Camera Test: Mamiya 645AFD III Camera and the Leaf Aptus DL-28 Digital Back

I recently received a Mamiya 645AFD III medium-format camera to test, accompanied by a Leaf Aptus II DL-28 digital back, and several lenses. 

 

I’m going to report on my experiences with this camera, starting with an overview and first impressions in this post. In subsequent posts, I’ll cover a variety of shooting situations (in studio and on-location), image quality, and the Leaf Capture software and its performance. Note that this is one of the cameras we will be using on the upcoming Focus 09 Fine Art Printing and Art Reproduction Seminar Tour October 2-21.

 

The camera arrived in the original packaging, which is well designed, protecting the camera quite well.

 

Ergonomics are top-notch; the camera is well balanced, and controls are logically placed and fall easily under one’s fingers – in short, it just feels good. 

 

Camera, lens, and digital back build quality is excellent. This is clearly a pro-level camera, robust materials and construction.

 

In the next image, basic features are marked by the numbers. Number 1 is located next to the shutter release, and shutter controls: single, continuous, mirror-up, and lock. Number 2 shows the settings screen, which indicates battery life, aperture/shutter speed, and the like. Number 3 shows the dial which controls shooting mode – Aperture priority, shutter priority, program/auto, manual, X, and custom function. Number 4 indicates the digital back, 5 the stylus used to activate controls on the back.

 

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Controls on the front of the camera include depth of field preview, and a focus mode selector (single, continuous, manual).

 

The camera is powered by AA batteries, which is a plus in terms of cost as compared to camera bodies which require more expensive 123 batteries.

 

IMG_0342edit

 

 

Mamiya lenses have a strong reputation for build and image quality. Focusing rings are well-dampened, and autofocus lenses are quick and quiet.

 

Some specs on the digital back: 28MP, which produces a >150MB file @ 16 bits. The sensor size is 44x33mm, and offers  ISO ratings of 50-800. Pixel pitch is 7.2 microns, which is larger than, for example, the Nikon D3x which features 5.9. Dynamic range is reported to be 12 stops.

 

So far, I’ve used the camera mostly in-studio, with a couple of short sessions outdoors. To this point, the in-camera meter has been accurate, handling high-contrast situations accurately. More to follow on this topic.

 

The camera may be used shooting to a CF card, or tethered to a computer. The days of using an attached hard drive are gone. The battery mounts underneath the camera back, which I find convenient as it helps balance things when using longer lenses.

 

The digital back shoots at 1/fps. It has an excellent, bright viewing screen, 6x7cm, which has very good contrast and color. It can be viewed outdoors, but direct sun is a challenge. In-studio it is, in a word, stunning.

 

A feature of the Aptus digital back is it not only provides a preview and histogram of the image – it is a touch-screen controller for the camera, controlling quite a few functions.

 

In short, one can set up the parameters of the shot, from color space to pre-sharpening to pre-set camera profiles – all with a tap of the included stylus.

 

Now some have criticized this for being “too complex”, or “too fancy”, and I just can’t agree. It is much quicker than push-button driven controls, and the menus are clear and pretty easy to follow.

 

For example, one can set up the camera to provide a simple image preview, image preview with histogram in the corner of the image, or histogram overlaid on the image. Quite flexible and useful.

 

 

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RAW file format is now compatible with Photoshop, Lightroom, and Aperture. I applaud the company’s approach to open architecture – makes it much easier to work in a variety of circumstances and locations. We don’t always have control of the resources available to us in the field!

 

Image quality is excellent. Although the camera provides ISO settings up to 800, as a practical matter image quality begins to suffer at 400, and has significant color and luminance noise at 800, even in bright light. To be fair, this camera was designed for lighting-controlled situations – ie, ISO 50-100.

 

I used the camera in studio to capture some macro shots of an orchid. We used the new Westcott Westcott TD-5 lights with daylight-balanced fluorescent bulbs installed. (a check with a spectrophotometer shows these to be dead-on at 5500k).

 

The macro lens is a 120mm f/4 model, updated with a 16-bit CPU. The focusing ring is smooth, perhaps a little heavy to turn. I’d like to see a little less pressure needed, and a better turn ratio for close focusing – after all, this is a manual focus lens. Having said this, I had no trouble at all focusing the lens. (There is a very accurate focusing indicator in the viewfinder).

 

Image quality is superb. On macro shots, I recommend using a sturdy tripod or studio stand, and mirror-up mode for maximum clarity. 

 

The image below shows an orchid photographed in-studio, with a cutout at 100% to demonstrate sharpness. The white “fuzz” you see isn’t sharpening artifact, it’s part of the flower!

 

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I’ll be photographing a number of subjects this week, including some acrylic paintings for a fine art reproduction project that just came in. More to follow!

 

 

*****

 

We’ll be working live with this camera, among others, at the upcoming Fine Art Printing and Fine Art Reproduction seminars in Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico. These one-day intensive sessions start at the beginning of October 09. For more information, go here.

