Donge, photographed at the Calgary Zoo in the summer of 2002, using a Nikon F-801S 35mm SLR camera and a high-quality Nikkor 180mm f2.8 autofocus lens at a distance of approximately 60 ft (20m).
The film, Bluefire Police, has essentially no visible grain, and the Nikkor lens is capable of resolving extraordinary detail.
The Nikon F-801S camera body dates from about 1990. The lens design is an update of a manual-focus lens introduced in about 1970, and continually improved since then. Although relatively sophisticated technologically, this camera-plus-lens combination is decidedly old-school.
Today only the most expensive medium-format digital back on an expensive camera could create this image at this level of enlargement with this level of detail.
One of the reasons this photograph is so crisp is because it was taken with a camera that has an extraordinarily capable auto-focus system. As you can see, the hair on Donge's cheek, only a centimeter or two closer to the camera, and the far edge of her lower lip, about the same distance farther away, are not as crisply focused as her whisker.
At these distances, every millimeter of focus accuracy is vitally important. You will not be able to focus like this reliably with a manual-focus camera. But any modern Nikon, Canon, or Pentax 35mm SLR camera has what it takes, when conditions are right, to nail it perfectly every time.
Another reason is that the auto-exposure is very close to perfect. A modern Nikon, Canon, or Pentax 35mm film camera body has everything you need to give you pitch-perfect exposure, and accurate exposure is one of the factors required to make high-quality images.
But those amazing autofocus and autoexposure systems would have been helpless except for the film, Bluefire Police.
When correctly exposed and focused (and modern equipment will almost always expose and focus it correctly) this film is capable of unprecedented enlargement. A 35mm frame can be printed five feet wide and still show no image degradation whatsoever due to grain.
It is important to understand that at this degree of enlargement, a print five feet wide, you will see a certain amount of image degradation, but it will be because your lens is simply incapable of resolving this level of detail. It may also be because you were not using a sturdy tripod. This degree of enlargement is a stress test that no normal, commercially-available lens can pass.
But Bluefire Police film passes the test. There is zero image degradation caused by the film's granular properties.
A sad note:
Calgary Herald, August 14, 2007
"Donge, a 22-year-old western lowland gorilla that had been at the zoo since she was three years old, was put to sleep Friday. She had been suffering from an inflammatory intestinal disease, called diverticulitis, for years and never quite recovered from her last surgery.
"From the last surgery she had probably ten days ago now, she was not bouncing back and her condition worsened," Garth Irvine, the zoo's gorilla keeper, told CTV Calgary on Monday. "It was a struggle to get medications into her and a struggle to get food into her, she just continued to get worse."