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The Paradigm: Going Digital

As you might imagine the paradigm shift from traditional film-based photography to digital is rapidly creating new opportunities to learn and grow. The photography industry is moving at an incessant pace, and digital cameras sales have surpassed their film-based cousin at an alarming rate each year. On January 16, 2004, Eastman Kodak announced it would end its sales of film cameras in the United States and on June 15, 2005, Kodak announced it will discontinue production of black-and-white photographic paper by the end of the year as it continues its transition to digital photography. Soon digital cameras will hit critical mass and film will only represent a minute segment of the industry.

Traditionalists are disappointed, and amateur and advanced film photographers alike are pondering the inevitable question - how can I learn this new digital camera technology in shortest amount of time?

The differentiator between a traditional 35mm film camera and digital cameras is how the pictures are captured, processed, and stored. A conventional camera exposes an image on a roll of silver-halide coated film. A digital camera captures an image on a photosensitive silicon computer chip called a charged couple device, also known as a CCD. The camera converts the image captured by the chip into digital data and saves it in a camera's memory as a digital photo. These photos can then be copied onto your computer's hard drive where you can email, edit, and save them.

ASSESS YOUR INTERESTS

The immediacy of digital is quite satisfying and may present you with opportunities to photograph subjects that perhaps you had not thought of due to the financial constraints of film and development costs prior to taking on this new digital experience. It is important to assess what peaks your interest, i.e. sports, nature, medical, macro, people and lifestyle, etc. Brainstorm and narrow your equipment selection to suit your current and future photographic needs and budget.

CAMERA SELECTION

Just as with traditional film cameras, digital cameras come in two offerings: point and shoot, and digital single lens reflex (DSLR).

Both types of camera use flash memory cards ("digital film") to store images and are immediately available for viewing through the camera's rear liquid crystal display (LCD).

Point and Shoot

Point-and-shoot cameras are extremely affordable and remain popular in current market conditions. These cameras are easy to use, give outstanding results, and for all practical purposes are compact. Point-and-shoot cameras mainly offer a limited feature set, offering mostly automatic features such as: auto flash, auto exposure, and the camera selects the shutter speed and aperture for you. Family gatherings and vacations are ideal for point and shoot cameras. The corporate world also uses point and shoot cameras for company newsletters, web sites, and business functions.

Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR)

Digital SLR cameras offer photographers the ability to use interchangeable lenses and accessories, which give the photographer greater artistic control and flexibility. DSLR cameras allow photographers to visually check image sharpness and composition. The effects of changing lenses, changing exposure values, and viewing the camera's histogram are immediately visible in the LCD viewfinder and/or eye viewer. There are many advantages of using DSLR digital cameras. They can handle a variety of lighting and focusing situations unlike point and shoot cameras. DSLR cameras offer optical zoom as opposed to just digital zoom, which essentially crops pixel data and will add unwanted noise to an image.

IMPORTANT TIPS

? Look for cameras that can save files in RAW. Saving your image as a RAW file will provide you with a higher quality image to work from in post processing. Images shot in RAW remain uncompressed, unlike JPEG images. Through repetitive opening/closing of JPEG files image -- image degradation occurs.

? Equally important is finding a camera with a minimal amount of shutter lag. It can be rather frustrating with some of the point and shoot cameras available when there is a long lag between clicking the shutter and the camera taking the shot. Choose a camera with a large buffer memory. This allows a number of images to be continually snapped before stopping to allow them to be downloaded and processed.

? Digital camera quality and the size of the created images are continually rising. As a general rule you will need at least 1800 x 1400 pixels (2.5 mega pixels) to print up to 6 x 4 inch with good quality. To date recommendations include the Canon Rebel XT (8.0 Mega Pixels), Canon EOS 20D, Nikon D70 and so on.

Based on the previous tips, there are two resources that will enable you to read professional reviews as well as real-world user feedback on various types of digital cameras presently available in the marketplace.

Steve's Digicams http://www.steves-digicams.com and Digital Photography Review http://www.dpreview.com

DIGITAL FILM: FLASH MEMORY

Manufacturers of cameras ,namely Canon, Olympus, and Sony use memory cards that are usually not compatible with one another. Canon uses compact flash cards and/or IBM micro drives. A micro drive is similar to a compact flash card, but it was formerly recognized for its larger capacity. Olympus uses an xD Picture card and smart media card, and finally there's Sony. Sony uses a memory stick. File formats generated by flash memory for digital cameras are RAW, TIFF, JPEG (pronounced 'J-peg'). RAW being a memory intensive format uses several megabytes of data on a memory card and does not compress the image at all.

Both RAW and TIFF are known as 'lossless' file formats because compression algorithms are absent, thus giving the photographer more pixel data and better image quality. However, since RAW is not as widely recognized as JPEG in the photography marketplace, special conversion software is necessary to convert images from RAW to TIFF or JPG. Some camera manufacturers include RAW conversion software with their higher end point-and-shoot and DSLR cameras, but it is not as great as some RAW applications developed by cutting edge companies such as PhaseOne, a Danish company that markets an outstanding product called Capture One DSLR. It is made specifically for photographers that wish to process RAW files.

For a complete primer on flash memory cards, visit the following links:

Primer: Flash Memory http://www.steves-digicams.com/flash_memory.html

Finally, once you determine which camera you plan to use, there are peripherals you might want to consider to round off your purchase. First, if you intend to take a lot of family photographs and wish to print photographs for friends and family, then a color photo printer is a must. There are low-to-high end printers. Get something in between. Needless to say, the printer is only as good as the paper you print your images on. Read the manufacturer's recommendations and check the online forums on dpreview.com to learn who is having success with a particular brand of paper.

Interestingly enough, another peripheral that will save battery life on your camera is a compact flash card reader. It plugs into your USB port and permits you to download your images by inserting a memory card in it. This is preferred over downloading from your camera/cable because your camera's battery juice will quickly render your camera's battery dead, especially if you are downloading several hundred photographs. The memory card reader acts as an auxiliary drive. Just make sure you get a memory card reader specifically made for your type of memory card and that it can handle a high capacity card such, i.e. 4GB (Gigabyte) flash card.

In closing, it is important to determine your budget for all of your photographic needs before you start spending. Whether a hobby or soon to be home-based business, your photographic equipment can quickly add up in price. It is not uncommon to spend thousands of dollars after the digital photography bug bites you.

Ryan Shapiro is a freelance digital photographer based in Germantown, Maryland. His most recent clients include Kerrigan Media International and Harvard Graduate School of Education.

You may reach Mr. Shapiro at: http://www.digitalstockpro.com

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