best digital camera for photographing 2d fine art?

Discussion in 'Mirrorless Digital Cameras' started by christine.m-painter, Sep 10, 2005.

  1. Hi I am new here, and am a fine art oil painter. I want to
    photograph my artwork for displaying on webpages to market myself
    professionally and also for personal records. The very best
    resolution and true color is what I need. I used to own a Mamiya
    RB67 ProSD medium format camera(film) and had to sell it for
    emergency funds so am spoiled by excellent pictures. My budget is
    no more than $2000 however, and less if I can. Any suggestions from
    someone experienced in photographing artwork on my best purchase
  2. Thats a tough question. I also paint and photograph art on the side , and finally after several D cameras I went back to film for the most part. some quick shots I do digital sometimes, but for the most part I found that a lot of times digital cameras color shift hues. I am not talking overall color balance, but more like purple shifting towards blue, or orange towards yellow, etc etc etc, but the rest of the overall color balance will be correct. Those color shifts might not be a big deal for landscapes, but for accurate color like in art its difficult.

    If I were on the hunt for a D camera for art, I would start looking for one with the best color balance. Probably a Fuji S2 or S3. Not sure about the latest batch of D cameras though. Even with one of those you may still have some problems, but if you shoot a custom WB and do a custom color profile for your setup you should be able to get very close for color accuracy.

    I also saw some fantastic art shots done with a D2x, but not exactly sure what his setup was, or how he handled color.

    Lately i have been using a 4x5 camera and E100G film. If you still prefer MF film, go for a Kowa MF camera. They are cheap and sharp and IMO just as sharp as a RZ or RB. Not as nice and comfy as an RZ but its the picture that counts. I have had all 3 and a few more MF cameras. Kowas are a real steal for what they are.
  3. If all you're going to be using the camera for is shooting your artwork, you might want to look into a good, high-resolution point-and-shoot or ZLR. And I would suggest a Nikon for the company's famously great optics, but then again, I'm biased.

    Here's a chart of different megapixel values and the prints you can get out of them:

    1 mp-- 4x5 in
    2 mp-- 5x7 in (maximum)
    3 mp-- 6x8 in
    4 mp-- 7x9 in
    5 mp-- 8x10 in
    7 mp-- 9x12 in
    8 mp-- 10x13 in

    Keep in mind that these are very rough estimates and it really varies depending on your camera and, if using an SLR, your lens. If you want bigger prints than these, you're probably better off opting for a higher-resolution SLR, which, with a budget of $2000, will open up many, many options for you. Keep in mind most consumer digital cameras and many prosumer or pro-level ones are WAY below that (it's the lenses that cost money, and $2000 will buy you a respectable arsenal of SLR equipment, in my humble and frugal opinion). You mentioned putting it on the web; in this case resolution probably won't be as much of a factor because pictures for the web are generally compressed quite a bit (to save space and loading time). It's definitely possible to display high-res images too, I think, though, so scratch that.

    Good luck with your artwork and hope this has helped!
  4. Remember to put a sheet of polarizing material over the light source, and a polarizing filter
    over the lens, or else you'll get the stereotypical ugly oil glare.
  5. but for the most part I found that a lot of times digital cameras color shift hues
    Maybe you should learn to use your $200 Casio digicam before offering expertise on dSLR's.
    dSLR capture will reduce contrast and subdue saturation in art-work, but if they are white balanced properly, they will not "shift hues". I've shot art work for friends, and find the majority of time I'm having to increase saturation and contrast post processing. Net result are the shots look great and not having to deal with the tendency for E-6 films engineered this century (this obviously excludes Kodak EPP/EPN) to invent colors and saturation that isn't there.
    My obvious suggestion would be for a Canon 5D and 50mm Canon Macro to match the resutls of your 6x7, but that will exceed your budget. Otherwise, any of the popular lot of 8-6mp dSLR's and the higher end Olympus cameras will accomplish the task as long as you use longer glass to reduce distortion and are willing to post process.
  6. Tripod, Digital Rebel XT, 50 2.5 Macro, and color management software including a color target.

