Stephen Johnson's 'The Parks Project' - Is this a glimpse of the future for LF?

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Hi all,

I just had a look at Stephen Johnson's site about his project to digitally photograph the US national parks - 'With a New Eye'. What makes this unique is that he is using 4x5 digital backs to do this! He is using a Sinar-X 4x5 view camera, with Dicomed 4x5 and Better Light digital inserts, and the Apple Macintosh PowerBook 540c, 3400c, and G3 series computers, items usually associated with taking still-life studio images.

This setup allows the taking of images in color, black and white, and infrared with extremely high resolution and dynamic range (Dicomed: 6000x7520 pixels, 130MB files with more than 9 stops of exposure latitude and the Better Light: 6000x8000 pixels, 142MB files with more than 10 stops of exposure latitude.)

Obviously the examples on the web site do not show the quality of his images very well, although they look impressive, and I'm wondering if anyone has seen the originals and cares to comment on them. I'm also wondering what you all think of this concept and whether this is what the future holds for LF photography, albeit in a more compact and easier to handle setup.

I realise that carrying all this gear into the wilderness to take images seems like a lot of effort, but maybe this is how the photographers of the past felt like when lugging their heavy 8x10 (and larger) cameras, tripods and plates around (I'm sure I once saw an image of one famous photog & his mule carrying a lot of gear).

On another 'pro' photography list I subscribe to, many of the commercial photographers have commented of late about the demise of a number of E6 processing labs and how the push for digital is quickly overtaking the demand for film. Some of the recent threads here too have noted the discontinuation of some LF size films. I think Stephen Johnson's project is a glimpse into the future of LF photography (or is it already here) and I would be interested to hear others' comments.

You can visit his 'parks project' web site at:

http://www.sjphoto.com/parks_project_photos.html

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

Kind regards

Peter Brown

-----------------------------------------------

Festina lente - hurry slowly

- Latin proverb

-- Peter L Brown (photo_illustration@bigpond.com), January 19, 2002

Answers

I am not impressed.

-- Matt O. (mojo@moscow.com), January 20, 2002.

I think it is the future in a land where everyone has $25K to spare and the wind never blows.

-- Glenn C. Kroeger (gkroeger@trinity.edu), January 20, 2002.

back in the 19th century, when people like carleton watkins carried mammoth plate view cameras, chemicals and fragile glass plates miles into the wilderness on the backs of mules, it was because that was the only way to get outstanding high-quality large images. carrying a crap-load of digital gear and computers somewhere just to get an image that might be 1/10 the quality of a good silver-based negative seems pretty ridiculous to me, and sounds more like he is counting on the idea that it is "digital" to have some impact on the general public. which, from my experience, is probably not that far off the mark...viewing photographs in a book or magazines, or especially on a website, does not even begin to display the strengths of LF photography, and lay-persons can easily be fooled by the apparent "quality" of a 60-130MB digital file in those applications.

that said, it really doesnt matter that much what format or methodology someone may choose - either you have some kind of vision or you dont, and whatever medium you might choose to express it, it will show one way or the other.

-- jnorman (jnorman34@attbi.com), January 20, 2002.


I don't think the issue is whether this is the fate/future of Large Format so much as a glimpse of the future of FILM. No doubt, digital will eventually replace film, and that's true for LF as well as any other. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Our environment could do without all the chemical waste needed for film production and processing. At least for LF, all our equipment won't be obsolete; we'll just use a different back. Equally certain, however, is that accessible & practical LF digital is a long way off still. jj

-- Joe Johnson (joseph.johnson_85@gsbalum.uchicago.edu), January 20, 2002.

Just got done looking at his website, while I see nothing unique about his vision or composition, those little 4"x4" imgages on my monitor look pretty good, but what do they look like at 11x14, 16x20 or 20x24 and larger? Like one of the posters said, if it is not better, what is all the hoopla about. Pat

-- pat krentz (patwandakrentz@aol.com), January 20, 2002.


Thanks Joe, you may be on to something - perhaps the question should be re-phrased:

Is this a glimpse of the future for LF "FILM" or the way in which we will record our images?

Although I disagree with your thoughts that; "accessible & practical LF digital is a long way off still." Having been amazed at the speed at which digital technology has developed, especially in the last few years, and with the advances in nano-technology I'd be more inclinded to think that accessible & practical LF digital may not be as far off as we think.

