In the wake of this year’s
Focus on Imaging show and with ever more sensibly priced digital cameras and
accessories, including CCD pixel counts approaching 14m, John Chillingworth
doubts if non-believers in digital capture still feel comfortable with their
heads in the sand.
The claims of true digital parity with film are getting louder. Juggling for
global market dominance by major manufacturers goes on - and with it,
downward thrust on price and upward pressure on specification.
Where will it all end? Well, for the professional photographer, certainly
not in tears, but wait – we all know that a high specification digital
camera is only one vital link in a ‘matching set’ chain of expenditure!
For some working photographers, the economic argument for digital imaging
remains debatable when, for a start, it is the specification of your laptop
and the level of colour management you need, are added to the investment
Picking over the hardware and sounding knowledgeable about the whole gamut
of requirements, which make up the photographer’s digital armoury, would
fill a book.
Instead, identifying the essence, reading the runes and translating the
implications of rapid change, will open the door to digital opportunities
for each and every reader.
Here’s an example. Simply hold a Contax 645 AF camera in you hands and
confidence rises. See the results from its range of inimitable T* Zeiss
lenses and you will wonder at the quality and the ‘class’, which they exude.
Examine the claims for the digital version of the Contax 645 and the list of
advantages over competing hardware demands serious attention by anyone
moving into digital imaging.
As important as any feature is the massive advantage of being able to use
virtually any one of the highly sophisticated digital backs on the market,
including Phase 1, the Kodak DCS…, Imacon, Eye-lite, Leaf and others.
Evidence of the importance of such good lateral thinking is in the fact that
Venture, the highly successful ‘do exactly as I say’ social photography
group has purchased a total of sixty Contax 645 D cameras for its strictly
Operating in a very different way, The Lightportraiture Group, chaired by
that highly independent and ‘battle-hardened’ professional, Roger Harvey,
whose colleagues meet him on a regular basis to exchange ideas and review
opportunities, speaks of already having had the advantages of a competing
645 presented to them.
The group members, did not did not take too kindly to the concept. They
found it difficult to imagine a typical wedding shoot, climbing a tree or
balancing on a ladder with a laptop strapped to their waist.
Instead, they are warming to the idea of inviting Frazer Allen of Kyocera
Contax UK to explain the advantages – and there are many - of the Contax 645
D. One can visualise further sales as a result!
Amongst Frazer Allen’s other marketing challenges is to present the Contax
N1D as a professional tool. “It is a first class piece of kit” he says,
“ideally suited to operating in controlled studio conditions.”
Blessed with what is known to be a Philips sensor of limited capability -
125 ASA is the fastest simulated shutter speed – the N1D is unlikely to have
found favour with digital imagers of the more active kind. He is, however,
still determined to talk up its good points to anyone prepared to listen.
Hasselblad, meanwhile, having launched its much trumpeted H1, the
beautifully engineered 645 built for them in Japan, believe that they are on
to a winner. It is equally at home, they say, in the film and digital worlds
although with its digital back in place, complete with its umbilical cord it
will probably prove to be most at home in the studio.
Compatible with 70% of current digital backs, Hasselblad is keen to point
out that the H1 provides handling and functionality similar to that of an
integrated digital camera. It will be interesting to see how many
professionals are convinced by claims for its unique design features and
superb lenses, which are said to make the H1 the ultimate cross-platform
In a very different league, according to Kodak, is their new Professional
DCS Pro 14n Digital Camera. Trumpeting its (late) arrival, its primary claim
is that of it being the industry’s first full 35mm size CMOS sensor, with a
total of 13.89 pixels.
Designed, they say, for professional portrait, wedding, event and commercial
photography, its Firewire connectivity, at a 12 MB per second transfer rate,
is up to four times faster than Kodak’s previous DCS cameras.
