How many pixels are there in a frame of 35mm film?

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How many pixels are there in a frame of 35mm film?
(an FAQ on digital photography) This is a somewhat controversial question, and there are many possible answers. Film is an analog medium, so it doesn't have "pixels" per se, though film scanners have pixels and a specific resolution. When this article was written, the number was more than was found in typical digital cameras. Today most people agree that the top digital cameras, like the Canon 5D Mark II, are superior. Even those who give film a modest edge will agree that the superb flexibility, convenience and high ISO range of the digitals makes them the winner. The very short answer is that there are around 20 million "quality" pixels in a top-quality 35mm shot. That's a shot with a tripod, mirror-up, with a top-rate lens and the finest-grained film, in decent light. 12 million are more typical for "good" shots. There may be as few as 4 million "quality" pixels in a handheld shot with a pointand-shoot camera or camera with a poor lens. And of course if focus is poor, or light is poor, or the camera was not held steady, the number will drop down below the 1-2 million pixels of the modern consumer digicam. Of course, one can have a bad shot with a digital camera too, not using all its resolving ability. However, few pick their gear with the plan of shooting badly. The eye, however, is not as discerning when looking at a picture in the usual context as it can be when looking at things blown up. So many can also argue that a shot of around 9 million pixels would look as good to the

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Film is made up of chemical grains or dye clouds. More modern digital cameras gather 10 or even 12 bits of the single colour pixel. So the colour accuracy for even a scanned film image is better than the modern digital camera. As such a film scanner gets as much as 36 bits of information for each pixel. The interpolation algorithms are good. instead of 8. As a counter note. The better digital cameras are also starting 2 of 5 7/1/2013 11:40 AM . Film. except when blown up very large and looked at quite closely.How many pixels are there in a frame of 35mm film? Today's digital cameras only get 8-12 bits of data for each pixel and they guess (interpolate) the other 16.) Generally one desires at least 12 bits per colour to represent it. Negative film itself tends to be able to hold around 1000 to 1 contrast range. It's important to note another key difference. the limits of the lenses blur the image before the grains start causing too much trouble. like film. the more you start seeing noise caused by those grains. which would need at least 24 bits. but can display it all when projected. does not record just 256 grayscales or the corresponding 16 million colours. and keep it if they record in RAW mode. The more you blow up film. On the other hand. not all of it is usable information.templetons. position-brightness information is much more important than colour information. and provide more contrast. How much better full colour information is is subjective. So there is a lot of information in film. They can often go to 12 bits (0 to 4097) to detect much more detail in shadows. negative films capture a wider range but can't display it when printed. Good film scanners can also extract more than just levels from 0 to 255. though over a slightly narrower exposure range. even doing just 8 bits per colour. and eventually the very clumping of the grains themselves. but their sensors have lower resolution as of now. Your eye. can sample an astounding (eye-popping!) 7 decimal orders of magnitude of range of contrast. However with a decent lens you don't have to blow up too much before you see the grain. as an analog medium. (To make this clearer. just a bit better than digital. and in many cases. Foveon digital cameras record all 3 colours per pixel. The film has more information. particularly in natural scenes. And film scanners. Quality slide film projects more levels. which causes the debate about the equivalence in pixels. but it's not even close to 3 times better. Slide films capture a more narrow range. and rely on the fact that to the eye. but reduce it in JPEG mode. is nowhere near near 3 times as good as some pretend. The finest films (which are slow and best with sunlight or flash) have very fine grain. Of course some are bothered by the grain more than others. while better than the 8 to 12 bits per sample of a bayer-interpolated digital camera. even the 36 bits from the best scanner is not enough. the 24 bits of colour from a film scanner. However. by widening and closing the iris.html eye as a 35mm shot. get 24 bits of data for every single pixel.

