Friday, January 30, 2009

Medium/Large Format Digital?

To be honest this is not my area of expertise. I followed the developments in MFD for a few years and have some very limited experience with MFD via demos by Calumet for my classes in Chicago and BetterLight Large Format scanning backs via a friend. Personally my decision to use a DSLR is largely a business vs. quality decision at this point. What can I afford to depreciate in a couple of years given the fact that I work in a small market in a declining economy, and which will give me the quality I need to satisfy my local and national clientele? The answer for me right now is a full frame 21mp DSLR (first a Canon 5D and now recently a 5DMII). The portability of a DSLR compare to a MF or LF digital camera is an issue too, because it translates to creativity and high production. Note! ALL my clients, including national magazines, design firms, international book publishers etc., have been happy with the my performance with a DSLR. Believe me, after almost 30 years of using a 4x5 view camera for architecture, no one is more surprised than me. But! I work very carefully, at each stage of the process trying to maximize file quality and mitigate the limitations of wide T/S lenses etc. Hence, I always work with a tripod, mirror lockup and cable release etc. much as I did with a view camera. It is about thoughtful and knowledgeable use of whatever technology to maximise image quality.

The new Sinar Archtec happens to be one of the few cameras designed by and for architectural photography.

I would love to test one but it is very unlikely that I will be purchasing one. See also Luminous Landscape. At around 40k+ with lenses and back (just a guess) compared to a 5DII at about 10K including lenses (and about 5K in upgrades every 2-3 years? In this market? With my clientele who are happy with my work on a DSLR? Not likely. I could really use a better 24 T/S and maybe the new canon is just what I need, but that is about it.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

5D to 5DMII. What Are The Improvements?

What are the improvements? See the official propaganda here:

For my architecture business. I used it on my first assignment yesterday...........

1) The highlight warning on the main preview is invaluable (It is not super accurate as it is based on a JPEG preview rather than the RAW data. It gets you in the ballpark though, setting the color space to SRGB seems to help some).
2) Highlight compensation is good for slightly blown out windows and MKII has better Dynamic Range in general (this setting does result in more shadow noise, which acn br moderated by running a noise reduction software in the shadow area like Noise Ninja).
3) The brighter viewing screen is MUCH easier to see in daylight.
4) The files are HUGE-no more uprezing for a double page spread (and the file degradation that accompanies uprezing-the best program that I found for that was Genuine Fractals).
5) I believe I am getting better gradation in the skies. This I believe is related to the new 14 processor? In any event the tonal transitions seem to be smoother.
6) The live view may be useful in tight spots where I can't get behind the camera to see through the eyepiece. With a handheld mirror I should be able to accurately focus with the live view. I haven't tried it yet.
***NOTE**** I used it today (2/16/09) in a tight spot where I could not get my eye up to the eye piece. Live view worked perfectly for both composing and focusing.
7) The Shooting function display is large and really helpful. At a glance without going to the eyepiece or scrolling through the INFO menu, I can see all my settings.

8) The dust reduction WORKS. Because of static electricity the winter months are the worst for dust. After three shoots and many outdoor lens changes, not a single piece of dust has appeared. This is a big time saver on the computer.
9) The noise is better.

This is one sweet camera, that is a really well designed tool for the working photographer.

On the downside there may be issues with the 5DMII and its poor weather sealing. Photographers working in environments like the Antarctic have reported failures. See: None of this has anything to do with how I shoot architecture and I have had no issues to date. For my purposes, I love the camera.

More to come as I think about it and process the files. A decent overview of the 5DMII can be found here:
and the best user overview is here: Luminous Landscape

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Assignment Notes: Is The Building Ready?

A good starting point for discussion from the American Society of Media Photographers/Architecture Group.

This guide seems intimidating and will seem intimidating to some clients and/or property owners. I try to be judicious about prep taking the comfort level of the client/owner into account, while trying to get the job done. Not all building owners care about the photography because they are not involved with the product and view the photographic process as a nuisance. Additionally my standards for clean windows or a clean site are oftentimes far beyond the perception of building maintenance or the construction superintendent. So a preliminary visit and walk through with the appropriate contact is crucial.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Why Perspective Correction Lenses?

This is fairly simple for a couple of reasons. I can't compose properly unless I can see something close to a final image in the field. If I don't use PC lenses I can't do this. Trying to compose a tight elegant composition when you have a drastically converging image is impossible for me. Also, it is important to utilize as much of the original file as possible. To get a first class product from these cameras is a stretch and you have to work very carefully to maximize resolution and sharpness etc. Perspective correction in Photoshop is first a form of cropping and second relies heavily on interpolation, both of which can compromise the quality of the final image and should be kept to a minimum.

