Better Light Company History
The First Digital Scanning Insert for Large Format Photography
Continues to Evolve as Technology Improves

Better Light, Inc. was founded in early 1992 by Michael Collette, a design engineer with over 20 years of professional experience in electronics instrumentation.  The company is a highly regarded developer of high-performance digital imaging equipment for commercial, scientific, and industrial applications; combining solid-state image sensors, multiple embedded microprocessors, and real-time control software to capture extremely high-resolution images without film or chemical processing. In other words, continuing the pursuit of “Precision Digital Imaging” as technology evolves.

In 1993, the company developed the industry's first professional digital scanning insert for use on 4x5 view cameras using a new Kodak trilinear color CCD, and Michael Collette received a U.S. patent (No. 5,570,146) on the design in 1996. This original scanning back insert was licensed in 1994, under an exclusive sales and marketing agreement, to Dicomed, Inc. Over 750 of these innovative Dicomed “Pro” Series digital camera backs were sold to two main groups of users: commercial photographers, who generally used the camera to photograph products for advertising, literature and catalog purposes, and reprographic houses, who used the camera to scan original artwork (e.g., paintings, sculptures and drawings) for high-quality lithographic reproductions.  In 1999, Dicomed went out of business and Better Light acquired the company’s entire stock of Pro Series parts and agreed to take over both service and warranty obligations for this first generation of scanning back camera designs.

Never satisfied with less than perfection, Michael Collette began to develop a vision of the scanning camera's evolution into an improved second generation, which he began building in 1996.  One key discovery he made during this time was that users of these digital cameras were often willing to accept some additional noise in an image, in return for the benefits of significantly shorter scan times, as long as the noise was truly random and without visible structure (no lines or patterns).  In fact, Collette learned that many images actually reproduce better in print when some additional noise is added, and that adding a small amount of random noise to an image is often a part of the conventional CMYK separation process. 

The second generation of Better Light digital scanning cameras was introduced in late 1997, and included the models 4000, 6000, and 8000. The primary differences between the first and second generations of the Better Light-designed digital scanning cameras were lighter, longer cabling; a more compact, integrated control unit with a built-in AC supply and battery-charging capability; a more robust scan motion system that was both faster and more precise; thousands of independently-adjustable sensitivity settings with more than four f-stops of adjustment range; analog-to-digital conversions and overall pixel processing rates 2-1/2 times faster; more high-speed pixel processing memory; data transfer rates much faster than previously.

Mike Collette, founder and CEO of Better Light, is a rare individual – scientist, evangelist, marketer, and consultant, continually in the pursuit of perfection. He is at his best when sharing his knowledge with others, such as a recent Better Light Owners Conference.

In the year 2000, Better Light introduced yet another generation of scan back technology, the new SuperModels. Based on the earlier 6000 and 8000 models, but featuring enhanced resolution, the new Super6K and Super8K offered the capability to increase scan back resolution in several increments up to 150% of the previous camera’s pixel dimensions and file sizes up to 2.25 times larger than the 6000 and 8000. Unlike post-capture interpolation, the new cameras’ enhanced resolution settings recorded additional image information during the scan for sharper, more detailed images. At resolution levels above 100%, the long dimension (scan direction) remained as pure pixel information, while the narrow dimension used minimal interpolation to complete the image.

Using PhotoPlus East 2001 (the annual professional photography trade show in New York City) as a launching pad, Better Light introduced two new Super Models, the Super6K-2 and Super8K-2, that feature Kodak’s redesigned tri-linear CCD sensors. The new CCDs are twice as sensitive as previous Kodak sensors, and consequently can reduce a photographer’s lighting requirements by as much as 50% and also allow an ISO range from 200 to as high as 3200. The new CCDs are 16 times more sensitive than those used in the original Dicomed scanning back camera and gives the user the choice of faster scan times, smaller camera lens apertures, and reduced light levels.

With each succeeding generation of new cameras, Better Light has been relatively unique in the digital imaging field by providing a clear and economical path for upgrading to the next generation of higher resolution camera models. For instance, an owner of the company’s model 6000 is able to upgrade to the Super 6k for only $2,495, and an owner of the Super 6k can similarly upgrade to the new Super 6K-2 for the same amount. This represented the difference in the retail costs plus a minimal upgrade charge.

In addition to developing the most advanced digital scanning back solutions on the market, Better Light has introduced related products, including, the industry’s only 4x5 digital panorama camera system, the Pano/WideView™ Adapter, which operates with any Better Light digital scanning back and provides full 360° seamless panoramic scans, and enables the camera to capture images for QTVR and multimedia applications and object rollouts. Earlier, the company introduced the Better Light Portability Option, designed to provide a convenient method of carrying and using any model of Better Light scanning camera on-location, with or without AC power. Better Light has continuously released improved versions of its digital scanning camera software, ViewFinder™ and makes all updates available to the owners at no charge. The software is available for Apple Macintosh and Windows platforms.

In 2004, Better Light, Inc. announced a new series of digital scanning backs for large format 4x5 view cameras featuring Hi-Speed USB-2 interface technology for greatly improved connectivity and speed over the previous generation’s SCSI interface.

The large format scanning backs are being used more frequently for location, architecture and landscape photography, and the new Hi-Speed Control Boxes are smaller, lighter and faster — with much better connectivity to the laptop computers typically being used on-location.

Better Light scanning backs are widely acknowledged for capturing image quality superior to film or fixed-array digital cameras. Used on a view camera, the capture area is 72x96mm (120mm diagonal), creating and a huge pixel population with the scan movement of its tri-linear sensor. Each pixel receives pure red, green and blue data so there is no interpolation of color data, or typical digital artifacts, or moiré pattern Issues to deal with in post-production.

With the Better Light system, exposure, color balance and other quality judgments are made based on a high-quality preview image on the monitor, prior to the capture of the large, high-resolution file. The new “HS” series control boxes will capture and store the images as 16-bit data files (twice the size of the typical 8-bit file), and allow the photographer to save the file in 8-bit, 16-bit, linear raw, or DNG formats.

During the 15 years since its founding, Better Light has established itself as one of the pre-eminent developers of high-quality digital imaging systems for professional applications.  The company's self-imposed mandate is simple: to concentrate on the requirements of the demanding commercial and reprographic imaging communities, expand the applications base for high resolution scanning cameras to a widening array of imaging professionals, and continually improve quality. Today, the company is respected as the worldwide leader in large format digital capture, creating images with clarity and detail that surpass 8x10 transparency film. Better Light’s award-winning technology captures delicate gradations, crystal clear highlights and perfectly neutral color to assure trouble-free post-production and printing.

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