[Article] A 100 MP Digital Camera System for Under

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Pink Floyd


Professional landscape photographers use large format film cameras and scan the film.

I've been shooting these cameras since the 1990s. Ansel Adams was using them in the early 1900s. My great-great grandfather used them in the 1800s.

Today I use a 4x5" camera and a $420 Epson scanner. I get brilliant images of at least 100 Megapixels, and you can buy a complete setup, including camera, scanner and lens, for under $2,000! You have to pay four times that for a

Canon 1DS-MkII with less than one-sixth the resolution, and for $8,000 you don't even get a lens!

Not only does this get you 100 megapixels, but 100 million better pixels than you'd get from traditional 100 MP digital camera. Scanned film pixels are better than digital camera pixels. Digital cameras don't resolve the three red, green and blue colors for each pixel like scanned film does. Digital cameras use a black-and-white CCD painted over with red, green and blue spots and then interpolate (make up) red, green and blue values pixels for each pixel location with the aid of digital hocus-pocus (smearing) called Bayer interpolation. Film scans are true, full resolution images like Foveon sensors were a few years ago. You can see examples on my

film vs digital page.

Film also has much better highlights. They don't blow out as digital cameras do.

Want to see how good even a small, screen sized image looks from my 50 year old lens and Epson 4990 scanner? This screen sized image has been reduced to less than one megapixel to fit your screen Watch out, it's a 1MB download. See it

here. Note the complete lack of complementary colors (yellow and blue) bleeding into each other and that the highlights are still yellow (not blown out to white) while preserving shadow detail. Of course you have to be a photographer to get this, simply buying a nice camera doesn't guarantee nice photos. My Your Camera Doesn't Matter page explains that.

I'm going to show you how to spend less than $2,000 for all brand-new gear. Then I'll show you how to do it for much less. Unlike conventional digital cameras, large format gear has been made the same way for decades and most people buy it used.


Camera Body: I use the

Tachihara 4 x 5. It costs $700 new. I like them so much I've bought three in the past 15 years. One got stolen and I dropped the other, which still works.

Lens: Get any 150 mm f/5.6 lens, like the Nikkor you can get

here for $530. 150 mm is normal. 300mm is a medium telephoto. 90 mm is wide. Of course you can buy dozens of lenses. Personally I use a 75 mm, 150 mm and 300 mm. My oldest lens is 50 years old and works perfectly. I have other lenses but leave them at home. Even crappy lenses work great on 4 x 5.

Lens Board: All brands of lenses work on all large format cameras. You need a lens board that fits the camera and has the correct sized hole. Get a

Technika lens board which fits the Tachihara. Most 150 mm lenses are size Copal 0. The lens board will cost you $125 new for the real German Linhof version, or find an off-brand or a used one for $25. They've been making exactly the same board for over 50 years. Ask nicely when you buy a lens and you might get it thrown in, especially when buying used.

Loupe: This is a magnifier with which you focus. I use this $45


Light Meter: I used to use a

Pentax Digital, but today I just bring along another digital camera! See How to Use a Digital Camera As a Light Meter. I'm saving you so much money that you can blow a couple of hundred on a pocket Casio and still come in under $2,000.

Film Holders: These hold your film inside the camera. They cost $35 each

here. (OK, actually $65 for two.) Compare these to having to buy memory cards for your digital camera, so they shouldn't really count towards the $2,000.

Film Scanner:

Epson 4990. For $420 you can scan at up to 4800 DPI, which actually gives 360 MP images or 1 GB files (2 GB in 16-bit scanning.) I never use all that. I scan at 2400 or 1800 DPI and get more reasonable 300 MB files with 100 MP. Resolution is limited more by your computing ability and patience than the film or scanner.

Tripod: I presume you already have one. See my

Tripod page.

Photo Lab: Any professional lab can process 4x5 film. A camera store is not a professional lab. See your local Yellow Pages or ask a pro. I use

Chrome in San Diego. They also do a lot of mail order. I shoot transparency (slide) film.

Total: $1,885, including two film holders. This leaves you enough left over to buy another digital camera as a light meter if you don't already have one for $2,000 total. No one would really buy all this new or pay $125 for a lens board, which brings us to the next section.


All this gear is plentiful used. I started with a used Crown Graphic, with lens and board, for $300. I made most of the photos

here and here with it and its lens.

There are zillions of fantastic used lenses out there. See my

4x5 page. My favorite 1956 Schneider 150 mm f/5.6 came along used with a camera, free.

A $3 plastic loupe stolen from your lab works as well as my $45


You usually can buy entire kits with cameras and lenses from people. it's easy to get all this cheap.

Scanners get better all the time. Splurge for a new

Epson 4990. It's wonderful. Don't cheap out with an older used model.


If you insist you can buy the best. Like any hobby you can spend infinite amounts for minor improvements. The pictures look the same.

Most rich guys love the

Linhof Master Technika 2000 which costs $5,100 new. I got my almost identical 1956 vintage Technika IV used for $760 in 1993.

