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Author Topic: Alain Briot's latest essay  (Read 27009 times)
Ray
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« on: February 08, 2006, 11:09:47 PM »
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This is a topic which greatly interests me. Anyone who's visited an art gallery can't help noticing that paintings come in all sizes. The smallest, when taking frame into consideration, is about the same size as the satandard photographic 8x10" print. As Alain says, an intimate, precious hand-holdable item.

The largest, especially if in the impressionistic style, seem designed for rich peoples' homes. Close up they look like cr*p. Nobody in their (his/her) right mind would buy such a painting to to be appreciated on the wall of the average suburban home.

Photographs, in my opinion, have for far too long been relegated to the small. 'precious' size. Let's branch out and produce some 'decent sized', 'appropritately sized', 'satisfyingly large' prints.

Here's an example of  a recent shot I took in Cambodia that cries out to be writ large. (Now where is that shot? Was it in the folder, 'last 2 days at Siem Reap'?, or ' Angkor Wat digital blending"? Okay! Got it!  

[attachment=221:attachment]

The print of this image at 23x35" looks just great. I'm very impressed. It's definitely going to hang on my wall, and I don't care if I'm the only person in the world who thinks it's great   .
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Ronny Nilsen
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« Reply #1 on: February 09, 2006, 01:15:21 AM »
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Nice photo! I belive this taken at the same location as som of the shots in this article?

Portfolio: Christian Houge

I rembered the article from a photo magazine (norwegian) when I saw your photo.
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Ray
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« Reply #2 on: February 09, 2006, 03:21:47 AM »
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Yep! Same place! A photographer's paradise if you can contend with the high humidity and poor services (offset of course by the low cost of everything).
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Ben Rubinstein
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« Reply #3 on: February 09, 2006, 10:03:54 AM »
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A very important aspect which I think should have been mentioned along side shooting for size is also shooting for crop. I believe that it is just as important.
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alainbriot
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« Reply #4 on: February 09, 2006, 11:39:11 AM »
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A very important aspect which I think should have been mentioned along side shooting for size is also shooting for crop.
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Can you expand on this concept?

Alain
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Alain Briot
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John Camp
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« Reply #5 on: February 09, 2006, 12:20:55 PM »
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Size has always been more of a problem for photos than for paintings, because photos are "of something" and paintings aren't. When we're dealing with "something," most of us want to be able to see it clearly and to understand what it is. With older equipment, photos started to break up after a certain amount of enlargement -- if you can look at it comfortably at 12 feet, it looks fuzzy at four feet.

With paintings, the problem's not the same. Last summer I was at the National Gallery in Washington, and the long hall leading to the American wing was dominated by Whistler's White Girl, a 7' tall painting that looks as good at 100 feet as it does as six, and vice-versa. Paintings don't have to worry about resolution...

IMHO one of the problems in comparing photographs with painting is that photography is a different art form; it is to painting what sculpture is to the polka -- not better or worse, but distinctly different.
 
All that said, Alain is absolutely right in his article; size is critical to photographs, and digital techniques like uprezzing, combined with high-density sensors and long-lasting pigmented inks, give us a lot more options than we had not even ten years ago.

JC
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alainbriot
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« Reply #6 on: February 09, 2006, 12:34:22 PM »
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Size has always been more of a problem for photos than for paintings, because photos are "of something" and paintings aren't. When we're dealing with "something," most of us want to be able to see it clearly and to understand what it is. With older equipment, photos started to break up after a certain amount of enlargement -- if you can look at it comfortably at 12 feet, it looks fuzzy at four feet.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=57808\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

As they say "I concur" (with the side remark that I do believe paintings are "of something."  They are simply "of something" seen differently than a photograph is seen, but "of something" nevertheless).

I think that the approach to print photographs in a limited number of sizes comes from contact printing, which was the only way to print images in the early days of photography (that and the direct creation of the image in the camera, which doesn't let the photographer enlarge the image either).  This approach restricted print sizes to a few formats which were those of the cameras used at the time.

