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Thread: Digital large format work

  1. #1

    Digital large format work

    Digital equipment is rapidly taking over small-format photography, even with man y professionals. How good is it now -- and how good will it soon be -- as a repl acement for film in large-format work such as portrait photography?

  2. #2

    Digital large format work

    Seeing all the hype in the press and advertising literature about this subject, I've been concerned about it's possible effect on the availability of convention al materials, particularly color. My sense is that, up till now, commercial pho tographers have been a very large market for large format color film. Because K odak and Fuji have been able to sell so much to the commercial shooters, they ke ep these materials in production, which means that the materials are also availa ble to amateurs such as myself. My concern has been that, as more and more comm ercial studios switch to digital, there will no longer be an adequate market for the manufacturers to keep conventional color materials in production. As one w ith absolutely no interest in digital work, this possibility frightens me.

    The only reassuring thought is that film manufacturers have kept large format B& W materials in production, even though one would assume that the market for this (mostly non-commercial photographers) is probably not huge. I would like to th ink that they would do the same with color, but manufacturing costs for color ar e probably significantly higher.

    Does anybody have any thoughts on this?

  3. #3

    Join Date
    Feb 1998

    Digital large format work

    I have seen output from digital large format that looked very good indeed. I bel ieve it was a Leaf(?) digital back. It was used for product shots, as it is a sc anning back, so I dont think it would be good for portraiture. In typical magazi ne sizes, it looked very good. I dont know the availability of CCD's that would be large enough for large format and also provide single shot capture. Digital w ill make rapid advances in all formats, and will eventually replace film. Digita l at its best has many benifits, including ability to edit and preview shots, an d, if done right, imortality. Just think, no more bracketing, paying to process mostly throw aways, etc. I dont know the time table for this change in technolog y, but it will probably happen even quicker than any of us expect.

  4. #4

    Digital large format work

    Ron, I hope that your prediction is wrong, but I fear that it is right. At the risk of being branded a Luddite, let me make the case for the continued existenc e of conventional photography.

    First, insofar as the rapid development of technology entails continuing obsoles cence of equipment, it is not necessarily a good thing. Traditionally, a camera (particularly a view camera) has been a lifetime investment. Once a photograph er has settled on a setup with which he feels comfortable, he can forget about b uying new gear and settle down to the more important business of making pictures . In the digital arena, this promises not to be true. Consider what has happen ed in the field of computers: almost before you buy a new machine, it is obsolet e, not merely in the sense of not being state of the art, but obsolete in the se nse of no longer being usable. One must devote a great deal of energy to learni ng about and buying new models, instead of using what one has.

    Second, what is true for the machinery is even more true for the skills required to use it. If William Henry Jackson were to come back to life today, he could step behind the darkcloth of a modern view camera and feel right at home. While there have been huge technological strides in the areas of lenses and films--st rides which have greatly improved the quality of the final product--the technolo gy has been largely invisible to the photographer. Granted, when we start using a new film we have to get used to its tonal or color characteristics, but the b asic photographic skills that we've learned over the years continue to serve us.

    In the constantly changing digital world, this will likely not be the case. The rapidly changing technology means that we will have to spend a great deal of ti me and effort constantly relearning technique--time and effort which could be be tter spent applying our technical skills in the pursuit of art. Even in the wor ld of conventional film, we've seen this happen with 35mm cameras: many of the n ew models seem to be designed so that one as to spend a lot of effort in learnin g camera-specific information (which button do I push?) instead of learning and applying skills of more universal application. And by the time one has learned to use a given model, it's already been replaced, so that one has to start from scratch learning the camera-specific information for the new model.

