Readers Questions

Yea Steve - I think of that old adage 'much learning hath made thee mad'!  That's how I feel @ the moment.  I have read so much I feel like I will explode if I read anymore.

I will wait for my two cameras to arrive and reassess it from there.  My 6x7 system (Pentax 67ii) will come either tomorrow or Thursday.  I made a boo boo on my eBay bid and did not know the system well enough.  I thought it would come with the AE prism with spot, zone and average metering.  However it is only the non-metering prism so now I am stuck with using a hand-held meter (which I don't have) or having to spend about another $600 on a used Pentaprism from the states (don't seem to be any around Aus).

My F5 is getting serviced and should be back in about a week.  I love using film and I would stick with it if I could.  However the rub for me is getting quality scans.  I know I will be able to from my 6x7 system, but the 35mm I have doubts (as you said).  However somebody did tell me that technology has increased markedly with scanners so the quality is now much closer to something straight from a DSLR????

Please don't think I am playing the antagonist and trying to refute everything you say.  Be it far from that.  You obviously know a zillion times more that me on this subject.  I am just chucking questions and statements around to try and come to grasp with all this stuff in my head.

The thing that Rockwell says that I like is that (that is if the scans are as good as he says) you can concentrate on your shooting with a film camera.  Come back at night and enjoy yourself without having to spend a long time mucking around on the computer.  As I said computers drive me nuts - I hate using them.  If I can nail the shot in the F5 and the Pentax 67, send it off to my lab to have proofs printed and then scanned onto a disk - then that sounds really really good to me!  AS an alternative I have been pricing a Nikon coolscan 9000 - some say the scans from these are brilliant.  What do you think?  I could then scan my own - means only needing to pay for the E6!
Will be good to see those threads on Stick soon!

Keep me posted!


Philip –

Sorry for taking so long to get back to you on this one.  Seriously busy.. a few workshops, on the boat for Loy Krathong last night, and prepping for the cremation coverage this Saturday.. need a beer.. ;o)

Yes.. some of the photo flatbed scanners from Epson are relatively inexpensive and remarkably good.  I’ve scanned some 4x5’s on my three year old model and even with the included software they turned out great.  I’m sure the new ones would be better considering technology moves pretty fast.

Rockwell.. concentrating on shooting..  Fair enough if you have his experience and make perfect exposures every time.  Digital allows far greater latitude in every way not to mention instant feedback in the form of an image and/or histogram (I prefer and teach the histogram as a major tool).  Digital is so good.. I wouldn’t shoot film without a DSLR there to double as my light meter.  You’ll nail shots, but without the feedback you’ll nail far fewer than with a DSLR unless you’re an accomplished pro who works every day..

What I did.. was by a DSLR to fit the lenses I had for the F5.. slowly worked my way into it.  Now, I’d much rather shoot digital than 35mm.. and my 1ds2 is so good it compared favorably to 4x5 film.  I could do better with 4x5 film where it comes to resolution.. not sure about color tones.. but only marginally.


Hi Steve,
having been somewhat of an amateur photographer for many years -- with some decent results I might add -- I greatly appreciate your column on Thanks for that! I also always liked you submissions, by the way.
Now the reason for my mail.

1.  You have stated several times that compared to 35 mm film, "digital does better". Allow me to disagree. While I am with you that on the recording end at least top-of-the-line digital cameras nowadays produce a quality comparable to 35 mm slides, I have not yet found a way to look at the results in a way that pleases me.

2.  Let me explain. Apart from a digital compact that I bought a few months ago (Panasonic Lumix LX 2 -- great little camera despite heavy distortion of the lens and ridiculously lousy image quality when compared to 35 mm film -- but I should not compare apples with oranges), I am shooting slides. I have a 2m x 2m pull-down screen in my livingroom where I project them. I usually watch them from a distance of about 2m, but stand up and get closer whenever I want to see a detail.

