View Full Version : Digital futer for large format

John Hoang
29-Feb-2004, 10:34

I came accross Phase One website this morning and learned that digital options would be available for us, large format users, in the near future. Affordable? Not yet (at least for me), but I am pretty sure prices will drop in couple of years down the road.

Here is the interesting link:

John Hoang
29-Feb-2004, 10:37
Sorry for the mis-typing!

Ralph Barker
29-Feb-2004, 11:51
Digital backs for view cameras have been around for a while, John. But, as you noticed, they are still quite expensive (even though current prices are 1/3 of what they once were), making them feasible only for commercial applications. As far as I know, none of them use full-sized image arrays, but rather something that approaches medium format. Early designs also required multiple exposures - one each for R, G, and B, filtered appropriately, meaning they were only suitable (in color) for static subjects in studio environments.

Additionally, most of these systems really depend on having a robustly-configured computer tethered to the camera to directly accept image downloads. The now-discontinued Kodak DCS Pro back allowed some field capabilities, but (again) the size of the image array was limited, and power consumption in the field is a problem.

As technology advances, further forcing prices down to more reasonable levels, it will be interesting to see whether the technology migrates to the realm of large format in a way that allows extensive field use, or even allows the use of conventional LF focal lengths. Affordability is really a function of volume of production, so prices will be determined by the market. The current trend seems to be leaning more toward the use of 35mm-frame DSLRs, and the corresponding "dumbing-down" of commercial imagery. Some large manufacturers have even gone to using consumer-grade digital snaps done by marketing folks instead of professional product photography.

High-quality scanning of film remains a viable alternative for anything that requires LF controls, I think. But, film scanning doesn't match the speed of workflow from the DSLRs.

Frank Petronio
29-Feb-2004, 16:38
I suspecty that the large scanning backs will cease to be much further developed, as most of the energy is going towards 24 x 36mm (35mm film size) one-shot chips as a standard. Even Sinar is making a system around the smaller chips. There is probably enough old stock of Better Lights and such to last another couple of years, and by then the 24x36 chips should be mature.

Even though the scanning backs are now mature, their price is still high because of limited demand.

Most photographers starting out think they need 400 meg files - the reality is that smaller files are used for 99.99999% of everything, and a 22 meg 24x36 chip (which makes a 66 meg 8-bit RGB file) is going to give 4x5 a run for its money. Like Ralph, I think most are going to end up in 35mm DSLR type bodies, but I think photographers would be open to new thinking and new body designs that aren't based on 35mm or medium format SLRs.

Don't worry about 4x5 film - it may be the last film format to die simply because it may have clearly better quality than the professional digital cameras like the Canon 1Ds - including having better wide angle lenses (size and physics plays a role here) and it works without electricity.

John Hoang
29-Feb-2004, 19:37
I would still be shooting films if I (ever) am lucky enough to own a digital back for my 4x5. But I agree with Ralph about the workflow, it's almost instantly available without scanning hassles.

What I am also exciting about the Phase One digital back is its dynamic range: 12 stops, double that of slide films. And according to Phase One newest back P25 data sheet, the image sensor is now bigger than 24x36mm, it's 36.7x48.9mm, un-tethered.

And it's interestingly priced at USD $32,000! How much can this price drop?

QT Luong
2-Mar-2004, 13:48
Last I checked, Better Light had much cheaper digital backs. For the price of a Canon 1Ds, you could get something which would produce a considerably larger file.

Chris Partti
3-Mar-2004, 11:34
I agree with Ralph. I think it's likely that very soon DSLRs will provide quality that is "good enough" for the vast majority of professional applications of all kinds. LF and even MF will be left to fine artists and hobbyists who enjoy working the old way for its own sake (nothing wrong with that), but there won't be enough demand to finance digital product development in those formats.