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Author Topic: What is the best way into MF digital?  (Read 5262 times)
Graham Welland
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« on: August 29, 2004, 02:39:44 PM »
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[font color=\'#000000\']Edward,

If you can find a cheap route into MF digital then I, for one, would be very interested in knowing what it is!! Seriously though, I guess it depends on what you are looking to achieve from MF digital.

Cheapest new: Mamiya 645AFD & Leaf 6mp - $6999
Other: pre-owned back & camera platform - eBay is active with backs and kits at the moment, e.g. last week alone there was a Hassy 555ELD & Kodak Pro Back go for $7600, I bought a 2nd Kodak 645M for $5100, Robert White in the UK have an ex-demo (basically new) 645M for $7000 or so, and I've also seen Phase One H10's & Leaf backs available too.

This was my personal journey:

I wanted the fabulous colour capabilities of (what was then) a high MP platform that I could use with great glass, a rugged and usable camera and something that wouldn't cause me to re=mortgage the house. Being a big chap I prefer the form and function of MF vs 35mm - I guess it's a personal thing. I went with a Kodak 645M and Mamiya 645AFD setup and saved a little by getting ex-demo rather than new. Since then of course Kodak have dropped out of the back market so that was bit of a dead end as far as future-proofing the back is concerned. However, to be honest with you I don't see this as a problem as I'm delighted with the quality of the results compared to anything I've used before (D1, D1X, Leica D2, Sony F828, Minolta A2, and FILM!!! etc.) and the 4k square image format suits me perfectly - I just wish Mamiya would deliver on their promised super-wide but that's a different issue ...

With hindsight I might have gone for a Kodak Pro Back Plus instead of the dedicated 645M as this would provide more flexibility as far as LF, MF and specialist cameras & lenses are concerned.

This raises the issue as to whether you select a platform and then explore the digital solutions that work with it or whether you decide on a digital back platform and look at the camera systems that support that back.

I think the cheapest way right now is to either buy something like the Leaf/Mamiya 6MP package which runs $6999 I believe new, or alternatively run the gauntlet of eBay or dealers and pick up a pre-owned back such as a Kodak, Leaf, Phase One, Imacon etc, and the appropriate camera platform. In terms of platform you are looking at Hasselblad, Contax, Mamiya, and then depending on the back you are either limited to contemporary models such as H1, 645AFD or you are looking at things like 555ELD, RZ, 645 Pro, 5xx series and so on.

In summary, I'd find a camera platform that you are prepared to invest in and then find the appropriate digital back to suit it. So long as the camera platform looks like it is going to be around for a while and isn't going to end up being discontinued you should be relatively safe. I thought the same about Kodak, but hey, who knew?

A word of warning: In my experience owning a digital back is comparable to owning an exotic car - i.e. make sure that you have the funds to maintain and fix it if necessary. I had a slight intermittent problem that occurred out of warranty (don't they always?) and you wouldn't believe how much spare parts for these things cost!! (It worked out cheaper to live with the problem and just get another pre-owned back instead). The other thing, although I mentioned eBay as a source for well maintained equipment if you don't want to go retail, it is a nasty shark infested place with no end of scammers, fraudsters and irritating people who can drive you to distraction. Once they sense that there are expensive items for sale and the opportunity to try to grab large $$$ in a fraud, you'll be inundated with quite laughable attempts to scam you. Be careful. I think I could write a book on eBay fraud attempt identification now.

Alternatively, crack open the piggy bank and spend $25k+ on an Imacon/H1 deal, Phase One P20/P25 etc ... too much for me.

Hope this helps ...[/font]
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Graham
Graham Welland
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« Reply #1 on: August 30, 2004, 06:30:37 AM »
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Unfortuneately the cheap path is fraught with danger. It ain't cheap either. You could end up wasting several thousand dollars.

I think you just summed up digital photography in general, MF or otherwise!! Personally I don't consider the current state of the art (until next week/month/PMA) DSLR cheap either. Kodak did at least provide an upgrade path with their DSLR platform but this is the exception rather than the norm.

In my case, being cheap, I bought into the MF digital platform for less money than an equivalent 1Ds setup would have cost. Now I did just buy a 2nd back which kind of skewed the economics a little because I wanted a spare.
 
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Why drop gazillions on an MF back when a 1Ds does most things quite well?

This kind of answers it's own question - doing 'most things quite well' isn't good enough for someone interested in the very top end digital solutions. I'm not in that league but I can see how it would be easy to justify the extra money on a state of the art solution such as the current crop of $30k backs. Too rich for me though but if your business can justify & expense it ...

