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D30 vs. Velvia slide film
To show how far the digital cameras have come, I took two identical shots in my back yard using the same lens, a Canon 50m f/1.8. In spite of being quite inexpensive, this is an extremely fine and sharp lens.
One shot was taken on Velvia slide film, one of the highest quality fine-detail films you can get. It's high contrast and exaggerated saturation and everybody loves it for landscapes. It was scanned to TIFF at 2400dpi to a 3000 x 2000 pixel image with 30 bits per pixel by my HP Photosmart. I also had it scanned at the same resolution at 36 bits/pixel by PhotoTime of Palo Alto but I like the PhotoSmart scan better. PhotoTime only delivers as JPEG, but the JPEG is 3 megabytes for the 6 million pixels, which is a pretty high quality. You can view the PhotoTime scan as well.
Another shot was taken moments afterwards with a Canon EOS D30 camera. The D30 is only a 3 megapixel camera, but its sensor is less than half the size of a 35mm frame, so the number of pixels per unit angle is actually almost identical to the scanned film at 2400dpi. Of course, the field of view of the D30 frame is smaller than that of the film frame. (The D30s sensors are 10.51 microns wide, the 2400DPI scanner pixesl are 10.58 micons wide.)
Exposure of the D30 at ISO 100 was at f/8, 1/250th, the velvia at 1/125th for ISO 50. The D30 frame was shot raw and converted in its "normal" mode, not in the higher contrast, higher saturation mode.
The results are below. The biggest difference is the colour, with the Velvia being way more contrast and saturation. The bubble gun handle isn't really as red as the Velvia makes it out. It's also clear that the D30 shot is sharper on the same pixels. I can adjust the D30 shot in photoshop to match the contrast of the Velvia, though I have yet to figure out how to get its unique and striking colour curves, though perhaps with some work this can be done.
One could scan the Velvia better. I have found PhotoTime to be good but not the best you can get. The best costs more like $2/exposure. (PhotoTime is $15 per roll) A 4000dpi scanner like the Sprintscan would do better but surprisingly, from my use and from reviews, not a lot better. I scanned with Hamrick's Vuescan software. The slide looks a fair bit better than the scan when viewed with a loupe on my light table, in that there is much more contrast range present than the scanner can capture. However, it is not much sharper.
If a 6MP full frame camera were available with the D30's sensor, it would be hard not to abandon film for it for many uses.
These images are large (Photoshop level 8 JPEG) because we're trying to compare the images, not the jpegging.
Crop of Shot on D-30
Crop of Shot on Velvia
You can click to the PhotoTime scan as well.