MF same as LF? Really? : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I've seen a series of declarations here that MF results are essentially the same as LF results up to print sizes of 16X20, 20X24, and most recently 20X30. I'm not being critical, but this just doesn't agree with my experience. I think I can tell the difference in an 11X14. If you're one of those advocates of this equivalence, tell me briefly what film/developer combination you think gets you there and I'll try it/them. Thanks.

-- Kevin Crisp (, March 25, 2002


I've always found it hard to believe that some claim MF can equal or better LF. I think everyone agrees that generally some MF lenses are shrper than LF lenses - and some people obviously equate this to an ability to make beter quality images. However, in my experience this doesn't mean that MF can match LF. MF lenses don't have the same degree of coverage as LF lenses and I for one CAN tell the difference between the MF and LF shots that I take! LF prints are far superior when it comes to overall quality. BTW, I regularly judge photographic society/club competitions here in the UK and it is clear in most cases, which entries have been taken with which format.

-- paul owen (, March 25, 2002.

Good Grief! What ever happened to that great feeling of looking at an image under the focusing cloth? What is that the equivalent to?

What is the equivalent of the creative growth I experienced from taking extra time to study my images?

There is no equivalent...Nothing matches anything!

Some film and developer combinations will give you "better" results than others (but who knows what you're looking for besides you?) but I always wind up choosing the format that looks like it will yeild the most creative result - that could be a Holga, a veiw camera, or an OM1, but there's no way that one can be the equivalent of another.

Great results can be had in any format, but I don't choose one because I want to be better than somebody else, I choose what I choose because I want to be the best I can be.

-- Brian Yarvin (, March 25, 2002.

As one who owns both medium-format and 4x5 view cameras, I have made this comparison a few times.

It's been my experience that when the images are scanned and printed digitally, the difference in quality (using Provia 100F) is neglible up to maybe 16x24 (16x20 for 4x5) and certainly 12x18 (12x15). This may not hold true for other films and/or printing processes but IMO, it does hold true for images printed with Epson inkjet printers.

Although shooting rollfilm does limit my option to have large prints made in the future, I've found the cost savings and ease of use more than make up for this. YMMV, of course...

-- Jeffrey Goggin (, March 25, 2002.

I think it is fair to say that MF can come close to matching 4x5 quality, but when you compare it to 8x10, the difference becomes more apparent.

-- George Huczek (, March 25, 2002.

Gimme a break. A 2.25 negative englarged to 8x10 is grainier than an 8x10 contact print. It's the same film. The difference in size makes for a different degree of grain given an equivalent print size. -jb

-- jeff buckels (, March 25, 2002.

If someone wants to strictly play armchair numbers games, there are a very few MF lenses that can surpass the resolution that large format lenses routinely achieve. Mamiya 7 rangefinders, and likely some fujinon MF lenses come to mind. However out in the real world those small gains are almost always compromised for depth of field. At f22 the gains are equalized by diffraction. Then it's a simple matter of pluses in the LF column gained by perspective control and a negative 4X larger. There's no rocket science needed to figure out why the LF negs can hold together past the 16X20 print sizes. There's a lot of ignorance too. People will pay the big bucks for lenses that can resolve 95 lines at f11, then fill the freezer with Tri-X and D76 and couldn't get 55 lines on the neg because of grain size. OTOH if someone needs a 3X4" magazine picture the camera I'm going to grab has a 5 letter name that starts and ends with N. Think right tool for the job, not mine's bigger than yours.

-- Jim Galli (, March 25, 2002.

In my humble opinion . . .

Only the same is the same.

Everything else is different.

-- Steve Feldman (, March 25, 2002.

I think that in recent years,with advances in emulsions & optics,the gap has certainly narrowed.A 6x7 or 6x9 camera can now produce results that a few years ago would have required 4x5 negs!The next issue is that of enlarging 4x5 negs,unless the enlarger & lens are top quality,MF could have an edge here.

-- Edsel Adams (, March 25, 2002.

Of course film emulsions have improved and that's good. But, those improvements also affected the film used in larger cameras - not just medium format cameras. So, we are back to square one. There is no equivalence and there was never intended to be any. Each is a tool for a certain job. Any film/chemical used in one format can just as easily be used in a larger format. Grain is grain. In a 4x5 print you won't see a difference. In a 16x20 print you will.

-- Steve Gangi (, March 25, 2002.

Jim.....I read your thread without my glasses, but I'm glad to see that you love Contax.

-- Jonathan Brewer (, March 25, 2002.

I think that the depth of detail that you get when you increase neg size is what it's all about. The grain in ISO 100 colour films used in a large MF (6x7) format are superb. But you still see the nuances of detail in a 4x5 or 8x10 image that MF doesn't and never will have.

-- David Grandy (, March 25, 2002.

This sort of thread comes up periodically. I remember the first time I read a post from someone with rave reviews about a Minox picture that was sharper than LF, complete with all the math number crunching, etc. There's always a way to emphasize some factors and de- emphasize others those that don't support your argument.

If we backfill the claims that mf is equal or better than LF, then why sotp there? Why not make the analogy 35mm vs MF?

