Which decent but inexpensive DSLR to buy for photographing original artwork?

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by jocelyn_kadach, Oct 18, 2014.

  1. I need to take good digital pictures of my original artwork -- so I can have good gallery-quality paper print reproductions to sell. I also post photos online at my Etsy Shop (http://lighthouseartdesign.etsy.com) -- and social media sites (http://instagram.com/lighthouseartdesign)
    From reading about some best practices on how to Photograph Artwork (http://finerworks.com/theo/blog/an-artists-guide-to-digital-printing/photographing-your-artwork/), it looks like I need a decent DSLR camera with the ability to zoom 50-55 (or 200-300 is even better). The recommended number of mega pixels should be at least 8 (10-14 is even better). That's all information that I can digest for now :)
    I'm a non-photo professional and feel overwhelmed with the technical details about choosing a digital SLR camera.
    I currently take photos with my IPhone.
    I need your recommendations on which (not too expensive) decent DSLR camera to buy for my intended purposes. Please kindly suggest specific brand and model -- if it can be a user-friendly camera for a beginner like me-- the better!
    Many thanks!
  2. Hello Jocelyn:
    What does "not too expensive" mean to you? In other words what is your budget for a camera body, high quality lens and, possibly, a tripod? The equipment needed to make high quality, large prints can be expensive. It depends on the final output size you are looking to create. What size prints do you want to make? What kind of lighting do you plan to use?

    If you can supply some more information, you will get better recommendations.
  3. Jocelyn, welcome to photo.net. Everything Louis says is correct. I will add:
    (i) If you want gallery-quality paper reproductions, it's not just about having a decent camera. You need the knowledge to take professional-quality copy photographs, which is not at all easy. The fact that you're asking this question indicates you don't have that knowledge.
    (ii) Your best bet may be to hire a photographer. You can probably get high-quality copy photographs done for less than the cost of outfitting a setup to shoot them yourself. (To do it yourself, your costs will include the camera, a good lens with a flat field, lights, and a copy stand or comparable supports).
  4. That article you link to has some has some inaccuracies (especially in its cost estimate of $20,000 for a professional scan) and its lens recommendation (such as the use of a zoom lens and its focal length). Companies that offer high quality fine art scans are plentiful and high quality scan can be done for a fraction of the price listed. For example, I found this site that willscan a 48" x 48" canvas for just $100:


    Chances are there is a similar company in your area.
    Typically a prime lens (non-zoom) will give better results than a zoom. And chances are a lens with a much lower focal length, such as 35mm or 50mm will get the job done nicely.
    I assume you are not selling prints taken with your iPhone so how are you handling your artwork now? What is your budget for equipment? Do you know of someone who is experienced in this type of photography that can assist you, at least to start?
    If you want to take the time to do it yourself, any recent Nikon DSLR body will do - the key to high quality images is the setup you use, making sure your camera is perfectly perpendicular to your artwork and having the proper lighting. And of course having a good lens.
  5. A high quality Epson scanner is what I used to take scans of my art work. The scanner wouldn't scan the entire piece of art but we took several scans then blended them together in Photoshop. I made many prints. It's the best/easiest way we found without light being a problem etc.. My wife did it for me and I remember her having to make adjustments where the scans came together. The final print came out perfect, you hardly could tell it from the original.
  6. Youre talking 1500-2500 bucks minimum investment

    Sturdy tripod with pan tilt head would be best
    Camera and lens. Cheapest d3300 would be fine with ample lighting. Depends what size u plan on printing. Lenses would
    best be if they were a prime.
    2 flashes
    2 light stands
    Radio slaves

    If that sounds ok to u and ur willing to invest time to the learning curve then thats whats ahead of u. Otherwise the
    scanning uv been doing sounds like a nice idea. Btw u will also have to edit the pics in ps with the new gear but u wouldnt
    have to stitch them together.

