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Thread: Need Help\Ideas for a MF Camera Sys for Product Photography

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    Need Help\Ideas for a MF Camera Sys for Product Photography

    Hi everybody, I've been lurking in the forum here for a few weeks doing research. I'd really like to get some ideas and help from the professionals here.
    Ok, so I'm not a professional photographer but a business owner, specifically I design high end jewelry. I've tried a couple of 35mm DSLRs like the 40D and the quality really looks sub par. I mean even after professional color correction and everything, there is still the missing graduations of the metal, the dynamic range, the diamonds for example just looks white with some black inside. This is all shot using professional lighting, in a light tent. Also with a nice Canon macro lens.

    I have a photographer though who charges per shot, who uses a Mamiya 645AFD and older Leaf back. His pictures are like night and day better than ours. I've even considered buying a 5d MkII but I still don't think it's going to give us the quality of a medium format camera.

    I'm trying to see if it would be cost effective for us to buy a medium format camera for "studio shooting" in our offices. I've done quite a bit of research and see that the Phase One and Hasselblad H4d-40 and its respective competitor with Phase One or Leaf are the ones to get for this type of work. They're a bit too much for us to spend. I've also been researching the Pentax 645D which seems like a really interesting piece of hardware. I don't think it has tethering though, so would a person just go back and forth with the CF card to the computer? Would there be a better solution than that? Also are there refurbished Phase One hardware that one could look at or something? The magic number is about 9K for us. Mostly the work is going to be macro photography and we'd need a nice macro lens to use. I know that Depth of Field becomes a little bit of a problem in MF but DOF is very important to us as well….

    Thanks

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    Senior Member mediumcool's Avatar
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    Re: Need Help\Ideas for a MF Camera Sys for Product Photography

    Lighting is extremely important; if you don’t get that right, no MF camera is going to help you get good results.

    If your needs are mostly for catalogues/leaflets and for the web, a “35” DSLR would work fine and give you more depth of field than any MF, unless you use a tilting lens (look up Scheimpflug). MF cameras with late-model backs do enlarge better than any “35” DSLR but this is only an issue if you make big prints.

    And you can buy tilt-shift lenses for Nikon and Canon. I use Pentax gear and am buying a tilt-shift adapter to use my old Mamiya MF lenses on the Pentax—I want to do more tabletop and closeup work (yes, including jewellery).

    Having said all this, I think you still need to consider lighting as a priority; why not ask your current photographer if he will provide tuition and build a lighting set-up for you? Pay him well for this, because you would save money long-term. Or you could negotiate to do the simpler “bread-and-butter” jobs yourself, and call him in for the premium work.

    And don’t forget that shooting is only part of the job; the resulting images need to be processed in software such as Photoshop or Capture One (I use both) on a robust and colour-calibrated computer system to provide superior results.

    My 0.02c
    Last edited by mediumcool; 8th December 2010 at 21:41. Reason: remove repetition

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    Re: Need Help\Ideas for a MF Camera Sys for Product Photography

    Well, the lighting is pretty similar. He's using 3 large strobe lights behind the tent while we're using fluorescent light. The goal is to get diffused light on the product.

    I don't think it's a lighting issue. Even when we resize the images to web size, there's still a big difference. I've seen a couple of shots with a 60d and that was a little bit better but still nothing like the MF stuff. I can tell the difference in the dynamic range between cameras. The platinum for example on our shots looks almost pixelated compared to his which have extremely smooth and natural graduations.

    Maybe we should rent a 5d mk2 for a day and give that a whirl too.

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    Senior Member mediumcool's Avatar
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    Re: Need Help\Ideas for a MF Camera Sys for Product Photography

    Here's something else to try, then. Shoot a duplicate or two on a DSLR camera when your hired photographer is doing a shoot (or ask him to do it if he has the gear).

