My wife wants to make 38"x28.5" prints from her oil on panel paintings that are 16"x12". I have enough experience with non-digital SLR photography to know that the hardest part of photographing these works will be the lighting - however, that's not my question.

As I understand it (correct me if I'm wrong) image sensor format (Medium Format, ASP-H, ASP-C, Four-Thirds System, not number of megapixels) greatly affects price point, noise level, lens distortion, and lens price.

She's going to buy a camera to document her oil-on-panel work and to make prints. The camera isn't going to be used for anything else. She would like to know what is the most efficient use of money for her problem space, assuming she only needs a camera and a lens? What image sensor format should she consider / avoid given this problem space? Should she spend more money on the camera or on the lens - or are they equally important given this problem space?

  • \$\begingroup\$ how did you actually digitized the paintings in your link? they look pretty good to me \$\endgroup\$
    – K''
    Commented May 11, 2012 at 18:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm I believe that he's using sensor (size) inexchange with resolution since he's interested in printing large. Though you are absolutely right \$\endgroup\$
    – K''
    Commented May 11, 2012 at 18:25
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ We have lots of questions like this - photo.stackexchange.com/questions/9531/…, photo.stackexchange.com/questions/8850/…, photo.stackexchange.com/questions/7297/… \$\endgroup\$
    – dpollitt
    Commented May 11, 2012 at 18:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ Getting good photos of her oil paintings is going to be most about lighting them well and less about what camera is used to take the photo, IMO. Reflections/glare and uneven light are likely to be the biggest problems to overcome. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 11, 2012 at 18:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for all your great comments, everyone. I do understand that lighting is actually the biggest challenge here, but first thing's first - she has to get a camera. \$\endgroup\$
    – Myer
    Commented May 11, 2012 at 21:46

2 Answers 2


Consideration of dimensions of input art work and the likly dpi required in the final image and the available resolution of current cameras it seems that an A3 scanner with 600 dpi or better resolution would be a superior solution to using a camera in this application.

A recent stack exchange question discussed requisite scanning and print resolutions for various applications. I'd guesstimate that 100 dpi would be on the low side of what you'd want, that 200 dpi would probably be adequate and 300 dpi very good.

To achieve a ~= 40" x 30" print at even 200 dpi you will need a 40 x 30 x 200^2 = 48 megapixel image. If you are intending to acquire this in a single photograph then no 35mm camera available has enough resolution.

At 100 dpi you need about 12 mp and suddenly most DSLR's and a number of prosumer cameras have notionally high enough resolution. A good 12mp plus prosumer camera with non removable lens and lots of light would nominally meet this requirement, but you are at the lower end of the specification.

The 16 x 12 image is about 2.5 x smaller linearly than the output print so to achieve an output resolution of 100 dpi you'd need a 250 dpi minimum scan and for 200 dpi out you'd need a 500 dpi+ scan. If you want 300 dpi in the final image - which would be liable to be the upper limit of what you'd want - you'd need around 900 dpi from the scanner.

16 x 12 is larger than A4's 10" x 8" so you'd want an A3 scanner or at least one comfortably larger than A4. Good quality A3 scanners with X and Y direction scan resolutions are available. Fully professional versions sell for thousands of dollars but an eg Brother MFCJ6510DW A3 Multifunction Printer is under $300 and MAY suffice.

  • \$\begingroup\$ What about sticking several (or many) images together? \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented May 29, 2012 at 3:22

As @Russell says, you are going to need a lot of pixels. One pro's approach to this is to go medium format: http://strobist.blogspot.com/2012/01/bailing-on-nikon-d4.html

However, he describes a $10,000 purchase, and he is "settling" for the P25+ sensor back, not the newer and more expensive P40+ backs.

A rig such as this, with lenses, will rent for about $1,000 a weekend. It might be cost effective if your wife has a number of paintings she wants captured, and you only do it every year or two.

Perhaps you could find a local pro who has a similar setup (and maybe the lights) who would shoot the works.

I don't think there is a high quality, low price solution.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I think the scanner solution could work acceptably well within the budget. Some playing needed to optimise system. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 14, 2012 at 13:50

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