645 with vintage optics vs 35mm with modern optics

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snusmumriken

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If you take a minute to think about how film works, it makes absolutely no sense that tonal gradations should be somehow better on larger formats.
All the tonality possible can be contained in a small grain cluster.
Could you explain this further? I'm not convinced yet. Why then does tonality appear much smoother in a fine-grained slow film (e.g. Pan F) than in a faster film (e.g. HP5+) given the same film size?
 

Dismayed

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Don’t walk around with it in your pocket all day though.
No camera really likes that.
A pocket is a terrible environment for a camera. It’s humid and far more bumpy than you imagine. Ask Donald what it does to leatherette in short order.
Your beautiful vintage folder is going to look like crap in a week
I'm looking for a walk around camera to supplement my more 'serious' medium format gear (Rolleiflex & Bronica SQ) for some intentional street photography. Currently that's 35mm (Canon 7 & Olympus OM1), but I'm thinking of getting a compact 645 setup instead, namely a Konica Pearl folder because there's no way I can afford the Bronica RF645 I actually want, and I had the Fuji GS645S but didn't love the handling or fragility. If the RF645 wasn't destined to be an electronically dead brick one day I'd seriously consider selling everything and just getting one.

I know the "645 is no better than 35mm" thing is mostly rubbish, it's still a huge jump in format, but what about when you bring different quality optics into it? The Pearl has a decent Tessar, and apparently for a folder it's pretty good, but it's still an old folder. Alternatively I could invest more heavily in 35mm, maybe jumping ship to Contax to get my hands on a Planar, or really saving up and getting a Leica M2 and some modern Voigtlander glass. Would the resolution difference of 645 still be a big deal then?

My shooting style, even when doing street, is pretty slow and intentional so I'm not hugely fussed by the cost difference in film, it'd still take me a while to get through a roll of 16 on 645.

I looked at the Konica Pearl and decided against it because I couldn't source a replacement bellows. So I have a 645 Zeiss Super Ikonta that's fun to use. I'm also fortunate to have a Mamiya 7II and 3 lenses for it that I purchased before prices went crazy.
 

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Could you explain this further? I'm not convinced yet. Why then does tonality appear much smoother in a fine-grained slow film (e.g. Pan F) than in a faster film (e.g. HP5+) given the same film size?
Because slow film almost always has more contrast and a different distribution of the range than faster film.
Look at the curves on the datasheet if available. That is almost all you need to know about the tonality of the film.
 

flavio81

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No it’s not.
Though it’s a common fallacy.
Grain is not binary. It can be and most often is exposed and developed to any degree.
With a monodisperse emulsion, you can in theory have all the range in one grain. But overlap is almost always an important factor in reaching DMax.

Thanks for this clarification, But note that, as you have mentioned (overlap), the density of grains in a given area will contribute to tonality quality. A bigger negative will require less magnification and for practical purposes, will be equivalent as increasing the density of grains in a negative.

And this is what is meant when some people say "bigger format giving better tonality".
 

Helge

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Thanks for this clarification, But note that, as you have mentioned (overlap), the density of grains in a given area will contribute to tonality quality. A bigger negative will require less magnification and for practical purposes, will be equivalent as increasing the density of grains in a negative.

And this is what is meant when some people say "bigger format giving better tonality".
I don’t really get what you are saying?
The thickness of the emulsion is the same on different formats.
The density and characteristic curve is the same.
 

snusmumriken

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Because slow film almost always has more contrast and a different distribution of the range than faster film.
Look at the curves on the datasheet if available. That is almost all you need to know about the tonality of the film.
I don't understand how the sensitometric curves tell me anything about the smoothness of tones in the image? In the curve, the smoothness of the transition from one tone to the next is an artefact created by joining the data points - surely?
 

MattKing

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I don’t really get what you are saying?
The thickness of the emulsion is the same on different formats.
The density and characteristic curve is the same.
And when you factor in that the final result requires less magnification, the results differ.
 

Helge

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I don't understand how the sensitometric curves tell me anything about the smoothness of tones in the image? In the curve, the smoothness of the transition from one tone to the next is an artefact created by joining the data points - surely?
Tonality is an aspect of contrast. So yes, the characteristic curve and to a large extent the MTF curve and the spectral sensitivity curve is a plotting of the possible tonality of the film, subjected to a scene or chart with gradation.

