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Medium Format Digital

KQY61

Contributor
Hi,

I am using a Pentax 645D, which I finally picked up a few months back.

I had this idea to head to the NC coast and shoot all the lighthouses for the umpteenth time. This time with the idea of printing them on fine quilting fabric to make quilt blocks. I have a textile printer in my wife's screenprinting shop so that part is covered. She, and many of her friends, are quilters and they all think this is a money-making idea. With the Cootie causing all the issues obtaining electronic components beginning last fall, and many of my clients going bankrupt as a result, I need something else.

My Nikon Df is great, but at 16 MP not enough for this. Oh, I could upres and get a decent result but I want to knock this out of the park. I'd much rather have more pixels. I rented a couple different Nikon higher res bodies and figured out that I would need to revamp my Nikon lenses. That gets to be too costly. And, here are the older Pentax lenses on the used market for less money than the old Nikon ones I would have to replace. Say what?

And, the 40 MP 645D was cheap on the used market ($1600). So, I went that route. I did look hard at the Fujifilm 50 MP models, but their lenses are all new and so too much for me at this time. I waffled on the 645Z, which is the better unit, but for what I need to do the D will suffice.

This wasn't my first MF, and not even my first digital MF. I had a Contax 645 with a Kodak Pro Back Plus from 2003-2010. Before that, I had a Mamiya 645 film rig. So, when I needed more resolution for the project, I wasn't likely to not consider medium format.

Anyway, I was just wondering if anyone else here was using digital medium format.

And, if there is interest, I have two of the seven lighthouses done so far. More to come real soon now once the kiddies have to stay home for school and the traffic on the coast recedes somewhat. But, the images on the screen don't do MF justice. The best way is for someone to see the actual print on fabric. Can't do that online very well.

Stan
 

sarimento1

Contributor
sounds like a great project!
wish i lived so close to obx!
back in the film days, i enjoyed shooting with MF and LF as well!
but the current crop of 'full frame' dslr's and rf's do an outstanding job!
plus, ability to 'stack and align' digitally in post-processing, can generate huuuuge image files!
works pretty good as long as subject does not move a lot!
here's one recent, composite of about 8 stills, each 47mp files from leica q2, handheld.
stitched in lightroom, resulting in file 23928x7185 pixels.
below is small crop.

But, looking forward to seeing your lighthouses soon!!





 
I recently revisited the idea of a digital back for my MF rig (Bronica ETRSi), but the price tag to get a back adapter and a back that's at least 40MP was too steep for me to proceed (used was still going to be in the $8k range).

My current plan for that system is to finally gear up to develop black & white at home and relegate the MF system to that format ...we'll see how far I get on that ;)
 

Saxonbowman

Ambassador
I like your project idea! It certainly is a good reason for a new camera. How big are the blocks you are printing?

I love those lighthouses but haven’t been down there in years.
 
not digital MF but ... uh 50ish years ago I was able to use my parents twin lens mamiya. They had two bodies (one light weight and one normal) I was just a kid and was rarely able to afford the 220 film but I did develop alot of it while I was processing my own 35mm film.

For digital I have moved down the cool scale and just use an Olympus OMD 4/3. Not good for the stuff you want to do but for street pics and quick snaps its weak point is the loose nut behind the shutter.

My dad has a digital back for his view camera but I need to wait to inherit that.
 

Legion

Moderator Emeritus
I've used them plenty in my previous jobs, but never had deep enough pockets to justify one of my own.

If I fall into a pile of money one day I'd probably pick up a Fujifilm GFX50s. Really user friendly, great IQ, and not much heavier than a FF DSLR body.
 

KQY61

Contributor
Hi,

Yes, the 50s was one I looked hard at. And, they put the 50r on sale and so I looked hard at that one, too. But, the rangefinder design is just never been to my liking. Mostly because I am a left-eyed shooter. I can do OK with an SLR design, but the bulk of the brick of the 50r off to the right bothers me.

