Why digital?

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I appreciate that this certainly isn't the first nor the last comment on the great debate - digital vs traditional film, but I would like to make a few comments on this forum. I have always had an open mind when it came to digital images, although I do not use or anticipate using digital in my photography, I can see why some choose to travel this road. By coincidence, I took delivery of 40 prints today that I have to judge for a competition. There was some awesome digital work - very subtle despite being stitched panoramics - and shot on "consumer" gear. Yesterday I took delivery of the current edition of "View Camera" magazine - it takes a bit longer to reach the UK!! Inside were 11 pages dedicated to digital, studio work - that was IMHO, nothing special, in fact it was very run of the mill. But I endeavour to keep up with my interest and so began reading the accompanying text......the prices quoted for the kit used was obscene!! "$25,000 (here), $19,000 (there) and thats without the cost of the computer itself!!!! The point of this posting? At these prices, and for the quality reproduced in the journal, I can see no benefit in going digital (certainly not to this level). I imagine that it will take a long time for prices to drop to a point whereby the average enthusiast will neglect film and traditional techniques in favour of digital. I am not anti-digital, rather pro-film!! Maybe I am missing the point? But at those prices I can live with that.

-- paul owen (paulowen_2000@yahoo.com), May 18, 2002


Well Paul, like everything else is what you do with the stuff, not what it costs. For example Dan Burholder uses a 35 mm, Nikon F4 or F5 I dont know if he has upgraded. He does have a kick ass computer set up, with top of the line Mac for graphics (I dont know what is called). I am sure he has not spent all that money you mention, but he's prints are beautiful. On the other hand if you are a comercial photogrpaher need fast turn around a so so resolution, I think digital is the way too go, specially if you can claim it as a business expense!

-- Jorge Gasteazoro (rossorabbit@hotmail.com), May 18, 2002.

Jorge I agree, but the "amateur produced" digital prints were of good quality and taken with affordable equipment. The View Camera article was illustrated with "average" images that certainly didn't seem to justify the amount spent on gear!

-- paul owen (paulowen_2000@yahoo.com), May 18, 2002.

Hi Paul, May be, I'm just a cinic, but posssibly The magazine had an ulteria motive. Look, I have not read the magazine (shame on me, but I work out in Saudi Arabia and magazines and the like tend to get butchered by the censors like you will never believe) but just reading whats on this discussion list may be I'm not so paranoid... Never believe all you read in the papers...

-- Bob Ashford (ashford@kfshrc.edu.sa), May 18, 2002.

Paul, I know this guy who is a distributer for a "3 pass" digital system. It is used in a Studio Setting and for the most part is used to make catalogs / product shots. Cost: $25,000 . I am not big into Digital Imaging. The occasional digital "snapshot" camera. To make a living, I don't shoot Products, but if I did, I would probably spend at least $25,000 on a system. It would pay for itself in about 1-2 years--- film and processing add-up, and if you are shooting LOTS of products, chromes and E-6 processing add-up fast!
Maybe the images in view camera would have looked more impressive if you saw the prints, instead of reproductions of them. On this forum people complained of so-so printing a few issues ago ( "Azo Issue").
Could it be that Amatures or Pro-Amatures because they aren't doing it for a client or for big-bucks are able to shoot better work and put their heart n'soul into the final image. A camera that takes a digital image, or an image using film is just a tool. Expensive tools don't alway make better images. On the same note, it is easy to spot a REALLY BAD DRIVER driving an expensive car, isn't it? Pbear

-- PookieBear (pookie@stp.com), May 18, 2002.

Pookie, It seems that if current trends are anything to go by, a digital system bought today for $25k will be obsolete in 18 months time anyhow - do you then need to re-invest another $25k?

-- paul owen (paulowen_2000@yahoo.com), May 18, 2002.

for vommercial purposes , digital makes a lot of sense , even at thse prices -- and that gear is aomed straight at at commercial image makesrs. It makes dense because of the time savings. As soon as you know the shot is right you can move on to the next one, or make corrections. And the client doesn't needto have the film scanned ,etc.For catalog photography the benefits multiply vecause of the heavy volume.

