LF: do your viewers notice the difference ?

greenspun.com : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

As LF photographers, we certainly are aware of the technical quality of the final print. We notice the exquisite tonality and detail of some prints. We are often disturbed by lack of sharpness or excessive grain when viewing large enlargments made from small negatives. However, do non-photographers even remark this sort of things, or is it only the image content which strikes them ? When you show them your prints, do they realize it's not something attainable with a small camera ? You read enough on photo.net about "stunning" 30x50 inches lightjet prints made from 35mm that I am wondering if LF makes a difference to other people than ourselves. whether

-- Q.-Tuan Luong (luong@ai.sri.com), August 04, 2000


Absolutely. Even scans of my 8x10" contact prints (which are not really as high resolution as my 35mm scans, by virtue of my particular equipment--I haven't quite figured out why this works) seem to impress people in a way that my smaller format images don't. Viewers typically comment on the seeming "three-dimensionality" of the contact prints. I think subconsciously, the rectilinear perspective and control of the focus plane only possible with a view camera (or maybe a 35mm camera and a really big ladder) contributes to the sense that these images are special.

-- David Goldfarb (dgoldfarb@barnard.edu), August 04, 2000.

I would be tempted not to focus on the camera. OK, I'm an amateur so I don't have editors drooling over my work, but I like my pictures and the people who I inflict them on like them too. If I do well, they compliment me for whatever reason, not my camera. I say I don't want to focus on the camera/format because there are two possible reactions one good, one not: 1) slight inaudible gasp and eyes glued to photo with big smile (good), and 2) "My that's a lovely photo, your camera must take very nice photo's". Am I the only one who gets the "you must have a nice camera" unintentional insult? I saw a guys 35mm prints today that are better than my 4x5 contacts so I wouldn't count the camera any farther than the chosen tool. Mine is 4x5. Dean

-- Dean Lastoria (dvlastor@sfu.ca), August 04, 2000.

Q.T., I do the art show circuit with black and white photography, so I have probably had several thousand people in my booth during the past six years. I have found that many, many of them do see a difference, although they may not be aware what makes the difference. I have had people literally stand in front of a photograph and study it for half an hour. They comment on the sharpness and contrast. Of course, about every show someone will comment that they are "gonna get some black and white film for their camera". I do get a lot of comments on the sharpness, even though I am not a sharpness freak. A lot of times I think they are seeing detail and shading in small areas that are not strictly related to sharpness. I think modern 35mm lenses are blazingly sharp, and probably sharper than any lens I own, but there is a difference in prints and I think the customers see and appreciate the difference. One of my best selling images, which was made with a convertable element of an old Wollensak triple convertable, is not that sharp when viewed under a magnifying glass, but it looks sharp in an 11x14 print. The image has sold consistantly for several years and has won ribbons and prizes at a lot of shows and competitions. I realize I am beginning to ramble so I will close with the comment that I think sharpness and apparent sharpness are noticed by the public.

Good Shooting, Doug.

-- Doug Paramore (dougmary@alanet.com), August 04, 2000.

No, the general public seems to wonder if my photographs are even photographs. I would have to explain carefully for them to understand what large format is. These issues are not important to them but they like the images and the emotional content behind them.

-- jim ryder (jimryder12@aol.com), August 04, 2000.

Hi Q.-Tuan, I'm kind of one of them psychologists who is not a psychologist/head shrink but who has done a little research on perception. And I think your question is a very good one, one I've often thought about after reading all the contending arguements for what is the greatest of the lenses and ultimate formats. I don't know if it has ever been done, the kind of experiments that would really answer these questions, but if you did do the experiments I think a lot of people who have spent mega-bucks on their lenses would be very unhappy to find out what factors contribute to preceived "sharpness" of the image with regards to the general viewing public. Off hand, think of a random selection of 16 viewers; grab the first 16 people (those not legally blind and those not color blind, but God knows what shape their vision is in) that come out of the shopping mall and present them with a selection of images made with different lenses or formats, and then ask them to make discriminations about what is the sharpest image of the lot: you have a grandmother standing there with a 14 year old boy rating your work. I think sharpness for Joe Average will be tied-in with subject recognition (the viewers past experience and stage of development and needs at the moment of judgment), color intensity, and who-knows what else... I think concepts associated with what's known as gestalt psychology contribute to image "sharpness."