And, I say rangefinder design and SLR design because they are mirrorless and so they are mimicking the older designs with their EVFs. ;)

But, the 50s never went on sale and the used prices are still fairly high. As in a used 50s or a new 50r when it is on sale (which it is again right now).

I also looked at the Pentax 645z, which can be had from Ricoh for $3k as a refurb. I almost went that route once I saw how low the prices were on the Pentax 645 A and FA lenses. But, then the 645D was half that price used, and I am used to working with the Kodak CCD imagers anyway, and it would do. I am unsure just how well these prints will sell, so I wanted to keep my initial costs down.

Now, Pentax has openly committed to the SLRs and there are rumors of the 645 getting the 100 MP Sony 44x33mm imager (and other rumors of another 645 unit with the 'full frame' 150 MP Sony imager). If either or both come true, a 645z used will become pretty cheap.

But, later on, I can always opt for a 50s and probably one lens, the 45-100. The Pentax 645 film lenses work great as manual focus lenses on the Fujis. :)

Stan
 

KQY61

Contributor
Hi,

The output is going to a Direct To Garment inkjet printer. It runs at 300 PPI using DuPont Artistri textile ink. It is a CYMK inkset, no light variants of the inks like the paper printers. It actually has eight printheads, but the ones that would be light on paper are titanium white. This, for when one is printing on colored fabric to put down a white underbase.

For the quilt blocks, we are using white fabric and so not using the white ink. The thing actually works pretty good.

The print size is 12" by 16" with the lighthouse image itself a tad smaller as we have to allow for a border so the fabric can be sewn.

I probably could have gotten away with using the 16 MP Df and allowing a little at the top and bottom of the frame to be cut off to change the aspect ratio. But, I would really rather have a 4x3 format to begin with and then more pixels than I needed. The fabric fuzzes the images some to begin with, and I didn't need more fuzziness creeping in.

I have some cell phone shots of the test blocks on the printer which I will also post.

Stan
 

KQY61

Contributor
Hi,

Ok. Here are three shots. The first two are keepers. These are downsamped to 25% resolution, BTW. MF shots are way too big for posting. ;)

The first one is Currituck, and is the Northernmost one. What we did is eyeball the weather forecast and figured we could get there with decent skies and at about 1 PM. Currituck is surrounded by trees and they are surrounded by other park items. They have one sort-of clear spot to shoot from and the sun needs to be high for that to work.

And, it did. This used the FA 45-85 f4.5 zoom set to F8. Fate, as it were. :p

_DR30404a.jpg

So, the trip meant taking US 64 out of Raleigh to the famous NC 12 and hanging a left. Now we get to retrace our steps and pass 64 and head South on 12. To Bodie Island. This one has the high ground to the West (and a March to the East) and it wants afternoon light. So, this trip was planned for exactly that. And, the weather held out.

What I wanted to do was use the FA 200mm prime lens. That meant standing in the grass overflow parking area. Which was overflow, all right. With water from a rainstorm. Oops. So, I used the FA 80-160 f4.5 zoom and F8 again.

_DR30411a.jpg

So, those two are keepers. Shots, that is. Not the keeper of the lighthouses.

Since we were pretty close, relatively speaking, we then went to Hatteras. The iconic lighthouse. This is the wrong time of day. Hatteras wants morning light ever since they moved it. Yep. They. Moved. The. Lighthouse. Now there is brushy stuff to the West side and so way too high an angle needed for my tastes.

So, here is a shot I won't be using. But, I have it. Good for showing to people and testing the waters, so to speck. Just look at Bodie and imagine Hatteras in a similar light.

Again, I was going to use the 200mm prime, and again there was a lake where I wanted to stand. So, the 80-160 zoom again.

_DR30428a.jpg

Poor old thing needs a new coat of paint.

The plan next is to head down and stay over night and shoot this in the morning light. Then, ferry to Ocracoke and get that in the afternoon. Then, stay there and get it again in the morning light.

Stan
 

KQY61

Contributor
Hi,

Sorry for these. Cell phone shots. But, it shows the output still on the printer.