    Good luck
  7. I don't think a DSLR is needed for your job to be done. - There are mirrorless system cameras out by now that offer the same image sensor with a bit less viewfinder technology and weight.
    1st of all do your pixel math. - If you ever become famous you will surely want to print a book containing all your work? If we pick DIN a3 as on output size we need 3500x5000 pixels. Thats 17.5MP a bit more wouldn't harm. I would NOT recommend using a zoom lens for that job. best bet would be a 90 or 100mm macro lens. but any fixed focal length (prime) in that range should be OK.
    The 8-10MP you mentioned will do a really great job for A4 prints and when we assume 14MP we hit a "probably still fair" just not 150% bulletproof quality level for A3 printing. - An offset screen has usually 150lpi. I was taught to generate a quality factor 2 = 300ppi image to go for best imaginable results. quality factor 1.414 would cut the cake most likely too (according to apprentice school). The snapped or scanned pixels can't get used directly 1:1 for printing since the 4 screens have to be rotated slightly towards each other to avoid huge color shifts during the run due to moiree.
    anyhow lets look at the market: Fuji offer a nice and cheap mirrorless 14MP camera which gets praise for its awesome color reproduction in JPGs straight out of camera. A X-M1 kit with 2 zooms is 500 Euro. Issue their shortish macro lens 60mm f2.4 is another 530 Euro after cashback.
    Nikon offer the D3300 with a kit zoom for 470Euro. it has 24MP which are surely all you might need. You will most likely have to add a prime lens to your kit to enjoy them for real. I recommend the AF-S DX Micro 85mm f3.5 ED VR for another 450 Euro.
    On a budged I 'd grab a (used?) Sony NEX body in the 200-300 Euro range get an adapter and an old manual focus 135mm f2.8 or maybe even slower lens for probably another 70 Euro 20 euro should buy a manual focus 50mm lens that fits on the same adapter. - Most bigger shops should be able to recommend something to you just make sure to doublecheck their asked adapter prices with ebay offerings (100Euro difference in a worst case).
    To complete your hit I would certainly grab a good tripod. if you go for a overweight heavy one with decent head you should be lucky in the 150 Euro used market. next must have would be a independent light source I recommend 2 tiny hotshoe flashes on lightstands as a minimum - they should be placed in 45° angles from your painting price range aproximately 100 Euro for 2 stands and flash adapters - flashes vary. a pair of entirely manual ones should be available for 100 or less if you go Nikon maybe even the D3300 can control external Nikon flashes wirelessly.They are more comnfortable to use. - I am not sure though if I'd want them for reproduction work.
    FTR: I am neither currently professional nor a Nikon user. - Nikon recommendation was based on the knowledge that they offer affordable gear. - I fear the D3300 is offering a user interface that seems less intuitive to anybody who hasn't read the manual. - I failed badly with a D7** tossed to me at work - "Sorry boss, I don't speak Nikon."
    It is fairly common that camera manufacturers make features less directly accessible in their entry level models these days. The average deal is: "pay us a couple of $100s so you get switches wheels buttons where you'd expect them to be, to set up your camera quickly, with your eye on the finder, instead of opening a menu on the rear LCD." - So much about "if it can be a user-friendly camera for a beginner like me-- the better!" But honestly: It does NOT matter to you! - It might take 2 minutes to set up any wicked consumer camera to the mode you need for your artwork shots, assuming you have your cheatsheet with list of settings and button sequency at hand with the camera and a bad day.- I am speaking as the elderly employed fool using a corporate Nikon every 9 month. As such I would prepare a cheat sheet. - with my own gear I get along better since I have the chance to drill myself while playing around with it; no Nikon bashing intended at all.
    I guess from my previous experince it takes about 20 minutes to get a first shot of artwork or such done. when you have to rig up your tripod light stands and a makeshit easel for a framed picture.
    Camera setting hassle is absolutely irrelevant since you'll spend quite some time to center your tripod above the middle of the print you are trying to photograph. I recommend getting an auxillary target with high contrast concentric perfect squares and maybe even a mirror mounted absolutely plain in its center so you can easily check if you put your camera straight above the painting. Adding a few Siemens stars (found as a printing aid in the non visible parts of fancy cardboard boxes or in chocolate wrappers) all over it to check focus in image preview or onscreen is surely helpful.
    A last note about lenses: the longer ones I recommended (90 to 135mm) require some space to work well. If you are planning to shoot ina not spacious environment they are the less perfect choice. - Their benefit: they do less distortion in general and especeially less perspective altering if the camra is not perfectly centered above your painting.
    Can you work in your yard on a nice dull day with overcast skies? then you can skip getting the flashe...
    If you are forced to work indoors at night in confied environment get a wider lens and go for the camera centering hassle. widest suggestion would be a 35mm (preferably macro / micro) for your camera of choice. Fuji don't offer such as a macro lens and their prime is pretty fast - you don't need that and expensive. - Nikon offer a 35mm f1.8 for 200 Euro. - it might not be ideal for reproduction work but should deliver acceptable results.