You also streamline the reproduction process and the color accuracy-- which can be very important in commercail advertising work.

-- Ellis Vener Photography (ellis@ellisvener.com), May 18, 2002.

Paul, a long time ago, a very wise man told me " Its not the size, shape, color, price, or smell of a man's tool that's important. The only thing important is what he does with it." He wasn't talking about photo equipment at the time. However, cameras, lenses, film, etc. are also tools of the trade. It's interesting that you are upset with the high price of professional digital imaging equipment, while you continually attempt to convince people to purchase Ebony cameras. I believe that Ebonys are "obscenly" priced compared to other wooden field cameras, but you do have a perfect right to own one, if you choose. Film, or digitally produced, the important element is the final image. The market will determine the value, in the long run. I, too, am a film man, and I have no interest in digitally produced images. My wife, on the other hand, uses a digital camera on a daily basis. It has proven to be a valuable tool for her property management business.

-- Eugene (TIAGEM@aol.com), May 18, 2002.


-- Matthew Runde (actorm@hotmail.com), May 18, 2002.

I still find myself pro-film like you. However, I love digital for certain applications. I love the convenience and speed of editing and outputting photographs digitally. This quarter I've only output the prints for one assignment via traditional means. Why? Because it's faster and easier, which is a hugely valuable thing to me considering that the less time and frustration I invest in printing my assignments, the more time I have for all the other work I have to do for other professors. It also allows me to make changes, generally subtle ones (like in the image above) to make the concept of some photographs clearer and more successful.

On the other hand, if I want a print for sale or exhibition purposes, I'll do it in a traditional darkroom. I do this because I still feel that for fine black and white printing, my darkroom skills are still capable of substantially superior results. Besides, I just love the process. I don't care how good and cheap digital gets, I'll still use silver-based processes because it's the way I like to work for the majority of my stuff.

And as for the cost of digital, it can be ridiculously expensive, but I believe it doesn't have to be quite so stifling. I do all of my digital work on my own personal computer, a Mac G4, and an Epson 1280 printer. I use the school's scanning equipment, which helps keep cost down (though is only a temporary solution). Between the computer, printer, and software, my setup cost me around $3,800.00. No, not chicken feed exactly, especially for a college student, but a lot easier to handle than a $25,000.00 system, and there's not much I can't do. And down the road 10 years there's nothing to say that, given the appropriate upgrades, I won't still be using this system.

So I guess, to me, the point of all of this is that digital has its place in my mind, and furthermore doesn't have to be so obscenely expensive. It has its benefits and uses, but will never entirely supplant traditional means, if only due to those of us who simply prefer traditional means and materials.

-- David Munson (apollo@luxfragilis.com), May 18, 2002.

As several people have hinted, the reasons for digital in something like high volume catalog work is that the computer and digital scanning setup replaces not only Polaroid tests, film, and processing, but more importantly, also color separation costs. This brings a profit center into the commercial studio that used to support an entire different operation. Downside is that to go this course the studio operation has to do an enormous volume of work to amortize the equipment before it is obsolete. But despite this it brings down the client's cost for photography/separations. At risk of being unkind, this sort of high-volume studio work is exactly the sort of thing that is going to be 'run of the mill' more or less by defa

-- Carl Weese (cweese@earthlink.net), May 18, 2002.


If I buy a $25k system next year, chances are the same thing may sell for $12.5K in 18 months and there will be something twice as nice, and twice as fast in 18 months for the same $25K, but that does not mean I have to buy it.

It ( digital system) is just a tool, like anything else.

-- PookieBear (pookie@stp.coom), May 18, 2002.

I am one of those that have invested close to 25K in digital equpment. Mostly due to a pressure from clients. You charge the same for the jobs but you save on material and processsing costs and the client saves on pre press costs. The great advantage is that you stop shooting as soon as you know the job is done and then move on to the next . But I still like film better. There is no magic in digital photograpy. It is as sex must be in a bordello; cheap, easy and fills you with guilt!

-- Gudmundur Ingólfsson (imynd@simnet.is), May 18, 2002.

Its all about choice!