Chances are a 3000 x 2000 digital camera would match the 35mm for a good percentage of shots. but the deeper you go. In theory a print can have all the information of film. There is more information to be extracted even at this fine resolution. you're reaching the limits of most lenses. In addition. Quality labs can do better -. but only at the cost of producing a grainy image." the image is pretty noisy. You could blow up the 35mm shot a little bit more and see a little bit more. Prints Prints also are analog output. A crop at this level does not look nearly as good as a scaled down full shot. that means around 20 million They may be able to resolve high-contrast items at this level but most pixels are a little blurry. do more. What this means is that a 5300 x 4000 digital camera can produce a shot equivalent to a scan from a quality 35mm camera -. are capable of resolving as much as 7000 pixels (3500 "line pairs") over the width of a 35mm frame -. Subjective tests suggest this is to about 4000 DPI.How many pixels are there in a frame of 35mm film? http://pic. or around 5600 pixels. These films. Also.) Thus a 5x7 print probably is similar to a 1400 x 1000 digital image (if the digital image has enough bits per pixel. but there isn't that much more in the negative. but you can tell there is a white line next to a black line. sharp-edged entities.templetons. so your mileage may vary.html to exceed the quality of most zooms and even some prime lenses. if you can get a scan that good. however photographic paper tends to only be able to hold a range of 100 to 1 in contrast. (The paper can.perhaps up to 500 pixels/inch. the more noise you also extract.about 5000 dots per inch. and often blurs an image. while they can resolve "line pairs. The lines are not resolved as straight.provided you could get more than 8 bits per pixel. digital techniques can reduce the visibility of grain and extend the resolution of film.) It's rarely more than the 2100 x 1500 that 300 dpi would imply. To make the image not look "grainy" and otherwise poor. you need to pull back. (Of course some people don't mind grain as much as others. For a 3:2 frame. in theory. However. the printing process is not perfect. before that point. Typical lab prints don't seem to store much more than 200-250 pixels for each inch. That's less than a monitor can. however. 3 of 5 7/1/2013 11:40 AM . with good lenses.) Down at this level.

Most printers can only simulate continuous or near-continuous may even be worse due to noise that the 3 megapixel D30. and far more detail. You get far more contrast.html It's always better to scan from print film or slide film. Scanning is hard work. 4 of 5 7/1/2013 11:40 AM . or photographic paper recorders.How many pixels are there in a frame of 35mm film? http://pic.templetons. and it's not second generation. And it adds another generation to the process. is a dot capable of the full colour range. the resolution is pretty similar to film at its best. In the end. A It takes a lot of time. A small point and shoot with 8 megapixels is probably a lot worse than the old 6 megapixel canon D60 -. and secondly getting everything out of film requires a lot of work with a very good scanner. marketing departments have created a bit of pixel-mania. Serious shooters are preferring them to film. can do near-continuous tone. (Digital film recorders. You need lots of dots to make a specific colour and not look spotty. dependent on the optics and scanning elements of the scanner. high end digital SLRS commonly have over 20 megapixels. on the other hand. To render a pixel well can require scores of ink dots. They are working too hard at increasing the number of megapixels they can advertise without always caring about the quality of the pixels. First of all.) Digital Printing Makers of digital printers play lots of games with their resolution. (Though be warned some slide scanners are not up to the range of contrast in a good slide. the goal is a "continuous tone" image at a given number of pixels per inch. One must deal with dust and fingerprints. Resolution is important but not the only thing. The "dots" they speak of (when they talk about a 720 dpi resolution) are dots of single colour ink. Pixel-Mania Today in digital cameras.) Getting the scan Today.

the marriage of digital and film. If you have bought a new Canon DSLR. check my page on what lenses to get for a DSLR or what camera to buy at But the DSLR is just so much easier to work with. Check out my pages of Panoramic Photography. Other Issues You may want to look at my set of 35mm photos current digital cameras can't shoot. but only by a modest amount. You can read about the tradeoffs between digital and 35mm. and very few are unsatisfied with the 20 megapixel models. In fact. 5 of 5 7/1/2013 11:40 AM .html What would you rather shoot on? The real question of course is "which do you want to shoot on?" When considering the quality DSLRs from Canon or Nikon.How many pixels are there in a frame of 35mm film? http://pic.templetons. they are competing in some minds with medium format shooting. Can they get a better shot with a 120 chrome than an 20MP DSLR? Probably. and so much more flexible that when the final goal is digital (as it almost always is today) the choice for these photographers is not very hard. most people switched to preferring the images from the 8 megapixel models compared to 35mm film.