Digital photography has many advantages over using a traditional film-based camera. Once one has made the initial investment, one is not expected to purchase endless rolls of films and pay for their development and enlargement. The most important benefit of digital photography is that a person can take pictures again and again till fully satisfied. Also a person has all the power of a professional darkroom at one’s fingertips, fine tune and freedom to adjust, or completely change or combine several pictures, once the pictures are transferred to the pc.
We’ve already covered the basics of digital photography in our past post. Now this tour of digital photography addresses many questions commonly asked by those new to the subject.
The Internet has revolutionized communication. People can send and receive text and images on a daily, if not hourly basis. So why not have instant access to the images we can capture without waiting for a film to develop? Let’s take a look at the beginnings of camera technology.
The camera obscura was simply a tiny hole in a sheet of material over a window in an otherwise darkened room. Rays of daylight would then project a reversed Image of the scene outside the room on the opposite wall.
While the camera obscura was capable of creating a faithful image, there was no way of recording it other than manually with a pen or paintbrush. Unfortunately, photosensitive chemicals, the active components in camera film were not around until the 18th century. The seeds were sown, however, when a light-sensitive chemical was created accidentally the 1720s from mixing chalk, nitric acid and silver in a flask.
It was not until the early 1800s that such chemicals were used for recording images. One of the early pioneers was Thomas Wedgwood, who made pictures by placing objects onto sheets of leather that had been soaked in silver nitrate, and then left out in the sun to dry. Then in 1816 a camera obscura was constructed which used photosensitive paper.
During the 1830s these rudimentary processing techniques gradually improved with the use of contact printing and various light sensitive compounds, Including silver chloride and silver iodide. One of these early methods was the Daguerreotype process method developed by the Frenchman Louis Daguerre. This process used highly toxic chemicals, including mercury, to create images on metal plates.
A much improved commercial process was developed in the 1850s In London called ‘wet plate collodion photography’. It was much cheaper than previous methods, since it permitted unlimited reproductions to the made.
Kodak was one of the first big camera companies, producing several pioneering models from the late 188os onwards. The most famous of these was the Box Brownie – the first truly mass produced camera.
In 1907 the first commercial color film was produced followed by the first multi-layered color film in 1936 with the development of Kodachrome. In the early 1950s, the first video tape recorders converted live color images from television cameras into digital impulses and saved them onto magnetic tape.
The first electronic camera was patented by Texas instruments in 1972, although it was Sony which actually produced the first commercial electronic camera in the early 1980s. Apple were the first to manufacture a digital camera suitable for the home computer user in February 1994.
Digital photograph is taken, an array of sensors capture the image and convert it into a series of electronic pulses that are stored in a digital form.
Electronic pulses are compiled into an electronic file for storage within the digital camera. There are many different formats for this storage, including JPEG, GIF, BMP and TIFF files, which will be examined in more detail later. The contents of the digital file can be opened with an imaging program such as Jasc’s Paint Shop Pro or Adobe’s Photoshop, of which more lately. These programs can also be used to amputate the image. If required.
Once the image is in the required form – the right size, correct coloring and so on – it may be printed onto paper, imported into electronic documents, used on websites, as screensavers or for publication in magazines and newspapers.
The quality of a photograph itself is controlled by a number of factors, including the photographer, and, of course, the equipment used. Where digital cameras are concerned, this it largely dictated by the number of pixels contained within the picture. The word “pixel” is short for ‘picture element’, and every digital picture is composed of thousands or even millions of pixels.
Most digital cameras that are suitable for the amateur photographer are able to offer up to around 5 million pixels. It is important to understand the difference between the promoted ‘actual number of pixels’ and the started ‘effective number of pixels’. What you need to pay attention to is how many are actual used in making up your pictures – the effective number of pixels; this is what defines the quality of the camera.
Until recently, film cameras were better than the digital alternative, since film produced pictures of a far superior quality. However, this has changed with the Introduction of higher resolution and reasonably priced digital cameras.
As the cost of digital cameras has plummeted, at the same time resolution has improved enormously. In the early digital cameras, ‘resolution’ was achieved in two ways: by direct Imaging – taking the picture through the lens – and also by using software to ‘improve’ the quality of the photograph. Unfortunately, many claims were made for this technique, but most were exaggerated. Luckily for those of us who use digital cameras, improvements in sensor technology have meant that we can now choose between many high-quality products that are on offer at affordable prices.
Digital cameras also favour beginners – not only are they easy to use, but once you have taken a photograph you can look at your results almost instantaneously. With film cameras you would expect to have to wait for, at best, an hour to get your film developed before knowing whether you chose the best setting for your shot. With digital, you can view the shot straight away – and then retake it if you unwittingly got it wrong the first time.
All is not rosy in the world of digital cameras, however. One of the main criticisms is the time they need to acquire all the information to take a picture which can often result in the shot being missed. One of the beauties of photography is that it allows a brief moment in time to be captured for posterity. Sadly, this moment can be all too brief, and the slower reaction time of the digital camera may mean that the shutter operates after the event has happened and the moment is missed. While this is often heralded as the great weakness of digital photography, there are ways around it, such as pre-focusing the camera as much as is practicable. If this is done correctly, the camera will respond just as quickly as any film camera.
There is another method of getting around the ‘lag time’ of digital cameras, and this is to use a rapid sequence mode. This is where the camera takes a short burst of pictures in quick succession. This can be useful for those occasions when things are happening too quickly to take Individual shots, such as when the groom kisses the bride outside the church.
