In The Studio
Working With The Kodak DCS 330 Camera

These three photos of high school senior Jennifer Levesque demonstrate how at home the DCS 330 is in the studio. The dark background is by David Mahue of Rhode Island. The shiny backgrounds are a piece of gold fabric and a background made of soda cans with a blue gel. I've seen problems with digital cameras with bright highlights that look like color fringing, but didn't notice any here.
Photos © Steve Bedell, 2000

When all the fuss about digital photography started a few years back, I put my blinders on. My logic went something like this; I'm about 50 years old (yikes.) and had no desire to stick flying pigs over the heads of my portrait clients, which was what I assumed digital was for after seeing all the weird photos done in the early 1990s. I had no desire to reinvent my business at this stage of my career, and figured my clients wouldn't be missing anything either. No, it wasn't for me. I'd get by just fine doing things the old fashioned way.
Well, things have changed at warp speed. I'd compare the digital revolution in photography to the "dot com" revolution in business. While there are lots of great "bricks and mortar" companies out there, the Internet has created a whole new way of doing business that could not exist before, like eBay. While the analogy may not be perfect, I think digital and film based photography will coexist for some time. A few studios will use one or the other, and some will use both.

My point is, ignore digital at your own peril, because your competitors won't. Like it or not, technology is on a tear (just look at the NASDAQ.) and by ignoring it, you run the risk of being trampled by it. Digital photography can take us places we've never been before and do things we've only dreamed of. But how does the promise become a reality?

The Capture's The Thing. A year ago, I didn't have a scanner or ink jet printer. I didn't even have Photoshop. That's all changed now, due to business demands and the fact that it solves the many headaches I used to have when I needed a retouched print in a hurry, such as yearbook glossies. At this point, for me scanning and printing is the way to go, but is it for you? Will it be in the future? Let's look at some of the points you should consider.

Look at the type of work you do. Is speed a factor? Do your subjects move? If I did mostly catalog and product photography in the studio, I'd be shooting digitally now. Most photographers who do that type of work already are. But what about the portrait and wedding photographer? Let's take a moment to see how digital cameras fit in with these disciplines.

I'm not yet prepared to try to shoot a candid wedding using a digital camera. My main concern is making sure I get the shot. There is no "latitude" in digital capture, you either have it or you don't. Your exposure is critical, much like transparency films. Negative films are very forgiving, especially toward the overexposure end of the spectrum, so for now I'll keep blasting away with film. This doesn't mean there is no place for digital at a wedding. If you want to bring an assistant with a laptop computer and dye sub printer to take formal portraits for immediate delivery, go to town. You've got yourself a new income producing product, courtesy of digital photography.
Portraits, especially in the studio where you have complete control over exposure and lighting ratios, is another story.

The Camera. Before going into the studio, let's take a look at our camera, the Kodak DCS 330. I saw it, and more importantly the resulting prints, at a trade show in Atlanta last summer. In a word, I was stunned. I saw 16x20" prints that looked good and 11x14s that looked fabulous. While I might have expected this from cameras that cost about 20 grand, this one was listing for about six thousand.
This camera, like the Nikon D1, has created a new class. Class A would be the under $500 cameras aimed at amateurs and B would be the "prosumer" models with over two megapixels like the Olympus C-2000 Z and Nikon CoolPix for about $800. Class C is this new five to six thousand dollar professional class, and D is the $15,000-$20,000 class. I guess you could also say there is a "super" class at about $50,000, so this once expensive looking camera now appears pretty reasonable. Did I forget to mention film costs are now zero?
I don't do extensive technical testing like some of the other writers. I just want to see if it works, how good it is, what it can do, and if I have to make major changes to integrate the new equipment into my business. With that in mind, let's look at the technical aspects of the camera first.

One of the biggest dilemmas facing portrait photographers is getting just the right amount of diffusion. You need to vary it because of the image size and lighting conditions. With digital, diffusion can be done after the fact to suit your taste and objective. This image was slightly retouched and a little Gaussion Blur added for diffusion in Photoshop. Model: Lori Boucher.

This camera is a real hybrid. Al-though based on a Nikon Pronea body, it uses the full size Nikon F mount. The bottom part of the camera houses all the electrical goodies and storage for the batteries and PC card. From the front it looks like a motor drive on steroids. It shipped with a 28mm lens, roughly equivalent to a 50mm lens on 35mm film because of the smaller image area. Since I have several Nikon lenses, especially 50mm and longer zooms, using long lenses was no problem. The widest lens in my personal arsenal is also 28mm, so you're talking about some very short lenses to get wide angle coverage with this and most other digital cameras.
The image size is slightly larger than three million pixels and there are no options to compress it during the capture stage. All images are 8.6MB tiffs. The camera is autofocus and has very sophisticated metering systems along with a Vari-Program option that looks very interesting, especially the Portrait mode. But since I would be shooting in the studio with my own flash system, I set everything to manual. I had a little trouble at first, since my non-digital brain kept trying to manually set the aperture but you need to use the auto lens setting and set the f/stop in the body.

Kodak states that there are three options when using a flash. You can either use the small built-in flash, a Nikon SB flash unit, or connect via a low voltage PC cord. Since for some reason my PC cord didn't want to work, I used the small on-camera flash to fire the rest of my lights. It's perfectly satisfactory, except I noticed when I looked at the images on my computer, I was getting redeye. Can't have that, so I taped a card over the camera flash to deflect it, with most of it hitting me in the eye. I'm sure all it takes is the proper PC cord.

