Gaoersi 6×17 Camera Review (2005)

(This post will be primarily of interest to photographers).

This is a review of the 6×17 Gaoersi Camera that I published in Photo-i in 2005. When I recently came to sell the camera, I realised that the article is no longer online so I retrieved a copy with the Internet Wayback Machine and reinserted images. Note that Photoshop and the software for scanning and printing will have changed unrecognisably since 2005.

The first 6×17 camera of this type was the Linhof Technorama, introduced in the late 1970s and used by people like Ken Duncan.  The Fujifilm G617 was introduced in 1983.  Both of these cameras were initially introduced with fixed lenses and later replace by interchangeable lens versions.

This article is mainly of historical interest now, showing how much camera technologies have changed.  It will also be of interest to people still using these cameras though, and those purchasing them either new or second-hand.

(p.s.  No point clicking on the images.  These are the original, very small images used for the internet of 2005).

 

Gaoersi 6×17 Camera
review by Murray Foote
Page 1

Introduction

Welcome to photo-i if you’ve just dropped in to read this review. I’m Murray Foote. I’m an amateur photographer with large-format experience and a frequent contributor to the photo-i forum. As far as I can tell, I’ve just become the first person outside China to purchase the new Gaoersi 6×17 panorama camera.

I purchased this camera for the quality of image that it offers and because I’m familiar with the processes it requires. I intend to use it with the new Fujichrome Velvia 100 which has very fine grain (and is not to be confused with Velvia 100F). I’m intending to scan the slides on a Canon 9950F using Silverfast AI Studio, use the Vignette filter in Photoshop CS2 as a substitute for a centre filter, correct for perspective where required using the Photoshop Lens Correction Filter and print to an Epson R1800 (A3+ roll). I’ll still have the film if I need a higher quality scan in the future.

A lot has been written in recent times about the death of film and the triumph of digital. For many the epitome of a high quality digital camera is the 16MP Canon 1Ds Mk2. Yet here is a film camera from China that can actually offer superior quality at a fraction of the cost. There are other 6×17 panorama cameras out there but the new price for this one is cheaper than the second-hand price for the others.

Sure, you can stitch panoramas together but it’s not a route that appeals to me for ultrawide images where objects may be moving and the apparent density of the sky may vary. To use even a Canon 1Ds Mk2 as a substitute for a direct image you have to throw away nearly half the image to achieve the aspect ratio which leaves you with a less than 9MP. Moreover the resolution of large format lenses will be much greater at this format that 35mm/ DSLR lenses.

Of course, the devil is in the detail. This is not a camera for everyone. This is a totally manual camera with no concessions to automation that is suitable only for experienced photographers who are also used to manual techniques. The camera comes as body only, including an adaptor and viewfinder for a lens that you specify and supply. It would help to have large format experience and it would be more economic to already have suitable large format lenses.

Large format? What’s that? Well just as digital sensors have different sizes, film comes in different sizes too. Nikon and many other film cameras use the 35mm film format (24x36mm), Hasselblad is an example of a medium format film camera (using 120 film at 6x6cm) and then there are the view cameras that look like they came straight out of the nineteenth century using sheet film with sizes of 9x12cm or 5×4 or larger. The Gaoersi uses 120 film but it is better thought of as a large format camera. This is because the 6x17mm film size is almost the same area as 9x12cm and because you need large format lenses to use it.

There’s really only one reason for buying this camera – and that’s if you want to have the capacity to print really big prints, because that’s ultimately where the advantage of a dedicated panorama camera lays.

Page 2

The Camera Arrives

Here it is, well packed, in the mail from China.

I ordered the camera with two lens adaptors (for my 75mm and 150mm large format lenses), two viewers to go with the lenses and an 8x focusing loupe. It also comes with a small piece of ground glass to calibrate the lens adaptors and a small metal device to lock the lenses in place.

The lens adaptors screw onto the camera using the large bolts on the front of the camera. There is a “dark slide” behind the lens adaptor so you can change lenses without exposing the film. You need to slide the dark slide out to take a picture.

Rear of camera with dark slide in place
Dark slide out (lens and adaptor also removed)

That hole in the back of the camera is the window where you read the numbers on the paper backing of the film. How this works is explained later under “Changing Formats on the Fly”.