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Paintings don't have to worry about resolution...
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=57808\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

This is one of the central points of my Art & Science essay.  Things are starting to come together.

Alain
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Alain Briot
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« Reply #7 on: February 09, 2006, 04:32:08 PM »
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i guess in a certain way, painting's can be considered to have 'resolution'... but it contributes in different way's to the final image (an image by Monet has a lower 'resolution' than one by Wyeth). From a view's perspective, the lack of resolution is more 'acceptable' than most photographs. There's an aesthetic to the actual layering and texture of the paint from a close distance. This can  be, but rarely is the case with photographs

When talking about a painting you seldom hear the discussion of 'proper viewing distance'. In order to allow for a decrease in viewing quality, we (mostly photographers) bring up this as an excuse. (yes.. my 3Mp/APS image looks *great* blown up to 40x50"... you have to view it from it's proper viewing distance though.)  When in a museum, you see a painting from across the room, and then you walk up and look at it as close as the guards will allow you to.


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As they say "I concur" (with the side remark that I do believe paintings are "of something."  They are simply "of something" seen differently than a photograph is seen, but "of something" nevertheless).

I think that the approach to print photographs in a limited number of sizes comes from contact printing, which was the only way to print images in the early days of photography (that and the direct creation of the image in the camera, which doesn't let the photographer enlarge the image either).  This approach restricted print sizes to a few formats which were those of the cameras used at the time.
This is one of the central points of my Art & Science essay.  Things are starting to come together.

Alain
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« Reply #8 on: February 09, 2006, 04:47:27 PM »
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When talking about a painting you seldom hear the discussion of 'proper viewing distance . . .When in a museum, you see a painting from across the room, and then you walk up and look at it as close as the guards will allow you to.
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I do not concur with this statement. I think you assume that all paintings are large and are made to be seen from a distance. While some certainly are, many are not.   Have you tried to view a miniature from accross a museum hall?  Even the Mona Lisa, which is neither a miniature nor a large painting, has to be seen from relatively near.  And again, paintings are only one of many forms of 2 dimentional visual arts.  Among other medium we find engravings, drawings and lithographs, all of which have been, and are still, being used by painters when the need for reproduction, and for smaller sizes, sufaces.

One of the things we studied at the Beaux Arts, was the concept of viewing distance (regarding paintings since this is the medium we worked on) and the importance of sizing a painting in the context of the location where it is going to be displayed.  

Another frequent eroneous assumption is that paintings are created to be hung in museums.  They are not.  Paintings end up in museums because museums work very hard to build their collections.  However, very few paintings were, or are, actually either created for a museum or originally acquired by a museum.  For example, most of the paintings in the Louvre were originally displayed in other locations, either private residences or public buildings (a few were originally displayed in the Louvre).  The Louvre itself was originally a Royal residence which later became a museum.  The paintings in the Louvre were, for the most part, sized to be displayed in specific locations other than the Louvre.

Alain
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Alain Briot
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« Reply #9 on: February 09, 2006, 05:11:31 PM »
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A piece of art should bear examination at a close distance. If a photograph does not bear satisfactory examination at a close distance then it is too big.

I personally don't think a serious photographic print should ever be bigger than it's inherent resolution and subject matter will allow.

Paintings have no resolution, there are what they are. Some may show more or less detail but that is part of the art, not a weakness of techique.

This size issue also raised an interesting question related to Editions.

In the painting world, an Edition is generally a number of reproductions of a original work and all will be the same size, usually the same size as the original but not always. A subsequent but different sized reproduction would be a different Edition.

In the photographic world, an Edition is usually a specific number of prints off an original negative, trannie or file. The sizes can be different from print to print as long as there are no more than a specified number of prints.

This clashes with the art/painting world and I wonder whether this is yet another reason that photography is struggling to be taken seriously as an art form.
« Last Edit: February 09, 2006, 05:13:20 PM by Nick Rains » Logged

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« Reply #10 on: February 09, 2006, 05:25:03 PM »
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Alain,

Interesting essay indeed. Stressing the fact that print size is an important variable in photography definitely has value.