Kind regards

Peter Brown

-- Don't rub the lamp if you don't want the genie to come out.

-- Peter L Brown (photo_illustration@bigpond.com), January 20, 2002.


I agree with Glen. Although these scanning backs can record with equal detail as film, the subject matter is very limited as exposure times are in the 30 minute range... Most of us landscape shooters struggle with the difference between 1/60th vs. 1/2 second.... so as digital does have a ton of advantages, I feel the makers of these products will not be rushing to make a high end 4x5 backs that will shoot images in 1/60th of second. Therefore, I think film will be around for quite awhile. The big market is studio shooters where most subjects remain still. Kodaks back does shoot at rather fast speeds but can't match 8x10 film for large prints..but falls between MF and 4x5. Whether this trend continues remains to be seen as the market starts shrinking real fast.... i.e. for users who requie superb LF detail and fast shutter speeds.

-- Bill Glickman (bglick@pclv.com), January 20, 2002.

Pat and others,

I didn't mean to encourage comments on the man's actual photography ability or technique and I think that whether we like his photographs or whether the quality (at this early stage) is better than a traditonal LF hand-made print is irrelevant.

The fact that this photographer has taken the step to transport what is essentially a still-life digital studio camera setup, out into wilderness to see how it performs, is pushing the boundaries of technology and it is these "pioneers" who set the stage for the future.

I agree that currently, film is still the best medium to produce a high quality enlarged image of a wilderness area, but I am also open-minded enough to acknowledge that this gentleman is trying a new approach and I for one would not be surprised to see, as Joe says, digital eventually replacing film.

Let me ask this question;

If the price becomes comparable (or cheaper), the quality and the means by which we can capture an image digitally, becomes as easy and as good as LF film capture, would there be any reason NOT to move to digital capture instead of film?

-- "There is nothing permanent except change."

Kind regards

Peter Brown

-- Peter L Brown (photo_illustration@bigpond.com), January 20, 2002.


Peter, once digital exceeds film in every way, image resolution, color fidelity, exposure times, size and bulk.... then I think it boils down to economics. For landscape shooters that use a one box of film per year, it still would not make economic sense. But for regular shooters, the cost of this digital system will be dwarfed by the expense of buying film, processing film, scanning film (assuming you are printing digital). In addtion, digital offers many other advantages, such as the ability to see the actual shot on screen before leaving the area and gauranteeing there will be no lost images in the processing stage. Of course both are equally vulnerable to actually loosing the film or hard drive. So if and when digital ever acheives this stage of developement, I am sure it will grab a big market share and leave film makers in a quandry about which films to still produce.

The only question that remains is how many years away is this? My guess is around 5. It could happen faster, but it seems most of the chip makers are putting their recources in the larger markets such as 35mm and MF systems. But like any other industry, once this becomes saturated, makers look for new markets. Landscape LF shooter will surely be last on their target list.

-- Bill Glickman (bglick@pclv.com), January 20, 2002.


Hi Bill,

Yes I agree with your sentiments. I think that the time frame is probably about right too.

You say; " . . .it seems most of the chip makers are putting their recources in the larger markets such as 35mm and MF systems." - this is most likely correct but the plus side to this is that the innovations which occur here, will flow fairly quickly to LF shooters too, I would imagine. There are a lot of professional LF shooters who work outside the comfort of the studio and I'm sure the manufacturers will accomodate them too, which will in turn benefit us "landscape photographers".

But who knows, perhaps those advances in 35mm & MF will be so good that we'll give up LF all together!

- just kidding! ;-)

-- "Where there is an open window there exists limitless opportunity."

Kind regards

-- Peter L Brown (photo_illustration@bigpond.com), January 20, 2002.



Digital technology is promising, but far from being ready for outdoor photography. What would be interesting is a system the size of a medium format camera, but with some movements, why not computer controlled using for example inner lens elements movements and digital zooming, and offering large format resolution. As you point out, keeping details in all the dynamic range the subject offers is interesting, although some is inevitably lost when the image is adjusted to have an eye pleasing contrast, at least details in the shadows and highlights are preserved. There are already a few optical banches that have been made for the purpose of digital photography, such as the 6x9 Linhof. Combined with high resolution digital lenses and a high res lightweight digital back, they should be able to replace film.

