|Introduction to Digital
by Frank Phillips
There is still a lot of confusion surrounding digital cameras and digital photography. With all the new cameras and options it just seems to get more confusing instead of clearer. It is easier to approach something if you can take it in small bites. So in an effort to make digital easier to approach and understand I've grouped together everything you need to know to get started in ten easy to understand lessons. Lets dive right in to lesson 1.
Lesson 1: Should I wait a little longer...
There is no doubt in my mind that a good 3 megapixel digital camera can produce printed results that beat APS film and a good-quality 4 megapixel can rival conventional 35mm film. I have prints to back up that statement. I hung up my film cameras in March of 1999 and haven't shot a roll of film since.
In many cities, a good digital camera can now effectively replace 35mm point-and-shoot and APS film cameras. The reason I say "in many cities" is that for a digital to truly replace a 35mm P&S camera, the "end result" and the way you get to the end result has to be very similar - and now it is.
To put things into perspective in terms of cost, let's analyze what you really end up with in traditional photography. If you're a film user, you pay about $5 for a roll of 35mm negative film, you shoot the roll (say, 24 prints), then take it to the corner drugstore for $7 processing (single prints). So now you're in a cycle of $12 for a finished set of 24 prints, or 50¢ each. But here's the rub: of the 24 prints you got back, only 6 of them (25%) are "keepers" (and that's on a good day, isn't it?). So you've paid $9 for 18 prints that are duds and will end up in a drawer or in the trash; effectively, you've paid $12 for 6 good prints, or $2 for each good print. Your 35mm point-and-shoot camera costs less than $200 (a low initial cost), but you're paying $2 for each good shot (a highly variable cost depending on your skills).
With digital, you print only the shots you want, and I typically pay around 20¢ for a 4x6 print at Sam's Club. You may have a camera that costs $600 (high initial cost), but you'll pay 90% less for desirable prints (low variable cost). That said, if you shoot only two rolls of film per year, you should obviously stick with film.
However, this doesn't apply to everyone. We've been talking about point-and-shoot cameras not SLRs. I recognize that there are different types of photographers. It's important that you be honest with yourself about what kind of photographer you are and what kind of photographer you want to be.
Here is how I group people:
The "Sharer": The Sharer is very similar to the Shooter, but will tend to keep up with negatives, maybe not permanently, but long enough to make reprints or enlargements. The Sharer typically orders "double prints" as standard practice and gives away the second set to friends or relatives. The "Sharer" is typically more persnickety about photography and print quality (everyone dreads "red-eye"), and might take extra steps to gain a little more control over the quality of the process. For the "Sharer", film negatives may or may not end up getting permanently cataloged or stored.
The "Serious Photographer": The Serious Photographer shoots a tremendous volume of images and carefully catalogs and stores negatives (you never know when you'll need them again to enter a photo contest). Additionally, the Serious Photographer is very picky about the printed results and will not hesitate to "send them back" to the processor if they are not up to par in terms of printed quality. Finally, the Serious Photographer wants to have as much control over the entire process as possible, from equipment to composition, to output. They're not getting prints at Sam's Club or the drug store. The Serious Photographer has a relationship with a lab. And the Serious Photographer reveres his photo gear like a 2 handicap golfer reveres their clubs.
Personally, I fall into the "Serious" category. Decide what category you fall into, and then read on...
Shooters: If you fall into the category of folks who use cameras simply as a convenient means of getting photos to frame, share, or put into a scrapbook, but you do NOT want to fool with a computer, then you can go digital today - provided you have access to a local place that will do digital prints. As you read further into this site, you'll come across my "Getting Prints" lesson, where I talk about the many places where you can take your "digital film" to get glossy or matte prints that look as good as (or perhaps better than) your 35mm prints.
The only hurdle you have to overcome is the cost of "getting in". If you're currently in the position of replacing your old film camera, you should very seriously consider getting a good digital camera (3 megapixels, minimum).
Sharers: If, in addition to the above, you want to have the ability to email photos to friends and family, then digital is definitely your thing. If you still want to avoid downloading photos from your camera to the computer, you're in luck! The same places that make your prints will also put the "digital negatives" onto a CD for you (for a minimal charge)
Its up to you to put the CD into a safe place in case you need it again, just as it's always been up to you to safeguard your negatives. The best part about being in the "Sharers" category is that you have a choice to use or not use a computer to deal with your photos. If a Sharer ends up with the dreaded "red eye", they can always pull it into the computer and zap it. Flexibility is the name of the game for Sharers. Digital offers some real advantages for the Sharer, both in terms of cost savings and in terms of how easy it is to share images with family and friends.
Serious Photographers: You're going to need to climb a learning curve and spend some serious $$$ on beefed up software and equipment. The payoff is that you'll have total control over the entire process from start to finish. The downside for the Serious photographer is in long term image storage. There may be issues with file formats and your ability to read image files in years to come.
To summarize this briefly, here is what each type cares about:
Digital offers unique advantages for each of these groups. If a new camera purchase is in your future you owe it to yourself to look at digital and consider it's pros and cons.