    You would be under $2K but not by a lot. You could hold off of the color management system to start. Another option is a 12x17 scanner. Most of the local giclee printers use these on smaller flat paintings. The scanner images can be stitched. Some scanners have the hinge on the 12" side and others have the hinge on the 17". You can scan/stitch a larger painting with the hinge on the 12" side. These scanners are $1200-$2500 for the reasonable priced models. Some of the high end prepress integrators have much more expensive scanners. These scanners give you an image you can not produce with anything less than a 4x5 oil scanned at the highest resolution.

    For the needs you expressed the Digital Rebel would fit your needs. If you want to start reproducing your paintings the scanner solution may be more appropriate.
  7. Any dSLR would suit your needs for web display and prints up to 8x10. The main consideration is the lens, not the sensor, brand of camera or cost of the camera. I'm a Nikonista but buy anything that suits your fancy and meets your needs.

    But what you should buy depends on how you envision using the camera in the future. If you think you might branch out into wildlife, sports, wedding or portrait photography, you'll want to consider the entire camera system, not just one body and one lens.

    What you need for now is one good flat field lens, one that has the least possible field curvature and edge distortion. Field curvature makes the image seem like it's bowing out toward you, like the middle of a keg. Barrel distortion makes the edges bow out. It doesn't necessarily affect field flatness (imagine a sheet of paper that's perfectly flat but with curved edges - same thing). A lens can have barrel distortion without field curvature, tho' I've never seen a lens suffering from field curvature that didn't also have a bad case of barrel distortion. But I tend to hang around with cheap lenses when I'm drunk. Pincushion distortion makes the edges bow in. You probably have controls on your computer monitor to adjust for the equivalent to barrel and pincushion distortion.

    So, basically, what you want is a short macro lens. Macro lenses are designed to produce flat field results, besides being designed for close up photography. That's because lots of folks use macro lenses to photograph documents and, you betcha, paintings.

    Short macro lenses in the 50mm-60mm range are very affordable. Nature buffs will tell you not to waste your money on shorties and go long, 100mm or longer. Wrongo, at least for your purpose. As you already know from working with your Mamiya, the longer the lens the farther back you need to get to fill the frame. How big is your studio? Unless it's way big you'll be better off with a shortie.

    Also, most *affordable* dSLRs have sensors that are a fraction of the size of a "35mm" film frame (24x36). They're closer to APS film frame size, and are often referred to as 1.5x, 1.6x, etc., all in reference to the 35mm film paradigm.

    So, with any currently available Nikon you'll have a 1.5x magnification factor for the nominal focal length. That means a 50mm lens translates to an angle of view equivalent to a 75mm lens when mounted on a full frame 35mm film camera. Clear as mud?

    IOW, there's no additional magnification. It's what most cynics deride as the "crop factor". Some folks who use that term are merely being honest, tho'. Those are the folks I punch in the mouth after I've had a few too many. I can't stand oh-so-honest people when I'm really on a toot.

    So, you can easily buy a good entry level dSLR and macro lens brand stinkin' new and still come in way under budget. Use the rest for lights unless you already have some. Continuous lights would probably be the easiest unless you're very experienced with using multiple flash setups. Lowel, Photoflex, Wescott and just about every light manufacturer offers continuous lights of various kinds - fluorescent and tungsten - and at widely varying prices.