 

 

 

 

New Blog Announcement: Focus 09 – Digital Fine Art Printing and Art Reproduction Seminars

New Blog Announcement

 

Focus 09: Digital Fine Art Printing and Art Reproduction Seminars

Focus 09: Digital Fine Art Printing and Art Reproduction Seminars

Instructor: David Saffir

In October 2009, we begin a new tour and seminar series: Fine Art Printing and Photographic Reproduction. This series provides an in-depth review of the subject from several viewpoints: first, for photographers wishing to make fine art prints, and second, for curators, galleries, and other organiztions in dealing with artists and their work in the context of creating open- and limited reproduction editions of their artwork. Third, for artists who wish to expand their marketing efforts and created editions of their work for exhibition and sale.

Beginning October 2, 2009, and continuing through October 20th, the Tour covers seven cities in three states (Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico).

Designed for photographers, artists, galleries, printmakers, students, and organizations this series provides a number of learning experiences:        read more.

Selected Comments and Responses

I get a number of comments each month that ask great questions – so I thought that once or twice a month I would post the question, and a brief reply, so that we could all read them without scrolling until our fingers get blisters :)

Here’s a couple, more to follow: (I have edited to keep things space requirements manageable). The first theme this month is art, and art reproduction:

Q1:

(I have been told that there is ) software that will fix the single sheet feed problems on the Designjet Z3100-I would like to know how I can obtain this software.

Answer:

I believe the sheet-feeding issues can be solved through a firmware upgrade. It has been about a year since I looked at this issue, and I know that HP moves resources on its web site from time to time- so the best thing to do is to go to the main HP Graphics portal, and search for z3100 and a combination of parameters such as sheet feeding, firmware update, and the like. You can also contact Jack directly through his web site at duganne.com.

 PS – depending on the size of the sheet – if the sheet edges are not ‘square’, you’ll have issues. It you can trim the sheet to 90 degrees on each angle, many of your issues will be addressed.

Q2

In the capture process, do you use a black surround to envelope the artwork and then direct the two lights at 45 degree angle from both sides into the inside of the surround toward the artwork? Do you use polarizing filters over the lights as well as on the lens? I have not used the surround yet but other photographers have said that I should. Maybe that’s why not all my colors are perfectly reproduced.

 Answer:

In capture, I usually use a dark neutral grey, or black surround. Color bounce is a big, big, headache. The angle of the lights depends on the reflectivity of the artwork. W/ the HP Artist software, one can light the artwork from one side only. I do not normally use polarizers; however, I do not hesitate to use additional lights and change the arrangement to use a shallower angle, lighting for fill and to kill reflections, etc. Hope this helps.

PS – remember to protect the lens using flags or other barriers – lighting that spills directly past the lens shade will help kill color and contrast.

Focus 2009 Tour and Seminar Series, Fine Art and Photographic Reproduction

Instructor: David Saffir

In October 2009, we begin a new tour and seminar series: Fine Art Printing and Photographic Reproduction. This series provides an in-depth review of the subject from several viewpoints: first, for photographers wishing to make fine art prints, and second, for curators, galleries, and other organiztions in dealing with artists and their work in the context of creating open- and limited reproduction editions of their artwork. Third, for artists who wish to expand their marketing efforts and created editions of their work for exhibition and sale.

Beginning October 2, 2009, and continuing through October 20th, the Tour covers seven cities in three states (Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico).

Designed for photographers, artists, galleries, printmakers, students, and organizations this series provides a number of learning experiences:

  • A full-day workshop which covers the complete scope of work involved in producing reproduction of fine-art watercolor, oils, and acrylic artwork. We begin with art selection, proceed to planning workflow, image capture, processing, color management, output devices media selection, printing, edition management, certificates of authenticity, print finishing, and more.
  • A Tech Expo which provides an opportunity for hands-on experience with a number of printer manufacturers’ equipment, color management, displays, and more.
  • A bonus summary session which provides real-world, practical building blocks for running your own business and achieving profitability in the Business of Fine Art Reproduction and Fine Art Printmaking.

We will have the summary business session the evening before the main seminar event. The main event, held the next day, runs from 9 am to 5 pm. In Denver, for example, we will have the Tech Expo on October 2, summary business session on the evening of Oct 2, and the full day seminar session on Oct 3rd.

The schedule:

Denver, Colorado

Friday, October 2nd Tech Expo and Summary Business Session

Saturday, October 3rd Fine Art Printmaking and Art Reproduction Seminar

Location: Denver Pro Photo Studio Complex,

235 S. Cherokee St. – Denver, Colorado

 

Glenwood Springs, Colorado

Monday, October 5th Tech Expo and Summary Business Session

Tuesday, October 6th Fine Art Printmaking and Art Reproduction Seminar

Location: Glenwood Recreation Center,

100 Wulfsohn Road – Glenwood Springs, Colorado

 

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Thursday, October 8th. Tech Expo and Summary Business Session

Friday, October 9th. Fine Art Printmaking and Art Reproduction Seminar

LOCATION : Holiday Inn-Santa Fe,

4048 Cerrillos Road – Sante Fe, New Mexico

 

