200 megapixels digital stitching image vs medium format film

Well, it’s time for one more comparison. I love shooting film, especially medium format, since I believe there are certain qualities in film that I cannot get with digital. This is based on my personal taste about how an image looks, and over time I have found myself liking more the film version of a subject rather than the digital one. A good Provia or Velvia frame, or even a good negative like the Portra series provides color which is difficult for me to replicate in post process when shooting a digital camera. Also the tonality of medium format film is something I like very much.

One more great asset of medium format film (6×7 and larger size) it’s the ability to print in large sizes due to the huge size of the negative. Today, there are cameras like the Canon 5D Mark II or the recently anounced Nikon D800 (with its 36 megapixels sensor) that I am sure will be more than able to compete and surpass a 6×9 negative. Given the fact that I don’t own a drum scanner it’s inevitable that what I am getting from my Coolscan 9000 cannot really provide the full information there is in a film frame.

But digital has also one more advantage, and that’s the ability to shoot sequential images that overlap each other and stitch them together using Photoshop or a more dedicated software like Autopano Pro, in order to get a multi megapixels final image. There is really no limit to that, the more images you shoot the more megapixels you will get in your final composition. Now, there are some obstacles in this technique. If there are moving subjects or elements in your frame they will most likely appear blurry. Also, you don’t get to use filters like a polarizer, so you will have to emulate that in post process (which cannot always replicate the look of a real polarizer depending on the situation).

Finally, shooting sequential images requires good technique if you want the final image to be very good. A tripod is a must, you have to be careful about levels and you will probably mess with finding the nodal point to avoid parallax, or even invest in a good panoramic head. I have done digital stitching handheld and the results were quite good but certainly not to the level of printing large with the ultimate sharpness and image quality.

On the other hand, shooting a 6×9 medium format camera like the Fuji GSW690 for example or even a larger format like 6×17, allows you to frame your subject at once, use any filters you like and get the final image with just one click. It will also allow you to capture any subjects you want, including moving elements. I much prefer to do it this way but I also have enjoyed making images by stitching sequential digital images.

I recently found two images in my archive that included the same subject. One was taken with the Sony NEX 5N and the Leica Elmar 135mm f4 lens, a series of about 60 sequential images which lead to a 200 megapixels panoramic image, and the other one shot with the Fuji GSW690iii 6×9 medium format camera loaded with Fuji Astia 100F.

I decided to take some time and examine closer the two images, and post some crops in order to show the differences among these two photos. Below you can see the image which was made from digital stitching. Its a 31200×6670 image which totals 200 megapixels at size. You can click on the image to see larger size version.

The second image below is the one taken with the 6×9 film camera. Scanned at 4000DPI gave me a 12700×6223 image (about 80 megapixels, although they are not exactly comparable to a 80mp digital file). You can also click on it to see a larger size.

(I could crop the film image to more panoramic ratio to look more like the digital one but I didn’t because I wanted to show the sky, which is the result of using a polarizing filter).

Now, there are numbers on the images which as you can suspect show the part of the image from which the crops were taken of. Starting with number one, here are the two crops.

Let’s go to number two crop.

So, the difference is of course obvious, in terms of resolution digital winds hands down as it was expected. Still, the resolution that is hidden in a single frame of film is stunning. In this case, it was rather easy to compose this image since there were really no moving subjects. But in other cases that may not be so easy, without involving a great effort and time in post process. In this case also, I much prefer the color and tones of the film, and given the fact that I used a polarizer filter (which I couldn’t do in the stitch) provided me with a great sky and beautiful color. I am sure that with post process the digital image could look even better, but I am not really fond of spending hours in front of my monitor screen. Both images have the ability to be printed at large sizes (even larger for the digital version), and it all comes down in the effort someone is willing to spend at the field or in front of a monitor screen.

There’s no right or wrong, both ways can provide you with huge size files to make big prints. Now, a very good test I will probably do is compare a stitch from the Nikon D800E (which I have pre-ordered) against 6×9 or 6×17 film. The 36 megapixels sensor of the Nikon will require fewer images than my 16mp NEX 5N, so the whole process will be faster on the field.

(c)2012 Konstantinos Besios. All Rights Reserved.

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One Response to 200 megapixels digital stitching image vs medium format film

  1. Myko says:

    Hello Konstantinos,

    If you want to try stitching in 2 planes to get larger frames and not just panoramas have a look at our site: http://www.multistitch.com.

    Best regards, -Myko

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