    That will establish whether the lighting set-up is making any difference—BTW fluoros can be pretty bad for colour if they have a CRI below 90 or so.
    Last edited by mediumcool; 8th December 2010 at 21:47. Reason: added BTW

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    Re: Need Help\Ideas for a MF Camera Sys for Product Photography

    Could a scanning back be a possible option?

    Some of the best digital jewelry shots that I've ever seen have been done on scanning backs.

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    Re: Need Help\Ideas for a MF Camera Sys for Product Photography

    I use 5 Hensel lights, Sinar M with their superb lenses and Sinar 54H multi-shot digital back, which are well over your budget. Consider how much you are willing to spend in photo studio or pay the photographer, when you deal with such expensive stuff as diamonds. As others said, the final result need be mastered

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    Re: Need Help\Ideas for a MF Camera Sys for Product Photography

    Quote Originally Posted by MedShooter View Post
    Well, the lighting is pretty similar. He's using 3 large strobe lights behind the tent while we're using fluorescent light. The goal is to get diffused light on the product. ..

    The characteristics of the different types of light are different so you are not comparing apples to apples.

    Second, as mentioned, post processing plays a BIG role into this.

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    Senior Member mediumcool's Avatar
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    Re: Need Help\Ideas for a MF Camera Sys for Product Photography

    Put up some samples of each approach, with detailed info about which is what ...

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    Re: Need Help\Ideas for a MF Camera Sys for Product Photography

    I'm not getting this. You're a high-end jewelry designer. And you want to show them off with amateur photos? Your current professional photographer uses an older Leaf back. That is the only difference between his photography and yours? What about his lighting skills and experience?

    I'm sorry if I sound rude, but this isn't really your job. Your job is to design jewelry. His is to photograph it. If you want to cut costs, perhaps you could negotiate with him. Doing it all yourself might save you a few bucks in the short-term, but prove to be more expensive later, when sales dwindle because they're not photographed well...

    Kumar

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    Re: Need Help\Ideas for a MF Camera Sys for Product Photography

    My father in law is a high-end jewelry designer (being the only person on this planet having won the prestiguous Diamond Award 3 times!). Via him I know where to get diamonds, Titanium, all sorts of gold and even things like 3D modelling. I also have access to all of his tools.

    I still cannot design like him or probably you while there is hardly any difference between us? You get the point?
    Last edited by Dustbak; 9th December 2010 at 01:01.

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    Re: Need Help\Ideas for a MF Camera Sys for Product Photography

    Welcome MedSooter!

    Obviously you have a good eye for detail, and a passion for the products you design and sell. Bravo!

    IMO, do not waste your time and money struggling with 35mm DSLRs for this type of work. I do studio work that involves the same attention to subtile detail ... ranging from interior fabrics and chrome wheels for Cadillac, to high end jewelry, watches, and premium incentives.

    Yes, lighting and light modifiers are a key part of table top work, as are all the do-dads like cut and black flags, reflectors, mirrors, etc. However, it is especially difficult to render the contrast & tonal range, color depth, and specular highlights with any current 35mm DSLR. It can be done, and I'm sure there are fine examples of it ... but, trust me it is a struggle ... and often can't be fully realized or involves a compromise. Believe me I tried using the most expensive 35mm DSLRs out there. None could hold a candle to even the simplest MF Digital rig.

    Now, if asked to professionally advise you regarding an in-house studio (which is not unusual BTW), I'd ask what kind of product volume you produce over say a 5 year period and compare that to the cost of professional photographic services ... which you already know does the job.

    Secondly, I advise that your budget is anemic at best.

    Lighting: Continuos lighting doesn't cut it for this type of work unless maybe it's a full blown HMI kit like Dedolight for a mere $15,000. Studio strobes provide the quantity of light needed to stop down for DOF, and quality of light that is a consistent color temperature from shot-to-shot no matter what level of light is being used. I use Profoto and Hensel ... but there are a number of other excellent choices ... and kits can be found used.

