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Author Topic: Moving from 35mm to Medium Format. Need guidance (Sorry for yet another thread!)  (Read 8618 times)
synn
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« on: October 06, 2013, 05:47:08 PM »
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Hello everyone at LuLa,

I have been lurking this site for a few years now. I have to thank you for all the discussions you've had here over the years, which have really helped me understand a lot of things. I can't think of a better place to ask the next question I have.

Before anyone asks, this is not another thread about "Whether it's worth it". I know it is. I have done my homework. This is a thread about some very specific MF related questions.

I am a fine art photographer mostly into thematic portraiture. You can see some of my work here: www.sandeepmurali.com . I am a long term Nikon user and currently shoot with a D800 and a D7100. 35mm DSLRs sure have come a long way and while these cameras do a lot of things really well, there are some things lacking which are really limiting my creative flow.

Things like detail resolution:

 Now both cameras have plenty of "Resolution", but that's all megapixel numbers. When it comes to actual detail resolving, I find them lacking for my needs. There's a "Bite" that I see in medium format files that are simply not there in the files from both my cameras. I've tried everything. Lens micro adjust, getting sharp primes, shooting outside diffraction zone, everything. It just isn't the same. I got the D7100 because I think it's the "AA filter effect", but even that doesn't come close to the MF bite. My current workaround is to do hi-pass sharpening in Photoshop, but even that looks too "Digital" to my eye, not organic.

This is very important to me as I like to retouch skin and keep other detail like hair and eye lashes razor sharp. I have a Bronica ETRSi kit that I bought for peanuts and I see that "Bite" in the rolls I get out of it, but film is not a viable long term solution. At least for me. It's a "Hobby camera" for me at best. One that I love to death, though.

Tonality:

This is my biggest gripe. I just HATE the way I have to fight 35mm cameras to get great skintones. I got myself a Color Checkr and while it does help, the gradation in the tones is simply too digital. And that goes for Canon files too; just in a different way. I do miss the grace that print film has in the gradation as well as the beautiful highlights. I've tried film emulation programs and all that, but the files just don't look the same. Maybe I am too picky.

Other things:

I am a simple kinda shooter. Pocketwizard Plus III, Elinchrom Quadra, Sekonic meter, shoot. I don't have time for cludgy things like ND filters on the lens, hypersync this, HSS that etc. I like to have 1/800 sync out of the box and you know all roads lead to one place witht hat goal in mind.

My biggest revelation came when I got myself a copy of Capture One and opened a Leaf file downloaded from the Mamiyaleaf site in it. Holy cow, everything just looked "Right" from the word go! The skintones and gradation were stupendous and there was very little sharpening, if any, needed (Granted, that was a Credo 80 file, but since then, I have looked around for files from everything from the 22MP back to the 80 and have found the same characteristic in them). That made me realize that I need to go MF.

I've been reading and researching for the past few months. Lots of things to learn in the MF arena. Kodak this, Dalsa that, Sensor + etc. etc. It's all pretty dizzying.  I finally have a rather clear understanding of what I want, I think.

I find that the Hasselblad offerings are the most cost effective, but I don't like the closed system approach. It's like getting a slightly bigger 35mm DSLR. If they improve their APL for instance, I want to have the ability to replace the body and keep my own back. i don't want to pony up 5 figures again to get an all new kit. It all seems counter intuitive tot he modular MF approach.

The Pentax 645D just doesn't appeal to me at all. From the files that I have worked on, it barely has an edge over my D800 and the 1/125 flash sync kills it for me. Also, this one isn't modular either.

I have been seeing some rather neat deals on used PhaseOnes. But 30MP+ backs still command a pretty stiff premium. Also, I am really not sure if I can live with that rear display for very long.

...and then we have Leaf. From the first Leaf file I processed, I somehow knew this was the direction I had to take. I like the Leaf skintones the best of all and the prices are quite reasonable in the used market. Moreover, there are some good deals even for brand new kits right now. Now all I need to do is choose the right one for me.

So here's my dilemma.