I bet you couldn't even get consistant agreement between photos taken with the same lens at the same f-stop. I mean, show that 14 year old boy two photos taken with your old Wolly (or with your $1000 made yesterday in Germany glass),one photo of a cotton wood tree and one of last month's center-fold. Now ask him, "Tell me, which one of those pictures do you think is sharpest?"

Most all discussions on sharpness leave out the psychology of "seeing" for the average person, and as I result it seems sometimes to me that trying to reduce the art of photographs to pairs of lines per mm is really not what I'm after, but on the other hand, you know, I can appreciate state of the art cameras and people who can make technically beautiful images. However, I do know that some of the claims I've read about the performance of certain lenses would just not make any (as we say in the trade) significant difference on the average person out for an aesthetic experience.

Image quality for the viewer is, in the end, preceived sharpness, and I'm often amazed at which photographs of mine my friends select as their favorites when I know the photo is out of focus. I use old LF cameras because I like it, but I don't have any illusions about the possible outcome of a controlled experiment with a panel of randomly selected judges in a contest between a master of 35mm and a master of 8X10.

Great observation about sharpness Q.-Tuan, end of lecture.

-- david clark (paintfore@earthlink.com), August 04, 2000.

Can the average person discriminate the performance between a racy Honda Prelude vs. a Porsche?

I think that most people do NOT know that a particular image is shot with a large format camera, they only see the final image and respond to it. They have not established a point of reference for image quality. They may be more impressed with a nicely lit enlargement from a disposable cam.

However, if the same scene was photographed with different formats, printed at a 16x20 size and compared side by side then they will notice the difference.

The issue of sharpness and image quality is troublesome in LF photography. I feel that far too many times, in the search for critical sharpness and detail, LF photographers have a tendency to produce very large boring shots of focused detail (myself included as I am near sighted).

If the shots I am shooting on an 8x10 doesn't stop the average person and make them consider a quality difference, then i guess i am not pushing myself hard enough!

-- Dave Anton (daveanton@home.com), August 05, 2000.

In my opinion, with the advent of digital jiggery-pokery, and the lightjet 30"x50", LF colour work will lose out for many applications where movements can be duplicated by tilt and shift lenses for 35mm, for all but the largest blow-ups - such as one I saw a cople of months ago, about 30' by 50' advertising " marvelous new retail oppertunities on this site 40,000sq feet avaliable" - it was stuck in front of a mass of scaffolding around a building in Glasgow a while back. However, one thing where LF will still hold strong is the fine art and B+W side of things due to better tonality and luminosity brought on by a larger surface area as 35mm in B+W (or mine atleast), are decidedly dodgey above 10X8 or so (mainly because I like shooting films at or above 800 ASA).

-- David Kirk (David_J_Kirk@hotmail.com), August 05, 2000.

People will notice the art first. If the picture is attractive to them, they may examine it more closely and see that it's very sharp, that it has excellent tonality, etc., but they may not. Most will just see the picture as a picture and not even be conscious of the technical excellence (or lack of it), although it may well be a factor in their appreciation even if they are unaware of that. They are certainly unconscious of the technical work we may have had to do to get the picture, i.e., rise or fall, tilts, etc. They see only the final result, and they judge that not on any technical basis but on perceived artistic merit. The extreme example of this which we have all seen often is the snapshot of some person; no matter how poor the technical quality of the photograph, if it's a "good likeness", to the average person it's a good photo. The argument for LF is not that it will produce technically superior pictures, but that it will enable us to get the picture we want, a picture that may have been unobtainable with any other type of camera. But in the end, any picture still has to be something that a viewer will appreciate first for its artistic merit.

-- Richard Deimel (Bbadger@aol.com), August 05, 2000.

Don't worry about it. If you're not doing this for yourself, and are instead concerned about satisfying the "quality standards" of the public at large, give up LF. A digi-wonder or 35 should suffice.

-- Sal Santamaura (bc_hill@qwestinternet.net), August 05, 2000.