    Camera: Since you are involved with basically one type of photography, you don't need a highly versatile set-up, but one that is specialized ... probably more specialized than your current photographer uses since he may do other types of work and needs more versatility.

    If I was setting this up for you, I'd get a 6X9 studio view camera and outfit it with a 120mm Rodenstock or Schneider Digital Macro lens (which no MFD DSLR lens can match), and at least a 39 meg Phase One or Hasselblad digital back. This will provide much more DOF control than any 35mm or MFD DSLR even one equipped with a Tilt Shift lens since none of them give you the degree of movements or rear controls. Both the backs I mentioned work very well tethered, and I believe both provide live view on the computer screen for evaluation. Careful shopping can find all this stuff used and in mint condition for a fraction of the new prices.

    As you can see, to achieve the degree of quality you demand of your products is no inexpensive or simple matter. However, once set up and calibrated to the specific task, it becomes pretty routine and consistent with minor adjustments of lighting and additive elements such as black reflectors and other do-dads used for this type of work.

    If not prepared to make this investment or something like it, then stick with your professional shooter.

    Marc

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    Senior Member mediumcool's Avatar
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    Re: Need Help\Ideas for a MF Camera Sys for Product Photography

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike M View Post
    Could a scanning back be a possible option?
    Some of the best digital jewelry shots that I've ever seen have been done on scanning backs.
    Betterlight backs are very good, but also very expensive, and you need a large-format camera, suitable lens and continuous lighting to go with it. Not for 9K.

    And a big, sturdy tripod.

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    Re: Need Help\Ideas for a MF Camera Sys for Product Photography

    As others have said,,

    Lighting, and post-processing make a big difference, and 35mm might be adequate for enlargements up to A4.

    9k$US? If you accumulate kit off eBay as it comes up, over about a year... you could get a Sinar system for a few k, and a 22Mpx DigiBack and lighting for similar money.

    Sinars are big and ugly and cumbersome, so you can pick them up cheap, but they are ideal for studio work.

    You could get a stackshot and DOF merge.
    …but jewellery photography is an art in itself, and it seems that you could spend a month with the best equipment and not produce anything you would be happy with.

    Where are you? Perhaps someone here could show you what is possible with what equipment, and help you to get some kit, and show you how to get he best out of it.

    I think that (some) jewelry specialists use fiber-optic for spectral lighting, and a light tent for fill.

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    Re: Need Help\Ideas for a MF Camera Sys for Product Photography

    Quote Originally Posted by fotografz View Post
    Camera: Since you are involved with basically one type of photography, you don't need a highly versatile set-up, but one that is specialized ... probably more specialized than your current photographer uses since he may do other types of work and needs more versatility.

    If I was setting this up for you, I'd get a 6X9 studio view camera and outfit it with a 120mm Rodenstock or Schneider Digital Macro lens (which no MFD DSLR lens can match), and at least a 39 meg Phase One or Hasselblad digital back. This will provide much more DOF control than any 35mm or MFD DSLR even one equipped with a Tilt Shift lens since none of them give you the degree of movements or rear controls. Both the backs I mentioned work very well tethered, and I believe both provide live view on the computer screen for evaluation. Careful shopping can find all this stuff used and in mint condition for a fraction of the new prices.
    If you're going with a view camera I'd suggest a Leaf over a Phase One (despite being a big fan generally of Phase One) if the back is dedicated to this purpose.

    Live View from Leaf is faster/higher-quality than Phase One. It's not a night and day difference, but well worth it if you will be doing mostly Live View to focus.

    An alternative is to a full view camera something like a Cambo X2 would be easier to use since you don't have a background in full view camera operation. This requires a body with a built in shutter such as a Mamiya or Phase One body, or Contax.

    It would provide you macro capability, use of Rodenstock/Schneider large format lenses (I think everyone here agrees that would be the ideal lens to use for this application) and retain through the lens focusing and other conveniences of using a normal SLR body.

