Almost All Things Being Equal

writer: russell j.t. dyer; posted: sep 2011; revised: oct 2017; readers past month: 848

In March of 2010, I purchased a Canon EOS Elan 7n (i.e., 33v) 35mm camera. The Canon EOS 7n/33V is the last film camera that Canon engineered, although they continued to manufacture and sell the Canon EOS 1v for years after the production of the 7n/33v ended about seven years ago. It pretty much has the latest technology of Canon related to camera basics: exposure and lens manipulation. I may be wrong, but I believe that most of the advancements with Canon EOS cameras since have been related to digital aspects.

I also have a Canon 5D Mark II camera. This is an excellent digital camera and one of the best made 35mm cameras — it has a sensor about the size of 35mm film. As I eluded to above, I suspect that the basic camera features of the 5d II is equal to that of the 7n/33v. One of the nice benefits of owning the 7n/33v and the 5d II is that they can use the same EOS lenses.

Based on these factors and assumptions, I have been wondering which of these two cameras takes better photographs. I have been wondering, if given the same conditions (i.e., lens, lighting, settings, etc.), which would take the better picture. At a minimum, one would presume that one could distinguish easily which camera produced which image. By simple logic, one might think that the digital camera would produce the better digital image and the analog (i.e., film) camera would produce the better analog (i.e., printed) image. However, with Adobe Lightroom I can tweak an image from a digital camera to look like a film image. With my Epson V700 Photo scanner I can scan the negative to produce a high quality digital image and then tweak it with Adobe Lightroom.

To test these theories and to test my cameras, I attached a Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 L lens to my Canon Elan 7n camera, put it on a tripod and took a photograph indoors with controlled lighting. I used Kodak Portra 400 35mm film. Without changing the lighting or repositioning the tripod or the subject (an antique, wooden Canada Goose decoy), I took the camera off of the tripod, put the same lens on the Canon 5D Mark II camera and attached the 5d II to the tripod and changed its exposure settings to the same as the 7n/33v camera (i.e., aperture f/8, shutter 1/6, ISO 400). Below are the photos I took with each camera:

Same Shot with Two Camera and One Lens

camera: Canon 5D Mark II;
lens: Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 L;
aperture f/8, shutter 1/6, iso 400

camera: Canon Elan 7n;
lens: Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 L;
aperture f/8, shutter 1/6, iso 400

The first photo was taken with the Canon 5D Mark II digital camera and the second image was taken with the Canon Elan 7n film camera. Using Adobe Lightroom, I adjusted the white balance, brightness, and a few other factors on each to undo the effects of the scanner and to make them equal. However, I did not change in Lightroom the settings of exposure, recovery, clarity, saturation, or vibrance on either of them. I did not want to undo the constants that I tried to maintain in the cameras.

To me, there seems to be more detail to the image from the digital camera than the one from the film camera. The film generate image has a softer tone to it due to the less detail, and is not as stark as the digitally generated image. However, if I were to reduce clarity on the image from the digital camera, it would also be a softer image. The image from the 5d II seems to more saturation of orange where there’s a gash on the side of the decoy and where the rusty nails can be seen on the neck of the decoy where it was repair long ago. Adjusting the orange and red color saturations and hues can get the colors closer together, nearer to the true color of the decoy.

Given these results so far, I think the 5d II produces the better digital image — or at least the more accurate one. Of course, one might prefer the results of the film generated image for artistic reasons. How do y’all think these two images compare? Any thoughts on my methods of testing and comparing the two cameras? I haven’t tried getting a high quality print of the film negative image to compare with the image from the digital camera. I may do that another time and post the results as best I can here. At that point I can see if the analog camera produce the better print image.