Graphic designers never wanted to become typesetters or run a desk top publishing company. Yet that is exactly what most designer have done today to bring food on the table.

In my opinion most photographers really want to create images. Unfortunately, pressure from clients, manufacturers and competitors have forced many to jump in with both feet first, investing large amounts of money in high volume digital imaging equipment. This money has to be earned back within a short time frame due to the constant product updates and new innovations. Therefore, many photographers are becoming color separators and production houses.

In L.A. roughly 10% of commercial photographers do 90% of the work. The pressure is on...

The future will probably see art directors doing a large percentage of commercial photography using inexpensive high quality digital cameras, leaving many commercial photographers with large loans and cash outlays, floundering...until then there will be some commercial photographers making small fortunes...that is probably what drives the market...

The other camp will be made up of photographers using whatever medium it takes to create personal imagery. Digital, regular photography, holography or large format film based imaging...etc...

-- Per Volquartz (volquartz@volquartz.com), May 18, 2002.

I was a very early adopter of digital for commercial use, starting about 1991 or 92. Over the years going through several different set-ups I spent a ton of money and now my last digital studio camera is broken and can't be repaired. I made some money with it surely, but keep in mind that if you buy an expensive digital camera that in a few years time it will be worthless and probably not repairable if it breaks. So be sure to amortize its cost rapidly, like one or two years. Digital makes good sense for commercial uses as several have stated already. It is faster and cheaper than film in a production setting. But if you don't need it for a business reason why throw your money away?

-- Henry Ambrose (henry@henryambrose.com), May 18, 2002.

Paul, I've been looking at film scanners, and for us large format shooters, there's really nothing out there to get excited about yet. (In terms of capabilities or cost). It will be 2-3 years for a resolution of 5,000 x 5,000 and Dmax 4.(high), etc. sheet film scanner, and another 3 years for the price of such an item to be less than the cost of an Omega or Besseler 4x5 Dichroic enlarger.

-- Andre Noble (andrenoble@worldnet.att.net), May 19, 2002.

Correct me if I am wrong, but if you scan film, then there are no film savings. Furthermore, if you scan film then digital is reduced to second generation second rate stuff.

Okay now suppose I go out and spend big dollars for a 4x5 digital back (cannot get one for my 4x10 back and only God knows how much an 8x10 back would cost) so that I can eliminate film to make a first generation digital image. Can anyone tell me of a reliable portable system that will work for 10 days at 10k feet in the Colorado Rockies in rain, snow, dust, and intense solar radiation? Remember there is no power outlets in those remote areas.

Furthermore, I have been told from a big digital lab they need about 40 mgbs for each square foot of print to compete with film. For a 20x24 print that is 133 mgbs. For a 30x40 print it is 333 mgbs, and for 40x50 we have 0.5 gig. Generating lots of 0.5 gig files in the field is not practical, and I suspect the same holds for processing a 0.5 gig file in photoshop.

Choice! Hmmm... For me this has been a very easy one to make.

-- Stephen Willard (willard@peakpeak.com), May 19, 2002.

I feel I need to clarify a point in my original posting! I should have emphasised the fact that my REAL problem was that the images made with "Big Bucks" digital systems appear no better than the images I have in front of me produced by gear that is within the reach of most amateurs/enthusiasts. Whether or not you agree with or use digital, the real bugbear seems to be that digital gear becomes obsolete within months of it being released for sale! If you have invested (say) $25K in digital and 18 months later the studio down the road has just bought the "latest" digital kit then in order to keep your customers from deserting you common sense seems to suggest that you would have NO CHOICE but to upgrade! Seems a catch 22 to me!! I'm just glad that I'm not on that spiral! I appreciate that a busy commercial photographer has no choice - but as a LF enthusiast I'm not that bothered on reading 11 pages of "useless" digital info in what I presumed to be an enthusiast publication.

-- paul owen (paulowen_2000@yahoo.com), May 19, 2002.

Paul, could you be more specific if possible in the processes used in some of the prints you're evaluating ??

