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Fuji GW690III = How many megapixels ?

john dowle , Dec 08, 2011; 08:38 a.m.

I've been wondering for a while now just how many mega-pixels in a modern DSLR do you think would give the equivalent quality that you get from a Fuji GW690 ?
Any feedback much appreciated as usual.


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Gareth Williams , Dec 08, 2011; 08:52 a.m.

Not really relevant! Sure you can scan in whatever number of pixels you want but the limit resolution wise will be that of the film/lens combination. Gradation and the ability to cope with a wide dynamic range are something else again! You also have the question of whether you prefer the much cleaner look of digital or not. A couple of things do however need pointing out:
Medium format digital can deliver the goods but so can medium format film.
Getting ultimate quality in either medium depends on your skills as a photographer.
You will do your best work with the camera that you work with best- so use that and worry less about whether to use film or digital capture.
End of sermon!

Hugh Sakols , Dec 08, 2011; 09:21 a.m.

I have a 6x9 view camera (Horseman VHR) and a Nikon D300. I recently looked at the same composition made from both of these cameras. I used Velvia in the film camera. I found that looking at 100%, the digital file looked sharper. However, the Velvia image had quite a different pallet to work from. I'm now actually thinking of selling my horseman vhr. However, I haven't yet because of lens movements and the fact that sometimes I miss shooting velvia.

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Mag Miksch , Dec 08, 2011; 09:33 a.m.

...I found that looking at 100%.....
What did you look at? The slide with a micro?

Hugh Sakols , Dec 08, 2011; 09:47 a.m.

I compared a 3200 dpi scan made on a Minolta Multi Pro. This was by no means a perfect test. Also differences could be due to focusing of either the camera lens or scanner????

Ray Butler , Dec 08, 2011; 10:12 a.m.

You're going to get all sorts of answers to this, because "quality" can be defined in terms of so many things: extinction resolution, MTF50 resolution, signal-to-noise, dynamic range...

Out of these, I presume you meant resolution. You can get massive megapixel equivalents for film if you consider extinction resolution with high contrast black & white target patterns, on slow film. It's much more practical to consider "viewer impressions" of resolution - the holistic impressions that you get when you compare a large print from film to a large print from a digital sensor. There is a good correlation between perceived sharpness in this sense and measures of resolution at normal contrast, like MTF50. Film has a much lower megapixel equivalent when the comparison is done this way.

So I rate the perceived sharpness of my 16.7 MP square digital back (without an anti-aliasing filter) as similar to what I've obtained with 6x6 film. People who use the 22 MP, 4:3 aspect-ratio backs would probably agree that they're comparable to 6x7 or 6x8 film. If there were a 25MP, 3:2 aspect-ratio back without AA filter, that should be comparable to 6x9 film. (Pixel size = 9 microns in all these examples, so just as 6x9 film is the same film as 6x6 but just more of it, that 25MP back would be the same underlying quality as my 16.7 MP back but just more of it).

Now it's a little different if you're comparing 6x9 film to a 35mm-format DSLR, as they all use anti-aliasing filters, which reduce resolution somewhat. That pushes up the megapixel equivalent from 25MP to probably something more like 40 MP (ballpark guesstimate - based on assuming that the AA filter decreases linear resolution by about 25%). The 35mm lenses will also have to have inherently better MTF than the medium format lenses, as the pixels are smaller.

I have also observed that my 21 MP Canon 5DII results are subjectively comparable to my 645 film results. Doubling 645 (41.5 x 56 mm) gives you 6x9 film (84 x 56mm), so doubling the 5DII gives you 42MP - again ending up in the 40MP ballpark for a DSLR with an AA filter, but via a different route.

Eric Friedemann , Dec 08, 2011; 10:13 a.m.

No one's going to agree on this question. That said, with current technology, I don't think you could get enough megapixels on, say, a full-frame, 35mm-film-sized chip to equal a 6x9cm piece of film. I believe you'd need to jump up to a medium format digital back.

While you could use any 6x9cm camera's film, I happen to have some scans from a GW690II camera. Using a Nikon LS 8000 scanner at full 4000 d.p.i. resolution and full bit depth, from a 6x9 cm piece of film I shot at ISO 200 with a GW690II, I get a 637 megabyte scan. I can comfortably make 16-inch prints from these scans that have bottomless detail from any viewing distance. Press your nose up against these prints and the image shows no sign of breaking up or digital artifact.

Opening a RAW image from a Nikon D700 shot at ISO 200, full bit depth, I get a 69 magabyte file. In a 12x18-inch print from a D700 image, I can see digital artifact.

Long story short, if I know I'm going to make an 11-inch or larger print from an image, I'll shoot medium format film and scan it. For making big prints, there's just no way a FF-35mm-sized digital camera is going to compete with a well-executed scan from a piece of medium format film.

Steve Smith , Dec 08, 2011; 10:13 a.m.

how many mega-pixels in a modern DSLR do you think would give the equivalent quality that you get from a Fuji GW690 ?

It depends on final use. Anyone can make scans and claims that one is better than the other but in reality, if they both give you the results you want in the application you want, then they are equivalent (which is what you asked for).

David Scott , Dec 08, 2011; 10:54 a.m.

There are all kinds of theoretical responses to this question. But there is one practical response. How good a scan can you get from the Fuji's 6x9 negative? And do you want to pay for it?
From my GW690 I can get 6mp images cheaply, in an hour. My local lab uses a Noritsu and produces very nice scans at 3000x2000 pixels. Compared to the output of a 6mp DSLR, I prefer the film. I like the colour and dynamic range, but I also find that 6mp originated from film can be blown up slightly larger than 6mp from digital. Cost = $11 per roll, processing and scanning included.
Some labs are offering even bigger minilab scans -- about 16mp size. I hear they are fantastic, and offer all the same advantages I just listed. I expect the cost to be incrementally greater and you have to find a lab that does this. (I hear that North Coast and Richard Photo Lab do these in the U.S.)
If I'm willing to spend more per frame, I can walk to a lab that offers Flextight scanning. Not fast, and not cheap. But with an output of about 60mp, these scans are pretty jaw dropping.
The point of this is to say, the limits of your Fuji GW690 are not the camera or film. The Fuji lens is fantastically sharp, the camera uses a leaf shutter which eliminates the resolution-robbing mirror slap and focal plane shutter bounce. A 6x9 piece of film is huge and inherently carries massive amounts of resolution - spatial, light and colour resolution.
But there are real limits to a how good a film workflow can be, once it passes through a scanner. Objectively that means I can make my GW690 a really good 6mp, 16mp, or 60mp camera. Until scanners improve.

Steve Smith , Dec 08, 2011; 11:21 a.m.

But there are real limits to a how good a film workflow can be, once it passes through a scanner.

Take the scanner out of the equation and it's even better.

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