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Have a 501CM opinions on doing digital


New Member
I've loved medium-format ever since I took a photography class where we had to use a Mamiya C220. I borrowed one to try out before we had to use them for class and I loved the idea of the viewfinder on top. Since then, I've purchased a 501CM kit.

The dilemma I am having is this whole digital thing. I have an enlarger and most of the equipment needed to make prints. I just need an easel and a focuser. But should I stop buying darkroom equipment and think about going digital myself? I don't want to sell my Hassy so I can go back to 35mm. I could barely afford all my equipment now, so I definitely couldn't afford a digital back at their current prices. If I went digital, I would still have a large collection of physical negatives. I could save up for one of those Nikon Coolscan 9000EDs. What would you folks do in my shoes?
Mwiens, Hi I understand your dilemma. For your 501 you can buy a 16MP back from Hassey/Imacon for close to $10k. Now if you prefer to stay with film and scan the film thru' 9000EDs, that still gives you excellent results. A lot of experts do strongly feel, that film results with a good scan is often equal or better than digiBacks results. Fashion Photographers or sports photographers, who shoots at a rapid pace and then crop/recompose the heck out of it & let the Art Directors do it, then Digi Back is for you, but if you shoot after nailing down your composition & are quite sure of your exposure then stay with the film. Wedding guys like to see whether eyes were closed or someone did not smiled, then Digi back is excellent. Though 501 w/polaroid back can solve some problems. And 'Smile & closed eyes' can be solved thru' Adobe photoshop CS anyways, a lot longer process, but can be done. So bottom line is, you Have a thoroughbred in Hassey, don't let saddle decide the quality of the horse. Either way shots will be good, as they are both by Hassey. BTW Don't expect price of 16MP digiback for 501 to come down too much lower. Their main cost is in the sensor. Good luck. Remember Ansel Adams shot with Hassey & did not have a digi back.
> I use to have a wet chem darkroom...until the kids came along and the > space was claimed as their bedroom ( this was 20+ yrs ago). I still > have a D-2 4x5 and a Beseler 23C in storage, but now I develop the > negs in the bathroom sink and scan them on a Nikon 8000ED. Then I use > Photoshop to manipulate them and print them out on an Epson 2200P. > Now the Coolscan 8000 and the Epson 2200P are a bit pricey, but many > people have done excellent work with less expensive scanners and > printers. There are several 6x6 scanners available on Ebay these days > (even the 8000D has come down since the 9000 was released), so I > would seriously look at the 50% wet / 50% digital approach. People go > ga-ga over a 10Mpixel camera. A 8000ED scan of the 6x6 neg is around > 10X this (4000 dpi in each direction).

If you are going into photography as part of a business (newspaper photographer, etc), then there are reasons to go digital ...100% guarantee you "got the shot", and near "instant" turnaround for the publisher to meet a deadline.
The simple cheapest solution is to get a scanner that will do 2 1/4x2 1/4 negatives or transparencies. I have an Epson 2450 Photo scanner. This is a flatbed scanner (which can be useful for other things) that will also do 4x5 if you are into that as well. Actually the 2450 is not the most recent model in this series and it would appear that the newest model (the number escapes me right now) has a better negative carrier for 120 film than mine. In any case, I'm happy with the scans and can make from Hassie or view camera negatives and do my printing, after manipulation, with an Espson Photo 1280 printer. I think the newest scanner in this series costs about $500. A digital back would be nice, but they are so far simply too expensive for anything but lucrative professional use, unless one is wealthy.

However, if all the darkroom equipment you need is an easel and a focuser (the latter, not totally necessary) then perhaps you ought to go that way, especially if you have a good space to use as a darkroom (a light trapped bathroom will do in a pinch). The lack of a good darkroom space pushed me toward digital.
This issue has been round the corner and back more than a few times now. I can't help thinking (with due respect) that there is a follow the pack element to it...everyone else is doing it so maybe I should too. This might be suitable for sheep, but not people (although it explains why people drink bad beer, for ex&le, if it is advertised enough).

There is a hypothetical future time where no film is available...IF this is the corollary of the digirats jumping the film ship, then the time to go digital is then or just before then.

Until that time, IF EVER, then why is there really an issue at all if one wants to shoot film and use a darkroom?