    Professional gear made to do your job used to be either a column holding camera and lens above the target and included a set of lights too or there were rails on the floor to move the camera back and forth towards a bigger wall mounted target. - I used a Leica M copy stand at school. It was pure pleasure to work with. (and could hold either a used M9 or a Sony A7 these days). I never encountered a real process camera in use - I joined the printing industry too late for such. anyhow if your artwork varies in size and you are going for a long lens you might like to have a cart below your tripod to move it back and forward. I guess anything will do quite nicely. - maybe paint or tape a line on your floor to have a guideance for these tripod movements?
    Later I aquired a option to convert my darkroom enlargers column into a vertical copy stand. I am not entirely happy with that tool and barely use it since its hard to make the camera point down exactly, way too likely to mount it wrong.
    For copying documents there used to be handy devices with 4 tiny tripod legs serving to a) frame the document b) to keep the camera in the right distance. they cam a kits made for A4 a5 and postcard size. - I've never seen a bigger version though and am sad that such is no longer offered for modern point and shoot cameras.
    A last note on DSLR results: don't expect too much from auto everything settings. it is unfortunately impressibve how much shots of a single crayon on a white sheet of paper vary depending on the crayon's color when you keep a camera on auto everything. - So you will most likely end having to tweak your images a bit on a computer screen. - If you visit an electronics store you'll see that the colors rendered by their screens on display vary a lot. Either get a imac or such which is known to display colors quite properly or go for the hassle of calibrating your screen on a Windows system. get into RAw processing and do your best. - at least you have one advantage: As the Artist yourself you can decide what you want to display.
    Good luck.
    I suggest buying which camera ever you end choosing with its kit zoom. for 2 reasons: its handy for happysnapping any other part of your life and its also a way to figure out which focal length you really need or want for your reproductions.
    As a low budged solution: any used DSLR with enough MP does fine IF you can get somehow matching prime lenses for it. I am not sure how bad Entry level Nikons with manual focus heritage elenses are these days. - Maybe you loose autoexposure and have to rely on guess work & test shots . - But that won't keep you from getting great results once you got things right.
    you could also grab a useed Pentax K10D and a pair of plain k-mount 3rd party heritage primse for maybe 150 Euro or even less? - No fun to shoot such in general but its good enough to reproduce artwork for the web or small prints. - But thats Yardsale & bargain bin stuff and a Sony Nex seems more popular among the heritage lens users these days.
    I assume you will shoot RAW at basic ISO using a tripod and maybe additional flash and are willing to tweak your images a bit. - Under different conditions a more modern camera is of course the better deal.