I use everything from 35mm to LF, including Technical Pan, Velvia, etc. Provided the subject is the same, nothing comes close to the impact that LF has on the viewer. Just use the right tool for the job, like 35mm for quick action sports, LF for landscape, MF for portrait, etc. Of course you can always use a format for something a different format is better suited for.

An 8x10 from a 4x5 will be so sharp you'll have to protect your eyes. It's statement that 'MF equals it' couldn't be uttered if pictures of the same subject matter on the same type of film were placed side by side.

A 4x6" print from a 35mm looks inferior to a 4x6" print from a MF 6.45, and is expecially obvious when the two are placed next to eachother.

-- Roger Urban (, March 25, 2002.

In my experience, the people arguing that MF is as sharp as LF are always the people using MF...

-- chris jordan (, March 25, 2002.

Um, er, ah surely it depends a little on what you mean by MF and what you mean by LF. Coupla years ago one of my pals stepped up from 25 mm to 6x4.5, or as we americans say, 2 1/4 x 2 3/4. Got himself a very nice Pentax 645 that does nearly everything for him. Slowed down, started thinking.

When he came by last spring, I showed him some 6x9, sorry, 2 1/4 x 3 1/4, EPP slides I shot with a 2x3 Speed Graphic and 101 Ektar. He's still stewing. If he doesn't abandon film for digital, a real possibility, I think he'll go 4x5.

-- Dan Fromm (, March 25, 2002.

There are some pencil sketches in museums by masters that are forever, timeless, and there'll be subject matter produced with expensive brushes, 35mm, MF, and LF that may make it to the top but it won't be because of what gear produced the sharpest 20x24 print.

Pencils, crayons, brushes, Holgas, Polaroid SX-70, Nikon, MF, LF, whatever the tool of choice, none of this makes the final difference. The idea is the final equalizer. Whoever comes up with the best idea transcends his gear.

I've got an old lens that I use on one of my 35mm cameras that's plenty soft compared to what's being sold today, but it's nice on head shots, if that's the look that I'm after.

There are just so many other considerations, processes, effects, that are just as important as the difference between the gear.

-- Jonathan Brewer (, March 26, 2002.

I shoot both MF and 5x4, and with T-max100 film the grain is near enough invisible in either format. In nearly every case where I've shot the same subject on both formats, my MF prints are actually sharper. I can think of several reasons for this:

Primarily, MF cameras are made to a MUCH higher standard of precision than any LF camera, and they hold the film flatter.
Secondly, no two 5x4 makers can agree what the register of a 5x4 camera ought to be. Should it be 5.5mm, 5mm, 4.8, 4.75? (The maker's attitude seems to be - Huh?, we don't know. We only make 'em. We don't have to use the darn things.) And in addition, most filmholders don't actually lie very flat against the camera back. Consider that it takes just a 0.2 mm error in film plane (the thickness of a sheet of film) to give a one metre discrepancy in focus at 10 metres with a 150mm lens. With a 90 mm lens the error is 3 metres in 10!

Then the exposure time with LF is almost invariably longer that its MF equivalent, leading to subject movement, no matter how slight, which takes the edge off sharpness.
Now add the effect of diffraction at the small apertures necessary with LF, and it's very easy to see why MF usually comes out on top in terms of sharpness.

What MF can't offer is a full range of camera movements, and that's where LF wins out.
I can honestly see no other advantage that LF gives these days.

-- Pete Andrews (, March 26, 2002.

Pete, there are several MF view cameras that DO offer "the full range of camera movements" -- my Toyo 23G is a scaled-down version of their 45G and has every movement available that it does -- and if you use a good quality back (in my experience, the Toyo backs are the best) and choose your lenses carefully, the resulting images will be comparable (not identical, mind you, but comparable) to those shot with a typical MF rangefinder or SLR.

-- Jeffrey Goggin (, March 26, 2002.

I shoot both MF and LF,IMHO, they are differents tools, it depends on what kind of photo you plan to shoot, and LF is not better than MF. I think sharpness is not all, when I look to a photo from a reasonable distance, I don't care about sharpness; The subject itself seems more important, then many other things like contrast, light, shades ....Anyway, since there is more silver to record each detail on a LF neg, it's obvious that you will get more informations on it. That means more nuances in the shades, more velvety in the textures, and many other things more! At the end, OK! you're right, MF can't match LF

-- (, March 26, 2002.

I did not intend the question to be rhetorical. If someone really thinks (I only shoot B&W) that there is a film/develper combination that is capable of making a print in 16X20 or larger which is, for all intents and purposes, indistinguishable from a 4X5 or larger in normal viewing conditions, tell me what to try and I will try it. There are now 17 responses, none of which answer that question. Everyone who thinks this isn't experience kind of agrees with that but there have been so many people declaring otherwise I wanted to ask a serious question without merely providing a platform for a rerun of the debate.

-- Kevin Crisp (, March 26, 2002.

What are you shooting now? 4x5? 8x10? What film and developer are you using? Old Turner-Reichs or new MC Apo-Symmars? Please give enough information that an informed response is possible. Thank you.