Digital is such immature technology that it can only improve or go down in price. Especially if you like what you have and only need an easel and focusser (both available for peanuts now).

As exhaustively discussed here and elsewhere, a cheap (but with a lot of inherent obsolescence) scanner, with any shots requiring big treatment scanned at a bureau might be the answer for digital needs.
The beauty of the modular system is that you can have your cake and eat it too. You can shoot film, have it enlarged by a good printer or do it yourself if you're so inclined. You can enter the digital domain at minimum cost even compared to 35mm users because the flatbed scanners have advanced so dramatically. Go to the Epson site and check out the spec's of new Photo flatbeds ... which have advanced in D-max and digital Ice technology for less money ... even over the 4870 Photo I now use to make 13X19 inkjets that are as good or better than those made from our Canon 1DsMKII which cost $8,000. just for the body.

Later, when MF digital backs have come down in price (16 meg ProBacks can be had for around $5,000. these days), you still have the options of straight digital in future ... and don't confuse MF 16 meg with 16 meg 35mm sized sensors. The MF is clearly better.

With a little careful shopping, a Epson Photo Scanner and Printer will set you back around 1K or 10% the cost of the Imacon/Hasselblad 16 meg back (which we also have and use for higher volume or tight deadline commercial applications). Anything you occasionally need beyond that can be done at a commercial scanning house.
I'm doing darkroom work only for my Hasselblad negs (developing and enlarging) and I just recently bought a new easel and am investing a lot in upgrading my equipment. Prices on analog equipment are coming down too since it seems everybody changes into the digi-world.
Be aware that, although digi gives you a lot of freedom, it takes usually the same time to create a good print as in the darkroom, but the feeling is just not the same. As it was also stated it depends on what business you work (sport, press, etc.)
Working day in day out with computers I am more than happy to spend my spare time in the darkroom.
So, if I were you, I would go for the analog stuff, there it is in your hands and not in those of a softwareprogrammer.
And by the way, are the digital backs full-frame already?
And the ridiculous prices, are they lower now?


Unless there is a compelling benefit (commercial need for instant results; critical timing issues like sports journos work to etc..) from digital that justifies the cost and delivers the all the quality required, I'm with Marc - No, stick to film.

For me as a keen amateur, I just have high quality large resolution scans done of my negas and trannies at the time of processing - adds a small cost but I don't have to spend all that time stuffing around with getting scans right etc., nor do I worry about the equipment required and end up having computers and other boxes driving my passionate hobby! I'm happy to keep Bill Gates out of my photography.

Furthermore, I continually read of technical problems and issues keen digi users (digi original or film conversions) have with software, scanning devices and getting it all perfect! I just don't see the benefits for me at this time in the digi lifecycle.
And the ridiculous prices, are they lower now?>

What is so wrong with film that one would need to spend the equivalent of an avid user’s lifetime of film? Even the cost of the inexpensive $10,000.00 Hasselblad back will buy 27,692 developed transparencies or 769 developed 36 exposure rolls of high quality transparency film. If you make 1,800 exposures, 50 rolls per year, that equates to 15.38 years, if 900 exposures per year that equals 30.76 years.

But that is not the reason why film and only film is in my cameras; the natural world, believe it or not, is not digital. For those not needing speed or immediate gratification, film offers that wonderful feeling of anticipation which in my view is seldom part of today's life as with instant worldwide news and the internet; our lives have become some kind of race. For me photography is a release of my artistic side (some might not agree with my photographs as being art, and, nor do I consider myself as an artist) none the less, it is an avenue to leave my technical world. Photography offers a vast number or infinite number of possibilities to explore. Avenues that I don't want to encumber with hexadecimal digits.

I hope there are enough of us left when the dust settles so that we can still enjoy film without paying exorbitantly for the privilege. Some surveys do suggest that the numbers are there now. I hope to involve others into the mysteries and appreciation of film and perhaps let them enjoy the anticipation of developed film. Usually anticipation promotes appreciation. I don't know that instant results do the same. Like opening a present before the anticipated event sometimes the joy is lost.

Best Regards:

The economics of digital are less cut and dried than you think. First, 16MP digital backs can be found used for $5k. I was shooting about 150 rolls a year (3 rolls per week) of color negative film at about $11 per roll for develop and proof. Film costs thus ran about $1600/year with a 3-year payback for a $5k digital back. Not too bad. Also, the payback period does not include the countless hours spent on the Imacon scanning these negatives.