  8. If I were to do this on a minimal budget, I would go with all used gear. KEH Camera is a used camera equipment dealer that has a good reputation. If you only want upwards of 8MP there are loads of older DSLRs out there that will do the job well. As far as lenses go, you want something that has a flat field of focus so that you don't have a fall off of sharpness in the corners when focused on the center. Luckily most macro lenses have a flat focus field and are extremely sharp. I think a 100mm focal length would work well. You'll also need a very stable base and good diffused lighting. A good solid tripod and head will be the easiest way to mount the camera but also relatively expensive. Depending on how handy you are I can think of a lot cheaper solutions as long as they don't need to be very portable. The lighting is also something that to do it with flashes and diffusers will quickly get expensive. But if you are handy, 4 florescent light strips with high color rendering index (CRI) rated tubes placed close but out of frame one on each side with white translucent cloth in front of them would probably produce good results.
    There is also the question of post processing to get the best results but that's a whole new topic. I'm sure others will disagree, but if you don't have much interest in using the camera for much else, then you can get good results in a DIY studio without having to invest in a lot of high end gear. I think this all only makes sense if you expect to be photographing a lot of artwork. If not, find someone with the equipment and skills to do it for you. If you want to do it on your own, keep in mind you'll need to learn the basics of photography.
  9. You can learn to do this well easily, imho.
    Regardless of what system or camera you go with, Something like the Nikon 55mm or 60mm micro lenses are GREAT for this.
    When I went from Nikon to Olympus µ43, I kept my 55mm f3.5 for this reason. Stunning performance, flat field, and imho, for what you're doing, much better than using a flatbed scanner in my experience (especially if the art is not truly "flat", in other words if it has texture, or you just don't want to lay a valuable piece of painted art on a piece of glass).
    If I were you, I'd probably get a D7000 or D7100 and a micro lens, preferably the 55mm or 60mm variety. You can get a cheap old MF micro lens for this, you do NOT need (or even necessarily do you want) AF for this task. My 55mm f3.5 was just over one hundred bucks about 7 years ago.
    But any current Nikon camera with a micro lens will be great for this. You NEED a sturdy tripod, and a copy stand for small stuff would be terrific. You NEED some good lighting to do it great, but I've done it in a brightly lit (by daylight) room with GREAT results before.
  10. If your budget is less than $600 US the following will work.
    Camera body: A refurbished Nikon D3200 (approx $330 from an authorized Nikon retailer)
    Just make sure it is a Nikon factory refurbished camera body. (An authorized Nikon retailer is your best and, pehaps only, source for these.)
    Lens: A used Series E 100MM f/2.8 (under $50 from KEH.com)
    This is an inexpensive (due to construction - not impaired optical quaility) manual focus lens. Since you will be shooting static subjects manual focus will work well for you.
    I like the 28MM because for photographing art because it allows you to have the camera relatively close to the art work and doesn't have the distortion the most of the wider angle lenses do.
    Tripod: a used Manfrotto (Bogen) tripod with a 3-way pan-tilt head (you can buy these new for as little as $100 US)
    If you are into post processing you MAY be able to get away without a tripod and use your post processing program to correct for any keystoning and/or image tilting
    Lighting: Ideally a couple of inexpensive continuous studio lights (a kit with light stands, two lights, two softboxes and two bulbs will cost less than $170 US from B&H)
    If you can't afford the $170 a couple of shop lights for $40 US each will work.
  11. Years ago, I used a stationary 11x14 inch vacuum-back sheet-film camera owned by a reproductive service to shoot original artwork.

