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View Full Version : What should I consider for a view camera with a digital back?



Leonard Evens
8-Jan-2013, 12:29
I've been doing 4 x 5 view camera photography using a Toho FC-45X. I develop my own BW film and have color negative film developed by Gamma Imaging in Chicago. I don't have room in my condo for a darkroom so I scan the negatives using an Epson V700.

For years I've been hoping that someone would produce a moderate priced 4 x 5 digital back I could use, but that hasn't happened.

At age 79, I am willing now to consider buying a digital system, say a 6 x 9 view camera with a digital back. (I am old enough to be willing to spend more now because I don't expect to need the money to live on.) I would be willing to spend something over $5,000, but I don't want to go too much higher.

Can anyone suggest things I should look at.

Ivan J. Eberle
8-Jan-2013, 13:42
Nothing out of the ordinary in asking about 6x9cm view cameras that can handle a MF digital back, but you do realize there haven't been any commercially available, one-shot RGB color/non-scanning digital backs sold made over 20+ years of production that have larger than 645 format sized sensors, right?

Within your price range of $5000, for a camera and a back, what you can today purchase (used) in the way of a digital MF camera and (an obsolete) back, would to my way of thinking be money much better spent on a 35mm DSLR of the D800e or Canon 5DmkIII variety and a top lens or two. Almost any current DSLR will have better color, dynamic range and high ISOs than MF backs of a few years past. With a great lens on a 24MP or greater DSLR, you'll easily capture images with files that will rival the output of how you've been doing your 4x5 work with the V700, at sizes as large as 24"x30". If you want to go bigger, stitching is fairly trivial in Photosphop nowadays. For one-shot larger work, you already own a camera system that will print much, much larger than all but the $50,000 cameras out there-- via a PMT drum scan and hybrid printing.

Thom Bennett
8-Jan-2013, 14:52
Depending on what you are photographing a medium format digital back might work for you and your existing 4x5 system. For example, check this out: https://www.captureintegration.com/store/leaf-aptus-22/. All you would need is a special mount for your particular camera and you could start shooting.

We use the MFDB's on 4x5's and they work great. Sure, you waste a lot of camera shooting down to a 645 format but without the anti-aliasing filters that 35mm digital cameras have the clarity and sharpness is quite impressive. I wouldn't try architecture with it but for studio and close up work it is fine.

timparkin
8-Jan-2013, 16:14
I've been doing 4 x 5 view camera photography using a Toho FC-45X. I develop my own BW film and have color negative film developed by Gamma Imaging in Chicago. I don't have room in my condo for a darkroom so I scan the negatives using an Epson V700.

For years I've been hoping that someone would produce a moderate priced 4 x 5 digital back I could use, but that hasn't happened.

At age 79, I am willing now to consider buying a digital system, say a 6 x 9 view camera with a digital back. (I am old enough to be willing to spend more now because I don't expect to need the money to live on.) I would be willing to spend something over $5,000, but I don't want to go too much higher.

Can anyone suggest things I should look at.

Have a look at this first.. You'd be better off sticking with film as it still produces better detail, tonality and colour than any digital system under $10,000

http://www.onlandscape.co.uk/2011/12/big-camera-comparison/

Of course if you're after easily produced quick images I would recommend a D800 as has been mentioned and possibly a mirex tilt shift adapter to allow you to Hasselblad lenses plus possibly purchase a nikon 24 tilt shift..

the only digital system in my mind that currently matches colour 4x5 is the IQ180 and even that struggles to match black and white 4x5.

You might be better off purchasing a better scanner - that would be the cheapest way to better image quality

Tim

Gary Tarbert
8-Jan-2013, 16:38
Have a look at this first.. You'd be better off sticking with film as it still produces better detail, tonality and colour than any digital system under $10,000

http://www.onlandscape.co.uk/2011/12/big-camera-comparison/

Of course if you're after easily produced quick images I would recommend a D800 as has been mentioned and possibly a mirex tilt shift adapter to allow you to Hasselblad lenses plus possibly purchase a nikon 24 tilt shift..

the only digital system in my mind that currently matches colour 4x5 is the IQ180 and even that struggles to match black and white 4x5.

You might be better off purchasing a better scanner - that would be the cheapest way to better image quality

Tim I am doing some scans on an Imacon at the moment which have already been scanned on a V700 this comment may start a lively debate the difference is more dramatic than i thought it would be ,And as the hype suggests but closer to a drum scan than the V700 ,But not quite as the hype suggests , To be perfectly frank for colour work i find the V700 a little dissapointing .It is a great product for the price but with what you loose in absolute detail you may as well just shoot with a D800 or simular .After drum scanning a few last month and now scanning with the Imacon , I have commited to buy another 200 sheets of colour from Badgers , If i stayed with just the V700 the order would never had been placed . Cheers Gary

Daniel Stone
8-Jan-2013, 17:11
Personally, I'd recommend having some drum scans done of your favorite 4x5's.

