Weekend Inspiration Part 2 – “The Children and Medium Format” by Bjarke Ahlstrand

From Steve: On Saturday I posted part one of a  guest report featuring many images with the Leica M9 and various lenses (see that HERE). Bjarke sent in this article and I splitted it in to two parts. Part one featured all Leica M9 shots, and part two, shown here, features shots with his medium format gear as well as a  from a Canon 7D. It is interesting to compare the shots here. I find the ones with the most “feeling”  happened with the M9 but but the images with the Hasselblad are amazing in texture, quality, richness and also feeling. The Canon shots are great as well but get even better when he mounted Zeiss glass. Either way, there are some great personal shots here so thank you Bjarke for sharing! Enjoy!


Weekend Inspiration Part 2 – “The Children and Medium Format”

by Bjarke Ahlstrand

My Leica M9-P is my favourite camera of all time — but the Hasselblad H3D follows right after. The images it produces in full resolution are breathtaking when it comes to details, rendering, colors etc. and even though many consider this to be a studio camera only, I often bring it along in my bag, both for professional assignments as well as private excursions.

HASSELBLAD H3D-39 + HC 35 MM F/3.5

Elizabeth and her rabbit captured on my favourite medium format lens–it’s equals a 23 mm on a 35 full frame format–but it has not distortion, it’s tack sharp all over and I often use it as a portrait lens. With 39 megapixels at hand, cropping is no problem 🙂


Magnus being portrayed for his mother’s 40th birthday

HASSELBLAD H3D-31 + HC 55-110 MM F/3.5 – 5.6 ZOOM LENS

A Hasselblad zoom lens that continues to amaze me, it’s so deadly sharp

HASSELBLAD H3D-39 + HC 80 MM F/2.8

The kit-lens, I rarely end up using it, as I usually go for the 100 mm instead, but it is, as all of the Fujinon built HC lenses, a great performer. And no, it’s not real poison, it’s just water.

HASSELBLAD H3D-39 + HC 100 MM F/2.2

My favourite portrait lens EVER. Wide open it produces amazing results unbeatble by ANY lens I’ve ever tried.

HASSELBLAD H3D-39 + HC 150 MM F/3.2

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The Hasselblad lenses are BIG, especially compared to the little Leicas, but since I only shoot handheld, I often bring this 150 mm along, since it’s relatively “light”


The more tele these medium format lenses get, the more the background dissapears 🙂


My heaviest and most difficult to shoot (handheld, hehe) lens, and the one I miss most shots on, but once they’re there, I’ve got nothing to complain about!

That’s all from me this time around. I hope it was useful. You can see more of my creations here:


  1. Bjarke,

    I love your pictures, even though you think Hasselblad is a danish company. It is just a matter of looking beyond the artist and focusing on the art instead 😉

    Keep the art coming!

  2. Oh my God, wow, everybody said it right after me “wwooww” i cant imagine when will i try to shot with hassy fiuh

  3. Andy –

    Just curious as to what “10” rolls of film you experimented with? Perhaps you need help properly exposing film? Not sure. What were the scanners and pixel resolution were they scanned at?

    I have to hand it to you, you make a rather dramatic rant against film…I have found this behavior is usually done by those who love to add some sugar in their digital post processing – and by looking at your Flickr “X-100” set, your images obviously spent a little time in the Photoshop pool.

    Anyway, one certainly does not need a drum scan to get awesome results with 35 mm film. When you make your comparisons you are not really comparing “digital vs. film”, rather the scan of a piece of film. In there lies the rub. If you want to make it a fair comparison, then you need to have a 4000 dpi scan of 35mm film since you are attempting to convert a analog medium to a digital one.

    Scanning film does not “add” anything to the inherent image – it simply tries to extract what is already there. In the digital world, we bend, smooth, and sharpen the RAW or jpg file before we call it a picture. A lot of “adding” goes on, typically. Trying to make direct comparisons of film and digital is the same as comparing rugby to American football.

    True, I wouldn’t want a 35mm image much bigger than 11×14…if I need bigger, medium format film or a decent digital sensor (if that’s the look you want), should suffice.

    I think you talk out of school when you are trying to say that 35mm digital “blows away” MF film. You simply do not have the experience to make that statement.