I'm sure we will get there eventually. But there is still a *very long way* to go technically and economically before there is a real *field* high res digital camera that will make us forsake the film camera. In fact I can't see any benefit if the gear is not lighter and shooting times are not similar or shorter than for standard film. Using a laptop computer outside in not conceivable either. As Glen pointed, the price of such equipment may limit it to some professional photographers who are doing well. But ten years ago, a graphic workstation was priced well above any amateur's means and is now available to anyone. So we will see what the future offers, but of course outdoor large format photographers do not represent such a big market and developers are always looking for a return on their investments.

What worries me is that we, outdoor photographers may soon be placed from the present standstill position into a dead end position. The studios are massively turning to digital and some of the processing labs are already forsaking their 8x10 and 5x7 processing equipment. 4x5 may be next on the list. The film distributors are gradually reducing their range too. So we should better hold to our sheet films as long as we can and shout loud or the film marketing companies might forget us otherwise and leave us mean less!

-- Paul Schilliger (pschilliger@smile.ch), January 20, 2002.


For the person who asked about what Johnson's prints look like, I've seen several prints made from Johnson's original digital files. There were several at MacWorld in S.F. a few years back. They were fantastic. The equal in terms of smooth tonal range and definition of anything I've seen from film originals.

-- Howard Slavitt (info@enaturephoto.com), January 20, 2002.

Howard, but keep in mind, although he does an excellent job of cherry picking the shots to suit his long shutter speeds... you won't see many traditional shots, such as waterfalls, etc. Well, at least if you do, they will not have the look that we are all accustomed to.

One of the incredible mysterious of this digital phenomena is the actual comparison of digital file size vs. analog files. Conventional wisdom says that a digital camera must be able to acheive the same size file as a scanner can pull from film, assuming the scanner did not exceed the resolution of the film, for arguments sake, 5 - 6k dpi. However, what has become a shock to me is that in reality, this has not panned out. There are several digital, one shot backs right now that can produce a 30x40" print with equal quality than 4x5 scanned film. The small files, < 70mb are rezzed up to the needed size, for example, a 30x40" print at 300 dpi on LF film will be 316MB. With the proper rezzing software it seems these digital files acheive near similar results than film at 30x40". It is theorized that the digital back files have pixels much more condusive to rezzing up vs. files acheived by scanning film. I have consistently read these test done on everything from 35mm digital to the MF one shot backs. The consensus seems overwhelming.

So I guess my point is, the technology seems to be very close to where we need to be, assuming very few people are making prints bigger than 30x40", and i am sure the next generation backs will match 40x50" prints. So as I see it, the ultimate backs for LF landscape shooters are about 2 or 3 generations away. First the price needs to drop from the $25k average price now. I think $10k is good price point. Next they need to become a bit more compact and utilize smaller storage products. Then they need to be more rugged for field use and be able to operate in a wide range of temperatures. So this is where my 5 year guess came from...not so much the sheer technology which is practically there for prints 30x40" and smaller, but rather all the issues most landscape shooters are confronted with.

I have to admit, the idea of not buying film, storing film, loading film holders, unloading film holders, processing risks and cost, scanning costs etc. is very appealing to us film > digital users of today. It seems nothing has changed in 180 years of photography, images were taken the same basic way, lens, light tight box and film. Now in a period of less than a decade the process is being completely revolutionized. In my opinion, the digital revolution will bring even more serious hobbiest and part time professionals into the arena, as this generation loves everyting computerized! As Bob Dylan says, Times are a changin....

-- Bill Glickman (bglick@pclv.com), January 20, 2002.


"I have to admit, the idea of not buying film, storing film, loading film holders, unloading film holders, processing risks and cost, scanning costs etc. is very appealing to us film > digital users of today"

How about carrying lap top, batteries, batteries for scanning back, cables to connect both? Does that sound any better? I read about this person's "Project" many months ago, I think it was on PT, any way I think it is a gimmick for him to get some kind of notoriety since neither his talent nor his image look particularly appealing.

I dont know if this is the future of film, but it seems to me that as far as simplyfying the process we are changing one for the other, film holders, for digital back and lap top, neither make it easier than 35 mm. As I stated before when I really see a definite improvement of digital over traditional film then I will consider it, so far it is only hype and wishfull thinking.

-- Jorge Gasteazoro (jorgegm58@prodigy.net.mx), January 20, 2002.


I guess Bill wasn't commenting on the current status of large format digital photography, only that in the future, we might be able to get a device that is portable and won't require the use of a laptop and other gear out in the field.

