A PhotoWorkout reader had recently written to state that they he wants to digitize artwork and is looking for our suggestions on the best camera solution.
This is what was placed before us:
Your website is awesome! I’m working on creating a service for visual artists, where we will digitize their artworks for large prints. Do you have any recommendations for:
1) Do I use a medium format?
2) Camera recommendations
3) Stitching programs?
While scanning would have been a good solution to digitize your images, it also has some serious drawbacks. You cannot scan large pieces of artwork on a standard A4 scanner. And large format scanners can be prohibitively expensive. In any case, scanning is out of the purview of this discussion because we are going to concentrate only on the photography option.
While both DSLRs and Medium format has excellent options to choose from, the latter has a serious drawback in terms of pricing.
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1. Using a Medium Format Camera
A medium format camera gives you the critical advantage of a larger sensor size to digitize your images. A large sensor size, coupled with a higher sensor resolution means you can pick up a large amount of detail. When digitizing for larger print you need both.
Higher resolution has a direct bearing on the print sizes (the maximum size you can print an image to). Larger the resolution, higher is the print size. As you can imagine for digitizing your images and for optimizing them for large prints you need the ability to capture as much detail as possible.
On the flip side, however, a medium format DSLR costs a lot of money. The Pentax 645Z Medium Format DSLR, one of the cheaper medium format systems in the market, costs something around $7k. That is a phenomenal amount of money. You could set-up an entire photography studio with that money and still have some money to spare.
Some cameras like the Hasselblad H5D-200C will set you back by nearly $45K while burning a hole in your life’s savings. Of course, if you’re looking for nothing but the best in terms of resolution and large sensor combined and have the requisite clientele to pass on the amount over the usable life of the camera, then go for it.
2. Using a High Resolution 35mm DSLR
The other option is to use a high-resolution DSLR. Thanks to the race among camera manufacturers to produce better and increasingly high-resolution DSLRs, it is routine to find 30 megapixels and higher sensors in 35mm format. I am not a big fan of high-resolution small sensors. But when the size is 35mm and above I don’t have any qualms. Still, between 35mm and a medium format sensor, the size difference is quite something.
A typical 35mm sensor has a sensor size of 36 x 24mm. On the other hand, a medium format sensor has a sensor size of 43.8 x 32.9mm. With it, you also have to take into account the size of the individual pixels. When you keep cramming more and more pixels on a sensor the individual pixels become smaller and smaller. That affects its light gathering capability. In terms that affect details as well as the ability to produce noise-free RAW frames. Ideally, go for a camera that gives the best combination of sensor size, resolution and individual pixel size.
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To conclude, if your budget is lower, go for a decent resolution, full-frame resolution. One which has a low noise signature and is capable of capturing a great amount of detail when you digitize your images.
3. Stitching Programs
Regardless of the approach that you take to digitize your images, you may have to consider stitching your images in order to get a higher resolution print. The need to do this comes from the fact that standard resolution images cannot be print too big.
The basic thumb-rule, in this case, is that you have to consider the 300 DPI printing rule. Let’s say that you want to offer several print sizes for your artwork. These can range from the more modest 12″ x 9″ to the large 48″ x 36″.
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For a 12″ x 9″ print the minimum resolution of your image has to be 3600 pixels x 2700 pixels (12 x 300 = 3600 pixels by 9 x 300 = 2700 pixels). For the largest size, it has to be 14,400 pixels x 10,800 pixels. Now, no camera would give you that resolution straight out of the camera. The solution is in breaking an image into several smaller sections and making individual images of these sections before combining them together in Photoshop.
You will need an image merging solution to combine/blend the images together. Photoshop has a built-in tool known as Photomerge which allows you to do just that.
Photomerge in Photoshop
To use Photomerge open the images that you wish to stitch together in Photoshop.
Then go to File > Automate > Photomerge.
There are multiple merging options. It is hard to point out one that will work in every situation. Basically, they are all designed for specific situations. If you are unsure start with the Auto Option and then try all the others one after the other to find out which one works for your specific files.
The Auto mode is by far the most commonly used. It will take your images and blend them seamlessly to create one continuous large image.
Photomerge does a fairly good job at most times. But at times you may have to use the content aware blend tool to manually patch up some sections.
There are other solutions as well, but Photoshop is by far the complete application to process and digitize your images.
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