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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

If your workflow still uses large-format film, or you have a large library of existing images, consider a drum scanner or one of the Hasselblad Flextight (formerly Imacon) CCD scanners. Fifteen years ago, a drum scanner was the size of a Mini Cooper, cost half a million dollars, and required a highly skilled operator. Today drum scanners are much smaller (usually fitting on a tabletop) and top out around $50,000. Experience remains a big plus to achieve optimum quality scans with these units. As the population of older drum scanners can no longer be repaired, many of them are being replaced with desktop scanners or scans are being farmed out to the remaining service bureaus that still have these capabilities. Beyond that-much like the selection of film cameras-Elvis has left the building here, too. A bit of research turns up a number of products from now defunct manufacturers, but once the spare parts are gone, you’re out of luck, so this is a risk that you may not want to take to save money in the short term. If you decide on this option, make sure you can get a service contract and the vendor in question has competent tech-support staff and spare parts on hand. Failing to take this advice may leave you in possession of a very expensive boat anchor.

Finally, large-format scanners, those that can handle originals up to 24-inches wide and wider: Not much new has happened in this niche in the past 12 months. The most recent hardware introduction took place about a year ago when Colortrac introduced its new 42-inch SmartLF Gx 42, designed for images requiring a wide color gamut and high dynamic range-such as graphic art and photographs. The company reports that a 54-inch version of the SmartLF Gx scanner will be available sometime in the second quarter of 2008.

Elsewhere in this market segment, Bowe Bell + Howell (BBH) entered the market by introducing a line of wide-format sheetfed scanners and then announced late last year that it would partner with Visioneer to integrate BBH hardware with Visioneer OneTouch scanning technology. And, in July of last year, Contex-which comprises Contex and Vidar large-format scanners as well as Z 3D scanners-announced that it had been purchased by Ratos AB, a private-equity firm based in Sweden.

An evolutionary trend

Image-capture performance has reached a bit of a plateau for now, with recent improvements being more evolutionary than revolutionary. My guess is this trend will continue until the point where today’s current medium-format backs become as reasonably priced as today’s digital SLRs.

With such a huge installed base of images captured on film, and quite a few photographers young enough to stick around for a while, film will probably just fade away gently into the sunset and probably never die completely. If for no other reason, there will always be a dedicated group of photographers that will have a passion for this form of image capture.

The good news is that, now that the tools have become so reasonably priced, there are very few roadblocks to capturing awesome images. So get cracking-the possibilities have never been more endless.

Jeff Dorgay, based in the Pacific Northwest, is a photographer and writer who has been involved in the digital-capture market for more than 25 years. He currently publishes ToneAudio (, an online magazine that covers analog and digital sound.