The non T/S lens approach is a viable option for some people. As it stands now, the interpolation problems of radical perspective correction in PS (when working say with a prime 24) is about as messy as the full shift corner resolution softness of the Canon 24 T/S. BUT IMO (and really from my personal experience as an old 4x5 film convert to DSLR), working with primes and correcting perspective in PS means really you are shifting the composition phase of your creativity to the computer. I personally don't favor this approach. I like to see the image in the field, in the camera, where I can fine tune my composition and just do rather small corrections (like barrel distortion etc.) in PS. But as I said I made my living shooting architecture/interiors with a 4x5 view camera for 30+ years so I am used to making these decisions in the field. I simply cannot compose elegantly with a DSLR except in the field with T/S lenses.

Nikon vs. Canon, My Current Thoughts...

I get allot of emails similar to this from James:

"I noticed on the Luminous Landscape forum that you'd done some comparative testing between the Canon 24mm TS-E and the Nikon 24mm PC-E. I'm about to invest in a TS lens and currently use a 1DSmkII. I wondered if you think the Canon is still good enough for critical work with a FF hi-res sensor (I may be upgrading to a 5DII) or should I go down the Nikon route in some way? Is the Nikon significantly better, or is it nit picking?"

IMO from my limited testing I would say that the Nikon 24 T/S is slightly better than the Canon and allot more expensive (not so according to DigiLloyd). Now take into account that there is some variation in the Canons supposedly and maybe I have an exceptionally good one. These lenses are a huge stretch for designers and the fact that the Nikon is only a touch better suggests that even competing designers are up against a rock and a hard place. If you were buying all new and can afford it, I would say buy Nikon as every little bit of resolution helps. The current IQ leader is the Nikon DX3 ($8K see Luminous Landscape), but that may change again next year and Canon may surge ahead. If you already have Canon I would say stick with it. The differences are incremental and not all that great. The one exception may be weather sealing. There seems to little doubt that the Nikons perform better in cold, wet and salty conditions (Antarctica!). This matters to me not at all. When was the last time someone shot a building when it was raining? BTW, I just bought a 5DII, love it, and will be talking about that later. See: 5D vs. 5DII

I really like Michael Reichman's take on the high end Nikon vs. Canon vs. Sony issue in the Luminous Landscape Forum:
"Here's my considered opinion. The differences are mouse nuts. What are mouse nuts, you ask? Very, very very small, I reply.
Yes, there are differences in overall image quality between these three or four cameras. One will do better in very low light, another in high contrast situations. One will have wider dynamic range, and other a bit more resolution. But give me the raw files from each camera shot at the same time of the same subject and 9 times out of 10 I'll make 16X20" prints in a few minutes that will have you scratching your head over which is which. I've now done this little test so many times that people don't even come to the studio any more and pick up the challenge. They know that they'll end up buy the beer afterward almost every time."

NOTE: James has informed me that there are people working on adapters which will make it possible to use the Nikon 24 T/S on a Canon. This adaption has been a problem because it is a purely electronic connection unlike other Nikon lenses. Stay tuned see below.....

On another related note. If you are having issues with one of these wide T/S lenses, say with soft corners when using full rise. You may by confounding the problem by using too small an aperture and diffraction limits. Loss of resolution due to diffraction starts to set in after f11 and becomes very noticeable at f16.5 (more or less). Back off slightly on the full shifts and combine it with some minimal perspective correction in Photoshop, use the best apertures and you can get more professional results from your lenses. BUT Canon has announced new 17mm and 24mm T/S lenses! I can't wait to test these. See: New Canon T/S

Lens Selection

I have heard a plethora of complaints over the years from architects and magazines about photographers who overuse very wide angle lenses. The plain fact is that shooting an interior with a 20mm (FF DSLR) introduces so much distortion/exageration that the image will no longer resemble the space being photographed. Such an approach assumes that inclusion is more important than composition. Look at the work of AP masters such as Nick Merrick or Peter Aaron. They step back and use the longest lens they can in a space. Everyone uses super wide lenses sometimes, you have to, but the best use them rarely. I didn't own one for like the first ten years I was in business and did a ton of national magazine work with nothing wider than a 90mm or longer than a 210mm (speaking about lenses for my 4x5). For a very long time I only owned a 90, 120 and 210 for my 4x5. The only rule of thumb I ever heard was "you will use your 90mm lens 90% of the time", which I found to be true. That 90mm lens translates to a 28mm on full frame DSLR.