For most peopel at large, it is content that make them take notice. It's why they like Anne Gettes' images more than Gary Winograd's. But there does come a time when LF is considered superior to it's smaller cousins. Tonal scale and perspective. Take an artist such as John Sexton and Joe Blow or his brother JB. Give each of them a LF camera, identical scenes and guess which one will produce the better image. Look at any 35mm image at whatever size and the same size LF print and if you can't see the difference, you're blind as a bat. But 35mm has many advantages over LF or even MF. That is why there are different formats. Each has a strength of it's own. You don't take a Porche to a drag strip nor a Top Fueler to Seebring. You want to see action, 35mm wins hands down. You want incredible detail and tonal scale, large format blows away the competition. James

-- james (james_mickelson@hotmail.com), August 05, 2000.

Q.-Tuan, this is a very important not to say decisive question and I have seen for myself, as many have outlined, that the first impression that a picture gives is more important than it's physical quality. With a small format camera however, it is easy to trick the viewer eyes by searching for stunning perspectives, or capturing action, looking for blurring and color effects images, all things that produce an appealing look and many will stop on the shallow "first impression". If someone wants to make money out of photography, he better gets the latest Nikon or Canon and use it as a harmless machine gun. I am not saying to shoot just anything, but to shoot life from within, instinctively. People love life and are man centered. I am still stunned that a photographer like Ernst Haas used small format for most of his work, including the giant posters designed to promote a cigarette brand. So what is worse the trouble of dragging a large format camera around? Mhhh... wouldn't it be the authenticity of the large format approach? No tricks, no make-believe, but a raw portion of authentic beauty presented right into the tiniest details. Some are sensible, some are not. The ultimate is to combine the stunning and the beautiful. Such pictures seldom leave people cold and I wish I had more of these!

-- Paul Schilliger (pschilliger@smile.ch), August 05, 2000.

In auto racing "Nothing beats cubic inches". I think the same holds true for photography.

-- Barrie E. Smith (barrie99@marsweb.com), August 05, 2000.

A great example, even at 8x10. A couple of years ago my wife had to work on a Sunday afternoon, and so I did all sorts of misc catch up proof prints -- 35mm, 6x6, 6x7, and 4x5. After dinner she was looking thru the 8x10 proofs (which were in random order from the drying rack), picked out two and ask how come they looked so much better than the others? Guess which 2 were the proofs from 4x5?

-- John Lehman (al7jj@yahoo.com), August 05, 2000.

It's been my experience that most people, even people who enjoy and appreciate photography, don't really give a rat's backside about the differences in the technical quality between the different formats. If it's a powerful image, it's a powerful image.

Lots of people have looked at a collection of photos I have taken with 35mm and medium format. The difference in the grain and tonality of the photos from the two different formats is quite obvious (to me). Not one person has ever said anything about that difference. They haven't shown any general preference for the images from one format or another. That's not what they're paying attention to.

If they were to compare very similar images made by different formats, then they might notice a difference. But, for many types of photos, those types of differences are incidental.

I like large format. I shoot it sometimes. There are some things for which it's perfect. But talk about large format images being in some way artistically superior is a bunch of crap. If someone's large format images are better than the images they've made with other formats, then good for them. They've found a way of working that helps them best express their vision. But it's just silly to try convincing yourself, much less anyone else, that the "large-format way" is the "best way."

-- Mike Dixon (burmashave@compuserve.com), August 06, 2000.

I do a lot of work for people who sue the government. About five years ago I threw away my 35 mm gear and went to medium and large format for this work. Most of the lawsuits involve logging, grazing, and mining on public lands in the west, and my photos end up in legal briefs. I am convinced that my prints have won lawsuits because the government attorneys looked them over and thought: "How in the hell am I going to explain this photograph when it shows up in front of the judge in the courtroom blown up to 16x20 or larger?" For these applications a 35 mm camera just plain doesn't do the job. You need to be able to see the rings on the stumps, the flies on the cowshit, and the oil slicks in the streams. People may not know that the photograph they are looking at is superior to all their snapshots at home but they do have an intuitive understanding of what they are seeing. That's what I think. Their memory and comprehension do not extend to the point where they know the 8x10 contact print is afundamentally different kind of print, but they do know it is an extremely sharp print.

Whether it is art - that is a different question altogether.

-- Erik Ryberg (ryberg@seanet.com), August 06, 2000.

To really blown them away, show them a 4x5 or 8x10 transparency on a light table!

