Fine-detail radiographic techniques for peripheral skeletal imaging have gained wide clinical acceptance. In this study, the imaging properties and clinical applications of the optical magnification technique, which employs fine-grain industrial film and a large focal spot, are compared quantitatively and qualitatively with those of three slow screen-film techniques, namely, contact exposure with a large focal spot, 2 times radiographic magnification with a 0.3 mm focal spot, and 4 times radiographic magnification with a 50 mu focal spot. The modulation transfer functions (MTF's) of the recording systems and focal spots are obtained and film sensitometry performed. Clinical comparisons are made for patients with metabolic, arthritic, and neoplastic skeletal disorders. The results illustrate the superiority of the optical magnification technique over contact or 2 times magnification techniques using slow screen-film systems. If a microfocus tube is used, however, direct radiographic magnification may provide images comparable in resolution, noise and contrast to those made with the optical magnification technique, and at lower radiation exposure to the patient.