Advice Wanted Was asked for camera advice - what would you advise?

TraamisVOS

Hall of Famer
Nov 29, 2010
Melbourne, Australia
So, most people at my workplace know I'm a photography nut. Today, a colleague said her daughter had some questions for me about purchasing a camera. This is the email from her daughter who is an artist:




I would so appreciate advice on cameras to use for fine art digitisation to make professional-quality prints (as wall art/digital and on textiles). I am photographing my fine art which is painted on silk. Silk is very hard to photograph, as its faceted fibre makes it extremely light-reflective, meaning I can't use flash. I'm currently trying to figure out a cheap-but-effective photography backdrop and lighting setup (maybe softbox lights? No idea) to achieve professional prints, but am out of my depth, so would appreciate any advice.

I would appreciate his advice on whether DSLR or mirrorless would be best, any specific features to look for, and any recommended models that would suit my specific purpose. I'm not super camera-savvy (although willing to learn), so something intuitive would be great. I'm hoping to spend $1000 or less, preferably closer to $500, although I'll take pricier recommendations if there's something especially suited to me. Any advice on lighting/backdrops, or any recommended resources relevant to what I'm trying to do would be great too. I know that's a convoluted list, basically any advice would be appreciated. Thanks heaps,





First of all, I don't think it matters whether it's DSLR or mirrorless. What matters is the price and at the moment (if we're talking brand new), DSLRs are cheapest when it comes to entry level Canons and Nikons with regards to excellent performance per dollar. This is taking into consideration the budget which is in AUD. If we're talking used cameras, well I own and have used the original Sony A7 - it is relatively cheap these days and is still an exceptional performer with regards to the IQ. For her budget, used cameras might have to be the way to go.

The other thing that concerned me was that she wants to use it to digitise her fine art work for professional level prints. AND it involves silk and (likely) other similar fabric materials. This brings to mind moire issues and distortion issues if using wide angle lenses. It is also likely that she will have no photography post-processing experience/knowledge - I don't think she realises that she would have to consider post-processing.

My ultimate conclusion is that, for her budget and requirements her best bet is to go film. You can buy exceptional quality film cameras and lenses for a disgustingly cheap price. Film will have better dynamic range than cheap non-full frame cameras to handle highlights from reflective silk, and film will also not have moire issues. She can send the film to film labs for developing and printing, which will save her from investing in a post-processing program and learning how to post-process. And a good film lab will be able to print and/or scan with skill too.

I haven't even considered lighting which will be very difficult to achieve for her budget.

What is your opinion?
 
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rayvonn

Hall of Famer
Jan 19, 2015
I see your point regarding digital but I’m guessing she’ll probably want to go digital. In that case, whilst it isn’t particularly trendy for a lot of us on this forum, I think any of the entry level Canikons, bought used, should be more than enough. They’ll have OVFs. Working on that basis before working with a mirrorless camera will probably be beneficial too, but that’s only my opinion. It’s not about how the gear looks but the end product and those entry level cameras can still produce stunning images and have the manual tools when required.
 

Richard

All-Pro
Feb 1, 2013
Marlow, UK
I think I would feel uncomfortable undertaking that kind of work with a film camera now. What if I missed something important when I was shooting via an OVF? It might not be obvious that there was an unfortunate shadow or reflection, or that I'd missed focus slightly, or something like that. And what if I'd shot the whole reel at the wrong film speed or with exposure compensation cranked up? I would see that kind of mistake within minutes if I was shooting digital and had a computer + monitor, and I could try again while everything was still set up. And I could get some software and learn how to fix certain things that way.

-R
 
Apr 18, 2014
Boston Burbs
David
I should probably ask what she's currently using to photograph her work.
Size of the art work and space for the shoot would also be good questions.
If she has something like an iPhone 8+ or newer, that should be sufficient for the job. A tripod mount for the phone and she’s ready to shoot. Her real issue is lighting. I think something like this kit should do the job.
I guess most modern phones could do the job, but it would have to have good manual controls.

A tripod would be a must. I've never been one to spend big on a tripod, but I wouldn't recommend cheap either.

Size of the artwork, size of the light source, and space all need to be considered. Something like those Neewer lights are a good option, though it would be better if there was another diffusion layer to even the light out more. A continuous light source, a good tripod, and a camera with live view would be what I would recommend. So while a DSLR could work, I'd probably look at mirrorless first, it's simpler.

As for a specific camera recommendation? I'd consider the Olympus E-M5.2, high res mode with 40MP JPEGs and 64MP RAW would be handy. And the pixel shift helps control moiré, could be helpful with silk.

 
Dec 31, 2013
Louisville, Ky
Something like those Neewer lights are a good option, though it would be better if there was another diffusion layer to even the light out more.
Both lights in that neewer kit could be aimed through a skrim. Which would both add a layer of diffusion and make it one giant light source.

Option two for the same effect would be to aim both lights through a large, 61” or bigger, shoot through umbrella.

A third option would be to use a large reflector. Aiming the lights in the opposite direction from the artwork and into the giant reflector. Which creates a giant light source. The white side of a Vflat would work. Although there is probably a cheaper diy option. A large foam board covered in aluminum foil or similar approach.
 

BrianS

Legend
Jul 7, 2010
If it were me, and you were comfortable (and if possible), I would visit the home to try photographing some of the work with your equipment. I would guess that a DSLR with a Macro lens would be best, and would bring my Micro-Nikkor 60/2.8 on the Df. This would give an idea of what can be done. For a $500 budget, I would suggest the Micro-Nikkor 60/2.8 with a used Nikon D7100. For a bit more- a Nikon D610.

The lighting is going to be the trick, and this depends on the size of the paintings. I use an enlarger base for a copy stand for smaller prints. Large prints- wall mount and a tripod.
 