    In the end it’s what we like to use that matters most…your good work in Flickr is not because you shoot digital – it’s because of your eye and motivation.

    For me digital bores the living shit out of me, regardless of how smooth and sharp it’s perceived.

    • Rob

      I was thinking along the same lines as you.

      Theses days I spend more time shooting my Bronica ETRSi Medium Format camera than my Nikon D300. I’m also putting more film through the Nikon F4s than ever before.

      I get more of a kick out of viewing my Velvia 645 trannies on the light box than down loading files to the computer. I guess it is a personal thing.

  4. Hello. I find this very interesting. I used to use various medium format stuff hasseblad, tlr etc.. Something beautiful about a b+w fine print, so much depth.i only ever printed to 12×16. I would love to start taking photos again but where to start camera wise!

    digitally do i need to spend a fortune to approach this kind of print quality? hard to tell form online image samples

    How does sensor size v’s megapixels relate to format v’s film grain? I still think in terms of the bigger the film (sensor?) means less magnification and as low an iso means less grain. When talking digital everyone seems to be obsessed with low light performance and less about the best absolute quality you can get out of the thing.

    How does something like a nex7 compare? your thoughts everyone


    • .
      You may get 20 different – and contradictory – replies from 20 different people: all being equally valid PERSONAL opinions. Here are mine..

      “..do i need to spend a fortune to approach this kind of print quality?..” [12×16″] ..It depends on whether people will be looking at your prints very close up, or if they’ll be seen from a fairly reasonable distance, such as hanging on a wall. Assuming they’ll be viewed normally, and not examined with a magnifying glass..

      “..How does sensor size v’s megapixels relate to format v’s film grain?” ..’Graininess’ – in digital photos – is usually seen as ‘speckle’ (digital ‘noise’) in pictures shot in low light, if the camera hasn’t been able to distinguish between light actually received by a ‘pixel’ and the general background electrical noise in the camera’s circuitry. The LARGER the pixels (also known as ‘photosites’) the better the camera can distinguish between random electronic background noise and real light hitting a pixel. So more pixels doesn’t necessarily mean ‘cleaner’ pictures and less ‘grain’, because more pixels may mean SMALLER pixels packed into a space ..and therefore more ‘noise’ (graininess) in low light.

      (..Canon famously REDUCED the number of pixels in their G-series cameras in order to increase the size of each pixel within the same overall size sensor, so that newer cameras would give less ‘grainy’ results in low light than previous models..)

      Sensor size really affects only (a) the amount by which you can enlarge shots until you “run out of detail”, so to speak, and (b) the “depth of field” of photos (..the amount by which you can blur away the background when using a large aperture lens) because the larger the sensor the greater the appropriate focal length of a lens to match the diagonal of the sensor ..and the greater that focal length, the shallower the depth of field at any chosen f number (aperture).

      I bought a Canon 5DMkII (“full-frame” 36mmx24mm sensor) digital SLR a few years ago when they first came out, and have been extremely happy with it ever since, so I haven’t looked at any other newer full-frame sensor (or smaller sensor) SLRs since (though I have a “full-frame” M9 rangefinder camera).

      I bought the 5DMkII for the following reasons:

      1. It had a large sensor (same size as 35mm film) so that a 50mm lens, say, behaves on it just like a 50mm lens used with 35mm film, with any aperture giving similar depth of field as with 35mm film,

      2. It had a 21 megapixel sensor, giving very finely detailed results, and allowing its shots to be magnified and ‘cropped’ (..as with a traditional enlarger and 35mm film..) without much loss of perceived detail,

      3. It had extremely good low-light sensitivity, and shoots pretty well (in my opinion) at up to ISO 12,800.

      So, as a rough rule-of-thumb, the larger the SENSOR generally means, as you suggest “..the bigger the film (sensor?) means less magnification..” and the greater the facility to enlarge with less loss of detail. And the larger the sensor (up to “full-frame 36x24mm” the greater similarity to the behaviour of lenses used with 35mm film.

      You mention “..and as low an iso means less grain..” ..well, yes; just as with film.

