Digital Photography Secrets Revealed <<
This information is http://www.santaclausca.com and Loring Windblad. References for this article include the author's personal knowledge and experience. Additional information references with first article. This article may be freely copied and used on other web sites only if it is copied complete with all links and text, including this header, intact and unchanged except for minor improvements such as misspellings and typos.
OK, you have read my article Digital Photography: The Basics, and checked out all the references above and their good information, and you are ready to decide on your new camera. The final pieces of choosing your digital camera are determining just what you are going to use the camera for and how much money you have available to invest in your camera. Your considerations should be 1) your purpose for using the camera, 2) quality of product (particularly the lens), 3) megapixel rating of the camera and 4) buy the best camera you can afford.
Are you really ready to buy just yet? Well, maybe, then again, maybe not? Your overriding consideration for this purchase must be quality of image. Almost equally of importance is your intended use. Are you going into photography as a professional? As an amateur? To make video records? Still image records? A combination of still and video? How much local processing will you be doing on your pictures - i.e., color corrections, readying them for internet use, putting them into just libraries or creating presentations with them? How many pictures will you be taking at a time; i.e., how much memory will you need for your camera before you dump the pictures onto your computer?
Do you need a video camera which will provide JPG stills? Do you need a video camera which will provide both JPG stills and MPG video as well as regular video? Do you need a still camera (JPG) which will provide you AVI or MPG video clips? Or do you need a professional quality SLR which will provide JPG still images only?
Simply saying "I'm going to get the best, most expensive, digital SLR I can find" doe not mean this camera will meet your photographic needs. What if you want, or need, both digital stills and digital video? Check both of my video presentations at http://www.santaclausca.com. Note the sound problems in the first one which has partially been corrected in the second one.
First, I am no longer involved in professional photography except coincidentally. So I guess that means "Yes, I am involved in professional photography" - at least as far as the above link goes, with my Santa Claus work. We started with my wanting a good quality 35mm SLR when we got married. And I replaced it with a better one a few years later. Then we decided we wanted to add video, and got a high-end JVC VHS camcorder, one of the new smaller ones. A few years into that and we decided to go with digital video. We went with a Sony TRV 140. It gives us Digital Video on Digital 8 tape; it also provides us with JPG still images in the 640x480 range at about 125 kb each and 15-second video MPG, both on the "memory stick". However, the "quality" of the still images is the equal of a 2 to 4 megapixel still camera which produces images in the .6 to 1.2 megabyte range.
This was such a great improvement over the VHS camcorder that I purchased a second Sony TRV 150 a year later, which is even better in some respects. Image quality is very high. We can make a video and take still images without interrupting the video at all. We can make 1-minute long video MPG directly on the memory stick with the JPG images. And with our new computers we can take the video output directly off the camera and onto our computers in a digital video format.
I added a cheap Mercury 3.1 mp digital camera and it was nice but overall very unsatisfactory, and very slow recovering from taking a picture and getting ready for the next picture. I found a discontinued Minolta 2 mp digital camera for a reasonable price that actually took better pictures, had a 3X optical zoom lens (the equivalent of 35mm to 135mm lens on a 35mm SLR) and was not so slow on recovery and readying as the Mercury. It was also less susceptible to blurring if you did not hold it perfectly still - a better shutter action.
Later I found on an eBay auction a Fuji 2.2 mp digital camera which I accidentally won high bid on? Hah! That'll teach me to play around with bidding on my account before I know what I'm doing. It could have been a financial disaster but I knew the price of the camera retail ($299) and the price I bid ($150) and I actually got a pretty good deal. Particularly when there were 9 others of the same Fuji model and none of them went for under $220 each.
I have learned some differences between my Minolta and Fuji. These include 4 AA batteries for the Fuji and 2 AA batteries for the Minolta. This boils down to a brighter flash and better flash results from the Fuji over the Minolta. It also makes for slightly less lag time moving from one function to the next and a faster shutter time (less delay) when you take a picture. The resultant pictures are about 865 mb compared to 675 mb from the Minolta. But if I need audio on the AVI video clips the Fuji does not provide it. I have to use the Minolta for audio tracks on the video clips.
I'm actually very satisfied with both cameras, and with the two Sony digital video cameras as well. And while the digital still image quality from the Sony jpg's is very high, the 125 kb size does not allow printing of anything larger than 4"x6" while I can print very satisfactory 8"x10" pictures from both the Fuji and Minolta cameras. I have two 256 MB SD memory sticks for the Fuji and Minolta digital cameras, each of which provides about 285 pictures. Nice for trips somewhere. And I have a 128 MB and 64 MB chip as well.