Top view of camera
  • On the left of the picture is the Format knob. You can set the image size to 6×17, 6×15 or 6x12mm and this sets masks inside the camera.
  • Beside that is a spirit level
  • In the middle is a viewing scope that clips into a metal bracket.
  • The film wind-on knob is on the right of the picture
    • the film winds from right to left
      • this picture is upside-down from that point of view
  • There are also two lugs on top of the camera to attach a neck-strap.
  • There is also a hole at the handgrip in front of the format knob where you can put a cable release and screw it to the lens
Camera set to 6 x 17
Camera set to 6 x 12

The camera back comes right off by sliding up a couple of stiff clips. You need to have a spare spool to wind the 120 film onto because none is supplied. The back fits quite tightly and is very solidly made. The clips need a little bit of effort to lock in but this is a good thing because the back won’t come unlocked by accident. On the bottom of the camera are screw-thread fittings for tripods in two standard sizes

Page 3

What accessories does this camera require?

Many people think when they buy a digital camera with a built-in lens or a standard kit lens that they’re done with expenditure. Sadly though, if you want to produce really good quality output that’s just the beginning. This is even more the case with this camera.

To take photos you will also need :

  • Large format lens(s)
  • Cable release(s)
  • 120 Film
  • Hand-held meter (should be good quality)
  • Spot attachment or spot meter desirable
  • Tripod
  • Padded camera bag or pack
  • Neck strap
  • Analogue EXIF Data Recorder (i.e. pen and notebook)
  • A small torch to see what you’re doing when it gets dark
  • Biological Repository for Analysis, Inspiration and Nous
    • i.e. BRAIN – this is not a camera that will make any decisions for you

To print b&w in chemical darkroom you will need:

  • 5×7 Enlarger (rare and huge)
  • other darkroom equipment

To print in digital darkroom (colour or b&w) you will need:

  • Scanner
    • Canon 9950F + Silverfast AI Studio
    • Or Epson 4990 + Doug Fisher’s slide holder
  • PC with lots of RAM and Disk Space and good monitor(s)
  • Colorimeter for monitor
  • Editing software
    • eg Photoshop CS2
  • Printer – A3+ or larger (with roll paper)

eg – Epson R1800, R2400, R4800, HP 8750, DJ 90, Canon iP9950

Page 4

What to expect of this camera?

  • Lens calibrating should work
  • Viewfinders should be accurate
  • Film plane should be flat
  • Winding and frame spacing should work OK
  • Format switching should work OK
  • Build quality should be good including no light leaks

Lens and metering quality are not relevant here because the camera doesn’t’t come with lenses or a meter. I guess you could say that the camera should produce superb images with a high quality lens and appropriate metering.

Calibrating the Lenses

Calibrating the lens may come easily but it can also become something of a Chinese puzzle because the instructions are terse to the point of cryptic. It took me quite some time to work out the procedure. However, once you understand what to do, it becomes relatively simple again.

The camera comes with a small piece of ground glass so once you have removed both the camera back and the dark slide, you can check the focus through the back of the camera. I also purchased the 8x loupe, as shown below:

Checking the focus through the back of the camera

At the front of the camera, the Lens adaptor fits onto the camera body and the Lens fits onto the Lens adaptor.

  • The whole mechanism that attaches the Lens to the camera is the Lens Adaptor.

Each Lens Adaptor has a Focus Ring and a Lens Ring, as shown below:

Lens with Focus ring, Lens ring and Lens adaptor

When the lens adaptor is correctly set up, the infinity sign will be on top and the lens will be focusing to infinity (as shown above). Then as you turn the lens up to half a turn clockwise towards the minimum focusing distance, the end part of the lens mount (together with the lens) moves away from the Focus Ring and changes the focus.

Briefly, these are the steps you need to follow to calibrate a lens:

  • Turn Focus Ring to Infinity (lens fully retracted)
  • Loosen lens ring
  • Unscrew barrel between lens ring and Focus Ring and focus to infinity using ground glass screen and loupe
  • Tighten lens Ring
  • Align focus ring and ensure that it’s tight

To loosen the Lens Ring you first have to loosen the two adjustment rings on each side of it. One of them is shown below:

Fixing screw on Lens Ring
Adjustment screw inside Lens

Notwithstanding the instructions, the Lens Ring doesn’t change the focus; it’s just a locking ring. When you loosen it you can turn around the barrel of the adaptor between the Lens Ring and the Focus Ring. In this way you can screw the whole assembly out, thereby changing the focus.

