709 Megapixels: Examining the Insane Detail a Large Format Camera Can Produce

Even today's most beastly medium format cameras top out at 100 megapixels, and the size of their sensors pale in comparison to the behemoth footprint of an 8x10 film sheet. Check out this awesome video that examines just how much detail large format photography can provide.

Coming to you from Ben Horne, this fun video follows him as he closely examines a 709-megapixel drum scan of an 8x10 image. Large format photography (unlike medium format) is an entirely different beast (notice how he refers to his 150mm lens as his "wide-angle lens") that requires a different workflow and a lot of attention to technical parameters, but the payoff is huge negatives that provide an unbelievable amount of detail and a look that simply can't be replicated. As a result, Horne ends up with a digital file that's almost 30,000 pixels on the long side and weighs in at an astounding 4 GB for the TIFF file, but it appears the unwieldy size is worth it. If you're wondering, Horne mentions on his Instagram that he used Velvia 50 film for the shot. Velvia 50 is a beautiful choice for landscapes and probably the film I'd recommend if you want to try shooting landscapes on film. 

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27 Comments

*DETAIL* is what matters, not Megapixels. You could take a half frame negative and scan it with an electron microscope to get a 500Gb TIFF file, but the detail would not be there, it would just be *grain* you are scanning. Yes 8x10" LF has a wonderful look, mainly from the giant sheet size requiring a standard lens of 240-300mm, so you get a certain bokeh from standard lens portraits that is very hard to replicate in smaller formats. But please don't mix up big scan size with image detail/resolution - they are not the same thing!

I look at a lot of very high end 8x10 and 5x7" sheet film images, often printed huge - 80x120" for example - and they are simply not as sharp as a good 100mp digital camera file. Sorry, but it just happens to be true. I work with and know most of the high end art photographers in NYC, and almost every one of them has shifted over to digital MF. The only reason to stay in LF film is the look and methodology. If that suits you, and what you do, then great - please keep at it. It is a special look, and I'm happy if it works for you, just don't tell me its sharper, with 700+ Mp resolution. Scanned file size does not equal resolution!

Except he views the image at 100% with plenty of detail in the scan, discusses the grain (or lack thereof) in the scan, and the title of the article is *literally* "Examining the Insane DETAIL a Large Format Camera Can Produce".

In short, your rant has nothing to do with the article.

Matthew Saville's picture

Most of the article titles that shared this Youtube video have definitely focused on the wrong thing.

If you watch the video and pay close attention, Ben specifically mentions that his foremost goal in "pixel-peeping" this deeply is to study the DOF of the image, more so than the per-pixel detail level. Because with 8x10, DOF is extremely shallow and precise movements (usually tilt / swing, google "scheimpflug") are needed in order to properly maximize DOF. And the only way to know if your precise camera movements were as good as they possibly could have been, is to go nuts with the scan resolution.

William Murray's picture

All the usual comments (although fewer than elsewhere).

When someone starts making gigapixel large format digital sensors, at a price that wouldn't comfortably pay for a luxury jet, please do let us know.

But sure, we can all keep pretending that our dinky little digital sensors are "better" than large format to justify our emotional investments.

William Murray's picture

You mean just as long as you are prepared to only apply the technique to subjects with no movement, and to spend hours in post to stitch.

As I said, whatever helps you justify your emotional investment.

William Murray's picture

I don't suppose you are aware of things such as ocean waves, or wind that moves leaves and grass.

But, yeah, if you take over 20 frames of FF (I'll be generous and allow that you have a 50MP sensor; but of course you'll want overlap) and then stitch them you'll come close to 8x10.

Take you self-justifying bs somewhere else.

Edit: minutes? Really? I can well imagine the absolute crap you are producing. But then, any hack can use Photoshop's automate function.

Edit 2: 10 minutes later and I'm still absolutely stunned at the fact you think the only subject that has motion is action.

William Murray's picture

"Cheaper"? That's very debatable given that digital locks most users into an upgrade cycle. So, the Nikon D850 is $5,500 in my part of the world. Which will be great for the next 4 years until a bunchof 70MP sensors are released (in this respect see the GFX50 and the soon to be released 100MP).

But let's go apples for apples here. I shoot 6x6 (most often on 70 year old cameras, which have spectacular optics) which will give comperable resolution to 100MP medium format, for which we are looking at a set up cost of a minimum of $15,000 through to god knows what for the Phase One. That's a hell of a lot of film.

Likewise, you could argue that the 400MP Hasselblad outputs about the same resolution as 4x5, except it does so by combining 6 frames, is is ONLY any use for absolutely static subjects, and the set up cost is $70,000 give or take.

You need to understand that (large fomat in particular) film has a particular work flow. Shoots are rigorously planned in advance, and the photographer may shoot one or two frames. The cost argument is moot.

With regard to resolution equivilence, 35mm will (empirically) yeild the equivilent of 24MP, and theoretically 82MP. This equates to 400MP for 4x5 and 1.2GP for 8x10

There is also an assertion floating around that film is objectively better; film handles contrast differently to digital, and its non-linear response means that it has a superior response in the highlights. For portraiture, film is exceptional; a fact that many wedding photographers realise, and I'm not talking about the hacks, I'm talking about the photographers who charge $5,000 for a shoot.

That said I'm currently chasing a particular aesthetic/palette in my landscape work, and film produces that out of camera,, digital does not.

