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Thread: Naive question about large format scanning backs

  1. #1
    asabet
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    Naive question about large format scanning backs

    The 35mm market is interesting right now with Sony and Canon targeting many of the landscape folks who would otherwise go medium format if it weren't so pricy. I don't know much at all about medium/large format, but I've seen some of the older, used large format scanning backs selling for not too much more than $3K (plus the price of camera and lenses of course). My question is this: Suppose that someone is looking for the best possible image quality for landscape and that he or she is willing to lug a computer everywhere, wait a really long time to make each photo, and dispense with niceties like weather resistance and autofocus. Will those older, used scanning backs soundly beat the latest high-res 35mm cameras in that application? I'm just curious because it seems that a lot of folks have budgets in the 7-10K range for landscape and never consider anything other than 35mm digital.

  2. #2
    Senior Member JimCollum's Avatar
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    Re: Naive question about large format scanning backs

    Quote Originally Posted by asabet View Post
    The 35mm market is interesting right now with Sony and Canon targeting many of the landscape folks who would otherwise go medium format if it weren't so pricy. I don't know much at all about medium/large format, but I've seen some of the older, used large format scanning backs selling for not too much more than $3K (plus the price of camera and lenses of course). My question is this: Suppose that someone is looking for the best possible image quality for landscape and that he or she is willing to lug a computer everywhere, wait a really long time to make each photo, and dispense with niceties like weather resistance and autofocus. Will those older, used scanning backs soundly beat the latest high-res 35mm cameras in that application? I'm just curious because it seems that a lot of folks have budgets in the 7-10K range for landscape and never consider anything other than 35mm digital.
    The scanning backs (Betterlight Super 6K is the one i have) will beat any 35mm or Medium Format digital capture currently out there. It'll probably be a tossup at the 60Mp level (i'd guess the scanning back will do better, since they do actual RGB capture rather than Bayer). The super 6K does 9000x12000 capture of a 4x3" area. It has excellent high ISO capture. I've used mine almost exclusivly for landscapes.. and the 'issue' of movement is something that can easily be worked around (wind thru trees, etc).. Where you have problems that can really ruin a shot is when the wind is strong enough to vibrate the camera.



    jim

  3. #3
    asabet
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    Re: Naive question about large format scanning backs

    Thanks Jim. A brief Google search reveals that your scanning back is very expensive. Will the older, used, less expensive ones also blow away the 20+ MP 35mm digitals for this application? Can one find a decent used scanning back for under $5K?

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    Senior Member JimCollum's Avatar
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    Re: Naive question about large format scanning backs

    Quote Originally Posted by asabet View Post
    Thanks Jim. A brief Google search reveals that your scanning back is very expensive. Will the older, used, less expensive ones also blow away the 20+ MP 35mm digitals for this application? Can one find a decent used scanning back for under $5K?
    The used 6k models (6,000x8000) can usually be found on ebay for between $4K and $6k... and are typically a very good bargain. I've not found better support from any company than from Betterlight.. so they'll help if you have any problems

    jim

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    Re: Naive question about large format scanning backs

    The downsides of any scan backs are as you mentioned them. They are slow, hard to work with, require enormous diligence, a very heavy tripod and lots of time. Also they can't capture anything that moves without strange stretching effects, which *can* be used artistically but are generally undesirable.

    The upside is great image quality and access to view camera movements at a very low price.

    Going this route would all be about expectations. If you love to shoot everything in camera (e.g. front swing rather than DOF stacking) and don't mind really working to get a single image then this is a great creative tool at a low price. If any of the above gives you the least bit of pause you are much better off using a dSLR and stitching/HDR/DOF-stacking.

    Also consider a dealer rather than eBay; they can properly check the functioning of a scan back. There are moving parts and electronic components which can loose calibration and a laymen will have a harder time properly evaluating the well being of a scan back than specialized dealers.

    Doug Peterson
    Capture Integration, Phase One Dealer <-- yes we do scan backs as well :-)
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    Re: Naive question about large format scanning backs

    O, and to answer your question: given a great tripod, careful workflow, and top-quality lenses, it would smash the quality of a single-frame of 35mm digital; especially at wide angles where canon/nikon glass is soft and heavily distorted (relative to LF glass).

    Doug Peterson
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  7. #7
    asabet
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    Re: Naive question about large format scanning backs

    Doug and Jim,
    Thanks so much for the great information!

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