The next task is to align the Lens so that when you are focused at infinity, the infinity sign is in the middle on top. There’s another issue associated with this. The Focus Ring should rotate between infinity and the minimum focus and stop at each end. Sometimes, though, it can just go round and round with no point of reference. This is because it is screwed into a separate small ring inside the barrel of the Lens Adaptor and it is possible for this to come undone – we will call this small ring the “Threading Ring”. You can use the little holes in the threading ring to screw it in but I found it difficult to get it tight enough. Then I found another trick for doing this. The Focus Ring can unscrew if you screw it too hard past infinity but provided the threading ring is still connected, you can also tighten it by screwing it past the minimum distance.

There are then two ways to align the Focus Ring. You can have it locked into in position but Infinity may not be on the top. By rotating the barrel of the Lens adaptor (i.e. everything outside the Lens ring) you may be able to get the Lens correctly aligned with the focus still correct. This may work because rotating the whole assembly causes very gradual changes in focus. However, a more accurate way is to get the focus you want by rotating the whole assembly and then adjust the alignment of the Focus Ring using the methods of the previous paragraph.

Though the instructions suggest focusing at infinity this is difficult because objects are so far away and very small for a wide-angle Lens However, if you carefully turn the Lens Ring around exactly half a turn and then calibrate the focusing on that distance it amounts to exactly the same thing. When you have the adaptor properly focused and aligned you should retighten the screws in the Lens Ring and align the Lens itself in the mount.

Then according to the instructions the last step is to tighten the two screws inside the Lens The white arrow in the picture above points to one of these screws. The screws just go up and down in a slot to restrict focusing to between infinity and the minimum distance. My guess is that the only purpose of tightening them is to make sure they don’t fall out. They didn’t’t seem to want to be tightened so I just left them well alone.(Above the white arrow in the diagram above you can also see one of the locking holes you can use to lock the Focus Ring against the “threading ring”, as discussed above).

The one significant problem I did encounter was with my 150mm lens. First the hole in the adaptor was too small to take the lens so I filed the adaptor hole out to size using a half-round file. But then I couldn’t get the lens to focus at all. At 6m the point of focus was about 16mm behind the film plane – far too much for any adjustment. The reason for this is that I was sent an adaptor for a current lens whereas my 150mm lens is 40 years old. No problem though. I was sent an additional spacer ring that screws in below the lens ring and now it’s correctly set up and focuses. Great service. I’m impressed.

One possible room for improvement is that it would be nice if the lens adaptors had a mark to align distances against and a depth of field scale. One of their illustrations on the Web does show this with what I think is a 90mm Super Angulon lens– perhaps this is only available with that lens Still, it might introduce another element of complication to the calibration process and I do not regard this as a big issue; depth-of-field tables are easy enough to come by on the Web.

Page 5

Viewfinders

I ordered two fixed viewfinders (for 75mm and 150mm) but since they were out of stock of the 150mm finder I received a zoom finder.

Fixed 75mm Viewing Scope on the left; 72mm – 150mm Zoom Scope on the right
Viewfinders, front and rear shots

The zoom viewing scope gives a very small window at 150mm, as you can see above, though it is useful for deciding which lens to use. The fixed viewing scope also has the 6×12 format is marked out in addition to the 6×17. In either case there is a fair amount of barrel distortion which won’t be present in the camera lens

The effectiveness of the scopes partly depends on their parallax and coverage. Parallax refers to the displacement of the view through the viewing scope as compared to the view through the lens Parallax will not be much of an issue when focusing at infinity but it will be for close objects. It’s easy enough to allow for, though, by viewing through the scope both above and alongside the camera.

Coverage is more of an issue. The 75mm viewfinder shows considerably more than the lens covers and is not very precise. This applies to 75mm on the zoom scope as well as to the 75mm fixed scope. You also have to be careful about the angle you are looking through the viewing scope. There is probably an inherent problem with such scopes though presumably the Linhof ones which cost $US600 instead of $US80 are more accurate. However, the zoom scope at 150mm seems quite accurate.

The Fotoman 6×17 camera offers an option for a ground glass screen in a magnetized holder. You can use this to compose under a dark cloth like a view camera provided that there is no film in the camera. This is more viable than it sounds since you only get four 6×17 exposures to a roll of film. It would be good if Gaoersi offered this as well. Since at present they don’t, I may look to getting one made.

