This year Spring came early one Friday in February,
with the appearance of the first new Leaf of the year. No it wasn't because
the hotbed of imaging had created a tropical climate around our building,
or a global warming effect, but the arrival of the new Lumina scanning camera
from Leaf Systems.
As advisors for manufacturers and distributors, we often welcome beta versions of software or equipment for evaluation and assessment. I had first seen the Lumina last Autumn or rather, Fall, at Seybold San Francisco. The first production models are expected to trickle through in March, with full production from April 1994.
The Lumina is not a digital back for existing film
cameras but a completely new, self-contained digital camera. It is made
by Leaf Systems, of Southboro, Massachusetts, and is distributed in the
UK by Ilford Anitec. It looks nothing like any other camera - but why
should it? The Lumina is a wholly new scanning camera and, like its sister
products, the Leaf film scanners, it is an attractive, high quality product.
The camera has a Nikon-F lens mount at the front
and a direct viewfinder, etched with a reticle, at the rear. Between the
lens and the finder is an attractively sculpted cast metal body, finished
in grey. Inside the body is a trilinear CCD array and the electronics required
to send the digital signals from the camera, via a SCSI-2 port on the side
of the body. An on/off switch and "park" control for the CCD are
the only controls on the camera body. All the other controls are carried
out using the Lumina's plug-in software in Adobe Photoshop.
For optimum quality the exposure time is lengthy, because of the time taken for the trilinear array to traverse the focal plane. The scan time is 14 seconds upwards. The Lumina is intended for imaging still life subjects and flat copy and cannot capture moving images - unless you want some quite bizarre effects. This forces it to be constrained to tripod or copy stand and obviates the need for controls and handles on the camera. The advantage, though, is in the price, which is only £5,000 including a Sigma 50mm 2.8 macro lens and SCSI-2 cabling. So, if the natural limitations of a scanning camera do not present problems, this is a very reasonably priced product.
The Lumina eliminates the telephoto effect of other digital cameras because it uses all of the Nikon-fit lens' field of view. The viewfinder of the pre-production model was not very accurate, showing far less than the lens in fact saw. However, a quick pre-scan shows the full area scanned on the computer monitor. A direct-vision viewfinder on the camera is a big advantage, enabling composition and focussing without moving between camera and computer. If the viewfinder was accurate it would be perfect. With a maximum scan resolution of 2700 x 3400 pixels, it can produce a maximum file size of just over 26mb for a 24 bit colour file.
Being a scanning camera, the Lumina requires continuous light during exposure. Any continuous source such as HMI - a daylight colour temperature flicker-free AC arc, used extensively in film and television - can be used. Here at EPIcentre we have been testing it with Dedolight 12 volt DC tungsten halogen luminaires.
The Lumina's sensor is a tri-linear array, with one row each of red, green and blue CCDs spaced only 10m apart. These make a single pass across the image. The Lumina is able to control the exposure time of each colour, allowing any colour temperature light source to be used without the necessity for front of lens filtration. Very subtle control of the image colour balance and tonality can be achieved within the Lumina software.
In many respects the Lumina is like a flatbed scanner with a lens system in front of it. This makes the Lumina a versatile instrument. Unlike a flatbed scanner, large artwork can be imaged by the lens system: on a flatbed you are limited to by the platen size. The Lumina can also scan small subjects at its maximum resolution without being limited, as a flatbed would be, by the number of pixels per unit width of the platen.
The Nikon lens range includes shift lenses that can be used to give cross- and drop-front movements and the host program, Adobe Photoshop, provides other image correction features which can be used to correct image shape and perspective, as swing and tilt would on a view camera.
The Lumina can also be used as a transparency and
negative scanner for digitising film images. In the Lumina's software there
are options for acquiring both negative and positive originals in colour
or black and white. At the EPIcentre we mounted it onto a Durst Colorcopy
350 and used it as a scanner to import 6cm square and 35mm negatives and
transparencies. With an Apo Rodagon 80mm 4 lens, the Lumina is capable of
scanning to its maximum resolution whole or selective areas of negatives
or transparencies. With a larger slide duping machine, or by placing a light
box on the copy stand, the Lumina could digitise 5 x 4 or even 10 x 8 film.
The resultant file size would be more than enough for a page of A4 with
bleeds. Leaf tell us that they have plans to market an optional unit for
scanning 35mm transparencies and negatives.
The Lumina is probably the cheapest way of digitising large format originals, both positive and negative, and has the advantage of being a 36 bit device - 12 bits per colour - allowing it to derive more shadow and highlight detail from transparencies than a normal 24 bit flatbed scanner with transparency attachment. A 24 bit device devotes 8 bits to each colour, resulting in 256 levels per colour, whereas 36 bit devotes 12 bits to each colour, resulting in 4096 levels per colour. This means more data in hand for subsequent "Digital Darkroom" work.
The Lumina could also be used to scan valuable and fragile images that could be damaged by a flat bed scanner, due to the heat from the lamps, or those that may be too thick to sit happily on its platen - especially one with a transparency unit attached or without a double-hinged lid.
Though clearly intended primarily as a copy camera, the Lumina can certainly be used to photograph three dimensional subjects, in fact any inanimate object. We set up a model car (luckily, we had an Ilford one!) on a Kaiser "Top Table" miniature transluscent cove, loaned by KJP.
Electronic imaging hasn't yet ousted the 5 x 4 artwork
copy from graphic reproduction of paintings. Originals like Roger Bunce's
BBC 'Studio of Delights' (after Bosch) are too big to fit on an A3 flatbed
scanner and can't be wrapped around the drum of a 20 x 24" high-end
scanner. Photographers have always been called in to shoot copies for repro.
The Lumina spells an end to this, as any size of original which can be held
and lit can be copied just as easily as it can be on conventional film.
Together with one of the cheap yet powerful Apple
Macs now available, the Lumina provides a versatile, cost-effective method
of digital image acquisition. Maybe you already have Nikkor lenses, copying
and duping facilities? In this case, the initial outlay, coupled with familiarity
with all your existing equipment, could make it the ideal choice.