Getting to Know Digital Photography
Years ago, the average consumer had the choice between complicated 35 mm cameras and 126 and 110 film cameras. Yes, there were other types of cameras but these three held down about 95 percent of what was available. Then instant cameras by Polaroid started to become popular because you could see what you shot almost immediately. There was no enlarging or editing but it was a decent trade off for the times.
Now fast forward a few and we have entered the digital age and you get great resolution and instant review along with editing so we can have our proverbial cake and eat it too.
The number of digital cameras available in 2015 is enormous. The past five years have seen great leaps in image quality, features, and just about everything else.
A Basic Primer for Digital Photography
The thing about digital cameras is that they have been around for a long time now and still a lot of people simply don’t know much about them and the terminology that is involved with the,. We are about to do what we can to straighten that mess out right here and now.
A lot of the problem is that most people know that digital cameras are there but no one wants to seem stupid in front of their friends by asking questions that they don’t know the answer to. The result is that there are a lot of people out there buying and using cameras that are totally wrong for them and the needs that they have for a camera.
There are some basic things that everyone needs to know about digital cameras and digital photography that can stop you from over or under buying your camera system.
You need to be familiar with the term WHITE BALANCE and what it does. You need to know what a PIXEL is and the differences between a DIGITAL ZOOM and an OPTICAL ZOOM and how all of these affect the image quality of the photograph that you are shooting.
On top of that you should have at least a basic understanding of the technology of getting the images to your computer from your camera. That would usually be USB type 2.0, 3 and – in rare cases – Fire wire IEEE 1394 cables.
Then, as if that were not enough, you should be aware of the plethora of various types of memory available so that when you purchase a card for your camera you get the right one.
Even though a good many makers of digital cameras have more or less settled on the Secure Digital SD cards, you still will find plenty of competition out there in the form of Compact Flash Type I and Type II, Micro Drives, Sony’s proprietary Memory Stick and the good old stand by Multi Media cards.
If you are still reading at this point then you must seriously be interested in learning about things related to digital cameras so let’s dig just a little deeper in to the subject, shall we?
What is Tar Nation is a Pixel?
If you want the technical term, a pixel is short for Picture Element. In terms that you can understand it is a little square dot that is in the photo. All of these dots go together to make the image and the more of them that you have, the better the quality of the image and / or the more editing you can do without hurting the photo.
If you put a digital image on your monitor and load it in to your editing program and enlarge it. No matter how good the photo looks or how many pixels are in it, you will start to see it become a choppy mess of blocks. These blocks are the pixels. Your image that looked clear and silky smooth as a 4 by 6 print suddenly starts to resemble a scene off a bad horror flick rather than the smooth image that you just saw moments ago.
The term Mega-Pixel is used to tell you how many millions of these square dots are used to make up the image that you are looking at. And each one of these squares has a numerical rating of 0 to 255 and contains a total of three color values. I know that this seems like it might be a bit limiting but there are actually over sixteen million combinations that you can get from this process.
You need to then match up your pixel count in the camera to your needs. If the majority of your photos are emailed and / or end up on the social network sites then resolution, or pixels count, is not important because no matter how big the photo it is still only going to be as clear as the screen resolution of the monitor you are viewing it on. IF you plan on doing some printing then you need to look a little closer at the numbers.
While you can get a great 4 by six shot by a three mega-pixel camera you certainly will be unhappy with that resolution if you are trying to get an 8 by ten enlargement done. You need to carefully examine the EFFECTIVE PIXEL count for the camera and make sure that those numbers are not what we called INTERPOLATED. The Effective Pixel count is the actual number of pixels that the sensor records. The Interpolated number is one that is arrived at by running the pixels through an electronic algorithm to come up with extra pixels. As you can imagine, when the camera is making up data for you photo it tends to have a direct impact on the sharpness and the quality of the shot.