    Finally, my real concern is not with the existence of digital photography, but w ith the potential non-existence of conventional materials. Consider what would have happened if, after Fox Talbot came along, manufacturers had stopped produci ng oil paints. The world would have been deprived of some good art (and some ba d art too). Fortunately, that didn't happen. While the Winsor & Newtons of the world are smaller than the Kodaks and Fujis, they remain in business producing their materials for a limited market. The problem today is that the same compan ies which produce film are the ones which are moving into the digital arena. We can, therefore, to expect that they will continue to produce only the more prof itable products. While digital photography can and should exist alongside conve ntional materials, I'd really hate to see it replace it.

  5. #5

    Join Date
    Feb 1998

    Digital large format work

    I agree with you Rob. I didnt mean for my earlier post to sound to dismal, but w e see this technology shift everywhere. Im sure film will be around for the rest of my lifetime (I hope), but in 50 years? 100? If so, it will be a very small n itch market. Fortunately, all of our skills wont be wasted. Large format movemen ts, lighting, composition etc. will still apply. However, I can imagine a time w hen even large format will dissappear. What if resolution of the CCD increased s o much, that a tiny one would give all the resolution needed? You could use very short focal length lenses and get almost infinite DOF. Anyway..who knows exactl y what path technology will take? With all the advancement made in the last 20 y ears in digital imaging, one thing you can be sure of is in another 50 years it will be many orders of magnitude improvement, and the only ones who care about f ilm will be old codgers snoozing away at the Shady Pines Senior Center :-)

  6. #6

    Digital large format work

    This might be an appropriate place to raise a question I have been wondering about. Is a 4 x 5 camera still necessary for commercial architectural photography? A high-res scan of a medium format transparency, with verticals corrected in Photoshop, would be more than adequate for magazine reproduction, I assume. Can anyone working in this area comment?

  7. #7

    Digital large format work

    I do by no means claim to be an expert in digital photography (nor, for that mat ter, in conventional one), but I would like to caution against too confident pre dictions about future developements of technologies. Video is on the market sinc e many years, and feature films are still recorded on conventional material, exp ensive and cumbersome to process as it may be, albeit sometimes with lots of dig ital effects. I think, at least for a foreseeable future, the interaction betwee n analog and digital photography may become still more complex and commonplace a s it is today. I may as well be wrong, but anyway, the future is an unknown coun try, and we all live here and now with the aesthetic and technical concepts avai lable to us, where conventional photography is an important medium of communicat ion and art.

  8. #8

    Digital large format work

    I'm no Photoshop expert, but I don't think that correcting the verticals in Phot oshop will give you the same effect as correcting them with a LF camera. Althoug h you can rotate the building parts so that they look vertical, Photoshop will d istort other parts of the image (i.e. it needs additional digital information no t contained in the original medium format negative/slide - to accomplish this, P hotoshop may use an interpolation routine to "guess" the type of pixels that are mixing).

    Granted, a Photoshop artist can "fix" the image after the verticals have been co rrected, but what are the costs of using a digital artists (i.e., the amount of time involved to do this correction) versus sending out a photographer with a LF camera and getting it "right" the first time.

  9. #9

    Digital large format work

    I believe, as in all else in our present economic environment, that demand will dictate where large-format photography will go. For commercial purpose, because that's where cost and speed are most in demand, and both the large companies and those that must fill their needs can afford the cost, digital will progress very rapidly.

    I first heard of digital cameras in '96 for food photography, now many studios are using them. My limited use of the 35mm Nikon and the 4x5 Leaf were fun and interesting, but the quality was hardly what we were accustomed to. So where does that leave those Luddites among us, in the best sense? The sheer pleasure we take working with the tools we grew up with, will continue to be our tools. Because we do it for the love and the passion we bring to it, and not for economic reasons, will continue to work as we have. Let's hope that the manufacturer's will not leave us behind. But, take heart, I first heard this argument in the '50s. And look what has happened: archival printing, paper, and equipment was hardly known when I started. Yes we lost some papers, chemicals that were available back then, but traditional methods and good old-fashioned photography are still with us

    Don't look at digital as the end; it may be a beginning.

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