The Lumix Diaries: Printing Large Photos
Printing Large Photos – A Comparison of the LX100, GH4, and D800
The Lumix Diaries sets out in a test of printing large photos, mainly to see how large we can print from a Lumix GH4. A few weeks ago I received a question from one of our readers. Roberto Facchini wanted to know about printing large photos from the 16-megapixel Micro Four Thirds sensor camera, the Panasonic Lumix GH4. At the time I had recently printed several 24 x 36 inch black and white images that I felt were more than acceptable, and in fact I can confidently say were absolutely stunning. I had used the Lumix GH4 and the Olympus 45-150mm F/2.8 lens.
I could see detail in the branches of the trees and in the snow as if it had come from a much higher megapixel camera. That said, I had not shot the same image with any other system so I decided to do a real world test.
For the test shoot I borrowed a 28mm F/1.8 Nikkor lens for my Nikon D800 camera from Bozeman Camera. For the GH4, I used the Leica Summilux 15mm F/1.7 lens which when multiplied by two it is a 30mm F/1.7. Both lenses were very close in focal length and speed. Finally, I decided to throw my Panasonic Lumix LX100 into the mix which has a fixed zoom and non-interchangeable 24-75mm F/1.7-2.8 lens. All of the images were shot at F/8 for the most optimum aperture.
I loaded each camera’s photos into my Lightroom library and then took them out to DXO Optics Pro 10. DXO worked its magic, optimizing the images based on camera and lens calibration needs. I tweaked each just a bit for optimum exposure and then sent the images over to my Lightroom library as Tiffs. Next I sent them on to my assistant Jill where she ran them through Perfect Resize, the former Genuine Fractals.
She then sharpened them with Nik Sharper Pro and used a sharpening setting to be viewed at two feet away. Sharpening for this close of a distance is not what we would normally do for a print the size of 40×60 inches, but we were planning to be reviewing them within inches for this test.
One of the reasons I decided to do these tests was my access to a very large printer, the HP Z3200. I’m very fortunate to have such an amazing printer right here in our studio and I know many of our readers aren’t that lucky. Even though prints of this size aren’t cheap to produce, even when you own all of the equipment, It’s by far cheaper than having to send these photos out to a printing house. So we fired up the Z3200 and ran our tests on HP’s Professional Satin Photo Paper.
This little camera did amazingly well but when compared to either the Lumix GH4 or the Nikon D800 it was no contest. I was actually quite surprised since I’ve used this camera a great deal and thought it would do better. The rock in the foreground looked very strange and blotchy. Many of the blades of grass were pixelated. If we looked at this print from four to six feet as intended for a print 40 x 60 inches I would maybe be a bit less critical. But the goal was to look at all images from 12 to 24 inches and then make a comparison. Unfortunately this little camera failed this test.
Lumix GH4 with 15mm F/1.7 Leica Summilux lens
For a Micro Four Thirds camera I was very impressed to see the details and sharpness in a print the size of 40 x 60 inches from the Lumix GH4. Was it as good as my Nikon D800? In short, no. But the grasses showed no pixelation. They just weren’t as sharp, and the lichens on the rock looked a bit blotchy but not nearly as bad as the LX100.
Nikon D800 with 28mm F/1.8 lens
My Nikon steals the prize in this test but I was actually less surprised than I thought I would be. The Nikon produced the most sharp and intricately detailed image, as I expected; however, not as big of a difference as I had expected between the D800 and the GH4. I was actually quite surprised. Even so, the D800 image was definitely sharper than my GH4 but not as sharp as I had thought the 36-megapixel file would be.
So there you have it. In the test of these three cameras printing large photos, the winner was the Nikon D800, second was the Lumix GH4 and far back in third was the Lumix LX100. Results that were basically as I had expected although I thought the LX100 would have done a bit better. Even though the Nikon D800 is hands down the finest image in detail and sharpness, that doesn’t mean you can’t go very large with the Lumix GH4. As I mentioned at the head of this blog post, I’ve printed 24 x 36 inch prints from the GH4 that hold details and color that are worthy of museum quality presentations. This was a great test and I thank Robert Facchini for inspiring me to get out make this test happen.
So the question for all of you is, how big is big enough? The Lumix GH4, with a superb quality lens like the Olympus 40-150mm or the Lumix Vario 35-100mm F/2.8, 12-34mm F/2.8, Leica 15mm F/1.7, or the Leica Nocticron 42.5mm F/1.2, will all produce gorgeous prints up to 24 x 36 inches. But how many of you print that big even once a year? I doubt there are many. Most of us are posting our images on social media, many of our Explorers are creating books, and I’m shooting Lumix gear for magazine publication and some fine art prints. Even the GH4 now produces better quality images than I saw with medium format in the film days. The argument is almost useless but I’m happy Robert asked the question so I was able to spend an evening in the Paradise Valley of Montana finding the answer.
I would love to hear from any of you who have an opinion on how big is big enough. When printing large photos, do many of you print as large as the images I did for this test, 40 x 60 inches? What are the sizes most of you print at? Please add your voice to the comments below.