Friday, 15 November 2013

Ilford PanF Plus 50 vs. X-Trans vs. Foveon

I like to shoot film and still shooting at least couple rolls a year. After reading that Ilford opened film processing lab in US I decided to try their service to test my favourite PanF+50 (35mm film) against my favourite digital sensors, Fujifilm X-trans and Sigma Foveon. Obviously I used my favourite cameras for the task: Fuji X-Pro1, Nikon FM2 and Sigma DP2M :)

Here is my results.

All test pictures were taken at camera's/film base ISO, @f/8 aperture, using tripod and self timer. Fuji file and Ilford scan (jpeg) were downsized to 4704 pixels on the long side to match the Sigma file size.

X-Trans: X-Pro1 + Fujinon 35/1.4. Raw file was post processed in Aperture + NIK Silver FX Pro

Foveon: DP2M + Sigma Lens 30/2.8. Raw file was post processed in SPP+ NIK Silver FX Pro

Ilford PanF: Nikon FM2 + Nikkor 50/2 AI . Developed and scanned (large jpeg) at Ilford Lab Direct + adjustments (H/S, USM) in CS, original jpeg was saved as tiff.

Fujifilm X-Trans vs Ilford film @ 100%:

Sigma Foveon vs. Ilford film @ 100%:

X-Trans file converted with DXO Film Pack 3 (Ilford Pan F Plus 50 simulation) vs Ilford film:

There was no surprise that both X-Trans and Foveon completely out-resolved Ilford PanF film in all aspects (noise, details, DR, etc). But I expected worse and was pleased to see how well 35mm film stacked up against modern digital sensors and definitely I liked the "film character". DXO film simulation did OK job, but the picture still looks digital, nowhere close to the original.

How was the Ilford service? It was very good, no complains at all. I will post an additional review when my negatives arrive.

As always, I posted all test files (including original Ilford scan jpeg)  at my Dropbox, feel free to download, test and draw your own conclusion.

Couple more pictures taken with Nikon FM2, Ilford PanF and Nikkor 28/2.8 Ai-s

Next time I may compare both x-trans and foveon to a medium format film (120).


  1. No surprise here. Even though I haven't pulled out my Mamiya 645AFD II in a couple of years to shoot film, the X factor just wins hands down. I also shoot with Nikon D800 and there is no comparison even at the medium format level. Not only the image quality, but the convenience factor -- I'm talking about waiting the week or two for the processing, then getting the negs back with the TIFF's on CD and ingesting all that. No thanks. With the exception of my 645 beast, I've sold off all my film gear. Now, I'm slowly selling off my dSLR gear so i should only be left with my X-E1, and it's lenses.

    1. Thanks. There is no doubt that modern digital cameras are light years ahead of the film. But I am still using film, may be for the same reason that I am reading paper books and listening vinyl records, to take a break in our "all-convenient, everything instant and disposable" world :)

  2. I am very impressed with your comparison shots here between these great cameras and film!

    I worked with your original files to build a comparison tool for pixel peeping. The tool allows the viewer to zoom in on any detail side by side between the two cameras and compare and contrast them. The image on the left controls pan of both images by clicking and dragging it, zoom in with the scroll wheel, and fix any alignment issues by clicking and dragging the right image.

    Here is between the Illford and Sigma Ilford-vs-Sigma Side-by-Side

    and between the Fuji and Sigma Fuji-vs-Sigma Side-by-Side

    I find it very difficult to like the Sigma or Fuji better in Black and White, they both are fantastic! I would give a slight edge in the detail to the Fuji when zoomed in fully. It could be how I processed the image in Sigma Photo Pro, but it definately has darker sharpening edges, I prefer the Fuji, but it could be how I processed them (can't use the same tools unfortunately...) but the differences are minor.

    The detail exists in the Ilford image, except for the sky, but the grain is overwhelming when zoomed in fully. Areas with lots of detail (like the bushes and vines on the building) seem to hold their own with the film, but the detail in the concrete park bench is entirely lots with the Ilford, and the awning looks much better with digital.

    1. Impressive tool! Thanks for posting, Jason

  3. I don't see any reason (based on your test) to use film, cumbersome, expensive and virtually meaningless with today's sensors and cameras. For me Digital photography is the best invention in the history of photograpy, it allowed me to abandon the technical annoying aspect of the profession (i.e. process and development of film) and concentrate on the essence which is- photographs.

    1. Wow, you must have totally missed the film era and the era of having to think carefully about exposure, shutter speed, and the other basics of sensitometry. Do you also think there is no need for manual transmission in a car?

  4. How much did you spend on the scanner?

    1. I spent an extra $10 on large scans, download only.

  5. Nice comparison photos confirming something I had perhaps already observed with results during actual work, the DP cameras ability with B&W is well and truly into large format film territory (until heavy up-sampling becomes necessary for extremely large prints, of course), and the X-Pro1 does perhaps the best digital impersonation of Tri-X taken with a Hasselblad yet.

    So much so that my film days are finally over, I've sold all my Hasselblad gear already in favour of the X-Pro1 and am now trying to offload my RB & RZ67 cameras and lenses, and only keeping the ToyoView 45A for sentimental reasons as it is so worn I'd feel guilty selling it.

    The comparison is quite silly between the RZ67 and the DP Merrills in volumetric terms - the former need a full size LowePro backpack to transport, the Merrills are ok on shoulder straps or in LowePro Tech Vest pouches.

    The DP1 and DP3 effectively replace the RB/RZ bodies & the 50mm & 180mm lenses, (I didn't bother with the DP2 because I never use the Mamiya 90mm), and I have already sold off the 65mm, 150 & 240mm Rodenstocks for the ToyoView, only keeping the Nikkor 120AM ED Macro lens, again due to its heavy use. The X-Pro1 does the heavy lifting for general stuff with the fine Fujinons and the substantial number of Nikkor AI-s lenses I have kept since F4 days.

    Great to see my instincts and casual observations of B&W performance confirmed by these more controlled and relevant comparisons. Thanks.

    1. Thank you. You mentioned some great cameras and lenses. I say that my DP2M is on the path to replace MF/LF gear and Fuji X-Pro1 has already replaced Canon 5DMII and 35mm film.
      And yet I am still shooting film:)

  6. I think the advantage to film photo will be clear when there is a desire to apply particular darkroom style work. A digitised film photo can be burned and dodged dramatically in Photoshop, it will still look good and print well because the film grain texture allows for harsh manipulation, to resemble old photo prints with rough burning and dodging, it will be presentable and feature a handmade quality unique to the artist photographer, whereas digital photos cannot be manipulated like that. Obviously a style that is only relevant to some photos and photographers.

  7. Thanks. Great test. I own an original DP2 and love it. I would be interested to see how a tabular film like Kodak Tmax 100 would fare in this test as it's finer grained than PanF and may resolve more. PanF is a great film though.