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For an automated photo studio I'm going to need a camera with a image quality that is comparable to better compact cameras, especially regarding color accuracy. Setting a custom white balance will be necessary. At the same time it must be able to withstand a volume of thousands of pictures per day. Imagine a conveyor belt going through a properly lighted box with a camera hanging over it.

  • A DSLR taking pictures is not going to work, because it will quickly waste the shutter or wear out some other mechanical part.
  • A DSLR recording video, from which stills could be taken, gives a too low resolution of 2MP whereas 8MP is desirable.
  • A high end compact camera (e.g. PowerShot G10) might work; it lacks the mirror but still has mechanical parts that are not designed for this volume, and therefore might not outlive a DSLR by much.
  • Most other compact or mirrorless system cameras (including the EOS M) don't offer support for automation, i.e. EDSDK or similar (USB or GigE shooting without writing to flash first).
  • Machine vision cameras like Basler's probably don't offer acceptable image quality (again color accuracy), since the images are used for promotion purposes rather than analysis.

Actually the camera of a modern iPhone would offer sufficient quality, and might well last longer, since it is completely electronic as far as I'm aware. But if such quality can be offered in a $700 device of which I don't need any other parts, I wonder what I could get if I were to spend the same amount on just a camera. The issue is I don't really know where to look. It just needs to be a ready to use device; I can't go and put some parts (except for a lens) together.

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    possible duplicate of Which digital cameras can be controlled with a computer? – drewbenn Feb 13 '15 at 21:54
  • @drewbenn I'm not merely looking for a camera that can be controlled with a computer. I'm looking for a camera that can be controlled by a computer, while at the same time having only an electronic shutter and fairly decent image quality. – Thijs van Dien Feb 13 '15 at 22:16
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    I'm really confused by your image quality requirements. You start by saying "DSLR-comparable", but end by saying the iPhone with its fingernail-sized sensor would be just fine. Which is it? Can you quantify your need better? You say color accuracy in particular is important — what exactly do you mean by that? Consistency? Difference from human perception? Range of hues distinguished? Does this need to be visually good, or is it important for a machine vision task? – mattdm Feb 14 '15 at 11:42
  • @mattdm OK, I changed the description a bit. I'm shooting product pictures in some kind of studio. For that, I normally use entry DSLRs, but a good compact (white balance!) would work. The pictures are used for customer oriented purposes (e.g. webshop) only, but accurate colors are important for the kind of product (e.g. flowers). The problem now is that in one case the process is going to be computer controlled and the number of products to be photographed is orders of magnitude higher. Therefore I need a camera that can give me pictures of similar quality, while withstanding the high volume. – Thijs van Dien Feb 14 '15 at 15:43
  • You state that video won't work as the resolution is too low. However, 4K video (roughly 8MP) is appearing in consumer camera's slowly. Would that work for you? – Saaru Lindestøkke Feb 14 '15 at 23:04
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For your purpose — product photography for a webshop — I don't think you actually need very high color accuracy, as long as it's within a reasonable human tolerance. And, since you control the lighting (right?), for that, all you really need is consistency — something that will let you set a white balance manually, or shoot in RAW. Set up a color profile, either just with a gray card or with a more sophisticated color chart, and then run all your images through the same batch processing pipeline. With pretty much any camera other than the bottom of the barrel, that's going to get you close enough that anything further will be overwhelmed by factors beyond your control at the viewing side.

This means that this really does boil down to Which digital cameras can be controlled with a computer?, intersected with whichever models are a) long-lived enough or b) cheap enough to replace that it doesn't matter. That list will change monthly as models come and go, so ultimately, you'll need to do the final research yourself.

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I remember reading this question when asked, but now something else stands out to me that I'm surprised I don't see mentioned: the volume of photos.

At the same time it must be able to withstand a volume of thousands of pictures per day. Imagine a conveyor belt going through a properly lighted box with a camera hanging over it.

For arguments sake, you work an eight hour day and take 3000 photos. The math for that works out to 9.6 seconds per photo. Just moving an item out of a light box and placing another in would be a challenge to do in that time. With three people (one to remove the item, one to place the item, and one to snap the photo) that's probably reasonable, but I bet it's not sustainable. You really would need a conveyor belt to manage that speed.