Now I am not aware of a similar way to watch digital photos. I have a 24'' monitor, but looking at photos of this tiny size and with a resolution of a mere 2MP in landscape, or less than 1MP in portrait, with the monitor's grid always clearly visible, all the details lost and diagonal lines becoming veritable staircases, just isn't much fun. While I greatly appreciate the convenience and possibilities digital photography brings, this lack of a decent means to view the results so far has kept me from abandoning my trusty old 35mm camera.

I would need an output device, preferably a projector, with a resolution of at least 4000 x 4000 pixels, so I could at least view 12 MP pictures in their original resolution. This would still be only a fraction of the resolution I get from film, but I think I could live with that. Unfortunately, I am not aware of any such device, even if we don't talk about price (my Rollei projector with its APO-Rolleigon lens was about 200 Euros and has worked fine for 25 years now...).

So, do you have any recommendations? How do YOU enjoy the results of your photo outings?

3.  Now, while I am at it, a second question. I am using a Contax camera with seven Zeiss primes. For situations where I don't want to put this expensive equipment at risk (skiing, sailing etc.), I bought a used Pentax ME with three Pentax primes a couple of years ago. While the Contax equipment is arguably some of the best money can (or rather, could) buy, one should think that the Pentax would also perform admirably.
Unfortunately, this is not the case. If I mix slides taken with the two cameras, I can clearly distinguish the ones from the others. And I don't know why. The Pentax images are also crisp, there is no noticeable distortion or aberration or whatever, but they are just not *alive*. They are mere *images*, not *the real thing*. I don't know if you understand what I mean; maybe you really have to see the slides.
Anyway, this has led to my not using the Pentax anymore. Now my question: Are there similar phenomenons in the digital world? And how could I find out about them without having a decent means to look at the photos? Because, as slide films are becoming harder and harder to get, some day I will clearly be forced to move to digital. And what could be worse than spending thousands of Euros for top-quality equipment, and be bored to death by the results it produces?
I'd be very interested to get your thoughts on these two issues. Thanks, and best regards,

Tom –

Thanks for the questions and if you don’t mind I’d like to run them in next weeks column in case anyone else has the same things on their mind.  Let me take them in order.  And thank you very much for the positive feedback!

1.  For a variety of reasons I think the best DSLRs are ‘better’ than 35mm but I realize some disagree.  This really could cover an entire topic so allow me to give you some brief reasons and if you have any questions I’ll expand the explanations.

A.  35mm film has a great deal of latitude during the development process where it comes to exposure, while slide (transparency) film has no latitude at all.  Pros shoot transparencies because they give the best results and they’re very good at getting the exposures right the first time.  Still you’re limited, read on.

B.  DSLRs have more latitude of exposure than transparencies if you’re shooting raw images.

C.  With DSLRs you can change your ASA/ISO from image to image, you can even set some DSLRs to auto ISO and it will do it on the fly which is great for action/sports shooting.  Film/slides require changing film, or like I used to do carrying 2-3 bodies loaded with different ASA’s.

D.  While labs have greatly improved, they still have control of your negatives/positives.  They either do it right or not.  Few amateurs process their own these days.  Shooting RAW with digital allows you to always be in control.

E.  DSLRs produce much better images at higher ASA/ISO’s than does film/slides.  The difference is considerable.  Even at the lower ISO’s digital has a noticeable difference.

F.  With the new 14 bit DSLRs it is very hard to see any difference in the tonal ranges between film/slides and digital when shot under the best circumstances.  Digital is easier to shoot under less than ideal circumstances for the best results

G.  Resolution wise.. the best full frame sensor DSLRs will provide more detail than film no matter how fine the resolution they’re scanned at.  I’ve compared thousands of negatives/positives processed on the best scanners and this is my overall opinion. 

H.  Digital is much faster in almost everyway except post processing.  For instance my DSLR has (2) 16gb flash cards in it and I can capture over 1500 raw images on these cards.  I can also back up one card to the other for roughly 750 images.  That would be an entire backpack full of film canisters to carry around not to mention the time taken to keep loading the camera and keep track of which canisters are empty/full.

