Can I get medium format quality from 35mm? : LUSENET : B&W Photo - Film & Processing : One Thread

Hi there

I currently use 35mm gear. I am happy with my landscape work. I mainly use 100 or 400 ASA film (I know, I know  its ISO but I was brought up in the old school!). To improve quality, I take many of the usual precautions such as using a tripod, develop in fine grain developer, using good quality camera and enlarging lenses. I wish to move up a step in quality, comparable to that achieved in medium format (in terms of grain and sharpness) but I cannot afford at present to invest in even a basic second-hand system. I will soon be experimenting with slower B&W films such as Agfa 25, Pan F 50 and the like. I dont mind the extra effort and some of the restrictions imposed by using such slow emulsions. My question is really to ask for any tips advice from those who have used such films in 35mm and achieved top quality results. I would also like to hear from anyone who may have made direct comparisons between the two formats, that is between very slow 35mm and, say, medium speed medium format. Whilst I appreciate nothing will really replace actually moving up to a larger negative, am I really asking too much from such a small negative? The enlargements Im thinking of are in the range of 8x12, 11x14 and maybe even 16x20 inches.

Many thanks in advance!

-- F Alvaro (, March 04, 1999


First, regardless of format or film type, it takes extra effort and restrictions to acheive higher image quality (grain, sharpness, etc.) That said, Pan F 50 probably won't be any sharper or finer grained than TMAX 100 (IMHO the finest grained silver image B&W film at that speed) or Delta 100 (more distinct grain than TMX). Agfa 25 is a step sharper and finer grained than TMX, of course at a price in speed. Tech Pan is even sharper and virtually grainless (the grains are as small as the wavelength of light) but it's expensive and tricky to expose and process. With the sharpest films 35mm resolution ON THE FILM tops out at about 100-120 lp/mm with normal and short telephoto lenses. With 6x7, which is twice the linear size of 35mm, resolution tops out at 80-90 lp/mm. So 35mm would have to resolve 160-180 lp/mm to be comparable. Not likely. A sharp print viewed at 10" needs about 4 lp/mm to look sharp. If you work out the math you'll see that a 35mm negative needs 64 lp/mm to make a sharp 16x20, entirely possible with careful technique and slow film like Agfa 25. A 6x7 negative would need 32 lp/mm. Posible with most 400 speed films. These figures ignore loss in the enlarger lens. A print with 4 lp/mm will look sharp but a print with 7 lp/mm will look excellent. To make an excellent 16x20 the 35mm negative will need 112 lp/mm. Without a perfect enlarger lens it ain't gonna happen. Bottom line: to make excellently sharp big prints you need a bigger negative.

I shoot 35mm and 6x6. I find that in terms of grain 100 speed B&W film in 35mm is comparable to 400 speed in 6x6. Regarding color print film Kodak and Fuji have gone to great efforts to make excellent 400 speed films. So to get grain comparable to 400 speed 6x6 film I have to use Ektar 25 (now discontinued dammit!) in 35mm.

-- Tim Brown (, March 04, 1999.

Yes, you're asking too much from a smaller negative. I've used many films anf several formats over the last 15 years, and have printed more than 20,000 photos in that time. About this time last year one of my friends was just getting interested in photography. I took him to Yosemite Valley one weekend and we spent two days shooting side-by-side. I had a Mamiya C330 system and he was using a Minolta manual focus with Minolta prime lenses. We both shot T-Max 100 and I developed all our negatives using Photographer's Formulary's T-Max developer. Even at 8x10 the differences in the formats are apparent. I printed them on my Beseler 4x5 enlarger using a Zone VI cold light head and EL-Nikkor lenses.

You say you can't afford even a second-hand medium format system, but you might be surprised. I have three Yashica Mat TLR camers and a Minolta Autocord. Total investment in all four is $800 US including repairs to two of the Yashica Mats. If you look around you can find an excellent TLR for under $300 US.

Having said that, you can get excellent 11x14 enlargements from 35mm T-Max 100 if you use a tripod while shooting. The prints won't show the smooth tonal gradations of a medium format negative, but you'll be pleased with the results until you get a medium format camera and start comparing the results.

BTW, my friend, after seeing the difference between our prints, bought a Crown Graphic for $200 and an old Schneider lens for $135. He's now hooked on 4x5 film.

-- Darron Spohn (, March 05, 1999.