    Doug Peterson (e-mail Me)
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    Last edited by dougpeterson; 9th December 2010 at 08:15.

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    Re: Need Help\Ideas for a MF Camera Sys for Product Photography

    Quote Originally Posted by mediumcool View Post
    Betterlight backs are very good, but also very expensive, and you need a large-format camera, suitable lens and continuous lighting to go with it. Not for 9K.

    And a big, sturdy tripod.
    Yeah, you're right, it's an expensive route and I am not too familiar with scanning backs. HOwever, jewelry photography seems like a perfect match for them and there's the possibility of using some tilt movements and smaller apertures for better focus and DOF.

    http://www.betterlight.com/eModels.html

    It says on this page that there are adapters available for Mamiya RZ and RB cameras. I'm wondering if maybe something like a used Mamiya body with tilt shift lens and/or macro lens with scanning back might just be a decent little setup for jewelry photography...and come in right around the 9k price. Or maybe somebody around here knows a way to pick up a used scanning back for decent price.

    Anyhow, just bringing up possibilities. I really don't have any idea what will work for the OP and am definitely no expert on scanning backs. 9k is a lot of money but it's still hard to think of something that I'd be really confident about recommending within that price range.

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    Re: Need Help\Ideas for a MF Camera Sys for Product Photography

    Hi MedShooter and welcome to GetDPI!

    I think the first basic comment is that just having the correct equipment will not insure you generate similar results to the Pro you hire. In addition to decent equipment, you really need to understand lighting and post-processing of the files to get optimal results. Moreover, MF camera files generally require (and also allow) more post processing adjustments.

    The second basic comment is that a photographer who knows lighting and post processing well, can probably generate a superior product shot with a "regular DSLR" 98% of the time than a newbie using the best equipment available...

    Hence my advice as follows: If you want to head down the path of being your own photographer, in addition to budgeting for the investment in gear, you'll need to budget in an investment of time learning how to optimize results from it. Assuming you are willing to do that, then I would start out by RENTING the gear you think you want and testing the waters so to speak. You may find afterwards that for your needs, hiring the pro is more cost-effective, or you may indeed find your own results more than adequate for your needs and thus gain the convenience of having it all in-house.

    Cheers,
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    Re: Need Help\Ideas for a MF Camera Sys for Product Photography

    Quote Originally Posted by dougpetersonci View Post
    If you're going with a view camera I'd suggest a Leaf over a Phase One (despite being a big fan generally of Phase One) if the back is dedicated to this purpose.

    Live View from Leaf is faster/higher-quality than Phase One. It's not a night and day difference, but well worth it if you will be doing mostly Live View to focus.

    Doug Peterson (e-mail Me)
    How does Leaf live view compare to Hasselblad, Phase and Sinar?

    It is not relevant to this thread, but I am interested in daylight live view for landscape.

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    Re: Need Help\Ideas for a MF Camera Sys for Product Photography

    Quote Originally Posted by Jack Flesher View Post

    I think the first basic comment is that just having the correct equipment will not insure you generate similar results to the Pro you hire. In addition to decent equipment, you really need to understand lighting and post-processing of the files to get optimal results. Moreover, MF camera files generally require (and also allow) more post processing adjustments.
    Or to say it another way, it's the swordsman, not the sword.

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    Re: Need Help\Ideas for a MF Camera Sys for Product Photography

    Quote Originally Posted by dick View Post
    How does Leaf live view compare to Hasselblad, Phase and Sinar?

    It is not relevant to this thread, but I am interested in daylight live view for landscape.
    Live View is not on the camera's LCD, it is a live video feed to the computer screen when shooting tethered. I've only used it while tethered to a Mac tower in the studio, so I don't know how it would work with a laptop in the field.

    The newer developments in WiFi currently require computer tethering also in order to view on another device.