I.  All of the above (plus more) leads me to my opinion that the best DSLRs are better than film overall.  There are circumstances where I still shoot 35mm for the image quality, but these are getting less and less as technology advances.

2.  Everyone’s use of their images is a bit different.  Displaying them seems to be your main concern so let me address this.  I put away my slide projector and screens when I purchased my first large screen HDTV and ran a video cable from my computer to the HDTV.  Most professional monitors used for image processing are 1600x1200 (21.5”), but of course there are bigger ones, however actual pixel size gets larger the larger the resolution gets requiring more viewing distance.  A HDTV in 1080p/I will provide 1920x1080 pixels of resolution which is really very good.  I have a 50 inch 1080p monitor ten feet from my workstation where I throw up images to look at across the room like I would a slide show.  I find the quality of the image, especially considering a HDTV is backlit, to be every bit as good as a slide presentation in a darkened room.  Keep in mind that even if you have scanned the images at 4000dpi, you won’t necessarily get any more detail than a DSLR, chances are you’ll get less detail, so producing them at full resolution holds little if any advantage.  Also, you can zoom/in out to inspect any part of the image on a HDTV just like you would a image monitor.  You’ll need to compare these side by side like I have, but make sure the HDTV is being driven by a proper HDTV capable video card, the HDTV is color profiled, and you’re using a viewing program that allows full resolution.  I think you’ll find the HDTV superior to view, and much superior in ease of use and capabilities like zooming and panning.

3.  This is a good question and fortunately easy to answer.  Most people are led to believe that ‘sharpness’ is a measure of a lens.  Indeed, without sharpness a lenses usefulness is limited, but sharpness isn’t the only factor affecting your images.  There is also contrast, color, and distortion.  Contrast is the one that you’re probably lacking on the Pentax lenses which is producing a lesser lifelike image.  The answer is your Contax lenses are most likely superior in quality than the Pentax lenses and produce perhaps equal sharpness, but superior contrast and color rendering.  Probably less distortion as well.  Quality optics really do make a difference and you’ll see the differences far beyond the sharpness factor.

I’ve very much enjoyed your questions.  They show a very good insight into the use of your photographic tools.  I know I’ve offered some opinions that you’ll need to ‘see to believe’, but I think if you take the effort to compare them side by side under the best circumstances you’ll come to agree with me.  A quality HDTV for instance is important, but so is the right video card, cable connections, and color profiling.  Each piece of the system needs to be correct to achieve the best results.  And it really is about more than resolution when scanning and viewing your images.  You can’t really compare the resolution of film/slides to a digital sensor because they are not direct equivalents.  This would be like comparing a 15mp compact camera with a 2/3rd’s small sensor, to a 15mp full frame DSLR with a 36x24mm sensor where the pixels are 20x thee size of the compact.. not to mention the quality of the pixels.

Please feel free to ask any questions or for more explanations.  This technology is highly dynamic and I continue to learn every day.

Take care

Hi Steve,
now that was quick... Just a short reply before I go to bed... And yes, please fell free to use these questions in your next column.

1.  I fully agree with you with respect to all the advantages of digital you mention. If not, I would not be interested in this subject in the first place. By the way, I did not know that DSLRs produce better results at higher ISO than film. That's interesting. For quality reasons, I almost exclusively use 100 ISO film, with the very occasional 400 ISO in a second body. On a subjective scale, I'd say that the 400 ISO film delivers only 20% of the quality of the 100, so I avoid it whenever possible. (With my Lumix, ISOs of higher than 100 produce completely unusable results -- but I knew this before I bought the camera so I can't blame anyone.)

2.  By the way, even though I'm not a pro, I usually *do* get the exposure right. My Contax has 2% spot metering that I use a lot. (Is there a reason why almost all modern cameras don't provide real spot metering anymore? How can you get correct exposures without? I've tried matrix metering (not on my own camera, it doesn't have it) on several occasions, and it always produced at least 50% of incorrect exposures.)