At first sight it is a somewhat bulky piece of kit, but it claims to provide
medium format quality and enlargement capabilities, with no lens
Fierce competition in this area of imaging has meant that – at last – Kodak
have adjusted their pricing policy. Such developments make it worth a
second, third and fourth glance, because there is clearly a lot of camera
for your money!
A marriage of inconvenience
Kodak and Olympus, it seems, have agreed on a new common standard for
digital cameras. Right now, there is little indication that other
manufacturers of professional level digital SLR’s have adjusted their
For that matter, from the initial announcement just what Olympus and Kodak
hope to achieve with their ‘Four Thirds System’ is far from clear.
Presumably, a larger 4/3inch image sensor, not locked into the 35mm format,
will facilitate the development of dedicated digital camera lens systems,
which maximise the image sensor performance, ensuring outstanding image
quality in cameras smaller than existing 35mm film SLR camera lens systems.
Just what one achieves by standardising lens mount systems, apart from
restricting the freedom of the designer to create dedicated digital camera
lenses, which independently compete in quality and scope in the global
marketplace is hard to fathom.
A good current example of manufacturing enterprise is in the recent widely
publicised development announcement by Nikon of a new compact, lightweight
G-type ultra-wide angle zoom lens designed exclusively for Nikon digital
SLRs, the AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor 12-24mm f/4G IF-ED.
The first of a range of DX Nikkor lenses, it is an ultra-wide angle 2x zoom
lens featuring a focal length starting at 12mm (18mm for D1-series and D100)
for greater covering power. It offers the same high performance as more
cumbersome 35mm format lenses. The new lens also incorporates Nikon’s
exclusive built-in SWM (Silent Wave Motor) for fast, quiet autofocus
Scheduled to be released in the spring of 2003, it is somewhat obvious that
Nikon intends to continue on it own majestic way!
The Canon boom
Visitors to the Canon stand at Focus on Imaging will, no doubt, have
been regaled with the news that they have a new DIGIC processor on their G3,
S45 and IXUS V3 cameras for the amateur market.
Of meatier interest would, again, have been the Canon EOS-1Ds, first seen at
Photokina. Introduced as the world’s first full frame professional digital
camera with an 11.1Mg CMOS sensor, it is said to capture astounding detail
and colour, with almost double the resolution provided by other digital SLR
Canon Consumer Imaging’s Mark Robinson says, “The world’s professional
photographers will see that the EOS-Ds means that digital output can rival
the quality produced by 35mm film. This latest development has enabled us to
expand the range significantly, to offer the choice of speed with the 1D or
exceptional resolution with the 1Ds.”
Fuji – The fourth generation
Accolades continue to be received by Fujifilm for the success of its
FinePix S2 Pro, the sturdy and reliable professional tool, which is finding
favour with many photographers being drawn inexorably into the digital camp
by client demand and escalating cost of traditional image-making.
However, research and development continues apace and focusing its massive
resources on the future, Fuji launched two Fourth Generation Super CCD HR
two months ago.
With the aim of accommodating the resolving power of the FinePix S2 Pro, in
much smaller camera bodies, the first of the new sensors will be 94mm in
size, with an effective resolution of 3.1m pixels and an output resolution
The second, a 14.9mm sensor with an effective resolution of 6m pixels, will
have an output resolution of 12m pixels.
Differing from a normal CCD, the Super CCD SR uses a new CCD arrangement,
based on the diagonally mapped, octagonal sensor arrangement pioneered in
earlier Fuji Super CCD’s. The difference is in the fact that not one, but
two photodiodes capture information on the same area of the image. All one
can say is, “To hell with conformity!”
Sigma knows its place
No stretch of the imagination is needed, to appreciate that since Sigma
launched its SD9 digital SLR, with the Foveon X3 sensor and a price-tag of
around £2,000, the rest of the industry has been galvanised into more and
more research. Most of it into the delivery of high resolution sensors for
similarly priced high end digital cameras.
