Cropping, sufficiency, resolution: take three (or, thoughts after shooting with the H6D-100c)

H6-100 crop marks
A little reframing – not as chaotic as I’d have expected…

I’ve said a lot about cropping in the past, when I think it’s justified, and even a little bit about the proto-wimmelbild interpretation of recursion in composition. Bottom line: good/acceptable cropping is when the composition and restriction of edges is done deliberately and premeditatively before capture; you know you’re going to need to leave some stuff on the cutting floor because perhaps your finder edges aren’t precise or 100%, because you want a non-native aspect ratio, or because you didn’t bring a longer lens but composed for a tighter scene in the middle of the frame. Bad cropping is when you’re hunting for a composition after capture – it’s not deliberate at the time of initial composition and is basically trying your luck. The key differentiator here is one of intent.

Longtime readers will also know that I’ve said a lot about sufficiency and matching your output intent; we don’t all need medium format, but as good as today’s cameraphones are, they’re still often restrictive in a way that affects the final image negatively. I was initially resistant to increase resolution because of processing demands, and because I believed that having high pixel integrity would lead to visually more pleasing results than simply more (but ‘looser) pixels; I stand by that. But clients asked for more, I encountered single-capture dynamic range and tonal limitations, and eventually – landed up with medium format. Sufficient for my needs, and those of my most demanding clients? Yes. The 44x33mm 50MP CMOS sensor cameras are more than enough, and that hasn’t changed. But I spent a very brief time with the Hasselblad H6D-100c a couple of weeks ago, and have been feeling like something has been brewing ever since.

Pure spatial resolution is one thing: the ability to describe ever finer structures is great, but also provides postprocessing challenges of its own, not to mention retouching and the like. Let’s just say that I won’t be using one of these for product photography. Less obviously, resolution is also coupled inextricably to tonality: the more spatial steps you have to describe a transition, the more subtle a transition you can represent, and the more accurately you can fit what is a discrete function (the pixel grid) to a continuous one (the real world). Even when downsampling, the advantage is obvious: you have more accurate colour and tone and less noise at the pixel level due to averaging. This was the first surprise in 2014 when I compared the Pentax 645Z to my D4: under comparable conditions, a 645Z file downsized to D4 sizes was significantly superior, even though the D4 had access to faster lenses (which were used). This obviously improves with the more pixels you’ve got, assuming of course your optics are capable of sufficient resolving power.

More pixels also obviously moves us further past the sufficiency bar: if you need 12MP ‘clean*’, then having a 100MP ‘clean’ start point gives you a lot of latitude to work with. Even if you need 25MP – you can either oversample and downsize by a factor of four, effectively extending your pixel-level noise threshold by two stops (with the added advantage of better acuity and colour), or you can throw away a good chunk of your image and halve the angle of view of your lens. I’ve never had anybody say the 50MP files weren’t anything other than fantastic; why would I need 100MP (with attendant increase in demands on optics and physical weight as the larger sensor requires longer focal lengths for the same angle of view)? Furthermore, the shooting envelope shrinks considerably: with more pixels per degree FOV, the amount of tolerable shake becomes even lower. It’s not trivial, either: double the spatial resolution is 41% higher angular pixel density. Lastly: I’m happy with the angles of view and rendering style of the lenses I’ve got now. Going from 44x33mm to 54x40mm would mean working that out all over again. In short: I went through the stages of lust, but was pretty sure I’d stick with 50MP.

*Clean at the pixel level; high acuity, low noise, low artefacts etc.

I’m no longer quite so sure about that. Whilst the files themselves are even better than the 50MP – aside from the obvious resolution gains, a bit more dynamic range, quite noticeably less noise, and similar levels of color and pixel acuity – yes, there’s definitely more discipline required for handholding and focus accuracy. Not to mention handling 200mb+ files. I actually kept thinking that because there was so much resolution, I could reduce my load out and gain flexibility in one of several ways: match angles of view on old and new sensors, and then not carry a longer lens when I needed more reach; keep the same focal length and crop to 44×33 by default, but have wider when I needed; or go wider and forgo the tilt shift**. Of course, you still have the full fat files to play with when needed or when conditions are ideal. This is attractive for so many reasons: you can get away with carrying a lot less hardware, which makes up for the heavier tripod you’ll probably need; you don’t have to worry about degradation through movements, and you’ve got a more flexibility in composition.