Aspect Ratio, Sensor Size and Image Quality
Your average 35 mm camera from back in the day used a 3 to 2 ration on size which means it was roughly 36 mm wide and 24 mm tall. Hence the term 35 mm – I am guessing that they thought it sounded cooler than 36 mm. Today, however because of the cost of the material that makes up the image sensor in a digital camera, most of the sensors are considerably smaller. The average digital SLR camera for example often uses a sensor that is 22.2 mm by 14.8 mm -.so there is less data being recorded than you would get on a 35 mm film camera and the result is that the image does not look the same if viewed side by side with a 35 mm film frame. The thing there with your DSLR is that there is an image factor. In order to get the true magnification length of the lens you need to find that number in the manual and multiply it to get the true focal length of the lens. As with Canon products that factor is 1.6 so a 50 mm lens is actually equivalent to an 80 mm lens.
The sensor its self is what opens up and captures the light and data which is then transformed magically into the photo. This is the main reason that digital SLR cameras are so popular is the size of the sensor. Most of the digital SLR’s are about 40 percent smaller than the image on a 35 mm negative. In contrast, most of the smaller all in one point and shoot style digital cameras are about 7 mm by 5 mm. Just by doing the math you can see how much less data can be captured.
The less data means that you need to make up information inside the camera to offset what is missing and when you do that you introduce digital noise in to the photograph and the result is often less than attractive. It also makes it harder to shoot in lower light without the photo getting all noisy and hard to view. It is one of those things where the larger your sensor the better the photo.
White Balance and Light Sensitivity
If you are new to photography then you have no clue what this is. But light and by that I mean ALL light has a color temperature. The ideal color temperature is that given off by sunlight because it is what our brains are used to and what we like to see. Regular lights in your home are Tungsten and if you shot without adjusting the balance of the light temperature the resultant shots would be heavily orange. If you shoot photos at the office without flash you might notice that the fluorescent lights tend to make things look very cold and blue. This is also due to the temperature of the light.
Fortunately most digital cameras that are worth purchasing have a way to adjust the over all balance of this light. Most of them have an automatic mode that does a fairly good job of analyzing the light and making the adjustments needed to give you a great shot.
Some of the upper end cameras also allow you to adjust things manually to get precisely the color that you are after or to make corrections on colors that the camera can not handle. This is known as Manual White Balance.
The sensitivity tells you how good the camera will work under a low light scenario. And since most cameras these days get used a lot in low light places like [parties and such, this is an area that you need to be certain that you understand so that you can maximize your results. Any camera, even a cheap one can do a good to very good job if all you are using them for is day light shots with nice bright sunshine. This sensitivity is called the ISO speed of the camera. The higher the number, the less light it needs to take a photo. Most of the mid range cameras will allow you to get good results in 100, 200 and 400 ISO with a minimum of noise. Some of the more expensive Digital SLR style cameras will allow you to go to 1600. 3200 and some even as far as 6400 ISO. That means that you can shoot in some pretty dimly lit places. But keep in mind, where there is little to no light available, the camera will show some digital noise and that is not always a good thing.
It is all About the Zoom, Digital or Optical.
It is easy to get thrown off the trail of a great camera when you see some of the claims made by the makers these days. Some of them claim to have unbelievable zooms. Yes, they might actually have a 10 or 20 power zoon. In fact some claim a lot more than that. To put that in perspective, on a 35 mm camera – 50 mm is considered normal or what your naked eye would see. A 20 power zoom then would equate to a 1000 mm telephoto. More like a small telescope in reality.
The smaller cameras get these numbers electronically by multiplying what it sees and zooming in on the small pixels. The problem there is that you are zooming in on a small dot and then saving that image to your memory card. Remember earlier when we talked about enlarging a photo on your PC and how they get hard to recognize? The digital zoom is doing the same thing so you will be saving an image that could potentially be grainy and fuzzy because it is being saved as an enlarged and pixilated image.
The optical zoom or optical portion of your on camera zoom actually is moving glass to get the resultant image. That means that what you are getting is going to be a lot smoother and clearer and you will be able to actually see what the image is. Then when you get t on your computer you can zoom in inside of your editing program and see how much extra zoom, if any, you want to add. You will be a lot happier with this result I promise you. For that reason I tell people to just forget that there is a digital zoom on the camera and to use strictly the optical portion of the zoom.