The Aptus II 7 and the Aptus II 8 kits are the exact same price, brand new. One is 33MP and the other 40MP, as you know. The former is a bigger sensor, but still not full frame. Try as I may, I can't make up my mind between the two. As I said, I mostly do fine art portraiture, so I'd almost always have a tele on it. But at the same time, I also do environmental portraiture and I LOVE the 24mm focal length for that in 35mm system. See an example below:



Please advise me, in the Mamiya system, is there a leaf shutter lens that will give me 24mm equivalent FoV on the cropped sensor in the Aptus II 8? If not, it's a major dealbreaker for me. Also, how prone is the 33MP back to moire compared to the 40MP? As you can see, I work with some pretty intricate fabric patterns and I want to keep moire retouching to a minimum if I can.

In terms of tonality, are both backs the same? This is VERY important to me. "Only" 33MP" is fine as long as it delivers great tones. It is very difficult to tell from the samples I have with me as they are of different subjects.

My budget for this switch is about USD 12,000 and I hope to save up this amount by February next year. I really hope you guys can help me make the right choice too.


Thanks in advance!

Sandeep
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Ken R
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« Reply #1 on: October 06, 2013, 10:22:00 PM »
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Hi, unless you go for the 60 and 80mp backs and good lenses you are not going to see a significant jump in resolution from a Nikon D800/E. I have a PhaseOne IQ160 and Rodenstock HR lenses on an Arca Rm3di and it wipes the floor silly with any dslr, yes, even the D800E with the best lenses. The detail from the system I got is just incredible. I actually purchased a 645D and sold it before getting my current setup. It just did not have that big of an edge over the DSLRs in regards to image quality if any. Dynamic range, specially on the highlights was worse than on the latest dslrs. The 645D is a great camera though. Loved using it. The viewfinder is awesome and the color is different than any dslr so you can work on a different look. Very easy, reliable and just no fuss. The Medium Format Digital technical camera setup is MUCH more involved and it is a LOT more work to use. But the results are worth it. I mainly got it for landscapes. I have used it for other things but also got a Hasselblad H1 to use the back for more conventional work.

The digital backs, almost all of them, do offer a different color palette and generally greater color depth and obviously a lot of different options in regards to camera platforms since you can mount them in a wide variety of camera systems.

That said, its best to approach medium format digital as a system, not a camera. You need to factor in what you want, how you work and any specific needs and expectations.

For me it was very straightforward. I wanted maximum image quality to make large landscape image prints. I wanted to use mostly a 24mm, 35mm full frame equivalent lens, that allowed good movements (shift/rise/fall) and some tilt to control depth of field and focus. I work on a tripod using mostly ND and Grad filters.

The arca/rodenstock/iq160 rig excels at this. No question about it. The fact that I can mount the back on the Hassy and use it for other things is awesome. I still mostly use my Canon gear for my commercial photography but it is great to have the option to use medium format.

Think of it as another tool in the shed. It won't substitute a great dslr system for a lot of things. So If you do a wide variety of photography I wouldnt dump the dslr.
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HarperPhotos
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« Reply #2 on: October 06, 2013, 10:49:55 PM »
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Hello,

I totally agree with Ken.

Cheers

Simon
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« Reply #3 on: October 07, 2013, 12:44:25 AM »
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Hi,

I agree with Simon and Ken. Would just add that there is nothing magical with MFD. It is simply a larger bit of sensor.

I bought a second hand P45+ and a Hasselblad 555ELD recently, it is great fun to use. I got some really good pictures with that Camera/Lens/Back combo, but the only advantage I see for certain is better resolution. For me, color was a bit problematic but I'm quite happy with what I have now.

DR is in my view less on the P45+ than on my Sony Alpha 99, it is pretty obvious because I sometimes have issues with DR that I never had on Sony.

Also, Moiré will be problematic. I shoot landscapes but still see a lot of aliasing artifacts, stopping down to f/22 solves that problem.

Those obseravtions aside, I like shooting with the Hassy/P45+ combo.

Best regards
Erik
Hello,

I totally agree with Ken.

Cheers

Simon
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« Reply #4 on: October 07, 2013, 12:47:51 AM »
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Think about getting into a Rollei 6008 or Hy6.  The glass for these cameras is phenomenal.  Also, you can use film or a digital back.  Best of all, these are still being made and you can get one brand new or go to the used market.
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jerome_m
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« Reply #5 on: October 07, 2013, 01:25:18 AM »
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in the Mamiya system, is there a leaf shutter lens that will give me 24mm equivalent FoV on the cropped sensor in the Aptus II 8?

