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Nikon D200 versus Film
© 2006 KenRockwell.com

I bought mine from Ritz here. I bought another D200 from Adorama here. Also try Amazon here. Adorama usually has D200/18-70 kits in stock here. It helps me keep adding to this site when you click these links to get yours.


Comparing a digital to a film camera is like comparing a bus to a Ferrari. I'm serious; it's exactly like that. Photographers know film and digital are completely different media, so we use them for completely different purposes. The differences are obvious to us and we don't worry about it. Casual internet hobbyists lack the experience to see the obvious differences so they worry about the differences for hours on end. A professional driver knows when to start up the Ferrari or the bus, while the weekend photographer is still learning.

I'm serious about comparing the bus and the Ferrari. They each cost the same (low six figures), use the same amount of fuel (about 10 MPG) and do the same thing: move around people and luggage. The differences are agility and capacity. The Ferrari is more agile while the bus carries more people. This is exactly like film and digital. Digital is more agile while film carries far more information (pixels).

Let's compare a film and a digital camera of equal cost. Conveniently my $2,000 film camera system costs the same as my Nikon D200. The D200 costs $1,799 without a lens, and the $2,000 film camera includes a lens and digital scanner, so we're giving the digital camera an advantage. I'm also ignoring that the D200 costs more to own because it's disposable and depreciates fast. In 18 months the D200 will be obsolete while the film camera remains current.

To keep this fair I'm making a comparison to my professional film camera which costs the same as a D200, not a much less expensive amateur format film camera. I'll cover comparisons to these other kinds of film cameras later on this page.


Image Quality

As I thought, resolution and image quality is an area where one doesn't want to start an argument with film. Just as a bus carries a lot more than a Ferrari, the film camera records loads more image detail.


Guide image. Cropped area is enlarged below.

4x5 scanned film

Film at 2,400 DPI.

Nikon D200

Nikon D200 scaled to match.

Nikon D200 actual pixels

Nikon D200, actual pixels.


I'm disappointed that none of my readers noticed what's obvious to any artist: the comparisons above were with a boring, worthless image typical of the drones who waste a lot of time making these pointless comparisons. Who cares about dull backlit overviews of people's tract homes?

That was a dull static image made out a window. I didn't have to pack anything up Mt. Whitney and I didn't have to contend with changing natural light or any clever effects like adding fill flash.

Far more important is that I can move faster, experiment and cover more ground with a digital camera. I can catch light that otherwise requires planning and forethought with my 4x5" camera. Below are a few comparison shots of real subjects, not worthless test patterns, that I've made over a period of just a few weeks. I'll admit that of course I was enjoying my new D200 and wasn't bothering to haul my 4 x 5 with me on all my hikes, and that back when I was less lazy I would have carried my 4 x 5 and gotten this all on film. Or would I have? When shooting 4 x 5 I cover less ground and spend more time in each spot. I might not ever have seen these sights if I had been shooting only film.

Trona Pinnacles

Pinnacles, California. D200 shot number 5,640, Nikkor 12-24 at 12 mm, 20 minutes after sundown, 20 January 2006.

Blank 4x5 film

Pinnacles, California. 4 x 5" film image not made because the light was changing so fast and I was having so much fun with the D200 that I didn't get around to hiking back and then setting up my 4 x 5" camera.

Titus Canyon, Death Valley

North American Nebula, Death Valley, California. D200 shot number 6,769, Nikkor 12-24 at 12mm, handheld after hiking a slot canyon, 21 January 2006.

Blank 4x5 film

North American Nebula, Death Valley, California. 4x5" film image not made with camera left back in the car at the trailhead.

White House Saloon, Randsburg, California

White House Saloon, California. D200 shot 7,344, 18-200 VR at 34mm, hand-held, 22 January 2006.

Blank 4x5 film

White House Saloon, California. Image not made with 4x5" camera left back in the car while we jumped out for some fast shots at dusk.

Los Osos Oak Preserve, California

Oaks, Central Coast, California. D200 shot number 10,247 (HDR), Nikkor 12-24 at 12 mm. 03 February 2006.

Blank 4x5 film

Oaks, Central Coast, California. Image not made on 4 x 5 film because my 4x5 camera was sitting back in the car while I explored with the D200. The light got good and then the sun set before I made it back to the car.

Car Wash, Shell Beach, California

Car Wash, California. D200 shot number 10,367, Nikkor 18-200 VR, hand held. 03 February 2006.

Blank 4x5 film

Car Wash, California. Shot not made on 4x5 camera which sat in the car while my wife gave me a dirty look waiting for me to hurry up and make the shot.

Pismo Beach Pier, California

Pier at Dusk, California. D200 shot number 10,861, 18 - 200 VR at 18mm, hand held. 04 February, 2006.