      And more PIXELS also means more detail and a facility for more enlargement, but may also mean more noise in dim light. But if you’re not shooting in dim light (..you say “When talking digital everyone seems to be obsessed with low light performance and less about the best absolute quality you can get out of the thing”) then you won’t need to think about the size of the pixels, and for best quality in GOOD light you only need to think about (a) largest size of sensor and (b) greatest number of pixels.

      HOWEVER, the more sensitive that sensors become, and the better the software and hardware which handles a sensor’s image, the better the results are becoming with smaller-than-35mm sensors, so the Fujifilm X100, for example, gives marvellous results with an APS-sized sensor (smaller than “full-frame 35mm”), but its depth-of-field characteristics are not those of a larger 35mm-sized sensor (it has a greater depth of field at any aperture) and that X100 doesn’t take interchangeable lenses. (That’s a facility that’ll apparently come with Fujifilm’s ‘LX’ camera next year.)

      So for the best possible quality in GOOD light you’d want to use a LARGE sensor, with LOTS of pixels, and a low ISO.

      The Sony NEX7 does have a large-ish (APS) sensor and plenty of pixels. See Steve’s test, which shows that it’s great in good light, but not quite so good in low light as its previous NEX5n model. But if you’re not interested in low light, the NEX7 does score well in Steve’s report.

      Why don’t you buy a few small capacity (1 or 2GB?) cards, and go to a shop which has good lighting (big windows and an open door) and a put a card into each of the cameras which you’d like to try, then format each card in each camera and take some test shots?

      Then take home the cards and compare the results? Then you’ll know which camera suits you best!

  5. re film and digital and whether by scanning one is really going digital anyway I venture the following:

    a sensor in a digital camera records an actual scene. The light comes through the lens and is then focused onto the sensor and you get your image. The problems relating to sharpness of lens causing light to miss pixels and hit ‘dead spots’ are well documented as is the problem with the angle that the light hits the sensor. These problems don’t happen with film as there are no pixels (it’s all chemistry) so if you shoot the same scene with film and with a digital sensor you are quite likely to get different results. Some would argue technically better images with the film due to the lack of the issues named above.

    Now, when you scan a negative, you are scanning a ready made image of a scene so you get a digital image of what the film negative recorded. It is much easier for the scanner to record this image accurately than it is for a sensor in a digital camera to record an actual scene accurately. Not sure if this is making sense but for example if a scene has strong highlights a digital sensor may blow them out but if you take the same shot with film, it may well hold the highlights and then when you digitise (scan) the negative, you get the image the film recorded (i.e. a digital file where the highlights are held). In this way I don’t think it is accurate to say that using film and scanning it is the same as shooting with a digital camera as the results are often very different for the reasons stated above.

    • Just like to add to Stephen’s thoughts here. Modern film is designed with scanning in mind as the end result. It sounds crazy, but the major film manufacturers have actually been paying attention to their customers – professional film today is intended to be scanned. If you do shoot with film for a pro job, give it to a reputable lab that knows what it’s doing from process to scan. No point in getting great shots for your client only to scan it yourself on your flatbed, have the pros do it.

  6. That resevoir dogs scene with the kids is such an amazing picture. It makes me laugh but on the other hand you shouldn’t due to the gravity of the situation. GREAT STUFF!

    • Yea, too bad he couldn’t be happy with a 7d and Leica M9. He could have built at least 7 fresh water wells for the cost of an HD39 to help those in real need.

  7. MF digital images are superb, I shoot with M9, 5D MKII and Pentax 645D. When I want quality the 645D is my 1st choice.

  8. I like the pictures and I like your style. The people who don’t like the camera will not ever like the camera, no matter how many times you explain, in words or in pictures. They will continue to compare a Hasselblad to an iphone even if you were to carry around both and show the pictures side by side. (Even if you did that, someone would claim that the iphone pictures were better.)

  9. Yeah, for me I can’t tell they are MF. My neighbor has a Pentax MF digital and on the large prints it’s amazing. .. so I know it’s capable.