You would need a 35mm MF lens to get that field of view. I don't think that there is one with a leaf shutter in Mamiya mount.

You seem to live in the south of India. Would it be possible for you to buy second hand, possibly from abroad? Ebay is still the cheapest way to find out whether one likes a camera system: buy used, try it for a few months and sell it back if you don't like it.
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torger
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« Reply #6 on: October 07, 2013, 01:45:37 AM »
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It seems like you like you mainly like the default color out of these systems, and then I don't think you need to worry about sensor size. About the fine detail be honest to yourself and make a print - does that detail make a difference to you other than when you pixel peep?

For a technical camera I'd pick the Aptus-II 7, as I think the 48x36mm size is perfectly balanced for the image circle sizes available there (often about 90mm), actually better than the full-frame (I have the older incarnation Aptus 75 myself). For portraiture I'd go for the Aptus-II 8 though, it's newer 6um technology. If you like super-short depth of field you'll lose some though.

If you can I think you should try before buy (hard if buying second hand, I did not try my system in advance...) and test how the cameras are to work with. The large viewfinder many find to be a great improvement, but some may find the auto focus lacking.
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synn
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« Reply #7 on: October 07, 2013, 03:01:21 AM »
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Hello all,

Thanks for taking the time to reply. You do raise some good points.

@Ken: While I am interested in getting a technical camera set up some time in the future, 99% of the time I am doing location portraiture and a tech camera just won't cut it. I need a DSLR type body with AF (Yes, even the basic AF that MF bodies have) for it. Make no mistake, I am not looking at an MF setup to replace my 35mm kit, but to augment it. I will still need my 35mm setup for the odd landscape or two, plus the occasional low light portrait. But for all other shoots (Controlled lighting, killing ambient, short DoF, there's no way my 35mm kit can fill the gaps without cludgy workarounds.

@Eric: TBH, I never really liked the P45+'s output for portraiture. While the landscapes I have seen from it are awesome, the portraits simply don't look all that great. The p40+ and the Leaf backs I mentioned earlier had much better out-of-the-box skintones, judging by the RAW files I worked on. DR is not a big concern for me as I am shooting under controlled lighting conditions. However, where that DR is placed is of importance to me. The D800, while having industry leading DR, places most of it in the deep shadows. Great when one is lifting the shadows, but the highlight spectrum contains nowhere as much information. No matter how I vary my lighting, whatever modifier I use, the way the mids move to the highights is simply too... for the lack of a better word, plasticky. Even the samples I have seen from a 22MP back has better "bite" in it and much more graceful gradation from mids to highlights.

Again, the case might be different for landscapes. But even with the landscapes I shoot, I see that plastickyness in the D800 files (Even after high pass sharpening). I haven't had a chance to compare it head to head with an MFDB, but even a low res scan of some Velvia 100 from my Bronica has that "It" factor that the D800 files don't have.

For example,

D800 shot with 16-35 VR:



Velvia 100 in Bronica ETRSi with 150 f/4 MC:



...and that's after web compression.

@tnabbott: Interesting. I thought the hy6 was out of production. I looked it up and seems like they are still being made, but there are no dealers here (In singapore), hence service and support would be non-existent.It's a bit too much of a risk to take for a first time purchase, I'm afraid.

@Jerome: You're right, I checked and there's no LS version of the 35mm. There is however, the 28mm. I guess I can get the 35mm used online and live with it until I can save up for the 28.

I am actually based in Singapore and we do have a Phase/ Leaf dealer and a Hasselblad dealer. I am in good terms with the former as I've bought a ton of Nikon and Elinchrom stuff from them, so a demo shouldn't be too hard to arrange.
I don't mind buying online if it's from a trustworthy source and if it makes sense after shipping+ taxes (7% of invoice), but I have to look into whether the dealer here would be happy to service an overseas unit.

@Torger: About the fine detail, I guess it's one of those things, once you see you cannot unsee. It's a combination of that detail and the tonality that makes MF images appeal to me. It has reached such a point hat I can tell an MF file from a 35mm file even without looking at the EXIF.
The D800 files do have lots of detail, but it's all "Waxy detail" so to speak. I did do test prints of the D800 files vs some Leaf RAWs and I could see the difference. Again, this just might be me being picky.