What I would say though is that I find it easy to actually see the qualitative differences between even my 645M (arguably the runt of the MF back litter :: ) and certainly all of my Nikon D1x stuff at 6/10mp taken with either the best film generation lenses or newer DX glass. I don't shoot canon so I can't vouch for the 1Ds comparison. There's a definite 3D quality about the MF images straight out of the camera that is similar in character to the high contrast Zeiss/Leica glass with film. For me, the MF digital images just 'pop'. I am just blown away with the quality. Not exactly very scientific I know but that's what I see.

Your mileage might vary ...[/font]
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Graham
gtal
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« Reply #2 on: August 30, 2004, 08:29:48 AM »
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[font color=\'#000000\']Your question is pretty generic so I'll take some liberties here. You ask about MF in general. If you go the film+scanner route you'll be paying a fraction of the costs specified above. A good scan from a 6x7 chrome/neg is probably the least expensive way to achieve very high quality results that will easily compete (and often surpass) results from 645 backs. With some creative sourcing you may be able to get a great setup, including 6x7 camera, a lens or two, and a good scanner for less than $1,500. You'll be giving up some of the conveniences of the latest toys but your images will look every bit as good as those from the very highest end digital backs.

For a fraction of what you saved, pay for a trip to some exotic location and get some great images (that is what it's really about, isn't it?). Unless you're in the "keeping up with the Jones's" game, why throw away money to gain some marginal convenience?

As for digital MF backs being the "very top end" - you obviously haven't seen results from a BetterLight scanning back for 4x5. If your subjects are mostly static and allow you to work with a tethered laptop (as in studio work or landscape photography that doesn't require a lot of hiking) - these will give you more image and color detail than any 645 back for less than the cost of a 1Ds.

What I'm trying to say is - if your primary concern is producing great images - there are much less expensive ways to go than high-end digital capture, without compromising quality (there are even less expensive ways to go with *better* quality). It's just a matter of priorities.

Guy[/font]
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Scenic Wild Photography
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« Reply #3 on: August 30, 2004, 09:58:23 AM »
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[font color=\'#000000\']The new Epson models (4870, 3200) produce decent results, though much would depend on the image (lower contrast images that do not push the dynamic range limits will yield better results). Higher end models like the Microtek 1800F will produce better results albeit at a lower resolution.
For my MF/LF work I decided to go with a used Polaroid Sprintscan 45 Ultra that I use for 6x7 and 4x5. It is a dedicated film scanner (no glass/flatbed) and produces superb results. This scanner originally sold for over $7,000 but can sometimes be found for very attractive prices since it was discontinued (I paid $750 for mine).
Epson is rumored to come out with an inexpensive 3200dpi dedicated MF/LF scanner (not a flatbed) in the near future. I've seen some pictures of it on a Japanese web site (maybe someone has the URL here) and it looks very promising.

Guy[/font]
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Scenic Wild Photography
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Sfleming
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« Reply #4 on: August 30, 2004, 01:29:14 PM »
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[font color=\'#000000\']*** At the risk of opening a can of wor(m)s, I have to agree with gwelland.

You would.  The man more responsible for helping me to spend  more money than any other breathing. (there was a woman once but we won't go there)

I HAVE taken your advice though and am happily shooting and learning with what I have. I am content.

I believe you regarding the  MF digital back.  I  just hope things  work out  to bring  the price  down.  Hopefully in such a way that I don't have to buy some other body and lenses.

(I notice  you  picked  up that  kid's body and battery pack.  I got his 120mm and paid him  right  away.  He  still hasn't contacted me yet. Trying not  to be nervous.)[/font]
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Sfleming
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« Reply #5 on: August 30, 2004, 07:52:46 PM »
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[font color=\'#000000\']He replied to me right away. I'll let you know how it works out. Seems to have a good track record. The price certainly was right for a backup body, and I also bought his metering prism for $250, which was a hell of a price.

Michael[/font]
[font color=\'#000000\']Thanks. At least I now know he exists.  I'll email him again. I thought about the metered prism but I'm single minded on lenses right now.  (wanna sell a 210mm?)[/font]
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« Reply #6 on: August 31, 2004, 07:45:20 AM »
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[font color=\'#000000\']I noticed a Kodak Pro Back in Contax mount just yesterday on e-bay. I can't vouch for the seller or the back, but one doesn't see them often.

I wouldn't bid much above $7,000 though. This is the price that one sees them for these days.

If you're look for a good deal on a new Contax 645 system visit my friend Brian at Harrysproshop. I've know him for years and have bought all of my Contax gear through him. Tell him I sent you and maybe he'll buy me a coffee next time I see him.

Michael[/font]
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Sfleming
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« Reply #7 on: August 31, 2004, 08:50:09 AM »
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[font color=\'#000000\']Nobody picked up on my post about Contax America (sniff) but I wonder about  contax rebates these days.  I have  not received mine yet  from a B&H purchase  of two  months ago.  I'm told that Contax America is non existant at this time.  

