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'We took over fellow Danish manufacturer ColorCrisp last April and since then we have been working extensively to create a digital camera back that would combine the highest possible quality with the greatest versatility,' says Imacon's director of digital cameras Peter Stig-Nielsen, who is one of the industry's leading experts on digital camera technology.
'We have developed the technology used in the Carnival digital camera back to the degree where it is very different to what we inherited from ColorCrisp, so much so that it is really a new product. New features include greatly improved algorithms for single-shot work, an improved accuracy that has enabled the launch of a micro-step mode, a fully portable controller, the choice of SCSI or FireWire connections and the incorporation of updated ColorFlex software.'
Three capture modes in one camera back
The incorporation of three different modes of operation within one camera back is a very important feature. Imacon's FlexFrame 3020 enables Single-shot, Multi-shot and a unique Micro-step mode to be used, providing tremendous flexibility from one digital camera back.
Single-shot mode is suitable for moving images. The 2k x 3k, six-million pixel, Philips chip in the Imacon camera back is covered by a coloured Bayer mosaic filter so that every pixel sees red, green or blue. As each pixel is exposed to only one colour, a full RGB image is created using software interpolation, which can create a 36Mb file.
Imacon have developed their own Single-shot algorithms, that ensure the best possible interpolation of the data, optimising colour rendition and sharpness without disturbing the perception of the human eye by the artefacts always present in Single-shot images. Imacon say that tests have shown the FlexFrame's quality in Single-shot mode to be equal to leading digital camera backs that are designed to provide Single-shot capture only.
The second option with the FlexFrame 3020 is Multi-shot capture, which relies on the ability to move the camera back chip by minute increments between the red, green and blue exposures. This means that each pixel position receives true, 16-bit, red, green and blue data, making this method suitable for high-end studio work, with no risk of moire. This system also eliminates possible image errors resulting from the use of a filter wheel.
'The heart of the FlexFrame 3020 is the accuracy of the frame which holds the CCD chip, and the registration that can be achieved,' says Mr Stig-Nielsen. 'We believe the registration is better than that which can be achieved by any other digital camera back operating in Multi-shot mode. By using piezo-controlled movements, the CCD chip can be moved by six microns in four directions, to an accuracy of plus or minus one tenth of a micron.
'It is this ability to move the chip so precisely, by only half a pixel at a time, that has enabled us to offer a third option with the FlexFrame 3020. This is a Micro-step mode, in which 144 Mb RGB digital files can be created for the most demanding high-quality jobs, capturing the finest detail in an image.'
Portable controller for greater flexibility
One of the most obvious differences between the FlexFrame 3020 and other digital camera backs is Imacon's use of a portable, separate controller as standard. The controller connects to the camera via a 10 metre FireWire link and offers mains or battery operation, so there is plenty of freedom to move around during the shoot. The easy to replace batteries each last up to two and a half hours, which makes the FlexFrame totally mobile, while an internal charger means that batteries are charged whenever the unit is plugged into the mains. A warning light indicates when a battery is running low.
The controller can be used to store up to 64Mb of raw image data, captured by the camera back. Imacon believes that maintaining a portable controller gives great flexibility and allows it to more easily upgrade the unit as new electronics etc are developed in the future. The controller can be linked to PC or Macintosh platforms via a conventional SCSI connection or via the high-speed FireWire. The portable controller unit comes as standard and is included within the overall price.
Easy to use software
'We have incorporated a new version of our award winning ColorFlex software into the FlexFrame 3020,' says Stig-Nielsen. 'This combination provides a unique flexibility, because for the first time you can have a high-end scanner and digital camera which use the same ICC profiles. Someone producing a job that entails scanning existing hard copy originals and taking new shots using a digital camera will be able to match the colour balance of all the images extremely accurately, and much more easily, than ever before. This one fact alone puts the new Imacon FlexFrame 3020 in a league of its own.'
Imacon sees a huge potential market for the new digital camera back amongst its 5,000 existing Flextight scanner customers. Because the scanner software is the basis for the software in the camera, anyone operating a Flextight scanner could easily learn how to use the camera (and visa versa).
The software is extremely user friendly and provides a huge range of features. These include ICC based colour management, full zoom for true RGB inspection, unsharp masking with an on-screen preview facility, plus workflow tools with roll film and batch processing. The ability to work with true 16-bit data means that users can benefit from the full editing capabilities offered by the latest PhotoShop retouching packages.
'We've had to develop the original Flextight scanner software for the FlexFrame - it certainly wasn't just a case of transferring what we had over the camera. For instance, with a scanner you have a set light source, obviously not the case in photography. (The FlexFrame 3020 can be used with any type of lighting eg continuous flash or daylight).
'I believe what we have achieved with the FlexFrame 3020 is unrivalled in the photographic industry and will make the FlexFrame 3020 as popular as Imacon's award winning Flextight scanners.'
The FlexFrame 3020 camera back costs 15,500, which includes the portable controller, one battery and a SCSI to FireWire converter. The camera back can be linked to a range of leading camera bodies via easy to change adaptors. Camera bodies include Hasselblad, Mamiya RZ67 and Mamiya 645 Pro, Fuji GX 680 and Rollei 600X. The Imacon camera back can also be used with monorail cameras such as Sinar, Rollei and Linhof. Special adaptors for landscape/portrait positioning are available for Hasselblad CW, Mamiya RZ67 and Fuji GX680 models, and for view-cameras.