Is rollfilm 220 better than 120 in terms of film flatness?
Zeiss has recently developed a new measuring system to evaluate film flatness in medium format photography.
The new system is based on an computerized microscope that can automatically scan and focus on multiple points of a film frame in a medium format camera magazine. The obtained focusing data are recorded by a computer and evaluated by a propriatory Zeiss software. The result is a mapping of the film topography with an accuracy of one millionth of a meter (1 micron), according to the developer of this system.
The purpose of this new device is to find out how well film magazine mechanics are designed in today's medium format camera systems, how precise they position the film and how well they hold it flat. From these findings Zeiss can draw conclusions about the field flatness required for medium format lenses and Zeiss can also trace causes for lack of sharpness in customer's photos. This is particularly interesting since more than 99% of all customer complaints about lacking sharpness in their photos can be attributed to misalignments of critical components in camera, viewfinder, or magazine, focus errors, camera shake and vibrations, film curvature, and other reasons.
So far, Zeiss has found that film curvature can have a major influence as a source of unsharpness. This has also been known by Zeiss' camera making partners Alpa, Hasselblad, Kyocera (Contax) and Rollei. Since Zeiss' evaluation program is not completed yet, we would like not to draw too many conclusions prematurely. But two things can be stated already as hints to enable sharper photos with medium format cameras at wide open apertures, since exactly those are invited by the high level of aberration correction in Zeiss lenses:
220 type rollfilm usually offers better flatness than 120 type by a factor of almost 2. This is an advantage with fast, motorized cameras like the Contax 645 AF, Hasselblad 555 ELD (and previous motorized Hasselblad cameras) and Rolleiflex 6000 series cameras.
Film flatness problems are mainly caused by the combined influence of two factors: the rollers in the camera or magazine that bend the film, and the time a certain part of the film is bent by such a roller.
Camera manufacturers usually space the rollers in a way that bent portions of the film will never be positioned near the center of the image. Therefore only marginal regions of the image should be affected by sharpness problems due to film flatness errors.
Since the photographer cannot alter the geometry and mechanics of his camera, he can only influence the other factor: time. A film run through the camera without much time between exposures should result in good flatness and hence sharpness. Five minutes between exposures may be some sort of limit, depending on brand and type of film. 15 minutes are likely to show an influence of bending around rollers. Two hours definitively will.
As a rule of thumb: For best sharpness in medium format, prefer 220 type roll film and run it through the camera rather quickly.
Camera Lens News No. 10, Summer 2000