View Full Version : Choosing a camera for texture hunting

08-13-2011, 07:07 AM
Hi :)

What is a good camera for taking photos that will be used to make textures?

Aside from having a good lens and high res, I'm thinking raw shooting is pretty useful to avoid the camera doing crappy filters. Better to do that yourself later.

Also zooming can be quite important, right? Taking photos of the side of a building from 100 yards away, but zooming in to get good detail.

And for sky boxes you need a wide angle lens, so that means a camera that can have its lens swapped out.

Am I way off the mark here?

What cameras do the pros use for this kind of thing?

08-13-2011, 07:30 AM
I would recommend to get at least a DSLR.
Stay away from digital Zoom, optical zoom is better.
Make sure it can save out in RAW or another loseless format.
Be ready to spend much money on it, really good ones are far from cheap most of the time.
And keep in mind that more megapixels != better.

08-13-2011, 08:01 AM
It's lot about the lens you're using. You can get a perfect quality on old DSLR's like Canon 400D that is cheap and but a Carl Zeiss Jena DDR 35mm lens that is ultra sharp. I used such a setting, also I can recommend other M42 lenses (you need to buy an adapter from EOS (Canon) to M42) like Helios 44M 50mm or Pentacon 50mm. It's easy to get on ebay but these lenses are with one focal length so it will be a bit annoying to get a proper crop and depth (no autofocus in these lenses :() of the surface.

If you want to spent some cash on it, I can recommend my current setting that is perfect for me. Canon 60D + Sigma 17-70mm. I also used Canon 550D with the same lens and it was also really nice, more than 12mpx on the sensor and you'll get awesome results on proper lenses. The M42 way is cheap and great for a start, after that you can buy new lens with autofocus.

To get a good detail from far distance you'll have to buy a zoom lens, an expensive one. In cheap lenses you'll notice distortion, aberrations, vignetting etc. and this gives a not-so-great quality image (as for photo texture). Avoid very universal lenses that are really amateur.

I don't have any texture-like images uploaded but I have one that is similar, colors postprocessed, cropped, some minor details changed. On 100% RAW image you'll be able to use some parts of the image as a base of the texture:

08-13-2011, 01:19 PM
If this is for regular surface texture sources, check some reviews and get the best you can get for a couple hundred bucks, then read up on some basics of getting neutral lighting. Anything else would most likely be overkill.

08-13-2011, 01:58 PM
Well the first thing we need to know is your budget.

$1-200 means standard compact camera, this will work in a pinch if you know how to use it
$2-400 will get you a used DSLR body, possibly with a standard "kit" lens
$5-1000 will get you a higher end used body, or a quite good new body, with kit lens

You can pick up a $300ish used DSLR body, 8-12mp, and then a $100ish 50mm 1.8 lens, or a 28 or 35mm lens for $200 or so, for most systems(Canon, Nikon, Sony are good recommendations).

Zoom lenses in general aren't the best, unless you can spend a lot of money on one. They are slower(need more light) and softer than a nice prime lens, as well as often bigger and heavier, so having a few primes, and zooming with your feet can give better images in a variety of lighting situations.

However, if you really want far away stuff, that you can't simply walk closer to, you will likely need a telephoto zoom, prime telephoto lenses are quite expensive, and so is a pro level tele zoom, but you can get something in the 50-300mm range, like 55-250mm, 70-210mm, 100-300mm etc for under $200.

I wouldn't bother with older M42 lenses, sure they can be fun, but the lack of AF, and very poor performance wide open, along with older coatings and just generally old designs and terrible corner performance don't make a good choice when sharpness(texture quality) is the most important thing. With a manual focus lenses, being slightly off on your focus means you'll ruin your sharpness. Dirt cheap sharp primes like the Canon 50mm 1.8, the Sony 35mm 1.8 and the Nikon 35mm 1.8 are super-fan-fucking-tastic choices. Sure you can find some older Carl Zeiss lenses that are gems, but you'll pay as much/more for them than you would for a modern AF prime.

At the end of the day, if you're just shooting references for 1024x1024 textures, having the best lens on a 14mp DSLR(4592x3056) is overkill, if you're resizing to 1/4th the size, the sharpness of your lens gets thrown out the window. If you want usable 3-4K images with room to crop, then having a nice and sharp lens becomes much more important, as well as a high quality, low noise sensor that you will *only* get in a DSLR(or mirrorless interchangeable lens camera).

Speaking of mirrorless cameras, the Sony Nex-5 with kit zoom, and 16mm pancake would likely make an excellent reference camera, you could take it with you take it almost everywhere with the 16mm pancake lens(which is going to be wide enough for most purposes). And it has a world-class sensor, among the best of any APS-C DSLR cameras produced in the last couple years. A good choice if you don't want to lug around a large camera system.