Although you probably won't find this opinion in common currency on this forum, a high quality digital print from a high quality digital capture is difficult to distinguish from a high quality traditional print in sizes up to 11X14, and in many cases 16X20 using Genuine Fractals. Many experienced photographers would argue the digital to be superior.

So there would seem to be some bias here against digital in the face of strong evidence otherwise. This is understandable given the nature of this forum, and the enjoyment many of us, myself included, get from our traditional processes.

But that does not warrant a blind prejudice against digital, nor does it warrant quoting artifically high prices for digital equipment. A 6mp digital SLR is now under $2,000 U.S., a sufficient computer is $1,000 U.S., and Photoshop with a printer is another $2,000. So for $5,000 you can acquire a very good digital kit.

This kit would produce 11X14's that most would find the equal of traditional prints.

As both a LF and digital photographer, I'm finding LF to be more of a process than a result. I enjoy setting up a LF camera, I enjoy all the little frustrations such as loading film, pulling darkslides, squinting around under the darkcloth, metering, remembering to put the white side back in, etc., etc., ....it's an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon in the field.

As for digital equipment becoming obselete quickly, the tool is still there .... We're still using a 2.1 mp consumer digicam to shoot 360 degree panoramas, mostly because it offers small file sizes with good quality. Although you will find this hard to believe, this camera has taken over 16,000 frames in the past three and a half years. If it evaporated tomorrow morning I'd be more than happy to call it obselete. It cost $499 Canadian.

Digital enables me to shoot with instant exposure feedback, and I've seen little in the way of color correction that cannot be acheived in PhotoShop. Perspective control with software now lets me tell the computer how much vertical or horizontal perspective to apply or remove. It's less fun than than using rise or shift, but the results are the same. Clients are happy with one or two day turnaround, and their printers or webmasters ask for digital files anyway.

I'm sure somewhere there is a digital back being offered for $20,000, and somewhere there is a computer for $5,000, and a $5,000 printer as well. There are also Linhof and Ebony cameras offered at prices well above workhorse LF cameras that can take the same image. For every one of those $20,000 backs sold, there are a hundred $2,000 Canon D60's being sold, and for most applications the results are the same.

Shame on View Camera magazine for not offering its readers a more realistic assessment of digital ... but the source is not impartial.

-- Michael Mahoney (mike.mahoney@nf.sympatico.ca), May 19, 2002.

Right at the moment I think film to digital is the best solution for amateur and non studio professional photographers. Film is archival and has many times the resolution as the best digital. As for a print from a scan being a second generation image certainly all darkroom prints would be the same, and are obviously acceptable.

For the cost associated with digital and the almost absolute certainty that you'll get twice the machine at half the price in two years; you have to decide if you need this tool NOW. In the early 80's when PC were first being introduced there was always the caveat that you should be buying a solution not a computer. Does digital solve a problem for you that makes economic sense? If it does then you go digital. If it doesn't then wait.

-- David Grandy (dgrandy@grandyphoto.com), May 19, 2002.

Mike suggested "This kit would produce 11X14's that most would find the equal of traditional prints."

I wonder, is his printer a high quality dye-sublimation printer?

Consumer available digital is at the door for us LF photographers interested in archiving color files from our sheet film onto, say, archival, large capacity CD and DVD media.

But as far as digital prints themselves aren't affordable ink jet prints succetible to permanent damage if they come in contact with H20? This is what I have read.

-- Andre Noble (andrenoble@worldnet.att.net), May 19, 2002.

My exact printer varies on the particular output, but there are suitable offerings at a price point below my indicated price. Good old H20 is not likely to do any print any good !! With consideration to those who view digital threads a waste of bandwidth on a LF digest, the following link profiles the Epson 2000, and Michael R. has reviewed many other printers as well.


Luminous Landscape is an excellent source of impartial information on many digital / traditional comparisions. Check the subject index for articles.

-- Michael Mahoney (mike.mahoney@nf.sympatico.ca), May 19, 2002.

