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Old Jun 23, 2011, 6:17 PM   #1
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Default Camera for very small detailed paintings

I'm artist and need a digital camera to photograph my very small and detailed oil paintings. The works range from 5x7 inches to about 9x12 inches and are very muted and subtle in terms of color. I've tried photographing them with the GE A1455 14MG camera I have (it has a GE aspheric zoom lens, 5x6.3-31.5mm), and the problem I have is that if I photograph from up close I get a very nice sharp image but with a lot of distortion of horizontal straight lines (i.e., straight lines are curved). If I photograph them from further away using the zoom, the distortion is reduced but sharpness decreases a lot and the fine detail of my paintings gets lost. At this point I can only afford to spend under $250-- is there a camera in this range that would do a better job? I use the photographs mainly for print catalogue and magazine reproductions. I would really appreciate any advice!
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Old Jun 23, 2011, 6:28 PM   #2
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I would suggest that, before considering another camera, you find out whether you can remove the distortion of the up-close images with good post-processing software. I use a commercial program, but you may be able to do what you want with the current version of GIMP, which is open source and free.
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Old Jun 24, 2011, 6:42 AM   #3
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Thank you! I didn't know you could correct distortion with post-processing software and I didn't know about GIMP. I will definetely try it. I assume that when using such correction tools it's very important that the original image be taken with the camera perfectly parallel to the painting's surface and perfectly centered and straight--right? (Otherwise, I would only be creating further distortions?). Again, thank you.
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Old Jun 24, 2011, 7:46 AM   #4
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No, but failing to have a straight-on shot will complicate the process. Generally, PP software has two different functions for correcting distortion. The first is for correcting barrel or pincushion distortion (a typical zoom lens will have a bit of barrel distortion on the wide end, where a vertical or horizontal line bows out in the middle -- making a rectangle look barrrel-shaped, while at the long end the zoom will typically show a bit of pincushion distortion, where those same lines bow in, making the rectangle look like a pincushion. This is for a well-behaved zoom lens -- some distortion may be less regular and is often called "moustache distortion," which is much harder to remove.)

Once you have corrected for the lens barrel or pincushion distortion, you may still have perspective distortion. This is especially true of wide-angle lenses. If you tilt a wide angle lens up or down, for example, the sides of the same rectangle will appear to lean in the direction that you are pointing. A good PP package will allow you to correct this distortion, typically by overlaying a rectangle on the photo that you move the sides to show the tilt at each edge of the photograph. The sofware then deforms the image to make the overlaid box once again rectangular. This operation is trickier than pincushion/barrel correction, but is quite effective once you get the hang of it.
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Old Jun 24, 2011, 11:38 AM   #5
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Thank you for sharing your expertise. I will try all this out and let you know whether I was able to solve my distortion problems...
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Old Jun 24, 2011, 4:27 PM   #6
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G'day Ingriste

Another suggestion - as you are copying small items, think about using a camera copy stand
I suggest that you hunt around the old 2nd-hand & junk stores for an old photo-enlarger, esp one with a sloping metal column. Chuck away the top bit that is no longer used and screw the camera to the up & down mechanism. This will guarantee that the camera is always parallel with the painting and by moving up & down the metal column, you can shoot your paintings 'real-eazy'

Hope this helps
Regards, Phil
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Old Jun 24, 2011, 6:36 PM   #7
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If you look at the reviews on the big camera review sites, you can get a feel for the level of distortion inherent in each cam. They will all have some degree of distortion but generally the less zoom, the better the lens. Also, if most of the distortion is at the edges of the frame you can back up a little from the subject and then crop the edges of the photo.
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Old Jun 25, 2011, 11:05 AM   #8
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Thank you everyone for such helpful advice. I installed GIMP and started to play around with the lens distortion correction--and it works!. It looks like this will solve my distortion problems. My original photographs were not perfectly parallel and aligned, so I will rephotograph the paintings more carefully and then correct the images. A copy stand would indeed make things much easier--I will look for one (thank you for the suggestion, Ozzie Traveller). I will probably hold off on buying a new camera for now, but when I upgrade I will keep in mind your advice about lenses (thank you FiveO). And once again, thank you tclune!
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Old Jun 30, 2011, 8:14 AM   #9
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Hi! I just wanted to let you know that I rephotographed the paintings perfectly straight on to avoid perspective problems and then corrected the lens distortion with GIMP and the images are perfect. THANK YOU!!
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