    -Marc

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    Re: Need Help\Ideas for a MF Camera Sys for Product Photography

    It seems to me that the information needed is missing: when you ask whether something is cost effective, you have to compare what you're paying now to the cost of what you propose doing instead.

    Even assuming that you are capable of duplicating the image quality of your current photographer, it's impossible to say whether buying an MF camera is cost effective without knowing what you pay now and comparing it to the cost of the alternative.

    I don't think this is as much a photography question as an accounting question.

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    Re: Need Help\Ideas for a MF Camera Sys for Product Photography

    I have a real problem with this. YOUR taking food off my table. LOL

    Seriously though you do have to think on what you do best and your time involved in that is much more profit driven than trying to save a few bucks and take that design time away doing this stuff.

    Crap I say this all the time to my wife. Why would you want me to do some meaningless task when I am over here making a lot of money doing this.

    Stephen is right , this is a accounting question and time value situation that you have to decide where your time is best spent.

    My theory is this I need a doctor I will drag my butt in and do it which is not easy for me. I need a lawyer he is going to be much better prepared to make my case than i could ever be no matter how much I think I may know it may take 10 times the amount of time for me to figure it out. Obviously you getting my drift here and I am a working Pro so when I see these comments than my ears perk right up. Seriously i don't know your shooter but if he is anything like me he will shoot circles around you. That is not bragging but years spent on developing all the techniques required to getting a image to the printed page and the day you start sending garbage out for your advertising than just start getting ready to close your doors. Garbage in is garbage out and those facts will never change.

    Okay i know i just gave you a hard time and was not meant in a mean spirited way but here is my rub you are mostly likely a damn good jewelry designer stick to what you know that is where the money is. Not trying to save in area's that take you away from that.

    Now having said all that I will still go to the wall and help you figure out what you need but you need a lot and you need a lot of experience. Where here to help.

    Now to be fair I just watched my wife with 38 catheters in her breast getting her radiation treatment. 5 HIGHLY paid doctors/scientists and me in the room. Not a chance in hell could i do that. In that room i was the class idiot and totally accept that fact.
    Photography is all about experimentation and without it you will never learn art.

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    Re: Need Help\Ideas for a MF Camera Sys for Product Photography

    Guy makes a good point

    From now on, I'm gonna avoid these kinds of questions just to preserve some kind of integrity for the industry.

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    Re: Need Help\Ideas for a MF Camera Sys for Product Photography

    Well Mike i certainly don't want to discourage these type of questions as they should get asked. Lets face it I have clients that are shooting there own stuff that i used to do but it is a certain type of shooting where real expertise is not always needed and they can save money. That part I get totally and no reason to have a shooter comes into do a silly shot that is used for some engineering diagram or something. The trick is they call the guns in still for there advertising or any external work. This is where the public see's the company behind the image.

    In this case the OP is using a shooter for his advertising. The question remains for him does he really want to risk that type of shooting and also take time away from the very very important design work that he does. It's like the risk reward type thing and that is all I am bringing up is to be really careful. Obviously he is the talent and very good one at that but should he spread himself that thin. I always want people to learn photography obviously I love it immensely after all these years and I do care about the integrity of the industry and the quality that gets labeled Pro photography. It's slipping trust me. My more concern is the OP taking on to much of a risk that his business could hurt from it but by all means learn as much as he can of photography. The question becomes when do you feel you can do both for him. My advice just be real careful before you really take this on. It sounds easy but it is not.
    Photography is all about experimentation and without it you will never learn art.

