Most profesional photographers prefer film!
To seasoned medium and large format photographers (professional and amateurs alike) the results of a recent survey by Kodak will not be a surprise, but it has certainly surprised most dedicated small format DSLR photographers - most (professionals) prefer film!
Interestingly, from the limited scope and analyses of the survey in Kodak's press release, it seems that the driving force behind professional photographers' preference for film is the "look" film gives their work.
Of course digital capture provides a number of commercial benefits that are obviously welcomed by professionals such as the immediate results and the ease of submission to their clients. But, it still seems that when it all boils down to image quality, pros a voting with their film purchases.
This must explain Fujifilm's (and to some lesser extent, Kodak's) continued release of enhanced film products. But, these days such new products seem to be exclusively focused on professional users.
All the same the survey's results are interesting and the implications for committed film users like me, are important and encouraging at least.
The most significant development since the digital sensor?
Until this digital imaging era and new digital product releases such as at Photokina 2008, the concept of photographic formats was quite neatly differentiated:
- 135 format - commonly referred to 35mm or small format - applied in a range of cameras, such as point-and-shoot, range-finder and SLR equipment - full frame except in a very small number of unique cameras that too 1/2 frame images;
- 120 roll film - referred to as medium format - seen in a variety of cameras, such as folder, range-finder, SLR and twin-lens-reflex (TLR) cameras - with the roll film allowing a variety of image sizes such as 6x4.5, 6x6, 6x7, 6x9, 6x12 and even 6x17cm frames;
- sheet film cameras - large format cameras - more commonly taking images in sizes such as 4x5, 5x7, 8x10 and even 11x14inches.
While digital sensors' development lifecycle has seen a large number of different sensor/frame sizes; they typically fall within the "traditional" format categories - although the sensor/frame size is rarely "full-frame" - typically due to the manufacturing costs of digital sensors.
But, as the digital sensor technology continues to develop, two issues continue to be critical to image quality:
- size of the media on which the image is captured. Just like the size of the film frame was crucial to final image quality (why else would so many image frame size formats have been developed!), technical analyses of digital sensors' image quality prove that the same issue of media "real estate" applies.
- The second issue is resolution - how effectively the media resolves the details of the image. This explains the plethora of film types in each formats. Ironically around the time of the "digital-revolution" the film manufacturers were releasing their very best emulsions.
The same issue of resolving image details applies to digital sensors in addition to their size. Of course the sensor firmware plays an important role in the sensor's final image.
At Photokina 2008, we were treated to the totally unexpected announcement of a new "medium format" camera - a camera whose 30x45mm is larger than the traditional full frame 135 format - but smaller than any traditional medium format frame; although not so significantly smaller than today's "cropped" MF sensor / frame.
This was Leica's exciting announcement - a larger than 135 format full frame and a MF type of resolution at 37 mega-pixels!
Leica Camera's announcement of it's S series camera system is poised to excite every serious photographer - at the thought of a new "compact" Medium Format camera system supported by one of the truly legendary lens makers in history! And , yes, the Leica S series system if for real - it exists as seen at Photokina just a couple of weeks ago.
The impact of Leica's 30 x 45 mm and 37.5 megapixel sensor based S system is of important significance in 3 key ways:
1. Leica-Camera - the company's financial fortunes in recent year, have been, by all accounts, precarious. For any serious photographer who recognises Leica's wonderful history and its record for making the very best optics for the 135 format, the company's troubles have indeed been bad news.
And, of course, the company's 135 format M series range-finder cameras since 1953 are its greatest legacy. How many other 135 format camera maker has so many of its 55 year model production in regular day-to-day use!
So, Leica's bold move into MF photography and the obviously significant investment in the R&D have the capacity to either significantly improve its fortunes or, horror of horrors, lead to its demise.
2. This bold move should be welcome news to MF photographers and could (or even - should!) see the defection of many to the Leica S series.
While most MF film photographers had the benefit of already owning removable film back equipment (such as Hasselblad V series), they were suffering from serious "sticker-shock" when it came to buying the digital backs necessary to convert to digital media. And keep in mind that these professionals were being asked to hand over as much as US$30K for the privilege! To add insult to injury, these MF digital backs offered varying degrees of cropped 6x4.5cm frames. This was when such professionals mostly took film images on 6x7 and 6x6 film (and many even used 6x9cm frames). The resolution of these digital backs ranged from about 16MP to 39MP, and more recently, 50MP and 65MP. And often these MF cameras were deprived of good ergonomics (except for Hasselblad IMHO) and the outstanding excellence of the best German optics.