The process is to take the PSD file from Photoshop (I shoot raw and use ACR) and put that into Illustrator. That is where we feather the edges of the image so it doesn't have a harsh edge between the image and the blank fabric. Then, we add the cut line.

The printer need the edges of the fabric tucked into the rubber grippers to hold it perfectly flat. The design is expecting a T shirt, so we have to cut the fabric blank larger to accommodate this. Hence, the cut line for where we remove the extra and have the correct amount of edge for sewing.

After Illustrator, it goes to a dedicated PC with the RIP needed to drive the specialized printer. And, then the usual wait while it does its thing.

Currituck

Currituck_DTG.jpg

Bodie

Bodie_DTG.jpg

Hatteras

Hatteras_DTG.jpg

Just for grins, the files as the head to the printer from the RIP are just a tad over 200 MB.

One day, I will hang these up somehow and shoot them with the 645D so folks can see the output quality better than this. But, this is what I have at the moment.

Stan
 

Saxonbowman

Ambassador
Great photos of the lighthouses! I bet the quilt blocks will be spectacular. That is a really interesting printing process. You seem to have a good workflow. I sometimes accompany my wife to the big quilt festival in Hampton VA each year. I don't remember seeing one of those printers. I bet they are out of the price range of most home quilters, but so are the long arm quilting machines. They sell plenty of those.
 

KQY61

Contributor
Hi,

No, the printers aren't marketed for quilt block printing. You only see them at the screenprinting trade shows. They exist for (a) small quantity jobs and (b) really involved artwork which either isn't doable in screenprinting or a Royal PIA to do. Such as photos.

For example, say the local antique (farm equipment, cars, etc) club wants a shirt to sell at their event. They want a photo of the featured (whatever) with some text above and below to say that is the X Club and the Yth Annual Show.

What we'd do is make up a set of four photo screens with a series of dots. One screen each for Cyan, Yellow, Magenta, and Black. That makes an image, but only at 72 dots per inch. Then, up to four screens for the text. One screen for each color (in this case different shades of ink not CYMK). We have an 8 head automatic press and can do it this way.

But, the minimum is 100 shirts in the order, plus all these screens have a charge to make them up and then the artwork requires film to be made which transfers the art from the computer to the screens. Another charge. It gets pretty costly in a hurry. The per-shirt cost is less, but there are more of them minimum and then the extra charges add up. So, the total cost winds up higher.

With the DTG, all the art is in one file and then the Raster Image Processor software does the rest to get it to match up with the printer. Each shirt gets pretreated, which is a sealant applied so the water based ink sits on top and doesn't soak into the fabric too much. Just enough to make it stick. Then, the printer puts a white underbase down (for other than white shirts, don't need the white ink on white shirts) and then prints everything on top of the white. Meaning all the text and the image. And, at 1440 dots per inch with the ink and 300 pixels per inch with the image. That is a lot better than 72 dpi!

The best part is the minimum is one shirt. So, if the event only wants 50 shirts, they can have 50 shirts. Also, changes on the shirt such as colors or adding Event Staff text is easy as pie and there are no extra costs to do so. Over on the screenprinting press, color changes cost extra as well as different text. All that means extra work with the screens. On the DTG it's just load a different file and keep on going.

The quilt block idea on the DTG is because my quilting wife made some screenprinted blocks on her manual press. It wasn't so easy as the quilt fabric has to sit flat yet the press pallet is meant for a shirt to thread over the pallet. The DTG has that tuck-it-in method and is easier to work with.

