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Author Topic: 4x5" film, using labs or develop yourself?  (Read 8036 times)
torger
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« on: February 20, 2012, 03:33:27 AM »
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I'm continuing my investigation of moving to large format film (I'm brought up on digital, so it feels kind of scary), and one aspect that is hard to find information about is quality in film development. I'm fully aware of that film is insanely impractical compared to digital, but at the same time I don't want to make as impractical as possible just for the sake of it. Thus, if quality result can be had I'd use a good professional lab rather than develop myself. The chemicals are not too fun to deal with.

I plan to shoot on reversal film, probably mostly Fuji Provia, and have a digital print workflow. It is nice to have good looking transparencies but I'd rather use a lower contrast more neutral film like Provia for the transparency rather than Velvia although I might pull a bit in the saturation slider when post-processing the scan so the end result may look more like Velvia Smiley. Anyway, transparencies that I like enough to make it to a print will be drum scanned.

My guess is that when the print workflow is digital, the quality and dynamic range of the drum scan is key and more important to the final result than details in film development, that is that a good drum scan can bring out post-processable shadow detail that in an analog workflow would just have been black. In other words, while getting a 100% exact exposure and being a "master developer" may have been key back in the days when prints where made the analog way, there's some more slack now in the digital days.

Does this hold true, or do you need to develop yourself if you want to make quality prints from film exposures?
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Kumar
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« Reply #1 on: February 20, 2012, 04:44:33 AM »
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You'll find your answers here: http://www.largeformatphotography.info/forum/

Kumar
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torger
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« Reply #2 on: February 20, 2012, 05:37:59 AM »
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You'll find your answers here: http://www.largeformatphotography.info/forum/

Thanks, I'll register there and ask around. I'm a bit afraid it can be hard to get a balanced view though, it seems like most large format amateur photographers do it for the sake of film and develop by their own because that's how you do to get the complete film experience, rather than having hybrid film/digital workflows.
« Last Edit: February 20, 2012, 05:58:59 AM by torger » Logged
Thomas Krüger
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« Reply #3 on: February 20, 2012, 06:07:23 AM »
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The german company Tetenal has a E-6 process with 3 baths. Doing the development by your own is easy, but you need a processor like the Jobo ATL 800 (out of production).

http://www.tetenal.com/index_c.htm?AKT=01120020002000300000&L=UK
http://www.jobo.com/jobo_service_analog/us_analog/instructions/instructions_tetenal_e-6_three_bath.htm
Manuals for processors - http://www.jobo.com/jobo_service_analog/analog_frei/bedanleitung_pdf/index.html
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torger
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« Reply #4 on: February 20, 2012, 09:00:40 AM »
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Thanks, I'll register there and ask around. I'm a bit afraid it can be hard to get a balanced view though, it seems like most large format amateur photographers do it for the sake of film and develop by their own because that's how you do to get the complete film experience, rather than having hybrid film/digital workflows.

They were actually nice to me Smiley. From the replies I got there it seems like E-6 and C-41 processing is a quite straightforward process, that is there is not much art in it (unlike in B&W photography), just as I hoped. Doing it yourself is thus to save time and cost. There are ways to push exposure if you have messed up when taking the picture, but if you have exposed correctly there's just one way to do it.

I guess Mark Dubovoy's Ansel Adams story in the latest essay "Everything matters" scared me a bit Smiley, but that's about black and white photography, and a full analog workflow.

I actually might develop film myself anyway at some point, but like the fact that it is not mandatory to get high quality.
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Chris_Brown
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« Reply #5 on: February 20, 2012, 10:01:40 AM »
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I'm the pessimist here (only because I've discussed this with local peers).

