Large Format Is Still Completely Unrivaled: Canon 5DS R Versus 4x5 Large Format Film

Over the last couple of months, I've been getting to know a photographer called Adam French who lives in the same city as me. French is a photographer who primarily shoots with a large format film camera. I was utterly blown away by some of the work he produced, and I asked him if he'd be interested in working with us on a YouTube video. 

In the video linked above, we decided to compare a 50-megapixel full-frame camera, the Canon 5DS R, to a large format 4x5 film camera. The lenses we used for the comparison were the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art on the Canon versus a 180mm f/2.9 lens on the 4x5 camera. If you're interested in what the equivalents are, then the large-format lens would be somewhat similar to a 50mm lens with an aperture of around f/0.8 on a full-frame camera. This kind of depth of field is simply ridiculous, and currently, nothing like this exists for any digital camera produced by any of the well-known manufacturers. Even if you're shooting with a digital medium format camera, it simply isn't possible to produce that kind of depth of field natively. 

Check out the full video to see the kind of results you can produce with large format compared to a high-resolution full frame camera. You can find all the images here.

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Mark Wyatt's picture

Nice video. I have a couple of 4x5 cameras to restore (Graflex/SpGraphic types). Not on top of my to-do list, but I want to play with some large format.

Ken Flanagan's picture

I’ve been shooting my 4x5 almost exclusively for the past year, and it creates beautiful results. Is it for everyone? No. It’s a pain in the a$$ to lug around, but it’s a labor of love for me.

Kurt Hummel's picture

I would’ve liked to see more of that tripod the large format was on, that thing looked rock solid.
I would love to try and learn large format or even medium format film but I still haven’t mastered digital, it’s so interesting to me though.

Usman Dawood's picture

I'm so jealous of that tripod Adam has. He got it for FREE...

It's a beast and I want it lol.

EL PIC's picture

For Kicks .. Get your cameras from Route 66.. This is the Real Look of Large Format !!

Mark Wyatt's picture

Nice concept- get the 4x5 "look", skip the negative and go straight to digitization. May need some optical tricks...

Is the ground glass still in place? That would make it more interesting but challenging.

EL PIC's picture

Its a Halloween Gag .. Digital Sensors are not very good at off axis illumination.

Mark Wyatt's picture

bummer. I do see that Fotodiox does sell 4x5 adaptors though.

Usman Dawood's picture

Could a lens cast calibration work? We normally use that method when shooting with tech cameras on Phase Backs.

EL PIC's picture

Too many calibration values to be practical in my opinion.
It’s just s gag .. Trick or Treat .. Trick !!

Usman Dawood's picture

Ah ok thats a shame. Thank you for clarifying :-).

EL PIC's picture

I think the experiment did prove that Tilt and Swing is DOA on present technology sensors.

But ... if sensors were on a flexible medium ... you could have Tilt Swing and maybe even roll film sensors.

Tony Northrup's picture

Thanks for doing that test! Now I REALLY want one of those 4x5 cameras, especially with the instant film.

Looking at the image download links you provided, the 5DS-R pictures definitely seem to have greater detail and overall technical quality than the 4x5 film camera... which is interesting to note because many people have asked if modern cameras can outdo medium & large format film cameras for large landscape prints, and the answer seems to be "yes"... though I still wonder about 8x10 film. But the 4x5 film camera, especially with that shallow DoF, has an amazing look that you just can't reproduce with the Canon rig.

Mark Wyatt's picture

Usman did say that the lens used on the 4x5 is not really sharp, so I would not judge based on that comparison.

Usman Dawood's picture

Thank you so much for the comment, Tony. I'd say that it depends on the lens. The lenses we used on the 4x5 were super soft and not really designed to produce highly detailed images. I think with an actual sharp lens large format may be able to produce significantly better and more detailed images. Having said that I think lenses like the ones from the Otus series may outperform any Large format lens so not a clear cut answer, unfortunately.