Don't know whats what  in Canada.[/font]
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« Reply #8 on: August 31, 2004, 09:01:57 AM »
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[font color=\'#000000\']Contax U.S. has always been a brain dead marketing organization. I met their management at a couple of trade shows and a worse bunch of bozos I've never seen.

Contax itself is alive and well. I expect they'll reorganize their U.S. operation before too long.

Michael[/font]
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Graham Welland
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« Reply #9 on: August 31, 2004, 10:20:10 AM »
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I noticed a Kodak Pro Back in Contax mount just yesterday on e-bay. I can't vouch for the seller or the back, but one doesn't see them often.

I wouldn't bid much above $7,000 though. This is the price that one sees them for these days.

If you're look for a good deal on a new Contax 645 system visit my friend Brian at Harrysproshop. I've know him for years and have bought all of my Contax gear through him. Tell him I sent you and maybe he'll buy me a coffee next time I see him.

Michael
A 645C went for $4900 in Germany this week - not too convenient I know but an interesting price point nevertheless. Real seller too.

For the Contax you might also try Adolph Gasser in San Francisco. They are/were selling what looks like a reasonable deal on ex-demo Contax http://snipurl.com/8rtr - well established company and this seemed like a reasonable deal. No takers in two listings so maybe they'd deal.

Hope this helps.[/font]
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Graham
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« Reply #10 on: August 31, 2004, 07:36:08 PM »
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[font color=\'#000000\']hcubell, Yup, that'll be a good reason ... can't fault that logic! [/font]
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Graham
Edward
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« Reply #11 on: August 29, 2004, 08:46:00 AM »
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[font color=\'#000000\']What is the cheapest way into MF digital that has a long term growth path?[/font]
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Sfleming
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« Reply #12 on: August 29, 2004, 09:37:52 PM »
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[font color=\'#000000\']Unfortuneately the  cheap path  is fraught with danger.  It ain't cheap either.  You could end up wasting several thousand dollars.

I got the  camera.  it shoots  film if digital never pans out.  But  I'm just waiting.  It  may be a long wait.  It may be never.  Why drop gazillions on an MF back when a 1Ds does  most things  quite well?[/font]
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« Reply #13 on: August 30, 2004, 07:29:19 AM »
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[font color=\'#000000\']At the risk of opening a can of works, I have to agree with gwelland.

I'm in the fortunate position of owning both a Canon 1Ds and a Contax 645 with 16MP Kodak Pro Back. Though one can argue that a crop from the 645 back is essentially equivalent to a full frame from the Canon, and that they have essentially the same pixel count after the crop as well as pixel size, there's a significant difference in overall image quality.

I had a gallery show a few months ago which consisted of prints made from 6X7 scanned film (Pentax 67), Canon 1Ds images, and Contax/Kodak images. Many photographers came to the show, and knowing this asked me which was which.

My response was, "Walk around for a while and then come back. You tell me!"

Almost universally they could and they did, some of them shaking their heads in surprise. The medium format images simply had a level of micro-detail and micro-contrast that made them stand-out. I can't measure it, but I sure can see it.

For the type of landscape work that I do, there's no contest. Of course for wildlife shooting, and when very long lenses, very wide lenses, image stabilization and some of the other things that 35mm gear excels at are needed I use the 1Ds.

And, once again for the sake of those that bemoan the rapid changing landscape of digital, I have to add -- so what? Buy the best that you can afford and need now, and then just start working, and ignore the evolving technology. Just because DSLRs might have 16MP chips and medium format backs might have 33 MP chips next year (did I say that?), doesn't make your current 6, 8, 11 or 16MP device take worse images. There'll always be something better on the horizon. The trick is to stop fretting about it, make a purchase decision and then focus on your work and not on what new device you'd like to have. None will make you a better photographer. Only doing more shooting with what you already have will accomplish that.