Here are a few scanner operators(all have been active here on the forum):

Lenny Eiger www.eigerstudios.com
James Beck www.jamesbeckdigital.com
Ian Mazursky www.prepressexpress.com

pricing IMO is very fair, considering what you get. Personally, I decided to purchase a used drum scanner, and its been a fantastic investment in my photography vs using a flatbed(even wet mounted).

-Dan

Light Guru
8-Jan-2013, 18:09
I've been doing 4 x 5 view camera photography using a Toho FC-45X. I develop my own BW film and have color negative film developed by Gamma Imaging in Chicago. I don't have room in my condo for a darkroom so I scan the negatives using an Epson V700.

For years I've been hoping that someone would produce a moderate priced 4 x 5 digital back I could use, but that hasn't happened.

At age 79, I am willing now to consider buying a digital system, say a 6 x 9 view camera with a digital back. (I am old enough to be willing to spend more now because I don't expect to need the money to live on.) I would be willing to spend something over $5,000, but I don't want to go too much higher.

Can anyone suggest things I should look at.

Check out these adapters.
http://fotodioxpro.com/index.php/lens-mount-adapters.html?cat=13
They require you to stitch your images together afterward in photoshop.

Nathan Potter
8-Jan-2013, 19:51
Leonard, I am roughly in your mode of finding it difficult to get around with my 4X5s and sundry equipment. Although on a recent trip I still did mostly 4X5 I also used a Nikon D800E with various old and newer lenses. Of particular interest was the Nikon 24 mm tilt/shift. Also a 21 mm Zeiss Distagon. After examining the results at home I was even very impressed with the images from the old 75 - 150 Nikon zoom I have had for years. The D800E seems to be a pretty viable alternative for me, although I'll use it for a backup mostly in the near future.

The image quality exceeds the Epson V750 scanned 4X5 negatives by at least a fair margin but I've not run any resolution targets with the D800E yet (need to work that out).

Of course as mentioned above one can do panoramic stitching for still subjects and obtain resolution that is pretty astounding. I've tried a few of these recently with good success. For me a more valuable advantage is found in multiple exposures where 2 to 4 images are taken at bracketed exposures then combined in HDR software.

That setup is not inexpensive and not counting the older Nikon lenses that I have had I guess I've spent just about $5000 so far. I will venture that very top quality resolving lenses are required to really exercise the D800E sensor and these are not cheap.

Nate Potter, Austin TX.

Bruce Watson
9-Jan-2013, 08:07
Can anyone suggest things I should look at.

Well, I know that you're concerned about weight. This may sound perverse, but if you think about it, it might just work for you. IDK; it's just a thought. How about an m43 mirrorless camera like the Panasonic GH3 (http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/892456-REG/Panasonic_Lumix_DMC_GH3_Mirrorless_Digital.html), or the Olympus em5 (http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/842930-REG/Olympus_V204040SU000_OM_D_E_M5_Micro_Four.html)?

The m43 system is almost the inverse of LF with it's small sensor, but that sensor size is what allows the whole system to be small and light. Considerably smaller and lighter than a full frame DSLR like the much higher resolution Nikon D800E (http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/843007-REG/Nikon_25498_D_800E_SLR_Digital_Camera.html), and much less expensive.

You'd probably be making a bunch of exposures and stitching, and correcting for convergence, etc. in Photoshop. But will that actually take more time than it takes to properly set up an LF camera, then process the film, scan it, etc.? Once you get the workflow down, it'll probably be close enough.

You asked for suggestions; this is an interesting compromise maybe.

RichardSperry
9-Jan-2013, 08:18
Hasselblad FlexBody or ArcBody with a digital back perhaps.

There's a shift tilt Rollei, XAct, or something.

Maybe there is a back for the Fuji 680, dunno.

RichardSperry
9-Jan-2013, 08:27
Thanks light guru for the link.

Drew Bedo
9-Jan-2013, 09:03
Hasen't this and related topics been discussed here before. My recollection is that dedicated digital view systems make the most sense unless the goal is just DIY project for messing around.

Have I misunderstood something?

On the DIY forum, there are multiople threadfs on the subject of making a scanner based around a DSLR . . .and it seems to be more fuss than its worth (to me).