Graininess is not a part of the definition.
Perhaps to some degree via inference micro contrast which also describes tonal relationships, but not necessarily.
 
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MattKing

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As you can probably tell, Helge and I disagree on what we mean when we reference tonality. In particular, we disagree about the role that grain plays.
One thing I would emphasize though is that my concept of "tonality" is mostly rooted in the final presentation, not the steps that one takes to get there.
For negative + positive processes, one can't really appreciate "tonality" or any other facet of the appearance of the final product until one sees that product.
I've found, in my use, that it is easier to end up with prints that have good tonality, if one is working from larger negatives.
I have made many prints from 35mm film that I would describe as having excellent tonality. And I've worked with larger negatives that wouldn't yield a print with good tonality if it was in the hands of the finest printer in the world.
 

Sirius Glass

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645 has a larger negative than 35mm and is much easier to work with in the darkroom. It also has for the same film and same developer smaller grain relative to the final print and better tonality.
 

flavio81

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And when you factor in that the final result requires less magnification, the results differ.

Yes, this is my point. Thanks Matt.
 

snusmumriken

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Tonality is an aspect of contrast. So yes, the characteristic curve and to a large extent the MTF curve and the spectral sensitivity curve is a plotting of the possible tonality of the film, subjected to a scene or chart with gradation.

Graininess is not a part of the definition.
Perhaps to a some degree via inference micro contrast which also describes tonal relationships, but not necessarily.

Helge, correct me if I'm wrong, but I suspect your definition of 'tonality' is simply the way in which brightness in the subject is translated into density in the image? I think the rest of us are using the word in a broader sense to mean the aesthetics of tones in the finished print, as Matt describes. I was particularly thinking of the smooth transition from one tone to another around surfaces like e.g. an egg.

Your initial point was that the rendition of tones in the negative takes place on such a small scale that a change of negative size is irrelevant. So I imagine you would say that screen images, where smooth transition of tones has everything to do with pixel count - is a false comparison because a pixel is still large compared with the screen image, whereas a silver grain is tiny relative to either negative or print?

I've never done this, but I imagine that if I photograph an egg on 35mm FP4+, 6x6 FP4+ or 5x7 FP4+, the transition of tones around the surface of the egg will look smoother in both negative and print (more so) from the larger formats. You describe this as a fallacy, if I understand you correctly. Within the 35mm format, I have used films with different speeds (and therefore grain size), and a range of different developers and development times (and therefore grain size). That experience supports what I'd always understood, that the finer the grain size in the negative, and the lower the magnification in the print, the smoother the transition of tones appears. I expect this trend to continue as one steadily increases negative area, with the accompanying decrease in magnification for the same size print. Am I deluding myself?
 

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I have my Rollei for compact WLF fun (and I do looove the WLF, I crop most of my 6x6 to 4:5 anyway so it's almost a 645 camera anyway).
...
Staying with what you know will normally yield better results. Vivian Maier (and others) demonstrated that the Rolleiflex can be an excellent street camera. Visualising and setting the parameters in advance is key to acting fast - if required for your style. And you are in luck - you can get a Rolleiflex equipped with a Planar.
 

Helge

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As you can probably tell, Helge and I disagree on what we mean when we reference tonality. In particular, we disagree about the role that grain plays.
One thing I would emphasize though is that my concept of "tonality" is mostly rooted in the final presentation, not the steps that one takes to get there.
For negative + positive processes, one can't really appreciate "tonality" or any other facet of the appearance of the final product until one sees that product.
I've found, in my use, that it is easier to end up with prints that have good tonality, if one is working from larger negatives.
I have made many prints from 35mm film that I would describe as having excellent tonality. And I've worked with larger negatives that wouldn't yield a print with good tonality if it was in the hands of the finest printer in the world.
So if you take a 36x24mm crop from a 6x6 frame, that will somehow have worse/different tonality?
Look up the Kodak (and others) definition of tonality. And you’ll find that very few mention grain or granularity.
 