Ask Sigma if they are disappointed that the magical Foveon X3 Technology has
not swept the competition off the map and you would find them faintly
“At no time,” says Graham Armitage, business development manager at Sigma
UK, “has Sigma visualised competing with the Canons and Nikons of this
“From the start, we could see an area in the market, where professionals in
the social field and high-stepping amateurs meet. We have concentrated our
attention on capturing a market segment, which appreciates the impressive
resolution provided by our sensational image sensor,” he says, “and are
happy with the progress we are making and, by the way, we have further
camera developments in the pipeline.”
Sigma also appear not to be phased by talk of especially designed optics for
digital applications. The latest additions to the stable will be a 120 – 300
zoom and a 300 – 800 zoom, which, they point out, will provide even more
magnification when, used on the SD9.
Minolta: a digital debut
Minolta, a company with a sound and sensible approach to digital
imaging, has recently set its sights higher up the resolution scale.
Their recently launched Dimage F300 is said – by Minolta – to be one of the
world’s smallest and lightest 5.0 megapixel ‘slip-in-the-pocket’ digital
cameras with a built-in eight element, seven group design lens, selling for
On the market at over twice that price is a Minolta camera of a very
different ilk. It’s advanced technology gives the camera a positive air of
professional versatility, which should not be ignored.
The Dimage 7Hi takes the best features from Minolta’s top of the range
Dimage 7I and adds features to make it a versatile tool, both in the studio
and on location.
With shutter speeds topping out at 1/4000s, the new high-speed continuous
drive mode can capture images at around three frames per second, even with
high quality TIFF and RAW images. Using UHS (Ultra High Speed) continuous
advance 7 frames per second can be achieved, which competes with most
professional film cameras.
In addition, a 3 point wide AF system, flex focus point for precise control
over the focusing area and DMF (Direct Manual Focusing), which make instant
adjustments to the auto-focus, the Dimage 7Hi is competitively priced.
Add to this, a cupboard full of well thought out ‘bells and whistles’, this
chunky handful of technology is a further example of the way in which
individual manufacturers are finding new ways in which to meet the
challenges of the digital age.
The freedom of choice afforded professional photographers, when it comes
to selecting the right digital back for their individual needs often beggars
Just when you think technology has hit a ceiling it surges ahead again. A
prime example is Imacon. The company won three vision awards at the
PhotoPlus Expo in New York last year.
One was for their new Ixpress digital camera back, which has a 1,000 image
storage bank. It has been designed to enable more functionality and
portability than any other back on the market by shooting a full 16 bit
colour, 96Mb image straight to disk, including preview every 1.5 seconds.
Thanks for the Memory Cards
Like other distributors, Peak Development Limited offers a wide range of
memory cards, including CompactFlash, Sandisk, SmartMedia, IBM Microdrive
and Sony’s Memory Stick.
Robert Baseley, Peak’s Sales Director, talking about the evolution of memory
cards observes, “Prices have dropped dramatically since the first 4 – 9
megabyte cards were on the market.”
“The norm is now 64 – 128 mg, but one gigabyte cards are already in
production and as UK distributors of IBM Microdrive cards, we know that
higher capacity cards, as high as 4 and 5 gigabytes are in the pipeline.”
Interestingly, Pretec memory cards, distributed in the UK by Jactron,
recently introduced 1.5Gb, 2Gb and 3Gb CompactFlash cards, which are
currently the highest capacity of any small form factor flash memory card in
Barbara Briggs, Jactron’s hands-on sales and marketing executive and proud
owner of a Fuji Finepix S2 Pro, has personal experience of using a 1Gb
She told us, “I found the performance to be exceptional and, of course, the
solid state ‘works’ gives one so much confidence as far as accidental damage
is concerned. The save time is slightly slower than the IBM Microdrive, but
it is faster than other brands of one Gb CompactFlash on the market.”