Interesting point about the Aptus II 8 having a newer sensor. Does this mean it has better IQ than the Aptus II 7 too? Please advise.
As mentioned above, while I am interested in getting a tech camera sometime in the future, it is not a major concern at this point. Portraiture is.

Thanks again,

Sandeep
« Last Edit: October 07, 2013, 03:02:52 AM by synn » Logged

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torger
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« Reply #8 on: October 07, 2013, 03:24:54 AM »
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Technically speaking (signal-to-noise etc) the Aptus-II 8 has a little bit better image quality and the Aptus-II 7. However, tonality and other aspects important for portraiture are more subjective qualities so I think you need to compare for yourself.

Concerning DR highlight vs shadows all cameras of today behave the same, ie each pixel fills up photons until the well is full and then it's clipped straight off. Exposure meters of cameras (may choose to put exposure closer or farther away from the clipping point) and tone curves and highlight rendering in raw converters may give the impression that there is a difference, but there's not. Film on the other hand is non-linear, ie there's built in compression of highlights which makes highlight handling a bit smoother. In the future sensors will have this too (actually there's already on market Fuji and Panasonic made one, but tech is only available for small sensors currently).

On the other hand, no matter how cameras behave technically, it's what you can produce with the available post-processing tools that matters. So if you experience better highlight detail with Capture One and Aptus-II than Nikon and CaptureNX then that is what matters to you.

I often hear people say that with MF you don't need to do as much post-processing work to get portraiture to look right (and that probably is very true, afterall it's a key focus of these systems, while DSLRs are much more all-around). Some say that if you really put effort into it you can get the D800 to produce just as good output as MF, while some say that no matter how they try the don't get as good results. If cost is an issue more than working effort, I'd surely look into maximizing the potential out of your D800 before jumping to MF. One thing to try is to experiment with different raw converters and color profiles and see what you get. I would be surprised if Phase One's own software Capture One would produce great D800 output per default :-).
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synn
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« Reply #9 on: October 07, 2013, 03:35:36 AM »
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Hi Torger,

very interesting insight about sensor technology. Thanks for that!

Regarding D800 files in Capture One, I have indeed tried to process the D800 files in it. I get a wee bit more resolution than in CNX2/ LR4, but the color rendering is totally off; no matter what color profile I use. To make matters worse, C1 doesn't have any option by which I can use a color checker to create a custom profile, Like I can with LR. In contrast, every Leaf file that I've dropped into C1 just looks amazing out of the box.

The below image is the best I can get out of the D800 after custom profiles, using a super sharp lens (The 85 f/1.8 G) and some high pass sharpening.



To my eyes, it still looks not quite "There". Maybe it's just me over analyzing.  Grin
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« Reply #10 on: October 07, 2013, 03:43:50 AM »
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I love your sample image, the skin tones in particular! There is a very MF feel to it.

Cheers,
Bernard
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« Reply #11 on: October 07, 2013, 03:51:30 AM »
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Hi Bernard,

Thank you. That's the closest I have gotten to MF, yes. Took a bit of fighting, though.
The fact that Leaf files look like that from the moment I import them is what's making me yearn for MF.
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« Reply #12 on: October 07, 2013, 04:12:36 AM »
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@Jerome: You're right, I checked and there's no LS version of the 35mm. There is however, the 28mm. I guess I can get the 35mm used online and live with it until I can save up for the 28.

The 28mm is much, much wider than the 35mm. In 24x36 equivalent, it is close to a 20mm lens.

If you want the field of view of a 24mm on your D800 and need a central shutter on an AF SLR, you have little choice besides Hasselblad. You can use either the HC 35mm or the HCD 35-90 zoom. The zoom is quite heavy.

You will also have true focus, which is useful for portraiture.


I have to look into whether the dealer here would be happy to service an overseas unit.

These cameras need to be sent back to the manufacturer for service.

As to highlights: you can tweak your D800 meter to underexpose a bit, the meter is a bit hot by default. That will improve highlights rolloff and costs nothing beyond playing with the setup menus.