Page 6

Changing formats on the Fly

There is a long round window on the back of the camera
When you open it you can see the numbers on the film

The black numbers and dots are on the paper backing of the film; the off-white numbers and lines are on the window of the camera. They’re probably easier to see if your film doesn’t have white paper backing.

You’ll see there are four “0” points across the top of the window. These are the indicators you use to wind on for your first exposure on a roll of film.

  • The first “0” is where you wind to if your first exposure is 6×12 and you wind on so the number “1” appears.
    • There’s a 6×12 indicator below the first “0”, obscured in this case by the lower black “6”
  • If your first exposure is 6×17 you wind on to the third “0” so that the number “2” appears there.
    • Underneath the 3rd “0” it says “617 (2)”
  • If your first exposure is 6×15 you wind on to the fourth “0” so that the number “2” appears there.
    • Underneath the 4th “0” it says “615 (2)”

Then, when you take further exposures, to see how many numbers on the film backing you wind on by, you can consult the Format Change knob:

Format Change knob

Obviously the Format Knob must be pointing to the correct format before you take the shot. It also tells you how much to wind on. If shooting in 6×12 format you wind on by 2 numbers on the film, for 6×15 it’s 2½ and for 6×17 it’s 3.

You can estimate fractions from the numbers and markings on the film. In the film number window (second-to-last picture), the position for 6½ is just to the right of the big dot.

If you’re changing formats mid-roll, you read the outer numbers on the top of the knob. Changing between 6×17 and 6×15 you advance 2¾ numbers, changing between 6×15 and 6×12 you advance 2¼ numbers and changing between 6×17 and 6×12 you advance 2½ numbers. It may sound a bit complex but it’s all quite simple really. You just have to bear in mind how much space you have left at the end of the film.

On a roll of 120 film you’ll get four exposures at 6×17, five at 6×15, six at 6×12 and then there are various combinations. Usually with 120 film it’s better to wind on after you take a shot to avoid the risk of double exposures. In this case it’s better to wind on when you take a shot because it’s only at that point you’ll know what format the shot will be (and therefore how much to wind on).

Build Quality

Build quality seems to me to be very good. The camera back for example fits so closely that you really need two hands to ease it off. Winding on of the film works well and just looking at the camera back I feel confident that it will hold the film flat.

Taking a Shot

Taking a shot involves a sequential ritual of a rather manual nature:

  1. Ensure that Format Change knob is pointing to the correct format
  2. Read how much to advance the film off the Format Change knob
  3. Advance film to correct position
  4. Ensure preview button on lens is not on (i.e. shutter is not open)
  5. Fire off shutter a couple of times to check operation
  6. Remove lens cap
  7. Remove darkslide
  8. Take exposure using a hand-held exposure meter
  9. Take the shot
  10. Replace dark slide
  11. Replace lens cap
  12. Do not wind the film on at this point

Hand holding is not generally viable at 6×17 because you will need to stop the lens down to something like f22 to cover the format – it may be more viable at 6×12, especially if you use 400 ISO film. Even so, it defeats the purpose of the camera somewhat – this is really a camera to use on a tripod.

Results

The next step is to look at some results from this camera. I’ve taken two rolls of film in my immediate environment using available lighting conditions. The first roll was mainly taken at the new building where I work. The second roll was taken over the back fence. As it happens, I live in an inner suburb of Australia’s National Capital and there’s 10,000 acres of native bush over my back fence.

I’ll cover what I do to scan these images, how I optimise them in Photoshop and what I do to print them out. I’ll be brief because there is lots of good documentation for both Silverfast and Photoshop. My scanner is calibrated (using Monaco EZColor and Wolf Faust targets) which is useful for slides but not essential. More importantly, my monitor is calibrated using a colorimeter (Monaco Optix).

Page 7

Choice of Scanner and Scanning Resolution

I am scanning the slides using a Canon 9950F scanner with Silverfast AI Studio software. Another option would be to use the Epson 4990 or 4870 together with Doug Fisher’s filmholder. I believe that the Canon is capable of producing better quality scans. It may be slightly sharper but that it not so important – the main thing is that it has a better DMax (density range) than the Epsons as reported in tests by a German magazine (3.8 as compared to 3.3). However, to produce good results with the 9950F it is essential to use Vuescan software or (my preference) Silverfast AI Studio. For more information on these scanners see Vincent’s Scanner Reviews on the 4870, the 4990, the 9950 and the Software Review on the 9950 when used with Silverfast.