  10. What you are looking at? Good technical quality of the files, the subjects are irrelevant… You showed us pics that had no interest whatsoever and that had bad tech qualities… These are toys for pros, any of these pics can be taken with an iPhone but I am happy to see what the file looks like when an Asselblad or an M9 is used. Just fun to look at and compare on a crummy weather day. If I had the cash I would have a Titanium M9, there is a used one for sale in Toronto, an S2 or a mamyia with phase one back to shoot my GF and the cats…can’t wait to get my iPhone 4s… It may put an end to any P&S in my quiver… Keep us entertained David…I just love reading your stuff, it makes me say… Yeah he’s right, then… Who cares, if bjarke has fun with his toys…great….and yes the pict of the girl painting is beautiful…

    • .
      “..the subjects are irrelevant..” ..Ah: right! ..Now I understand.

      So it’s not photography in the sense of “..here’s an interesting picture”, but in the sense of “look at the smooth reproduction of tones in this picture”. Not like “Wow, Michelangelo! What a terrific ceiling!” ..but more like “look at the covering capability of the paint”.

      Mmm. So in photography “..the subjects are [or may be] irrelevant”. Like a Rothko painting. Or a Jackson Pollock. I’m beginning to understand now – thanks Francis! ..So, just like it can be the texture or quality of the paint (..I’m thinking Yves Klein http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yves_Klein ) so a photo can be simply revelry in the capability of the camera to reproduce something – anything – no matter what the “subject” is.

      Gotcha! Thanks!

          • @David: it’s obvious this image was not produced using a high grade, let alone “magical” camera. I wonder how the image would have turned out if the photographer would have taken the trouble to use film with an H3D. Much better; sharper, etc…

  11. Well, no matter what bjarke is trying to convince folks here as to whether the Hassy is studio-/reportage-suited, i can for my part at least say: its a STUDIO-‘thingy’;o) He was so kind earlier this year (for one of my trips to Spain) to lend me one of his kits (the 55-100mm zoom and the 35mm monster of a lens) together with the H3D. After just a few hours of walking/fondling with the beast my arms were practically sliding along the pavement & i was sweatin’ like a pig! (Bjarke, you are either overly enthusiastic/dedicated – nerdy or just extremely strong for a guy your modest size;o)) However the shots it could produce was awesome (even the kit zoom lens was AMAZING) – BUT – and this is a big but – you work at max ISO100 or/and carry around with you an additional lighting kit and preferably a tripod as well. Speaking from a rangefinder-user’s perspective it was almost an intimidating experience – hahaaha… Anyways its a great camera & the lenses are ‘to die for’ – & i have seen some of the great shots it can deliver over time in our private correspondance. But, alas – im a rangfinder-kind’a’guy i guess, so for me i’ll settle with enjoying what others and you can deliver with this kind of equipment! Keep on shootin’ cowboy.

  12. .
    I feel like the little boy looking at the emperor’s new clothes ..what am I supposed to be seeing here?

    The technical capabilities of a multi-megapixel camera? ..The feat of shooting family snaps with a heavy camera and a 300mm lens on it? ..Maybe it’s because I’m rather colour-blind; there must be something here I’m missing..

    What I see is three or four hands holding open or shutting a tent with a girl and a rabbit inside, and some shadow at the bottom, and a fence and a bit of a roof at the top-left. Or a boy on a bike and a stain on the road.

    It’s like those William Eggleston pictures: I’m just too dumb to see what I’m looking at, sorry.

    • I thought exactly the same. The photo of the painting girl is great but the other ones don’t benefit from the big, heavy pro-grade camera. They are simply family snaps.

      • I cannot help but think the massive amount of money would have been MUCH better spent on some photo classes at the Rocky Mountain School of Photography.

        The one of the girl painting is nice (as is yesterday’s photo of the boy swimming), but frankly these two posts felt like a family slide show I somehow got suckered into attending; they just happen to have been taken with equipment most of the world could only dream of affording. I will say that given the vast number of OOF shots and poor exposure, the Bjarke might be better suited to shooting an SLR with great autofocus, maybe a D700 and new 85 f1.4, 105 DC or something…

        Unless you are printing VERY large, I cannot fathom why an individual would own a Hasselblad. Stick with your M9–it’s more than enough camera. If you’re going to bother carring an HB, go purchase an Elinchrom Quadra system and learn lighting, focus and exposure.

    • knowing full and well that leica has a monopoly upon ‘feeling and emotion’ in photography… what were you expecting a hasselblad and its user could show you?