There is however one aspect of this discussion that you didn't really cover in your article though, and which might become important in the coming years.

This aspect is differentiation. Large print, and the ability to make a large print for an image, have long been used as a differentiator by some photographers. Rather than being a pure artistic decision, the decision to print large was aimed at producing art work that others couldn't produce, and at addressing a more profitable market segment.

Until now, the decision to differentiate oneself meant shooting Large format. The ability to shoot LF was mostly a matter of choice requiring knowledge, shooting skills, logistics, and a certain level of physical ability (LF gear is heavy). There wasn't that much economics related to the use of LF. It was for sure more expensive than shooting smaller formats, but the gap wasn't that huge in absolute terms.

I personnally feel that print size is one aspect of the quality of an image, but that it isn't the most important element in deciding whether an image is good or not.

Isn't this currently changing?

The very release of your essay at this point of time makes me think that it is changing.

My take is that it is changing because of digital high end devices mostly.

Medium format digital backs have reached a level that is close to 4*5 quality, and the curve is such that it will have overtaken within 3 years or so.

The "decision" to shoot for the largest prints, or to print largest, will then stop to become a choice that any photographer can reasonnably make, it will become an option only for those that can afford it. In other words, economics will become a central part of high end fine art prints. That is, if print size becomes an over-rated factor in considering the value of a photograph.

An this is finally the point I was trying to make. Over-emphasizing the importance of print size will in the end make the ability to invest a lot of money in gear a key aspect of fine art printing, up to levels way higher than it currently was.

I am not sure that this will contribute to making photography more respected as an art form, and therefore think that we shouldn't go there as a collective force.

One could argue that the overall increase of quality of digital gear does contribute to the democratization of large print sizes, but this would be missing the point I am trying to make. I am not just speaking of large print sizes, but about the "largEST" print size technically achievable by reasonnable means. High end digital will be making this a moving target.

Regards,
Bernard
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« Reply #11 on: February 09, 2006, 05:55:41 PM »
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Alain,
There is however one aspect of this discussion that you didn't really cover in your article though, and which might become important in the coming years.

This aspect is differentiation. Large print, and the ability to make a large print for an image, have long been used as a differentiator by some photographers. Rather than being a pure artistic decision, the decision to print large was aimed at producing art work that others couldn't produce, and at addressing a more profitable market segment.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=57835\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

You are correct, large print sizes have been used for years by "certain" photographers to impress or make the point that their work was superior.  The point I make in my essay, although I do not directly mention these "certain" photographers, is that this is superficial and that print size needs to be decided based on what one wants to express in each specific image, in short, that print size needs to be decided based on the content of the image.

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The "decision" to shoot for the largest prints, or to print largest, will then stop to become a choice that any photographer can reasonnably make, it will become an option only for those that can afford it. [a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=57835\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]
I don't see anything new here.  This has always been the case. We forget that 4x5 gear was expensive, even though it today sems much more affordable in comparison to 30k MFDB.  Equipment required to make the largest prints, was, is, and most likely will continue to be expensive.  This is true not only of cameras but of printers, paper, mounting presses, frames, display space when rented, etc.  All the costs involved in the production and display of a photograph are multiplied proportionally to the increase in print size.

But my point is not that one must make big prints.  My point is that one needs to consider print size in relationship to subject matter.  Certainly, if you create work that calls for very large print sizes, and all you have is a 3mp camera, you are in trouble and you will need to invest in the appropriate equipment.  But, not everyone is in this situation.  Thus, what I am saying is nothing else than the necessity to match the tools to the goal.  What is of primary importance is therefore defining this goal.  Once this goal is defined, one may realize that the equipment needed is more expensive than they thought, or one may realize that this equipment is far less expensive than they thought.  

The very good news is that if your subject matter does not call for large print sizes, you may be spending much more money than you have to.

Alain
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Alain Briot
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« Reply #12 on: February 09, 2006, 06:08:24 PM »
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Thus, what I am saying is nothing else than the necessity to match the tools to the goal.  What is of primary importance is therefore defining this goal.  Once this goal is defined, one may realize that the equipment needed is more expensive than they thought, or one may realize that this equipment is far less expensive than they thought.  Alain
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=57839\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

This is a critical comment and is something that many photographers miss.