I agree with parts of both of the other responsdents comments. I use both 35mm and 6x6 formats; specifically Leica, Nikon and Hasselblad. Modern films and developers have narrowed the quality gap between the formats but there is still a difference. I would suggest that you spend more time doing what you are doing to maximize the quality of your 35mm before jumping into medium format. After you have gotten out of your system all that you can you will be able to make a decision. I use Xtol developer exclusively and mostly Ilford's Delta films. Correct exposure, proper development and printing procedures will reward you with exceptional quality 11x14 prints. I have never been able to get an image from Tmax that I was happy with. Perhaps I am not doing something correctly. Delta films are extremely fine grain, sharp and the grain is not clumpy like Tmax. I decide the correct format for the subject and go from there. In most cases the the speed and flexibility of the 35mm format will provide with more images to choose from. Good luck and let me know if you need anymore information

-- Robert Bedwell (, March 09, 1999.

A Dutch comparitive test between Delta100 in Xtol (or Patterson FX39)in Hasselblad and in Leica (on tripod) showed negligible differences up to enlargements of 30*40 cm.

-- Lot (, March 10, 1999.

I wonder if the Dutch photographer that Lot refers to is Erwin Puts, a Leica M photographer? I have read about a test he did exactly the way Lot describes. He used the Leica on f/5,6 and his friend used the Hasselblad on f/8,0. Erwin Puts seems to be quite a trustworthy person, and from what I read the prints were presented to experienced photographers to see if they could detect any difference at all.

I'm still surprised about his test. Of course, b&w prints from 35 mm negatives can be very, very nice, but I always thought they had another "look" than prints from equal 120 film negatives. My Tri-X pictures with Hasselblad looks better than my Tmax 100 pictures from Nikon; sharper, creamier, clearer... but I have seen prints from Leica cameras that has something extra, so perhaps it is true that there is a certain Leica look to b&w pictures which make them resemble medium format?

-- Peter Olsson (, March 11, 1999.

I did refer to Erwin - Leica - Puts' test and a compagnon of his, who swears with Hasselblad. It has to be pointed at that this was a comparison on 100 ASA with new grain-technology films. With conventional 100 or 400 Asa films in both camera's this testresult would not have been possible (grain). I do not at all think that Leica pictures resemble medium format pictures, especially not with Tri-X. Leica pictures are not creamy, they have 'bite'. Hasselblad/Zeiss pictures can be creamy, but they don't have that 'bite'. This is all about sharpness in the narrow sense in relationship to contrast. What makes Leica interesting is the contribution of contrast of these lenses to sharpness(impression).

-- Lot (, March 11, 1999.

So this means that if you don't plan to make prints larger than around 30x40 cm:
use MF for action shoots with 400-6400 ASA film, like street photography, reportage etc.
but when you have a tripod and/or enough light and the subject doesn't move so you are using say Delta 100 then you can just as well use 35 mm.

How backwards ;-)
This makes Pentax and their new p645n look even smarter than I'm usually considering them. There will be a huge market for a handholdable MF SLR with matrix metering, AF, program mode, zooms and everything.
People will want one of that kind, and something like a FM2n, MX, F, OM* for "tripod duty".

-- Kristian Elof Sxrensen (, March 12, 1999.

I mainly use large format but I also use 35mm and 120. I year ago I entered a professional art competition with a wildlife theme, I won the award for best landscape (I love beating painters with my photographs). Of the the entries that I had, I won with the one made with a 35mm not the 2 large format images. I never heard any comments about the 35mm image being in anyway technically inferior. This is the photograph that won. It was a very cold and windy day, I usually carry my 35mm with me when I look for images for my LF. I made this exposure but it was to cold and windy to return with my LF equipment. The important elements in making this a successful photograph is that it was 1. developed in PMK developer and 2. printed 6" by 9". The PMK makes large grain but masks it with its stain making a very sharp image (the film was t-max 100) it also creates a palate that I haven't seen with any other conventional developer. A 6x9 image properly presented can seem like a large picture. When you are using a smaller negative a smaller print will improve the quality of the image, a 6x9 is equivilant to a 24x30 from a 4x5. So making a 16x20 isn't reasonable unless you want the larger grain and less sharpness. High quality images a very possible with a 35mm but bigger isn't better, better is better.

-- Jeff White (, March 12, 1999.