As to the Sony video cameras, they do come in handy. We do most of our picture taking with the Memory Stick and JPG/MPG pictures and video clips. This is a lot of fun and makes for nice memories. A few times, however, I have been called upon to take videos of presentations, 1-2-3 hours long. The Sony video cameras come in very handy for those, too. But on trips or traveling around, my sweetie usually carries the Sony while I carry the digital and film still cameras.
We actually chose the Hi8 digital format when we purchased our Sony cameras a few years ago; were we to make the same decisions today we would simply go with the straight digital format instead of Hi8. For the Sony's, we have two 64 MB memory sticks for the TRV-140 and we have two 256 MB memory sticks for the TRV-150. If we did no video clips at all the 256 MB memory stick would give us almost 2000 jpg images and make a standard 1-hour-per-tape home movie at the same time. Three hours of video plus 2000 still pictures would cover a very long trip.
However, when I really need versatility and the highest quality possible, I continue to use my 35mm Minolta film camera. It takes about 20 mp of digital picture to equal the quality of the 35mm film results - and we aren't there yet. The last I checked we were at about 12 mp for digital quality. So I still shoot a lot of film; I just process it anymore by having it put right to CD in digital format, with no prints. I usually start out any trip we take with 10 rolls of 35mm film of the finest grain I can get by with - ASA 100.
So lets take one final look at the "image quality" question. 125 kb from the Sony, as high quality as the lenses are, simply does not compare to 675 or 865 kb from the Minolta and Fuji still cameras. Nor do they compare even remotely to the 925 kb pictures I get from the film. And that's a bone of contention for me because 2 years ago my film pictures came back at about 1.5 mb each; then all of a sudden a couple of years ago they started coming back at 1.1-1.2 mb and for the last year plus they are in the 900 kb range? The quality is still good, but we're dealing with pixels here rather than film grain.
If you have any kind of angled surface - i.e., any angle not either vertical or horizontal - you will have a low-resolution result. The reason is that pixels are squares. When my film (dots of color) is converted to digital (squares of color) I lose the higher resolution capability of dots to produce angled and curved lines.
OK, you say, I've got 8 megapixels. That gives me much better resolution than your 2.2 megapixels? Well, yes it does but not near as good as my film camera provides! Nor good enough to make 18X24 or 24X30 prints. 12 megapixels still only gives us high quality at 11X14 or perhaps 16X20. The reason is that as the little squares of color become visible they tend to blur the edges of angled and rounded objects whereas the dots from a film negative tend to keep those same lines sharp. So even though the film gives me higher resolution, the conversion to digital format costs me some resolution.
There's one more important factor that goes into this matter before you decide on your particular camera needs. This is the difference between optical zoom and digital zoom. Let's say that you get a camera with 3X optical and 4X digital zoom and they "sell you" on this model because it is "effectively 12X zoom"! And well, yes, it is "effectively 12X zoom"! But just what does that mean? Not all that much.
The optical zoom part is the only important factor. Typically a 3X optical zoom on a digital camera would give you a lens that corresponded to 35mm x 135 mm focal length on a 35mm camera - i.e., wide angle to short telephoto (actually what used to be known as a "portrait" lens). What the digital feature actually does is not enlarge your image but enlarge your pixels. This actually reduces the quality of the resultant picture because it is reducing the total number of pixels per square inch in your final product. The other downside of digital zoom is that you must put your camera on a tripod and make sure you don't jiggle it when you snap the shutter - otherwise you will definitely get blurred pictures.
As you can see, choosing your camera or cameras to fit your needs is not all that quick and easy and may actually involve owning more than one camera. Maybe several cameras. But for your still image work you should choose a camera that has at least 6X to 10X optical zoom (totally disregarding any claims for digital zoom) and 4-5 megapixels or larger image. Also, make sure that the camera has a mike pickup for digital video sequences. You don't need to use this capability but you can't use it if you don't have it.
So now you have your cameras and you need to know what to do with the pictures? Well, see my next article, Digital Photography: Using Windows XP (to manage your digital pictures).
Loring Windblad worked as a freelance photographer for more than 20 years. He and his wife presently own and regularly use 1 VHS camcorder, 2 digital 8 camcorders and two digital still cameras. His latest business endeavor is at: http://www.santaclausca.com
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