Helge

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Helge, correct me if I'm wrong, but I suspect your definition of 'tonality' is simply the way in which brightness in the subject is translated into density in the image? I think the rest of us are using the word in a broader sense to mean the aesthetics of tones in the finished print, as Matt describes. I was particularly thinking of the smooth transition from one tone to another around surfaces like e.g. an egg.

Your initial point was that the rendition of tones in the negative takes place on such a small scale that a change of negative size is irrelevant. So I imagine you would say that screen images, where smooth transition of tones has everything to do with pixel count - is a false comparison because a pixel is still large compared with the screen image, whereas a silver grain is tiny relative to either negative or print?

I've never done this, but I imagine that if I photograph an egg on 35mm FP4+, 6x6 FP4+ or 5x7 FP4+, the transition of tones around the surface of the egg will look smoother in both negative and print (more so) from the larger formats. You describe this as a fallacy, if I understand you correctly. Within the 35mm format, I have used films with different speeds (and therefore grain size), and a range of different developers and development times (and therefore grain size). That experience supports what I'd always understood, that the finer the grain size in the negative, and the lower the magnification in the print, the smoother the transition of tones appears. I expect this trend to continue as one steadily increases negative area, with the accompanying decrease in magnification for the same size print. Am I deluding myself?
Let me ask some Socratic style questions that might help clear up what we could use hours discussing.

Would you be able to see good tonality six feet away from a 8x10 print?

Is photographic grain more of an over/underlay/veil together with the image originally projected by the lens? Or is it noise in the sampling Nyquist/Shannon sense of the word?

As you touched on in your last post: Would a dithered photo or a photo even displayed on a normal monitor with its coarse pixel pattern exhibit worse tonality than a print?

Tone is mainly a low frequency phenomena, else we are into sharpness and micro contrast.
How can a high frequency phenomena like grain affect tonality? It’s somewhat like saying that the texture of the sand on which light falls and create tonal gradations, influences that lights play on the curves and ripples of the sand..

In the end tonality is an artists word and not something that can be quantized and defined with absolute exactitude. But that doesn’t mean that anything goes. Fuzzy things and concepts exist too, even if it’s hard to define exactly where they start and end.
 
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MattKing

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So if you take a 36x24mm crop from a 6x6 frame, that will somehow have worse/different tonality?
What are you doing with the crop? If, at the time of printing, you enlarge it the same amount as you enlarged the entire 6x6 negative, than that smaller, cropped print from the portion of the image will have similar tonality to the entire larger print from the full negative.
I say similar tonality, because you will be tempted to view the smaller print from a closer distance, which will complicate the comparison.
If you are enlarging the smaller portion to the same size print as the full 6x6 negative is printed, then it will have poorer tonality.
All necessary corrections being made, of course, for the differences in aspect ratio.
 

MattKing

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Well, this thread has gone off the rails a bit.
Not entirely. It is a discussion about the relative merits of cameras, and film formats.
 

Sirius Glass

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Helge

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What are you doing with the crop? If, at the time of printing, you enlarge it the same amount as you enlarged the entire 6x6 negative, than that smaller, cropped print from the portion of the image will have similar tonality to the entire larger print from the full negative.
I say similar tonality, because you will be tempted to view the smaller print from a closer distance, which will complicate the comparison.
If you are enlarging the smaller portion to the same size print as the full 6x6 negative is printed, then it will have poorer tonality.
All necessary corrections being made, of course, for the differences in aspect ratio.
So tonality changes with viewing distance and/or magnification?
I think that is quite different from what most people would include in a definition.
If that is true, you wouldn't be able to judge, compare, or even compliment tonality well by looking at a print at a distance, or from a normal sized online scan.

To you tonality is not about low frequency distribution of tones?
If tonality is (also?) about grain, then why do we have separate concepts involving that, like granularity and micro contrast?
 

momus

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ny “street photographer” you hear about, read about, watch a documentary on, or randomly spot, almost always goes out with the sole intent of photography.

That hasn't been my experience. I can't conjure up a nice street shot out of thin air, that depends on conditions that are out of my control. I'm sure it works the same for everyone. All you can do is remember to bring the camera, remember to put the film in, etc. Street opportunities are brief, often almost instantaneous, and like Dr John always said, you have to be in the right place at the right time.
 
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