High end digital camera
January 16, 2006 3:58 PM   Subscribe

Looking for a high end digital camera that is mobile, yet takes pictures with a high enough resolution to be blown up to about two feet wide. Ideally the quality would be good enough to hang in a gallery...

Is there such a thing? Are digital cameras really there yet? How much resolution should I look for? What sites should I shop at? What's the state of the art for mobile digital cameras?
posted by xammerboy to Shopping (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I notice that the owner of slower and joe's nyc both use Nikon D70s. Is there a better camera than this I should look into?
posted by xammerboy at 4:13 PM on January 16, 2006

I have a 24x18 inch print from a Nikon D70s that I would hang it an art gallery, assuming a gallery owner would let me.

I think you will be VERY surprised at the blow ups you can get from modern gear and interpolated upsizing. The traditional rules of film cameras about how big a negative has to be to get an blow up of size X no long apply. Things have changed a bit.

A D200 or D2x is even better, and there's always those Canon monstrosities. You could get to 2 feet easily with good glass and good technique. If you really need crazy quality, the modern set of digiSLRs might not work, but you'd have to be very demanding.

(This is an example of the picture I have at that size).
posted by teece at 4:19 PM on January 16, 2006

DP Review has an amazing feature search that should provide you exactly what you're looking for -- including reviews of any cameras that come up from your search.

They are, by many, considered to be the foremost authority for good/trustworthy reviews of digital cameras.
posted by twiggy at 4:23 PM on January 16, 2006

If the D70 is suitable at 6 megapixels, and at its price-point, then the 8 megapixel Canon Digital Rebel XT should be a good equivalent on that side of the brand fence.
posted by VulcanMike at 4:24 PM on January 16, 2006

It depends on your chosen subject matter. If you want to take large group portraits or detailed landscapes and blow them up for exhibition then, arguably, no digital (or 35 mm camera) will be enough - you need a medium or large format model.

With regard to megapixel count be aware that to make a noticable improvement to visual resolution you need to double it - but this means you will need the square of the megapixel rating. So if you have a 5 megapixel camera you would need 25 megapixels to make a noticeable difference. Large format cameras are a generation ahead of even this - equivalent to about 100 megapixels.

Ken Rockwell is a serious landscape photographer whose site I would recommend for cutting through the photo industry bullshit.
posted by rongorongo at 4:50 PM on January 16, 2006

I would specifically not rely on Ken Rockwell for advice. He's very entertaining, but he's often very wrong.
posted by bshort at 4:56 PM on January 16, 2006

If you don't already own the system of lenses that accompany the body, I'd rather go with Canon if I were just starting out. Canon has consistently dedicated itself to supporting the "full frame" sensor while Nikon has pissed a bunch of money away with their stalward 1.6x crop and their DX line of lenses. Either way, Canon not only has it up on Nikon in the AF department, not to mention having real T/S lenses (I can't believe Nikon never even made a manual T/S, while Canon's got like 3 to choose from...sigh) and lower f/range lenses (like the really affordable 50 1.2).

Anyway, you can get an 8-meg D20 for peanuts. Get a steady tripod and a panosaurus and you can create photo mosaic that could be printed on a wall.

Disclaimer: I'm actually a Nikon customer, and the above screed is coming from years of feeling like if Nikon had just mad a few changes, they'd still be the best in the world. I'm going to miss my 85mm f1/4, sure, but I'm still heading over to the Canon camp. If Nikon can't (or won't) produce a full-frame sensor at this stage in the game, it's not because they can't, but because their marketing department has told them they won't, which is a shame.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:10 PM on January 16, 2006

What does mobile mean in this context? Just untethered?
posted by smackfu at 5:22 PM on January 16, 2006

Good point, smackfu...

If you're looking into doing some digital street photography, well... there's still not a lot that beats a Leica for portability and consistently good optics--even if they're not 100% German. Or you could join us in the 21st century and just get one of these.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:31 PM on January 16, 2006

I don't think that digital can match the quality of film yet, not to mention the easy versatility you get just by switching films. I do scan some pictures and make digital prints and the experience hasn't made me want to switch at all. I don't enjoy messing around with Photoshop for hours, nor do I find digital cheaper by the time I buy printer, ink and paper so I am still shooting film mainly. I also have a fabulous lab, which helps.

Civil_Disobedient will the regular Nikon lenses (I have an F100) work on the D70?
posted by fshgrl at 6:37 PM on January 16, 2006

Digital easily matches the quality of 35mm film. Lenses from a F100 will work without a hitch on a D70/D70s. If you use MF Nikkors, the lenses will work, but you will lose the ability to meter.

As one who used to shoot film and scan the slides, I can say that a D70s is infinitely better for me than that solution, even though the scans were much higher resolution.

I've taken thousands of pictures with a DSLR that I never would have bothered to take with my F5. Film just ain't worth the hassle to me any more. My F5 collects dust, in spite of being twice the camera of my D70s. YMMV.

But a D70s (or Canon equiv.) can definitely get you in the same quality realm as the slide film I used to shoot. In some ways it is actually better, bet you MUST retrain yourself on the digital darkroom (which in the end is much quicker than the actual darkroom, but not in the beginning).
posted by teece at 6:51 PM on January 16, 2006

Depends on what lenses, and depends on what you mean by "work." F-mount is still f-mount, but there could be the occasional "hitting the mirror" problem on some lenses, though I don't know which ones offhand.