Indeed, Hasselblad's move to the H series saddened many committed Hasselblad users, mostly due to Hasselblad's move from Carl Zeiss' brilliant lenses (supplied for all V series cameras) to Fujinon lenses (many argue that these lenses are outstanding while many have still not forgiven Hasselblad for the move). But, the H series has been a success and the camera (despite its unappealing grey plastic outer shell) enjoys a reputation for the fastest auto-focus in MF as well as an amazing myriad of electronic features. However, any H series camera with any of the H series cropped 6x4.5CM digital backs, comes at a huge price.
Well, now there is a new "all-German" premium quality MF camera system supported by what we can be sure are superlative lenses on our horizon - Leica S2.
Yes, the sensor's image quality is yet to be proven, but we can be sure that the optics are stellar performers and that the camera body will be beautifully engineered and made.
3. When Canon and Nikon released their initial top end professional DSLRs, many professionals sold out of their film MF equipment - they could not afford the initial MF digital backs offered and needed the cash from selling their MF systems to afford the very expensive top end 135 format DSLRs.
It is no secret that many professionals later regretted selling off their traditional film based MF equipment - they and their customers realised that for very serious photography, 135 format sensors packed (and arguably, over-packed) with mega mega-pixels in full frame and cropped frame sensors were simply no match for both MF film and MF digital image quality.
It is this category of professionals who might be rushing to their Leica dealers with open arms when the S series system becomes available.
Of course time will tell, but I even hear serious amateurs saying in the past week that the Leica S2 might just be their first step into digital-imaging, despite the fact that they have never been an MF user in the past!
It never rains, but it pours! God knows the difficulties Leica Camera has had over the past 2 to 3 years - financial woes; delayed overdue digital imaging camera products; inability to grow its market share, etc..
But, not only has Leica managed to keep to its promised release date for a digital rangefinder camera designed and built to the same standards of its immortalised legacy M series cameras; it might just have done so with great success.
And in the middle of that major product achievement, it has also announced 3 other digital camera products - one of which just might be poised to establish a new camera category (the Digilux 3)!
If features are anything to go by, each new digital product should be outstanding and truly worthy of the Leica brand. Indeed Leica has always prided itself on making arguably the finest 35mm format optics and the total precision of its cameras - time will tell.
The biggest question lies with the M8 because in this product category Leica's customers are used to and expect absolute perfection. Likewise new Leica M customers are well aware of what to expect.
So, for Leica Camera, first prize will see a major change in the company's financial fortunes. But, equally last prize could serve a devastating blow to the company and its investors.
For some years Leica management regularly commented that digital sensors were not yet up to the optical imaging standards of Leica lenses and until sensor quality had reached such a standard, Leica customers were better off using film. I for one have always held a similar view.
Now the proof will be in the pudding - will the M8's cropped 35mm sensor deliver imaging quality that equals today's best film? For the company's sake I certainly hope so.
Zeiss' Surprise for Classic Hasselblad Users
The recent announcement by Carl Zeiss of its new ZV lens range for "classic" (V series - the traditional mechanical 6x6 Hasselblad cameras) Hasselblad cameras is heartening news for many in this era of regular "bad" news stories for medium format and film camera users.
The ZV range is basically 3 lenses in classic silver barrel finish akin to the silver lenses of the 1950s and 1960s before black chrome became the dominant finish.
But, from the limited photos published by Zeiss, these silver barrels are not so "classic" as they exclude the original "fluting" found on the original Hasselblad C lenses' barrels. That may be explained by design copyright issues dating back to the original partnership between Hasselblad and Carl Zeiss that arguably resulted in the world's best medium format system. The role of Zeiss' brand and products in that great partnership is well recorded.
Because Zeiss' ZV lens range is limited to 3 lenses - the Distagon 50mm, Makro-Planar 120mm and the Sonnar 180mm - it strikes me that Zeiss sees a niche opportunity in "filling the gap" in the original C lens range.
These 3 lenses' optical formulae and focal lengths are a much more recent development than the classic C lenses and were first seen from the release of the CF lens range - the Sonnar 180mm being the latest of these.
In their CF and current CFE/i iterations, each of these 3 lenses optical formula remains unchanged and boasts superb optical quality, representing some of Zeiss' finest still photography lenses ever developed.
To my mind, I have a small suspicion that Zeiss might just hope that Hasselblad H series cameras (which system exclusively uses Fuji developed AF optics, but anables the use of V series Zeiss made manual focus lenses via the use of an adapter) may be attracted enough by the ZV lenses' silver barrels (a nice match for the H series cameras) to purchase the Hasselblad lens adapter that enables the use of Hasselblad / Zeiss V series optics!
Whatever Zeiss' market strategy, all medium format shooters should wish the company well.