As to colors: I also noticed more pleasing skin colors on MF than on the D800. There is no physical reason why larger pixels would lead to better skin colors, but there could be a very simple reason for it, namely that the color filter arrays primaries were chosen to increase separation for these colors. This would come at the cost of worse colors in other hues and more noise at high iso.
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BartvanderWolf
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« Reply #13 on: October 07, 2013, 04:38:38 AM »
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Things like detail resolution:

 Now both cameras have plenty of "Resolution", but that's all megapixel numbers. When it comes to actual detail resolving, I find them lacking for my needs. There's a "Bite" that I see in medium format files that are simply not there in the files from both my cameras. I've tried everything. Lens micro adjust, getting sharp primes, shooting outside diffraction zone, everything. It just isn't the same. I got the D7100 because I think it's the "AA filter effect", but even that doesn't come close to the MF bite. My current workaround is to do hi-pass sharpening in Photoshop, but even that looks too "Digital" to my eye, not organic.

Hi Sandeep,

Hi-pass sharpening is an edge contrast enhancing procedure, it will never produce the same effect as a shot with a sensor without AA-filter. The MFDB AA-filterless shot will be aliased, and have a higher MTF at the lower spatial frequencies, which can only be approximated by using deconvolution sharpening.

I suggest you give the FocusMagic plugin for Photoshop a try, preferably on a luminosity blend-if layer (which will avoid highlight clipping). The layered approach also allows to mask out skin, and leave hair and other detail in. It works even better if you first up-sample the image, apply deconvolution sharpening, and then down-sample back to the original file size, and add a tiny bit more deconvolution sharpening. Resolution and MTF of micro-detail is boosted by restoring actual resolution, not by adding contrast.

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Tonality:

This is my biggest gripe. I just HATE the way I have to fight 35mm cameras to get great skintones. I got myself a Color Checkr and while it does help, the gradation in the tones is simply too digital. And that goes for Canon files too; just in a different way. I do miss the grace that print film has in the gradation as well as the beautiful highlights. I've tried film emulation programs and all that, but the files just don't look the same. Maybe I am too picky.

It's hard to suggest a different approach when all we have is subjective impressions to go on. Capture One offers very good Raw conversion quality, and it has a number of features specifically aimed at skin tone color. Tonality is a function of local contrast, and overall tone-curve. I prefer to use a Linear response curve, and if necessary tweak the highlight roll-off exactly to my liking. I prefer natural highlights, not compressed film-like highlights, but that can be changed by adjusting the curves or highlight control in Capture One.

For overall tonality, there is (IMHO) no better tool than Topaz Labs "Clarity" plugin, although I use it in combination with their "Adjust" plugin. These two give huge control over tonality, including some interesting masking functionality, e.g. for targeting skin tones.

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My biggest revelation came when I got myself a copy of Capture One and opened a Leaf file downloaded from the Mamiyaleaf site in it. Holy cow, everything just looked "Right" from the word go! The skintones and gradation were stupendous and there was very little sharpening, if any, needed (Granted, that was a Credo 80 file, but since then, I have looked around for files from everything from the 22MP back to the 80 and have found the same characteristic in them). That made me realize that I need to go MF.

By all means, if that rocks your boat, go for it. But I do get a feeling that there are improvements possible with your current post-processing. Also remember that all files need some post-processing, but the amount also depends on one's personal preferences. Only you can judge that.

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...and then we have Leaf. From the first Leaf file I processed, I somehow knew this was the direction I had to take. I like the Leaf skintones the best of all and the prices are quite reasonable in the used market. Moreover, there are some good deals even for brand new kits right now. Now all I need to do is choose the right one for me.

That may have something to do with the particular choice of Bayer CFA filter colors, which may happen to do well with skincolor in general, but there are many skincolors so I'm not 100% sure that the filter response is the only reason. Capture One does use ICC profiles that may give a better starting point as well, compared to other converters. And again, specific skin color control is also part of Capture One, and many users report that it works wonders.

Cheers,
Bart
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jerome_m
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« Reply #14 on: October 07, 2013, 05:39:48 AM »
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That may have something to do with the particular choice of Bayer CFA filter colors, which may happen to do well with skincolor in general, but there are many skincolors so I'm not 100% sure that the filter response is the only reason.

All human skin tones have the same hue, because all human skins use the same pigments to produce the color, just more or less of one of them. This fact has been used for analog TV (in the NTSC system, one of the primaries was chosen to be on that line so as to give more bandwidth to skin colors) and, for example, vectorscopes have a marking for that specific hue. TV engineers routinely used skin color as a reference to color-correct their images and the function still exists in most video editors today.

