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Texture hunting is the photography of walls, surfaces, artefacts, etc, typically outdoors, with the intention of using the photos in a computer game. The photo could be of a brick or concrete wall, a chain link face, a door / window, or whatever. It is also possible to photograph a white wall that has been damaged or stained in some way, process it in various ways, and use this as a mask on top of other textures, in order to get a new damaged variant.

Textures are typically lighting-neutral and extremely sharp. The computer game will compute its own lighting and shadows. One must avoid having a shadow across the subject, as this will only have to be removed in post-processing. Typically, texture hunting is done on cloudy days where there is a uniform soft light from the sky.

1024×1024 is a reasonable size of the final texture, but it's usually photographed at a higher res, photoshopped considerably, and then sized down. The subject of the photo could be something like 5 metres × 5 metres. The idea is that every pixel is being used to the fullest effect to convey the character of the surface. Textures are often photoshopped to become seamless so they can be repeated across a large surface in game.

Textures are usually shot perpendicular to the wall as much as possible, otherwise distortion correction is required. Sometimes you can take a photo from further away and zoom in to get a better view of a high wall.

It is often quite hard to find a surface in the real world that has an interesting texture and is easy to photograph from the right angle. In particular, taking photos of the floor is challenging because you need to be several metres above it, looking down. Leaning out of windows / over bridges, or holding up a tripod are solutions.

One thing that concerns me is that some cameras do image processing on the digital image. Really, the artist has to be doing all of the image processing offline, in photoshop or similar. I often see digital camera photos with edge enhancement artefacts in high contrast areas. Perhaps raw shooting mode is the answer to this?

Shooting digital photos with greater colour depth than "8 bit per channel" might also be useful to avoid banding when increasing contrast during post-processing.

Another thing is lens distortion — since we need to photograph flat surfaces. Either the camera has to be good at it, or it should be possible to turn it off so the processing can be done manually by an artist.

How do I find a camera which meets these requirements?

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While this is a great story about "Texture hunting", I do not see much value in the story as part of the question besides the fact that you are looking for a high quality camera, possibly with an articulating LCD screen, RAW mode, and option to use high grade lenses with minimal distortion. Many DSLRs and many "prosumer cameras" fit this description. –  dpollitt Aug 13 '11 at 16:43
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I think the full story is useful in describing the needs of this use-case. –  mattdm Aug 13 '11 at 17:36
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4 Answers

While the camera and lens are obviously going to have an impact on your success, I have to think that a good solid grasp on lighting techniques is going to have more impact on shooting textures than the camera will.

Just about any current DSLR (or even high-end P&S), ideally with a low-distortion prime lens, should give you plenty of technology to get started. The full-frame suggestion is absolutely right for optimum results, and certainly gives the advantage of a ton of resolution that you can crop to size, but it's going to be fairly expensive. If money is no object, go for the full-frame camera, but if you're on a budget, get a more modest camera and save some money for lighting equipment -- I think you'll produce better results with an entry-level DSLR and great lighting than you will with a full-frame camera and no lighting equipment.

If you're not familiar with the sort of impact lighting can have on your photos, check out strobist.com or some of the other communities that specialize in lighting techniques. I think you'll start to see how lighting is going to make the highlights and shadows in your textures really pop.

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Excellent answer...I agree that its more about lighting and lens than it is about the camera itself. Might also want to suggest a tripod, and a head that allows you to point strait down for capturing ground textures. –  jrista Aug 14 '11 at 0:48
    
Good point -- there very well may be some good follow-on questions to follow this. Tripods & stabilization, lighting, even post-processing techniques to bring out the most in textures. –  D. Lambert Aug 14 '11 at 0:57
    
I started reading their lighting 101 course. I haven't really thought about this before and it's pretty interesting. I have seen the difference lighting can make before, but my approach has been waiting for the weather / sun to be right. Given that this a pretty mobile and outdoor activity, having a lot of equipment would be a pain. Do you think something like a remote flash + umbrella to get uniform light would be worth the trouble when on the move? I'd have to wait for the sun to be out of the picture at any rate, but it would allow taking better photos on darker days or during dusk. –  Spark Aug 14 '11 at 19:37
    
I think what I want for the texture is 1) even detail across the whole range from light to dark -- not losing detail at one end due to over-saturation and the other end due to noise compensation. I had big problems with this on my P&S on bright days. And 2) no lighting artifacts from particular directions, but a general feel for the fine-grained changes in occlusion across the whole image, caused by the roughness of the surface. –  Spark Aug 14 '11 at 19:42
    
I'm a big-time amateur compared with what those guys can accomplish, but I think the idea is to start with an idea of what you want to accomplish, and then knowing enough technique to mix artificial with ambient light to get the effect you're looking for. It might be worth posting an example and seeing if someone's got tips for lighting it to achieve the look you want (as a separate question, most likely). –  D. Lambert Aug 15 '11 at 1:41
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Your main concerns are going to be:

  1. As you say, the ability shoot in RAW.
  2. Relatively noise-free output (but this requirement is mitigated by the ability to heavily post-process and downsize).
  3. A good, sharp, distortion-free lens.