-- Willhelmn (, March 26, 2002.

Fair enough. 75% of the time I shoot 5X7, the rest is 4X5. Primary film choice is Tri-X, although I've been using the Arista 125 speed film (Hp4?) lately and like it. Generally Tri-X is developed in HC110 "B." Ditto for the Arista but I also like the way it works with Rodinal 1:50. In 4X5 it is usually Tri-X but sometimes TMAX 100 in d:76 1:1. Normally I use APO Schneider lenses, but I also use a variety of older unusual glass, not all of it coated. I agree that at normal viewing distances it is arguable that an 11X14 print off a medium format negative (say TMAX 100 or Agfapan 25, or HP4) is pretty close to a 4X5 with Tri-X. But people on this format are making claims with respect to much larger prints, and I'm interested to know what material choices they have made.

-- Kevin Crisp (, March 26, 2002.

Well I still won't answer your question Kevin but will add I'm finishing up a job for Pioneer Territory here in Nevada that required 14 20X30's and I used Mamiya 6X9 and Velvia. My customer is more than pleased and the resulting prints are adequate++! Sure I could've used 4X5 but the expense which turned out to be pretty tight made much more sense with rollfilm. I shot quite a bit of film before we narrowed things down. Would 4X5 have been superior in quality? Perhaps to some other photographers, but I made the pictures for "other than." I'll add also that the transition from traditional enlarger type color prints to scans and lightjet has added some quality making the use of the smaller camera even more possible.

That said, I haven't been able to make black and white pictures with the Mamiya that are satisfying to ME. That's who I make those for. I've used Ilford FP4 and PYRO and can't live with the grain in the sky at even 16X20 even though they are quite sharp. Like you I do those pics in 4X5, 5X7, and larger.

-- Jim Galli (, March 26, 2002.

I've been chasing this holy grail for years. Load up a 6x7 camera with Tech Pan and develop in Technidol, Ethol TEC or a similar developer. I would be using a p67 and my favorite and sharpest lens, the new 55mm f4. You will get some wonderful 22x28's (largest that I make)prints. If you use tech pan in a 4x5, the results will even better!

-- Gene Crumpler (, March 26, 2002.

I've got some Gigibit film and developer on order. I'm interested to see what that is all about, since I have used AGFA Copex before for pictorial photography.

-- Gene Crumpler (, March 26, 2002.

OK Kevin and Gene, now you got me thinking which is always dangerous. I've got a roll of Kodak Panatomic X aerial recon 5", and I've been having a great time using it in the 5X7. In the enlarger it's nearly impossible to focus because there isn't any grain to look at. About all you can do is find some contrasty lines. The stuff goes nuts in Pyro. It's also available in 70mm. It would be kind of fun to see what it would look like with the Mamiya 2.8 Planar, or the 75 f5.6. My complaint has always been grain and tonality, not sharpness.

-- Jim Galli (, March 26, 2002.

Jim: Good point. I agree this is a grain and tonality issue. With a good MF lens things are plenty sharp. And areas of contrast hide grain, but it's the grainy sky which usually is the reality check.

-- Kevin Crisp (, March 26, 2002.

The area of a 4x5 negative is 114 cm2(95mmx120mm=), whereas a 6x7 negative is 41.1 cm2 (57mm x 72mm), for an area ratio of only 2.77 (114/41.1). That's just a little more than TWICE as large. Any major change to modern equipment or materials (TMax100 in Xtol instead of Tri-X in HC-110), or using the latest MC Zeiss or Pentax instead of a Kodak Ektar or Goerz Dagor (my favorite lens) can easily allow comparable enlargements. In addition, the increased depth of field of MF lenses may well allow for MORE visible details on the negative/print. 16x20 is a piece of cake; how much larger...?

-- Wihlman (, March 26, 2002.

I use 6x7 and 4x5. I usually can't tell the difference between prints made from the two at 11x14 but usually can at 16x20. IMHO, whenever anyone starts talking about how great a 16x20print they got from a 35 mm negative, or how great a 20x30 print they got from a medium format negative, you're looking at someone who doesn't do their own darkroom work. When you do you're own printing, and begin with say an 8x10 print then work your way up to 11x14 and 16x20 from the same negative, the loss in quality as you get larger is very clear except with 4x5 negatives (and I'm sure from 8x10 too but I never enlarge my 8x10 negatives). With 35 mm, I see the difference as soon as I go from a 6x9 inch print to an 8x10. With 6x7 I see the difference in going from 11x14 to 16x20 when making prints in those two sizes from the same negative. I'd be amazed if the person who says a 20x30 print from a medium format negative is as good as a print from a 4x5 negative has ever actually made 20x30 prints from the two negative sizes.

-- Brian Ellis (, March 27, 2002.

I was cleaning up last night and had a chance to look at some samples of Tech Pan enlarged to 16 x20 from a 6x6 negative. Even with a 7x loupe, the grain in the print is hard to see. The print looks like butter.

-- Gene Crumpler (, March 28, 2002.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