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Help me understand MFD superiority

surfotog

New member
Although I don't currently use MFD, I enjoy this forum. It seems that the general consensus is that virtually any MFDB will easily outclass even the best 35mm based DSLR in IQ. I gather there are many reasons for this, greater bit depth, high quality ADC's, and perhaps higher quality supporting electronics.
Allow me to ask a hypothetical question for educational purposes. It won't be long before the next generation of high-res DSLR's are on the scene. Chances are good they will be in the 35-40 MP range. IF, and I stress IF, a 35mm DSLR with a 40MP sensor were to be introduced that had no AA, the same quality supporting components as a 40MP MFDB, could IQ be the same? I realize that differences in optics have to be considered, as well as the different look of MF due to DOF differences.
So the basic question is: Every thing else being equal, will a MFDB always produce superior results? If so, why?
Please help enlighten a non-tech savvy old fart, who still prefers to shoot MF B&W film.
 

dougpeterson

Workshop Member
Well I'm having a few refreshments at the bar in the Pittsburgh airport so I'll share my thoughts...

In theory - absolutely
There ARE engineering limitations to overcome as you decrease micron size (which you have to do as you increase resolution on the same small sensor). However, I don't think it's impossible to imagine that continue technological development would allow a 4 micron pixel to outperform todays 6 micron pixel (e.g. P65+). However it is an uphill battle technology wise - it is simply MUCH easier to maintain high image quality with larger sensors. A P65+ is MUCH larger than a full frame dSLR. See below:


However there are two very good reasons why I would be shocked to see "in theory" become reality.

1. The "Complete" System
Here is a partial list of a camera system which effect image quality (more or less start-to-finish):
Lens Hood / Flare > Lens coating > lens > aperture/shutter > body's blackness > IR filter > microlenses > AA filter (or lack thereof) > sensor size > sensor pixel type > readout speed > sensor-to-AD-convertor path, A/D convertor > heat sinking / cooling > raw file compression > black calibration > in camera raw data manipulation > characteristic curve > ICC profile > demosaic algorithm > deconvolution algorithm > noise reduction type > up-res or down-res algorithm > sharpening

If Canon/Nikon/Sony wanted to compete IQ wise with digital backs they would have to address most or all of the above issues. It's not a sensor, or a bit depth, or an ADC, or any individual component that makes the difference - it is the complete system.

2. Business Model
IF it was Canon (or Nikon or Sony) business model was to produce a camera which produced the highest image quality regardless of cost or compromise then they could. They are larger companies with more resources than any of the medium format market, and while Phase/Hassy/Leaf/Sinar/Mamiya have very talented and experienced engineers (software/hardware/firmware/optical) and patents on some important technologies, but in the grand scheme of things Canon/Nikon/Sony could roll over them in a heart beat (meaning within a camera generation or two) if they threw their weight behind it. But they haven't so far and my guess is they never* will.

It's like asking Ford to produce a competitor to the Tesla Roadster. It's not their business model - it's not what they do and it's not how they make money.

Put yourself in the shoes of the management of Canon - you have to direct R+D and pricing/value decisions on a new camera. Your CFO informs you that you've made XXX million profit on Point and Shoots, XX million profit on 5DII, and X million profit on the 1Ds III. Your Chief Pro Engineer (made up title) informs you they can change the ADC on the 1Ds IV to a high quality 16 bit A/D convertor but it will cost $XXX per unit in direct manufacturing costs and the efforts will be wasted unless you invest $XX million in R+D on new lens coatings (raising the price of each lens) internal baffling and the results will be mostly seen when using EOS Utility (Canon's proprietary developer) and not in Aperture, Adobe Camera Raw or LightRoom (which 9X% of your users use). OR you could use that R+D to add a slightly faster AF sensor, or a slightly larger LCD which will not improve IQ but which will get a LOT of attention amongst the majority of your customers. Where would you spend your R+D?

As a case study take CMOS vs. CCD. There is no doubt that CMOS is more convienent. It has (at the high-end) better high-ISO performance and allows for both video (e.g. darn good 1080p using a 5DII) and live preview which is, simply put, a GREAT convenience for photographers. However CCD still has the edge right now on color, dynamic range, noise at low ISOs, and tonal transitions / look. If Canon made the 1Ds III a CCD based camera they would have made a modestly better IQ camera but they would have been slaughtered in sales by Nikon's D3X (because of ISO, shooting speed, live preview). See the M9, Pentax 645D, nearly every digital back every made, the R9's digital module, and the Kodak 14n for examples of just how great CCD image quality can be and what kind of companies opt for CCD over CMOS.

