Digi-View Field Trials 01


San Diego — Well, the Wista SP-based digi-view system has, through the beta-testing you’ve seen here, satisfied me that it is capable of providing optical camera movements for digital capture and, at the same time, allow for internal multi-shot capture that can be stitched into some fairly high res files with no perspective issues.  And that means the beta testing stage of seeing if it will work optically was completed successfully.

Now it is time to test it under some actual shooting conditions to see if it is practical.  Remember, the same adapter on a monorail camera worked, it was just not terribly practical to take into the field.  I wanted to know if this will turn out to be a similar situation.

Obviously this is a more complex system than simply grabbing a DSLR and shooting away.  In its own way it is more complex than shooting a mosaic or panorama using a spherical panoramic head.  As noted in a previous post, this is not a “one-size-fits-all” tool kit and, like large format camera shooting in general, it requires a very deliberate approach and procedure.

I decided to try this technical/field camera system as the front end “lens mount” for a DSLR, to solve fairly specific photo-capture issues.  Having now assembled it, if it proves practical to shoot in the field I will normally have it with me and available just as I have the other systems available to use as the subject demands.  But for this shoot, I really wanted to concentrate on it and look for shots where it would be a good, if not perfect, choice of tools and to assess how hard it is to shoot with it away from the house and all of the support gear.

Just as I occasionally will head out and force myself to use just one lens or one focal length of a zoom lens to better learn the intricacies and strengths (and weaknesses) of that lens, I now am interested in learning the same about this system.  That way, I will have a better grip on the data to tell me when it is the tool set to use and, as importantly, when it is not and I need instead to look to another system to best render my vision for the scene in front of me.

The large format lenses I have available (from the Toyo monorail) to mount on the Wista give me a range from 65mm to 400mm or roughly, in 35mm equivalent fields of view, about 20mm to about 135mm were I shooting full frame 4×5 film.  For either studio or landscape work that is a more than sufficient range.  Although I have no problems focusing any of the lenses on the 4×5 ground glass, the DSLR adapter sets the lenses back about 28mm  so I would anticipate an issue focusing at infinity with the wider lenses even with recessed boards.  I have already used the 135mm Schneider so I know it will work at CLOSE to infinity but for real world stuff we’ll have to see.  I may have to go to the spherical pano head for really wide shots at infinity.

It is imprecise to try to find exactly equivalent fields of view for the internal panos of about 36mm x 60mm (for a single row pano) because the aspect ratio is quite different.  However based on the width alone it would be about like a horizontally cropped 2 ¼ square (6×6) format.  So with my LF lenses I can go from (again in 35mm terms) mild wide angle for my custom field of view to a light telephoto.

This is perfect for the studio and quite workable for much of the landscape work I like to shoot except for the extreme wide angle and fish-eye capability or serious telephoto I have with the DSLR alone. (Of course were I to load and shoot with 4×5 film then I regain the range noted above.)

So… where to start shooting?

Friday I had no classes and simply could not stand to not go shooting even if only locally.  So I drove down along the estuary of the San Diego River.  There are lots of marsh birds there so perhaps I could find something.  It was mid-day, the light was awful, but I was, by golly, going to find something to shoot.

Lo and behold, a white heron or crane (I can never tell them apart) was feeding along the edge of the grass and walking slow enough for me to set up to take his (or her) portrait.

Due to the distance from the walkway I used my 400mm Fujinon lens and shot with the 1Ds MkII where the added spacer on the adapter (needed to clear the grip) made it possible to use that long lens without any worry about an extension rail on the Wista.  In essence, adding a ring from a set of extension rings created the bellows extension on the rear end!  I added a slight front forward tilt to honor Herr Scheimpflug, refocused and was ready.

OK, so I was desperate to trip the trigger on SOME image… any image.  The light was not what I wanted and normally I might have simply packed up and sought another shot (or not set up at all).   But as I studied it I realized I was actually kind of taken with the pattern of the wind blown grass, the stripe of green across the azure environment broken only by the lone white creature.