**Hold camera level, crop off the bit you don’t need. With the 24mm on 54x40mm, I’ve got 16mm-e – which is far, far wider than the 28mm-e I work with now after the HTS’ 1.5x factor and smaller 50MP sensor.

There are but two catches, one of which I think I’ve solved. The main one has to do with cropping and visualisation: it’s difficult to know where the edges of the frame are going to lie without a hard reference line. This inevitably gets you into trouble even when you previsualize your crop: there are intrusions and imbalances and all sorts of other issues that are very easy to miss. I think the solution here would be to have a focusing screen scored with very fine crop marks – perhaps a grid that covers square, 16:9, 2.4:1, 44×33 and FF. They provide 75, 54, 67 and 40MP respectively: the smallest of those is still better in outright spatial resolution than the D810, and the D810 doesn’t have the same pixel-level performance, either. Even if the back were to be used on another camera with lenses that didn’t cover the whole sensor – Otuses, for example – you’d get a 31mm square from a 135 format lens, which should yield about 44MP. The overall effect would be like one of those action finders: you can see what’s going on outside the frame. What I’m thinking is flexibility, flexibility, flexibility…

The second big catch I haven’t solved: that’s the price tag. I may have to put the CFV-50c up for sale soon to fund it…MT


Ultraprints from this series are available on request here


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  1. Since you have been shooting with the 100MP back for a while now, did you ever get a chance to test the HCD 35-90MM zoom lens on the H6D-100C system? If yes, how does the zoom perform optically on the high resolution sensor and how bad is the vignetting on the wide end? Thanks!

    • Actually, it’s my standard lens – it does just fine, and vignetting at the wide end is easily correctable with PS. And no, I don’t have the auto crop since I covert with ACR 🙂

  2. Hi Ming,

    Always look forward to your reviews. We communicated on the Pentax 645Z.

    Coming to the Hassy 100MP with a sensor larger than on 645Z, do you see the “medium format” look with this sensor significantly more so than that with the 44 x 33mm sensor? How do you rate the autofocus speed on the H6D-100C? ‘m sure Hassy color rendition is amazing.

    Thanks again for excellent posts.


    • Short answer: yes, because you’ve got 50% more area again, and on top of that, pixel level quality has improved. Single AF speed is fine; it doesn’t hold me back. Continuous AF (like all MF cameras) is pretty much useless though.

      • senthilcumar says:

        Thanks Ming. With Pentax 645Z, the AF was ok for the purposes I used it for, even continuous AF. Do you think the 100C continuous AF is on par with that of the 645Z?


  3. Resolution helps, no doubt. I have been stitching for nearly 10 years and have on my wall a 2m wide print from a 350 megapixel stitch captured 7 years ago (D3x with Zeiss 100mm f2.0). Obviously, it was a pain to capture at -15c with strong winds, a 4 shots pano with my H6D-100c would deliver better results and could be captured in a few seconds as opposed to a few mins with a lot less risk to get something wrong. But… the point remains that high resolutions is nothing new really.

    • No, it’s not new, but to have this capability in a single capture and with significant cropping still being better than the previous ‘best’ (e.g. the 50MP MF chips), is something else…

  4. Samuel Jessop says:

    This is several orders of magnitude out of my league, so I can only observe from afar. The first thing that came to mind when I saw the title of this post was with regard to the HTS.

    How often did you use the wider TS primes with your Nikon?

    • I use the 24 PCE for shift (but never tilt; I wish it didn’t have it so it couldn’t be accidentally knocked out of alignment) quite a lot; the 45 not so much, and the 85 as a tilt rather than a shift for macro work.

