by Michael Heinrich
The ARTEC was introduced by SINAR at Photokina 2008 and won the Photokina Star Award. I had the opportunity to test the camera, which was specially designed for architecture and landscape photography, and also talk to the photographer behind the Artec concept – Rainer Viertlböck.
Rainer, how did your cooperation with SINAR actually come about?
I first came into contact with SINAR at the end of 2005 when I was commissioned to photograph the new airport in Bangkok. I had already been working for several years with digital reflex cameras and large format film cameras. In the case of this special project for which I spent almost 12 months in Thailand, I decided to make exclusive use of digital technology right from the very start, primarily due to creative reasons. The digital medium format back and the lenses from SINAR appeared to be the most suitable tools for my purposes, and SINAR proved very cooperative right from the very beginning.
Did you also wanted a camera from SINAR for your architecture shots at that time?
Not at that time. I had enough to do in trying to get to grips with the Gottschalt and optimizing my workflow wih the new back. When I started to work intensively with the eMotion, initially with the eMotion 22 and then the eMotion 75, I very quickly realized that photos taken with adjustable lenses had to be corrected individually using white files.
While surfing in the Internet, I came across Stefan Hess who had already created a tool with which DNG files could be directly generated from the eMotion22. We contacted one another and optimized his Brumbär tools through intensive cooperation. The result was an efficient and logical batch workflow for automatic processing and correction of white files and high-quality DNG files. At that time Stefan also wrote some software code which corrected the renowned centerfold error of the Dalsa 33Mp back "on the fly" and was then included by Sinar in its Capture Shop Program... But that's a long story which is also well documented in Luminous Landscape.
And the camera?
I used the SINAR M for aerial photos and a Hasselblad 500C/M for long focal lengths. However, there was no special architecture camera available which would have satisfied my requirements.
For the job in Bangkok I purchased a Gottschalt which was specially adapted to my needs. Although I had tested other cameras as well, every system lacked one feature which I regarded as absolutely essential, i.e. the sliding adapter. Mr. Gottschalt was the only person who was prepared to produce a camera for me with a sliding adapter and a revolving back, which could use lenses as wide as the Rodenstock 28HR.
Why was the sliding back so important to you?
I don’t take photographs in a studio and didn’t like the idea of having to remove the expensive back for every photo and storing it in a safe place. That’s nearly impossible when you’re standing on a crane platform, on a ladder or in bad weather !
Do you also use optical viewfinders, especially in difficult situations?
I often take photographs in difficult situations, but picture composition in the viewfinder simply does not meet my requirements for precise framing.
How did you end up with the SINAR ARTEC then?
The Gottschalt wasn’t bad, but it was an individual solution. Ultimately it was the work of a small company and many parts were made individually just for my camera. In the long run I wasn’t convinced either about many of the individual aspects of this solution.
I then talked to SINAR to establish whether or not the company wanted to use my many years of experience to develop a special architecture camera. After SINAR said yes, I was able to draw up a list containing all the features which I wanted to have in the camera.
A dream for every photographer…
Not for everyone. Most photographers simply want a camera which satisfies their needs. However, it takes a great deal of time and effort to attain this objective. Fortunately, there were people at SINAR who were prepared to listen and utilize their own experience. In summer the first test cameras were ready and I was able to try them out in peace and quiet.
Following the test phase, the camera was revamped and presented at Photokina.
In your opinion, what is the most important feature of the camera?
A camera must contain many individual features in order to be just as good or even better for digital architecture photography than traditional concepts such as wide angle suitability, adjustment options in every direction, tilt, the sliding adapter, absolute precision, etc. At the end of the day, the decisive factor for me was how I could work with the camera. A large number of decisions were the result of practical experience. We therefore opted, for example, for the principle of the lens mounted in an adjusting worm instead of just focusing through the groundglass. In indoor areas and with ultra-short focal lengths you are simply glad you can control the distance on the scale. I believe that anyone working with this camera will realize that it was developed on the basis of practical considerations.
I will try out the camera. SINAR has kindly lent me an ARTEC and I will test it extensively. Rainer, thank you very much for this interview and for the camera.
Practical Test by Michael Heinrich
After some dry runs, I took the ARTEC with me to a two-day photoshoot in Lübeck. The first positive surprise was the pack weight. The entire set was only half as large and less than half the weight of my 4/5 inch. The entire set consisted of a camera, a 75LV back, 4 lenses (28 mm, 40 mm, 70 mm, 90 mm), an opal white plate and accessories. Although it was already late when we arrived in Lübeck, we wanted to take a brief look at the building (headquarters of a group of companies) in order to be ready for the next day.
It was almost dark when we arrived, but the light conditions were so good that I unpacked the camera. Another positive surprise: setting up the camera didn’t take very long at all. I took the first photograph in less than one minute.
My Typical Workflow:
Camera with quick-release plate on ball head.
Adjustment of the large spirit level. Since rotation of the camera is integrated in the equipment and not in the tripod head, there is no need for annoying realignment. This obvious detail makes work a great deal easier.
It is very easy to change between portrait format and landscape format by turning the sensor.
Setting of motif, focus, detail, shift and possibly tilt. Horizontal shift is possible using the horizontal guide in the sliding adapter. An intelligent follower “notices” the chosen setting and ensures that the back moves to the same position as the groundglass. Vertical adjustment on the lens side is carried out using movement knobs with locks. This functions quickly and precisely. The tilt function has a permanent zero position, which means that misadjustment is impossible.
White reference shots. Anyone wanting to avoid color shifts, vigneting or centerfold errors should use white reference shots. For the SINAR lenses there are adapter rings onto which the opal white plate is simply pushed. Release once, check and the software (Brumbär or Exposure) will practically eradicate all photo errors later.
Actual lighting and control of the histogram.
For every photographer, the decision to take photographs with a film or digitally depends on four criteria:
– Picture quality
– Creative limits of the individual media
– Workflow (including deadline-related requirements)
Depending on the special field, nearly every professional photographer has opted for digital systems on account of the above criteria. Architecture photographs were long regarded as an exception in this respect.
An architecture photographer does not consume as much material as in advertising. The purchase of expensive equipment therefore acts an obstacle. If films, a laboratory and scanning costs are added together, an equal sum is at least attained due to the new back prices.
2. Picture quality
A great deal or rather too much has already been written about this subject. It is a fact that the test photos with the ARTEC and the 33MP back from SINAR satisfied every requirement relating to picture quality, including every requirement for even more pixels.
3. Creative limits
Only with the 23-millimetre lens from Rodenstock is it possible in the digital medium format to obtain picture angles like in analogue photography – albeit with adjustment tracks. This is vitally important in architecture photography. Since digital photography also has its own advantages (e.g. contrast control), the only remaining aspect is the difficult to define inherent “film character”. Although this may also still be important for some special applications in future, it is not a decisive criterion in the work of an architecture photographer.
In my opinion, workflow is one of the most important factors when choosing a camera system. SINAR has certainly achieved great success in this respect. In spite of the necessary white reference shot, I was surprised by the fluid and easy workflow. You can concentrate on the motif and light, and need not preoccupy yourself with the camera.
In my opinion, the ARTEC is the first system which allows me to perform all my work digitally, i.e. taking architecture photographs, after 20 years using the analogue format. However, there are still a few things which I will miss: firstly, an 8 x 10 inch groundglass for picture composition cannot be replaced by a 36 x 48 mm groundglass, and digital workflow means that you spend even more time on the computer.
Secondly, I will miss the credibility of many pictures since temptations have also been created as the possibilities increase – houses without sockets, roads without cars, etc. But that’s an entirely different subject ….