3.  I don't agree (yet) that even the best DSLRs get a better resolution than slide film. Some years ago, I did a non-scientific measurement of the resolution my equipment gives me, and came to about 35 MP as projected on screen. Which happened to coincide nicely with the resolution of about 100 lp/mm an average 100 ISO film should yield. But if you ad a scanner to the workflow, you are probably right. And even if you weren't right now, you would be a few years down the road... Not that it matters; the difference between 21 MP or 24 MP and 35 MP on the recording side is clearly *not* the reason that I am still using analog.

So, to sum up: We agree that top-of-the-line DSLRs nowadays offer an image quality comparable to slide film but are much more convenient to use and provide more possibilities, so you could call them superior indeed.

4.  By the way, I once had some of my slides scanned in a lab. The results were so bad that this made me buy the Lumix for the increasing number of situations where I need pictures in electronic form. Don't ask me what they did wrong...

5.  As for viewing, it seems to me that our satisfaction or dissatisfaction stems from different viewing habits... Just like in a movie theater where I tend to choose a seat not in the back but at a distance from the screen about equal to the image's diagonal, this is also my preferred viewing distance for my own pictures. When I move back from my 1920 * 1200 screen and the distance exceeds about 1.5 times the diagonal (i.e. about 3 ft. for a 24" screen), the limited resolution power of the eye kicks in, the grid disappears, and diagonal lines actually begin to look like lines... So when you look at your 50" monitor from a distance of 10 ft., I understand why you are satisfied with the resolution -- in this case, the human eye is the limiting factor, not the device.
Thanks for your response to the Contax / Pentax question. That might indeed be the reason. Now what does this mean when evaluating digital cameras? (And I really mean cameras, not lenses.) Anything? Nothing?

6.  Since you are apparently using Canon equipment: You do not happen to have any experience with using Zeiss Contax lenses on your bodies? Getting a 5D body and use it with my existing lenses could be a first step into digital SLR photography, but the results reported in various forums are of a very mixed nature. Apart from the obvious (no autofocus, only use of working aperture), some users also report incorrect metering, collisions with the Camera's mirror and other niceties, while others seem to be very satisfied with this setup.
Well -- didn't I say "short" reply? Anyway, thanks for the useful discussions, and please keep up your good work!



Hi Tom –

Yes, quick..;o)  I knew I was going to be out most of the next day so I wanted to get an answer off to you.   Allow me to address your responses and maybe I can help you see where I’m coming from.


1.  Yes, DSLRs do great (compared to any film) with higher ISO’s.  Do keep in mind that the higher the ISO the less detail just like with film, but digital does do better.  A feature of digital I forgot to mention properly is that film comes in different temperatures, daylight, etc. This makes it very difficult with film to get the correct colors, requires an array of correcting/color filters, and lots of experience.  With a DSLR you have auto WB (temp) and if you shoot raw you can adjust after the fact, a huge advantage over film.

2.  I used spot metering with film for ages.  My Olympus SLRs had multi-spot capability and it worked out great.  The better DSLRs will also have spot metering, but now through use of the histogram and raw matrix metering becomes preferable for overall speed.

3.  This is the answer you might find hard to visualize.  DPI or “resolution” with film becomes a function of the scanner.  A 2000dpi scanner resolves so much, a 4000dpi more, and if they made a 20,000dpi even more.  No matter how finely it scans, or dices and slices the piece of film, you’re only going to get so much detail out of that piece of film.  You can certainly get 35mp’s worth of “lines”, but no where near 35mp worth of detail from 35mm film.  You’ll need to shoot them side my side to become a believer.

4.  Almost all of the newer labs have great computer controlled scanners providing up to 4000dpi scans as part of the processing, though most charge you extra for the service.  You’ll find these scans very good.

5.  Viewing devices. You’ll need to see this as well.. I’ve had many people familiar with slides look at my HDTV and find it preferable.  Also, keep in mind that a DLP HDTV does not have a visible grid.  All other types do.