    Since then, I have used the following to shoot original artwork:
    1. Canon flatbed scanner for shooting subjects 8x10 inches or smaller
    2. Copy stand for shooting subjects 16x20 inches or smaller
    3. Tripod for shooting subjects larger than 16x20 inches
    4. Nikon 35mm SLR film camera with 100% viewfinder and view screen with gridlines
    5. Nikon digital SLR camera with 100% viewfinder and gridlines on command
    6. Macro lenses for Nikon cameras (55mm and 105mm)
    7. Canon G-series digital compact camera with fixed zoom lens
    8. Tungsten light source at 45° to subject (such as 3200° Kelvin GE Revel 100W light bulbs)
    9. Heat resistant light diffusers (2)
    10. Polarizing filter to reduce glare on subject
    11. White card and/or gray card for white balance
    12. Kodak color scale card for white balance
    13. Spirit leveler to aid aligning camera and subject
    14. Grid lines to aid aligning camera and subject
    15. Remote shutter release to reduce camera shake when shutter is released
    16. Black backdrop as background for subject
    17. Black backdrop to reduce reflection of camera on shiny surface of subject
    18. Hand light meter to read 4 corners and center of large subject to assure even illumination

  12. How big is your artwork and what is the media type?
    Is it something that has texture, like thick oils/acrylics applied by palette knife or kinda smooth watercolours?
    Depending on the answer, scanning or photography will work best. Scanning, with it's moving light source, has an unpredictable effect with shiny textured surfaces. Might work, might not.
    Photography, on the other hand, is a WYSIWYG mechanism.
    Scanner colour balance is usually pretty good too. Might avoid too much fixing in post.
  13. Lighting and how you position it is far more important than which DSLR body you use. The lens is also paramount to getting a quality reproduction, and ideally you should use a specialist macro or copying lens (Nikon calls them Micro lenses - incorrectly).
    The focal length needed will depend on how big your artworks are, and the size of your copying studio. That is: how much distance you can put between the camera and the artwork. A longer distance will generally give you more control over lighting and may reduce distortion, as well as making absolute parallelism between camera and artwork a bit less critical.
    The shortest macro lens readily available for the DX camera format is 35mm in focal length. This will allow a 2ft wide artwork to fill the frame at around 3' 8" from the camera - assuming the same height-to-width ratio as the camera frame. Bigger artwork will require proportionally more distance; for example a 4' wide painting would need just over 7' distance.
    Even the most basic of current DSLRs will perform the task adequately as long as it's capable of firing external flash units. That's not a given. I don't recommend hot lights for copying, although they're a cheap option that doesn't put much technical demand on the camera or operator. Ambient or daylight is a very poor choice due to inconsistency and lack of control. You'll never be able to get rid 0f spurious reflections unless you can properly position the lights. See the many previous threads about copying artwork in this forum and in "Lighting".
    Edit: You don't need a ruler or grid lines. All you need is a small frameless mirror. Place the mirror flat against the artwork, or copy board, in the dead centre. Point the camera at the mirror and centre the reflection of the camera lens in the frame - job done. This is called "auto-collimation" and is the easiest and most accurate way to get the camera parallel and aligned with the artwork. Also you don't need any special grey or white card. A double thickness of simple copier paper will do the job just as well. The trouble with specialist cards is that they tend to fade or yellow over time, and unless you replace them regularly (expensive) they're going to degrade over time. Copier paper is cheap enough to use once and throw away, or use for a shopping list!
  14. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    Please do not create multiple posts because that leads to several conversations attempting to address the same question.
    My response to the question that you asked in the Beginners' Forum is here -
    I need to take good digital pictures of my original artwork, so that I can have good gallery-quality paper print reproductions to sell.
    I need your recommendations on which decent DSLR camera to buy for my intended purposes. Please kindly suggest "SPECIFIC" brand and model -- if it can be a not too expensive and also a user-friendly camera for a beginner like me-- that would be better!​
    Based upon your largest artwork being about 30” x 24” -
    then a (second hand) EOS 5D and an EF 50 F/2.5 Macro lens would be a most suitable camera/lens combination. (That's Canon gear as I originally answered in the Beginners' Forum and I use Canon).

    For your purposes, I recommend that you NOT buy a Zoom Lens.
    Irrespective of what you might read on websites about the importance of what camera to use - the main point to note is that using (and knowing HOW to use) the correct LIGHTING will be more important. There are several reasons why: two (but not all) are –
    > to have correct colour balance in the Final Print (NOT have mixed lighting, i.e. different COLOUR TEMPERATURES)
    > to best create the nuances and depths of the TEXTURES which are apparent in the original work (for example for Collage or Oil Original Work)
    If you intend to SELL “gallery quality print reproductions” of your original works, then I’d suggest that you seriously investigate the cost of a Professional Photographer who is experienced in this work making the image files for you - those same files can be used for in line web display.
    I’ve first-hand experience in this exact situation: and, with due respect to you and your skill as an artist in your field, I think that you might be penny wise and pound foolish by not employing a technician who is skilled and experienced in this particular field of work and who has the studio, and the lighting gear, and/or scanning equipment, to produce image files for you to use, to produce final prints that will command a reasonable price.
    Note that scanning will probably NOT be the most suitable mechanism for making "gallery quality print reprudcutions" for some of your works of art, that I viewed in your gallery.