-- Chris Hawkins (peace@clover.net), August 06, 2000.

I think APS and compact camera sales answer the question.

-- Pete Andrews (p.l.andrews@bham.ac.uk), August 07, 2000.

A lot depends on the particular image, but I think they know. I've had people notice and remark on the detail in a print, the texture, or even the lack of converging lines. They may not know that a 4x5 camera was used, or that view camera movements were used. They definitely know when they see a contact print from an 8x10 negative.

It's worth considering that, at one time we were they, and we knew instinctively.

-- neil poulsen (neil.fg@att.net), August 07, 2000.

Most people don't care. Most people would listen to Brittney Spears before Vivaldi.

I remember when I got my first 35mm camera, I was in ninth grade. It was just after I had gone to the Eastman museum in Rochester, NY. That is when I first saw original works by Adams.

I started working with my 35mm...something was desperately wrong with it. I did not have the razor sharp focus from foreground to background. And I did not have the perfect tonal range from black to white. I had the camera checked out. They said it was fine. Then I read "The Negative". Things started to click.

The people who are inclined to notice, will notice. Who cares about the rest?



-- Jason Kefover (jkefover@york.tec.sc.us), August 07, 2000.

Just look at what 8x10 is used for in the commercial world: cars, food furniture, and Playboy centerfolds. Situations where detail carries the message. Does it make a difference? You bet... Follow the money.

-- Bruce Wehman (bruce.wehman@hs.utc.com), August 07, 2000.

If people really noticed "sharpness" they would have stopped looking at paintings soon after the invention of photography. It's about ART.

-- Wayne DeWitt (wdewitt@snip.net), August 08, 2000.

If the detail carries the message in those examples, then why are playboy centrefolds taken through a soft-focus filter, and car ads airbrushed to death? In the commercial world, I think you'll find 10x8 is mainly chosen to impress the client or art director, not for the final quality in print at 133dpi.

-- Pete Andrews (p.l.andrews@bham.ac.uk), August 08, 2000.

8x10 is often used, for no other reason, than to impress clients (been there,done that). The question is: can you make a living wasting time and resouuces when you are in competition with people who are not (so wasteful). Sooner or later money will talk and you will start doing what makes sense which, in this scenario, would be: using a smaller format, when a smaller format will do the job.

The business of print media has been around for a long time. It's a huge business that attracts some very smart people. To these people image quality is everything. And, believe me, there is still a demand for 8x10, especially for the fold-outs.

-- Bruce Wehman (bruce.wehman@hs.utc.com), August 08, 2000.

Well, here's my somewhat rambling reaction to large format and sharpness:

About a year ago I came across an exhibit by Charles Cramer (www.charlescramer.com) at a cafe in Menlo Park, California. They were landscapes shot 4x5 and then printed to LightJet, many 30" x 40". What attracted me to the prints first was the power of the image, composition, beauty, and color. As I got closer to the pictures, I found myself scrutinizing them close-up for sharpness and grain, probably due to their enormous size and rich colors. This was my first exposure to LightJet prints and I was awe-struck. How could they possibly be so sharp and grain-free?

Several weeks ago I went to an photo exhibit in San Francisco at the Fort Mason Center, I believe it was called Photo San Francisco. There were around 50 different galleries showing mostly B&W images from various artists like Adams, Weston, Evans, Maplethorp and a whole bunch more. No LightJet prints and the sizes were much smaller. After the show and driving home, I realized that not once had I analyzed any of the prints for sharpness or grain.

In summary, I think the wow effect of large digital prints from LF causes me to approach and analyze them in a different way than I normally would. I suppose this will change w

-- Brad Evans (bevans@best.com), August 08, 2000.

In the non enthusiast maarket, a browser inside a photo gallery, most people really appreciate a 24x30" shot from an a 8x10, however, they don't realize it was shot on a 8x10 camera... most art appreciators don't even know such big animals exist. So they are impressed the end product, but don't really seem to know what went into making it. I find that there is some shots where 8x10 produces barely marginal benefits over MF, however other shots, the difference is quite large. So IMHO, I think there is no one answer, it varies based on the shot, enlargment factor, quality of lenses and film, etc...