Her lighthouse blocks are pen-and-ink hand drawings. So, a very different product to what I am going to make. We can make her drawings on the DTG as well, just scan in the drawings. And, she made the drawings from a set of reference photos, most of which I took a long time ago with a Nikon D1 when that was the new kid on the block. Oh. Bad pun there. Block. Quilt. Ugh! :p

But, one day, talking about all this, she wanted blocks printed from my photos. Um. Yes. I mean no. D1 shots. 2.75 megapixels. Printed at this size? I had to uprez like a mad fool. Now, fabric softens shots, but the softness from the uprez added to the fabric made it look like I used a Mud Filter on the lens. :p

Now, I have to redo it all. The trips are epic. I could use the 16 MP Df or her 24 MP APS-C thing I got her last Christmas. But the full frame Df outshoots the APS-C even though 16 MP is fewer than 24 MP. Anyway, just barely good enough as I can't use all the MP needing to crop the top and/or bottom off to convert 2x3 to 3x4 aspect ratio. Or, I could pick a 3x4 sensor of greater resolution. A higher res Nikon body would need newer lenses. I rented a couple and checked what I had. If I need new glass, the world is open to me.

And, I have had medium format twice before. So, I know this is a job meant for MF. Hence, a new MF system. It would be better if I had sprung for a 645Z over the 645D and had the CMOS sensor, but the quilt block won't care if it is 50 MP or only 40. And, the improvements with CMOS come in at other than good light and ISO 100. The CCD will do just fine, and at half the cost. I actually want to make some money here.

The quilt block set is going to be whatever a customer wants of course. We will price them individually as well as a set. But I envision one large one in the center (pick your favorite) and six half size ones, three to the left and to the right. At least this is how the demo quilt will be made. And, the set of seven is targeted to sell for $50.

Stan
 

KQY61

Contributor
Hi,

On the printers, here is a link for a supplier of the one I have:


It is made by a Korean company, and there are a few suppliers of them here in the US.

Also, Epson and Brother (mainstream printer companies) make their own. Plus a few other makers as well. There are all sorts of choices if one wants to go surfing. But, for the simply curious, this link will do.

Stan
 
fantastic shots everyone. I have been lusting over a x1dII Hassy forever. Waiting for the prices to lower even more.
 

Saxonbowman

Ambassador
Hi,

No, the printers aren't marketed for quilt block printing. You only see them at the screenprinting trade shows. They exist for (a) small quantity jobs and (b) really involved artwork which either isn't doable in screenprinting or a Royal PIA to do. Such as photos.

For example, say the local antique (farm equipment, cars, etc) club wants a shirt to sell at their event. They want a photo of the featured (whatever) with some text above and below to say that is the X Club and the Yth Annual Show.

What we'd do is make up a set of four photo screens with a series of dots. One screen each for Cyan, Yellow, Magenta, and Black. That makes an image, but only at 72 dots per inch. Then, up to four screens for the text. One screen for each color (in this case different shades of ink not CYMK). We have an 8 head automatic press and can do it this way.

But, the minimum is 100 shirts in the order, plus all these screens have a charge to make them up and then the artwork requires film to be made which transfers the art from the computer to the screens. Another charge. It gets pretty costly in a hurry. The per-shirt cost is less, but there are more of them minimum and then the extra charges add up. So, the total cost winds up higher.

With the DTG, all the art is in one file and then the Raster Image Processor software does the rest to get it to match up with the printer. Each shirt gets pretreated, which is a sealant applied so the water based ink sits on top and doesn't soak into the fabric too much. Just enough to make it stick. Then, the printer puts a white underbase down (for other than white shirts, don't need the white ink on white shirts) and then prints everything on top of the white. Meaning all the text and the image. And, at 1440 dots per inch with the ink and 300 pixels per inch with the image. That is a lot better than 72 dpi!

The best part is the minimum is one shirt. So, if the event only wants 50 shirts, they can have 50 shirts. Also, changes on the shirt such as colors or adding Event Staff text is easy as pie and there are no extra costs to do so. Over on the screenprinting press, color changes cost extra as well as different text. All that means extra work with the screens. On the DTG it's just load a different file and keep on going.

The quilt block idea on the DTG is because my quilting wife made some screenprinted blocks on her manual press. It wasn't so easy as the quilt fabric has to sit flat yet the press pallet is meant for a shirt to thread over the pallet. The DTG has that tuck-it-in method and is easier to work with.

