220/120 it is almost mandatory.

I use a Coolscan 8000, and unless they have changed things in the 9000, you will probably have to increase the gain control 1-2 steps when scanning transparencies as opposed to color negatives.


I understand what you mean but there is little chance these differences will change.
So I try to use what suits me best and most of the time I am happy with the results.

Maybe it is pure nostalgia but in audio engineers and producers are still very fond of older microphones that use a valve &lifier.
These large bottles from the post WW II era are sold and restored for large sums of money.
They do sound different but better?
Let's face it, digital capture has revolutionized photography. But film is still viable and beautiful.

The cost of new high-end digital backs is strictly a function of the law of "supply and demand"... not greed. They are not as easy to produce as one may think, and pros upgrade as they go, and write off the depreciation while charging a rental/capture fee to pay the rest. It's those purchases that fund the development of the next wave.

What drives the impression of high costs amongst advanced amateurs is their obsession with buying everything new without a means to recoup the costs like a day-to-day working pro does.

A new Phase One P45+ digital back for your Hasselblad costs $30,000. or more. Last year's P45, factory refurbished with a 1 year warranty for your Hasselblad, costs $17,990. Next year even less, and so on. In 5 years a P45 will still produce the same delicious images it does now.
"I stopped comparing because film and digital imaging are two different means to record images. Both have pros and cons"

"So I try to use what suits me best and most of the time I am happy with the results"

Sorry Paul but I've heard responses such as these time and again and can't help feeling they simply avoid discussing the differences. They irritate me almost as much as the typical responses of film is better or digital is better

What I do find interesting are the differences between film and digital capture, but sadly and rather ironically on threads such as this the differences are actually rarely discussed.

Differences are a given fact that will not change.
I will definately not say film or digital capture is better.
It is irrelevant to me.
Unless you do scientific work where utmost fidelity is wanted it is not important.

Pure physical fidelity is not what a photographer is looking for.
By choice of lenses, point of view, light and media to record we deliberately alter what is there to begin with and try to get control over the result.
That is all part of a creative process that makes photography an interesting challenge.
Paul, don't get me wrong, I'm the last person that would be concerned with fidelity and I'm in total agreement with what you have said. What perplexes me is an unwillingness to discuss the very differences between the two. Our Hasselblads allow us the use of film and digital capture, I just can't help feeling that the differences between the two are very real and therefore important.

I asked a question yesterday concerning people's experiences with the CFV/503CWD and their comparisons with film, but as yet no response. Am I to believe that no one has made the comparison, or that no one cares?
Keith Laban (Keith_laban) wrote on January 09:

' 2008 - 11:17 am,Am I to believe that no one has made the comparison, or that no one cares?'


I think people need time to get adjusted to new equipment.
For many users the CFV back will be the first chance to get acquainted with high quality digital capture.
It will take a while to get used to the system and many newcomers need time to get the feel for new tools.
So do not expect elaborate reports about the differences yet.
To complicate matters even more between the various brands of digital backs there are also quite astonishing differences.....

Again, I understand what you are saying, but the fact is when and if I hire or buy a CFV the first thing I would do is to make the comparison.

@ Keith.

I do understand what you are saying here. However, how can you compare an apple with an orange except that it is fruit? Unless you are being 100% pure in action with film, no filters, straight exposing, straight processing, straight printing, straight developing, straight paper etc, you are amending (or I prefer, creating). With digital, don't even start at the differences. Sensors, software, processing, post processing, 'photoshopping', ICC profiles, monitors, etc, and that's before printing or otherwise outputting. And did I mention, a hundred 'captures' per subject to get 'the best one'.

I have to side with Paul here ... "I will definitely not say film or digital capture is better.
It is irrelevant to me." Because siding one way or another would be like me, with my drawings, having some senseless self doubt as to whether Charcoal is preferable to Conté. Of course, I have to consider subject, paper or board or canvas, and so on. For a given subject, and a given vision, one is better than the other. And the differences are obvious. Thank goodness!

For ME, a colour portrait via film is very often the most pleasing. I cannot enjoy the 'waxed' look of coloured digital skin, for ex&le. And for ME, a black and white image has more 'gestalt' when it comes from film. There IS a reason CS3 and plug-ins now seek to copy the look and feel of film. NO film seeks to copy the look of digital.