A friend, colleague and great photographer Merg Ross recently said on the LargeFormatForum:
I agree with Kirk. One of my first assignments as an architectural photographer was to re-photograph two houses that another photographer had done on 4x5 with a 65mm. The architect was dismayed by the distortion from the 65mm, and had every right to be. I re-photographed the houses with an f:8 90mm Super Angulon on 4x5. This was my bread and butter lens, followed by a 150mm and a 250mm for the long shots. I concluded after a short time, that it was best to use the longest lens for the space. The architects I worked for agreed, and they are not the easiest clients to please. From this initial re-shoot I did a dozen more jobs for the architect, some winning national awards.
So what lenses do I use these days? For the Canon full frame DSLR's I use Canon L 24mm, 45mm and 90mm T/S (Tilt/Shift); an Olympus 35mm PC (Perspective Correction with an adapter); Canon L 70-200 f4, 17-40 f4, and 135 f2. The 24 gets the most use by far. It is my 90% lens followed by the other T/S lenses. The 17-40 gets the least use. Too much wide angle diswtortion. I would rather do a simple 2 frame flat stitch with the 24 T/S when I need to go wider because a flat stitch doesn't distort nearly as much.

For my 4x5 I have a 47, 65, 90, 120, 150, 210, 305 and 450. The 90 gets the most use on 4x5 and the 65 when I put a 6x9 Calumet C2N rollfilm holder on it. For years I got away shooting only a 90 and a 210! That sounds absurd probably, but it is true, I only owned two lenses and shot regularly for Architecture Magazine, then I bought a 120, then a 65 etc. The point is that if you are shooting 4x5, 90% of your images will be shot with a 90mm lens (it is an old saying in arch photography). It is also important that you use relatively new coated color corrected lenses lenses and preferably from the same manufacturer and from the same general period. Otherwise the difference in coatings can give you slightly different color casts. If you were trying to deliver a matched set of transparencies of different angles of an interior this can be important for first rate work.

When Do MegaPixels Matter?

Simple, when the native resolution output of your camera is smaller than the application you need it for. The ideal? No uprezzing (if you have to I like Genuine Fractals). Uprezzing introduces artifacts and requires additional sharpening to get the file to appear sharp. All of which may be acceptable, I have done it for years, but not ideal. For example for magazines, I need 300 DPI for a given reproduction size. BUT in terms of submitting, when I do not know how they will be used, I need to submit for the largest possible usage which is a horizontal double page spread, approx. 10"x16". See the Su Casa cover example in the "Getting Published-Magazine Covers" post.
That is a typical magazine usage with some generous cropping to get the composition right for their purposes. That image was made with a 5D and the file was delivered with a 20% uprezz in Genuine Fractals (with a 21MP 5DII that would be unnecessary saving me some comuter time on all magazine shoots).

******in progress******

Monday, January 5, 2009

Is A Full frame DSLR Image Good Enough?

A couple of years ago when contemplating adding DSLR to my architectural photography quiver, I realized a profound fact. The fact........99% of all the 4x5's that I had shot for clients over the years had never been enlarged greater than 8x10! A 4x5 camera and film had become the industry standard because of the built in perspective control, but the large film size had, for the most part, far exceeded the usual quality needs of my clients! Sure occasionally I had done large prints for someone's office, but I estimated that to be about 1% of the images I had shot over the years for clients!! If a DSLR could make a decent 8x10, it could probably meet most of the needs of most of my clients. My initial tests with my first DSLR, a Canon 5D, taught me that my revelation was correct and I have never looked back. before investing in digital I had waited for a reasonably priced full frame DSLR body to come out. The Canon 5D was the first and it was superb.

Paraphrased from an online discussion:
a Canon 21MP file is fine but the digital process is soul-less......
I couldn't disagree more. Understand. I made my living pretty much exclusively with a 4x5 and film for almost 30 years. To me, making images is never soulless unless you have detached yourself from the process and that is about you-not the camera being used or the quality of the architecture. I used to make my AP photography students photograph a small building near the University of New Mexico that was pretty much a stucco box, because sometimes for clients your you have to photograph crappy architecture and make it look good. Some students balked at the project but once they got into it they made the most astonishing images in amazing light. Its all about your attitude-not the camera or the architecture. At 58 years old with 31 years in the business, I am having more fun now than ever. I also continue to use the 4X5 VC pretty much exclusively for my personal work and of course for the beloved HABS projects. I love the "shift" in workflow from what I do everyday.

As per the old Canon T/S lenses. (I will buy the new ones if tests confirm they are better in the corners less with less distortion etc., the rotating tilt is of very little use to me). I work very carefully, which is easy for me having learned my trade on VCs. So, I shopped for the best copies I could find, am careful in the field to not exceed their capabilities and work with the images very carefully in PS to correct the flaws. None of my high profile clients from New Mexico to Chicago, Boston or New York, including magazines or designers have ever complained about the image quality of my work from DSLRs.

