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Digital Capture's Future

(April 2008) posted on Wed Apr 09, 2008

With film disappearing and digital cameras becoming more advanced, what happens to digital capture?

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By Jeff Dorgay

Hardware maturity

Fortunately, digital capture has become a somewhat mature industry, and the need to constantly upgrade your tools is no longer as urgent as it once was. For many imaging professionals, the era of upgrading the minute the newest tool hits the market is now over. But that's not to say that 'new-camera frenzy' is dead-my local pro photo retailer, for instance, informs me that he had a waiting list this summer of 500 people who had already paid for the new Canon EOS-1D Mark III.

Five years ago, the cost of admission for a first-rate digital-imaging system was quite high. Today, however, hardware costs are plummeting and you can put together a reasonable system for $5000 to $10,000. A first-class imaging workstation is within reach of everyone. A recent perusal of the online outlets, for instance, reveals that 750-GB hard drives are now about $200 and 8 GB of RAM is well under $1000, so storage is no longer a bottleneck to your workflow or your checkbook. Even the 30-inch flat screen-once a rarity-has now become so ubiquitous that it’s not uncommon to see a pair of these on a desktop.

Many freelance photographers have drawn their line in the sand in favor of the DSLR, but for most of the remaining studios, things are as they were in the old days of analog photography: You use a 35mm camera for portability and a medium-format camera for ultimate quality. With digital, many photographers have simply traded the 35mm SLR for a DSLR, and their favorite medium-format camera now has a high-resolution digital back.

Even though you can buy the new 22-megapixel Canon EOS for less than $8000 (and it’s a fantastic tool for the price), it still doesn’t have the dynamic range that some of the most demanding studio work requires. The medium-format backs from Hasselblad, Phase One, Sinar and others still offer up images that are much less noisy and have more definition. This quality, however, comes at a healthy price-most of these systems are in the $15,000 to $40,000 range. If you have the volume to justify one, these are the ultimate capture solution, because in addition to a higher-quality capture, they offer a higher degree of control than what you get by just importing raw files into Photoshop.