There are many other advantages of becoming a digital camera devotee. For Instance, how many of us know someone who has had a film processing company lose one of their films? In some circumstances this can just be annoying, but if the film is of an important occasion like a wedding or funeral, then the loss can be heartbreaking. Likewise, the automated machines used by film processing companies can sometimes malfunction, which may result in the damage or destruction of a customer’s film. This is, of course, not an issue with film-less digital cameras. Before the advent of digital cameras, you had no choice if you wanted to process your own films – you needed a darkroom. This is not only expensive, but it also means that you need to find a suitable place to set all the equipment BE days all you need is a computer and a few associated peripherals, such as a printer.
Digital cameras can be divided into three main groups: those for professional use, cameras aimed at the keen amateur and those for the beginner.
The cheaper professional-use cameras have similar resolutions to those aimed at the keen amateur at around 5-6 million pixels, but with greater setting control and much better lenses. At the top end of the market resolutions exceed II million pixels. Most current high-end models will accept film camera lenses.
These models generally offer a blend of ease of use and reasonably high specification components- For the more experienced operator, they can have a lot of settings, but don’t have the wide control range of the professional cameras, The better models have In excess of 5 million pixels, but have fully automatic function for those who are still learning the ropes.
One of the advantages that cameras in this category have over the professional range is that they are much smaller and lighter, making them more convenient to carry around.
Budget digital cameras are aimed at those users who are looking to start photography but do not want to spend a fortune before they know what they are doing, as well as the occasional ‘snapper’. Choices can be made from among several disposable models, as well as those incorporated into other devices such as mobile phones. These economy models are sometimes known as ‘point and shoot cameras’ and are mostly intended for taking impulse snaps on the spur of the moment.
In this section we will look at what is needed to spend a day taking photographs. There are lots of accessories available, but most can wait until you know more about what you are doing.
Batteries: Whichever model of digital camera you have, sooner or later your batteries are going to run flat if the batteries for your camera are disposable, it is well worth investing in a set of rechargeable ones.
Camera case: A good case is vital to protect your camera from getting damaged. The more expensive types incorporate padding in case they are dropped.
Memory cards: The general rule of thumb is that you can never have too much memory! Invest in large capacity memory cards when you buy your camera.
Connection leads: The most important connection lead is the one that connects your camera to a computer for downloading pictures.
Download software: If you purchased your camera new, it will have come with a CD containing all the necessary software for it to communicate with your programs are simple to use, since they more or less Install themselves once the CD is In your computer If you bought your camera second-hand and the CD is missing, you can normally download the software you need from the manufacturer’s website.
Image manipulation: There are many different kinds of Image manipulating packages available; but if all you want to do Is start off by taking some pictures, you will not need these programs yet.
Computer: There are two main types of computer in use – PCs (which stands for ‘personal computers’) and Apple Macintoshes. Check whether the operating system – the software which runs the computer – Is compatible with the programs that communicate with your camera.
Printer: If you already own a computer for domestic or work purposes, the chances are that you will also already own a printer.
Scanner: Although a scanner might seem an unlikely piece of kit to have, if you are using image manipulation software for your digitally taken pictures, you can scan in old, faded photographs and improve their quality using the manipulation software. You can then download them onto your camera for taking around with you and sharing with friends and family.
Amateurs usually keep the cameras in a leather case, generally called the ever-ready case (or are it not the never-ready case)! It takes too long to remove the front, get it out of the way and get into action. Some like to carry the equipment in a well-cushioned camera case. Professionals usually use equipment-carrying case so that they can grab the camera, lens or accessory immediately and use it. Here the equipment jostles together and scratches on bodies and lenses cannot be avoided. An ideal situation would indeed be to make a judicious choice of a well-compartmentalized gadget bag. It should not be too large, nor too small, but just right; when not in use, keep a lens cap over the lens. The neck strap itself should have some sort of shoulder with a rubberized gripping to prevent the strap from slipping from the shoulders.
Every lens needs a front and back lens cap. A camera bag should be neither too hard nor too soft. It should be such that each item is easily reachable with no need to look into the bag. While on the move, watching the subjects, it should allow easy interchange of lens, etc. a good leather shop or shoemaker can make compartments in a camera bag as per one’s needs. It is always advisable to keep the load down to as small as possible and carry only what is needed.
Very handsome and expensive cast aluminium or sheet metal cases are very useful for transporting large amounts of equipment. However, they are primarily for transporting equipment and, are not good for daily use on assignments as they are bulky and inconvenient for use as gadget bags, which they are not.
Many problems crop up when the camera equipment lies unused for a long time. Very often they are hauled up and are expected to function perfectly. The camera equipment should be stored in a cool, dry place out of sunlight. Humid places encourage fungus growth on lenses and ones it starts, it cannot be overcome.
If it is intended to leave the camera for a few weeks, it is advisable to remove the batteries from the equipment. Batteries left in cameras or flashguns tend to corrode, which can interfere with proper electric connections later on. It is suggested by experts that cameras should always be stored with the shutter released and the spring tension removed.
Like a watch, the camera equipment also needs regular cleaning, lubrication and servicing, at least once in three years by an experienced camera mechanic. If lubrication is not done, the shutter speeds can slip and give wrong speeds. The camera should be kept as clean as possible. The many nooks and corners collect dust. On e can use finely tipped paint-brush rather than the usual lens brush, since the paint-brush can enter every nook and corner. Hands should never touch the shutter blinds as they are very delicate.
If batteries are not removed when storing cameras and other equipment, battery contacts may get corroded. If this happens it would be necessary to remove the batteries and rub the contacts in the camera with a pencil eraser. If the corrosion is heavy and a greenish or whitish chemical deposit is seen, then it would need scraping and cleaning with the end of a screw-driver blade or a knife.