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    Re: Need Help\Ideas for a MF Camera Sys for Product Photography

    Guys, I appreciate all your comments.
    Correction here, I'm not using my photographer for advertising shots. They're not even creative shots. They're shots we're taking for online cataloging. There really isn't rocket science to it although I'm sure setting up the lighting and the equipment is a skill.
    At the end, it does come down to accounting, and for me at the way I'm going I could have the cost of a 40mpx camera system in about 3 years time with the way we're going right now. I've already found other to outsource the color correction at a minimal cost. I also would have to calculate the amount of time spent in taking the items to the photographers studio and getting them back which counts for something.
    Although I can understand the "eating my lunch" thinking here, I was mainly interested in figuring out whether a nice MF camera system could be set up for about 10K. I've been looking very keenly at the Pentax 645D and might demo it or something once it hits the states to see if it would fit our needs.

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    Re: Need Help\Ideas for a MF Camera Sys for Product Photography

    Okay horse of a different breed than and I'm sorry as well. I get sometimes very intense on these things and it may have been taken wrong. My concern really is you and your time and hope you understood all my logic there.
    Photography is all about experimentation and without it you will never learn art.

    www.guymancusophotography.com

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    Re: Need Help\Ideas for a MF Camera Sys for Product Photography

    Quote Originally Posted by MedShooter View Post
    They're shots we're taking for online cataloging...
    At the end, it does come down to accounting, and for me at the way I'm going I could have the cost of a 40mpx camera system in about 3 years...
    I also would have to calculate the amount of time spent in taking the items to the photographers studio and getting them back which counts for something...
    I think most members here would regard MFD as overkill for online pictures... If you want a good 1Mpx picture for the web, and you were using a DSLR with an Anti-Aliasing filter and Bayer interpolated, you would need to down res 10* to cancel the effect of the AA, and 2 or 4 times for the Bayer interpolation, so a 24 + Mpx DSLR file might be adequate. DR may not be a major issue in studio photography where you can control the lighting contrast, and a 16 -22Mpx DigiBack would, I think, be OK.

    You also have to account for the space you need to keep and use the equipment, and, if you do do not have a permanent studio, the time taken to set it up each time you use it.

    This could work well if you (or an employee) were a keen photographer who could leave the kit set up in their spare room. It does depend very much on the operator, and for jewelery, security might be a consideration... for any product design industrial espionage might be a consideration, but not if you were about to put the images on the net.

    If it is your business and you want to buy the kit with untaxed money for you (or someone else) to use for other purposes, that is different. If an employee was keen, free use of the kit would be an incentive to learn how to get the best out of it.

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    Re: Need Help\Ideas for a MF Camera Sys for Product Photography

    Just throwing a spanner here...I know that for online cataloguing, especially for jewellery there are some designers who use solutions such as this one Where they can combine photographing the actual product with 3D-ing it on a computer.
    The end result IMO does not look as realistic as a real photo (because of DOF and other issues) but for many applications it serves the purpose quite well...

    Back to the topic I agree with much of what was said here about needing to have the basic lighting skills. As a designer (in previous life) I know that if you have an "eye" for imaging it should not be too difficult for you to acquire these skills quickly, given some good guidance and some practise.

    Yair

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    Re: Need Help\Ideas for a MF Camera Sys for Product Photography

    Quote Originally Posted by yaya View Post
    Just throwing a spanner here...I know that for online cataloguing, especially for jewellery there are some designers who use solutions such as this one Where they can combine photographing the actual product with 3D-ing it on a computer.
    Yair
    This is very artificial, and can make glass look like a good diamond, but diamonds are unique and "natural" any way.

    It is quite impressive how they have created/falsified spectral highlights.

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    Re: Need Help\Ideas for a MF Camera Sys for Product Photography

    Okay, if you're talking about online catalogs, perhaps you could do it yourself. But why on earth would you need a 40mpx camera for that?? You're figuring on amortizing the camera system over three years. But that's just the camera part. Lighting, space for shooting - have you considered those costs? Then there's time spent learning the technical stuff, plus, once you get going, the time spent actually shooting. This is time that is taken away from your designing time. If you think you come out ahead after considering all these factors, great. But why not get some basic lighting and learn with a decent SLR? It doesn't have to be a 1DSIII.

    Kumar

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