If you want something cheap-ish, small and without interchangeable lenses, take a look at the Canon S90/S95. This has a lot of "pro" features, and surprisingly good noise performance as well(which is the biggest negative for most compact point and shoot cameras, along with depth of field issues because of the smaller sensor - but thats not really relevant if the only purpose of the camera is to take ref photos).

Now if you want an awesome camera for taking photos with full on artistic freedom, in addition to ref shots, a DSLR/Mirrorless is the only way to go.

08-13-2011, 02:05 PM
If this is for regular surface texture sources, check some reviews and get the best you can get for a couple hundred bucks, then read up on some basics of getting neutral lighting. Anything else would most likely be overkill.

It all depends on the intended final resolution. If you go and buy even a nice P&S camera, but it has a shit lens comparatively, lots of noise, and can only save uncompressed jpegs, that brand new 14mp camera or whatever it is, is only pulling in say, 6 or less mp of actual detail, you're not really getting any sharpness there, just a lot of blurry pixels. Again if its 1k textures you want, who cares, larger than that and it may be an issue.

If resolution is the biggest technical factor in reference shots, we've got to consider not only megapixels, but the lens' resolving power, and the image format it saves.

With a DSLR, you'll shoot in raw, which is uncompressed, and gives you the ability to under/overexpose the shot and tweak various camera settings in a mostly loss-less fashion when you get home.

Now, one potential big pro for a cheap P&S camera, the depth of field on these cameras is essentially infinite, if you're shooting objects that are varrying distances from the camera, but still want a sharp shot, with a DSLR you need to stop your lens down(and thus need more light, or a tripod) to get sharpness across the focal plane. This has to do with how large the sensor is. For artistic photography, this is a huge pro for DSLRS, for more documentational photography, it can be a con.

Now, with a regular lens on a DSLR, you're hitting infinity focus passed 20 feet or so, so this is more important for close ups than anything. And again, would only be a problem for stuff that is of varying distance from the camera. A brick wall would never be a problem. A brick wall with a telephone booth 5 feet infront of it, you would have more problems getting both sharp depending on distance.

But this is sort of moot, if you consider that virtually every P&S is less sharp than every DSLR.

08-13-2011, 02:57 PM
Here are some examples, My few year old 8mp compact p&s(Canon SD1100), now sure you can buy a better P&S than this, but all p&s cameras generally have the same weaknesses when compared to a DSLR. VS my Sony A560 with 35mm 1.8 lens.


Canon at 400 ISO:

We can see the jpeg artifacts here, and smudging for noise reduction giving us a lack of detail

Canon at 1600 ISO:


Massive noise reduction applied by the camera here means loss of virtually all micro detail, totally unusable

Sony A560 at 1600:


This is processed from raw with NO noise reduction, this is exactly what the sensor is giving you. At 1600 we've still got excellent image quality, you can see some color noise in the shadows, and what looks like noise on the metal surface here is actually the texture of the metal itself. 14MP helps gain a nice amount of detail here as well.

I wont even bother showing shots from ISO below 1600 for the Sony, as at 1600 it is great, and a p&s is likely below average to completely unusable at 1600 and up. Suffice to say, ISO 100-400 on a camera like this is going to be essentially noise free.

08-13-2011, 04:33 PM
http://www.dpreview.com/ look at the top rated camera's and pick one that fits into your needs and price-range, like earthquake says, the A580 is a great choice especially at it's price. If you can't afford that I would recommend checking some thrift stores and classifieds for an equivalent...if that fails, you could grab something with near the same image quality with far less features like an Olympus Pen e-pl1 for around half the price of the A580. you get what you pay for.

08-14-2011, 01:40 PM
Thanks guys, lots of good advice here. I will go for the DSLR option as the extra resolution can be 'spent' in post processing to allow getting sharp textures of flat surfaces when lack of access (or inability to levitate) forces a bad camera position.

For making skyboxes, is a wide-angle lens required? Or is it better to do something like paint from multiple photos onto a sphere in blender or mudbox, and then bake it to a cube?

Finally, one more question :)

Someone in another community suggested that controlling the lighting would yield much better textures, far more so than having a better camera, and thus investing in lighting equipment might be more sensible. My approach to lighting so far, is to wait for the right time of day, and the right amount of cloud cover :) Do the pros typically do more than this? Given that I'm usually out on the street taking photos of buildings etc from public areas, I'm not sure I like the idea of deploying half a studio. However maybe some simple equipment like a remote flash + umbrella can be a big win?