The photo above is at . I don't know why the HTML didn't work above.

-- Jeff White (, March 12, 1999.

Kristian, I don't follow your reasoning because most MF lenses are one or two stops slower than 35mm lenses. So if you take TriX in MF, say Mamiya7, your widest opening will be F4.0, which will probably not as good as an F2.0 on a Summicron. With Delta3200, the first fast film on 120, you maybe in advantage above high-quality 35mm. TMZ 3200 is not on 120, Fuji Neopan is not on 120 I thought, so using MF for reportage is still a little less versatile than 35mm.

-- Lot (, March 12, 1999.

Of course the bit about 35 mm taking over the "tripod and 25-100 ASA duty" was meant as a joke.

I'm seldom using anything bigger than f4 for street/reportage photography with 35 mm if I can help it. Of course there's times when f2 or even f1.4 will be needed for depth of field reasons and of course only 35 mm can go to that extreme.
MF however uses longer focal lengths than 35 mm for the same angle, so the difference in minimum depth of field between 35 mm and MF isn't as big as it might seem.
When the 35 mm shooter needs f2 or f1.4 because of low light, the MF shooter can use f2.8 and a film that's two stops faster and archive roughly the same degree of grain and sharpness etc.

For the majority of reportage/street work when the light isn't that low and a reasonable amount of depth of field is appropriate, the new handholdable auto everything MF cameras will allow you to use the same film that you would have used in a 35 mm camera, but get nicer gradients and bigger enlargement possibilities.

-- Kristian Elof Sxrensen (, March 12, 1999.

In the case of TriX Kristian, and in my experience, Hasselblad TriX 120 behaves very different from Leica TriX 35mm, so I do not see the advantage of using a film with the same name in different formats, you'll have to find its way to be treated in different formats anyway. What you say about DOF is a fact. I cannot agree to your statement about shutter-speeds. The chance on unsharpness due to movement of the camera is always bigger when using larger formats than 35mm, especially when you want an MF SLR camera (drum of the mirror a.o.).

-- Lot (, March 12, 1999.

Well Lot, I was actually only talking about the new emulsions like Delta and Tmax, those that sort of makes todays 400 equal yesterdays 100 in grain size and sharpness, not the older ones like TriX or PanF.

That's why I said that 35 mm could probably take over much of what have been the main purpose for MF, sitting on a tripod with 25-100 ASA film in it. That reality would have me shiver with cold fear if I was CEO of a company that manufactored MF gear.
I know that lot's of adverticing photographers have made that MF->35 transition in color during the last 5-10 years.

That's what makes the new Pentax 645n double brilliant. They have suceeded in the rare art of turning disaster into succes and improvement, by developing a new market for MF gear - handheld reportage/street/action/animals shooting with a MF SLR.
Had it not been for the new emulsions, especially the actually very usefull quicker than 400 ASA ones, that camera would not have been such a succes.

I have never been a TriX user, but I seem to recall someone telling me that what's sold under the TriX trademark is actually not the same emulsion in every format. Can someone confirm this?
Normally the difference in format with the same film is just larger neg's with the usual benefits.

-- Kristian Elof Sxrensen (, March 13, 1999.

Kristian, what you say about Tri-X: I can definitely confirm that from my experiences on 35mm, MF and LF, so I would't be surprised if someone would confirm this technically. If you plan to buy a Pentax645, wait for the Contax 645 to come out, they've got an interesting filmholder: a vacuum-puller to straighten out the film-plane. I've always found the film-plane the critical point in MF-photography, makes me feel uneasy such a big flim on a roll. What you say about new generation-films does not make a difference in principle: everything just moves up, MF not more than 35mm. Given the same amount of light you can use a Delta100 on your 35mm with the same speed and depth as with Delta400 on MF. I believe however that 35mm RF has still an advantage above most MF-camera's in movement-unsharpness. I never got this Delta400 real sharp in my Hasselblad with the Macro-Planar 120/4 (not the first lens in their park), which was not difficult with Tri-X. Maybe TMax400 is better

-- Lot (, March 13, 1999.