The scanner has a nominal resolution of 4800dpi. When you scan you should use an even fraction of the nominal resolution (½, 1/3, ¼ etc) but so that the resulting resolution comes out as a whole number (e.g. ¼ of 4800 is 1200, a whole number). This way you are avoiding interpolation by the scanner and if you need to resize your scan it is better to do it later in Photoshop.

Normally I would scan slides at a resolution to produce the largest size I am likely to print, then later downsize the finished image in Photoshop when I need it for other purposes. This gives the following choices for scanning resolution:

  • 1600dpi (output resolution) would give an output size of 10×28” (25x71mm) for printing at 360dpi (print resolution) and produce a file size of 200MB
  • 2400dpi gives an output size of 15×42” (37x106cm) and a file size of 450MB. However, the file size is then getting a bit large for my PC so I would probably scale it back in Photoshop to 2,000 dpi which corresponds to printing on A3+ roll for an initial file size of only 320MB.

Normal slide film has a resolution of about 4,000 dpi but the new Velvia 100 probably has a resolution of 8,000 dpi or even more. To scan at this resolution you would need an Imacon or a drum scanner which would produce a file of about 5GB that you might be able to print to around 8×23’ (2×6 metres) at 180dpi.

However, for the purposes of this exercise, Vincent has told me that the maximum size for images to display on this page is 550 pixels (at 72dpi). This means that I only need to scan at 96dpi – but it’s easier if I scan a bit larger than that so I can see what I am doing in Photoshop more easily – so I’ll mostly scan at just 160dpi (as shown in the picture) and then downsize.

 

Scanning

To start scanning we turn on the scanner and the computer, open Photoshop and launch Silverfast.

Perhaps the first thing to do is to is to set up a 6×17 frame set. Silverfast doesn’t have automatic thumbnail recognition but you can drag out the location of two 6×17 frames on the main Preview screen, set your default scanning preferences and then save the frame set to use each time you scan.

When you save a new frame-set using the Save option on the Frame-Set dropdown on the General tab, the set you save adds to the menu (as shown in the picture). Saving a Frame-Set is also a good way to make sure that each time you scan you start off with a clean set of parameters.

The buttons towards the top of the frame provide Silverfast’s core functionality. From left to right you can:

  • zoom to expand the Preview Window to full screen;
  • auto-correct (you can specify the parameters this uses from the Options button at bottom right of the picture)
  • adjust histogram (overall or by channel; there is also a colour -caste removal slider)
  • adjust curves (overall or by channel; there are also sliders for midtones, highlights and shadows)
  • globally correct colour with a simple yet powerful interface
  • selectively correct specific colours.

(The last two buttons on the right are not covered here)

I generally zoom then auto-correct. This generally results in a small amount of clipping that I will correct using the Histogram. Sometimes I will make the histogram correction immediately or other times when I am adjusting colours I will do it just before the scan. It is important to retain your full shadow and highlight detail in the scanned file in Photoshop.

This is the Silverfast Preview window. You can zoom into the images from here and there are also a number of buttons down the left side that offer useful functions.

The Multiscan function helps eliminate noise by averaging several scans. Here it is set to 1 which is OK to scan only for Web. Usually I scan to print and operate it at 4 (as per Vincent’s finding)

The AACO button brightens up shadows without affecting highlights and midtones. I tried this in some of the example images that follow but found other methods more effective.

Job Manager allows you to send a batch of images to the scanner, including several versions of the same image.

The next picture is of the Job Manager dialogue box

.

There are various scans displayed in its main window (white background), some of different images, some with different settings, some different parts of images.

The six small buttons below the main window allow you to import one or more images into Job Manager, delete images from Job Manager, edit parameters, copy parameters to other images in Job Manager and select all images in Job Manager. You can scan all at once or one at a time. It is important to make sure you save the job before you scan (Job menu at top left) in case you need to scan again.

There’s also one intermittent but nasty trap I’ve encountered in Silverfast. When you zoom into an image (whether from Job Manager or normally) you should click on the image before you do anything to it. Sometimes this changes the apparent exposure of the image and if you don’t do it you may end up with an overexposed scan.

