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Saturday, January 21, 2006

$27,000 Digital "Almost As Good" as Film

Calf Creek Fall, Escalante, Utah, by Charles Cramer

I have a lot of respect for Charles Cramer, both as a photographer and as a photographic craftsman. In fact, I selected one of his pictures for a magazine cover, back when I was an editor. It was a beautiful dye transfer print of the waterfall picture above, and it became one of my favorite covers.

Charles (I called him Charlie, although I don't know him personally so I'm not certain what he really prefers) has just posted a fascinating comparison at Luminous Landscape, a shootout between the awesome new Phase One P45 39-megapixel back and 4x5" film. He concludes that the P45 is very nearly as good as scanned 4x5" film.

I have a principle I call "the confluence rule." What I've noticed is that the closer two of anything are to each other, the more people tend to work to discriminate between them, and the more passionate their arguments become about which is "best." This is backwards, in my opinion. To me, the closer two of anything are to each other—the more confluent they are—the less it matters which one you choose.

So when Charlie rightly concludes that nobody will know the difference from prints, I agree. Thus he's chosen to go the Phase One route himself, citing the usual advantages: immediate feedback, elimination of the need for processing and scanning, and the ability to shoot more with less cost.

Um, less cost? This is a digital shibboleth, it seems to me. I've made the argument myself, so don't think I'm firmly in the film camp. Ninety per cent of pros now shoot digital, and its advantages are plain. But, counting everything, I've spent more on digital in three years than I spent on film and equipment in any ten-year period. A P45 back may be the bee's knees—I have little doubt—but it costs as much as a nice new car, and it will be obsolete in five or ten years, whereas you can buy a very nice view camera outfit for 1/1oth as much money and it will last for decades (Joel Meyerowitz shoots with an 8x10 Deardorff made in 1938, the year he was born).

All that, and just slightly better image quality, too. Still not a clear choice.



Blogger Will said...

Thank you for posting this opinion! I will wait to switch until digital costs the same AND the quality is the same.
It appears that the quality still isn't the same, but getting closer. The price still has a ways to go however... About $36,000 I'd say.

3:31 PM  
Blogger GeorgeJ said...

The differences in image quality are miniscule. I photograph with a 16mp Canon and will never go back to film. The real issue is not whether it is film or digital; rather, its about the artistry of the image.

7:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The view camera outfit will be obsolete today! If you don't want your camera ever to go obsolete, then don't buy a camera. If you want a camera that still works ten years from now, then digital is perfectly fine.

1:12 PM  

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