  5. Great article as always ming.
    My most interest in a high MP sensor is the downsampling to get full colour for smaller sizes. I am waiting for some company to offer pixel merging ( 4 to 1 ) to get full colour. Foveon sensors images has a lot of depth in colour but the cameras are not very practical for day to day use. The medium format 50mp sensor can give like 12.5mp full colour images ( with out any interpolation ) I don’t now how useful it can be but I know Im happy with 12mp images.

    • Actually, there’s no reason something like the 5DSR can’t do it, though you’d get similar results I think from a PS down sample OR a stack; the slight movements between each shot would be enough to cause the desired color averaging.

  6. Hi Ming
    Given how awesome the otuses are (awesomer than d810), were you thinking of putting them on a sensor better than d810’s?

  7. I have stopped carrying longer lens (my 180 Lanthar may be on market soon) for the same reason you mentioned. I now crop 180mm FOV pic (6 megapixel) from a 24mp 90mm shot as needed. This allows me to only carry my tiny 90mm macro-elmar-m which is almost half the weight of Lanthar.

    Although I understand your argument about not relying on cropping for composition, I find it of practical use to me.

    • Perhaps I haven’t expressed myself well enough here, or the difference is subtle (but I think still important): cropping because you know what composition you want isn’t wrong. Cropping to try and find something afterwards when you weren’t sure what you were composing for at the time of shooting, is – you simply cannot make a strong image if you don’t know what you’re composing for in the first place. So depending on which camp you fall in, it might not be as detrimental. 6MP isn’t really enough for printing, though, and you’re going to have to make sure you have absolutely perfect technique otherwise you’ll have something a bit less than 6MP effective.

      • Thanks for clarifying it. Yes, when I have only 90mm and I want to get 180 FOV then I will have to think carefully while composing. Not very dissimilar to having inner framelines in RF window.

        You are also right that 6mp is not enough for big prints but it prints well for me to A4 (sharp pic on M240 to start with) which I am ok with.

        If I were to switch my profession tomorrow and become a sought after photographer overnight (any advise on how to? 🙂 ) then I will certainly carry proper FL lenses than trying to maximize existing lenses.

  8. Alex Carnes says:

    Regarding cropping – I think we’ve talked about this before, and I know what you mean: you shouldn’t crop because you’re too lazy or incompetent to compose properly in the field. However, sometimes you notice something new when you review the image, or simply have a change of heart about certain things, especially after converting to black and white etc. Yeah, I know what you mean, and for what it’s worth, I very rarely crop for any reason other than to obtain a non-native aspect ratio either, but I’m not sure I’d object to the practice quite as strongly as you do. Especially given these colossal sensor resolutions and lenses that’re sharp into the corners at f/1.4!

    Now, downsampling and 100 MP sensors etc.: I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said, however I ask myself this: say we make two identical images – or at least as close to identical as we can possibly make them – with a Nikon D810 and this 100MP Hasselblad, and make a big print of them both: long edge 24 inches or so. How would you fancy your chances at telling me which was which in a blind test? Or, a print in which a 100MP MF image was downsampled to 50MP, and an identical 50MP image was printed at native resolution. It gives me no trouble to understand the technical advantage, and no doubt you can see it at 100% on a computer screen – especially when you know which image is which…! 😉 I dunno, I’ve never had the opportunity to do such a test, but I just have a gut feeling that such difference as there may be would be awfully hard to spot in any real world application, including demanding ones.

    • “How would you fancy your chances at telling me which was which in a blind test?”
      If we’re talking a 24″ Ultraprint and the source images were not technique limited, then I think it’d be pretty easy to tell. If you shake a bit, 100MP quickly becomes quite a lot less effective.