  • Transparency films have about 6 stops in exposure latitude. Less than digital capture, which now stands at about 8-10 stops with the better cameras on the market (and it's getting better every few years).
  • By scanning your films, you're not expanding this dynamic range. And you're introducing a digital workflow that produces better results with digital capture.
  • Scanning film is the most critical step in the process, after actually exposing the film. You will spend significant time scanning film, and if you seek the ultimate scan then you will be using a drum scanner (I did, and it's worth the cost and effort).
  • For a better dynamic range, consider using color neg films and using an enlarger to make prints. A 100% analog workflow! Presto! You're a fine artist!  Cheesy
  • Film labs are not ubiquitous any more. Film is a dying medium, so consider processing your own films & prints with JOBO equipment (found on eBay) or the equivalent.
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torger
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« Reply #6 on: February 20, 2012, 10:41:07 AM »
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I've thought about exposure latitude. When I've digitized fuji velvia slides I've noted that the dense shadows contain a lot of detail if you go HDR in digitalization. I found similar results to this shadow recovery demonstration: http://cheapdrumscanning.com/why-drum-scan/shadow-detail/

I'm suspecting that the DR of film is underestimated, because HDR scanning techniques have not been used until recently. Consumer flatbed scanners have truly bad dynamic range for sure. Anyway, with HDR scanning, either through drum scanning or repro setups it does actually look like you can expand the dynamic range compared to what you get in standard analog processing, possibly even more than what a digital camera will capture. Film also have a bit nicer highlight behavior than digital.

I have not deep-dived into the DR issue yet though (it is an important factor), so there may be more things in there.

I found this test on film dynamic range

http://archive.bigben.id.au/tutorials/360/technical/hdri/index.html

it is on color negative though which is supposed to have a bit wider DR than slide film. Anyway it matches the feeling I have that it is more about the limitations in scanning/presentation than that film cannot capture high DR. The film has an S-curve and compresses several stops of highlights and shadows in there, so it depends on how well the scanner can extract that.
« Last Edit: February 20, 2012, 11:15:49 AM by torger » Logged
epines
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« Reply #7 on: February 20, 2012, 11:25:38 AM »
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You really might want to consider shooting C-41 rather than E-6. Color negs record a phenomenal amount of information in both the shadows and the highlights. Yes, E-6 is sharper and less grainy, but the modern color-neg emulsions are very good, very low-grain and very sharp. And who says that grain is the enemy anyways? It can be very beautiful. And if you're shooting 4x5, you'll probably never see it in the print.

For scanning, West Coast Imaging does high-quality drum scans at good prices. Or you can scan the negs yourself. High-quality flatbed scanners are easier to find at cheap prices these days (used), as are drum scanners. Drum scanning carries a steep learning curve, but once you've got it dialed in, the quality is great. And you can do HDR scanning, as you say, by scanning once for the overall, a second time for the highlights, even a third time for the shadows if you desire.

For labs/developing, The Icon and A&I in L.A. are both operating and good.

ethan
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Chris_Brown
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« Reply #8 on: February 20, 2012, 11:58:50 AM »
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My experience with scanning is with an Imacon Flextight, then a Howtek HR8000. I tested them side-by-side and the difference in quality was stunning. I wrapped up the Imacon and sold it the next day. My Howtek lasted 10 years, and I sold it a few years ago. It was a tank. The PMTs typically read up to a DMax of 3.8, and this is tested/evaluated by using a transmissive Stouffer Scale.

The "HDR scanning process" is a technique used when a scanner cannot read the entire DR of a film, and this is typically a flatbed scanner. A drum scanner will not yield more detail in shadows of a chrome or highlights in a negative when the input parameters are modified. The PMTs already "see" beyond the DMax of all photogenic films.

By over exposing and under processing (i.e., pull processing) you can extract about a half-stop in DR when using Fuji chrome films. It introduces a very weird pink/blue crossover color, but good scanning parameters can eliminate that.

For a color film that has the widest DR, it used to be the Kodak Portra films. The Fuji portrait films had punchier colors but less DR by about a half-stop. (I only know this because I've scanned them all and it's easy to get a read on the DMax of films with drum scanning software).
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John Rodriguez
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« Reply #9 on: February 21, 2012, 11:26:09 AM »
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My thoughts having gone through the same digital to 4x5 conversion a year ago.

- Scanning can only copy whats on the film, no more. You'll actually loose a little data, not gain it.

- Drum scans will get you more information then flatbeds - resolution, color and contrast.

- No one film is the best for everything.  You're going to wind up trying a lot.  Your first box may be Provia (it was mine), but you'll find that each has it's advantages/disadvantages.  For example, Provia picks up blue in shadows very easily, so it's not always the best film for shots combining both deep shadow and sunlit areas without compensation.

