Large Image Files
Using Digital In Medium Format

To maximize the amount of memory Photoshop can use, Windows users should access the program's Memory and Image Cache preferences and assign what percentage of available RAM they want the program to use.

Big. Everything about digital imaging with medium format film boils down to the joys and delights of working with large image files. A frame of medium format film dwarfs a 35mm negative or slide and while this bigness produces more image quality, it also produces more problems than working with 35mm film. You can minimize any potential difficulties when working with medium format image files if you have the right strategies in place; not only for acquiring images but also memory management and storage media options.

Digitizing Medium Format Film.
When digitizing medium format negatives or transparencies, the average photographer has three methods available: film scanners, flat-bed scanners that can also scan film, and Kodak's Pro Photo CD process.

The $299 Epson Perfection flat-bed scanner, when used with a $99 transparency unit can scan film sizes up to 4x5.

Film scanners eliminate a generation by letting you scan the original film instead of a print. Because they scan smaller image sizes, film scanners take less desktop space than a flat-bed scanner. While there are many 35mm film scanners, those that handle medium format are fewer and more expensive. The least expensive medium format film scanner currently available is the $2500 Minolta Dimâge Scan Multi film scanner. It offers an optical resolution of 2820dpi and is delivered with holders for 6x4.5, 6x6, 6x7, and 6x9 film as well as 35mm. Much like working with an enlarger in a conventional darkroom, the biggest problem with film scanners is cleanliness. A clean frame of film yields a clean digital image.

A growing trend in new flat-bed scanners is the ability to scan film as well as reflective images. Some flat-beds do this as standard equipment, while others offer it as an option. The family of Agfa DuoScan scanners uses separate beds for film or prints. Agfa believes this "TwinPlate" technology provides better control over a scanner's optical path and can produce sharp digital images with high color quality. In the past DuoScan scanners were relatively expensive, but Agfa's new T1200 costs $699. The scanner produces reflective scans at 600dpi resolution and will scan transparencies up to 8x10" at 2400dpi with a dynamic range of 3.0. Epson's $299 consumer-oriented Perfection 636 flat-bed scanner generates 600dpi scans for prints and 2400dpi scans for film when used with an optional Transparency Unit. The $99 Transparency Unit can scan film up to 4x6" and features a dynamic range of 3.0. For more information on scanners, you might want to check out the scanner section of the Shutterbug Photography Buyer's Guide.

The Macintosh Get Info command allows you to see the suggested and minimum amounts of RAM a program should have and lets you set what you want as the "Preferred size."

Kodak's Pro Photo CD scans offers the easiest way to digitize medium format film. All you have to do is hand your film to a dealer and they hand you back a CD-ROM full of digitized images. If you only do a small number of scans, then this will be the most cost effective way for digitizing medium format film. With the Pro Photo CD process you have choices, too. In addition to offering images that have a higher dynamic range than standard Photo CD scans, you have the option of requesting a sixth, higher resolution image called Base 64. The sixth Pro resolution is 6144x4096 pixels and when uncompressed produces a 72MB file. The ultimate size of the file will be determined by the format of your negative or transparency. A 6x6 format scan is 72MB until you crop it into the square shape it's supposed to have and then the file size drops to 48MB. By comparison, the fifth resolution image measures 3072x2048 pixels and creates an uncropped file of 18MB.

Six resolution scans are slightly more expensive than five resolution scans and costs vary from dealer to dealer. At Mile High Camera in Denver, where I have my Photo CD scans made, the cost for a five resolution scan is $6, while a six resolution scan is $10. The best way to open Photo CD images using Adobe Photoshop or your favorite image enhancement program is with Kodak's Photo CD Acquire Module. You can download a free copy for Mac OS and Windows computers from

When opening Pro Photo CD images using Kodak's Photo CD Acquire module, the plug-in displays the full shape for a 6x6 transparency with black spaces to the left and right of the image because of the format of the original image.

Thanks For The Memory. Just as there's more to photography than cameras and lenses, there is more to digital imaging than scanners, printers, and digital cameras. Your computer system configuration and peripherals can have an important bearing on how easy--or difficult--it is for you to perform even the simplest digital imaging task. This is especially true when dealing with the big files created from medium format film.

