My thoughts on digital cameras

I started shooting photography back when I was in tenth grade. Previous to that I never really shot a still camera. I could probably count on my hands the number of times I took photos in my life before then. Some parents give their kids cameras and some kids just grabs peoples to use. I never was interested. I did however use a video camera from age 10. Just goofing around.

When I hit tenth grade I knew by then I wanted to be a filmmaker. But my high school didn’t offer any video classes so I decided the next best thing was to take a photography class.

I knew my father had an old camera up in his closet. A minolta single lens reflex. I knew it was required for this class. But my folks had always told me it was broke. Turns out the camera just needed a new battery. They were surprised as well. Those old cameras can run for years on the little dime sized batteries they use to trip the shutter. I took it they bought the camera when it was working (with a new battery in it) not even knowing it used a battery. Then when it died they just thought the camera broke. Good thing it wasn’t broke. it became my camera then. They had bought it the year I was born. I take that as an omen as silly as it sounds.

My first year in photography class I did whatever the hell I wanted to do. I failed that class hard. But I didn’t stop taking photos. The next year I skipped photography all together. Instead taking drama and creative writing. But by my senior year my interest in photography was still strong and I had a good knowledge or filmmaking and movie cameras by then based on my own reading about them and shooting video and super 8 film the year before. So I decided to take photography 101 again. But because I had failed the first time I needed the teachers permission to take it again. She let me based on the fact that enrolment for the class that year was slim. She didn’t want to go back to teaching english. So as many students as she could get the better.

Within the first week of the class she promoted me to intermediate level. By the second week I was promoted to portfolio level. This is where the class got fun for me. At portfolio level I could do whatever I wanted to do. So long as I shot so many photos. I think she realized my problem was in following the rules. So she didn’t give me any.

That year I was the only student in the school district to win a national photography award. I also won a local award and had more of my photos used in school publications then any other student. I was the top photographer in my school that year. Possibly my school district being as I was the only one to win a national award.

After high school I still wanted to persue filmmaking more then photography. But I got a job at a local photography lab transferring super 8 films to VHS and took a local 13 week filmmaking 101 course where I shot my first 16mm short film. Even though filmmaking was stil my main goal photography was a pet hobby of mine even to this day.

Working at the photo lab introduced me to the concept of better cameas, sharper lenses and better film. That is when my naive and pure outlook on photography turned into a quest for better equipment. Something that ruined my photography experience for years to come. I became inthrawled in the idea of better optics, cameras with every bell and whistle and film with better grain. i spent many of those years switching camera systems and blowing a lot of money. It was only about four years back I stopped and said “what am I doing” I lost my pure love for photography and replaced it with a desire for ” better toys”. Granted I had learned a whole lot during that time. Knowing which equipment is better has helped me. But I needed to find a middle ground where I could be satisfied enough with my equipment and actually go out and produce art with it. The last four years I have. And it was around that time I discovered and bought my first digital camera. It was a canon s20 point and shoot 3 megapixel camera and I fell in love with it.

As anyone by now knows the greatest aspect to digital photography is it’s speed. No need to to a store and buy a roll of film, then shoot it, then take it to a lab for processing. In this day and age one hour photo is not quick enough. Digital photography allows people to see the results immediately. Then transfer the image to their computer and/or print them out. The cost is also an issue depending on the equipment you use. While it’s still cheaper to go out and buy a single use film camera and get the prints from it, in the long term digital photography saves money. Even if you are making prints all the time at least you don’t need to buy film.

This is the same allure that lead me to digital photography. Back in the year 1999 I bought my first digital video camera. A Sony TRV900. It had a feature for shooting digital still images. I found myself using it more then my film cameras even though the resolution was far from that of a film camera. But at the time I started doing a lot of work with photoshop and the internet so the resolution of the images worked out fine for me. Yet two years later when I bought my Canon s20 I did so becasue I finally wanted to move up in resolution. Since then i have shot more images with my s20 then I have probably ever shot on film in my entire life. The ease of being able to just grab the camera off the shelf, turn it on and shoot one photo I can then put on my computer is addictive. No need to blow and entire roll of film for one image and take time and money to get it developed at the lab.

Photoshop has also inspired my use of digital photography and sparked a totally reborn interested in the art altogether. With it I can minipulate my images the way I never would have dreamed I could back when I took my first photo class in high school. Getting ym film photos to digital for use in photoshop has proven much more difficult then I expected. I’ve been through 3 scanners all of which never produced the greatest results and tried several lab to CD methods which work but still don’t result in the kind of clarity I get going from digital to computer.

Back when I bought my Canon s20 digital SLR cameras were upwards of $4000 in price. As of this writing you can find a Canon Digital Rebel (D300) for $900 with lens. Finally to the point the average hobbiest can afford them. Unfortuantely not myself yet.

Still I’ve spent a good deal of time studying up on these digital SLR’s. There are a few things left to be desired from them at this point. For one the image sensor size in the lower cost models is often samller then the 36x24mm size for a standard 35mm negative. The only reason this is an issue is because these cameras use the same lenses as their 35mm cousins. So at 28mm lens tends to come out looking closer to a 40mm lens when mounted on one. But for the last couple years the camera companies like Nikon, Canon and Sigma have started producing lenses designed for the new digital sensors. To that end this is almost a non issue anymore.

The second and probably the most important issue is the laditute and color of digital cameras. Film has a laditude which allows for greater detail between dark and light areas of the frame. Digital is less forgiving if the exposure is off key or the scene contains to much contrast between shadow and light areas. Digital video cameas suffer in this same regard.

I’ve heard of companies working to solves this. Putting more sensors on the images chips, not for greater resolution but for better laditute. One sensor for proper exposure and another right next to it to expose the image a couple of stops lower. This makes sense. But probably the greatest experiment in this is the forveor sensor which uses multiple layers of imaging sensors stacked on top of each other, resulting in better color and perhaps one day better exposure laditude.

Overall digital cameras are taking the market by storm. Many professionals including sports, photojournalists and even family photographers are using digital to replace their existing film equipment. Even fine art photographers are using digital because of camers that now sport resolutions of 12 to 20 million pixels (megapixels) and more. Soon the only people left shooting film will be those working in large format or shooting film purely for the sake of old habit.

As for myself. I’m one of those with the old habit. I like to shoot film from time to time for it’s textile nature. Plus the fact that I don’t currently own a digital SLR, I get the most control out of my film SLR rather then my digital point and shoot. But should I move to a digital SLR I may find it hard to convice myself to spend the money to shoot 35mm film again.

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