Camera Photo File Formats
There are more file formats on the market today than it is worth mentioning. Fortunately most of the camera makers have settled on three major types of image extensions. That is JPG, TIFF and RAW (well SRAW too).
Ninety nine percent of the public at large should be perfectly happy with the JPEG format for all of their photographic needs. It is the standard that has been adopted by almost every web application and the social network sites and is the one that produces the physically smallest file in terms of number of mega bytes of data.
It is easy to shoot, store, email and edit so most folks use this as the main form of photo data. However, the other two types TIFF and RAW are going to give you a lot better image.
That is because the JPEG format actually looks at the photo and throws away data that it deems unimportant to the image. And for small prints and daily web use that is acceptable. Most people don’t actually NEED the extra data. That is unless they are going to be doing a lot of editing and cropping and enlarging. TIFF gives a lot more image data. In other words the things that JPEG throws away that don’t affect the viewing are available for you to use in a TIFF image.
And for those of you that like to have total control over everything. Even the white balance which might not have been done correctly in the original image is able to be changed in the RAW format. This take a TON of memory but it is well worth shooting everything in RAW because you can then readjust everything about the original shot once you get it on to the computer. So that even if you had the white balance set for tungsten and you were shooting in a fluorescent light you are safe. If you shot it in JPEG you would have to manipulate the heck out of the image and likely induce a tin of noise and still not get it quite right. I know by experience. If it matters to you how the shot turns out and it is important and the camera supports it, shoot it in RAW. You won’t be sorry.
The only real down side is that you will need extremely large memory cards in order to hold all of the data that the RAW format is going to save. In most formats this can easily be two or three times the physical size of the exact same image in JPEG format. But with memory costs being so low these days it does not make sense to shoot any thing of importance in anything less than the RAW format.
Memory for the Uninterested
Memory today is just like Kodak or Fuji film used to be back in the day. It is the way in which the photos you snap with the shutter on your camera get saved for posterity and later printing.
The larger the card you put in your camera, the better off you will be. That is because you won’t ever have to worry about missing a shot because there is always going to be “film” in your camera. As an example, a 12 mega pixel camera in JPEG takes about 4.3 megabytes of memory and in RAW it is around 15.5 megabytes. So by doing the math you can figure out how much memory you need to be able to store all of your images.
Once you know how many megabytes you need and what type of media your camera accepts it is a matter of finding the best deal on the largest card out there. I sill recommend that you stay with name brand card because you have less chance of obtaining an error and should something actually happen to the card you can usually get a replacement from the manufacturer. Remember if the card breaks and you have photos on there, those memories are toast and you will not have anything. So cheap s not always better, however the prices are so low these days that you can find cheap brand name memory at nearly give away prices if you keep an eye out for them.
These days, you can buy SD, micro SD, and CF cards that are 64, 256, 512, and even 1 Terabyte in size.
Getting the Photos from the Camera to the PC
You can literally just run a USB able from your camera to your computer, turn on the camera and follow the directions to remove the photos from the card. I personally use a card reader which goes via USB because it is faster to download, inexpensive and saves my camera batteries. That is important if your camera does not use a rechargeable power source.
One bit of advice, well two bits of advice to save your sanity and hair. When it asks you to MOVE or COPY the photos off of your card ALWAYS choose copy. That way if something happens in the transfer the photos are still safely on your card and you can try again. After you are sure they made the transition you can easily delete them off of the memory card. Secondly, make sure that you back up your photo files regularly to CD or DVD. Unlike things were in the days gone by when we had negatives from which to reprint a photo if it were damaged or lost. When dealing with digital, once the file is gone you photo is gone.
Getting the right digital camera is simply a matter of figuring out your needs and objectives and then finding the best option for them. There are a lot of good options out on the market today so getting what you need has never been easier or cheaper than it is right now. It’s always better to buy more camera than you need though so that you don’t quickly outgrow it.