The response to my comparative essay between
4x5 and the Canon 1DsMark 2 has been remarkable (if you have
not read this essay you can find it here). This essay is a response
to the feedback I received.
First, I do not plan to stop using, discard, sell or otherwise “chuck,” my
4x5 in favor of the 1DsMk2. In fact, if we look ahead several
years, my guess is that I will be using 4x5 longer than the 1DsMk2.
Why? Essentially because the 1DsMk2 is a step along the way
to increasingly higher resolution digital cameras. At of June
2005, and comparing single-capture digital cameras, it is second
in line behind 22mp digital backs such as the Phase One P25.
In passing, and according to 3-way tests I conducted between
the 1DsMk2, P25 back and 4x5 scanned film, the P25 advantage
over the 1DsMk2 is real but not that dramatic. 4x5 is still the
overall winner, in terms of resolution, by a fair margin.
On the other hand 4x5 has been an achievement in terms of photographic
image quality for over 50 years. I believe first that it is here
to stay and second that we will, sooner or later, have digital
4x5 backs that are easy to use in the field and practical for
landscape photography. I do not consider the current “4x5” scanning
backs practical for landscape photography because A-they need
to be tethered to a laptop and B-they require exposure time of
several minutes blurring anything that moves. The cost, interestingly
enough, is not that much of a consideration for me as it is competitive
with the cost of the 1DsMk2 or the Phase One P25 back.
What am I saying here? In short that the 1DsMk2 will be replaced
by a 22 or 32 or 45mp version sooner or later, or by a medium
format digital camera with higher resolution, or by some other
device, while 4x5 will continue to endure as it has for many
Case closed (at least for me). Let’s move on to another
subject and that is that I currently use both the Canon1DsMk
2 and the Linhof 4x5. Why? Because both have unique advantages
On the advantages side the 1DsMk2 is fast and simple to use
and thereby allows me to create photographs that have to be captured
extremely quickly. The 4x5 offers huge resolution, camera movements
(tilts and shifts) and is perfect for photographs that I plan
to enlarge to wall size.
On the disadvantages side both have shortcomings. The 1DsMk2
cannot generate the same definition as the 4x5 in sizes above
16x20. The 4x5 cannot be set up and used as fast as the 1DsMk2
and developing & scanning film takes longer than importing & converting
raw files. These two cameras are really different tools used
for different purposes. Together they allow me to capture a larger
range of images than if I worked with only one of them.
Not sure if this is true? Thinking I should stick solely to
4x5 and live to its limitations? Or that I should use just the
1DsMk2 and equally live to its limitations? Well, I beg to differ.
Let me give you an example.
I love river running. So much so that each year Natalie and
I offer a different river running workshop. This year it is the
San Juan River. Next year it is the Colorado River in Grand Canyon.
Both expeditions have photography as their first and primary
You can’t use 4x5 on a boat. I don’t care how much
you try, how dedicated you are or how hard you are willing to
work at it. It’s just not in the cards. Yet, many stunning
photographs are to be taken while boating, either action shots
of other boats or stills of the scenery we are passing by. Being
in the middle of a river gives you a unique viewpoint allowing
you to capture images different from those you can capture from
the shore. For this the 1DsMk2 is the perfect tool, and I will
have it with me on our upcoming river trips.
When you are on shore things are quite different. You are on
firm ground and you can take you time photographing in a deliberate
manner. This is the ideal time to search for the most exciting
photographic location, set up your tripod and work with 4x5.
Now you can certainly do everything with 35mm digital, either
the 1DsMk2 or another comparable camera. But if you have large
format you will be going further by opening the possibility of
making huge enlargements from your images. As I pointed out,
sizable enlargements are one of my specialties and one of the
reasons why customers world wide purchase and collect my work.
Those are my needs (yours may, and most likely, differ) and I
need to cater to them. The combination of 4x5 and 1DsMk2 allows
me to meet those needs perfectly.
To those who believe that everything can and should be done
with 4x5 I say this: give it a try! I also suggest you read this
essay about how having two cameras, in this instance 4x5 and
medium format, is the only way you will get the shot.
Eventually we need to be reminded that cameras as just tools.
No matter how much they cost, no matter how technically advanced
they may be, no matter how enthralled we are with owning and
operating them, they are just means to an end and this end is
creating stunning photographic images. To me, the challenge is
to find the proper tools for the job. I believe it is a challenge
that all professional photographers face at one time or another.
Traditionally, photographers have been known for owning far
too many cameras and for buying far more cameras than reason
dictates. The times, in this respect, they are not a changing
(sorry Bob). What has changed, is that we now find that for some
photographers on the cutting edge of technology, these cameras
are a mix of film and digital capture. Such is my case. Personally,
I don’t see any problem shooting both film and digital
simultaneously. However, my guess is that a number of photographers
see my approach as a conflict.
For those who see it as a conflict one must either embrace digital
or embrace film. It’s one or the other, black or white,
left or right but not both. “No way!”, they say, “can
one be in love with both approaches to image capture.” “Way!” I
say. Way! because I am not in love with image capture. I am in
love with the resulting image. And to me, when the print is made
and the photograph displayed, it matters but little how it was
Note by Uwe Steinmueller
Our (Bettina's and mine) background has always
been 35mm or medium format. This also means that we always
stayed shy of huge prints as we want to stay inside the real
capabilities of these cameras. The big shift was film to digital.
In 2000 we bought our first DSLR(s): the Nikon D1.
Pelican Attack (2000 with Nikon D1)
While many people discussed "Film
vs. Digital" at that time we had made up our mind: Get the best
possible out of digital (that is also why we use
only RAW for now over 5 years). In the beginning we actually very
how well the digital files could look at even 13x19 prints. The above
image "Pelican Attack" is still one of our finest images
(remember the Nikon D1 had only 2.7MP resolution and was at ISO 400
The next camera in line was the Nikon
D1x and at this point prints were getting much closer to 35mm film.
Finally with the Canon 1Ds people discussed whether this camera
was close to 4x5. We tested it and found that is was still a very
way to go to match the 4x5 resolution. Ok, the 1Ds Mk. II is again
a step forward but we second Alain's finding that the 1Ds Mk. II
is no real contender for well processed 4x5 shots.
When our friend the top landscape
Cramer will find that any digital back or digital
camera matches his prints then we know we are at a point where
digital cameras finally match 4x5 film (actually in the studio
with still life they already rule as here the photographers can
use multi shot backs and/or scanning backs). But in the field no
digital camera is as flexible as the 4x5 and captures the same
level of details. Also we should not forget that the 4x5 camera
movements allow you photos that can hardly be done with any 35mm
or MF camera.
What does this mean for our work?
We gladly accept the 35mm limitations (means printing mostly to
a max of 20x16"). On the other side technology helps us to get
higher resolution by the year (although now already the 35mm optics
are a limiting factor for more detail). We could imagine to use
a MF digital camera with 22MP or more (maybe Mamiya ZD?). Mainly
because we love the larger viewfinder of these cameras.
Alain wrote: "Way! because I am not
in love with image capture. I am in love with the resulting image.
And to me, when the print is made
and the photograph displayed, it matters but little how it was
created.". Same here the only difference is that we have a 35mm background
and live with it's imitations (absolute resolution, limited movements)
but also enjoy the advantages (speed, freehand). As Alain said,
the final print counts.