Page 8

Lens Correction Filter in Photoshop CS2

Before we move on to some sample images I’ll show you a screen shot of one of the new features of Photoshop CS2 because it is one that is very relevant to processing 6×17 panoramic scans.

Photoshop CS2 Lens Correction Filter (Filter/ Distort/ Lens Correction)

This screen allows you to correct pincushion or barrel distortion and reduce chromatic aberration. Perhaps most important for our purposes is the Vignette filter which may allow us to manage the falloff inherent in ultra wide 6×17 images. You can select the amount of the correction (making the corners darker or lighter) and with the midpoint slider you can determine how much of the image the falloff refers to.

There is also the Transform box, where you can correct vertical or horizontal perspective if the camera had been at an angle to the subject.

Page 9

Images

Now for a few images. These are my first shots with the camera, shot in available lighting conditions. In some cases I may go back and try again later. For each image I’ll briefly say what the image is about, what settings I used to scan it and how I processed the image in Photoshop. This is my own approach as it happened; there are many ways of doing these things and no doubt better approaches as well. All were taken with my 75mm lens before I got the 150mm lens calibrated.

Note: There’s no point downloading and trying to blow up these images because they’re only prepared for viewing at this size on screen.

First is a picture taken at the new building where my workplace has just moved.

It was taken late in the afternoon on a cloudy day and it was actually composed a bit wider than this. At that time I didn’t realise the viewing scope might be inaccurate though I also had this composition in mind as a fallback.

I had a minor confrontation with a security guard just after taking this. He ordered me not to take a photograph of a public building for no valid legal reason that I could see. (I continued and took the exposure I was waiting for).

  • Silverfast operations
    • I used curves to bring up shadows and hold back highlights
      • I also tried the new AACO feature to bring out shadow detail but found curves to be more effective (in this case at least)
    • No sharpening in Silverfast
      • Silverfast sharpening works quite well but there’s no point if you’re going to be optimising the image in Photoshop
  • Photoshop operations
    • Three-phase sharpening using PK Sharpener
      • This included using Hi-Pass filter for dark contour only
    • Curves used to increase brightness without blowing highlights
    • Vignette filter – moderate amount (as shown in previous picture)
    • 85 Warming Filter (c. 80%)

Overall I was quite happy with this image and I think it demonstrates that the camera and lens can work quite effectively even without using a centre-weighted neutral density filter.

It’s sharp, too as the picture below shows:

This is a blow up of a small area from the window in the middle to the left. There is a reflection on the glass and a couple of bits of dust, a green fluoride light coming through the Venetians and the edge of a shading grille. There’s even a diagonal grid texture on the grey frame for the grille. As viewed under the loupe, the film appears tack-sharp from top to bottom.

It’s only scanned at 1x and there would no doubt be less noise with 4x multi scanning. There’s more detail on the slide too that a really expensive scanner could pull out but it does demonstrate that the Canon 9950F is a viable option with this camera and film.

The next one looks down the central stairwell in my new work building. This was actually my first exposure with the new camera. It poses a particular problem for scanning and processing. With slide film you have to expose to retain the highlights but here the lighting was brighter in the centre than at the sides. This in turn exacerbates the problem with lens falloff.

I also managed to overlap this one with the one before which meant I had to crop in to a different composition.

  • Silverfast
    • Auto-adjust
    • Adjust histogram highlight and use “remove colour caste” slider
  • Photoshop
    • Vignette (Amount +47; Midpoint +33)
    • Shadow Highlight, mainly to further bring out shadows
    • Crop
    • Hue/ Saturation
      • Use eyedropper to select the fire pole, which was a bit too magenta, change hue and increase saturation (just of the pole)
    • Gentle 2-stage sharpening using PK Sharpener

I tried getting more detail out of the shadow of the sides but I was fighting a losing battle, risking savage colour castes and some posterisation. That’s OK. I don’t mind it the way it is. But to get more shadow detail on the sides, given the bright centre lighting, a centre-weighted neutral density filter may have helped. The exposure would have been about two stops slower, though.

The next shot was taken in the “bush” (Australian term) beyond my back fence. The shadows of the surrounding trees posed a problem for composition. Imprecision of composition due to the inaccuracy of the 75mm viewing scope was a problem here too. I tried composing through the back of the camera using the little piece of ground glass supplied for focusing but it was just too hard.