From casual comparisons between an Hasselblad camera and various 24x36 DSLRs, I would say that the Hasselblad tends to show more of the underlying skin structure of the skin: blood but also freckles. Blood color manifest itself in that some parts of young skins are a bit more pink than others. It also manifest itself negatively on some aged skins where one would like to hide veins, for example.

The effect is not exclusive to medium format cameras. My old Minolta 5D had very pleasing skin colors as well.

A study of the phenomenon would not be easy to do. The pigments giving their colors to skin, hemoglobin and melanin, have somewhat peculiar spectra and cannot be readily emulated by a color picker, for example.
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BartvanderWolf
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« Reply #15 on: October 07, 2013, 06:09:05 AM »
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All human skin tones have the same hue, because all human skins use the same pigments to produce the color, just more or less of one of them.

Hi Jerome,

That's correct (although there is still some variation), but Hue-angle is not the only aspect that defines color. Saturation is also important to differentiate between more pale or more reddish skin, and black skin may pick up more ambient reflected light. The thickness (and color) of the epidermis, and the more or less superficial blood-vessel network will cause a variation, even in the same person's skin tones. Pigmentation is also somewhat variable over time/season, so we're faced with a moving target.

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A study of the phenomenon would not be easy to do. The pigments giving their colors to skin, hemoglobin and melanin, have somewhat peculiar spectra and cannot be readily emulated by a color picker, for example.

That's right, skin is difficult. The tools that Capture One offers to target the correction of skin-color can be very useful in that respect. I would certainly not attribute good skin-color and tonality to MFDBs alone. Post-processing plays a large role as well, as usual.

Cheers,
Bart
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jerome_m
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« Reply #16 on: October 07, 2013, 06:33:27 AM »
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Post processing plays a large role, but cannot find a difference between colors when none has been recorded in the first place. It is a problem of metamerism. For example, it could be that the CFA of MF backs are designed to elicit a different response for the hues of hemoglobin and melanin while the CFA of cameras designed for more general use are less capable of differentiating the two pigments. It is only speculation, of course.
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andrew444
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« Reply #17 on: October 07, 2013, 06:58:21 AM »
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Hi Sandeep



I've been using the Hasselblad H system for a while now   and it is awesome

seriously dude get to know your dealer and try out the H5d out of the box colour and skin tones are lovely 

then get some prints done don't just look at specs, pixels and histograms

all MF costs fairly big dolllars  but which ever system you go with once you open the files and start working on them you will never look back


Andrew
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BartvanderWolf
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« Reply #18 on: October 07, 2013, 07:12:49 AM »
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Post processing plays a large role, but cannot find a difference between colors when none has been recorded in the first place. It is a problem of metamerism. For example, it could be that the CFA of MF backs are designed to elicit a different response for the hues of hemoglobin and melanin while the CFA of cameras designed for more general use are less capable of differentiating the two pigments. It is only speculation, of course.

I don't think that the real difference is just the CFA colors, since there is also an overlap between the filter ranges. What may play a larger role is the strength of the IR-filtration. Human skin, especially the lower layers, diffusely reflects Infra-Red, and the CFA filters are transparent to IR and will result in recording a signal in all three channels (thus reducing saturation).

That may result in more accurate (skin-tone friendly) ICC profiles for some combinations.

Cheers,
Bart
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« Reply #19 on: October 07, 2013, 07:19:05 AM »
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Post processing plays a large role, but cannot find a difference between colors when none has been recorded in the first place. It is a problem of metamerism. For example, it could be that the CFA of MF backs are designed to elicit a different response for the hues of hemoglobin and melanin while the CFA of cameras designed for more general use are less capable of differentiating the two pigments. It is only speculation, of course.

One thing I have noticed from using the IQ160 (compared to Nikon and Canon DSLRs) is that it seems to show a wider range of hues. It shows differences in hues that the dslrs do not. Also all colors seem to have more "depth" to them. I do not know if I am using the right terminology but what happens is that there might be three slightly different reds in a scene for example and the dslr shows them as the same red color (even when taking care not to clip any channel) while the IQ160 will show three, slightly different reds, just like in reality. I do not know why that is but I believe it happens with all colors.
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