Additionally, you would need the items to all be roughly the same size, shape, reflectance, and all benefit from the same type of lighting and lens focal length. Even with items in a light box, think about the differences between photographing, say, a book and a ring. One large and one small would require different focal lengths and/or different distances from the lightbox. Additionally, I think side-lighting is most frequently used on jewelry but that would be useless for a book. Of course, the lights would be placed much closer for the jewelry than the book, too. In short, one size does not fit all.

Also, generating 3000 photos per day is quite the volume for the retouching and prep staff -- a big team of them would be needed for the load.

A lot of interesting problems to think about in this scenario, outside simply color accuracy and shutter durability.

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The Canon 1D X has a shutter durability rating of 400,000 shots. You just said "thousands of pictures per day". You could likely get 400,000 shots out of the body, and potentially even more. But once that threshold is passed and failure occurs, you of course don't have to throw away the camera. You might be able to get 100 days out of a 1D X shooting 3-4k images per day, before you have to spend a few hundred dollars to replace the assembly.

I think the main argument that you presented that I don't quite agree with is:

A high end compact camera (e.g. PowerShot G10) might work, but still has mechanical parts that are not designed for this volume; therefore it might not outlive a DSLR by much.

Sure, a G10 is not designed to be rugged, all weather, with large buttons, and a 100% coverage viewfinder - but that doesn't mean that the only button you would be using(shutter release) is really going to fail once it hits 10,000 images. It isn't designed that much differently then the 1D X button, it just doesn't have weather sealing. I would suggest you look at a camera with an electronic shutter that does offer the automation you desire(I'm not sure exactly what that is). They are inexpensive and would likely cost about the same as a shutter replacement on a DSLR anyways.

  • By automation I mean support for remote shutter release, i.e. USB shooting using the EDSDK. PowerShot cameras (up to G10) are no longer officially supported but still work. The 1D X is overkill in every aspect except the 400,000 shots. Probably I'm better off not using a DSLR for my purpose, but I'm not sure which alternative offers what I'm looking for. Why do you suggest a mechanical shutter? I figured that an electronic one would be more durable, but most of such cameras have inadequate sensors or don't support USB shooting. The G10 has both but AFAIK can't be limited to the electronic one. – Thijs van Dien Feb 13 '15 at 21:34
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    If you need EDSDK support you should mention that in your question, or just look at the list of EDSDK-supported cameras by yourself. Unless something like CHDK will do what you want. – drewbenn Feb 13 '15 at 21:38
  • Sorry, that was a glaring mistake in my content. I've updated. You want an electronic shutter of course :) – dpollitt Feb 13 '15 at 21:38
  • Well, this other camera with an electronic shutter that offers the automation that I want is what I cannot find, at least not with sufficient image quality. The iPhone has one that is just good enough, but it's locked up in an iPhone. – Thijs van Dien Feb 13 '15 at 21:42
  • If you think an iPhone would work well, why not buy a iTouch? – dpollitt Feb 13 '15 at 22:02
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I'd go with the G10 (presumably using CHDK) with a large SD card and an AC adapter. I've used a similar setup to create timelapse films of over 10,000 captures a day of full resolution JPG and RAW files.

My setup was different in that I used a G7, then a G9 and now several G1Xs. I think all of these cameras are rated for a life of 100,000 shutter actuations but all of mine have gone over 500,000 shots. One of my G1Xs broke but Canon fixed it under warranty.

If you look at the data here: http://www.olegkikin.com/shutterlife/ you'll find that a small percentage of any specific model will break early. The reason I point this out is that whatever model you choose, you may get a lemon.

This is another reason I like the G10 or any other used Canon p&s that supports CHDK. If it dies on you, it won't be such a financial hardship and buying a used replacement is relatively inexpensive.

HTH

references: CHDK - Canon Hack Development Kit - additional firmware that adds functions to Canon P&S models. see - http://chdk.wikia.com/wiki/CHDK

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It sounds like one of Fuji's mirrorless models like the X-T1 would work for this application. Relevant features include:

  • a widely-praised 16Mpx sensor
  • excellent color fidelity
  • selection of lenses
  • support for tethered shooting, including a Lightroom plugin
  • electronic shutter

One caveat is that you can't use flash with the electronic shutter, but flashtubes have limited lifetimes anyway, so I'd guess you'll opt for continuous lighting.

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I actually think a DSLR will work. You can pick up an old canon 1d3, and its shutter last at least 300k. If you do 1000 pics a day it will last you 300 days. Shutter replacement is about $300. I have friends using this camera on its 3rd or 4th shutter without any other issues.

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