Flagstaff, Arizona

Monday, October 12th,Tech Expo and Summary Business Session

Tuesday, October 13th, Fine Art Printmaking and Art Reproduction Seminar

LOCATION : Flagstaff Ranch Golf Club Community Center

3605 So. Flagstaff Ranch Road – Flagstaff, Arizona

 

Phoenix, Arizona

Wednesday, October 14th, Tech Expo and Summary Business Session

Thursday, October 15th, Fine Art Printmaking and Art Reproduction Seminar

LOCATION : Hampton Inn & Suites ,

16620 North Scottsdale Road – Phoenix, Arizona

 

Tucson, Arizona

Friday, October 16th, Tech Expo and Summary Business Session

Saturday, October 17th, Fine Art Printmaking and Art Reproduction Seminar

LOCATION : Sheraton Four Points University,

1900 East Speedway – Tucson, Arizona

 

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Monday, October 19th, Tech Expo and Summary Business Session

Tuesday, October 20th, Fine Art Printmaking and Art Reproduction Seminar

LOCATION : Holiday Inn & Suites Airport,

1501 Sunport Place S.E. – Albuquerque, New Mexico

 

This schedule may be subject to change. PLEASE BOOKMARK or subscribe to this page to keep up to date.

For registration links, go to the Digital2You.cc here  or CALL FOR DETAILS 303-934-2777.

New Fine Art Printmaking and Art Reproduction Tour

FINE ART PRINTMAKING & ART REPRODUCTION SEMINARS, DAVID SAFFIR, OTHER INSTRUCTORS

7 CITY TOUR IN OCTOBER 2009, APPROX DATES OCT 1-15

This will include:

  • studio setup
  • lighting
  • digital capture
  • capture and digital asset management
  • image editing
  • color management
  • printing
  • print finishing

…..and more!

 Call for details and registration,  303-934-2777 or go http://tinyurl.com/nbupma

ALBUQUERQUE, SANTA FE, PHOENIX,  TUCSON, 
SEDONA, DENVER, GLENWOOD SPRINGS

New Article – Success Story, Fine Art Reproduction

New featured article on the HP Graphics web portal: “Photographer launches reproduction business, using HP Designjet Z3200 Photo Printer and HP Artist Solution for Nikon”

Here is the link.

Newsletter, July 2009

Just back from some consulting gigs in the Southwest. What a summer!

In this issue:

New how-to articles, new Photoshop classes in California, upcoming seminars and workshops in San Diego, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Chicago, and New York.

NEW ARTICLES:

Quick Portrait Retouch in Photoshop, Part I

Managing and Archiving Your Photos, Part II, guest author Robert Ash

Getting It Right In The Camera, Part I: Managing Depth of Field, guest author Ted Dayton

NEW Photoshop Classes

Turbo Portrait Retouch, Landscape Images, Personal Book Publishing

This multi-session series will enable photographers and other artists to use Adobe image editing products effectively and efficiently. I use a goal-oriented, hands-on approach.

Sessions are divided into segments that focus on important, practical issues. You can attend one, or all. You’you’ll go home and get results!

•Session 1, Photoshop: Turbo Portrait Retouching, 7/19

•Session 2, Photoshop, Landscape & Scenic Imagery, 7/26

•Session 3, Design and Create A Photo Book, 8/16

Click for details and registration.

Santa Fe Workshops: Digital Intensive: Fine Art Reproduction, Nov 2009

This three-day hands-on intensive is for photographers, artists, printmakers, curators, and gallery owners or managers interested in making fine- art reproductions for themselves or providing this service for others. Covering both the technical and the business aspects of fine-art reproduction, participants work through all the essential steps in the digital reproduction of works of art, from handling and capturing artwork to managing the artist’s expectations and profitability. Click here to see more and register


NEW WORKSHOP SERIES: The Art and Business of Fine Art Reproduction

New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, October 2009

Join us for a day-long intensive seminar on techniques for capturing, editing, printing, and finishing fine art reproduction, plus a detailed review of managing limited editions and making this into a sustainable business. Geared toward photographers, galleries, artists, interior designers, framers, and more. Cities will include Phoenix, Denver, Albuquerque/Santa Fe, and others. Exact dates and locations TBA; stay tuned for details! If you want to be placed on the update list, email me: davidsaffir(at)mac.com (insert @ sign, please).

New photo tour: Fall Into New England (FINE), taught by April Bielefeld, Friday Oct 9- Saturday Oct 17

Here’s some info on April’s annual New England Photo Workshop: “October is not complete without our annual guided photo trip to New England. Autumn in New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine is a feast for the eyes and the senses. The brilliant reds, the early morning frost on the leaves, bright yellow school buses filled with children….” (click on link above to read more)

News at deadline:

I will also be presenting and teaching at Print 09 Sept 11-16, in Chicago, and PPE Oct 22-24 in New York.

Techno Reviews: Watch my blog in August for a review of the Mamiya AFD III and their new 56-mp digital back!