Michael[/font]
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Edward
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« Reply #14 on: August 30, 2004, 09:28:54 AM »
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[font color=\'#000000\']Are there cheap scanners for 6x7 that will get enough info out? It is a piece of cake for 4x5 sheet film, but I do not have anyone in town that develops 4x5 color. I can get 120 developed, but does it do that well with the cheap flat bed scanners? 120 would solve my main problem - getting good wide angle shots from my 10d is a losing game. Wide angle really benefits from information in a big negative. I could get a Pentax 6x7 and the 45 really cheap as a beater and still get great wide angle shots if I can get the info out of the negatives.[/font]
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« Reply #15 on: August 30, 2004, 10:21:09 AM »
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[font color=\'#000000\']I have been using a Pentax 67 for a number of years, and started scanning my transparencies 5 years ago with an Imacon Photo. I can produce very high quality prints in sizes up to 24x30. That scanner has been replaced by the Imacon 343, and runs at $5,000 MSRP, I believe, but you can probably get it discounted somewhat. I have read favorable reports on the Nikon 9000ED and the Minolta Multi for medium format film, but have no personal experience. You can buy a mint condition Pentax 67 system with lenses on ebay and an Imacon scanner for a fraction of what you would have to pay for a MF camera and digital back. OTOH. I would not let the issue of price stand in my way if I thought I could enhance my ability to make exceptional images(from both an aesthetic and technical standpoint)by switching to a MF digital back. I can afford it. I just think that the decision at this point is cloudy, even putting the issue of price aside. I have tested the latest 22MP back from Phase One and the files do in fact hold detail somewhat better than my medium format scans in large print sizes, but nobody ever said to me that the problem with my photographs is  that they are not detailed enough. Moreover, my limited experience with digital capture raises two major concerns for me. One is the apparent propensity of even high end digital capture to blow highlights(non-specular). The other is the workflow required with digital capture. I find it very easy to drop off film for development and then review it on a light box. This may just reflect my lack of experience in developing a consistent workflow, but you know the old adage, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Having said all of the above, I may still buy a MF digital back and go digital, and the reason would be the ability to evaluate my images in the field, both composition and exposure. If I can satisfy myself that I can actually do that on a real time basis, that WOULD enhance my ability to make better photographs.[/font]
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Sfleming
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« Reply #16 on: August 30, 2004, 01:15:30 PM »
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[font color=\'#000000\']I can help you  get the price down even  further.  I don't scan.  Don't want to fuss with it and don't want to spend the  money given that  hopefully  I'll be able to get a MF digital back one  day.

I review my slides and  the  ones I  think might be  keepers I have machine printed at 11 x 14.  This gives me a nice portfolio that  impresses the  uneducated.  Out  of these 'proofs' I occaisionally  find  what I  think could be a keeper.  These can be drum scanned.  Believe me there aren't many and it's not a big expense.  

All this ... IF ... I want to print my own images.  You can actually save a lot  more  money if you  don't even go  the step of  buying a photo printer.  Your house  has only so much room for hanging prints.  The money you would spend  on a scanner and a printer will fill it  up.  If you plan on selling prints the cost of the lab doing  your printing goes to the buyer.  So you give up a small percentage  of the profit.  You GAIN a lot of  time to do  what you really love .... shooting.[/font]
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« Reply #17 on: August 30, 2004, 04:58:14 PM »
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[font color=\'#000000\']He replied to me right away. I'll let you know how it works out. Seems to have a good track record. The price certainly was right for a backup body, and I also bought his metering prism for $250, which was a hell of a price.

Michael[/font]
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jeffball
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« Reply #18 on: August 31, 2004, 07:32:20 AM »
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[font color=\'#000000\']Thanks to all for a great discussion. I am at a purchase decision time. I had decided to go with the 1Ds or whatever potential upgrade there may be to the 1Ds. I have photographed with the 10D and Pentax 67 over the past year. I have 3 Canon lenses, so I don't have a huge collection. My experience has been that I can just about equal the 67 scanned on Nikon 8000ED with my 10D with print sizes up to 11x14. I generally prefer the 10D output over the scanned film in nearly all cases. The issue is the limitation of the print size with the 10D to 11x14 and maybe just a bit larger. It may reflect my lack of ability to maximize the 67 film's strengths, but for me, the digital work flow, color balance, tonality, and lack of grain have won me over. So, this conversation, along with Michael's writings and video journal, has me looking at the Contax medium format system. I really find the modularity a big attraction to adapt with future iterations of digital technology. The Contax system just looks and sounds like a system that will be around for a long time. I really enjoy Michael's description of the craftsmanship and believe that the lenses will be similar to my Pentax 67 in feel, but with autofocus. I find myself asking whether a new 16mp 35mm full frame chip can equal a 16mp medium format? My guess is that it can't for the reasons mentioned in Michael's reports on the inherent challenge of getting outstanding corner to corner full frame performance out of any 35mm lens system. So I am looking at a combination of Ebay for the digital back and new for Contax. If the digital back doesn't work out I can go with a film back until I can purchase a P20. I just wanted to write some thoughts down as I go through the decision process. Thanks for being tolerant of my writing.
Jeff[/font]
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« Reply #19 on: August 31, 2004, 08:03:57 AM »
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[font color=\'#000000\']Thanks for the advice Michael.  Yes, that is the back I am watching.  I hate to hinge the entire decision on whether I get this particular back, that is why I am looking at the entire imaging system.  Contax has some very nice rebates at the present time.  I will contact Harry's if I go further with this decision on the Contax.  Can Canon tip the scales in favor of 35mm with any future chip over medium format?  Thanks.[/font]
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