- One of the major advantages I've found going from digital to 4x5 is the ability to choose my sensor (film) for a given situation.  For example, a low contrast shot with a DSLR that covers say 4 stops will get you a very flat raw file that's only using about 1/3 of the available data.  You can add contrast back in, but you're still working 1/3 the data and it'll show in the image: you won't have optimum tonal and color separation.  However, what if you could change your sensor to one that recorded the same max amount of data but over 4 stops instead of 12?  Now you'd have 3x the data for the same image.  While the ratios aren't exactly the same, this is analogous to switching between C41 and E6.  If the range you're trying to capture will fit on E6 you'll have more data to work with (in fact E6 is even denser then C41).  When the range won't fit, you've got C41 to capture it.

- I've been using labs for my processing.  One for color and one that does BW tray processing.  I stick with the same labs for repeatable results and send in some test sheets when I try new films/techniques.  I work more in color then BW, but if I were predominantly a BW shooter I would be processing myself as there are a lot of variables and the only way you can be sure of the results is doing it yourself.

As someone else said, spend some time on largeformatphotography.info, it's a great resource.

Anyways, good luck, you're going to love it! 
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feppe
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« Reply #10 on: February 21, 2012, 12:31:01 PM »
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I'm one of those amateurs who develops their own film (6x6 and 4x5). Astia and Provia are both easy, but you need some practice to get your process smooth and consistent. Buy an accurate thermometer.

The german company Tetenal has a E-6 process with 3 baths. Doing the development by your own is easy, but you need a processor like the Jobo ATL 800 (out of production).

You don't "need" a fancy processor. You can buy a small Jobo tank (probably still in production) and develop 6 sheets at a time. Not feasible for commercial photography, but works perfectly for amateurs like me. People spend €€€ on agitators and spinners and heaters and other crap, but I don't see the point of them with low volume shooting.
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John R Smith
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« Reply #11 on: February 21, 2012, 01:05:11 PM »
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For what it's worth -

I always used to process my own E6 films on the kitchen table - no fancy heaters or processors, just a warm water bath (the washing-up bowl) and a thermometer. Float all your chemicals (in tupperware containers) and the tank in the bath. The trannies always came out fine, and thirty years later are still looking good.

People make too much fuss about this stuff.

John
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RobertJ
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« Reply #12 on: February 21, 2012, 04:11:03 PM »
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I agree with everything said so far in this thread about developing, drum scanning, neg vs. e-6, etc.

However, before I started shooting 4x5, people made it sound like slides barely have any DR at all.  So I intentionally overexposed some portraits.  

Shooting in the studio with strobes, the Fuji instant films I took were clearly overexposed, so I popped off 10 sheets of Provia.  The Provia actually held detail in the "blown" highlights, and had detail in the shadows.  I don't know the exact amount of DR that's available on whatever film, but I do believe E-6 slides have more DR than people usually say they do.

If you shoot color neg, Portra is hard to beat (or unbeatable?).
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torger
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« Reply #13 on: February 22, 2012, 02:34:48 AM »
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I agree with everything said so far in this thread about developing, drum scanning, neg vs. e-6, etc.

However, before I started shooting 4x5, people made it sound like slides barely have any DR at all.  So I intentionally overexposed some portraits.  

Shooting in the studio with strobes, the Fuji instant films I took were clearly overexposed, so I popped off 10 sheets of Provia.  The Provia actually held detail in the "blown" highlights, and had detail in the shadows.  I don't know the exact amount of DR that's available on whatever film, but I do believe E-6 slides have more DR than people usually say they do.

If you shoot color neg, Portra is hard to beat (or unbeatable?).

I've searched around the web a bit but it is hard to find dynamic range measurements. Film behave non-linearly so when you push it too hard you can get color shifts etc, so it is a bit subjective what the dynamic range is. In the 100% analog days (i e when you did not drum scan and had only limited possibility to push shadows etc in post-processing) what you saw on the neg/reversal out of the camera was the range you got, especially for reversal films - finished product out of camera. The aggressive S-curve of say fuji velvia has given its reputation of "low DR".

Of what I have found it seems indeed that Portra is hard to beat. Portra 400 has something like 19 stops (!) of dynamic range, and is ideal for those that use film as a starting point for drum scanning and then digital post-processing. Without post-processing it often looks kind of flat for landscape use.