The Kodak "Tri X" name generates plenty of confusion because in fact, there are 2 different films : TX, iso 400 is the reference for TriX- pan and exists in 35mm and MF; TriX-pan PROFESSIONNAL is rated Iso 320 and is called "TXP" in roll film (MF) and TXT in sheet film (LF). Only MF photographers have choice between these two absolutely different films. So we have to be careful when we make comparisons 35mm/MF... More over,in other brands I use (Agfa, Ilford) I always noticed differences between 35mm and 120 rolls reactions to light; that made me adapt different developping times for each format. I think one of the major reasons for these differences is due to the difference in the film base thickness and "colour" between 120 and 35 mm rolls; if you are aiming at harmonicized negatives in whatever format you have to find out your personnal developping time for each fil/format/developer combination. Most of all it seems to me that I'll always prefer a well exposed/well developped 35 mm negative than a bad ex/bad dev. MF neg. Now, let's try ! Bye; Jean

-- Jean Daubas (France) (, March 15, 1999.

Well guys...just looking at a few prints hanging on the walls here...from across the room 16x20 from Delta 100 shot in a Rollei 6003 w/Zeiss 150 easily looks better in all ways than 11x14 from Delta 100 shot in a Leica M6 w/50 Summicron...and even an 11x14 from HP5+ pushed a stop in Microphen looks better quality-wise than the same size print from Delta 100 35mm.... So...while I'd agree that most people wouldn't see any difference between prints from 35mm and medium format, imho anyone who looks at the prints critically, especially comparing the formats, would readily see differences even if the original film was Tech Pan.

-- John Hicks / John's Camera Shop (, March 17, 1999.

Nobody denied that John. HP5+ is not discussed here. The test was about enlargements up to 11*14. The Delta100 should be developed in FX39 (Patterson). You didn't mention whether the Leica photo was made on tripod (slim chance it was).

-- Lot (, March 18, 1999.

> Nobody denied that John. HP5+ is not discussed here. The test was > about enlargements up to 11*14. The Delta100 should be developed in > FX39 (Patterson). You didn't mention whether the Leica photo was > made on tripod (slim chance it was).

OK....hanging right in front of me are two prints, one is 8x10 from Delta 100 in Xtol 1:1 35mm and the other is 11x11 from Delta 100 in Rodinal 1:50 6x6. Both were shot with flash, so tripod or not is irrelevant. The 35 was Leica w/current 50 Summicron, while the 6x6 was Rollei 2.8E, 1954 vintage. The medium format print shows higher sharpness/finer detail, finer grain (extremely fine from either format, have to get within smelling distance to see any) and an appearance of greater clarity or depth. No FX-39 here in the US. Speaking of which, has anyone come across a formula for it? Anyway...overall....considering a large assortment of prints from similar film types and developers, ranging in format from 35mm to contact from 8x10, in side-by-side comparison the larger format always wins...but that may not be all that incredibly important. All prints are made with a Durst 1000 w/Componon-S lenses; the enlarger gets aligned regularly with the Versalab Parallel laser-alignment gizmo (highly recommended). Two of the prints hanging in this room are perhaps technically awful; one's a 6x8 from TMZ 35mm exposed and developed for EI 12500 and the other's a 9x11 from 120 Delta 3200....they both have a fairly short tonal range and are a bit grainy but they're as valid and enjoyable (to me at least) as the nearby 8x10 contacts. And not one person who's seen them has mentioned the grain etc. So..imho from a purely technical viewpoint, other things being equal, 8x10 and larger prints demand a level of quality that just isn't quite attainable from 35mm if you want prints that can look no sharper to an average viewer and have fairly invisible grain. I am amazed at how good 35mm can be these days; back in the dark ages of only 25 years ago we had to use special H&W VTE Ultra film, actually an Agfa microfilm, and H&W developer, at EI 12 or so to exceed the quality we routinely get from films such as Delta 100 and TMX today, and back then medium speed films in medium format gave higher overall quality than H&W in 35mm. Medium format may be less expensive than you think; you can easily find a good Mamiya TLR w/80 lens for less than the price of many ordinary lenses for 35mm cameras.

-- John Hicks / John's Camera Shop (, March 18, 1999.

OK, OK John, OK, I'm no 35mm fanatic! I just told about a test here which held all other things equal. Only two remarks though. Rodinal is very strong in producing grain, XTol is not. You don't mention it, but I suspect that it weren't the same subjects and light-conditions on the compared photo's, except flash as such. And of course 35mm can't beat 8*10, but we were talking about the amount of difference between 35mm and MF these days. And it seems we agree about how good and grainless 35mm can be these days. Even so, that I for myself do not see the need of MF, not being a fashion-photographer. I jump from 35mm to 4*5mm.