The sting in the tail of any major step forward in technology is the initial
price. If you are in the market for a higher capacity card, hang onto your
shirt! Be prepared to pay VAT inclusive prices of £302 for the 1Gb card,
£570 for the 1.5Gb, £1,005 for the 2Gb card and £1,507 for the 3Gb version.
Image recovery software
There have, in the past, been a number of freelance geniuses with the
ability to recover text and images from corrupted floppy disks, hard drives
and CD-ROM’s. Now, there are neat software packages, which can do the same
for digital camera memory cards.
One from Lexar Media called Image Rescue can recovers lost or deleted image
files (JPEG, TIFF and RAW), from a CompactFlash card, even if it has become
corrupted, giving you added peace of mind knowing that your images are not
lost, although image recovery is not 100% guaranteed.
The programme scans every sector on a CompactFlash card and reports any
hardware errors found. It can also format and delete all files on the card.
If your card is showing an error in your digital device this feature can
make the card usable again.
Peak Development Limited is also in the market designed and developed a
similar package called Image Recall. Peak were initially so pleased by its
performance that the company offered an image recovery service, but now it
markets the programme widely at a competitive price, as well.
The ultimate accessory
Professionals with a real handle on the digital revolution will tell you
that it is colour management which was, for them, the final piece of the
There is evidence that as many as three in four social photographers who had
switched to digital capture, have returned to film. “I want my life back”
appears to be the cry of disappointed wedding photographers who are peeked
because the image files they send to their prolab were returning with vivid
green grass, pink faces and lurid coloured lips.
Manufacturers and prolabs, alike, should have made it abundantly clear to
them that digital imaging, for all its sophistication, is not designed to
reduce photography to an amateur ‘point-and-shoot’ situation; it is a whole
Rescue, however, is at hand for those determined to get to grips with the
medium. If in the past, the mental shutters clanged shut at the sound of
some ‘expert’ enjoying the opportunity to baffle you with pseudo-science,
Back in October 2002, Typemaker Limited, the Birmingham-based software
developers and colour management specialists, launched a package just for
Colour Confidence Studio is a no-nonsense, follow the instructions,
multi-stage approach to managing the translation of colour values from the
camera to the monitor and on to the finished print.
Typemaker’s enthusiastic managing director, Geoffrey Clements advises, “Set
up correctly and using our easy-to-follow instructions, ‘Studio’ can help
you improve colour matching through the digital production process. You can
be assured that it demystifies the process and, competitively priced, it
opens the market to newcomers, who may not previously have understood or
considered professional colour management.”
At £295.00 plus VAT, Colour Confidence Studio has rapidly captured the (cost
conscious) imagination of the creative sector. It comes with the Pantone
Spyder monitor calibrator, OptiCAL software and a comprehensive PDF guide to
the concepts and benefits of colour management, including information on how
to set up your operating system and applications for optimal colour
There is also an LCD version, for users of flat-screen monitors, for an
At the opposite end of the colour management spectrum, there is the new Sony
Colour Reference System, which combines 21” Sony FD Trinitron CRT display
technology with a high performance Sony sensor and software for display
calibration and profiling. It is claimed to be the ‘bee’s knees’ in the
current race for colour management perfection.
Selling at around £2,000, it is clearly aimed at the leading edge of the
photographic market, as well as at major design and publisher’s studios.
There is every reason to believe that Sony can do no wrong in this area of
digital technology, so close examination of its many advantages must be a
To hell with conformity!
What this all means is that 2003 should see a far greater take-up of
digital image-making by professionals who are not prepared to rush into it
like headless chickens. The cameras and the technology are are already here
to ease them painlessly into a whole new way of working.
Digitally driven, the photo industry will keep right on improving the
technology, which drives cameras, lenses and peripherals to new levels of
quality and speed.
It result remains debatable for the industry, if it were it to accede to the
suggestion of creating common standards and demands for conformity, because
they might place a dead hand on future digital developments.
Whatever happens, manufacturers would do well to remember that for their
professional customers, conformity is seldom an attribute to which they