I have been wanting to try a comparison test between my Tachihara 4 x 5 view camera and a Nikon D3 digital camera , I wanted to see in a reasonably sized 13 x 19 inch print, just what the difference would be between from the two cameras and as it has turned out so did a few other people . I thought I would make a print from each camera and take them around and ask people which print came from which camera. So with that in mind I had the opportunity recently when I got together with Kelowna fine art photographer, Michael Breakey and his shiny new Nikon D3 for some fun photography at the historic Father Pandosy Mission in Kelowna under a brilliant blue sky and sunshine with morning light. I set up my view camera with my trusty 120 mm lens attached ( equivalent to a 35-mm lens on the D3 ) and loaded up the film holders with Tri-x black and white film ( my usual and favourite choice ), we set up each camera up on the same tripod with out moving it and for Michael's D3 we used my auto focus Nikkor 35 mm F2 lens. We made several pictures at the park, but the best ones and the one I will use for this blog post is the picture of the old hand hewn log building as it shows lots of detail, but before I go any further, a disclaimer, I realize for this internet post that viewers will not see any difference in the posted picture samples as they are low resolution images ( 72 dpi ) compared to the high resolution ( 300 dpi ) printed samples that I ended up making, I show these pictures for illustration purposes only.
I made the two prints posted here on 13 x 19 inch Epson Enhanced Matte paper, the actual print size was 12 x 18 inches , the images were printed on my Epson 4800 printer using the advanced black and white mode. The 4 x 5 film images were scanned on my Microtek M1 scanner at 21 x 25 inches @ 300 dpi and 16 bit ( down-sized for the finished print size ). The Nikon RAW files were up-sized from their original maximum 9 x 14 inches @ 300 dpi size to 18 inches across on the long side also at 16 bit. The D3 digital images were processed through Adobe Lightroom 2 then the final enhancing and converting to black and white was with Photoshop CS3, the scanned 4 x 5 images were enhanced using CS 3. After printing both examples, I then took these prints around to the Daily Courier newsroom where I work as a staff photographer and asked fellow reporters, photographers and editors if they could spot any difference between the two prints in terms of sharpness and clarity, I tried to make the prints a close as possible in tonal range so they looked the same. Everyone was quite interested in my little survey, I didn't tell anyone which was which. I had a number of interesting responses including one editor who remarked that trying to spot the differences between the two prints was like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Most viewers could not make a quick decision and took several minutes to carefully inspect both photographs going back and forth over each image before coming up with an answer, with one editor actually using the photo department's old film loupe for a closer look, for some the decision came down to a guess, which they often picked the film image. Later that day I showed the comparison images to other photographers at another gathering I attended and after examining the images very closely , one photographer concluded that the D3 image was the 4 x 5 film image, he was quite surprised when I told him he chose the D3 digital image when he thought he had chosen the 4 x 5 film image.
From my own perspective I thought the two prints were almost identical in terms of sharpness and clarity, as they both a exhibit a great amount of fine detail, it really is very difficult to tell them apart unless one looks very closely with several minutes of scrutinizing, I knew that the D3 would be good and I was not disappointed. In conclusion it would seem to me that you can get "4 x 5 view camera" image quality with prints up to 20 inches wide from the the Nikon D3, that is where I think the image quality peaks at, with bigger prints the differences between 4 x 5 film and the Nikon D3 digital images are more noticeable especially if printed as large as 40 inches across. I can certainly see a D3 or more and likely a Nikon D700 as part of my future photography equipment!