As to the last time I stitched, a couple of weeks ago. It was an extraordinarily complex landscape, and it took me over two hours to blend two frames.

William Murray's picture

When you have no response you simply issue a blanket denial, such as, "that's not even true" (because your 1"sensor will produce a > 100MP file - wtf is wrong with you?), and then there's the appeal to personal experience; forgive me if I trust the high end guys who have performed rigorous testing and comparisons.

Thanks for playing.

Not only do you appear to be completely ignorant of film, you seem to be completely ignorant of financial calculus as it pertains to capital aquisition. It simply doesn't occur to you that the cost of film is spread out over time.

It's all the usual ad hoc immunising crap that is so common. And still you try to convince yourself that your tiny little sensor is better than large format.

But, for the third time, whatever helps you justify your emotional investment. Cognitive dissonance is a bitch.

Edit: As to current testing, I watched precisely such a test the other day with the D850 against a 503CM running portra. Good luck retrieving those blown out highlights.

Edit 2: I didn't say cost is irrelivant, I said your argument is moot.

Edit 3: if I wanted to be disingenuous; I would have quoted Ken Rockwell, who discusses the comparison on the basis of Velvia's theoretical resolution (87MP for 35mm), however he does make an excellent point re the Bayer filter.

William Murray's picture

Ummm, the point is that if you overexpose... but yeah, you only get an extra 4 stops out of film at the high end; when you're dealing with white dresses and skin tones in bright sunlight, who would ever want such a thing? But then digital starts falling apart when underexposed, so what's it to be?

Who on Earth would believe that you shoot large format at the same volumes as digital? (A point I explicitly made twice already).

You're trying way too hard.

Edit: this is Bob

Bob shot 1,500 frames of 8x10 in a day.

Don't be like Bob.

William Murray's picture

Well, if you want to shoot high volume, or you want immediate review, or you only need smaller outputs, or you need to turn out your product to client within an hour or so, you may just consider shooting digital. It is astonishing that this needs to be stated.

Sure, I can spend $50k setting up a 100MP medium format system, or I can set up a large format system for $1,000 (and when 8x10 is scanned for a 400MP output is mind bendingly sharp).

Again, you simply cannot grasp that there is a different cost calculus between digital and film, or for that matter that they are different tools.

It almost seems as though you know nothing about business, Bob...

Edit: HDR *shudder*

William Murray's picture

HDR looks like HDR = absolutely awful.

I have a sneeking suspicion that I could troll you and keep you going all day. Sadly, I have wasted far too much time on you already.

Agreed. Usual characters who just can't walk away from an article on film photography. They just HAVE to disparage it in the name of the Almighty Digital Sensor. Obviously if they don't, the digital gods will get angry and will make them develop film rolls again.

To those digital gearheads who cant leave well enough alone: there is no difference between this article/video and the numerous posts about gigapixel stitching. NONE. They are different techniques to achieve the same result. Move along.

Michael Holst's picture

I find it's laughably predictable by now.

Pieter Batenburg's picture

This is not exactly light and portable. Only for the truly dedicated.

Reading this and other similar discussions make me feel like I'm reading a restaurant review that only describes the quality of the salt. Now, I like salt (probably too much) and I shoot almost entirely 8x10 and some 4x5 large format so I get the allure of all of the detail and image quality, but there's more to it than just the "salt."

I typed a very long reply to expand on/clarify my comment, but then I deleted it. I'll stick with my original comment. All while I snack on my salty potato chips :)

joe sharp's picture

It would be fun to see you scan that photo at home at a lower setting and then print a 24X30 from each scan. I would bet you can't tell the 2 apart. I only shoot black and white film and have found with it there is no value in the higher res. scans for prints. I will also add that since I got my newest full frame DLSR the film camera has had very little use.

Hans Rosemond's picture

What in the world does this article have to do with digital vs film? Seems like a pretty straightforward exercise done by Horne for curiosity’s sake.

Although Alex mentions a 100MP camera, He never says one is better or worse. He just compares the size of the sensor to the sheet of film to put 700MP into context.

No one is saying digital is better or worse.

William Murray's picture

Nothing; but people have become extraordinarily emotionally invested in digital, and so will dump on film at every single opportunity.

William Murray's picture

It hasn't occured to you that I've heard a bunch of people try to assert that miniature format digital will out perform an 80 square inch sheet of film a bunch of times and that I find this to be utterly absurd and irritating.

William Murray's picture

Cool story bro.

Hans Rosemond's picture

It’s not being discouraged. I’m pointing out that it’s largely irrelevant to the content of the article. But hey, whatever floats your boat.

I should have said neither the video nor the author of the article said anything about digital being better or worse.

As for stitching, sure! if it’s a static landscape or portrait, go for it.

Hans Rosemond's picture

Have you seen the Brenizer method? It’s pretty cool, actually. Not something I’d do, but the effect is pretty similar to larger formats.

William Murray's picture

And btw, Bob, if I was so emotionally invested in film, I wouldn't be shooting 50 times the volume on digital that I do on film.

It must be terrible when people don't swallow your crap wholesale.

William Murray's picture

You made it about you when you took great exception to my comment, and then spent the best part of a day arguing your position under my comment.

I wonder whether your work is terrible, as is so common with such people.

Jacques Cornell's picture

A useful reminder to all the “full-frame” evangelists who deride smaller formats that 35mm has always been “small format”.

William Murray's picture

Just stitch, they say. It's easy, they say...