A great set of lenses to get for it would be the

Schneider 72mm XL ($1,600), Schneider 150mm f/5.6 Apo-Symmar-L ($820) and the Nikkor-M 300 mm f/9 ($660).

Personally my older Schneider 75 mm cost me $600 used, my 150 came along free with the $760 Technika and I bought the Nikkor 300 mm new, in 1993. The nice thing about the Nikkor is its tiny size.


Wide angle lenses can be tricky to mount. This is because their short focal lengths require they be close to the back of the camera. Be sure to talk to your dealer to be sure your combination will work. Sometimes camera parts or bellows limitations get in the way. I use recessed boards that poke into the camera giving me an extra half inch of room.


I talk about and use digital cameras like the

D200 because they are fun.

When I'm serious and have the time to concentrate I prefer my 4 x 5.

If I'm going to make a huge print I always prefer having the big film from which to scan.

See my

4 x 5 page for more about why and others prefer 4 x 5. It has many advantages in addition to insanely high resolution.


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The example shot is really amazing. The Epson scanners looks like a great deal if you already have a nice SLR & lens(se).

However, carrying 20 packs of film with you w/e you go and not being able to experiment w/o wasting money is just not viable. Not to mention that out of 24 negatives, you're only likely to get 5 to 6 good shots.

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interesting read. the author never ceases to amaze me...

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I'll also give a nod to the Epson scanners. I use the 4990pro for all my image scanning, has yet to fail my expectations. I also just a couple weeks ago replaced my R800 photo printer (which served me so well) with a R2400 to expand into wide format prints and even better black and whites. I do agree with all his points, but my digital still does make amazing pictures, and there are many times where i can't afford to sacrifice the convenience for picture quality improvement that i don't see as all that much more amazing for the type of prints i've done.

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I'll nod epson scanners but a large format camera isn't exactly as practical as a 1DsMkII now is it? Neither is the processing required.

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The example shot is really amazing. The Epson scanners looks like a great deal if you already have a nice SLR & lens(se).

However, carrying 20 packs of film with you w/e you go and not being able to experiment w/o wasting money is just not viable. Not to mention that out of 24 negatives, you're only likely to get 5 to 6 good shots.

However you can do bracketing with A digital camera.

I doubt I would do this, But I would concider MF

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I run a business that does bulk photo scanning in Sydney.

We do bulk film strip scanning, 135 & 120 and bulk slide scanning. We can even do 4x5, the same as Rockwell.

Our observation is that most photolibraries (the guys who sell photos) are happy to re-sell photos that are 60 MB (or about 21 megapixels or about 3800 x 5700 pixels). Most domestic clients are happy with 20 MB (or about 7 megapixels or about 2200 x 3300 pixels). Serious pros go elsewhere and pay $50 and upwards per image.

There is a lot of life left in film, it hasn't suddenly died and gone away. Kodachrome slides shot 50 years ago will still be brilliant years after most digital cameras become landfill.

Billions of photos exist on film and cannot be shot again, you will never be able to photograph grandad as a boy with your new digital camera.

You have to spend a lot of money on this years new digital SLR and then next year (or the year after) do it again. That's tens of thousands of dollars worth of film and scanning if you are a serious photographer. In the meantime, my 1970 model Hasselblad is still producing around 35 megapixels per frame, more if I want to spend the effort.

Shooting film and then scanning it automaticaly means you have the image on two different kinds of media. Mould may kill film (but we can fix that during scanning), viruses may wipe out hard drives (you should be doing backups), but a catastrophe has to be pretty bad to wipe out everything at the same time.

Don't get me wrong, if it was not for digital cameras, I would not currently have much of a business. Bring it on, my 300 slide per hour scanner will handle truckloads of Kodachromes for many years yet.

I am up to 1981 for my own slide collection . . .

There is one thing I will disagree with in the Rockwell article. We have an Epson 4870 scanner, the model before the 4990. According to reviews, it is almost identical in performance. It's great for prints, fast and really excellent, but extremely slow for film & trannies when you want the highest resolution.

Also, I reckon it is rather soft when you get to the higher resolutions and you want to see each pixel. I agree with reviews that suggest it is really a 2400 dpi scanner. I guess I may be spoiled with my high speed bulk scanner that can do 300 slides per hour @ 20 MB or 7 megapixels.

We need to do some comparative tests to show the difference between the Epson scanner & my Kodak pro lab monster & put them up on our site at www.oscans.com.

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Is that a drum scanner?

Hi Antsy,

Our big Kodak is a film scanner, but not a drum scanner. By definition a drum scanner is not for bulk scanning even though they can do multi image.

In some ways, drum scanners can produce superior quality (for 20-50 times the price per scan) but they cannot handle mounted slides, you have to take the slides apart before you begin to scan.

My scanner can take loaded Kodak Carousels and scan 80 at a time while I have dinner, though I have to change the carousel 4 times every hour.

Also, it can do sharp Digital ICE on Kodachromes, removing most dirt and scratches. (Kodak owns the patent for ICE.)

Edited by Oscans
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