      “I just have a gut feeling that such difference as there may be would be awfully hard to spot in any real world application, including demanding ones.”
      True, though the difference remains and can be both deployed and exploited. That said, the biggest practical difference is going to be retention of clients who demand that kind of output even though they may not necessarily need it… 🙂

      • Alex Carnes says:

        Ah, well, giving the client what he wants is another matter. When you start contemplating the dots per inch implications of 100mp files, Lord above you’d have to make a bloody big print, look very very closely and probably have the eye of faith…

        • Not really. A storefront may well require 5x10m, which on the long side is ~11,000px for 400 inches, or barely 30PPI; even from a distance of 1-2m away, you’ll see the dots – and it’s well within large scale commercial printing limits, too.

          • Alex Carnes says:

            That’s true. I think 5x10m qualifies as a bloody big print…! 😀 It could be argued though that 1-2m is an unsatisfactory/unrealistic viewing distance for such a huge picture.

            • Yes and no – there are a lot of instances where it’s next to a wall or hoarding that you can go right up to, for instance; or in the form of a diorama (where you would want to view the details).

  9. Michiel953 says:

    Interesting article. My initial reaction was: “But, but, isn’t cropping for farmers?”.

    On a slightly more serious note, I do a lot of portraits on 35mm b&w film. 400 Tx, Double-X, Orwo N74, Retro 400s. I have the whole negative printed with a black border. Because I think it looks good. So, no cropping. At all. That hard and fast rule forces met to frame my shots meticulously, and preferably use a 100% viewfinder.

    Using my D810 then allows me a little more leeway… which is nice as well!

    • It is, unless you know what you want to farm in advance 😉

      I usually don’t crop because it affects the visualisation process (and composition etc). But if I were to etch a focusing screen with both crops and different aspect ratios, and could compose for it in-finder – it isn’t quite the same thing, I think.

      • Michiel953 says:

        I agree, but I was merely referring to possibly sloppy framing; something that I’m guilty of every now and then. I edited some forty portraits today I did (on Double-X 5222; Nikon F2AS, several lenses from 50 to 105) as part of an assignment by my ‘mentor’ Ringel Goslinga, one of Holland’s leading portrait photographers. The compositions were as I intended; black below, white above, face (dark sweater; that worked well) standing out, sidelighting so 3d effect. The dividing line between dark/black below and light/white upper isn’t exactly level in some shots.

        Taking into account my aim to not crop, that actually bothers me a lot. In some it’s level, but then they are not the perfect catch…

        Problems, problems… 😉

        • It may not be your fault: sometimes viewfinder masks are installed askew, which will drive you mad. I had one camera like that – even on a tripod if the horizon was perfectly level with the edge of the finder frame, it would be tilted…

  10. When it comes to justifying G.A.S. -man … you are a Bugatti! Love it! …cant wait to see the pics.Mazeltov!

  11. Tangomaniac says:

    There is a way to reduce the price tag of a H6D-100c by about 5000€: Buy a used H4D (at eBay for approx. 4000€) and use Hasselblads trade-up program to get 9400€ for it.
    Nevertheless: The H6D will still cost about the worth of a middleclass car.

    • Yes, and I think a lot of people are already doing that. You could also do the same with any other recent MF camera (the Leica S2 is probably a better option for this). Personally…I will ask the powers that be in charge of the ambassador program first 😉

  12. “Even if the back were to be used on another camera with lenses that didn’t cover the whole sensor – Otuses, for example – you’d get a 31mm square from a 135 format lens, which should yield about 44MP. The overall effect would be like one of those action finders: you can see what’s going on outside the frame. What I’m thinking is flexibility, flexibility, flexibility…
    The second big catch I haven’t solved: that’s the price tag.”

    Yikes – and this must be where Alpa comes in, too!!!