Blank 4x5 film

Pier at Dusk, California. Shot not made on 4x5 camera left back at our hotel while my wife and I explored the pier.

Rt 66 Motel, Barstow, California

Route 66, California. D200 shot number 12,292, 12-24mm at 12mm. 10 February, 2006.

Blank 4x5 film

Route 66, California. Shot not made on 4x5 camera left in my hotel room while I made a some shots before dinner.

Old Truck, Route 66, Amboy, California

Cliché, Route 66, California. D200 shot number 12,831, 12-24mm at 12mm. 11 February, 2006.

Blank 4x5 film

Route 66, California. Shot not made on 4x5 camera left in car while I worked with a workshop.

I prefer the great results from the D200 over blank film not shot.



For my film camera I used my $2,000 4x5" film Camera. I used old expired film and a fifty-year-old lens.

I didn't use new film or new lenses as you would get for $2,000. I used a new $700 Tachihara body and a $420 Epson 4990 scanner, but everything else was old and crummy. I used my 50-year-old Schneider 150mm f/5.6 Symmar Convertible with a big dent in the rear cell. The crummy colors are because I used some seven-year out of date Fuji Astia film for these stupid tests. I usually use my favorite extra-sharp Velvia for real pictures.


I used my new D200 and 18 - 200 VR lens at 29 mm for the technical comparisons. Because the D200 has less resolution than the film scan I uprezed the D200 file by 3x to match the scan. I used PhotoShop CS2's BICUBIC SHARPER function for the best conversion.

Why do I have to scale up? Simple: to show both images at the same size.

One could reduce the larger 4 x 5 image to match the smaller D200 file, but that would hide what we're trying to show.

My 18 - 200 lens is as sharp as anything I own. In case you were concerned that the lack of sharpness was from my lens or not using the right raw converter or whatever, the second image from the D200 is from the same shot, except that I uprezed using NEAREST NEIGHBOR to show you the actual enlarged D200 pixels.


The D200 has nowhere near as many pixels as the film scan. When enlarged similar amounts the D200, or any digital camera or back, can't keep up.

The D200 image is only 3,872 pixels wide compared to the film scan's 11,600 pixels. 11,600 / 2400 DPI = 4.8", or the 4x5 film's horizontal dimension. The film's 4.8" width is 122 mm compared to the D200's CCD's 23.6 mm width, or 5.17x as large. A 150 mm lens on the 4x5 has the same field of view as a 29mm lens on my D200. 150 mm / 5.17 = 29 mm.

At typical screen resolution (100 DPI) this is equivalent to making a print 6 x 9 feet if we expanded the crops you see above to include the entire image. At typical print resolution (300 DPI) this would result in an 24 x 36" print, at one third the magnification you see above.

You won't see this difference at small magnifications. Other websites, which just happen to be sponsored by digital camera companies, only show these comparisons at small sizes where you can't see the results, like 13 x 19." How do you know they're sponsored? Easy: how do you think they get pre-production cameras? I get nothing from no one and I bought my D200 myself. The only reason I got it so soon was that I was smart enough to order it the day it was announced, November 1st, 2005.


The D200 image is as good as it's going to get. The pixels you see are the pixels you got.

My film scan was done on a cheap $400 flatbed scanner at only 2,400 DPI. There's more detail on the film than this scanner can extract. When printing from 4 x 5 film most people send the film out for scanning on a $50,000 drum scanner.

If you square the 5.17x larger dimension of 4 x 5" film you get 27x more total area than the DX sensor. I scanned the film at the same (higher) linear resolution of the DX sensor I'd get more like 27 x 10.2 = 275 MP, not just my conservative 100 MP.

As time goes on scanners get better. You always can scan your film again in 10 or 20 years. I have 30 year old Kodachromes and 15 year old Velvias that look identical to when they were new. You're stuck with whatever you got from your D200, presuming you can even find software to read the raw files if you didn't save or shoot them as JPGs.

I used old film and old lenses. If I cared I could have used new lenses and new film. I doubt a new lens would be any better than my 50 year old Schneider, but that old Astia looks terrible.


For fairness I compared my D200 with my film camera of similar cost. It would be silly to compare my D200 against a less expensive film camera, like my 35mm. 35mm film went obsolete in 1999. Likewise I didn't compare it to medium format either, mostly because I was too lazy. 4 x 5 film is the best choice for serious still subjects. Roll film is going away because digital offers almost the same quality with far more flexibility. Sheet film still offers superior quality.

But wait! I did compare it to 35mm. I don't have the results to show you yet because the rest of the roll of 35mm film sits unshot in my F100. Roll film is much worse than sheet film (like 4 x 5") because you have to shoot the entire roll to get just one shot. This is another reason roll film doesn't make much sense except for weird, larger format panoramic cameras.

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