  13. The 36×49 sensor is not large enough to have much better feel than 135 format. Its look still inferior to one that is possible to get with 67 or more film.

    • Err …. the Hassy sensor offers roughly twice the area of the 135 (36x24mm) format – how much larger does it have to be to have a ‘… much better feel …’ by which I assume you mean better image quality.

      Sure, a 6×7 …. or even larger format film, offers a greater theoretical potential (if expertly scanned on high-end reprographic scanners) but I suspect it would only show up on examining VERY large prints – i.e. billboard size! This older, scanned, process also took hours to achieve.

      Even on the web, the MF IQ difference is obvious (to me anyway) but this is not what MF is designed for.

      Getting Hasselblad quality is now no more effort than linking up to, or inserting a memory card into, your handy computer and/or emailing it to a commercial printer. No more hours/days in a reprographic facility printing, comping, colour matching, etc.

      It is in LARGE reproduced images that the MF/35mm difference becomes clear. It IS possible to get great results from 35mm sensors – but it takes great skill and a certain amount of luck.

      • “Sure, a 6×7 …. or even larger format film, offers a greater theoretical potential (if expertly scanned on high-end reprographic scanners) but I suspect it would only show up on examining VERY large prints – i.e. billboard size! This older, scanned, process also took hours to achieve.”

        “Theoretical”? Book it as fact. Some where along the line, editors and super bloggers created an urban legend that the 5D’s an D3’s “have approached and equalled, medium format film quality”. I’m not sure there were any objective pixel peeping or subjective print comparison’s done…it was just laid out as fact and now has become the “truth”.

        The Wright Bros. @ twinslenslife.com published a real world comparison of 35mm Kodak Ektar film vs. a 5D. Film held it’s own while shooting into difficult sunlight while digital not so much. “Medium format quality”? I guess editors need to sell magazines and advertisers need to buy space in sympathetic publications. I’m not hating on modern digital cameras – the image quality is awesome, though not always my bag of tea.

        “Expertly scanned”? Again, let’s not create false premises for those who have little experience with film and may be discouraged by an off the cuff comment. With “Vue Scan” software, pimping a film scan is as easy as doing your favorite workflow in Photoshop or Lightroom. Depending on the scanner and speed of the computer, 45-60 seconds later you can have have a hi-res scan of a 35 negtive, a little more for MF.

  14. These are really great. For whatever reason, your compositions and lighting decisions seem to be different here with the Hasselblad than they were with the M9, and the change is for the better IMHO. Thanks for sharing!

  15. Cool shots, but I think mostly for composition not due to multi-thousand $$ camera. What I don’t get, and maybe someone can explain, is what is the big deal about shooting on film? Once you throw it on a scanner, you are now at the mercy of the scanner’s ability to replicate all that the film should be… that means color, contrast, bightness, etc. Then it goes on a computer where once again it is processed by Lightroom or PSx, etc… so, why not digital from the beginning? Even large prints from film are usually digitized now days. Just a thought/question.

    • Rick – shooting film is wonderful in my opinion. As far as being at the “mercy” of the scanner, well you are correct to a point, but the technology is down pretty good that a decent scan is not hard to achieve.

      Being at the “mercy” of a scan is no better or worse than being at the “mercy” of the algorithms’ of the computer inside a DSLR and/or the image editing software one uses. Further more, every sensor in DSLR’s are different with their own unique character – and then quality control economics ensure that Nikon and Canon ship out by the thousands, sensors that may or may not be up to snuff, similar with their lenses.

      As far as these images go, I do not see, at web resolutions much difference than can be made with a Canon 30D…that’s just me. At 16×20 print viewing, I’m certain there are appreciable differences.

      Personally, I think most high end DSLR’s are toys for guys/gals who have the money. I prefer to shoot more film these days and get a decent 2000-4000 dpi scan from 35mm or 120 and enjoy the natural depth film provides. Of course you have to be willing to give up that diet of sugarly-processed digi-color and the fake mid-curve boost you see in digital photography…I know I am in the minority here. 🙂

      • Rob, thanks for the great insight! I am no genious, for sure. Would you or anyone happen to know what size camera sensor would be needed to make a nice large print of say up to 36 inches? Thanks to all of the great Steve Huff audience!