1. Commercial photographers usually know their goal - the client will have told them the end use. They therefore use appropriate gear.

2. Fine Art photographers often shoot with no clear plan beyond the subject and the image itself. The goal that Alain mentions is often lacking in that thought process, and I must include myself here.

Define your goals and use the appropriate equipent to achieve that goal - good advice which I for one will take.
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« Reply #13 on: February 09, 2006, 07:29:52 PM »
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I don't see anything new here.  This has always been the case. We forget that 4x5 gear was expensive, even though it today sems much more affordable in comparison to 30k MFDB.  Equipment required to make the largest prints, was, is, and most likely will continue to be expensive.  This is true not only of cameras but of printers, paper, mounting presses, frames, display space when rented, etc.  All the costs involved in the production and display of a photograph are multiplied proportionally to the increase in print size.
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On this, the scale introduced by MFBD is completely different isn't it? And I am not just speaking about the need to re-invest the same amount every 3 years to stay on top.

The absolute gap in price between a new top level LF kit with 5 lenses, and a top 35 mm film setting with 5 lenses, has remained basically the same. Speaking about new equipment, it is around 2000 to 4000 US$. If anything, 35 mm film gear has dropped in price more than LF actually, just compare a F6 with a F5.

The gap is even smaller if you speak about average gear.

Add scanning to the equation, and LF does indeed become more expensive than 35 mm or 220, but then again, the gap is in the several thousand US$ range.

Anyway you look at it, a trend towards larger print sizes becoming the norm in high end fine art landscape will result in only those selling large amount of images being able to get the gear. And I am not sure that the overall quality in this segment (speaking about the value of images) will progress thanks to this.

Photography would end up being another area of human activity where the law of increasing returns plays heavily, the richer you are, the richer you become. I would prefer it to stay "the more talented you are, the richer you become".

We pros or amateurs in the landscape community do IMHO have the power to go, or not to go, that way, and it is happening now.

Cheers,
Bernard
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Ray
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« Reply #14 on: February 09, 2006, 07:45:22 PM »
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One of the things we studied at the Beaux Arts, was the concept of viewing distance (regarding paintings since this is the medium we worked on) and the importance of sizing a painting in the context of the location where it is going to be displayed. 

Another frequent eroneous assumption is that paintings are created to be hung in museums.  They are not.  Paintings end up in museums because museums work very hard to build their collections. [a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=57829\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]


This is very apparent to me when I visit an art gallery. Some impressionist paintings appear to consist of such a crude technique, the 'impression' the painter is trying to convey can only be fully appreciated from a great distance' a distance which is sometimes greater than the width of the average suburban living room. As one approaches such paintings close-up, the brush strokes or daubs of paint begin to dominate and conflict with the over all impression.

I have had the experience of walking into a gallery of very large photos, not realising they were photos. A 4ftx6ft blow-up of 35mm film can look like a painting from a distance of 10 metres or more (depending on the subject matter and one's eyesight of course). At a certain closer distance it becomes clear the picture is a photograph and from really close up it becomes clear the photo is a blow-up from 35mm rather than MF or 4x5.

I don't really see why we should be so obsessed with ascribing size limitations to certain camera formats, for example, that the 1Ds2 is only good for prints up to 20x30". If the camera has sufficient resolution to capture the salient details of a composition, then surely the print can be as big as it needs to be for the viewing environment. The fact that details that are not salient to the composition, such as the fine texture of a concrete wall, or the vein structure in a leaf, are not visible from close up, matters not.