    After that you'll just need to get the hang of white balancing and ... well ... just about every other damned thing that goes with digital photography and editing.
  8. My wife is a painter (oils) and I photograph her paintings for her. I used to do this with an EOS-1v, nowadays with a 20D, but still using my trusty 50/2.5 macro lens. I find it much easier to control colour matching with the all-digital set-up than with film and a scanner. Although all sort of adjustments can now be made in an application like Photoshop CS, it makes life much simpler if the need to do this can be minimised by using an appropriate set-up for taking the photographs in the first place. A very sharp, highly rectilinear and flat-field lens is accordingly the right starting point, and for large paintings even the 50mm focal length on the 20D is longer than ideal. Great care is needed to ensure that the geometry of the set-up is correct, but lighting is the trickiest area. To avoid catchlights it is best to photograph oils before varnishing. I use two 550EX flashes manually set to their widest setting and pointing at the centre of the painting so that the camera-painting-flash angle is in the range 30 to 45 degrees (same on each side, of course) and the flashes are far enough back that if the painting were a mirror, you could not see them in it from the camera. I find that this gives acceptably uniform and consistent lighting. If you need to photograph a varnished painting with heavy impasto, even this approach will generate a few catchlights. These can sometimes be fixed in Photoshop, but if not then bouncing the flash off umbrellas or white screens is the next thing to try. Unless you are running an art-photography production line, it is best to try to avoid reaching this position!
  9. As long as your intended output is for web publishing and personal records, almost any digital camera with the white balance set correctly and even lighting of the painting should be sufficient. Most of the paintings on my website are photographed using an old Nikon Coolpix 880. Now I've got an EOS 350D, though, which doesn't make a huge difference to web publishing apart from less lens distortion, and of course a bigger latitude from light to shade, which makes lighting easier.
    For printing, however, the results from those cameras won't make very large reproductions before you start cringing at the results, since you actually know what the original looks like. Might look okay to others, of course, but for that, your best bet is still to use good old medium or large format film professionally scanned.
    Hakon Soreide
    Bergen, Norway
  10. Obviously with digital you will have more flexibility to play with colour balance than with film. However, if you truly need the resolution of 6x7, you won't match it with any DSLR (as opposed to MF back) currently available - let alone one within your budget. Second hand MF gear is quite cheap these days, and may offer you the best way back into photography. Bear in mind that you would probably find yourself having to spend quite a bit on "extras" (computer hardware/software, printing etc.) to get set up for the digital world. Digital only starts to offer a financial payback if you shoot large volumes - which I imagine is not the case for you.

    Of course, there is an argument that for web use a 6MP DSLR would actually be more than adequate, and would be capable of giving good colour rendition.
  11. Hi All, thanks for your time and ideas. Have narrowed down what I really need personally in a camera due to your input.

    At this point, a prosumer 8 mp dSLR that can give sharp images so that :
    1) they can go directly to webpages and be blown up to view larger on screen without blurriness (which is how I prefer to view art online)
    2)can also be made into 8x10 print and would prefer 11x14 size without getting fuzzy for my portfolio of samples

    Also, color accuracy extremely important for reproducing paintings- being they are representational paintings- don't want weird colors showing up I didn't paint, Impasto effects are not a problem for excessive glare beyond the ordinary oil sheen before varnishing.

    Also good white balancing to help all this,
    Ability to make corrections right on the camera as I do not have photoshop or expensive post-process options

    Creative manual control. Prefer the camera didn't decide for me and limit my options.

    I may also use the camera to photograph model or still life set up, not to paint from but just for composition checks, or to print out to view work in progress but only to aid my painting work, nothing else.

    Good quality lense is essential

    -Brand name, looks, or even weight, design, or athletic outdoorsy ease of handling
    -lots of lenses- will be shooting with tripod outdoors on overcast day to photograph the oil paintings, or indoors with 2 simple lights from home depot (w bowl shades) -just macro lense I guess
    -speed of picture taking
    -low noise

    Only the final picture quality matters. The extra costs are not worth convenience features at this point.