What about crop sensor cameras (full frame is the same size as 35 film frame, a "crop" sensor camera has a smaller chip and hence a narrower field of view on a given lens). Now that the full frame sensor bodies are reasonably priced, in combination with T/S lenses, they are clearly the way to go for architecture and interiors. With crop sensors, and especially zoom wide angles, once you get the perspective straightened out (which involves cropping and interpolation), and the barrel distortion straightened out you have compromised allot of the original resolution of the image. I have students who work with crop sensor cameras and zoom lenses for architecture and the final result, though adequate for many purposes, is clearly inferior to a FF with T/S lenses.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

From 4x5 Film to DSLR

After working almost exclusively for nearly 30 years with a 4x5 for architectural photography, two years ago I switched primarily to a DSLR. Why? Well it was largely circumstances at first. My only local film lab was shutting down for Christmas holidays and I had a rush job to do. A couple of months earlier I had bought a Canon 5D and some lenses to start educating myself about digital capture, but I had no immediate plans for implementing a change to digital. Then the Christmas lab closure happened and it was either turn the job down or muddle through and figure out how to do it in digital. That first job was a comedy of errors. In many ways I had no idea what I was doing, but me and my erstwhile assistant, Jim Hunter, muddled through. Jim had jumped into digital earlier and had been encouraging me to switch, but I am slow to change when I have a system that works. We literally never looked back. The workflow advantages were evident from the start.

My friend Merg Ross, an experienced and talented AP himself, asked me this question recently in a forum:
Kirk, do you miss the days when a 90mm on a Calumet Wide was sufficient, or do you feel digital is giving your clients a better product? I think I know the answer, like all of us, former and present in your field, we strive to please the client and deliver accordingly. I have said this before, as a former commercial photographer I am relieved that I retired at about the time digital made an entrance. What little I comprehend about digital, I enjoy. For now, I will continue with what I understand best, silver.
To which I replied:
To me, as an object of sheer beauty, there is nothing like a glowing 4x5 transparency on a light table. It is far more satisfying and moving than a digital file on a computer screen. That is why I continue to shoot 4x5 film for my personal work. But film for a commercial work flow I do not miss. Digital is far more efficient and delivers a product that is exactly what my architecture and magazine clients currently need for their work flow. There was a time when I was the only architectural photographer still shooting film in my market. I was the old school guy and film was my badge of honor. I was the film martyr. Big deal. I wasn't giving my clients what they needed or I was spending half of my week scanning (very very very boring). But its a mute point here now. I couldn't go back to shooting film for commercial clients even if I wanted to. There are no film labs left in my city.

I see the advantages as:

1) I am more productive. I can do more quality images in a day largely because digital is more forgiving in mixed light situations without filtering or changing films (from daylight to tungsten say). Also, because we are working at larger apertures to get adequate depth of field, we need less fill lighting a definite time saver. Additionally, more productive means more images per day, a fact my clients love, which translates to more computer time which means higher fees.

2) Since all my magazine and designer clients only want files now, digital offers a smoother, quicker work flow that can all be done in house (compared to the additional steps of having film processed, then scanned which I did for about two years prior to switching).

3) On the financial side, fees are higher and cash flow is better because we no longer have to pay for processing and our "digital capture processing fees" cover all the computer time.

4) Lighter weight camera and lighting equipment translates to preserving more energy through long shooting days, which for me translates to clearer thinking, better problem solving, better humour and simply more creativity. I haven't had so much fun doing commercial work in 30 years. This is especially important given the fact that I am rapidly approaching my 60th birthday!

5) Being able to pull up an image in progress on the computer is simply cost effective and superior. Polaroids approximated what my film would look like. With digital I can look at the file on my laptop exactly how it will be delivered.

One of the great advantages to digital is the ability to explore uncertain light with no penalties like wasting film. When traveling on extended shoots, even with resources like quality overnight film shippers, one had to always be aware of film and Polaroid supplies and loaded holders and shoot accordingly. Sometimes at the end of a long day with film running short, we would tend to get conservative with film to make sure we got the scheduled shots finished. In the last couple of years of shooting film we went over to using roll film in our view camera on road trips because we could carry an almost endless supply and not have to load holders every night after a long shoot. With digital this is never an issue, even if cards fill up we can download them on the shoot. This is one of the reasons why I refer to digital as liberating. Liberating us to explore less than perfect light and as a result sometimes we come up with unexpected stunning images.

Is my 4x5 mothballed? Absolutely not. I still prefer 4x5 film for my personal and landscape work. AND there are still those HABS/HAER documentation jobs that absolutely have to be done on b&w film! Here is my current 4x5 camera, a superbly designed and lightweight Phillips 4x5.

Next Post........Is a DSLR image good enough?

*****in progress*****
Add to Technorati Favorites