If I can get a little disturbed by crude daubs of paint when viewing an impressionistic painting from closer than is was designed to be viewed, then I see nothing wrong with, at most an experience of slight disappointment, viewing a large photo from close up to discover that the fine texture of the concrete wall is not resolved down to the individual grains of sand.
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« Reply #15 on: February 09, 2006, 07:53:29 PM »
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I tend to think that there is a good size for flat art, like paintings, prints, photographs, etc. You can't say what it is, exactly, except that it should be appropriate for its setting. It shouldn't be too crowded, nor should it look like a fly on the wall. People shouldn't have to put their nose against it to see it, either. So the appropriate size is different for different articles, in different spaces. Small is fine, for the right space. (I have a four-inch square engraving hanging next to a toilet; it's just fine there.)

The problem with photography was that it couldn't be too large and still maintain acceptable resolution. It was sort of arbitrarily small. That's why people were so awed (I believe) by the giant Polaroid prints that were fashionable for a while -- they were so close to perfect that you could see things about faces, for example, that you couldn't see in real life, with the naked eye, or would be embarrassed to look at.

There were ways around the problem, but they were very expensive and not very practical -- using 8x10 or larger negs, with an enlarger the size of an automobile. And what if you wanted to shoot a basketball game...? I believe only a few of the over-sized Polaroid cameras were ever made, for example, and they were sort of shipped from one fine-art photographer to the next, or were set up in one space by Polaroid and then the photographer was invited to come to the camera...

We may now be breaking free of that that problem. Once we get to four-foot prints of acceptable resolution, done with affordable equipment, I think photography will begin to challenge painting for high-end wall space. And people who complain about the cost should realize that high end photography was never cheap. I suspect a professional Hassy kit (body, backs, Polaroid back, a half-dozen lenses) would have pretty much taken all of a typical American family's annual income in 1960. A P22 & a decent Hassy kit would cost just about a typical American family's income in 2006. (But I really haven't looked it up.)


JC
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« Reply #16 on: February 09, 2006, 08:57:01 PM »
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I suspect a professional Hassy kit (body, backs, Polaroid back, a half-dozen lenses) would have pretty much taken all of a typical American family's annual income in 1960. A P22 & a decent Hassy kit would cost just about a typical American family's income in 2006. (But I really haven't looked it up.)
JC
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There's a statement that says that "expenses will always rise to meet income."  I think your example is a perfect demonstration of the accuracy of this statement.

Alain
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Alain Briot
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« Reply #17 on: February 09, 2006, 09:21:47 PM »
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And people who complain about the cost should realize that high end photography was never cheap. I suspect a professional Hassy kit (body, backs, Polaroid back, a half-dozen lenses) would have pretty much taken all of a typical American family's annual income in 1960. A P22 & a decent Hassy kit would cost just about a typical American family's income in 2006. (But I really haven't looked it up.)
JC
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There were also times when nobody could afford a TV, and I am sure that we all agree that going back to those days is not a good idea.

I see the current huge surge in price of high end gear as something similar.

There are a few people who are interested in preventing competition that will benefit from this, but most of us won't.

Regards,
Bernard
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« Reply #18 on: February 09, 2006, 09:45:05 PM »
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There were also times when nobody could afford a TV, and I am sure that we all agree that going back to those days is not a good idea.

I see the current huge surge in price of high end gear as something similar.

There are a few people who are interested in preventing competition that will benefit from this, but most of us won't.

Regards,
Bernard
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In my view this situation is temporary, at least as far as the cost of MFDB is concerned.  The drop in prices are just as dramatic as the surge in prices. The P25 is currently priced around 12K, unless I am mistaken.  It was originally 30k.  That's a drop of 18k just after the introduction of a higher-resolution model.  

I agree that the cost of these backs is extremely high.  I don't have one myself for several reasons, the initial cost and the quick depreciation being some of them.

ALain
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« Reply #19 on: February 09, 2006, 10:40:21 PM »
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From someone who has the deepest respect for your knowledge, involvement and understanding of art...

Does the size of a painting or of a photopgraph has anything to do with the emotion it will give me or with it's intrinsic value? If I had the opportunity (the chance) of owing a truly meaningful piece of art, no matter it's size, would not it be my responsibility to place it in it's proper surrounding? Any technique has it's own limitations, but art should not, in my humble opinion, bother with them. Small or large, technically perfect or not, speak to my soul.

Mimi
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