When working with digital images, Photoshop requires that your computer's Random Access Memory (RAM) be three to five times the file's size. An 18MB Photo CD image file would need 54-90MB of RAM, while a 72MB Pro scan requires 216-360MB. Since the system requirement for Photoshop 5.0 is only 22MB of RAM, this is not clearly sufficient to work with a 3072x2048 file. When Photoshop doesn't have enough memory to provide sufficient workspace, it uses a "scratch disk." A scratch disk (or "virtual memory") borrows a chunk of your hard disk to store image data and perform calculations. To make optimum use of this feature you will also need to have sufficient, additional, hard disk space.

For the photographer looking for ways to produce their own medium format film scans, Minolta's Dimâge Scan Multi film scanners is the least expensive solution available.

Since virtual memory is slower than "real" RAM, adding more memory may be the only solution if decreased performance becomes a problem. When working with the large file sizes created by medium format image files, it's a good idea to stuff as much RAM into your computer as you can afford. I just added 64MB of RAM to my Mac OS computer (bringing it up to 98MB) for a little over $80 and the performance increase when working with memory hungry applications and plug-ins was immediately apparent. As I write this, RAM prices are at an all-time low but, because of market volatility, I always check The Chip Merchant's web site at for current prices.

Just because you install additional memory doesn't mean Photoshop will use it. To set the amount of RAM the program will use, Mac OS users should go to the folder they store Photoshop in, click the program's icon once to highlight it, and choose the Get Info command from the File menu. A dialog box appears showing the "Suggested size" Adobe Systems wants you to use along with a "Minimum size," but it's the "Preferred size" which lets you assign as much RAM as you want. A good rule of thumb is to assign a big chunk to Photoshop but keep some RAM available for routine OS operations. If you don't use Photoshop, don't worry. All Mac OS programs manage memory in the same way.

SyQuest's 1GB SparQ drive, which is only available for the Windows platform, offers low media cost. You can expect to pay around $100 for a Jaz cartridge, while a three-pack of 1GB SparQ cartridges costs $99.

Windows users can set the amount of RAM the operating system will allocate to Photoshop by going to the program's Preferences submenu and choosing "Memory and Image Cache." A slider lets you adjust how much memory will be used by Photoshop and the percentage you assign depends on how much RAM you have installed. My Windows NT computer has 256MB of RAM and because I have several memory hogging plug-ins installed, I set the "Memory Usage" at 75 percent. If you don't use Photoshop, check the Preferences of your favorite program to see how it manages memory.

An often overlooked digital imaging component is your computer's graphics card. A graphics controller accelerates all the graphics device interface calls that an application makes by removing that burden from your CPU (Central Processing Unit) chip. The board's software driver interfaces with your operating system by sending information to the board's memory and translates that data into what you see on the screen. When working with 6144x4096 images, your graphics board should have, at least, 6MB of on-board memory and more is always better. The data path used by a graphics accelerator is important, too. Many accelerators use 64-bit paths, but wider paths produce faster speeds. The last important function is the board's ability to deliver a high- resolution display on 17" or larger monitors at high refresh rates. The higher the refresh rate, the less the screen flicker.

Because of a combination of price and performance, Iomega's Zip drive became an almost de facto standard with service bureaus and many photographers use Zip cartridges to store images "off-line" as well as a method for transporting images back and forth to photo labs.

Storage Strategies. When working with medium format images, it won't take long before the average hard disk gets as overstuffed as a Thanksgiving turkey. While many computers are delivered with reasonably sized hard drives, sometimes there is little usable space available. My IBM Aptiva was delivered with a 2.5GB hard drive, but only 1GB was spare. Even after deleting a lot of useless junk, I had to install a larger, additional (4GB) drive within nine months. If you are serious about digital imaging, you need a minimum of a 4-6MB hard drive. You can temporarily place images files in a folder on your hard disk, but if you haven't worked with them in a while, it's time to store them somewhere else.