I, too, would like to see a digital back that will allow me to shoot in similar situations. I don't think 30 minute exposures would cut it for me. We might be a long way off for a digital back that can take 1 shot (not a scanning back) and has the resolution power equal to that of a 4x5 negative or chrome.

Back to my Tri-X development in my Jobo with the NFL playoffs in the background.

:-)

-- Andy Biggs (abiggs@tvmcapital.com), January 20, 2002.



If you mean the combination of impressive technology with pedestrian image making, you're probably right. Same as always.

-- (bmitch@home.com), January 20, 2002.

Do we need better equipment and more pixels and more expensive printing options to do what has been done for decades now very well? Can the eye discern all these refinements? I'm starting to think that this is overkill. Unless it makes for better workflow these refinements aren't really needed. james

-- JAMES (JAMES_MICKELSON@HOTMAIL.COM), January 20, 2002.

First, I agree with Bill that Johnson "cherry picks" his shots. Second, I am very active in digital imaging and agree with Bill's assessment that in about 5 years it will be feasible for many to replace large format cameras in the field with digital backs and expect that within 10 years it will be feasible for the majority (cost being the distinguishing factor). Third, the only reason in my opinion to go to digital shooting is if one prefers printing by digital methods, or for some other reason needs digital distribution. For black and white printing there may not be much advantage, if any, to printing digitally. For color, there is already a distinct advantage to digital printing.

-- Howard Slavitt (info@enaturephoto.com), January 20, 2002.

Jose... How about carrying lap top, batteries, batteries for scanning back, cables to connect both? Does that sound any better? No, not really, hence why I mentioned the fact these current digital products are not very field friendly - yet. But in 5 years, I think we will have a digital back about the size of 5 4x5 film holders that include the LCD and storage device..in which you can bring extra storage devices and batteries. This should make the total load less than that of film holders. There will be a few extra pounds. Then you get all the benefits of economics, seeing the image on screen, no processing, no film cost, etc.

James.... Do we need better equipment and more pixels and more expensive printing options to do what has been done for decades now very well? Can the eye discern all these refinements? I'm starting to think that this is overkill. We don't need faster cars, more efficient cars, safer cars, etc. But it's the nature of capitalism. Even if image quality does not improve, there still seems to be many other advantages of digital. The other issue I forgot to mention which will be a big improvement over film is exposure latitude. 7 stops will be the norm, much better than chrome film.

-- Bill Glickman (bglick@pclv.com), January 20, 2002.


Bill:

I guess you were answering to me...so is JORGE not JOSE...:-))

I agree with you maybe in the future we will have a back that does all that requires a lot of equipment now. But as I mentioned before at this stage it was a gimmick for this guy ....I mean who wants to carry all that equipment when you can get a Fuji quickload and shoot all you want with little hassle.

The one thing that will make me sad to see go away is darkroom work, I really enjoy this stage of the process and just thinking about having to sit in front of a computer to "develop" my negatives...well sort of depresses me. I think that if film comes to pass away, I will be one of those doing wet plate collodion and pt/pd.....as a matter of fact I already got me a plate holder for my 8x10 ......just getting ready for the bad news. :-(

-- Jorge Gasteazoro (jorgegm58@prodigy.net.mx), January 20, 2002.


Thanks for all the comments,

I agree with Bill's & Howard's assessments and from my own research I also believe that a sturdy, portable digital back for 6x9/4x5 (without cables, laptops, etc) is not too far away and the output will equal or better our current film quality.

We are already seeing traditional camera makers such as Ebony introducing new cameras which will be compatible with digital backs, for example the "new" 6x4.5-6x12 'Finesse' with facilities for digital & film use. Other manufacturers are also introducing prototypes as well.

This is a contentious issue particularly with die-hard film users and there will always be early developers who lead the way and those who sit and wait, but one thing is for sure, digital capture is here now - we'll just have to wait a couple more years to see who is riight and who is wrong.

"Change is not made without inconvenience, even from worse to better" - Samuel Johnson (1755)

It was great hearing your views - thanks.

Kind regards,

-- Peter L Brown (photo_illustration@bigpond.com), January 20, 2002.


Jorge, very sorry for the name typo.....

-- Bill Glickman (bglick@pclv.com), January 20, 2002.