-- Lot Wouda (, March 18, 1999.

I have a couple of prints that other photographers assume were done with medium format, but were actually 35mm. In both instances, the shot was done on TCN, a chromogenic film, and with a prime Nikor lens (35/2 AF, 105/2.5 AIS) with the camera on a tripod. TCN isn't quite as sharp as, say Delta 100, but the dye cloud emulsion gives a creamy quality to skin tones which mimics the medium format look. I have shot some wedding work this way, which I then print on warm tone paper. This gives very pleasing "classic" look. Generally, the bigger your enlargement, the harder time you'll have. The paradox is, if you're going to use a tripod, and a set shot, then you might as well use medium format.

-- Phil Stiles (, March 28, 1999.

Dear F;

All these guys are telling you that you need MF gear and you already told us that you couldn't or don't want to get MF. So try this. Go to the camera store and get 2 rolls of tech pan and a box of technidol developer. Set up and shoot with mirror lock up, optimum apertures, tripod, etc. Bracket arround E.I. of 25. Develop and make some test prints. Then shoot the second roll with the best E. I. Make a couple of 16x20's and judge for your self. I assume you have a good enlarging lens.

In 1985, I went on a 5 year mission to squeeze the max out of my nikons. During that time I experiment with most of the fine grain 35mm films and developers known to man. I ended up with Tech pan and Ethol TEC. TEC gives E. I. of 100 and 16x20 prints. I used the combo for about 8 years and I was happy with the results. I have about 12 lenses for my nikons and only three (100-120 lp/mm) are a match for Tech Pan.

I went to 6x7 MF two years ago. The MF is better, but not ALL that much. I bought and sold a bunch of 6x6 cameras over the years (3 rollei's, 2-C220/C33, old hassey, yashicmat, folders, etc) and wasn't all that impressed with 6x6.

6x7 gives 50% more negative area than 6x6 cropped to 16x20.

Getting the best out of 35mm is like getting to Carnegie Hall. Practice, practice, practice!

-- Gene (, April 02, 1999.

The above post is garbled and missing some stuff. E-mail me at

-- Gene (, April 02, 1999.

Now its OK! Go figure!

-- Gene (, April 02, 1999.

Now it's garbled again! HELP!!

-- Gene (, April 02, 1999.

The answer is "almost yes."

You will have to use APX25, Kodak Tech-pan, or Illford Pan-F.

What will be required to get the most out of your 35mm films is a camera with a sharp prime lense (that's right, no zooms, they compromize optical quality for convience.)

The next thing you'll need is a very sturdy tripod. Nothing will hold your camera better. Even a 1/1000th of a second exposure handheld can show degredation due to camera shake.

Finally, you'll want to use a cable-release or a self timer on the camera to trip the shutter....the camera needs to be totaly isolated from any source of vibration that can degrade the image quality.

I have some shots I've taken at the beach... 135mmF2.8 on a Minolta 400si, threw on a red filter, a polarizer, set F22, and got my wonderfully sharp 30 second exposure (did I mentioned I used a tripod that was big enough to use to launch a small anti-tank missile from?)

The neg shows no grain at 11x14, it has the quality of grain I expect in my ISO125 8x10 prints, at 16x20 (the largest I printed it), the quality was equal to that of Illford's ISO400 films.

A MF camera with ISO25 film will still blow this away. But, with an ISO25/50 film, you'll have the quality in your final prints of a 2 1/4 inch ISO 400 negative. If you really want MF quality w/o the hastle of working hard with a 35mm, find yourself a good 120 folding camera. I hear great things about Kodak Retina's (I think that's what they're called.)

-- Roseblood (, May 13, 1999.

Having used both Hasselblad and Leica R systems I can tell from my own experience that Tech-pan in 35mm will give you impressive definition, rich grey-scale, and that 13x18 enlargements could look like medium-format enlargement out of a....100 iso say delta 100 (one of my favourite). But you will never, never have the subtle nuances as well as the width of the grey-scale (deep blacks with lots of details) you would get from 120 films exposed with medium-format Zeiss optics.


Re the above, Kodak Retinas are 35mm (with excellent Schneider optics)

-- John Lehman (, August 05, 1999.

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