Two of the most popular forms of removable media are Iomega's Zip and Jaz cartridges, which use erasable magnetic media much like your computer's hard drive. Since its introduction, Zip has become an almost universal standard and almost all service bureaus and photo labs have Zip capability. Iomega's Jaz cartridges can store 1GB or 2GB of image data. Since medium format files are so large, you may want to consider CD-Recordable as an option. At 650MB a CD-R stores fewer images than a 1GB Jaz cartridge, but the media cost is less. A CD-R costs $1.95 compared to $99 for a 1GB Jaz cartridge. This breaks down to a cost/MB of 3¢ for a CD-R, while a 1GB Jaz cartridge is almost 10¢. CD-Rs can be read by anyone's computer, but not so for CD-RW (Compact Disc Rewritable) which also can write, erase, and rewrite discs. One of the sticking points of wider acceptance of CD-RWs is their lack of compatibility with existing CD-ROM drives. Hewlett-Packard and other companies created the MultiRead standard that makes CD-RW media compatible with current CD-R drives and the newest CD-ROM and DVD-ROM drives, so eventually this incompatibility will disappear. The other sticky point of CD-RW is media cost: While a Kodak CD-R costs $1.95, you pay $19.95 for a CD-RW.

Wild cards for removable storage are magnetic drives from SyQuest and Imation. Of the two, Imation's Super-Drive holds the most promise. The compact drive replaces the standard floppy drive in your computer and reads and writes conventional 1.44MB floppies as well as 120MB disks, which cost about the same as Zip disks. Originally developed for Windows computers, some computer companies install SuperDrives as standard equipment, but the format has yet to catch on. When Apple Computer's iMac was introduced without a floppy drive, Imation stepped in with an external SuperDrive that connects to the iMac's Universal Serial Bus.

How you use removable media will determine what kind of media you need. If you need to take a few medium format images to a service bureau, Zip provides flexibility, is cost effective, and you can use the same cartridge over and over. If you take dozens of medium format images to a photo lab or printer, the Jaz format may be your best choice. If you have to ship images by mail, CD-R is the only way to go. The discs are inexpensive, thin, and impervious to the kind of damage that might shake up the mechanism of Zip or Jaz cartridges. What's more, you only have two bucks worth of supplies flying out the door, wondering when it will come back. Some photographers prefer CD-R for archiving all their image files, but cutting a disc is much slower than copying a file onto any kind of magnetic media, such as Zip. Compatibility may be an important issue, too. If your lab or service bureau prefers images delivered on SyQuest media, your decision has already been made. On the other hand, if you only need to archive your own images and never interact with other computers, take a look at Magneto-Optical (MO) drives from companies such as Olympus. While MO drives are slower than magnetic drives, one of their appealing characteristics is stability. For example, a 640MB cartridge for the Olympus SYS.640 magneto-optical drive has an archival life of 40 years.

Medium Format Digital Images
All of the medium format cameras I've owned--save one--use the 6x6 format. After a brief flirtation with 6x4.5, I stayed with 6x6 because it matched the requirements of the kind of photography my studio was involved in. That explains why the examples you will see in this story are square, but it doesn't imply any prejudice toward other medium format shapes. Also not included in this story is the use of digital camera backs, like the Phase One LightPhase, that attach to medium format cameras such as the Hasselblad. Because a medium format camera was used to create a digital image, you might call the output from these devices medium format digital photography, but for the purpose of this story I've focused on working with digital images created with medium format film.


Adobe Systems Inc.
345 Park Ave.
San Jose, CA 95110
(408) 536-6000
fax: (408) 537-6000

Agfa (Bayer Division)
200 Ballardville St.
Wilmington, MA 01887
(978) 658-5600
fax: (978) 658-6285

Epson America Inc.
20770 Madrona Ave.
Torrance, CA 90503
(800) 463-7766
(310) 782-0770

3000 Hanover St.
Palo Alto, CA 94304
(800) 752-0900
(415) 857-1501

1 Imation Place
Oakdale, MN 55128
(888) 704-4400
(612) 704-4000
fax: (800) 537-4675

Iomega Corp.
1821 W Iomega Way
Roy, UT 84067
(800) 697-8833
(801) 778-1000
fax: (801) 778-3748

Mile High Camera
1641 California St.
Denver, CO 80202
(303) 534-5487
fax: (303) 446-2152

Minolta Corp.
101 Williams Dr.
Ramsey, NJ 07446
(201) 825-4000
fax: (201) 327-1475
Photofax: (800) 528-4767

Olympus Image Systems, Inc.
Two Corporate Center Dr.
Melville, NY 11747
(800) 347-4027
(516) 844-5000
fax: (516) 844-5339

Phase One
24 Woodbine Ave.
Northport, NY 11768
(516) 757-0400
fax: (516) 757-2217

SyQuest Technology, Inc.
47071 Bayside Pkwy.
Fremont, CA 94538
(800) 245-2278
(510) 226-4000
fax: (510) 226-4100