This is not a comment in pro or con to digital LF work. Just curious, because to the best of my knowledge the largest digital sensor back only captures a max of a 6x6cm image. While you certainly gain the use of view camera movements, the last time I checked 6x6 was medium format. Has this changed?

-- James Christian (jcc928@aol.com), January 20, 2002.

Wow! 9 million pixels of tired old image. The "Parks Project" is a retrogressive step uniting old cliches with the most modern equipment. Perhaps the mind set that makes people "early adopters" or pioneers in technology put their creativity in the "default" position. Digitization may unite all mediums but it doesn't change the distinctly undigital acts of thinking and feeling that most of us depend heavily on.

-- Phil Glass (phi_glass@yahoo.com), January 21, 2002.

james, those backs I discussed above were 6x6 backs... they were matching 30x40" prints from 4x5...that was the mystery phenomenoa of digital files from digital cameras vs. digital files from scanned film.

-- Bill Glickman (bglick@pclv.com), January 21, 2002.

Johnson was not using the latest super model version of the Better Light 4 x 5 insert that increases the file size from 140 MB to over 300 MB. According to an ad in the Nov/Dec 2001 View camera magazine the manufacturer Better Light claims that the clarity and detail of the current digital image supermodel back surpasses that captured with 8 x 10 film. At its website, www.betterlight.com, the manufacturer describes the new supermodel allows images with up to 9000 x 15,000 pixels. The Sinar HR-Sinarcam was also discussed in the Nov/Dec 2001 issue of View Camera. It can provide 450 MB files with 75,000,00 pixels. The author states that the digital back enhances his productivity. ........... ........................................... I hope that you get the picture.........................

-- Quien Nosabe (caldw@aol.com), January 21, 2002.

I was in error. The www.betterlight.com website says the Super8K-2 has a maximum resolution of 12,000 x 15,990 pixels (549 MB 24-bit RGB, or 1.1 GB 48-bit RGB file) Super6K-2. The Super6K-2 captures up to 9,000 x 12,000 pixels (309 MB 24-bit RGB, or 618 MB 48-bit RGB file). ..............................................

-- Quien Nosabe (caldw@aol.com), January 21, 2002.

This is true, but you have to wait something like 30 minutes to take one picture. For all of my outdoor images, this would be too long, as my subjects (water, trees, etc) move much quicker than that.

-- Andy Biggs (abiggs@tvmcapital.com), January 21, 2002.

I do not agree that Stephen Johnson is a visionary for choosing digital to do his National Parks project. I think he just picked the wrong tools for the job. How do I know ? Although I use only my own resources and vacation time, I have gotten much further in my own project to photograph the Parks (55 out of the 57 parks), and I believe with a much wider variety of images, because I can backpack in the wilderness with my gear (solo if needed), and use reasonnable shutter speeds whenever vegetation or water is involved, two components quite unique to the landscape of this planet. What we must admire Stephen Johnson's for is his skill in marketing and self-promotion. The future ? I just don't see the weight of the batteries beating that of film. Batteries don't seem to follow Moore's law.

-- Q.-Tuan Luong (qtl@ai.sri.com), January 21, 2002.

Notice how most of his digital images don't contain any, if any, trees? That seems a bit limiting, in my view. His tools might be more useful for tabletop product photography.

-- Andy Biggs (abiggs@tvmcapital.com), January 21, 2002.

I'm sorry, but I think some of you are misunderstanding my question. In my original question I asked; "I'm wondering what you all think of this concept and whether this is what the future holds for LF photography, albeit in a more compact and easier to handle setup."

Note that I said " . . .the future . . ." and ". . . in a more compact and easier to handle setup." - NOT with the current technology and equipment available.

After Joe's post I then suggested we rephrase the question; "Thanks Joe, you may be on to something - perhaps the question should be re-phrased: Is this a glimpse of the future for LF "FILM" or the way in which we will record our images? "

Comments about the exposure time or moving objects being omitted, are no more relevant than talking about LF images which contain water which looks more like mist than water or leaves that are so blurred from movement that they are unrecognisable.

My question was not about what is available NOW, but what will be available IN THE NEAR FUTURE! It's not about whether he is a good photographer or not, whether we like or dislike his photographs, in fact it's not even about whether he choose the right equipment for the job or whether he was doing it for his own "promotional" reasons or not.

What I was interested in, was hearing comments about whether you think this type of image capture will be what we will use for LF field photography in the future and if so how soon will we likely be using it. Perhaps it is just too much of a contentious issue to get unbiased replies.