Even at $10k for a digital back I would call it a decent investment. Ever since getting the digital back I've shot maybe 5 or 10 rolls of film. I don't miss it.
Economic arguments don't work against digital.

Many commercial photographers charge a digital capture fee in leu of film and processing, (not to mention scanning costs). The difference is that the fees go in their pocket not the labs. Two of our digital backs were paid for with-in 2 years this way. The 3rd one recently aquired, will be paid off even quicker.

When shooting a job with digital there is zero waste... zero wasted time, zero wasted shots, zero reshoots. clients can be on set, or you can ftp the shots for approval while the set-up, models and crew are still there.

Film is its own medium, and should be appreciated for it's qualities, not an economic rationale.
Yeah, I've got to say that digital does pay for itself pretty quick, for the fact that most clients these days won't hire you unless you shoot digital. Many clients will overlook you if you don't have digital for two reasons. One, they know they can get quicker turn-around. Two, they think of digital as being some mystical new magic that will make their product that much better.

So if you want to make money these days, shoot digital. Don't sell your film backs though. I still get amazing shots made with my medium format film and scanning it in. However, my 35mm film has collected a LOT of dust over the last year...

"...for the fact that most clients these days won't hire you unless you shoot digital."

This is not always true, depends of the kind of client and the kind of work, there are those who even not want to listen the word digital at all.

"So if you want to make money these days, shoot digital."

Again wrong, once more depend which kind of work you`re doing, certain works, certain tools.
If I`m doing some fine art B&W landscape, do you think I`ll use digital? Never, digital is limited for that field and IMO, looks awful.
Medium format, large format, fiber paper, sellenium bath, mated and mounted and show me your best digital shot.
If I`m doing some fashion, advertisement, or some CD covers for some bands, no question, I`ll take the digital.
For some street, ah, the good old Leica M with a 50mm f/2 sumicron is still the best for the job.
After all this, I will say, if you want to make money these days, choose the right tool for the type of job.


I was afraid that I was over-simplifying things and someone would jump on me. I was NOT talking about every single paying job when I said you have to shoot digital. I was talking about most newspaper, magazine and many corporate clients. However, I still have a magazine or two that prefer film over digital. And some corporate clients don't care as long as it is priced right.

Obviously a client that needs a huge landscape shot will prefer film, and will probably want 4x5 over a hasselblad 2 1/4"...

And many fine art techniques can't be done well with digital. Like anything requiring a long shutter speed, really anything 30 seconds or longer.

As far as digital for music album cover or promo shoots? I actually use film often to take advantage of the wide angle hassie lenses. The digi backs cut into the image and sometimes bands want that super-wide look.

Many wedding photogs are switching to digital because more wedding couples are asking for it. I'd prefer my wedding to be shot on film...

I'd love to have a leica as you mentioned. My friend brought over her grandfathers "old" camera and wanted to know if it was worth anything. She got it when he died and didn't know if it was worth keeping. It was a mint m3 with several lenses and tons of accessories!!! Talk about lucky...

So in summary, I was being very general with my statement. 90 percent of my clients request digital (I'm shooting Pat Green tonight and Billy Idol tomorrow and I HAVE to use digital for those shoots) and that is the norm in media photography. However, film is still the norm in other areas of pro photography. And don't get me wrong, I LOVE film. It has a different look...

I wasn`t jumping on you, just giving my opinion
You choose what you think is better for your work!


Commercial work demanding speed and quantity is almost entirely digital theses days. Few clients want to pay the film, processing and heavy scanning charges for a product catalog.

The Imacon back is particularly suited to this purpose, as the Image Bank holds 1,100 images.

Hundreds of H1 and Leaf back combos have been sold in NYC to Fashion shooters. Speed and instant feedback.

But I just commissioned a national ad c&aign shoot recently, and it was done entirely on film.

Depends on what you want.
I love using my 501c/m. I used to shoot some digital stuff, got tired of the imaging and design work on the computer and then sold the digi gear and invested in an enlarger and darkroom setup instead. Got a full set up from the sale of my 35mm digi. That's my digital experience - I love film, what can I say.

Kind regards, Nicole