Having said my piece here, of course, you already know I do not use digital. I am restrained by the growing pains I read about each day here and elsewhere - the constant software upgrades, the tilting sensors, the 'lock ups' and so forth. So my concern and the big difference for me to this date is developing platform stability (for my enjoyment's sake). I'd rather stand under a cold shower tearing up 100 dollar bills than get a 'hope and pray' 'not-always-supported' digital back.

As Marc has written, I'll let the pros use their depreciation tax write-downs to fund the R&D for a while longer yet. But there remains little doubt I will have a digital device one day. Meanwhile, my battery free 500 series and the rolls of film in my pack will 'soldier on' because for ME (and my print buyers) they suit my needs well enough.

I know you are seeking the differences, but it is an impossible mission. They are, at once, both as numerous as fish in the sea, and as few as rocking horse excreta.



Paper or Plastic? (In my garden 5 Jan 2008)

Portra 400NC Straight scan. 50CF FLE + Ext 16. approx 3" lens to subject. Handheld. One image exposed.
"However, how can you compare an apple with an orange except that it is fruit?"

I've never had a problem distinguishing between the two.

"I know you are seeking the differences, but it is an impossible mission"

How so, it's really rather simple to do a meaningful comparative test or to reach a conclusion based on actual experience. I'm talking about the differences between a drum scan and digital capture and the comparison between the files and the resulting prints.

"I have to side with Paul here ... "I will definitely not say film or digital capture is better"

Really, I'm not the slightest bit interested in people's opinions as to which of the two they consider is better, what I am interested in is the differences they see. I'm not at all interested in whether charcoal is preferable to conté or whether oils are preferable to acrylics, what does interest me are people’s experiences and the perceived differences they see between the two.
Ironic that you post that specific image Colin ... It has a distinct "digital" look and would be easy to capture on the CFV in an identical manner and feel. It's a perfect foil for my point of view to follow here.

Plus, perhaps I can answer Keith's inquiry concerning "comparisons" since I flop back and forth between film and digital using the same camera and lenses ... and am not h&ered by flat bed scans or even an excellent Nikon scanner ... but use a Imacon 949 or get drum scans done when using film.

I disagree that some people using film aren't trying to mimic digital ... not deliberately ... but by default ... they are shooting super fine grain MF work and avoiding that grain like the plague. This is the optimal territory of MF digital capture ... most of these backs are optimized for ISO 50 or 100 imaging, and it takes a electron microscope to find noise in a well exposed ISO 50 shot done with a 39 meg MF digital back using digital lenses or fine APO optics.

When we see digital post techniques trying to mimic film it is often the process of adding grain structure ... which is my point ... film's charm comes from what many are trying so hard to avoid when shooting film -- Grain.

So, in many cases It is quite difficult to distinguish well made film shots from digital ones when it comes to certain fine art and landscape subjects ... done by respective "experts" in each medium. Meaning, it does require great skill to make fine digital images ... in the same manner that it requires to make fine film images ... just the disciplines are different. Most digital shooters are not well versed in digital post processing disciplines to the degree that decades of film discipline has imparted on expert film shooters like those on this forum.

Where I see a distinct difference is when film is used for the very characteristic that defines it ... the gritty realness that our eye has come to impart on certain types of film shots. Where others banish grain, I embrace it.

As to the CFV, the unreliability issues are over stated IMO, and are the result of the usual "problems are loud" and "success is busy making photographs". The problems are real, and the victims most certainly justified in loudly complaining ... just as I would in the same situation. Nothing is perfect ... except of course my CFV and that of many friends who also own that back : -)

What the CFV has proven to me is that the 9 micron pixel pitch is perfect for the Hasselblad V system and it's lenses. If I went larger it wouild be a 645 22 meg back I think.

Of course everybody is interested to compare any new product in the chain we use.
To find out where we stand everybody will do tests and compare new items with existing ones.
Where we differ in opinion is the value you and I give to results from tests done by others.
With all respect they do not have much meaning to me.
Their value will allways be limited for as far as I know these other users and consider their judgement relevant to me.

Do your own testing. That is my advice.
For me only first hand experience is important.
Of course I am interested to hear opinions from others but in the end only my opinion counts.
When looking for differences you are often seeking the limits of the subjects you are comparing.
That may be very usefull for you but for others this does not have to count in the same way.