    Maybe an Olympus Evolt E-300, having also compared the Canon D-20 which costs more or 8 mp equivelent dslr that can do all of the above and reasonably priced. Any qualified objections or clarifications?
  12. The Olympus Evolt E-300 may be a dead end. The Camera uses a smaller sensor then the rest of the DSLRs. In the digital world quality is related to size and generation of the sensor. Generally the newer and larger sensors give better results. The Olympus only uses 4/3 format lenses. The Canon, Nikon, and others use both small format and full frame lenses. A full frame macro lens for one of the other systems is much more likely to be usable 10-20 years from now.

    None of the DSLR's have in camera editing thst you mention. You will need to do this with a computer. You can either use the software bundled with the camera, your operating system, or buy PS Elements (or any under $100 package) to crop and resize. If price is an issue buy a used DSLR and a macro lens.

    I find it is easyier to shoot raw and do white balance on the computer. Raw is the equivilent to film negatives in traditional photography.
  13. I'm also an oil painter. For web display and personal records you can use pretty much damn near anything. Color accuracy can be managed by shooting swatches of color and developing a post processing scheme that matches them in your chosen color space. A lens merely has to be decent, not great, since you control the lighting, so you can expose it at whatever that lens' optimum aperture is, and you can shoot from far enough away too mimimize any flat-field problems it might have. I assume you've already developed a lighting scheme you're satisfied with, WRT reflections and color temperature.
    Here's where you will run into trouble . . .
    Many galleries and artists' organizations still prefer slides for portfolio reviews, submissions, etc. This is actually perfectly reasonable because electronic display of image files relies too much on the technical correspondence of color spaces, monitor settings, etc, to be sure you're seeing it the way the artist intends.
    A similar but worse problems happens on the web. You have NO control over how your art looks to the viewer. You have NO control over their monitor resolution, brightness, contrast, or gamma. About a year ago I was visiting some galleries on Newbury St in Boston, home to some fancy-schmancy galleries where you might expect them to have their monitors set right. I wasn't trying to interest them in my work but in the course of conversation TWO of them, next door to each other, asked to see my website. On one of them my images were totally white and washed out, and on the other the same images were very dark with no shadow detail!
    My suggestion - have some postcards or brochures professionally printed and send those to likely customers. I can tell you as an art collector, I have never purchased art over the web because it's too hard to examine. But I've gotten attracted to plenty of gallery shows via the postcard and brochure route and bought lots of art that way.
  14. Might be overkill for your needs, and probably beyond your budget, but museums use 4x5 scanning backs for this purpose, like those made by Better Light. Those are essentially flatbed scanners that can be mounted in the film holder slot of a 4x5 view camera. Useless for scenes with movement, but ideal for very high resolution captures of fragile documents or art.
  15. Maybe you should learn to use your $200 Casio digicam before offering expertise on dSLR's.

    Thats a pretty stupid response considering you have no idea who I am or what D cameras i have used.
  16. Tripod, Digital Rebel XT, 50 2.5 Macro, and color management software including a color target.

    Joe you are right, and this is what I will do. Even though the camera is small, many report excellent results not far away from the 20D.

    Do see myself using a 4x5 view camera or that Kowa MF as well. Great idea for the print brochures and post cards over just relying on website due to monitor differences to market to art collectors.

    I am absolutely amazed at the valuable help that each and everyone of you has given to me, which all seem like well thought out advice and not off the cuff. Thank you! Hopefully I can return the favor and help someone from my experience.
  17. Just how large is the artwork you intend to photograph? The attached file is from a flatbed scan of an oil painting. There is zero distortion, and if you're keen in Photoshop, it doesn't take much effort to stitch together four 8x11 sections. The resolution of this crop is 400 DPI; the left inset is from a 3.3 MPixel digicam. Certainly you would find superior results with dedicated equipment, but not enough to span that gulf. Larger sheetfeet scanners and A3 flatbeds provide far superior results to anything you could hope to attain with 35mm, digital, or MF. Truly large format models can cost as much as a luxury car, but you can find one capable of scanning 12x17" for about $1500. DI

Share This Page