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best digital camera for photographing 2d fine art?

Christine Milosek , Sep 10, 2005; 08:44 p.m.

Hi I am new here, and am a fine art oil painter. I want to photograph my artwork for displaying on webpages to market myself professionally and also for personal records. The very best resolution and true color is what I need. I used to own a Mamiya RB67 ProSD medium format camera(film) and had to sell it for emergency funds so am spoiled by excellent pictures. My budget is no more than $2000 however, and less if I can. Any suggestions from someone experienced in photographing artwork on my best purchase choice?


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Troy Ammons , Sep 10, 2005; 09:16 p.m.

Thats a tough question. I also paint and photograph art on the side , and finally after several D cameras I went back to film for the most part. some quick shots I do digital sometimes, but for the most part I found that a lot of times digital cameras color shift hues. I am not talking overall color balance, but more like purple shifting towards blue, or orange towards yellow, etc etc etc, but the rest of the overall color balance will be correct. Those color shifts might not be a big deal for landscapes, but for accurate color like in art its difficult.

If I were on the hunt for a D camera for art, I would start looking for one with the best color balance. Probably a Fuji S2 or S3. Not sure about the latest batch of D cameras though. Even with one of those you may still have some problems, but if you shoot a custom WB and do a custom color profile for your setup you should be able to get very close for color accuracy.

I also saw some fantastic art shots done with a D2x, but not exactly sure what his setup was, or how he handled color.

Lately i have been using a 4x5 camera and E100G film. If you still prefer MF film, go for a Kowa MF camera. They are cheap and sharp and IMO just as sharp as a RZ or RB. Not as nice and comfy as an RZ but its the picture that counts. I have had all 3 and a few more MF cameras. Kowas are a real steal for what they are.

Happy Poo , Sep 10, 2005; 09:26 p.m.

If all you're going to be using the camera for is shooting your artwork, you might want to look into a good, high-resolution point-and-shoot or ZLR. And I would suggest a Nikon for the company's famously great optics, but then again, I'm biased.

Here's a chart of different megapixel values and the prints you can get out of them:

1 mp-- 4x5 in 2 mp-- 5x7 in (maximum) 3 mp-- 6x8 in 4 mp-- 7x9 in 5 mp-- 8x10 in 7 mp-- 9x12 in 8 mp-- 10x13 in

Keep in mind that these are very rough estimates and it really varies depending on your camera and, if using an SLR, your lens. If you want bigger prints than these, you're probably better off opting for a higher-resolution SLR, which, with a budget of $2000, will open up many, many options for you. Keep in mind most consumer digital cameras and many prosumer or pro-level ones are WAY below that (it's the lenses that cost money, and $2000 will buy you a respectable arsenal of SLR equipment, in my humble and frugal opinion). You mentioned putting it on the web; in this case resolution probably won't be as much of a factor because pictures for the web are generally compressed quite a bit (to save space and loading time). It's definitely possible to display high-res images too, I think, though, so scratch that.

Good luck with your artwork and hope this has helped!

Andrew Robertson , Sep 10, 2005; 10:57 p.m.

Remember to put a sheet of polarizing material over the light source, and a polarizing filter over the lens, or else you'll get the stereotypical ugly oil glare.

Scott Eaton , Sep 10, 2005; 11:01 p.m.

but for the most part I found that a lot of times digital cameras color shift hues

Maybe you should learn to use your $200 Casio digicam before offering expertise on dSLR's.

dSLR capture will reduce contrast and subdue saturation in art-work, but if they are white balanced properly, they will not "shift hues". I've shot art work for friends, and find the majority of time I'm having to increase saturation and contrast post processing. Net result are the shots look great and not having to deal with the tendency for E-6 films engineered this century (this obviously excludes Kodak EPP/EPN) to invent colors and saturation that isn't there.

My obvious suggestion would be for a Canon 5D and 50mm Canon Macro to match the resutls of your 6x7, but that will exceed your budget. Otherwise, any of the popular lot of 8-6mp dSLR's and the higher end Olympus cameras will accomplish the task as long as you use longer glass to reduce distortion and are willing to post process.

Joe Beecher , Sep 10, 2005; 11:44 p.m.

Tripod, Digital Rebel XT, 50 2.5 Macro, and color management software including a color target.

You would be under $2K but not by a lot. You could hold off of the color management system to start. Another option is a 12x17 scanner. Most of the local giclee printers use these on smaller flat paintings. The scanner images can be stitched. Some scanners have the hinge on the 12" side and others have the hinge on the 17". You can scan/stitch a larger painting with the hinge on the 12" side. These scanners are $1200-$2500 for the reasonable priced models. Some of the high end prepress integrators have much more expensive scanners. These scanners give you an image you can not produce with anything less than a 4x5 oil scanned at the highest resolution.

For the needs you expressed the Digital Rebel would fit your needs. If you want to start reproducing your paintings the scanner solution may be more appropriate.

Lex Jenkins , Sep 11, 2005; 04:10 a.m.

Any dSLR would suit your needs for web display and prints up to 8x10. The main consideration is the lens, not the sensor, brand of camera or cost of the camera. I'm a Nikonista but buy anything that suits your fancy and meets your needs.