For the resolution you suggest, you should be able to get good results from a high-quality point & shoot (like the Canon G12 or similar). However, you'll get even better results from a larger-sensor interchangeable-lens camera — like a DSLR. I don't think you need anything expensive — an entry-level model should do. But you should look into spending some money for a very nice lens. Maybe a 70-200mm zoom or a 100mm macro. Probably an f/4 lens will be fine, rather than a more expensive f/2.8 version — since you'll probably want to stop down for sharpness and to increase depth of field and reduce focus error. If you can use a tripod, awesome, but having image stabilization will give more flexibility.

Pretty much any brand or model of DSLR should be fine for this purpose. They all give high-quality results and have the lenses you might need for this available.

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Alright it seems my needs were not so taxing after all :) I'll see if I can get a low end DSLR and a decent lens. Thanks for the advice. –  Spark Aug 13 '11 at 17:44
    
With the intent to capture detail and low distortion, I'd imagine a macro is right up your alley. Check out an entry level DSLR like the D3100 and pair it with the lens Nikon just released - a 40mm f/2.8 macro that is around $200 and is probably around what you're looking for. –  rfusca Aug 13 '11 at 18:06
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I'd recommend looking at a high-quality compact (Canon G12, Olympus XZ-1, a few others) that let you shoot RAW. Those have a few advantages over DSLRs that a texture-hunter might find useful:

  • They typically have a 'macro' mode that allows you to focus within a few inches without needing a dedicated macro lens
  • They're very small, so you’re more likely to carry it with you
  • The smaller sensors (compared to DSLRs) will give you more depth of field at a given aperture, so you’ll be more likely to get enough in focus, especially if you're getting close to your subject
  • They're probably going to be vastly cheaper than a DSLR
  • They typically have image stabilization in the camera, so you'll be able to get away with hand-holding at slower shutter speeds
  • The modern ones have more than enough resolution for your purposes, and any distortion is likely going to be corrected automatically by your RAW processing software.

So, that's something to consider.

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Swap out the G12 for a Fuji X100 in your example and I'd say you got it ;) The G12 lens has some strong distortion barrel distortion at macro distances. I did not do distortion tests on the XZ-1 but the Fuji X100 came out distortion and vignetting free with a very sharp sweet spot at F/5.6. –  Itai Aug 13 '11 at 21:53
    
@Itai - lol, it (the X100) ought to for the price. –  rfusca Aug 13 '11 at 22:53
    
@rfusca - Hhh??? That does not parse ;) Was a price range specified? I must have missed it. –  Itai Aug 14 '11 at 1:49
    
@Itai - lol, indeed, but wow the X100 is just quite expensive –  rfusca Aug 14 '11 at 3:27
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I would suggest a full-frame DSLR, either the Canon 5D Mark II or the Nikon D700. Full-frame because you can then use the macro lenses optimized for flat-field rendering, and still have a decently wide field of view.

The lenses are the EF 50mm f/2.5 for Canon, and the Micro-Nikkor 60mm f/2.8G for Nikon. Nikon has had these kinds of lenses in production since the early 1960s, so there are plenty on the used market.

Both bodies have plenty of megapixels and can shoot RAW. They can also shoot 14 bit images.

If resolution is important, choose the Canon 5D Mark II.

Both Canon and Nikon have flash lighting systems with plenty of options for controlling light and shadows.

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That seems like way overkill for a 1024x1024 final result. –  mattdm Aug 13 '11 at 17:15
    
Thanks for your reply. A DSLR is a lot more expensive, so I'd have to fully understand the benefit before going down that root. Is your point that it would avoid lens distortion for these kinds of shots, when compared to a small lens SLR? That is good, but it would also be possible to fix the lens distortion in post-processing. The thing is, it's often necessary to do perspective transforms anyway because you can't get a good angle on the subject. –  Spark Aug 13 '11 at 17:22
    
In these cases, you essentially lose resolution because one end of the texture is a lower resolution than the other, so you have to drop the whole texture down tot hat level. The benefit of DSLR is totally lost in that case, right? I don't think any of the other advantages of DSLR apply to me, do they? –  Spark Aug 13 '11 at 17:22
    
Oops I meant to say 'A full frame DSLR is a lot more expensive...' –  Spark Aug 13 '11 at 17:24
    
I'd actually say you want an APS-C DSLR rather than full frame, but still using full-frame-compatible lenses. That way you don't get the really soft corners, or vignetting that you'd get using a lens to the limits of its image circle. –  drfrogsplat Jan 31 at 6:20
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