Reversal films has clearly considerably less DR, but I have yet to find any good test of what it actually is. I suspect that with proper scanning techniques you get at least as much as you get from a digital camera. Since I don't plan to scan everything I shoot I'd prefer reversal film since it is so nice too look at on the light table Smiley, actually looking at slide film is what started my quest for 4x5"...

Here in Sweden it is much easier to find labs that do C-41 than E-6 though. If I finally make the move to film I surely try out both reversal film and negatives.

I found Tim Parkin's color film test very interesting:

http://www.onlandscape.co.uk/2011/06/colour-film-comparison-pt-3/
« Last Edit: February 22, 2012, 02:37:25 AM by torger » Logged
Chris_Brown
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« Reply #14 on: February 22, 2012, 09:18:08 AM »
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I've searched around the web a bit but it is hard to find dynamic range measurements.

A film's characteristic curve provides that information.

Kodak Tri-X (page 11)

Fuji Provia (page 6)

Kodak Portra (page 8 )

A film's characteristic curve (and therefore its maximum density range) is 100% dependent on the film's processing. These curves are from film measured with a densitometer after the brand's recommended processing.

But enough of this! Go out and expose some film!   Wink
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jsch
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« Reply #15 on: February 22, 2012, 02:18:27 PM »
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Hi,

your question is good. It allows me to reflect my own work. So, let me start my answer with a description of what I do: My subjects are mainly portraiture, urban landscapes and documentaries. Today I work with 2 formats: 8x10 inch film (photography - obviously) and Canon 5D Mark II (photography and video).

I've worked in the past with 35 mm, 6x6 and 4x5 and all Canon full frame digital cameras, also with 16 mm film and DV video. I tested much of the digital mf cameras but stayed with the Canons. I did also a lot mimic the look tests. My next tests will be Red scarlett and epic.

The reason for my format selection: If I wan't detail or that special narrow depht of field look I use 8x10 (or if I want to impress the sitter). No compromise there. It is special! OK it is expensive. But you can scan 8x10 film with a Epson V750 and the result is very OK and usable. You need the drum scan only if you are up to pixel peeping. In my opinion that scanner doesn't work for 4x5 and smaller formats. I develop film myself with an Jobo Expert Drum 3005 and a Jobo CPA 2 processor. This is easy, gives full control and doesn't cost much. If I want speed, flexibility and fast workflow I use the Canon.

In my opinion everything else is a compromise. MF digital takes away the spontaneity is very expensive and adds not much to my/the image. That is the same with 6x6, 6x7, 4x5 and 5x7 film – it is not that special 8x10 "thing". Usually every now and then I question that, I feel then insecure. Then I do a few tests with 4x5, Mamiya RZ, a Mamiya 7 or a Hasselblad or a Leica with film or try a new MF digital camera like the S2. This shows me how cumbersome the work with these cameras is without something that wow's me.

But that is just me. Perhaps I do 8x10 only to please myself. But more and more people want that I use it for their projects because they like the free work I did with the camera during the last years. BTW, I want to make still images and everyone wants me to do videos. But that is another problem.

So far no answer for you. Because I have no answer for you just a few questions: What do you want to photograph? Is your image worth the extra mile for working with a format that is unusual today? Do you think it will ad something to your work?

Best,
Johannes
« Last Edit: February 22, 2012, 02:20:05 PM by jsch » Logged
Rob C
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« Reply #16 on: February 22, 2012, 02:58:53 PM »
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Well, I did process a lot of colour material many moons ago as part of my work within an industrial photo-unit. We were working with jet engine flame tubes, where colour (of the tubes) indicated much to those scientists who required the photographs.

My experience there, with both colour tranny and negative processing, was far from the easy-going attitude that has been expressed so far in this thread. Of course, it could well be that the subjects of the stuff that the photographers here are talking about don't require any great accuracy - but temperature, agitation and pretty much everything in processing requires a high degree of control if you seek the holy grail, which in this case, is standardization and repeatability.

I would also add that the same holds for black/white negative material. You simply have no choice but high accuracy if you seek repeatability and one less variable within the photographic equation. You'd be a fool to do less for yourself. You've all heard of the weakest link in the chain... don't let it be you.

