Many, perhaps most, people are satisfied if their photos look good on their blog or on-line photo gallery, which is fine and good... and almost any image WILL look fine in those environments. I won't imply that any tool or technology is right or wrong, but I wanted to try to explain how and why my own particular method has changed.
So as an example, here at the top we have a full frame 4"x5" image that I just shot in Utah, scanned from a Fujifilm Velvia color transparency. (This is not the actual full-resolution image, of course, but the following crops are. Please click on the full frame for a bigger version first, though).
This was scanned at 1200 ppi, which resulted in a 5735 x 4584 (26.3 megapixel) image and a 75+MB file size (.tif format... a jpeg file would be much smaller, but jpegs are destructive, as you know:) This is nowhere near the maximum resolution that film can be scanned, it just makes an easily manageable file size for most common purposes, i.e. web posting or small-to-medium sized prints. In this case, if printed at 240 ppi, which I find to be very adequate on my printer, the resulting print would measure 19" x 24", a pretty healthy size for framing. Bigger than that, I would simply increase the scan resolution to 2400 ppi, or more if necessary. The film itself remains intact and unchanged as your analog "RAW" file.. you can always go back and start over from the original source, just as you would from a digital RAW file.
To demonstrate the incredible amount of visual information captured here, I have framed four quite small areas of the larger image in pink and included a 100%, full-resolution crop of each highlighted area, so you can see the detail to be had. Click on each to get the full 1-1 pixel resolution. These are unadjusted and unsharpened, as is the top full frame, other than the standard optimization used during scanning. With a little work any of them could stand alone, I think. Pretty cool, eh? Notice the clarity and definition in the blades of grass, tree bark, small twigs and the individual leaves (you can count 'em if you want!) and the lack of colors bleeding into each other from overblown pixels, or fringing in high contrast areas that you often see in digital-capture files.
The last sample is a side-by-side matchup to a digital capture, shot from almost the same spot one day before.. I tried to get as close to the same spot as possible with the crop.. (you can see a round spot on the rock and a tilted tree that match) and you will notice how it resembles an impressionist painting by comparison. I did add a little sharpening to the digital image to make it half-way comparable. Honestly, I was kind of stunned at the difference. Now to be fair, my digital camera is no longer state-of-the-art at 12 MP, but even the highest-end current DSLRs costing $7 - 8K barely touch this resolution, which as I said, is actually pretty low for medium or large format film. I suspect a medium format digital capture would look very close, but medium format (6x6, 6x7, etc) digital cameras/backs can easily cost the equivalent of a luxury car before you even talk about lenses, accessories, etc. This becomes a cost/benefit situation. The cheapest digital back that would fit on my Mamiya 6x7 starts at a cool $10K for 22MP, just for the back... and I can buy a whole lotta film for $10K. (And, the film is still better, just less CONVENIENT). The new Leaf/Aptus 80MP back goes for about $32K.. I can easily produce an 80MP file from this transparency without spending another penny. There are some more "affordable" medium format digital cameras coming out around $10K (Pentax 645D), but we'll have to wait and see how they do, I'm not sure where the market is for something like that. The camera that took this photo cost me under $1000 brand new (it is beautifully hand-made by a small company of large-format enthusiasts in China and is a work of art in itself), plus a nice, good-as-new German made lens that I picked up on EBay for $350. Unlike a digital camera, it will not be out of date next year... or in 10 years. The basic design has already been around for the better part of a century. Workflow after scanning is exactly the same.. process with Adobe Camera RAW as far as possible, add adjustment layers in Photoshop to fine tune... and then off to print, website, or wherever. I actually find I need less messing around with "film raw".. the colors are richer and more right-on right from the start.
Does any of this matter to the "quality" of a photograph? Yes and no. It certainly can't improve improve the light, the composition, the color, the timing, the concept.. all those things that make up a good photograph as a whole, but there IS a certain expectation and respect for detail and print quality when it comes to landscape art, so from that perspective it is certainly a big advantage in at least one area. Disadvantages? Without doubt more cumbersome and slow to work with, no zoom lenses, no sophisticated built in light meter, no instant preview, no instant 5 shot bracketing to cover your exposure mistakes, but somehow it just feels more like the "real deal", at least the way I originally learned and fell in love with it, and had almost forgotten.
I think that's enough about large format, for today at least. Shooting in medium format is much closer to working with a typical digital SLR, while image detail remains superior... and it's very cost-effective. I find it to be an excellent compromise. I'll talk a little about that sometime soon.