Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Would I upgrade an old film camera to digital?

My Hasselblad 500C with tele-lens.
It’s still a beutiful thing, to my mind classier than modern models.

An old friend, whom I used to photograph with when we were just teens, asked me if I’d considered a digital upgrade for my classic Hasselblad camera. It’s an interesting question considering how I revered the camera back in the day. This was my answer:

 Not really. A digital back was made for Hasselblad, but it didn’t cover the entire frame, far from it. And it was maybe a decade ago or moer, it was probably six MP or less, my iPhone now has more resolution(!). Also I don’t really care much for heavy cameras, I’m a walk-around photographer, so I like small/light gear.

 Additionally like camera reviewer/photographer/writer Steve Hynes told me even several years ago, the digital quality “sneaks up on you,” he told me that he had looked at old medium-format pictures on film of his, and the quality was really not that great compared even to smaller modern digital cameras.
 And that fits with what I’ve seen. The lenses were great for the day, but times have really changed. Modern lenses for digital are way sharper than old film lenses, all the lens makers have new digital lenses.

 It’ my opinion, and not mine alone, that modern cameras with pretty small sensors, like Olympus M4/3 cameras, make better image quality now than old 35mm cameras did, even the good ones. And that modern full-frame (35mm) cameras do better quality than old medium-format cameras like Hasselblad. And I even think that’s a quite conservative statement! (I'd have put my life on line saying something like that not too long ago, but I think time has proven this now.)


Russ said...

IMO, there's no denying the technical advancements that have been made to digital cameras and the latest lenses. However, I think that the people who are still shooting film don't place a high priority on resolution or sharpness. They shoot film for other reasons.

The comparison of film photography to analog music is valid in that people that listen to records know that there will be some audible pops and clicks, but they still prefer it to digital anyway. And I do think that the preference is more than just nostalgia.

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

You are probably right.
It may be qualities I don’t care too much about, or beyond my perceptions.

But of course everybody is free to have their own preferences. I just want beginners to know how the land lays so they have no false expectations.

Bru said...

I have a micro 4/3 camera, and I have scans from my old 35mm Olympus. The digital images are definitely clearer and sharper. No question about it.

On a related subject, my iPhone (with DNG, Lightroom, and Lumariver Profile Designer) produces clearer, sharper images than a lot of my old digital cameras. Back in the day I used mostly Panasonic "enthusiast compact" cameras. When I finally got my iPhone sorted out in Lightroom I was surprised at how well they compared with my older compact digicam images.

Here's a fun exercixe: do a search at dpreview for 1/1.7" sensor, RAW format, 400 grams or less. Do any of the cameras listed look tempting to own and use in place of your iPhone?

I'd say the iPhone is 5-8 years behind compact enthusiast cameras, and gaining every year. I guess that's why the camera companies upped the sensor size to 1" on cameras like this a few years ago. They could see the iPhone coming up fast in their rear view mirrors.

Joe Dick said...

It seems kind of wrong to do it - like replacing the guts of a muscle car with those of an electric.

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

While they do even have hot electric race cars these days, I do understand how you feel.

I agree, the iPhone is surprisingly great. I once took a hand-held image in moonlight! And I think the overall res and IQ is roughly at least as most 35mm pics used to be. At least.
The main downsides are focus speed and handling.
Well, and the lack of tele and background blur, but that’s specialised.

Joe Dick said...

Yeah, I'm talking about converting a non-electric into an electric - like slapping an electric engine into a classic muscle car or something.

Formula E, electric Formula 1 racing, seems like it would be kind of weird.