100 MP Digital Camera System for Under $2,000
This was originally written in 2006. As of 2008, some of the products at the links in the rest of the article below have evaporated or moved, but then again $2,000 is the price for these things brand new.
Look for used equipment as I usually do (use these links for cameras and lenses), and you can get this equipment for a song. It helps me publish this site when you get yours from these links, too. Adorama sells all this equipment brand-new, too.
Professional landscape photographers use large format film cameras and scan the film.
I've been shooting these cameras since the 1990s. Ansel Adams was using them in the early 1900s. My great-great grandfather used them in the 1800s.
Today I use a 4x5" camera and a $420 Epson scanner. I get brilliant images of at least 100 Megapixels, and you can buy a complete setup, including camera, scanner and lens, for under $2,000! You have to pay four times that for a Canon 1DS-MkII with less than one-sixth the resolution, and for $8,000 you don't even get a lens!
Not only does this get you 100 megapixels, but 100 million better pixels than you'd get from traditional 100 MP digital camera. Scanned film pixels are better than digital camera pixels. Digital cameras don't resolve the three red, green and blue colors for each pixel like scanned film does. Digital cameras use a black-and-white CCD painted over with red, green and blue spots and then interpolate (make up) red, green and blue values pixels for each pixel location with the aid of digital hocus-pocus (smearing) called Bayer interpolation. Film scans are true, full resolution images like Foveon sensors were a few years ago. You can see examples on my film vs digital page.
Film also has much better highlights. They don't blow out as digital cameras do.
Want to see how good even a small, screen sized image looks from my 50 year old lens and Epson 4990 scanner? This screen sized image has been reduced to less than one megapixel to fit your screen Watch out, it's a 1MB download. See it here. Note the complete lack of complementary colors (yellow and blue) bleeding into each other and that the highlights are still yellow (not blown out to white) while preserving shadow detail. Of course you have to be a photographer to get this, simply buying a nice camera doesn't guarantee nice photos. My Your Camera Doesn't Matter page explains that.
I'm going to show you how to spend less than $2,000 for all brand-new gear. Then I'll show you how to do it for much less. Unlike conventional digital cameras, large format gear has been made the same way for decades and most people buy it used.
Camera Body: I usually use the Tachihara 4 x 5. It costs $700 new. I like them so much I've bought three in the past 15 years. One got stolen and I dropped the other, which still works. I've also used a 1956 Linhof Technika IV, which is heavier but more precise.
Lens: Get any 150 mm f/5.6 lens, like the Nikkor you can get here for $530. 150 mm is normal. 300mm is a medium telephoto. 90 mm is wide. Of course you can buy dozens of lenses. Personally I use a 75 mm, 150 mm and 300 mm. My oldest lens is 50 years old and works perfectly. I have other lenses but leave them at home. Even crappy lenses work great on 4 x 5.
Lens Board: All brands of lenses work on all large format cameras. You need a lens board that fits the camera and has the correct sized hole. Get a Technika lens board which fits the Tachihara. Most 150 mm lenses are size Copal 0. The lens board will cost you $125 new for the real German Linhof version, or find an off-brand or a used one for $25. They've been making exactly the same board for over 50 years. Ask nicely when you buy a lens and you might get it thrown in, especially when buying used.
Loupe: This is a magnifier with which you focus. I use this $45 Toyo.
Light Meter: I used to use a Pentax Digital, but today I just bring along another digital camera! See How to Use a Digital Camera As a Light Meter. I'm saving you so much money that you can blow a couple of hundred on a pocket Casio and still come in under $2,000.
Film Holders: These hold your film inside the camera. They cost $35 each here. (OK, actually $65 for two.) Compare these to having to buy memory cards for your digital camera, so they shouldn't really count towards the $2,000.
Film Scanner: Epson 4990. For $420 you can scan at up to 4800 DPI, which actually gives 360 MP images or 1 GB files (2 GB in 16-bit scanning.) I never use all that. I scan at 2400 or 1800 DPI and get more reasonable 300 MB files with 100 MP. Resolution is limited more by your computing ability and patience than the film or scanner.
Tripod: I presume you already have one. See my Tripod page.
Photo Lab: Any professional lab can process 4x5 film. A camera store is not a professional lab. See your local Yellow Pages or ask a pro. I use Chrome in San Diego. They also do a lot of mail order. I shoot transparency (slide) film.
Total: $1,885, including two film holders. This leaves you enough left over to buy another digital camera as a light meter if you don't already have one for $2,000 total. No one would really buy all this new or pay $125 for a lens board, which brings us to the next section.
There are zillions of fantastic used lenses out there. See my 4x5 page. My favorite 1956 Schneider 150 mm f/5.6 came along used with a camera, free.
A $3 plastic loupe stolen from your lab works almost as well as my $45 Toyo.
You usually can buy entire kits with cameras and lenses from people used. It's easy to get all this cheap.
If you insist you can buy the best. Like any hobby you can spend infinite amounts for minor improvements. The pictures look the same.
Most rich guys love the Linhof Master Technika 2000 which costs $5,100 new. I got my almost identical 1956 vintage Technika IV used for $760 in 1993.
Personally my older Schneider 75 mm cost me $600 used, my 150 came along free with the $760 Technika and I bought the Nikkor 300 mm new, in 1993. The nice thing about the Nikkor is its tiny size.
Wide angle lenses can be tricky to mount. This is because their short focal lengths require they be close to the back of the camera. Be sure to talk to your dealer to be sure your combination will work. Sometimes camera parts or bellows limitations get in the way. I use recessed boards that poke into the camera giving me an extra half inch of room.
I talk about and use digital cameras like the D200 because they are fun.
When I'm serious and have the time to concentrate I prefer my 4 x 5.
If I'm going to make a huge print I always prefer having the big film from which to scan.
See my 4 x 5 page for more about why and others prefer 4 x 5. It has many advantages in addition to insanely high resolution.