If there was a true need and market for a one shot color digital back in large formats, tthere were would be several options available from high-end manufacturers already.

rknewcomb
10-Jan-2013, 14:21
Sorry to be the one to say this but a medium format digital back will cost more then the $5000 that the OP said was his budget - even a used one. Yes, you can find a very old one that requires being tied to a computer for less money but not by too much. I also wish this cost information was different.

John O'Connell
10-Jan-2013, 20:15
I dunno. Someone linked to a 22mp Leaf back for less than $4k, and as I recall Leonard used to shoot 6x7 on a mini technical camera. Assuming the graflok adapter exists for the Leaf to the Toho, he's in business. True wide angle is probably not viable with that setup, but it gets him what he wants for his budget.

Whether he's better off with a used 22mp back or a new D800E is another question, but he's the one who wants to try out an MF back.

C. D. Keth
10-Jan-2013, 23:02
What am I not understanding? 4x5 film scanned at even a modest 1200dpi will yield a 28.8 megapixel image. Most people scanning with a V700 or similar report a solid 2000dpi in their scans. That's 80 megapixel. Why search for a solution to a problem that doesn't exist?

Noeyedear
11-Jan-2013, 03:55
I believe there to be other practical problems to shooting traditional cameras plus a MFDB. Mostly the issue of focusing, ground glass screens and old gearing I understand to be a bit on the course side.
Add the fact the area you are applying movements to is likely only 645 and you soon see why most technical camera digital shooters go tethered with a laptop.
Wether carrying a laptop is less or more of a problem than DDS will depend on various things. Having to make sure it has enough charge, the connections keep working, setup time/fiddle, the screen is viewable would all make it more trouble than it's worth for hobby shooting for me. Plus you can't get Portra in a digital back.
I can see an advantage shooting commercial jobs, but not if it's a fun relaxation session.
The latest technical 6x9's have been designed with digital in mind, add a iPad and maybe it's getting more attractive, but a setup like that would be closer to $50,000 than $5,000.

Kevin.

neil poulsen
15-Jan-2013, 08:57
One compensating factor is that, if you purchased a back under 30megapixels, I doubt you would need to fancy Digitar, et.al. lenses. You could use your regular film lenses. I was told this by two Schneider technicians.

Something else to consider is that, if you purchase an inexpensive digital back, you're not going to get all the filtering and low light advantages of a D800e or similar camera.

Going medium format digital is an intriguing idea, though. It's one into which I've put considerable thought.

Leonard Evens
15-Jan-2013, 09:42
One compensating factor is that, if you purchased a back under 30megapixels, I doubt you would need to fancy Digitar, et.al. lenses. You could use your regular film lenses. I was told this by two Schneider technicians.

Something else to consider is that, if you purchase an inexpensive digital back, you're not going to get all the filtering and low light advantages of a D800e or similar camera.

Going medium format digital is an intriguing idea, though. It's one into which I've put considerable thought.

i asked in a searate thread about trying to get a digital back for my Horseman 980 Technical Camera. It turns out that if I had a 985, then that would be feasible, but not with the 980.

Right now the main problem with using my view camera is carrying around all the gear. I need to use a baby jogger to do that, and even with that my range is limited. I had surgery to fix my lower back a year ago, and it was only partially successful. I can probably walk a mile now, even with my view camera and one lens, plus extra equipment, on my back, but it is painful to do so. I was hoping a smaller and lighter package would let me go further.

After listening to what others have said, I think my best option may be to get a Nikon d800 or d800e, I don't know which right now. with two lenses. That gives me more than enough pixels (36 Mpx) to make 16 x 20 prints indistinguishable from what I can do with my view camera, when viewed a a couple of feet away. My experience with smaller formats is that movements except rise/fall. and shift are much less important because of the greater depth of field, and those movements can be mimicked by cropping. The total cost would be less than what a 6 x 9 vew camera with additional lenses and a digital back would cost me. If I really need movements I can get a tilt shift lens in addition.

ROL
15-Jan-2013, 09:55
Leonard, I think that a few of the well meaning folks here may not have appreciated your situation (e.g., "79"). I feel your pain – in my knees!. While I'm not there yet, and my goals are different than yours (the hand made DR print being my thing), I support and agree (FWIW) with your rational conclusions to continue your love of photography. Indeed, why add scanning to the workflow if your goal is a digital print. Decrease the load and increase the pleasure. :)

paulr
15-Jan-2013, 10:27
The image quality exceeds the Epson V750 scanned 4X5 negatives by at least a fair margin but I've not run any resolution targets with the D800E yet (need to work that out).