I appreciate that it is difficult to evaluate prints in a magazine - but the prints I have in front of me are from "consumer" cameras, the most expensive being approx £600 UK pounds. The quality is very good - and this sort of quality reinforces my own opinion that there is a place for digital! I am not anti-digital! The prices I quoted re;the View Camera article were lifts from the text! One photograoher even discusses how he shelled out $65,000 for a lighting set up for his digital!!!!!!!!!!! I suppose the point I'm trying to make is that I no longer feel as worried about the future of film! Traditional photography will become a "niche", but I am sure it will survive.

-- paul owen (paulowen_2000@yahoo.com), May 19, 2002.

View Camera had an article last year I believe authored by GeorgeDeWolfe (sp)discussing the newest Epson printer. After discussing the merits and improvements over previous printers he mentioned how he had a closet full of the latest and greatest printers, each one made obsolete by the next newer model or technology. The last time I looked, I didn't have a closet full of D2 enlargers, just the same 30yr old one I bought second hand and have used the last 10yrs to make many a fine print.

-- James Chinn (JChinn2@dellepro.com), May 19, 2002.

1-The ability to create photo-realistic images (and a lot more-see below) by spraying ink on paper, as refined by Epson engineers, is certainly one of the greatest discoveries/advances/thresholds in the history of imaging. Looking back, I think it will rank right up there with the printing press, lithography, the Daguerrotype, Kodachrome, Polaroid film. 2-Yes, digital capture can emulate and maybe in some circumstances surpass silver and iron halide capture of a latent image and its development. I have never seen the output from the best digital capture devices so I can't judge. My understanding is that the CMOS processor in the Canon D30, as well as the CCD chips used in the highest end digital SLRs, a la press services, are of a qualitative difference from consumer level 3-4 mega-pixel cameras. 3-But on the output side, I think we spend too much comparing apples and oranges. "Just as good as, almost like a," belies the issues. This spraying of ink on paper is an entirely new graphic medium with tremendous potential for personal expression. It's not as good as a photography, it's different. GOOD A

-- David Stein (DFStein@aol.com), May 20, 2002.

Remember that some of these comercial photo shoots have budgets deep into six digits. A top commercial pro -- product, food or fashion-- has a very large budget to work with and has many high-end jobs each year. Much of the gear is rented or leased, and the costs of the gear that is purchased can be amortized over several years. The whole thing strikes me as quite similar to the conversion of newspapers from manual typeset to computerized page make-up. Those type setters were quickly out of a job once the union's stranglehold was broken,and the newspapers saved millions. The entire process-- from editing to hard copy was streamlind, and the newspapers saved millions. I believe that traditional wet photography will soon be reduced to an antiquarian hobby and/or fine art. I'm comfortable with that.

-- Arthur Gottschalk (Arthurwg@aol.com), May 22, 2002.

I know it's been said many times above, but I just wanted to again state why digital IS important and worth that kind of $$$ in some situations. I've assisted at some catalog studios where it will save them money and pay for itself in the matter of a year and a half or two years. No more polaroid costs, film costs, processing costs, delivery costs to run film to the developer, shipping of film since digital can be sent via modem and even the extra labor costs associated with waiting for film at the lab.

In 35mm and medium format, newspapers and magazines get the instant photos without development time. I freelance for one of the biggest papers in the nation and they use digital at sports events so they can send photos via modem straight back to the editor's desk. This saves an extra hour or so associated with driving the film back to the paper and waiting for development.

So, it's all about time and money...

-- Jason J (janikphoto@yahoo.com), May 27, 2002.

Complaining that View Camera didn't offer the alternative of using a new Canon D60 rather than the high end digital camera backs is foolish at best. View Camera is a Large Format magazine... and the D30 and the comparable cameras are nowhere near large format. Then there is the difference is professional tools designed & made to do a specific job. A world apart from "adequate", which is why these large sums are spent. The price of top of the line LF gear is a lot more than an old Calumet woodfield. Deardorffs have been thought overly expensive & a waste of money by many who would not pay the price years ago. It is all relative. Pixelography is a fine way to go for many even with its limitations. It is continually finding more use in the LF fold as well and will only continue to do so. Digital and film is no longer a debate but a choice we make for ourselves. A viable choice both ways depending on your goal.

-- Dan Smith (shooter@brigham.net), May 27, 2002.

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