  • Silverfast
    • Auto adjust
    • Preserve highlights in histogram
      • that’s all for this one
  • Photoshop
    • Gentle curves adjustment to lighten highlights and darken shadows
    • Cropped in by about 40%
    • Gentle sharpening with PK Sharpener

There were details in the deep shadows at the top left that I cropped away because I couldn’t pull them back. It’s almost OK but there’s a better shot waiting for me when I go back to try again with a bit more time….

Here we have some Wattle (Acacia Baileyana) glowing in the late afternoon sun of late winter/ early spring – and silhouettes of eucalypts in the background. Acacia Baileyana is an Australian native plant but also declared as a weed in the ACT (Australian Capital Territory).

  • Silverfast
    • Auto adjust and preserve highlights in histogram
  • Photoshop
    • Vignette filter
    • Bringing the highlights out with levels
      • Also tried curves but in this instance levels worked well
    • Cropped in by about one-third from the right
      • Note that this has to happen after scanning and after applying the vignette filter – otherwise the vignette filter will operate on the wrong part of the frame
    • Gentle sharpening with PK Sharpener

As it turns out I might as well have taken it as a 6×12.

The last one is a Eucalypt in the last seconds of the sun….

  • Silverfast
    • Auto adjust
    • Preserve highlights in histogram
      • that’s all for this one
  • Photoshop
    • Vignette filter (Amount +42, Midpoint +20) brightens it up considerably at the top and bottom
      • There is no doubt perspective distortion and I tried correcting for it but I decided that the image is better as it is.
    • Gentle curves adjustment to lighten highlights and darken shadows
    • Slight straightening because the slide wasn’t quite straight in the holder
    • Slight cropping in at the bottom
    • Gentle sharpening with PK Sharpener

Once again, looking at the slide under an 8x loupe, the bark on the tree is really quite sharp

Page 10

Printing

The last test is to actually generate a print and examine it. I haven’t worked out a method to get it to disgorge through your screen but I’m still going to describe it because printing is the objective of the whole process. The image I’m printing is the first one I showed you, the vertical one of the building. I scanned it at 2400dpi and I’ll try leaving it at that size and printing at something like 12×34” (30x86cm) at 440dpi. This is because it is preferable (from the point of view of output quality) to vary the dpi within reason rather than to resize the image. However, if it gets too much for my PC I’ll downsize to 2000dpi.

My PC is a 2.4GHz Pentium 4 with only 1GB of memory but I do have a RAID array of hard disks which helps to speed things up. Scratch disk and virtual memory are set up on separate defragged disks and I’m saving to PSB (large file format). Even so, it can get slow so I need something else to do at the same time such as writing this review.

One additional thing I’ll do on the large image that I didn’t bother with on the small one is to remove dust and scratches, going through screen by screen at 100% display. Because this is such a large image, even on my 22” monitor this comes to 64 screens(!). I’ll be using a combination of the Spot Healing Brush, the Healing Brush and the Clone tool. On an image with a lot of sky I might duplicate the image, apply Photoshop’s Dust & Scratches filter to the lower image and erase down to it with a large brush – not in this case, though.

I didn’t use FARE (Canon’s equivalent of ICE) because Silverfast doesn’t have it since Canon won’t license it. It does have software-based dust and scratch removal which can be useful for some images but which also takes a bit of time to get right. Mind you, hardware-based functionality for dust and scratch removal such as FARE and ICE seems to have something of a mixed reputation. Some people say it is wonderful, others say it degrades the image too much to be worthwhile. (There may be a case here for using a wet-mounting system such as ScanMax but that’s another issue for another time.)

I processed the image in Photoshop using essentially the same steps I described earlier except that this time, because of the larger file size, I flattened layers and saved the file after each significant operation. The various operations took about an hour and a half in total, including 15 minutes for capture sharpening, 35 minutes for cleaning dust and scratches and 20 minutes to apply the vignette filter.

The next step was soft proofing. Soft proofing is something you can do in Photoshop when you have a monitor that is calibrated with a colorimeter. It shows you what the image may look like when printed using a particular paper profile for your printer. The dialogue where you define soft-proofing parameters is shown below. There was little difference in rendering intent and I used Perceptual. I also made slight increases to the adjustments to Curves and Hue/ Saturation.