        • Rick,

          Let’s put it this way, a MF film can be blown up to billboard size.

          I’m a hybrid user, but I do all the important work, ie. my family, on film. The archival stuff has been proven itself to last. A Holga is even in my film arsenal.

          And I’ll just restate what many have already said, the last two decades has seen the advancement of film – movie industry has pushed it. Google Kodak Portra, or check out some of the Fuji film like Fujifilm Pro 400H. All modern film is well beyond what it was back in the day. Amazing stuff. Film is not dead.

    • Shooting film is nostalgic, plus you have an actual negative or slide to hold as opposed to a file which can go “poof” when a hard drive fails. Plus, you can scan it for web use. Oh, and then there is the many layers in film that give it that 3D look, more dynamic range, and how everyone is always trying to get that “Flim look” with their digital cameras. I love digital as it is an immediate gratification, but I adore film, because it has the best quality for me. Still digital is now and the future.

      • Aside from the wonderful look of film, film is a cheap way to shoot “full frame” 35mm sensor rather than the smaller sensors of most digital camreras (look at the price of the M9 or any other DSLR with a full frame sensor compared to the price of a film camera). The price difference increases even more with the medium format digital.

        • Full frame, real raw, also known as 35mm film cameras are crazy cheap. Look into a Pentax RX, they have Zeiss lenses.

      • APS-C digital beats 35mm full frame film easily. I’ve run extensive tests with my Nikon D90, D300 and Fuji x100 against a Nikon F80 full frame film camera.

        I used top lenses on the film camera (24-70mm 2.8, 50mm 1.4) and ran 10 rolls of different film and used three different labs. No I didn’t get a drum scan, but who can afford those?

        What I found shocked me. Digital blew film away, better dynamic range, tons sharper, no grain or noise. It wasn’t even a competition. 35mm full frame film was a joke. I couldn’t believe it, that why I went through so many rolls and so much experimentation. I took side by side shots of exactly the same subjects. In my first few rolls I even swapped the same lens between the digital and film cameras to be even more scientific.

        I was toying with the idea of getting a medium format film camera but I suspect a digital full frame would beat it, as confirmed by a famous luminous landscape review from years ago, and as confirmed by all the medium format film hire places going out of business.

        Sure I got a few nice ‘grainy’ shots with character from my film experiments and they all had a certain 70’s charm about them but my x100 blew them away – add a post processing film simulation filter to the digital image and you have the best of both worlds!

        • Ading film “texture” or “character” to an image digital in origing is like “cursing in the church” (Dutch expression, crudely translated) to me. But that’s beside the point.

          I agree with you. Film (I use Tri-X with D76 1+1 or HC110, all prfessionally developed and scanned) produces an image totally different from a digital image (D700 with the top Nikon or Zeiss primes in my case). Digital is vastly superior in all (I mean all) objectively measurable aspects, but film produces something (a sixties or seventies look, sometimes deliberately unsharp in my case) that cannot be replicated digitally.

          Vide: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=2513124780341&set=o.262691737100906&type=1&theater

          Contax RTSIII, 1.4/35 Distagon, probably at full bore.

        • I think Velvia 50 blows away most digital for landscape. The colors from film are usually so much better and more natural than digital. Also the highlights are not clipped as hard as they are on digital.

          I mostly shoot digital, because it is much easier in handling, but I like the output from film a lot.

          Did you use a proper scanner for the film you took? I use a CoolScan that outputs 135MB Tifs and I can assure you that the scans gives very very good results. Of course with Velvia it is even better to use a good projector.

  16. Lovely shots of your kids! I don’t really see any difference at web sizes the difference between these and the M9? maybe I don’t really know what to look for, can you que me in on the differences between this camera and your M9?

    • I can not speak for Bjarke but to me the differences are clear in the actual image quality and feel. These have that tried and trie Medium Format look to them. It’s all in the backgrounds, and richness of the files. Clicking on them you can see better versions. With that said, the M9 produces near medium format quality in a much smaller and less expensive package, and personally I prefer the M9 output! When I post part 3 with the Canon you will see the difference between them all in IQ but the images are still fantastic.


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