I'm happy to hear someone else saying this so I can stop feeling like the crazy person on the hill. I'm scanning on a an older 4870, negatives wet mounted to float glass and shimmed to put the emulsion right at the focal plane. I'm finding—unscientifically—that the resolution of b+w negs scanned this way is slightly higher than what I can get out of my d800. But in most other ways, including MTF at high resolutions and signal-to-noise ratio, the d800 files are much better. The result is that it's easier to make a great looking print.

My only large prints from 4x5 (16x20 to 40x50) are darkroom prints. Contrary to my predictions, the d800 files look much, much better than the analog 4x5 prints at these sizes. I have not yet made a digital print at these magnifications to compare. I would like to soon. At smaller sizes, digital prints from both cameras look identically amazing.


For me a more valuable advantage is found in multiple exposures where 2 to 4 images are taken at bracketed exposures then combined in HDR software.

This has been an important workaround for me also. Film still retains a huge advantage in dynamic range.


I will venture that very top quality resolving lenses are required to really exercise the D800E sensor and these are not cheap.

True. The good news is that lens companies are jumping on the opportunity. Canon and Nikon have been pushing hard lately, and both Schneider and Zeiss have announced new (and, yes, stupid expensive) lens lines to take advantage of the newest small cameras.

I'm using an older generation Schneider shift lens. It's not state of the art by any strretch, but when used within its limitations (not too much shift, being fussy about the aperture, etc.) the results are better than what I've gotten out of any lens on any camera. I do miss the more laid back approach allowed by my Schneider large format lenses. They just look good no matter what you do with them.

Peter York
15-Jan-2013, 11:04
Leonard, I own a Toho as well for backpacking. Beautiful camera. I doubt that any medium format digital system will be lighter than a 4x5 system utilizing the Toho. All 2x3 view cameras with decent precision will most likely be heavier.

A D800 with 2-3 lenses might be lighter when you remove the film holders, light meter, etc. But the weight will probably be similar if not a bit heavier. Ergonomically, the D800 might be best, as you are not bending over so often to fumble with holders, film, light meters, etc.

Bruce Watson
15-Jan-2013, 16:21
A D800 with 2-3 lenses might be lighter when you remove the film holders, light meter, etc. But the weight will probably be similar if not a bit heavier.

Indeed, I thought that too. But if you look up the specs, the D800 body weighs in at just 1.0 kg. Which is almost exactly the same as my Toho body. So when you subtract out the film holders, light meter, dark cloth, etc. a D800 kit will almost certainly be lighter than a Toho kit.

But this is why I suggested a mirror-less camera like the Panny GH3. Body weighs in at half the weight of a D800 (550g). It's lenses will be considerably smaller and lighter weight than the D800's lenses, because of the difference between sensor sizes.

What you give up for the size, weight, and cost wins with the GH3, is resolution. At 16mp, the GH3 is roughly half the resolution of the D800 at 36mp. But if any of us have learned anything from our association with LF, it's that resolution is not the greatest part of photography.

Is it better to be able to walk that extra 250m to get the shot than you can't get with a heavier camera? IDK. For me, it probably is. I'm probably going to go with a GH3 shortly. Leonard, you probably can't go wrong either way. And I'm pretty sure you won't miss scanning film! ;)

nonuniform
15-Jan-2013, 16:31
I tried out a medium format digital back, but found that for anything outside of the studio, shooting film or DSLR was giving me better results than the MFDB.

Here's why:
1. Focus - getting critical focus in medium format digital is incredibly important and d*** near impossible in anything but a well-lighted place.
- you won't be hand-holding MFDB.
2. Sensor sensitivity - newer MFDB sensors are a little better, but really, they don't handle noise well past ISO 400 (and even then can be quite noisy).
- Portra 400 in a Hasselblad will look better

So, I settled on buying a used drum scanner and continuing to shoot with either a Hasselblad or 4x5 and Portra 160 or 400. I have the D800, which, I like, but a well exposed 120 or 4x5 negative looks nicer to me. Could just be a lens thing, or I'm just in denial about quality of images from the D800. I'm a bit of an anachronism.

Peter York
15-Jan-2013, 19:32
Thanks for the correction Bruce. I didn't realize how light the D800 is. I'm also not sure how heavy tilt/shift lenses are for digital.

Leonard Evens
16-Jan-2013, 07:49
It is not the weight that would bother me now, with my new lower back. It is the bulk. Also, bending is still a bit of a problem as is standing for extended periods of time. Using a d800 would result in significant savings in those areas. Also, although I probably will use my 6 lb large format tripod with the d800, I could if necessary get an even lighter tripod. In short I can see myself carrying everything I need to shoot with a d800 on my back, but doing so with my view camera is not really feasible.