Chris2500dk

Top Veteran
Dec 22, 2011
Copenhagen, Denmark
It sounds like she can control the light, doesn't need fast focusing, but want high resolution, good colors and no color moire.
I'd recommend her a Sigma dp3 Quattro, but stress to her it's a specialized tool for her purpose not a general purpose camera.
 
Apr 18, 2014
Boston Burbs
David
Both lights in that neewer kit could be aimed through a skrim. Which would both add a layer of diffusion and make it one giant light source.

Option two for the same effect would be to aim both lights through a large, 61” or bigger, shoot through umbrella.

A third option would be to use a large reflector. Aiming the lights in the opposite direction from the artwork and into the giant reflector. Which creates a giant light source. The white side of a Vflat would work. Although there is probably a cheaper diy option. A large foam board covered in aluminum foil or similar approach.
Many support two layers like these:


They help even / soften the light. Don't need to cover white foam board in foil, it bounces light fine without it.

Size of the artwork and space are going to be a determining factors, I've been lucky with a big family room and REALLY high ceilings. But not knowing those factors we could all be shooting in the dark.
 
Dec 31, 2013
Louisville, Ky
Many support two layers like these:


They help even / soften the light. Don't need to cover white foam board in foil, it bounces light fine without it.
I’m well aware of that. All of my modifiers, minus umbrellas, are like that. But the neewer kit and similar are single layer diffusion.

When I was giving examples of ways to bounce light. It was to make a giant light source from two small light sources. Which is why the lights would be pointed in the opposite direction of the artwork into a reflector. This is a way to give a big, even, soft light.
 

Tilman Paulin

All-Pro
Nov 15, 2011
Vancouver B.C.
Tilman
A co-worker of mine does that kind of work with a regular Canon DSLR and stitching tiles.
He is thinking though about getting the latest Sony with pixelshift - which he thinks might get him to the required resolution in one go.

At the requested cost range I would look at an Olympus or Pentax camera with pixel-shift and a lens with a flat field of focus and minimal aberrations (probably macro).
I wouldn't use a Sigma Merrill/Quattro without testing it first - the concern being color reproduction. (That's actually something that I would test with any camera, if possible)
 

KillRamsey

Hall of Famer
Jun 20, 2012
Hood River, OR
Kyle
So there's "Digitize" as in "for the web," and there's "digitize" as in "might reproduce in print from the files, at scale." I'm sure a newer phone would work for the first, but not so sure about the 2nd.

Also agree that this battle is 90% lighting. Big, close, and low angle I would think could get it lit without shine. I'd want her to understand white balance, and the color temp of her light sources. And I have plenty of faith in gazillions of cheaply available camera sensors, but not all glass (not even MOST glass) would be up to the task for a big work of art, methinks. Whatever cheap used camera she'd find would almost certainly NOT have a great lens coming with it.
 

TraamisVOS

Hall of Famer
Nov 29, 2010
Melbourne, Australia
Damn, thanks for all the responses everyone. There's a lot to read and consider.

It blows me away that iPhones are now considered ok for professional fine art reproductions. Are they? I have taken the occasional shot with my latest (or was the latest last year) high end Galaxy Android S9+ mobile phone and the results are passingly ok, but as soon as I zoom in, it's artifacts galore.

Gotta read through everyone's responses and meditate on it. Thanks again everyone.
 

TraamisVOS

Hall of Famer
Nov 29, 2010
Melbourne, Australia
I think one question to ask / one deciding factor is "how large are her artworks?"
Are they wall-sized panoramas or small little vignettes?
Very good question because I have no idea and didn't think to ask. I photographed (ie. digitised) another artist's artwork a few years ago at her request when I lived in a different state, that's the experience that I defaulted to, in my mind. I should ask my colleague's daughter about her artwork.
 

Jock Elliott

Hall of Famer
Jan 3, 2012
Troy, NY
I have nothing to say about the camera choice . . .

But, as to the lighting . . . for 8.5 years I did a weekly blog on air rifles and air pistols, which have, often, very reflective surfaces. A pro photography gave me some terrific advice: photograph them outside on a cloudy day. That would kill the reflections, he said. It worked great!

So . . . what they want for photographing art painted on silk is diffused light and uniform illumination. Since I don't "do" lighting, I don't have any specific recommendations. Another potential consideration is accuracy of color, and I don't have anything useful to say about that.

Depending upon the size of the artwork and the frequency with which these photos need to be taken, a copy table with diffusers on the lights might be an effective set up. Something like this, perhaps:


1579515177036.png


BTW, some years ago, I read a book about the business of freelance photography, and one of the chapters was written by a pro who warned about the dangers of "overbuying" equipment -- ie, exotic lenses, etc. that are expensive and don't get used very often. One of the best pieces of gear he ever bought was a copy stand, because it lead to a regular gig photographing artwork for museums for insurance purposes. Not very creative, he said, but it sure paid the bills!

Cheers, Jock
 
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TraamisVOS

Hall of Famer
Nov 29, 2010
Melbourne, Australia
That looks like a great piece of kit, this is the first time I've ever seen something like this.

The accuracy of colour is what concerns me because it means that she'll have to learn post-processing. Hence my initial idea of using a film camera and having the film lab develop the photos.


I've sent an email asking about the size of her artwork.
 
Apr 18, 2014
Boston Burbs
David
I have nothing to say about the camera choice . . .

But, as to the lighting . . . for 8.5 years I did a weekly blog on air rifles and air pistols, which have, often, very reflective surfaces. A pro photography gave me some terrific advice: photograph them outside on a cloudy day. That would kill the reflections, he said. It worked great!......
Giant softbox in the sky, patchy sun was always the best for outdoor portraits.
 

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