Digital cameras have evolved from expensive techno-toys into tools of choice for consumers and professionals alike. From a $50 point-and-shoot to the lavish Nikon D1H Spokesman-Review photo editor John Sale uses, today’s vast market of digital cameras can blur the choice of what, or if, to buy.
The problem of deciding starts as soon as all the varying choices and prices are seen in a store or on a web site. Questions such as digital zoom, mega pixels, storage cards and developing plague the mind before the most significant question is asked. Is the photo quality any good?
For the most part, digital cameras have achieved the quality of 35mm film cameras. However, John Sale said, “they [digital cameras] don’t fare quite as well in bad weather.”
This has to do with preparation, to which Sale added, “We have to set the white balance [on the camera] ahead of time like the way video photographers do.”
Digital cameras don’t have the luxury of film speeds and filters to compensate for different lighting conditions.
Terminology and choices
Lenses and mega pixels are the key players in providing high quality digital pictures. The Spokesman-Review’s photography staff uses Nikon D1H 2.74 mega pixel single lens reflex cameras, which are able to accept a variety of lenses. Having a choice for different conditions has a price tag of around $4,000 plus the cost of a lens.
Obviously, this places the camera a bit out of reach for the vacationing shutterbug, but the technical side of the D1H is its image resolution of 2.74 mega pixels. Sale said that The Spokesman-Review also has point-and-shoot high mega pixel digitals for reporters and that the quality is fine. Essentially, a two to five mega pixel point-and-shoot digital will produce a good picture. Moreover, the biggest difference between an SLR digital and a point-and-shoot is lens options.
Among all the point-and-shoot cameras available, choosing what will best serve a desired purpose can greatly impact the price. In the two mega pixel and above categories, most manufacturers offer optical and/or digital zoom. This is where the big choice needs to be made. If the purpose of the camera is for fast snapshots, or to sell stuff on ebay, a camera with no optical zoom will suffice. This is because the camera will never be forced to shoot a picture beyond a certain point. But if there is any desire to utilize the gadget for bringing an image of a buffalo into the car, prepare for a hefty increase in price.
By far the biggest advantage of digital photography is the speed. A picture is ready to be seen almost instantly whereas a 35mm camera needs longer to have the film removed, processed, printed and then viewed.
“We no longer have a film processor in the [Review] building,” Sale said.
As soon as the digital flashes, the photographer can see if the subject’s eyes were closed. Either in today’s media or for the average person, the immediate results of digital photography are a godsend. With a digital camera, the in-laws can have a print of the grandkids before they go home.
However, the disadvantage to this speed and convenience is price. There is no developing so the cameras need to connect to a printer. Each shot can then be printed. Paper and printer ink are not cheap. For the occasional shot, the cost is acceptable. But if there are 200 pictures of the Grand Canyon, buy stock in Hewlett Packard because the ink is going to flow.
Currently, there are six popular digital formats available. Of course, each brand tends to stay specific to that format. As for advantages between them, only personal preference counts here. Olympus tends to stay with Smart Media, while Canon and Kodak have adopted Compact Flash. Some Kodak and Vivitar cameras use Multi Media cards. Sony has developed cameras that use their in-house Memory Stick, floppy disks, and three-inch CDRs. At this time, all the formats are readily available and most cross over to other gadgets such as PDAs and MP3 players.
Storage is currently one of the best points of digital pictures. The box of bent pictures in the attic can disappear since digital pictures can be placed on recordable compact discs. Unfortunately, storing pieces of the past on disc is not reliable. Unlike 35mm negatives and prints, over time (around 10 years) the information on the disc degrades. For now, though, this is the cheapest and most secure method. Just don’t forget to transfer the memories when the next storage medium arrives on the market.
Power consumption by far is the biggest drawback for digital cameras. With the all-electronic makeup and a nifty colored view screen, the batteries tend to drain before the memory card is partially full. Some camera models have rectified this problem by designing a battery that either charges in, or on, a separate charger. This is the most economical and surefire method. However, if the battery ever fails a replacement may be very expensive. As for the cameras that use AA batteries, a set of rechargeable power cells is highly recommended.
The Spokesman-Review began to dabble with digital a short eight years ago, but hesitated about converting until just a couple of years ago.
“We wanted to get our hands into digital,” Sale continued, “but we really held off because the quality wasn’t there.”
Now the blues, reds and green of life can be captured permanently and accurately in digital format, but is the format worth buying into?
“I just have a point-and-shoot that uses film. I have had it for years. Besides, I have a company camera,” Sale said.
Before discarding the family 35mm or investing hundreds of dollars in memory cards, consider what uses a digital camera will serve. If a sharp picture and lasting memories is the goal, then quite possibly standard film is the answer.