Exploring Volume – a compositional comparison of Medium Format and Micro Four Thirds


For the last month or so I’ve been rattling on about shooting Medium Format because the perspective just looks different compared to smaller formats. The optics just behave differently when you capture an chunk of the world with an 80mm lens (in medium format) vs a 50mm lens (in 35mm format) vs a 25mm (in micro-four-thirds format). The words I’ve been using to describe the difference have been compression and perspective.

As I show my work, another word I’m hearing consistently is volume. Whether it is due to the format or my intention while picking the scenes to shoot, showing volume is exactly why I’m exploring medium format. Finding the right scenes to show volume and using a format that provides the opportunities to render volume more effectively.

Here, then, are my first comparisons of images I shot in Medium Format (MF) against Micro-Four-Thirds (MFT). (Ok, some of you are right now saying that I should have compared MF with Full-Frame 35mm, but this is subtle and I think the wider comparison is still important). The purpose is to evaluate if there is a difference in the volume portrayed between the two formats and if they do really just look different.

The micro-four-thirds images were captured in RAW format with an Olympus OMD E-M5 and the Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 25mm f/1.4 ASPH Micro 4/3 lens. Of all the lenses in my MFT kit (actually anything I own including my Canon L lenses), this lens has some of the most delicious sharpness and color rendering. The digital images were processed using LightRoom 4 and Photoshop CS6 (mostly in LightRoom) on a color calibrated iMac 27″ monitor.

The medium format images were taken with a Hasselblad 500 C/M on Kodak Ektar 100 with a Hasselblad 80mm T* Zeiss Planar lens. They were scanned with an Epson Perfection V700 flatbed scanner using the Epson scanning software with Digital ICE and autoexposure turned on. I’m not a master scanner – and I tried several programs including VueScan and SilverFast. This setup gave be the most predictable results which were not all that different from the other software with all their fancy, unpredictable, and frankly buggy software. With any of this software, it became clear to me that they would all require careful tweaking of the white balance to reproduce the image I had in my head. The scans were hand color corrected, dodged and burned using LightRoom 4 and Photoshop CS6 on a color calibrated iMac 27″ monitor. This the same monitor and software I use for all my image processing.

I purposely processed the two sets of images independently, about a week apart. I did not compare them at all until last night when I was completely finished processing the medium format film images. Although the purpose of this exercise was to solely compare the difference in feel and scene rendering using an 80mm medium-format setup versus the wider-angle focal length required by a smaller image sensor, you will you will notice other differences including color rendering and overall color relationships across different areas of the image. Balancing the color of this scene, both digitally and using film, was a bear. Both sets of images have selective color temperature adjustments. Each set was processed as if they were my only images and processed to my most preferred tastes. I made no attempt to make them either look alike or different.

Pier 20130701-SB2-005-Edit
Boats 20130701-SB2-007-Edit
Olympus OM-D E-M5, Panasonic Leica 25mm Summilux ASPH Hasselblad 500 C/M, Zeiss 80mm T* Planar lens, Kodak Ektar 100

Upon comparison, the colors of the film, to me, are definitely are more translucent and inviting. It is fair to ask if, with a bit more work or a different camera sensor, I could duplicate the colors across the two experiences better. I probably could by working with the images side-by-side. However, this was not the experiment. Look past the color and view the differences in the way the two lenses see the world and render the perspective and volume. This is my quest.

More exploration to come and I’m very excited to post a couple of B&W images I processed last night. The babbling will continue.

Friends: The Olympus OM-D and Me

Getty Villa Scenes

While looking around for a shaft of light, I glanced down and discovered this scene.

Last week, I drafted a post entitled “Holy Camera Batman!”. The draft is brimming with my gushing, over-the-top, emotional reaction to finally receiving my much anticipated Olympus OM-D E-M5. But I did not publish this post. It was too fresh. It was more emotion than substance. I wrote about why I bought the camera and the features that I was attracted to. I was giddy over the autofocus and its 9 frames-per-second frame-rate, but I I hadn’t yet shot a single image outside the 4 walls of my living room. I had no idea if I would like using the camera in real-world situations. Like an immature relationship, the sex was good, but would we be friends?

Today, finally, I was able to use this baby, as it is intended, for a little street photography. Off I went to the Getty Villa art museum, Roman Villa replica, in Malibu California. It was a typical Los Angeles summer day: hot and bright. It would test my vision and my vision would test the camera. What would I shoot? What would I find? Could the camera keep up with my mind and the situations that unfolded? Leaving my trusty Canon 5D Mk II at home, there was no back up. It was the OM-D or bust.

I am happy, giddy, to report that this camera and I will indeed be good friends. The lenses were sharp and the camera functions were compliant. Here is a walk through of my day – the top image was taken from an up-stairs gallery.

I started the day with a warm up exercise on this statue

Getty Villa Statue

But soon moved on to some people when I found this great shaft of light
Getty Villa Scenes

I couldn’t pass up the geometries and colors of this still life
Getty Villa Scenes

And finally ended with this overhead scene from the cafe terrace
Getty Villa Scenes