The flash synch is 1/180, so I set the shutter speed on 1/90, the film speed on 125, and started shooting. First I shot a couple of exposure tests and examined them on the LCD screen. I made a 1/2 stop adjustment and then began shooting for real. During the shoot, I kept the camera plugged into AC power to conserve battery life. I went through my first set of six AA alkalines pretty quick. I'd suggest if you plan on shooting "unplugged" you get a few sets of the Ni-MH rechargeable batteries or a Quan- tum battery pack.

In The Studio. Once I began actually shooting, I found it wasn't really much different than working with film--except that I wasn't really concerned with how many shots I took, because I had no film costs. It's really a great feeling, knowing I can shoot as much as I want, download the images into my computer via a card reader or firewire, and then just keep going. Reusable film, what a great idea.
The difference is you can see each photo right after you take it. The big plus is you can check to see if you have the exposure and expression you're looking for. I found this helpful for the first few, especially to show my subject what the photos looked like. After they were confident in the results, I preferred to just keep shooting and not interrupt the flow of the session. I don't think I'd like a monitor where the subject could keep glancing over at the screen because it would ruin the rapport between the photographer and subject.

The differences I noticed in the studio were minor. First, you need to get used to the idea that a 50mm lens is comparable to a 100mm lens. Then you must use the masked off lines inside the viewfinder to frame your photo, not the entire opening. I got used to this in minutes, like I said, no big deal. The main gripe I had with the camera handling is one I have with most 35mm cameras--they're made for shooting horizontals and like most portrait photographers, I shoot mostly verticals. Since this camera body is so tall, shooting verticals with a tripod is a pain. I ended up shooting handheld, which worked quite nicely.

Downloading. Afterward, I edit the photos and keep only the ones I want. With the file sizes we're talking about, hard drives will fill up pretty quick with daily shooting, so a CD burner would probably be the first accessory you should think about purchasing. While we're on the subject of pouring the digital photos into your computer, Kodak saves the images in a proprietary TIFF format, so you can't send them directly to Photoshop, you must acquire them through the supplied software, much like you do with a scanner. I'm not quite sure why they do this but it may have something to do with the information encoded with each photo. Everything you need to know about that image, from the exact focal length on your zoom lens to the time you took it, (almost everything) is in that data.
You can look at a "contact sheet" or each individual image in the particular folder you've chosen. Folders are used to group your shooting sessions.

The Results. I've been saving this one. When I finally got to see the results on my monitor, I was stunned. This is the kind of image quality I'd yet to see on my screen, and I was thrilled. It was something like the first time I saw a print come up in the developer in a black and white darkroom, kind of a realization that this was a profound change in the way of doing things. The hook was set.

I was really anxious to see what a print would look like, so I fired up my Epson 1200 printer, loaded in some photo paper, and cranked out a print. While I still don't have the color profile thing nailed down, the sharpness and quality looked like the Epson ads, much better than any of my previous results from scanning. For most photographers, that should fulfill about 90 percent of their printing requirements. Now let's see how we can translate this new technology into the professional studio workplace.

Workflow. I'm used to the way things work now, and the system works well. Shoot the film, process and print, take the order two weeks later, mask the negative, give retouching instructions, ship it to the lab and get it back three weeks later. With a quality digital camera, it should go like this. Shoot the session, look at the images on your computer screen then take the order, crop and retouch in Photoshop and save on a Zip disk or CD, send it to the lab, get back your prints in about a week. Sharp-eyed readers will notice we've gone from five weeks to maybe 10 days. If you want to spend a few thousand bucks on a dye sub printer, you can probably have smaller prints ready to hand to your client within 30 minutes of taking the order. To accomplish this we've spent maybe $10,000 on equipment but also given ourselves more labor because now we're doing the retouching and printing. Also, dye sub prints (or ink jets for that matter) aren't inexpensive and you might not like the surface.

I think sending the file to a lab makes the most sense for regular portrait work (event photography is different). Many pro labs have digital printing equipment and I would think color matching should not be a problem if you don't tweak it in Photoshop to match your monitor. Testing is naturally of prime importance. The cost is also quite reasonable, especially if you have many "units" of the same pose.
Let me address the subject of retouching. There's an old saying that photographers never made any money until they got out of the lab. Retouching was also a time consuming money loser. But I think you should do it yourself. Why? It's been my experience that the labs are trying to retouch quickly and overdoing it. Not only that, but most retouching is minor and can be done in less than two minutes. If it cost you $4, you're getting $2 a minute plus having it done the way you want.

But there's another, more important reason why you should do it. Because now, for the first time ever, you can have custom printing at machine print pricing by just spending a few minutes dodging and burning. Think of the improvement in your work and how much better it will look than your competitors. Doing the retouching while the print is on your screen usually involves no more than a few swipes with the airbrush. This is a major advance.

Conclusions. Dropping prices and better technology will mean more photographers will find that a camera such as the Kodak DCS 330 makes sense from an artistic and business standpoint. It has me considering going to digital capture for our high school seniors as soon as this year, something I wouldn't have imagined even six months ago.

Digital Makes Every Photo A Custom Print
This is one of the strongest cases for digital photography. Within minutes, you can retouch imperfections as well as dodge and burn the photo to get a true custom print at a fraction of the price. The print on the left is the unadulterated file. The print below has been cropped and "burned in." The total time was probably two minutes and I think the results are worth it. I wanted to photograph a small child since I heard many digital cameras had a significant lag after pressing the shutter. Not a problem with this camera. (Model: Kendall Gilcrease)

At A Glance

· 50 plus shots per card
· High quality images
· Bright LCD panel, histogram
· Anti-aliasing filter
· Nikon lens compatibility
· FireWire for quick downloads

· No vertical tripod socket
· No cable release
· Limited "speeds" (ISO 125 to 400)
· Proprietary image format
· Must close Kodak software to use Photoshop

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