Medium format film: compared to Foveon?

Discussion in 'Sigma' started by Chibikame, Oct 28, 2013.

  1. Chibikame

    Chibikame New Member

    Oct 28, 2013
    Hi, this is my first post. I'm a hobbyist living in Japan.

    To get to the point, I'm basically something of a Foveon zealot. Since I got the DP3 Merrill, it has become incredibly hard to conceive of a superior digital camera in terms of resolution and detail short of going into D800E/top prime glass territory, and that's several times the price for what is probably only equal performance (on the resolution front of course: high ISO is another matter, but I have a Fuji X100s for that).

    I also started shooting film this year (a hand-me-down Canon SLR film camera) and I enjoy it very much.

    My question is simple: how does medium format film (i.e. 120) stack up against something like the DP3 in terms of resolution? Colour and so on is a different issue, because we all have different tastes. But in terms of resolution and overall IQ, even the Fuji (which is no mug with that X-Trans) doesn't get close when you really look. The Fuji is far more fun to use, but that's a separate issue.

    Medium format gear is relatively affordable these days (and living in Japan, there's no shortage of access to it). I was seriously considering getting into it. However...I'm given to understand that with film in general, a lot depends on the skill of whoever develops the film. I have no experience in processing film, so with my 35mm film I have a local store do it and then they create a photo DVD for me. This works nicely, but again I'm handing over a considerable amount of creative control to the people who process the film. Not that I have a choice, because I don't know how to do it myself!

    Anyway. I'm rambling. Anyone have experience with MF film and can comment on how it stacks up against the Foveon in terms of outright IQ?

    All comments appreciated. Thank you!
  2. Lawrence A.

    Lawrence A. Hall of Famer

    Nov 8, 2012
    New Mexico
    If you would be shooting black and white film, it would be worth your while to get a couple of good stainless reels and a tank and learn how to develop your own film. The basics are pretty straightforward.

    For color, ask around for a lab with a good reputation. I worked in professional custom labs for years, and they used to be fairly common, but of course are less so now. Or ask your lab to look at their chemistry plots. If they don't have any that's a bad sign; chemistry MUST be monitored, usually at least two or three times a day in a busy lab, and it should be relatively consistent and within established parameters. If the dye layers in your film are "crossed" from poor processing, righting the error is hugely challenging, although digital tools may make what would have been a throw away negative in a traditional darkroom useable.

    But getting film developed competently isn't that much of a challenge. For me, doing my own scan is more important than developing my own film, at least if I plan only to use it digitally. If I am going to make silver prints, it's another matter; I want full control of the process.

    As to your question about resolution, size to size, digital sensors these days usually resolve more than film. But resolution isn't everything. The Foveon in the Merrill series is said to compete closely with medium format digital cameras, so it is likely that it would out-resolve a 120 film camera. Still, I for one, would not part with my Hasselblad for the world.

    Not sure if any of that was helpful. Just thinking out loud after reading your post.

    Welcome to the form!!
  3. Chibikame

    Chibikame New Member

    Oct 28, 2013
    Thanks for that. More or less what I suspected, and I'd heard the DP3 compared to MF digital (if you know Ming Thein, he reckons that it's actually superior to to the previous generation of MF digital).

    You're entirely right on film though: a different process. I very much intend to keep shooting 35mm, but I think I'll put MF on the back-burner for a while. 3 cameras is just about enough for a juggling act, any more and you start dropping things!

    Appreciate the reply, thank you.
  4. KillRamsey

    KillRamsey Super Moderator

    Jun 20, 2012
    Cambridge, MA
    I do something very similar. I have an X100 and a minolta xd-5, and use both regularly for different reasons.

    - I've got a Great lab that's not near my house (45 minute bike ride each way) for when I have something incredibly important or difficult. They're wonderful and fast, but pricey and not close.
    - I've got a close store that sends out to an ok lab and can push or develop non C-41 films. They're ok, just pricey and slow.
    - And I've got a local drug store who seem to be doing a fine job with normal C-41 films, for incredibly sheap ($2 just developed, $6.50 for develop and cheap scan).
    - Then, a friend and I went in together on a refurbished Epson flatbed film scanner for about $130.

    So now, I get most film developed at the drug store in 1 hour for very little money, then I view the jpg disc. If shots look promising, I scan them on the Epson at whatever ludicrously high resolution I want. That feels like the best / easiest / cheapest way to enjoy film to me.
  5. RoyUK

    RoyUK Regular

    Jul 30, 2013
    Blackpool UK
    I recently dug out a huge load of my old Ektachromes shot with the Pentax 6x7 , plus a couple of hundred 5x4s from my Linhof days, and pondered how best to convert them to digital.

    There were far too many to pay for pro scanning and I was reluctant to go the flatbed route after obtaining so-so results (Newton rings in particular) on an earlier occasion.

    Instead, I cobbled together the bits for an LED lightbox on the base of an old vertical copy stand. I oversized the light source to handle both sizes and rigged a couple of defunct glassless enlarger film carriers to hold the trannies a couple of inches above the lightbox.

    And the camera I chose to shoot the Ektachromes . . . the DP3 :smile:

    Some of the originals might have turned out better if I'd used my Fuji X-E1 but most were very nicely handled by the Foveon sensor and that 50mm lens is a star performer. To allow for dodgy film flatness, I worked at f/6.3 but that lens is sharp at any aperture.

    I got through the lot in just a few days. Now all I have to do is remove the muck accumulated on the originals. That'll probably take a few years :frown:

    And for me at least, it's a moot point whether or not Foveon does indeed match MF - since my originals are all now Sigma files :biggrin:
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