It's hard to generalize. Regarding the D3X being superior to MF film it may need some qualification:
1) What MF film? Velvia, T-MAX 100, Technical Pan, print film?
2) How is that film processed?
3) What is the imaging chain, is it intended for digital printing or wet-lab? If digital workflow is used, how is the film scanned?
4) What is your definition of better?
5) Lenses matter a lot
6) Mechanical tolerances play a major role
Digital has a few characteristics that differ from film:
- Digital images have low noise levels, no grain.
- DR on digital is higher than on normal films.
- The response curve for digital is essentially a straight line with abrupt clipping, where analog film has more of an S-curve with soft clipping.
Once you leave the wet darkroom sharpening will be an essential part of the process. Sharpening does not significantly increase resolution, but increases edge contrast at intermediate frequencies.
My own take on the issue is that:
- Digital images are smoother than film unless you go to absurdly high ISOs and compare with slow film. This probably depends on digital capturing a larger part of photons thus having better statistics. Capture efficiency on the sensor itself is around 90% but perhaps only 2% on film. How many photons are captured depends on microlenses, sensor size, color filter grid, etc.
- Some film may resolve higher than a D3X sensor, but probably at very low contrast. So it may resolve resolution targets or even text better than digital, but low contrast edges may be sharper on digital.
- A lot depends on scanning equipment and competence.
I have an ongoing project on investigating this based on the equipment I have (Pentax 67, Velvia, Minolta Dimage Scan Multi Pro scanner and my Sony Alpha 900).
It is available here: http://22.214.171.124/ekr/index.php/photoa...-sony-alpha-900
My plan is to add more tests when I get more Velvia delivered. Film is now special order...
Erik - re your P67 vs Alpha 900 tests. Thank you for sharing your results, and it's really quite an undertaking to do digital-to-film comparisons (having tried to do them myself in the past).
Pentax 67 - I used to own one, and in order to get the best technical results I had to 1 - focus with a magnifier (either the flip up accessory that can be used on the viewing prism, or the chimney type as in waist level viewing 2 - have the camera on a sturdy tripod and head, 3 - use mirror lock up 4- most importantly, due to shutter vibration, I had to use both my hands to press down on top of the camera (exerting steady pressure), 5 - gently push the shutter button 6 - take more than one shot. Pressing down on the camera is most important for shots 1/60 and slower (1/15 being the worst, followed by 1/30, 1/8, and 1/4 sec).
Mamiya 7II w/ 80mm & 65mm - I used to own that outfit. I found the lenses better than the P67 lenses generally (P67 90mm, 105mm, 75mm, 55mm, 45mm, 135mm, 200mm). However, sometimes focusing on intermediate to longer, but not infinity, distance objects was not always perfect (rangefinder focusing). The metering system wasn't great, but of course you learn and adapt.
Fuji GW690III - 6x9 format with 90mm lens, very sharp shots except near edges.
Analog printing with film compared to dslr digital capture: Prints made from medium format C41 low ISO color negs, via analog enlarger - xlnt tonality and sharpness up to 16x20 (I didn't try much above that size). Some grain visible when looking up close. For my taste I like the look of the analog prints (at that size or smaller) better than prints made from digital capture with Canon 5dMII and Sony Alpha 900,which I also owned at one time (laserjet or chromira/commercial inkjet , approx 300dpi/360dpi).
Scanning film - I had some of my 6x7 and 6x9 color transparencies (velvia & provia 100F) commerically scanned using a Nikon 9000 at 3000 dpi and some at 4000dpi, with some of the same shots re-scanned at different times. Some scans came out better than others (comparing the same shots) - in some the grain was more visible than others, and of course the color and density/contrast varied. The advantage of having a scanned file was that I could use software to get the contrast and colors more of what they were like in 'real life' a lot easier than I could get a lab to do something similar with film printed in a darkroom. However I feel that the scanning process lost some resolution and most definitely some 'life' of the shot compared to film (again I only printed 16x20 for the most part - larger analog prints probably would have shown the negative affects of optical enlargement). And mostly the grain in the film seemed to be exaggerated. Maybe a top-of-the-line drum scan would have been better.
Looking at my 6x7 and 6x9 transparencies with 20x loupe, there is far more detail than from the Canon 5DMII and Sony Alpha 900 files. But getting all that detail into a print seems very difficult if not impossible - either with analog printing or with non-drum scanned film (perhaps even with that; others on this forum would know more than I about that I'm sure).
Getting the desired color and contrast seems a lot easier with digital capture than film. And getting a 'good' print seems a lot easier and less expensive via the digital chain as well. For the 'best' tonality and yet with at least as good resolution as dslr digital capture, with the possible exception of the D3X) 6x9 medium format (and large format) still win, in my opinion.
I have no 'real' camera at this point - having sold off my 8x10, my DSLRs. If I was a pro and could afford it (via depreciation expense) I'd get the PhaseOne 65+. Heck, if I wasn't worried about having to get a car in the next year I might buy the D3X. Given that it doesn't seem Nikon is going to come out with a '700x' anytime soon, unexpextedly for me, otherwise I should have kept the Alpha 900, I might have to settle for an Alpha 850 as a temp solution, and be content within it's limitations. BTW, there is something about the Canon 5DMII images I didn't like as much as the Alpha 900, but I can't pin it down.
As far a lenses for DSLRs go, I think one of the limitations is the focusing accuracy, especially for zooms, but that's another post on another topic.
photodan - Dan