Thursday, June 23, 2011

The high end equipment dilema......

IME There is a difference between "cutting corners" and making financially wise equipment purchases for your business. Can you get by with a small sensor entry level camera or do you really want to spring for a full frame DSLR and tilt/shift lenses. Cutting corners is putting short term profits over long term quality. The fact that your clients haven't complained about the images you are producing with an entry level camera doesn't mean much IMO. Its not where you are now but where do you want to go? Local realtors pay allot less than top architects for AP. Top architects are far more demanding in terms of vision and quality than local realtors. Where are you now vs. where do you want to be in 5 years? Getting by with acceptable quality or at the top of your field? If you want to be at the top of your field you want to begin producing images NOW that will impress the clients where you want to be in 5 years both in terms of vision and image quality. Your standards must exceed your clients. Then you don't have to worry about whether your images are "good enough".

And then what about a top of the line medium format camera like the Arca I mention in an earlier post? That Arca with a 45MP back and a couple of lenses can run.......what 50K? Is it overkill?


  1. Funny you bring this up. I'm an amateur in that I don't make my living with my camera but I'm starting to move toward doing some AP and I did a little math the other day. Including the cost of my Cambo 45N and lens, holders, etc. I would have to shoot 4689 sheets of 4x5 Provia (that's film and processing) to equal the cost of an Arca system similar to what you mention above. If I were to have every negative drum scanned it probably drops to closer to 3500 sheets but I would only have the best drum scanned, not all of them. Granted you don't have the instant feedback and the ability to experiment is more limited with sheet film due to lack of instant feedback, then again at that cost ratio I'm inclined to shoot one more sheet just in case. Also the cost is spread out over how ever many years it takes me to shoot all that film, whereas with the Arca system you are facing a large cash outlay. Even opting for a Canon 5D or 5D MKII and T/S lens is a much more significant outlay that a 4x5, 90mm lens, and accessories. It was the gold standard for years in AP and still does a wonderful job so it will produce the goods but it is a shame that equipment like the Arca isn't really available for the average enthusiast who strives for professional results in their work. The reduced learning curve and more portable gear are two huge advantages.

  2. Jim I was probably the last AP in my area to switch to digital from 4x5 and film. My camera was 50 years old and still performing fine! All my 4x5 equipment was long paid for and still very functional. Three things finally got me to switch. First we lost our only local lab. Second the scanning workflow was dreadfully long. I couldn't meet tight deadlines. A part of this was processing and scanning fees were going out the door to labs in digital this became "Capture and Processing fees" which stayed in my pocket. I was spending 30k a year on film, processing and scanning. Third was the development of a reasonably priced full frame DSLR-the 5D.

    I am far more profitable and productive with digital. And since there is no penalty for trying things in weird light, I tend to be more creative too.

  3. Kirk,

    How are you using the 5D and T/S lens? Is it mostly single images or are you doing a lot of stitching? How do you find the quality of the 5D output compared to the 4x5 scans?

    The cost of 5D MKI and 24 T/S MKI isn't horrible (it's a lot better than a digital MF solution) it's in the "doable range."

    I'll admit being an amateur has some advantages in that I don't have any deadlines other than those I impose on myself so the fact I have to mail away to a lab isn't a huge deal but when you are talking the $2.2K you can get the 5D MKI and 24 T/S MKI for on the used market it does level the cost field a bit. Using the numbers I mentioned before that equates to about 400 sheets of Provia bought and processed but doesn't allow for my time spent scanning or the cost if I decide to have someone else do it.

    Profit isn't a concern for me (although it would be nice to make all this gear recoup some if it's cost in some way) but productivity is an issue and digital does help with that, and as I mentioned before, even though I'm just doing this for me there isn't any reason why I can't strive for and achieve professional results.

    Take care,

  4. Jim, currently I'm using the 5D MII and the 24 L T/S II. A definite upgrade from the 5D and original 24 T/S (no complaints from clients though). If your concerned with quality the upgrade is definitely worth it. How do they compare with 4x5? They don't if you are drum scanning the 4x5. The newer 5DII combo is closer to a high quality 6x7 transparency. I do stitch allot for composition and quality reasons. BUT read the following.

    My cost benefit analysis I made before switching my commercial work to digital-4x5 was overkill and I had already switched the CW to 6x9. 98% of the prints I made for clients were 8x10. 4x5 was oeverkill. The 4x5 advantage was not apparent therefore for 98% of the wrok but far more expensive to produce than 6x9 film or digital.

    As I said recently I was spending 30K a year on film, scanning and Polaroid and couldn't turn around anything quick. It was a problem and financially unsound.

    For my personal B&W? I still prefer 4x5.

  5. Real estate photography. I won't touch that stuff with a ten foot pole because photography isn't my primary method of income so I can be choosy. When I met with my first serious client, a high-end interior designer who required interior work, I asked some questions to determine what the images were going to be used for. I determined that 4x5 resolution images would be overkill and decided to rent a 5D Mk II body and rent a 24mm tilt shift. I'd use the 5D classic I own as a backup and bring along some of the nice non-shift primes I have for "detail" work. It was cheaper to rent the 5D Mk II to get live-view than to buy a chimney viewer to get critical focusing ability.

    It seems commercial AP clients don't really require large prints like you said so even though I can develop and scan my own 4x5 film the clients wouldn't really notice the difference.

    If your clients (and my very few clients) don't desire the large image files what drives some AP photographers to hire assistants, use high-end medium format gear and such? What type of clients do they have that require that kind of work and how did they end up working with those kinds of clients? What types of marketing are the critically created images used for? That's what really intrigues me.

    I like your blog by the way. The insight to the AP industry you provide is useful and the links to shows & exhibitions are great.

  6. First off I ALWAYS use an assistant. It frees me up to be more creative and productive. Second I oftentimes am competing with and do work for the same high end clients as some of the top APs in major markets in this country. The ones I am referring to all use MF Technical cameras in the 60-80k range. I've never been asked what type of cameras I use nor have their ever been comments by clients when they see what I use. Results speak the loudest here.

    Part of it is final product. With a DSLR I can move fast-chasing changing light, clouds etc. and deliver allot of fine images that easily meet their needs. Others deliver a handful of absolutely perfect images that can be blown up to 4x6 feet. oOtentimes we work for the same clients. It is a bit of a mystery to me actually.


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