What might be useful to do is to compare and test large-format against full-frame with some sharp lenses to see what kind of results each can produce at their respective best. I'll see if I can do that next.

Why did you use lenses that you knew were soft in some kind of comparo about large format being unrivaled?

Usman Dawood's picture

Because most of not all of the lenses that are super sharp don’t have apertures as wide as f2.9 which would results in a very different type of comparison. I wasn’t trying to produce the sharpest most detailed image I was discussing the kind of look you can produce.

I might however do a comparison to show the the kind of details you can produce with large format. Let me see if I can get something going for that.

The title of your article is "Large Format Is Still Completely Unrivaled: Canon 5DS R Versus 4x5 Large Format Film" without really explaining what you mean by "unrivaled" .

Then you used oddball lenses, (fwiw lenses I never heard of or used when I was shooting large format) vs a high quality modern lens for the canon.
So the comparo, I am not sure what it was about, creative focus fall off? Why not then use equally oddball lenses on the the Canon like one of the Lensbaby lenses or a pinhole lens to get some equally oddball result.

Or better yet treat the two cameras like the different tools that they are and and not do the clickbaity title and show what kind of funky stuff you can get using funky lenses on a 4x5. You seem to doing alternative process with the 4x5, and regular run of the mill photos with the canon, then declaring the 4x5 to be unrivaled.


Usman Dawood's picture

Well can you produce images with full frame that have apertures of around f0.7 or wider in terms of equivalent depth of field?

I talk about aspects like the medium format look and based on that the context is quite clear.

Also I shot with the smallest version of large format. I’m kind of scratching the surface here. If you shoot with an 8x10 with more regular lenses that have f5.6 apertures that’s still equivalent to about f0.7.

In your video, are the the full lengths shots of Lucy under the tree supposed to be similar? If you look at how the trees and the river(?) in the far background are different sizes, while she is more or less the same size, it looks to me that the 50mm on the DSLR is too wide of a lens and maybe an 85mm 1.2 or a 105mm 1.4 shot wide open would have been a closer comparison to the "look" from the 4x5. The background would have more blur than with the 50mm, closer matching the 4x5.
I am still not sure about what unrivaled means in this story. Is it the blur and falloff of focus? Resolution? Torque?

PS when you talk about the "medium format look" it would be good to show examples as the 6x6 or 6x7 MF film look is different from the MF digital look. I think sometimes people confuse the two.

Usman Dawood's picture

I get the feeling you skimmed through the video. I discuss a bunch of the points you bring up.

I watched it a couple times...I guess I'm missing something.

charlie sanders's picture

Luminosity masks fixes dynamic range discrepancies unfortunately, no monitors or printing techniques are capable of rendering, tilt shift lens and stacked panoramas can overload some computers.

Usman Dawood's picture

Yea we had to scale images to 100mp just to make them manageable. Scanning at full resolution would have been way too much to handle and overkill too.

Fashion shooters in the late 80's mid 90s did beautiful work on large format...and its pretty close to being a lost art. Paolo Roversi here....large format....long before photoshop existed.

Rob Fry's picture

An excellent image but I'll bet it's had a lot of darkroom manipulation - old school photoshop!

Oh sure....everything from over-developing the film itself ( that was an art of its own back in the day...push processing) plenty of dodge and burning...contrast filters in the enlarger...paper choice, toners. Everyone worked on their darkroom "style" just as much as modern day editing "style".

Rob Fry's picture

Damn I miss working with film now!!

Ron Pogue's picture

Yes increased focal length is a factor in the difference here, but so is retro-focal distance, the reason large format cameras produce such shallow dof is greatly in part to the much larger distance between the lens and the film plane. This is most noticeable with 8x10, and is technically a 'flaw' or limitation, though beautiful...

Mark Wyatt's picture

I would call it a "feature", but your descriptions are not incorrect. It is this "feature" that led some early/mid 20th century photographers to create the "f64" group! I guess to them, it was more of a "flaw" (i.e., trying to achieve great depth of field with large format cameras).

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