;-)

Rob C
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torger
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« Reply #17 on: February 22, 2012, 04:10:27 PM »
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So far no answer for you. Because I have no answer for you just a few questions: What do you want to photograph? Is your image worth the extra mile for working with a format that is unusual today? Do you think it will ad something to your work?

I want to photograph landscapes, but chances are that I suck and still do so in ten years Smiley. However, I have the luxury of being amateur so I can do whatever I want without being worried about what others think of it, I do all for myself. I do have some artistic ambition, but it is not life-or-death.

I'm actually more interested in the compositional process using a view camera with movements and fine-tunings than of using film, which enters just because there is no other affordable option. I still look for an old but usable digital back to do some stitching in some occasions, but film would be the main medium.

I'm fascinated by the process from where I decide that "I'm going to make a picture of this piece of nature" to framing everything in a suitable way, where small adjustments change how the elements in the picture interact. I think the hardest part will be to get used to see everything upside down Smiley

Anyway it is as much about the process as the results. Making compositions using a nice well-built view camera = fun. Developing film = not so fun. The result is still important though, I'm a resolution junkie and like large sharp prints, so I would not do this if it the result would be a lofi film look.

I plan to get a modular view camera, so format can be changed, so I can go to larger formats later if I get hooked. 4x5" seems like a good starting point, since I then also easily do medium format 6x9 and 6x12 rollbacks which is good low-cost way to get the necessary training in the technical aspects of exposing film.

So it was a long answer. What I think it will add to my work is a composition process that better suits my mind, and higher resolution input to my digital post-processing workflow. From all the responses I've got in this thread it does not seem that developing the film on my own would add any significant to this (just a larger risk to mess up), so I'll just use a lab.
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John Rodriguez
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« Reply #18 on: February 22, 2012, 05:19:58 PM »
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I think the hardest part will be to get used to see everything upside down Smiley

That was actually pretty easy.  I think you'll be surprised how quickly your brain compensates - it already does this naturally anyways.  The surprising part for me was getting used to the "overload" effect.  Coming from a small view finder you've suddenly got a ton of real estate that looks fantastic when composing.  On some highly detailed scenes I'd find myself adding too much to the frame because it looked so good on the ground glass, but didn't necessarily add to the composition. 
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jsch
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« Reply #19 on: February 22, 2012, 05:59:50 PM »
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I want to photograph landscapes, but chances are that I suck and still do so in ten years Smiley. However, I have the luxury of being amateur so I can do whatever I want without being worried about what others think of it, I do all for myself. I do have some artistic ambition, but it is not life-or-death.

I'm actually more interested in the compositional process using a view camera with movements and fine-tunings than of using film, which enters just because there is no other affordable option. I still look for an old but usable digital back to do some stitching in some occasions, but film would be the main medium.

I'm fascinated by the process from where I decide that "I'm going to make a picture of this piece of nature" to framing everything in a suitable way, where small adjustments change how the elements in the picture interact. I think the hardest part will be to get used to see everything upside down Smiley

Anyway it is as much about the process as the results. Making compositions using a nice well-built view camera = fun. Developing film = not so fun. The result is still important though, I'm a resolution junkie and like large sharp prints, so I would not do this if it the result would be a lofi film look.

I plan to get a modular view camera, so format can be changed, so I can go to larger formats later if I get hooked. 4x5" seems like a good starting point, since I then also easily do medium format 6x9 and 6x12 rollbacks which is good low-cost way to get the necessary training in the technical aspects of exposing film.

So it was a long answer. What I think it will add to my work is a composition process that better suits my mind, and higher resolution input to my digital post-processing workflow. From all the responses I've got in this thread it does not seem that developing the film on my own would add any significant to this (just a larger risk to mess up), so I'll just use a lab.

I would buy a light 8x10 inch camera and forget all the other film options. Without a good scan you will never see the resolution of smaller film. With 8x10 an Epson V750 shows you everything that is on your film - with the exception of the film grain. In my opinion it would be better to stitch iQ180 shots if you want ultimate resolution. A good compromise would be the Canon TS-E 17 and 24II lenses. Perhaps the Canon 5D Mark III has 40 megapixel. Another question then is: Is the camera case the trunk of your car or a backpack? Perhaps you have sherpas. That makes things easier.

Best,
Johannes
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