But what you should buy depends on how you envision using the camera in the future. If you think you might branch out into wildlife, sports, wedding or portrait photography, you'll want to consider the entire camera system, not just one body and one lens.

What you need for now is one good flat field lens, one that has the least possible field curvature and edge distortion. Field curvature makes the image seem like it's bowing out toward you, like the middle of a keg. Barrel distortion makes the edges bow out. It doesn't necessarily affect field flatness (imagine a sheet of paper that's perfectly flat but with curved edges - same thing). A lens can have barrel distortion without field curvature, tho' I've never seen a lens suffering from field curvature that didn't also have a bad case of barrel distortion. But I tend to hang around with cheap lenses when I'm drunk. Pincushion distortion makes the edges bow in. You probably have controls on your computer monitor to adjust for the equivalent to barrel and pincushion distortion.

So, basically, what you want is a short macro lens. Macro lenses are designed to produce flat field results, besides being designed for close up photography. That's because lots of folks use macro lenses to photograph documents and, you betcha, paintings.

Short macro lenses in the 50mm-60mm range are very affordable. Nature buffs will tell you not to waste your money on shorties and go long, 100mm or longer. Wrongo, at least for your purpose. As you already know from working with your Mamiya, the longer the lens the farther back you need to get to fill the frame. How big is your studio? Unless it's way big you'll be better off with a shortie.

Also, most *affordable* dSLRs have sensors that are a fraction of the size of a "35mm" film frame (24x36). They're closer to APS film frame size, and are often referred to as 1.5x, 1.6x, etc., all in reference to the 35mm film paradigm.

So, with any currently available Nikon you'll have a 1.5x magnification factor for the nominal focal length. That means a 50mm lens translates to an angle of view equivalent to a 75mm lens when mounted on a full frame 35mm film camera. Clear as mud?

IOW, there's no additional magnification. It's what most cynics deride as the "crop factor". Some folks who use that term are merely being honest, tho'. Those are the folks I punch in the mouth after I've had a few too many. I can't stand oh-so-honest people when I'm really on a toot.

So, you can easily buy a good entry level dSLR and macro lens brand stinkin' new and still come in way under budget. Use the rest for lights unless you already have some. Continuous lights would probably be the easiest unless you're very experienced with using multiple flash setups. Lowel, Photoflex, Wescott and just about every light manufacturer offers continuous lights of various kinds - fluorescent and tungsten - and at widely varying prices.

After that you'll just need to get the hang of white balancing and ... well ... just about every other damned thing that goes with digital photography and editing.

Robin Sibson , Sep 11, 2005; 05:14 a.m.

My wife is a painter (oils) and I photograph her paintings for her. I used to do this with an EOS-1v, nowadays with a 20D, but still using my trusty 50/2.5 macro lens. I find it much easier to control colour matching with the all-digital set-up than with film and a scanner. Although all sort of adjustments can now be made in an application like Photoshop CS, it makes life much simpler if the need to do this can be minimised by using an appropriate set-up for taking the photographs in the first place. A very sharp, highly rectilinear and flat-field lens is accordingly the right starting point, and for large paintings even the 50mm focal length on the 20D is longer than ideal. Great care is needed to ensure that the geometry of the set-up is correct, but lighting is the trickiest area. To avoid catchlights it is best to photograph oils before varnishing. I use two 550EX flashes manually set to their widest setting and pointing at the centre of the painting so that the camera-painting-flash angle is in the range 30 to 45 degrees (same on each side, of course) and the flashes are far enough back that if the painting were a mirror, you could not see them in it from the camera. I find that this gives acceptably uniform and consistent lighting. If you need to photograph a varnished painting with heavy impasto, even this approach will generate a few catchlights. These can sometimes be fixed in Photoshop, but if not then bouncing the flash off umbrellas or white screens is the next thing to try. Unless you are running an art-photography production line, it is best to try to avoid reaching this position!

Hakon Soreide , Sep 11, 2005; 07:29 a.m.

As long as your intended output is for web publishing and personal records, almost any digital camera with the white balance set correctly and even lighting of the painting should be sufficient. Most of the paintings on my website are photographed using an old Nikon Coolpix 880. Now I've got an EOS 350D, though, which doesn't make a huge difference to web publishing apart from less lens distortion, and of course a bigger latitude from light to shade, which makes lighting easier.

For printing, however, the results from those cameras won't make very large reproductions before you start cringing at the results, since you actually know what the original looks like. Might look okay to others, of course, but for that, your best bet is still to use good old medium or large format film professionally scanned.

Hakon Soreide
Bergen, Norway

Mark U , Sep 11, 2005; 01:15 p.m.

Obviously with digital you will have more flexibility to play with colour balance than with film. However, if you truly need the resolution of 6x7, you won't match it with any DSLR (as opposed to MF back) currently available - let alone one within your budget. Second hand MF gear is quite cheap these days, and may offer you the best way back into photography. Bear in mind that you would probably find yourself having to spend quite a bit on "extras" (computer hardware/software, printing etc.) to get set up for the digital world. Digital only starts to offer a financial payback if you shoot large volumes - which I imagine is not the case for you.

Of course, there is an argument that for web use a 6MP DSLR would actually be more than adequate, and would be capable of giving good colour rendition.

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