And basically every component is like this: there is always a compromise associated with going the route of best image quality. There is no "magic" of medium format - just the natural result of well experienced and hard working companies using larger sensors with lots of R+D for all parts of the system targeted at image quality as the number one priority.

Also the market for very-high-end cameras is pretty broad but shallow and requires a much different approach than the markets Canon/Nikon/Sony currently pursue: fine art shooters, high-end fashion, high-end still-life/product, architecture, landscape, museums (art reproduction), forensics, aerial (both artistic and mapping/technical). Almost all require a very hands-on knowledgable approach - they aren't boxes like a Canon 5DII which you order online and open and use. So to sell a very high-end camera Canon/Sony/Nikon would need to add a new form of distribution world-wide, offer product margins that allow vendors to do more than buy and sell boxes (I'm obviously not allowed to tell you what we make off a Canon sale but suffice it to say that the number of value-added, very knowledgable, very hands-on dealers of Canon that make their money primarily on selling Canon cameras is very low), and add a support structure above and beyond their current "pro" service (NPS and CPS - I'm not aware if Sony has a Pro Service system).


*I'm a very technical guy so "never" in this case means in the foreseeable future which I'd put at around 10-15 years. More than 10-15 years out I can't even begin to guess and whether there will be something that resembles a dSLR or medium format camera. We may all be walking around with cameras embedded in our eyes.

Got to catch my flight now...

I'll leave you with the following thought: an H25 which was released in 2003 still handily beats a 1Ds III or 5D II in every area of image quality (other than moire). It's FAR less convenient (no LCD, only shoots tethered, maxes out at ISO100 for good quality, and only shoots 1 frame every 2 seconds or so) but the image quality is still superior - after 7 years of dSLR development.

Doug Peterson (e-mail Me)
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GrahamWelland

Subscriber & Workshop Member
Great write up Doug. I think that you nailed the commercial considerations there.

With respect to CaNikSony and producing an imaging tour de force, I guess it just takes someone to have the cajones as exhibited by VW and the Bugatti Veyron / W12 vehicles to show us what technically they could do on a limited but $$$$$ basis. I know that Sony used to produce a line of super premium audio & p&s digital gear like this, although nothing along the lines of a medium format or DSLR platform.
 

Bill Caulfeild-Browne

Well-known member
Great essay, Doug! You must have had a really good drink!

Another point worth making is - what's the point of going with more pixels except for very specialized purposes? How many of us actually make prints much bigger than, say, a P65+ will easily produce? I doubt the "mass" DSLR market makes any prints much more than 20 inches or so. So other than bragging rights, I'm not sure of the value of a 40 MP DSLR.

Bit off the OP's question...sorry!

Bill
 
S

Simon Revill

Guest
Great insight Doug ! thanks for taking the time to reply !!
 

Guy Mancuso

Administrator, Instructor
Great essay, Doug! You must have had a really good drink!

Another point worth making is - what's the point of going with more pixels except for very specialized purposes? How many of us actually make prints much bigger than, say, a P65+ will easily produce? I doubt the "mass" DSLR market makes any prints much more than 20 inches or so. So other than bragging rights, I'm not sure of the value of a 40 MP DSLR.

Bit off the OP's question...sorry!

Bill
Sounds like a afternoons worth of drinking. LOL
 

Dolce Moda

New member
Size matters.

I "used" to shoot with a Canon 1DsMkIII and recently acquired a "old" Phase One P30 that I shoot with my Hasselblad 553ELX.

The difference is nothing short of amazing. You have to see the files side by side. I recently shot an editorial 50% with each camera. I am now convinced. I am seriously considering putting the Canon for sale.
The only thing the DSLR is superior at is high ISO and autofocus. The majority of my work is done in studio under controlled conditions. It would make more sense to rent for the rare cases
where I need the DSLR.
 