I am amazed how hard it is to make a photo galler successful. In Las Vegas, inside the Caesars forum shops, a very upscale crowded shopping mall, there was a photo gallery open for awhile that had prints from many of the big names in landscape photography.... Meunch, Ketchum, etc. It was magnificant to see all the best work from these icons... however, the store was never busy..I was amazed..while the art stores selling oil paintings were always mobed with people... Needless to say they are no longer in the mall... thought this would interest some readers...

-- Bill Glickman (bglick@pclv.com), August 10, 2000.

Hi, I take thad camera who is the best for the shoot I will take.Sometimes is it the LF, sometimes the MF and for action of course the 35mm. In printing matter for mags it is very difficult to see if it was from a 35 mm or larger camera because they work sometimes with cheap scanner for the larger format. Only if they work with the old methods via repros etc. you will see the difference also on a mag page.And then they see a difference with comments like "wow the colors are so strong and you can see every detail!"

Armin Seeholzer

-- Armin Seeholzer (armin.seeholzer@smile.ch), August 13, 2000.

To answer Pete's question:
If the detail carries the message in those examples, then why are playboy centrefolds taken through a soft-focus filter, and car ads airbrushed to death?

One of the major reasons Playboy shoots centerfolds on 8x10 is because the smallest size they use them at (barring the occasional trading card or desk calendar) is roughly 11x24. Pick up a French Playboy sometime and you'll see it printed even larger. Pick up a German edition and you might see what happens when those editors decide to replace the carefully made 8x10 shot with 35mm. Wander into a college bookstore, and you will usually find wall or door-sized posters made from centerfold shots.

Attend any of their major trade shows or promotions, and you might be lucky enough to see the life-size or larger prints and posters that make full use of the detail in the original. Join the Playboy Cyber Club and you'll have the opportunity to use LivePicture to scroll around a high-resolution scan of those big scans and see just how much fuss went into making them (you'll see other things in great detail too, but that's a different issue).

I've had the chance to look at a life-sized print from a Playboy centerfold, and the quality is pretty darn amazing. The only reason I didn't spend more time looking at it was that the woman in the picture was standing next to me, wearing a little red cocktail dress...

Of course, one of the other reasons Playboy used to like a large sheet of film was the retouching possibilities, something that's handled digitally these days, and hasn't ever been quite as extreme as everyone seems to believe (it's frankly cheaper to fix as many problems as possible before the shutter fires, with lighting, makeup, wardrobe, careful posing, skin tape, and, yes, soft-focus accessories, especially when a last-minute editorial change might result in a different picture running).

Given how much better film has gotten since the 1950s, they almost certainly could drop down to 4x5 and be happy with the results, and that's in fact what they do for product shots. But the centerfold is their claim to fame, and they spare no expense to get exactly what they want. To be honest, I suspect that by the time you add up the cost of having a small army of stylists in the studio for two weeks, the expense and relative inconvenience of the 8x10 format is pretty trivial.

-- J Greely (jgreely@corp.webtv.net), August 15, 2000.

no everything look the same

-- Tracy Gordon (alexisann_01@hotmail.com), April 16, 2002.

What an interesting thread. I'm glad the little smart aleck put it back in the "recent answers" column so I could discover it. An effective picture is such a combination of things. Effective pictures are the ones that someone walking through a display will stop for a glance, then start to proceed, then stop for another look, try to leave, and finally spend 5 minutes or so just looking. Just sharpness won't make that happen. But many times it can't happen without. Imagine Clyde Butcher's 50X60" prints shot with 35mm. Picture content, the picture creater's spirit/ vision, picture size, (Weston's would be awful bigger than 8X10), and sharpness are all part of the equation. It's frustrating to have all of the other components in a picture that can't survive past 11X14. That's why I shoot the larger formats. I want the potential to be there just in case I get lucky and the other elements come together also. Other posters have said it better than I am but still it's fun to go through the thought process. Thanks Q

-- Jim Galli (jimgalli@lnett.com), April 16, 2002.

There's more in the play than just sharpness or resolution. As David Goldfarb points it out, there's a three dimensionality that is seen in pictures taken with 8x10 and bigger formats. This can be distinguished even in a poor jpeg'ed webpicture. And this is probably the reason why old historic photographs look so different,that even people not involved in photography notice this quality.

-- Jan (janeeral@vtoy.fi), April 16, 2002.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