  13. Jos Martens says:

    Perfid perfection?
    A photograph to me is the material freezing and cristallisation of a situation that touches my eye, my mind and my soul..I want to memorize this impression for myself and eventually share it with others. The more I am open to sensations the more I encounter them, anytime, anywhere. As a photographer I want to record as many of these sensations as possible. Ideally this calls for a photographic-tecnical arsenal to be available anywhere, anytime, the wet dream being a handy, smartphone-like device able to record the scene in all its detail and dynamic range so that I can extract ( crop ) the sensation trigger from it. So I would have a record of the sensation just in electronic form or in print.
    Alas I fear we are in the unnervingly blocking situation where technical means and sought-after outcome are in desequilibrium. I understand you are looking for te best possible image technically, but the mass of your equipment and your efforts to find solutions to it,holds you away from expressing yourself. One solution is to adapt your photographic expression to your 100 MP equipment, at the cost of limiting it to accessible and static subjects due to weight, difficult focusing, intrusion on your environment. Another one is to adapt your equipment to your photographic expression.
    Choice and focus as always is a dilemma, even without adding the spoiler of cost. Temptaion, fulfillment are contrary forces and have to be confronted by each one on a personal level. Hesitation is holding us back, decision lets us move forward. Let us not forget that technical issues should be subordinated to the feeling of recognition and satisfaction that a photo brings. And there are so many photo opportunities left to express ourselves.

    • Sorry, I don’t really agree: the camera doesn’t hold me back. I choose equipment that enables me to do what I want to do. If it doesn’t, I won’t use it. Why would you want to work for your camera and not then other way around?

      • Jos Martens says:

        My point was just that : the camera must work for me . The easier the technical aspects are, the more the artistic expression is possible. The artistic content counts more than victories over technical difficulties.

        • Understood – then we are on the same page. Basically: the picture comes first. The better the image quality/ transparency, the better, but that is not (and has never been) the objective.

  14. It should be straightforward to extract the peak image quality from the 100c sensor: use sturdy tripod, focus using the magnified screen, use exposure delay / remote trigger. But I think you’d be able to make it really shine in other situations as well. If you won’t I don’t know who possibly could 🙂

    • Indeed – but under the same situation you could stitch from a smaller/lower quality sensor and get pretty close. It’s the single shot instantaneous capture where the -100 will excel; and also where it’ll be most difficult to use in transient situations…

  15. Ouch! With the H6D-100c, you are definitely beyond what I can (or will) afford, without mortgaging my house. However, I have managed to sell enough of my lenses to get into the Hasselblad X1D, but I have a question that I hope you can shed some light upon. Over the years, you have looked at some of what Fuji has offered. When I look at the Hasselblad X1D and the new Fuji GFX cameras, they both seem to offer a lot. But here is my most worrying question:

    How about color? I read that perhaps Hasselblad has a more staid sense of color (some call it European), so that it does well with pastels, but tends to ever-so-slightly under-saturate, while Fuji seems to have a more vivid (and slightly over-saturated) look. In your experience, is this true? Or, since both cameras use the same sensor, can I be reasonably sure that the color with either the GFX or X1D would be pretty good? And I guess by “pretty good,” what I mean is one of these cameras likely to more correct in color than merely “good” color?

    • Color: most of the world likes saturation to the nines; I can’t stand it because it makes processing very difficult, and getting accurate colour for product work near-impossible. Hasselblad color is natural/accurate as opposed to pleasing: the cameras require the least profiling I’ve experienced, and they’re near-identical in color profile across the entire range (CCD included). You can saturate a Hasselblad file easily and control the peaks/rolloffs, but you can’t desaturate a ‘consumer’ file without it looking odd – the channels may well have clipped.

      • That does help. Thanks. Any experience with how Fuji handles color. Do you feel that it will be as manageable as Hasselblad?

        • If they stick to the same color profile as the other cameras, honestly, no: the blues always run cyan, and the shadows block up quickly to extend highlights. This may be different on the GFX sensor, but I don’t think it’s going to solve the cyan shift since that seems to be part of the family ‘look’.

          • Since I only and always shoot raw, then with either camera I should be able to build a profile that allows me to get the “Hasselblad look” for the GFX. What am I missing in this approach?

            • It depends very much on the sensor implementation used in the GFX: I have a lot of trouble making the X trans cameras look ‘neutral-flat’ like other Bayer cameras – there’s simply not enough shadow latitude left; the extended highlights are at the expense of the shadows. It should be possible…


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