But I don't plan to give up using my view camera. It is just that a d800 would allow me to take advantage of shooting opportunities I now pass up at not a big loss in image quality.

Emmanuel BIGLER
16-Jan-2013, 10:35
Hello from France!

I'm coming late to this discussion, it happens that I know personally two French professional photographers who have been working with a 22 Mpix digital back for several years and are very happy with the equipement, the quality work they did with those backs has paid for the equipement. Since they do architecture work, they do need wide angle lenses and movements, and they have decided for the Arca Swiss Rm3d, which is quite expensive and out of the said budget of $5000, even if somebody gives, extra, a digital back for free !
However, living close to Arca Swiss, I've been able to manipulate the whole range of Rm3d cameras, the latest in the family being the Rm3d 'factum' which is exceedingly compact for a precision view camera, with built-in helical, accepting film backs up to the 6x9 format and polaroid series-100 backs. But this is not a good example, temptation is one thing, finding the budget is another issue ;)

Basically if you do not need to use wide-angle lenses in the shortest range of focal lenghts of 23 to 45 mm, you can probably use a classical 'film' view camera with a 645 digital sensor and focus on the ground glass. The problem is finding the proper focus on a ground glass with wide-angle lenses of short focal lengths. Several manufacturers have proposed different solutions based on helical focusing and precise calibration of the lens so the infinity stop is actually well-defined mechanically.

The problem with classical rail-focusing in 4x5" (and even 6x9-2x3" cameras) is that is the sensitivity of the focusing rack and pinion system is in the range of 2 cm of travel per knob turn. One centimeter of travel brings you infinity focusing down to one meter with a focal length of 100 mm, and for shorter focal lengths, the distance required to focus down to one meter gets smaller and smaller, following an inverse square law with respect to the focal length! For example, with a 28 mm, you only need 0.8 mm of travel to change focus from infinity to one meter, this is not manageable with a knob@2cm per turn.
If you want to apply tilts, the required angle bringing the plane of focus from a vertical position, down horizontally, decreases in proportion of the focal length, depending of the height of the camera above ground. For example with a 35 mm focal length, set-up at one metre above ground, the required tilt angle bringing a vertical plane donwn-to-Earth is only 2 degrees! Again, with short focal lengths, tilt angles become minuscule and hardly manageable with a classical 4x5" view camera.

So what to do ? Another important point, from the hobbyist's point of view is: if I buy a used 22 Mpix sensor, can I trust the reliability of the used device after, say, 5 years of professional use ?

The two photographers I know are extremly satisfied of the Leaf Aptus 22, one of them reported no failure in the past intensive 5 years of use, and such excellent results, that he does not yet consider to upgrade for more pixels immediately. Recently, somebody tried to sell one of those 22 Mpix digital backs on our French forum, classifieds section, for 2600 euros, and probably the back is still not sold yet. Personally I would be reluctant to buy a used digital back by fear of finding rows of dead pixels or any other kind of digital nightmare. But actually, according to the photographers using this kind of back, it seems that the Leaf Aptus 22 could be a good candidate as a used item for the passionate amateur.

Another interesting example I have in mind is another photographer living in Besanšon, specialist of watches, jewellery and museum items. He has invested, 5 years ago, in a 22 Mpix digital back in Hasselblad-V mount, and he has kept his 'film' Hasselblad series 500 - "V" camera and Zeiss lenses. Mostly he uses the 120 mm Makro Planar which performs perfecty with a 22 Mpix sensor, and did not feel the need for another 'digital' Hasseblad nor another kind of lens. But he does not use any shifts nor tilts in the kind of images, mostly objects in the studio, often in the close-up range where the Makro Planar has been designed for, no landscape, no architecture (hence : no wide-angles).

My personal conclusion so far, as an amateur, is that for the few images I'm taking per year, with enjoyment and pleasure with a view camera, film imaging and film processing / enlarging / scanning solutions are still the way to go. For example, for color images from color negs or slides, I have dowtown the service of a Fuji Frontier machine providing scan and print of all my slides and negs up to the 6x7 cm format; and by mail order, I can have access to the same Fuji machine up to the 6x9 format at an affordable cost.
Not mentioning my enlarger for B&W up to the 4x5" format, but this is another story.

However, since certain 22 Mpix digital backs seem to be very reliable, and become more and more affordable, temptation is high ... but costs still in the range of $3000. Unlike professionals for who a $30000 investment is paid for in 2-3 years, for me $3000 in film and prints from my view camera is probably what I spend in .. 6-8 years.