View/ Proof Setup/ Custom…

Since it’s a large print I’ll printed out a small test print first which worked out fine. When I turned the printer on, the flashing lights told me I needed to replace Matte Black and Red cartridges. I also replaced Cyan to minimise ink lost in cartridge recharge because it was quite low.

To produce the final print I first rescaled the image to final output size (in this case, changing the dpi without changing the overall size of the image). Then I flattened it, reduced it to 8-bit, output sharpened, flattened again and saved as PSD. This took about 22 minutes.

Then I printed using dialogue box settings as shown below:

  • Colour Management section of Print with Preview dialogue:

File/ Print with Preview…

  • Print Properties dialogue:

File/ Print/ Properties …

It took 25 minutes to print out – 11 minutes for Photoshop to think about it and 14 minutes for the R1800 to print it. (Print size 30×86 cm @ 440dpi).

The print looks stunning. Sharp from edge to edge no matter how close the viewing distance. It took some hours to generate and no doubt would have been quicker with a better specified computer, especially say 4GB of memory. It demonstrates two things:

  1. that the camera can deliver stunning results with appropriate lenses, other equipment and processes
that for most shots, Photoshop’s Vignette filter can effectively replace the traditional centre-weighted neutral density filter.
Page 11

Specifications

It’s a camera review, remember? Since you’re on photo-i we’re not merely covering the camera as a consumer commodity, we’re looking at it from a photographic point of view in the context of the processes of the digital darkroom so we can assess its ability to produce worthwhile images.

Gaoersi camera (big black thing) and a Canon PowerShot A75 (small silver thing)

Which of the two cameras above do you think might fit into your coat pocket? (And if you reply “Both of them” may I suggest you change tailors). Mind you, the difference in potential image quality is greater than the difference is size.

Size of body: 200mm x 112mm x 75mm (for the Gaoersi, just in case there’s any doubt)

Weight of body only: 0.8kg

Weight of body with adaptor, lens and viewing scope: 2.3 or 2.4kg

Actual image size on film: 56x162mm (6×17); 56x142mm (6×15); 56x122mm (6×12)

Diagonal of film size: 171mm (6×17), 153mm (6×15), 134mm (6×12)

Focal lengths of lenses: 72mm to 150mm

Link for Gaoersi store on E-Bay

Page 12

Conclusions

The Gaoersi 617 is a specialist camera for experienced photographers who are used to manual processes with film cameras. It requires a slow and deliberative approach to taking photos and is most suitable for those with large format or at least medium format experience.

All cameras provide only a small part of the process to generate worthwhile images which particularly applies to this kind of camera. However, provided you’re appropriately set up to do so, it offers an affordable route to generate large high quality prints through the digital darkroom.

Overall, for the right photographer, I think that it’s a great camera and great value.

Pros

  • Great value
  • Stunning image quality
  • Precise build quality for back and mechanism
  • Zoom Viewing Scope is accurate at 150mm
  • Takes a wide range of large format lenses
  • Works well coupled with the Canon 9950F scanner, Silverfast and Photoshop CS2, using a well-specified, fully colour-managed PC.
  • It’s a film camera

Cons

  • Zoom and Fixed Viewing Scopes not accurate at 75mm
  • Calibration instructions too terse (unless you’ve read this review)
  • Be nice to have a ground-glass option
  • It’s a film camera

Score out of 10? You’ve read the review – you can do that.

If you’d like to make some comments or ask some questions, please visit the new photo-i Film Camera forum. You may also find many other interesting threads in other photo–i forums covering topics including Colour Management, Scanning and Printing

Many thanks to Murray Foote for putting in all the hard work on this review. I know this is a rather specialist camera that may not appeal to the masses. However, I am sure there are people who will be interested in this camera.

Vincent

3 comments on “Gaoersi 6×17 Camera Review (2005)

  1. Waldemar Kruk says:

    Fantastic article and photos! Welcome back to film photography! I’m using Rollei 6008 Pro and am happy too!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What an article – more in depth than most I have read. I hope over time it gets good exposure to justify your efforts in compiling it. Perhaps a magazine like Amateur Photographer would do a piece then it would appear in archival searches. I got the bug for film cameras at the start of this year. Started by replacing my first film camera a Yashica FXD Quartz which I had previously traded in and got out of hand from there. I will try and catch up with your blog over the Winter good luck in your travels – regards Scott

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s