Her lighthouse blocks are pen-and-ink hand drawings. So, a very different product to what I am going to make. We can make her drawings on the DTG as well, just scan in the drawings. And, she made the drawings from a set of reference photos, most of which I took a long time ago with a Nikon D1 when that was the new kid on the block. Oh. Bad pun there. Block. Quilt. Ugh! :p

But, one day, talking about all this, she wanted blocks printed from my photos. Um. Yes. I mean no. D1 shots. 2.75 megapixels. Printed at this size? I had to uprez like a mad fool. Now, fabric softens shots, but the softness from the uprez added to the fabric made it look like I used a Mud Filter on the lens. :p

Now, I have to redo it all. The trips are epic. I could use the 16 MP Df or her 24 MP APS-C thing I got her last Christmas. But the full frame Df outshoots the APS-C even though 16 MP is fewer than 24 MP. Anyway, just barely good enough as I can't use all the MP needing to crop the top and/or bottom off to convert 2x3 to 3x4 aspect ratio. Or, I could pick a 3x4 sensor of greater resolution. A higher res Nikon body would need newer lenses. I rented a couple and checked what I had. If I need new glass, the world is open to me.

And, I have had medium format twice before. So, I know this is a job meant for MF. Hence, a new MF system. It would be better if I had sprung for a 645Z over the 645D and had the CMOS sensor, but the quilt block won't care if it is 50 MP or only 40. And, the improvements with CMOS come in at other than good light and ISO 100. The CCD will do just fine, and at half the cost. I actually want to make some money here.

The quilt block set is going to be whatever a customer wants of course. We will price them individually as well as a set. But I envision one large one in the center (pick your favorite) and six half size ones, three to the left and to the right. At least this is how the demo quilt will be made. And, the set of seven is targeted to sell for $50.

Stan
Thanks for the great explanation. You’ve really thought out your process. The blocks look like they will be amazing!
 

KQY61

Contributor
Hi,

I forgot to mention. The price of the printer is $16k. Plus, the inks run $150 per liter. And, you go thru white at 4x the rate, so I buy that at $500 per gallon. And, the printhead needs replacing every other year as the white is so thick it eventually clogs up the nozzles no matter how well one does the maintenance. It's not really for casual use and a lot more persnickity than the Epson photo printers.

Also, what I didn't show was the heat press needed to cure and set the ink and the silicone coated cover sheets needed along with the heat press. Or, the pretreatment unit needed as the first step. More stuff to buy. We spent $20k to get started with this. So, quilt blocks is just one extra thing we came up with to use it for. More jobs for it is better. :)

So, now this sounds really costly, but it is cheap compared to the automatic press we use for traditional screenprinting. That's a 8-color unit and cost $66k. Even the 6-color manual press is $5k.

One other thing I didn't mention is the low volume of business we have these days. Too much setting for the DTG. It clogged the white nozzles, so all I have capability for is printing on white fabric right now. I don't want to replace the printhead right now for fear the low volume of work will just clog up another one.....

Today, we are considering heading out to shoot another couple of lighthouses tomorrow. Or, Sunday. I want to keep going with this project with the idea of having them all this year.

Stan
 

KQY61

Contributor
Hi,

Here is a list showing what I paid for some of this Pentax gear. It is amazingly cheap.

645D w/battery and one 32GB card: $1567.71
645 FA 45-85/4.5: $190.25
645 FA 80-160/4.5: $291.06
645 A* 300/4: $200.00
645 1.4x Converter A: $46.84
645 2x Converter A: $43.69
645 FA 200/4: $133.88
Hood for FA 200/4: $21.66 (I guess I could have added this to the lens price tag)
Second Pentax brand new battery: $16.99
Second 32GB 40x memory card: $6.30
Generic remote shutter release: $6.46 (I had to trim the overmold plastic on the plug for it to fit the camera, but no big deal)

Plus, Ricoh USA sells refurb new P645Z units on their website for $3k, for another price point.

Stan
 
Is the resolution of medium format digital overkill for the effective resolution that you are getting for that sized print on cloth? Actually I see your point, the price for the 645 etc is so fantastic it doesn't matter.
 
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