What the heck?  I decided to go ahead and shoot.  After all, this is still a field trial of the system and to iron out any bugs in it so no matter what came out, there was no loss in the experience and practice.  It is captured in digital after all not on expensive sheet film.

I was surprised a little as the assembled shot grew on me.  I got lost in the virtual sea of grass, contained between the stripes of water.  But kept coming back to the bird that repeated the strokes of the grass but yet was totally different in shape and form.  The final cropped shot is 427.5 megabytes in size and 12,455 x 5999 in pixel dimensions.  (That yields a print size of 41” x 20” at 300 ppi with no enlargement.)

Shot of Crane in the San Diego River estuary. This is a 427 megabyte file at full res with a native size pf 41″ x 20″. Shot with Fujinon 400 mm lens.

A couple of lessons became immediately apparent during the shot.  You may remember back in the beta tests when I surmised that my lightweight carbon fiber tripod might not be a good choice for this rig because it would be top-heavy?  Well, it turns out that it is NOT a good choice… but not because of the balance; it is not a good choice because it has a ball head on it.  That head is GREAT for a camera and lens, but trying to subtly control it to tweak positioning for a composition with over 6 pounds of cameras and lens on it (the Wista SP plus the Canon 1Ds Mk II plus the 400 mm lens) is not all that precise nor that steady in a breeze.

It is not that the head won’t hold it when clamped down, rather, when loosened for positioning it is very hard to be precise since it is then free to move in any direction including just flopping over from all of the weight above the fulcrum point.  A three way head where you reposition one axis at a time is far more controllable for this and some added weight would be nice to dampen the shake due to wind.  So on subsequent shots I used good ol’ Big Bertha, my 15 pound tripod with which I have a true love/hate relationship.

I roamed around town but the timing was not good due to the sun’s position so I packed it in and since I had dinner plans and could not wait for sunset, went out again on Saturday, but this time a bit later in the day.   I was hoping for some clouds but all that appeared was the more typical nearly blank blue sky.  So maybe, landscapes were not in the cards for the day’s shoot.

By later in the afternoon, I headed over to the waterfront along the “Big Bay.”  To my amazement there was a parking spot next to one of the boat mooring areas so I hauled in there and got out to look around.

A huge, thick fog bank was coming in from the west and already beginning to eat up Pt. Loma.  In another half hour or less it would mask the sun so if I was going to shoot it was now or never.  A heavy haze hung over the bay as a precursor to the fog and adding some “sport” to the shot.

I normally don’t use filters much anymore.  I can duplicate most of them digitally, even including the color saturation effect of a polarizer.  And anything in front of the lens will slightly degrade the digital image so I avoid them when possible.  But nothing will simulate seeing through reflections like a polarizer, and though it does not address the bluish color of haze, it can see through the reflections from all the particulates and water molecules in the haze so I mounted a linear polarizer on the Schneider 150mm lens.

I had first tried the 135mm and found I could focus it at infinity but it was seeing a little too much and the 150 gave me the view I wanted.  Obviously if the 135 could work, the 150 would be easy.

As the sun neared the fog bank a couple of things started to happen; one good and one not so good.  The good thing was the golden afternoon color was at its beginning stages and getting stronger.  But as the sun encountered the fog bank it was losing contrast AND color.  Time to shoot.

And here is the final shot.  It is from 5 overlapping frames shot with my original 5D and is a 222 megabyte file.  I just may have to get one of the newer 5D models; I sure liked the borrowed Mark II I did the beta testing with.

San Diego Bay Front with cruise ship (middle right of image) and moored boats. Shot with Schneider 150mm lens

I thought of doing a second version, perhaps with a grad ND filter but things started to get really flat and gray so I gave up on the idea.  Besides, the shots had told me what I wanted to know.  The rig is easily as practical as shooting ANY large format camera is and easier to carry than the monorail.   A bit of a pain when you are used to freer shooting, and definitely enough of a pain to make you think about the shots before you set up for it, but that has always been both the blessing and curse of large format shooting.  And the payoff is the quality.

Bottom line… it works for me…!!!


About ndking

Commercial Photographer and Professor of Photography at San Diego City College
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s