by Mike McNamee Published 01/09/2005
In the Red Corner! - we have a Nikon D2x set to shoot a RAW file at 2848x4288 pixels. The camera was set to create a 16 bit RAW file, saved out as a TIFF at 71.5MB. The camera was fronted with a 17-35mm f2.8 Nikkor. Shooting conditions were 1/800ths at f2.8 and an ISO of 100. The camera was hand-held.
In the Blue Corner! - we have a Walker Titan equipped with a 180mm Nikkor and armed with Fuji Quick Load 5x4 Velvia 100. The image was exposed employing the rising front from a Gitzo tripod using 1/8ths at f11. The tranny was clip tested (on a companion shot) then processed. It was scanned on the Imacon P2 at two files sizes, one 38.8MB (8-bit) and one at 262.5MB (16-bit). This gave pixel counts of 3262x4021 and 5516x8106 repectively.
The fight was promoted by a property developer from London and refereed by architectural photographer, Paul McMullin. The venue was St Mary Axe in the financial district of London, alongside Sir Normal Foster's iconic Gherkin.
The debate has gone on and on ever since digital cameras hit the scene. Is it as good as film? Is it as good as 35mm? Is it as good as 6x6? Is it as good as 5x4? A typical pundit examining an early digital print would always be seen peering at the print through a magnifying glass - did they ever use the same method on a wet print?
In an issue themed on quality the question "is it as good as?" is very pertinent, especially in the week that Dixons announces that they will no longer to sell film cameras and that digital sales have outstripped film by a 15:1 ratio. The media has, in the main, crossed over to digital; the only people left on film seem to be some of the medics, a chunk of the services (mainly forensics but changing by the day). The final group of dinosaurs is the premium glossy brigade, on home and lifestyle magazines. Currently they are resolutely trapped on the film route, steadfastly waiting for digital to prove its quality credentials. Their experience has been mixed, they have been sent some awful digital work but they have also displayed breath-taking ignorance of matters digital. The inability of photographers to get up the learning curve fast enough to deliver quality digital, first commission, provides enough evidence for the premium glossies to dig their heels in and continue to demand 6x6 trannies, to the exclusion of all else.
At the other end of this spectrum we are now treated to the sight of mobile phone images smeared (and I mean smeared) over the whole of a front page of a daily newspaper - the oldhand picture editors will be spinning in their graves! And so to the point! In a working environment, on a real shoot, how much difference is there between a scanned 5x4 transparency and a flagship digital SLR?
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