Advantages of Medium Format Digital for Portrait Photography

I recently compared Mamiya DL-28 system against a 21 megapixel DSLR. I wanted to see for myself how each camera performed under identical lighting conditions with all camera parameters matched (ISO, comparative lens focal length, shutter speed and f-stop). While I expected the DL-28 to surpass the quality of the DSLR, with the megapixel difference relatively small (28 vs. 21) I wasn’t sure exactly how obvious the difference would be.

Well, it turns out that the differences were clear. While the DSLR produced a very good file, the medium format DL-28 provided not only more detail, but a clarity and depth with no edge artifacts at all that the DSLR simply couldn’t match. Shooting at the same distance and enlarging both files to 100%, I overlaid the eye detail from the DSLR over the Mamiya DL-28 sample. The size difference of the two eyes is a result of the DL-28 producing a larger file. I’m not sure how well you can see the results through your browser, but notice how clear the eyelashes are, the detail of the skin texture, the definition of the fine strands of hair and how clear the color definition is rendered in the eye. The beautiful and subtle shades in our models hazel-green eyes are captured faithfully by the DL-28 yet are slightly muddied by the 21 megapixel DSLR. 

Both of the sample files were processed using the exact same settings in Adobe Lightroom version 2.2 and exported into Adobe Photoshop CS4. Neither file had any post processing sharpening added, so I applied my favorite Smart Sharpen settings (100%, 0.8 pixel radius and remove Lens Blur) in Photoshop to see if either or both files would benefit.

The results were as expected. Both files did benefit from post-process sharpening, but since the quality of the DL-28 file was so much better to begin with, the results of the Smart Sharpen made the differences that much more obvious. If you’d like to take a closer look, I’ve included the unsharpened and sharpened detail files for you to download.

I’ll be looking more closely at the results from this test along with a similar comparison of some landscape shots over the next few weeks. I hope to make it clear just how much better your photography can be when you have much better files to begin with. A continued warning to those who get a chance to try out the Mamiya DL-28. If you start shooting with one, it will be hard to go back to the DSLR.

Download files (right-click): Unsharpened Sharpened

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