Guy Mancuso

Administrator, Instructor
In all truth the basic bigger is better when we talked about film still holds a candle when we talk about digital. I just got the Sony 850 24mpx gee wez wonder and it is very very nice but my P40+ files just smoke it. That is not a dig on Sony it is just facts. It's very very hard to beat CCD sensors this big at the lower ISO's on the IQ side. Functionally and use wise sure there is a difference. People get these confused sometimes if your talking the best IQ than MF is it if your talking most useful than the DSLR's are better at that end.
 
G

GASC

Guest
Size matters.

I "used" to shoot with a Canon 1DsMkIII and recently acquired a "old" Phase One P30 that I shoot with my Hasselblad 553ELX.

The difference is nothing short of amazing. You have to see the files side by side. I recently shot an editorial 50% with each camera. I am now convinced. I am seriously considering putting the Canon for sale.
The only thing the DSLR is superior at is high ISO and autofocus. The majority of my work is done in studio under controlled conditions. It would make more sense to rent for the rare cases
where I need the DSLR.
That's funny, I had a similar idea recently.
Generally the discurse is, I own a dslr and rent a MFD when needed. But if you think about it, the opposite is more logical.

And I see that those questionnings about what are the magical properties of MF will never end world wide.

Now, I'd also like to report something. Today I was walking in Madrid back home and I passed by a mole. Sunday, closed, but there was this 3 meters of a brand advertising of a campaign we made this summer iluminating the street.
I went close to the window, about 50cm from the pic and beleive me, the print was absolutly gorgeous, very very fine detail. But I know what camera was used, we did it. It was a 5D2 pic.
Honestly guys, I don't know if the lab was a genius, but I've never seen before such a good quality on that size from the 35mm. Did printing have evolved recently?

I'll make an enquiry and report.
 
G

GASC

Guest
Yes. Fractals Pro and more advanced programms can blow up images like crazy.
I had a Fractal pro some years ago but it was not capable to the result I saw. Now maybe the latest versions and as you said, probably other more powerfull industrial software is involved. I will ask tomorrow.

Cheers.
 

David Schneider

New member
I went close to the window, about 50cm from the pic and beleive me, the print was absolutly gorgeous, very very fine detail. But I know what camera was used, we did it. It was a 5D2 pic.
Honestly guys, I don't know if the lab was a genius, but I've never seen before such a good quality on that size from the 35mm. Did printing have evolved recently?

I'll make an enquiry and report.
First, excellent post by Doug. Thank you for your insights. Great to hear the realities.

Second, I personally don't want to wait for an improvement in quality from a dslr when there's something that will deliver better quality right now. Life is too short to dance with ugly women when there's plenty of beauties out there.

Third, I'd compared my H3D2-39 with my 5dmk2 on a couple of occasions side by side (and I'm still learning how to use the Hassie). All I can say is if a printer can get a fantastic print from an 5dmk2, he can get an even better print from medium format (the exception being if high iso was needed or high frames per second were required, or some focusing situation).
 

MGrayson

Subscriber and Workshop Member
Hmm.. the 35mm shot has more character.... :rolleyes:

Pardon me, I'm giddy with relief having found a sane photography site.
:thumbs:

Matt
 

jotloob

Subscriber Member
I decided to perform a scientific analysis and shoot the same subject side-by-side with both cameras. With a trained eye you can actually see a difference.


I confess myself guilty of laughing very loudly .
:ROTFL::ROTFL::ROTFL::ROTFL::ROTFL:
What a wonderful start into this foggy day .
Thank you Graham
 

KeithL

Active member
I decided to perform a scientific analysis and shoot the same subject side-by-side with both cameras. With a trained eye you can actually see a difference.

:D

But there again I'm pretty sure the two images need to be switched. Surely it's the MF shot that would capture every pore and wrinkle?
 
G

GASC

Guest
I decided to perform a scientific analysis and shoot the same subject side-by-side with both cameras. With a trained eye you can actually see a difference.

:ROTFL:

Actually Graham, you did it wrong.
Right pics reminds me of the Canon's washed look, that helps with certain models.
The left pic is definatly MF. Its resolution power would suit for a dermatologist study.

Conclusion: if you shoot fashioon with MF, you need a top make-up artist and a really really beautifull model. If not, shoot Canon to avoid details.
 

Terry

New member
:ROTFL:

Conclusion: if you shoot fashioon with MF, you need a top make-up artist and a really really beautifull model. If not, shoot Canon to avoid details.
Ummmm......What happened to very good Photoshop skills :D
 
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