08-23-2011, 08:27 AM
For panoramas, you're going to stitch together multiple shots. A wide angle lens is good, but fisheye lenses are sort of overated. You would be better off getting a very wide lens that has little distortion, instead of a fisheye with massive distortion. You get a large view with the fisheye, but the corners are very warped and distorted and lack detail, so its basically useless information.

For wide angle/fish eye lenses, you can actually go the manual focus route as the depth of feild on these lenses is so wide, its very easy to just set it to F8 and focus to infinity for landscape panoramas.

Here are two very good MF lenses, one fish and one wide:
Samyang 8mm 3.5 fisheye $2-300
Samyang 14mm 2.8 ultra wide $300-400
These are re-branded and sold by various compaines, Vivitar, Bower, Rokinon, etc etc. Just serach "14mm 2.8" or "8mm 3.5" on amazon and you'll see a bunch.

AF ultrawide/fisheye prime lenses cost in the $500-1500 range.

Getting an ultra-wide zoom lens is also an option, if you want to spend a little more, and may make a more versatile lens overall(plus have autofocus). The first party Canon/Nikon/Sony UWA zooms are quite expensive, but there are some good 3rd party alternatives like:

Tamron 10-24mm 3.5-4.5 $400-500
Sigma 10-20mm 4-5.6 $300-500
Tokina 12-24mm 4.0 $300-500
Tokina 11-16mm 2.8 $500-700

I wouldn't bother with studio lighting, its just going to be a massive pain in the ass. Simply wait for a nice overcast day like you have been doing, ambient light is good, directional light is bad - thats pretty much all you need to know. I'm not really sure how much a flash would even help either. You don't want an angled offhand flash as that will create directional lighting. You may want do bounce your flash off a ceiling for extra ambient light indoors, but even then that might be a bit too unpredictable to use. An umbrella to diffuse your flash may be good, however I would recommend just going out and shooting, and see what happens. Only worry about flash/extra lighting if you actually need it.

For texture reference, I would HIGHLY recommend a Sony body, as the in-body image stabilization means every lens you use will be stabilized, and you will be able to take sharper shots than a Canon or Nikon camera at the same iso, aperture and shutter speed. Canon/Nikon offer no IS primes, but all Primes on a Sony body have IS, so its a huge advantage. With a Sony you would be able to handhold in situations where you would need a tripod or extra lighting on the CaNikon.

When you think about shooting at F8 on an overcast day, IS could be the difference between getting a sharp shot at a low ISO(100-400) or having to bump up to 800-3200 range and deal with extra noise, or rely on extra lighting.

So, for textures:
1. Sharp, prime lens, stopped down to F4.0-8
2. Camera body with IS
3. Ambient, non directional lighting(overcast etc)
4. Make sure you are as planar to the surface as possible, shooting at a slight angle will mean the edges can be out of focus, in this case, stop down between F8-16 if you need to shoot at an angle. - Experiment of course, depending on the distance to the subject, F8 may be fine.
5. Stopping down past F8 on an APS-C camera actually means reduced sharpness, so if someone tells you to stop down to f32 to get sharp images, ignore them. The sharpest range on an APS-C is generally F4-8 on a prime lens, F5.6-11 on a slower zoom.

For panoramas:
1. Wide angle lens(skip the fisheye would be my recommendation)
2. Tripod, with level and at minimum degree markings. You probably don't need one of those $500 panoramic tripod heads.

You can also take multiple exposures to create HDR panoramas, or even create them straight from a single .RAW(less quality but much easier). There are apps that will auto-stitch for you, and support .RAW or HDR images.

Now, what is your overall budget for the system?

Mark Dygert
08-23-2011, 09:58 AM
Personally I've gone on a few texture expeditions and come back with perfectly useable results with low end hardware. It almost matters more on the time go hunting and the weather. You could have an amazing camera but if its sunny you're screwed.

Overcast days are the best, where I live that's pretty much the norm so its not much of an issue but people who don't live in an area with highly diffused lighting its tricky. It's easy to end up with harsh overhead shadows.

Good luck, EQ is probably making a bunch of technical sense like he always does so its probably smart to listen to him, just keep in mind the lighting conditions also.

08-23-2011, 10:17 AM
Yeah like I said, if you're not looking for max sharpness, or high resolution, for like 1x1k textures pretty much any camera will do, 2x2k and you will want atleast a high end compact(Canon S95, G11, etc) and higher than that probably a DSLR. 3-4K and you need a DSLR, while you can get a 14-16mp compact camera, you're not getting a 1:1 resolution to pixel ratio there. Wheres a quality lens on a DSLR, you bump up against the sensor's pixel limations before you max out the resolving power of the lens.

However, DSLRs are awesome, and can be used for a lot more than taking reference photos, if you have any interest what-so-ever in photography getting a DSLR is a good idea. Its just a night and day difference, taking photos on a dslr and a compact.