    (The other thread is here: http://www.photo.net/beginner-photography-questions-forum/00ctkx )
  15. I'd prefer something with a tilt screen like the Nikon D5xxx series or comparable feature in Canon, Pentax, etc., dSLR, or even a mirrorless model. Much more comfortable and versatile for use with a copy stand or makeshift tripod/copy stand. An eye-level-only finder can be awkward in some situations. Ditto a fixed rear LCD. A rear LCD with tilt or full articulations can be very handy.
    While a macro lens would be optimal for reproducing flat work, any sharp lens could be used. The main challenge with most kit zooms is the distortion. However distortion primarily affects the edges. Using a high resolution camera - 16mp or more - gives plenty of margin for editing. Compose to leave a generous margin around the artwork. This avoids the worst distortion, and digital editing tricks can fix the rest with lens correction in Lightroom, DxO, Photoshop, Photo Ninja (which has very good user customizable lens correction tools), etc. These compromises wouldn't be ideal for reproducing maps accurately, but may be adequate for some flat art work where precision isn't as essential as reproducing maps, etc.
    And then you'll need lights and modifiers to produce the desired effect. For some flat art the trick is to eliminate shadows. But for art involving impasto technique, collages that use depth, you may prefer to emphasize some shadows to show off the texture.
    An alternative is a handheld wand scanner. Personally, I'd want to see the results. But a friend who is a professional artist uses an affordable wand scanner and stitching software to copy his sketches and paintings. He says the results are satisfactory, and much better than the results he was getting with a P&S digicam and phone cam. It also eliminates the expense and hassles of getting the lighting just right.
    So it depends on your budget, time, and whether you have space to devote to a long term setup for copying art using a camera.
  16. You get a lot more resolution with a scanner than a camera for a reasonable price.
    A scanner takes a few thousand pixel linear CCD array and scans across the picture. If done right, that gets you many megapixels for a reasonable price. But really large scanners are rare, and probably expensive.
    But a good quality digital camera, 15 megapixels or so, and a good lens, should do a good job.
    The Nikon Micro-Nikkor lenses are not fancy, but designed to make very sharp and low distortion images. As someone else noted, you can get the manual focus (probably AI) for reasonable price, and they are very good lenses. They are best one to two stops down, and that will also give you a little more depth-of-field (if focus is a little off).
    Using lamps designed for image copying, one on each side (comes close to equalizing the intensity across the image) and appropriate color (you could use blue photoflood bulbs). (The camera probably has a color balance selector, so you cold balance for other light sources.)
    Most of the popular DSLRs now have the features you need, and not so many you don't (and that could distract you). Last year's model or the year before, the price drops fast, but the image quality not so fast.
  17. Jocelyn,
    my $.02 although you have much to digest already. the body is almost immaterial in this discussion unless you're blowing these pictures up life size. A macro lens (only Nikon calls them Micro) will give you the highest quality reproduction. Most lenses have some distortion in the corners and there are settings to minimize the effect. Macro lenses are designed to have little to no distortion.
    next decision would be focal length, the smaller lenses like the 55mm Micro are best at closeup reproduction work, copying documents, etc. but since your pieces can be 30"or 42" in size you'll have a problem using a macro lens in the traditional way. When they recommended 50-55mm I think what they were suggesting is to keep the perspective of the captured image "normal". a "normal" lens is approximately 50mm (give or take) and yields an image very closely to what you'd see with the "normal" eye. so you could use a 40mm Micro lens for it's quality, but shooting the pieces from a distance.
    you'll probably want to make a lightbox for yourself and get a good tripod, then start by renting some gear from borrowlenses.com or lensrental.com and test, maybe rent a dslr and a zeiss lens for starters. good luck.
  18. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    Where are you up to, with this project?

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