Digital Photography: The New Era

Gone are the days of excitedly getting a roll of film developed, only to be bitterly disappointed at the number of photos that will never make it into the album. Thankfully, digital cameras make taking a good photo idiot-proof. Here are some things to consider when buying your next camera.

Shapes and sizes

Some cameras are self-standing, others come integrated into phones and laptops. They can be box-size, compact or ultra-compact.

Expect a trade-off between convenience and image quality: phone cameras are easy to carry and snap spontaneous photos of your children, but bulky cameras with optical zoom deliver much sharper photos.

Zoom

Optical zoom is the only true zoom, because it uses the camera’s lens to bring the subject closer. Digital zoom enlarges a portion of the image, simulating optical zoom but losing image quality.

Point and shoot cameras versus digital SLR

“Point and shoot” cameras mean just that: you press a button and the camera itself decides how to adjust all the fidgety aspects such as brightness and focus.

Single lens reflex (SLR) cameras, in contrast, allow you to manipulate the controls and ultimately achieve either a better photograph ... or a disastrous one.

The table below illustrates the differences in more detail:

“The digital film”

The place in the camera where your photos are kept is called storage or memory. Think of it as the old-fashioned roll of film, except that instead of the usual 36 exposures, you get 360.

Most digital cameras are sold with low capacity memory cards, so it’s a good idea to upgrade and keep the original card as a backup in case your “big one” runs out at a birthday party.

The exact number of photos that fit on a memory card depends on the compression used, as well as on the pixel size of your camera’s images. Note that some cameras allow you to manipulate the size, but before you change the settings to store more photos, remember that, in general, the bigger the size, the better the quality.

Although you probably won’t be choosing your camera based on this, the different types of memory include:

  • Compact Flash (CF) cards are widely available, cheap, and they allow higher transfer rates in the more expensive cameras.
  • Secure Digital (SD) cards are smaller and have a write-protect switch for added data security.
  • XD Picture cards for Fuji and Olympus cameras.
  • Memory sticks used by Sony.
  • The MicroDrive card is a miniature hard drive in Compact Flash Card housing. It’s more delicate and uses more battery power than the other memory types. The read-write rate is slower, which means that you have to wait longer between taking pictures (especially if you’ve just shot a video which the camera needs to store on the MicroDrive).

Battery

Every digital camera operates on a battery, typically type AA or rechargeable. If it’s the latter, remember you’ll need a recharger. The most convenient ones are cradles into which you insert your camera for a few hours to recharge, with no need to open the battery compartment or handle the actual batteries.

From camera to computer

After a photo session, you’ll want to download the images from your camera to the computer. The process depends on your memory type and computer hardware. The options include:

  • Internal memory-card readers (usually for an SD card). They are built into newer model computers, especially laptops.
  • External memory card readers, which you purchase separately and plug into your computer.
  • Your camera’s memory may communicate with your computer directly via a USB port or Bluetooth technology (wireless).
  • Some battery-recharging cradles can function as memory readers.

Popular tourist sites and better hotels offer a facility which allows you to download your digital photos directly onto a storage device, such as a CD. This frees your memory card to accommodate new photos.

Printing

You are now ready to print your downloaded images. If you have a colour printer, it’s tempting to buy photo paper and do it yourself.

Depending on your image size, recommended maximum digital photo printing sizes are:

Do the sums though, because it’s often cheaper to have your photos printed by a print shop, photo kiosk or pharmacy. Furthermore, prints made on true photographic paper tend to look better and are more durable than those printed on home ink-jet print. Photo kiosks also allow you to view and touch-up your images before printing.

A word of caution: the aspect ratio of the photo print may differ from the image file. While 35mm film has a 3:2 aspect ratio which matches a 6×4” print, compact digital cameras commonly take 4:3 ratio pictures which results in a more square print. This means either that some of the photo will be chopped when printed, or the print will come with white (unused) edges. Fortunately, some photo labs can use 4:3 ratio paper nowadays.

Online photo shops, like www.snapfish.co.nz and www.kodakphotos.co.nz, can also print digital photos. You upload the images from your computer to their website (this may be time-consuming depending on your Internet connection), select the type and size of the prints, pay online and the ready photos are delivered to your address.

Video cameras

Most digital photo cameras have a low-density video functionality built in. Some people purchase a separate pocket video camera to shoot high-density (full TV screen) videos with optical zoom, image stabilisers and low light video recording capability. Lately, high-end SLR cameras can match video cameras in all
those aspects.

Point & Shoot

Digital SLR

What you see Looking through the body of the camera and not through the lens, you will see the image from a slightly different angle. You see the actual real image that the camera records.
Automatic? Most are only automatic. Both manual and automatic controls.
Size Compact. Bulky.
Ease of use Elementary. Can be fiddly.
Lenses Typically one lens. Swap lenses for distance control.
LCD screen Limited by the size of the camera. Often bigger than on the compact cameras.
Cleaning equipment Only with the higher-end models. Usually included.
Superior focus (through-the-lens multi-sensor auto-focus) Usually not. Often available.
Shutter control (allows to frame-freeze moving objects) Usually not. Often available.
Price From very reasonable to expensive. Expensive.
2 Megapixels 5x7 print
3 Megapixels 8x10 print
4 Megapixels 11x17 print
5-8 Megapixels 16x20 print

Buying a camera

Ask the salesperson about:

  • Photo size in pixels and megabytes.
  • Memory size.
  • Optical zoom.
  • Sports mode (taking non-blurry photos of fast-moving children).
  • Rapid-fire mode (shooting several still shots per second).
  • Macro-mode (photographing objects very close up, such as a drawing or a mouth with a missing milk tooth).
  • Video capability (with sound).
  • Underwater photography.

Beyond a photo album

  • Digital photo frames are LCD screens that display your digital photos as a slide show.
  • Share online - email the photos to friends, or share them using sites such as www.flickr.com.
  • Use photos to personalise your mobile phone photo skins, wall calendars, greeting cards or t-shirts.
  • Print your photo onto canvas and put it up on the wall.
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