Any AF lens will work on the D70. Just about any AI or AIS lens can be modified with a CPU chip to allow for full matrix metering. No 'D' upgrades, sadly, so you better have a good AF on your body and stick to fast lenses. I figure anyone holding on to an old manual lens is probably dealing with large apertures anyway (otherwise just upgrade to AF and be done with it).

More info on upgrading AI/AIS lenses (and some older f-mounts) to work with matrix metering.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:53 PM on January 16, 2006

Film and digital look different when blown up to the point where you can see the component parts (grain or pixels).

For perspective, I have not done tests, but I suspect that the amount of information in colour 35mm film is exceeded by that in a 6MP file. That doesn't mean a 6MP file will look better blown up, because most people find film graininess to be much more pleasant to look at than pixelation, but if you needed to extract information from the image (such as the license plate of a distant car), where subjective aesthetics do not apply, I'd guess that the 2000x3000 pixels holds more info.

Regardless, as mentioned above, you can interpolate up to much higher resolution, and then perhaps run a grain filter over the result to mask the interpolation and give something softer to the eye if someone was studying it up close.

But some numbers. If you have a 6.75MP image ~3000 pixels wide printed at 2 feet wide is 50 pixels per cm, or 5 per mm. Given the (usually larger) area most printers take to print a recognisably square pixel, I'd say you're fine, even without interpolation tricks.
posted by -harlequin- at 8:24 PM on January 16, 2006

Another important but often overlooked factor with big enlargements is viewing distance. You might look at a 10x8 print at arm's length. A big blow-up on a gallery wall you might look at from 6'-8' away. Just as the print size increases, generally so does the viewing distance - a loss in print resolution on a big print can be absorbed by the increase in viewing distance. Sure, close up to that big enlargement you'll notice a loss in quality compared to the 10x8, but how many of your viewers, other than photo-nerds, are going to bother to get their noses up to your huge prints? That's why they don't need to shoot billboard ads on 10,000 MP cameras - some used to be shot on 35mm.
posted by normy at 11:22 PM on January 16, 2006

If you're thinking of a D70, don't forget to look into the D50, it's a comparable camera at about $350 less.
posted by nomad at 9:33 AM on January 17, 2006

If you do decide to go with Canon because of their full-frame leanings, avoid the EF-S lenses, which will not work with any full-frame cameras.

I haven't ever used a Nikon, so I can't make any kind of relative comparison, but I really like the two Canon cameras I've shot with (d60 and 5d). My primary motvation for ditching the old Minolta and going to a DSLR was nighttime photography.
posted by aubilenon at 12:22 PM on January 17, 2006

Response by poster: These are all excellent answers and have given me a lot to think about. Thank you!
posted by xammerboy at 12:58 PM on January 17, 2006

I don't enjoy messing around with Photoshop for hours, nor do I find digital cheaper by the time I buy printer, ink and paper so I am still shooting film mainly. I also have a fabulous lab, which helps.

Well, the thing with Photoshop is that (once you get the hang of it) there is so much you can do with any given digital photograph beyond just "fixing it." And way beyond simple dodge and burn.

Thing is, try and know what you want to get from the photo before you take the shot. If you just want to capture the moment, maybe make a couple of standard prints, there's no advantage to film. None. You simply cannot tell the quality between a digital or film print under normal circumstances--and by that I mean "regular paper" and "regular size."

But if you want to create a piece of art and be involved in all the factors of its production, from inception to execution to preservation--well, like Ray Charles says, "You can't beat the real thing, baby."

But be honest with yourself on this: most of us aren't Ansel Adams. If you want to go that route, you don't just have to ditch your digital, you have to ditch that 35mm for a 8x10 view camera. You print on silver. You're way beyond just nailing a shot... you're making a photograph. Most of us couldn't care two shits about this; for the OP's purposes, you can get high quality prints measured in cubic feet for less than a hundred bucks that'll do fine at a foot or more distance. I used these guys when I lived in Lincoln, NE. Any "real" city should have a dozen of these guys. Look in your Yellow Pages.

As to the matter of cost.

Rite-Aid, CVS, Wal-Mart, Sams Club and a whole shitload of other retail locations all have one thing in common. It's called the Fuji Frontier. It's about a bazillion times better than anything you'll ever be able to afford. When you go in to get your film processed 1-hour, they use the same machine for the "real" film. The paper will last for years, won't fade or bleed like an ink jet, and it'll cost you 29 cents a print.

For Christ's sake, there is no way you can ever compete with that price per page, let alone the quality of the prints. Hell, you can go to Dry Creek and download the color profiles for any of these places (Wal-Mart, Sams Club... you name it) so you know beforehand that your prints will look the same as they do on your (obviously calibrated) monitor. Twenty nine cents.

If you want to process old-fashioned film the "real, manly-man's" way, you're going to be looking at twenty bucks a print for a custom lab to burn/dodge, or thousands if you want to do it yourself.

I've taken thousands of pictures with a DSLR that I never would have bothered to take with my F5. Film just ain't worth the hassle to me any more.

This can be a double-edged sword. You have to become a much better editor when you go digital or you'll waste years of your life going through exactly the same shot a dozen times over. And then you try justifying to yourself why you should keep all these digital files, perhaps in a database for that time when you sell all this to a stock agency and make million$ (really!) because, well shit, hard drive space is cheap. No more boxes of negs to organize. Nope, just throw it on a DVD and put it away.

Posterity is not going to be pleased with the amount of crap it has to sort through. :)
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:24 PM on January 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

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