Anyway, thanks everyone for taking the time trying to answer my ambiguious questions.

" Who am I to blow against the wind? "

- Paul Simon / Graceland

Kind regards

-- Peter L Brown (photo_illustration@bigpond.com), January 21, 2002.


I guess we all got a little off-topic, eh?

Yes, I think that the technology will allow those who wish to carry a self-contained digital back out into the field is near at hand. I think it will come down to economics, though. I suspect such a device will cost well over $25k upon its release. It's a matter of time before the price will get down to where many non-commerical photographers can afford it.

-- Andy Biggs (abiggs@tvmcapital.com), January 21, 2002.


Yes Andy, I agree that the initial cost will probably be quite high, but I know that I have spent thousands of dollars on good quality LF gear and equipment to output my images to prints, as well as the ongoing cost of film and processing. I wonder if we looked at our LF expenses and compared them to the equivalent for digital capture and output whether the difference would be so great?

More contenious questions ;-)

Kind regards

-- Peter L Brown (photo_illustration@bigpond.com), January 21, 2002.


I would say the difference is very great Peter, heck I have a Hassy, a Linhot TK 45, A GAndolfi 8x10 a at last 3 lenses of different lenghts for all 3 cameras a great darkroom with a zone VI enlarger...and put all together I am barely hitting 25000, and it wont become obsolete in 6 months. You complained that we got off track with your question, I think all the responses were very relevant to your initial question because quality of reproduction, ease of acquisition (both the equipment and the image) and type of work that can be done are all relevant as to wether this will become the future of LF image capture. For example, even if the digital back becomes small enough to be able to capture, store and preview the image, I am pretty sure that it will still need a battery....now, my lap top is a top of the line IBM....these people still cannot get the batterie to last more than a couple of hours, and the technology for pc is mature, not like the digital backs.....so, in the near future you have this wonderful back....and at 30 mins per pic....you maybe get to take 4 pics. Ok, now lets say we get the nice back with a wonderful battery.... lets say you can take 100 pics with the back....this is great, but will you process and print 100 pics, will your work be better? I think that one of the reasons that many LF photographers use the cameras is because of the time, care and discipline required to take the picture....with this type of back might as well use a 35 mm now and let it rip.

Ok, so in short I don't think this will be the furture of LF field work unless we are forced to replace film because it is not manufactured any more. I think for studio and commercial work it is already the future of LF and it will only get better. But like many things the price will not go down unless a new technique for manufacturing becomes available, I know many commercial photogs that use 20 year old equipment, they dont like to spend money in new stuff when the old works just fine...so I dont see many of the ones who have invested in digital backs now, replacing them any time soon unless the quality of the new back is so much greater to justify the expense. In any case I dont see the prices going down to within the reach of us lesser mortals. When I can get a digital back that is as easy to use as a Fuji quickload, costs about the same as a lens, it can take pictures in fractions of a second, and it will fucntion in rain, sand, etc with a battery that will last at least 20 hours....then I will write back to you and tell you...YEP...this is the future of LF...for now...I still think film is it!

-- Jorge Gasteazoro (jorgegm58@prodigy.net.mx), January 21, 2002.


Every camera has some limitation, but usually there is a reasonable range of technical possibilities (and aesthetic room) available to the photographer. I know Acadia National Park pretty well, and I can tell you there is a variety of interesting photographs waiting there for photographers who have the vision to take them. With all his heavy and moronically-slow digital gear, Johnson's vision becomes unimportant. His function is simply to point the camera at something that the camera can photograph. His (its) photographs are, in truth, more limited in their own high-focus way than photographs that might be taken with a really bad toy camera. (Someday digital backs may become more versatile; but, given the technical challenges involved, I wouldn't hold my breath for any firm delivery date for a useful back for outdoor use.) I hope this effort is enjoyable and meaningful to Stephen Johnson, and I hope he pays for some of his equipment from the sale of prints or whatever. His is not an exercise that I would voluntarily undertake.

-- Michael Alpert (alpert@umit.maine.edu), January 22, 2002.

>> I'm sorry, but I think some of you are misunderstanding my question. In my original >> question I asked; "I'm wondering what you all think of this concept and whether this is >> what the future holds for LF photography, albeit in a more compact and easier to handle >> setup." >> Note that I said " . . .the future . . ." and ". . . in a more compact and easier to >> handle setup." - NOT with the current technology and equipment available.

