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It’s Not Just the Better Resolution: This Is Why Digital Cannot Compete With Large Format

It’s pretty well understood that large format is in a league of its own for resolution and depth of field. The real difference, however, lies elsewhere. 

In this video by Mat Marrash, Marrash covers one of the most important and arguably confusing topics of large format photography. That is, front and rear camera movements. Marrash may well be one of the most knowledgeable and respected film photographers you’ve never heard of given his lack of an Instagram, and his Large Format Friday series on YouTube having only recently started. He was featured alongside several big names in the film world in 2019’s Film Photography Paideia for his close association with The Film Photography Project.

This video is ninth in his series exclusively about large format photography that has been a helpful primer to me and others who are looking to increase their knowledge on a photography format that couldn’t be further from the digital SLR and mirrorless cameras we’ve come to know.

In digital photography, tilt shift lenses can be purchased to perform some of the same functions but those lenses are generally very expensive and are offered in a much smaller selection. These lenses, however, cannot perform functions of front rise/fall or rear tilt – all of which provide important functions that can really take a photograph to the next level. Photoshop can emulate some of these additional functions but there’s no substitution for the real thing. Despite some of the functions being possible in Photoshop, the idea of incorporating rise/fall, tilt, and shift into one image which is viewed upside down on the ground glass is admittedly quite intimidating to me as the only practice I’ve had with large format has been with an old press camera where there are limited to no movements. 

Are you experienced with large format photography? If so and you have any examples of shots where you heavily leaned on the front and/or back movements, please share them in the comments. 

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George Stewart's picture

I spent many years shooting 8x10 large format and I'd say that digital has surpassed film in nearly every way, not to mention resolution, smoothness of tone, as well as focus and perspective control. First, focus stacking and stitching allows for much higher resolution than a single shot from LF. This includes both landscapes and portrait photography. If the situation wouldn't allow stitching or stacking, it likely wouldn't support the use of a large format camera to begin with. Further more, the adaptive wide angle filter, in Photoshop, gives for complete curvature and perspective control of the final image. Finally, the use of a small digital camera certainly trumps the logistics involved in the use of large format equipment and the development, scanning and printing of film. Put simply, I can beat large format most of the time with a small digital hand camera.