6.  I have used several Zeiss and Zuiko lenses on my Canons with the help of adapters.  Overall, I don’t find them worth the effort.  Besides, Contax and Zeiss designs while very good, are decades old technology.  We do better these days and often include AF and IS..

I hope you’ve found some of this helpful.  I don’t expect anyone to take on what I say 100%, but at least I hope it helps you look more closely in several areas.

Take care


Hi Steve,
don't worry -- if I weren't interested in your opinion, I wouldn't have asked...

1.  So you owned an OM 4? Great camera. I almost had bought it instead of my Contax back then... If I remember correctly, the reason that I didn't was because Olympus did neither make a 1.4/85 nor a 2.0/135mm lens -- two "essentials" for me.

2.  Regarding lens quality now and then: When I look at lens reviews or listen to what owners of modern cameras have to tell, it is hard to believe that today's lenses are of better quality, either optically or mechanically, than those of 20 years ago. (I am not talking about zoom lenses here; there clearly has been much improvement). But lacking any personal experience, I take your word for it. (The lens of my Lumix, despite its famous Leica brand name and its slow speed of 2.8 - 4.0, shows extreme barrel distortion and produces glare when shooting against the light, and is vastly inferior to my old SLR lenses. But of course that's comparing apples and oranges.)

3.  There's one sentence in your response I disagree with: "You can certainly get 35mp’s worth of “lines”, but no where near 35mp worth of detail from 35mm film.". Because I have seen myself that it *is* possible. My set-up was like this: I placed my projector as far from the screen as possible. Must have been about 60, 70 ft.; I don't remember. And then I simply counted the detail on the screen, extrapolated it and came to roughly 5000 x 7000. This was for clearly distinguishable detail; if I had chosen "barely distinguishable detail", it would have been about twice that linearly, i.e. about 150 MP in total. Now that clearly wasn't an exact scientific experiment, but when the MP-discussion began, all I wanted to get was an idea of how many MP film can deliver... Not that it really matters, because even at my closer viewing distance, the eye limits useful resolution to about 12 MP.

4.  Anyway, thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, and I'm looking forward to your next column.
Best wishes,


Hi Tom –

Great exchange!  I have a lot of fun answering questions like these.

1.  Yes, I’ve shot Olympus for decades and owned (still do) most of their DSLRs.

2.  What I’m going to say is a thorny subject but it needs to be said.  The main difference between feedback on lenses of the past and lenses today is the internet, forums, and on-line reviews.  Everyone used to read their favorite magazines and take their word for it or not.  Now, consumers can join hundreds of photography forums and share their experiences.  I see the “this model produced a lot of bad copies” over and over again, and 99.9% of the time it’s just that the person doesn’t know how to use the lens, or has unrealistic expectations based on inexperience, but now has a forum to blab their uninformed opinions all over the place and people who will join them.  In truth real photography pros don’t spend much time on photography forums and have enough experience to evaluate lenses without resorting to opinions of amateurs on forums.  I’ve purchased over 60 Nikkor and Canon lenses over the last decade and never got a bad one or one that needed to be returned.  Be careful what lenses you buy and you’ll find that 20-30 years of technology has indeed improved the lenses significantly.. just like technology has improved the performance of most other technical devices.

3.  What you’re describing is the same as “zooming” in an image on your computer monitor.  This isn’t producing more detail, it’s just allowing you to see it better.  It’s also detail no one would ever see unless you made a billboard size print.  I lived next door to a billboard artist once.  He shot all his pictures with a compact digital that only had 4mp’s.  The billboards looked great.  You can also zoom a digital image, but there is no way by zooming in you can say it has the equivalent of “more megapixels”, it either has the detail or not before you zoom in.  Like I said before, I’ve looked at thousands of comparisons and compared to the top DSLRs there really is no resolution “advantage” with 35mm film, and usually the disadvantages of film over digital as I explained earlier results in less detail because the exposure/temp/focus wasn’t as good.  I think once you own your first DSLR you’ll become a believer.

4. Thank you for the questions.  This has been a great discussion!

Take care


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