No. This is not the future of _photography_. It is the future of digital, which is a wholly different art form unrelated to photograpy (although it appears supperficially similar).

Photography is the art of removing whatever the artists deems irrelevant and presenting an image that communicates to the viewer what the artist _feels_. Digital is the art of adding whatever the artist deems necessary and presenting an image that communicates to the viewer what the artist _imagines_.

Audiences who are interested in _art_ will continue to appreciate chemical photography for the emotions it conveys, and the unspoken understanding of the limits to which chemicals can be manipulated. Those who'd rather be entertained will go away and favor the expressions of imagination that is currently the digital field.

Eventually, digital will lose it's 2D limitations as 3D animation software improves, and the fields of digital movie making and "digital photography" will merge into one. Chemical photography will remain, much as it is now, but with new found respect as a proper art form. Something like the respect given sculptors.

whadya think?

Mike :-)

-- Mike Kelleghan (mkelleghan@compuserve.com), January 22, 2002.


To answer your question, with some reservations about the economic and political future itself, yes. The future of photography, which means painting with light, is bound to digital. This may be a long way off but yes the future will be digital. We may not like it but that is the direction it is going. My friend uses a digital scanning 4x5 back now. He shoots product shots for catalogs. His work flow is tremendous now compared to just a few years ago. And with the advent of digital cameras and the requisite PC + all the programs, it is here now. I will lament the change and possibly drop photography as my chosen art form. But the future is here now. I see too much that has been captured digitally and printed digitally to think it is very far off. But LF will be the last to be brought into the digital age with respect to landscape photography. The capture time is long and the equipment is very expensive. And the detail available now from the smaller formats is tremendous already. Will we need LF at all? And lets face it, LF is a niche market. Will the industry put forth the effort to grow in that direction? Making LF portable enough to take to the field and stay any length of time? Let's hope so. But my premiss still holds. Do we need to go to so much trouble and expense to gain a minute decrease in grain and increase in detail over what we have now in LF using film? And will we still be able to control contrast the way we do now with film and developers? That can't be done now in digital capture. Yes you can dodge and burn but can you spread out the contrast range in digital as you can with developemnt changes in film processing now? Not that I know of. We shall see what the furture holds for LF.

-- james (james_mickelson@hotmail.com), January 22, 2002.

Digital is a workflow and detector technology. It is a permanent part of the photo scene. Digital is a great way to make images; so is film. Choose wisely and have fun. I visited Steven's galery about a year ago, viewed his images and had a good talk with him. He's a dedicated photographer who is highly skilled in conventional and digital photography. He is acutely aware of the limitations of the digital process but has chosen to explore this process as one might explore carbon printing. His digital prints are made with a high level of craftsmanship and presented beautifully. I think his work will help us all sort out which tools are best suited for which applications. I for one will keep an eye on what he is doing; to stay abreast of the technology and to enjoy good images.

-- Andy Eads (aceads@3-cities.com), January 22, 2002.

This photographer (Frank Grisdale), is doing some interesting "artistic" things with digital capture:

http://www.photoeye.com/Gallery/forms/index.cfm?id=84413&image=1&imag ePosition=1&Door=2&Portfolio=Portfolio1&Gallery=2

Kind regards,

-- Peter L Brown (photo_illustration@bigpond.com), January 23, 2002.


Tuan wrote... I just don't see the weight of the batteries beating that of film. Batteries don't seem to follow Moore's law.

This is very true, and its something I have overlooked in my assesment of these digital backs being suitable for landscape shooters. Battery weight / performance has not changed much in 150 years. There has always been a tremendous weight / size issue for items, such as digital backs, that require many miliamp hours for operations. For the serious backpacker, this might always be the limiting factor. but for the shooter that stays within a few miles of his car, this is not as much as an issue.

-- Bill Glickman (bglick@pclv.com), January 23, 2002.


Which of the Pixelograph backs will allow you to make a 15 minute to 8 hour exposure to capture star trails, flowing water in low light and so many other normal, day to day photos we can take now with low tech gear 100 years old?

-- Dan Smith (shooter@brigham.net), January 23, 2002.

That's not relevant to my question Dan.

See my last reply, ten posts above:

[snip]. . . .I'm sorry, but I think some of you are misunderstanding my question. In my original question I asked; "I'm wondering what you all think of this concept and whether this is what the future holds for LF photography, albeit in a more compact and easier to handle setup."

Note that I said " . . .the future . . ." and ". . . in a more compact and easier to handle setup." - NOT with the current technology and equipment available. . . . .etc, etc, etc. [snip]

With respect

-- Peter L Brown (photo_illustration@bigpond.com), January 23, 2002.


I believe my answer above is relevant. NOW and in the FUTURE we will still be using LF gear for the same thing, creating excellent images. Many will be using it for negatives shot specifically for contact printing in alt processes. Long exposures, some lasting 8 hours or more will still be made and I don't see pixelography machines being too reliable for this type of work. Unless solar battery chargers or fuel cells are built in I don't think the gear will be portable enough to be usable for larger format sizes.

The future cameras don't really need to be any more compact than what we have now. A 70-100 year old 8x10 is still capable of images of the highest quality. Larger format gear of the same vintage is still used daily by many. The idea of "more compact & easier to handle" may sound nice but is not necessarily a goal of those working in mammoth camera sizes nor even many 4x5-8x10 shooters. The large ground glass is sufficient and the working methods preferred by many who use them even as we get 'improvements' coming out. Using "new & improved" just for the sake of using it is a time & money waster. Why not shoot chromes or negs & scan and save all the aggravation of the damnable electronic hellbox on location? "In the future" we will still have sub zero weather, rain & hail & sleet which some of us shoot in, camera gear in backpacks with less than pristine transportation conditions, lightening, high humidity, hot & cold extremes in the same day and field maintenance able to be preformed with gaffer's tape & a pocket knife. The Pixelograph machines will have a long trek to approach what we have now much less actually 'improve' on it. What we don't really need are more banal images taken just because we can with a pixelography machine.

-- Dan Smith (shooter@brigham.net), January 24, 2002.


I've seen the prints in his gallery, and i've seen the Better Light back at work. I'm not sure where the 30 minute exposure time came from. Exposures range from 60 seconds to a couple of minutes.

I've seen prints from drum scanned 4x5 chromes compared to the output from the Better Light. You'd be closer if you compared the Better Light to an 8x10 chrome.. The Better Light output is significantly better than the 4x5 scan, as well as a 4x5 enlarged print (analog). The other major difference is that the Better Light back will capture 11-14 stops of light. What's impressive about his prints in a gallery, is that there's a hyper realism about them. There's no color bias due to a particular film, and you have the entire range of light that you see when you take the image.

I'll agree that movement is an issue.. wind, moving water, and such is not a good thing. the resulting artifacts are very unusual.

-- Jim Collum (collum@cips.nokia.com), March 22, 2002.


Who's paying for this?

-- Willhelmn (wmitch3400@hotmail.com), March 22, 2002.

that depends. I bought a Nikon D1x at $5200 when they first came out, and it's already paid for itself in film and processing alone (within the first 7 months). With just Provia readyloads and processing, you pay for it after about 2-3000 exposures. That's not figureing scans in if you're printing digitally. If fits your subject/shooting style, and the business model is there, then it's just a matter of coming up with the $15,000 up front instead of paying it out in film/processing over time. I don't think it's for everybody. but I know 35mm photographers who don't understand why people lug around big view cameras all over the wilderness either.

-- Jim Collum (collum@cips.nokia.com), March 22, 2002.

To get back on topic, I don't see this as the future at all, but just another choice or option. Right now, film is far more affordable and more portable. All you need is the camera, tripod, film, and holders. No need to carry a CPU, monitor, cables, scanning or one- shot back, batteries, etc. For the professional who shoots products or portraits for a client, digital is useful. For the amateur walking or driving in the woods and shooting a lot fewer photos per year, it is not very appealing. The prices (for an amateur) are even less appealing. Professionals can write off the price as a business expense, write off the depreciation, etc. An amateur or casual photographer can not. Photography did not kill off painting or sculpture, color did not kill black and white, digital will not kill film.

-- Steve Gangi (sgangi@hotmail.com), March 23, 2002.

I agree. Some of the areas where this back would not work well is with water, or very windy days with things moving. But there's nothing stopping me from carrying along film holders, or ReadyLoads to take care of those situations.. just as I might take along a 35mm to deal with wildlife or extensive zoom situations.

-- Jim Collum (collum@cips.nokia.com), March 25, 2002.

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