Look, ma-no film!
MORE THAN A CENTURY AGO William Henry Jackson roamed the West, exposing emulsions that he had hand-coat ed onto glass plates and processing them on-site in his portable darkroom tent. Fifty years later Ansel Adams followed in his footsteps, making images by loading individual sheets of 8×10-inch film into clumsy holders that fit one at a time into the back of his camera. Fast-forward to the 1990s, where photographer Stephen Johnson has been capturing stunning landscapes of these same vistas without using any film at all. Advancements in imaging technologies have changed the way we make pictures, and new, moderately priced digital cameras are making the world of pixels available to almost anyone. Easy-to-learn software such as Adobe Photoshop and Corel PhotoPaint turns any desktop computer into a digital darkroom that gives you complete cropping, sizing and color controls. Inexpensive scanners allow you to turn existing photographs or slides into digital files. And processing labs now offer you the option of receiving your pictures on a CD or disk in addition to paper prints, enabling you to share them with friends and relatives via e-mail and personal Web sites.
But the most significant recent advances are in camera technology: More than 100 models of digital cameras have been introduced by more than 30 companies during the past few years, and the prices-now ranging from $400 to $700-are dropping fast. Digital cameras provide many advantages for outdoor photographers, including eliminating the need to buy and carry film or worry about it being ruined by the new generation of film-fogging airport X-ray equipment. Most digital cameras now use removable storage cards to store images, and a few even use standard floppy disks. Best of all, they have LCD viewing screens that allow you to view your pictures and delete those that you don’t like right on the spot, making room on the storage device for others. When you fill up one storage card, which will record about 12 to more than 100 images, depending on the resolution, you simply pop in a new one. (Most people need only about two cards, which you reuse like floppy disks.) And when you get home, you can download your images onto your home computer and have your pictures without the wait and cost of processing.
Pixel This: The resolution of a digital image is measured in pixels. If you think of a digital photograph as a mosaic made up of thousands of color squares, each pixel represents a single square and contains information about its density and color. The more pixels you have, the greater the detail and quality of the image. A resolution of 640×480 pixels is adequate for pictures that you plan to e-mail or transfer to video, but will not provide enough detail for quality prints. Megapixel cameras, which have resolutions up to 1600×1200 pixels, capture images that are sufficient for good prints from most desktop printers.
More pixels also means larger file sizes and raises the issue of saving and storing your photos. Remember, you have no negatives or slides, so your images have to be stored on some type of computer disk. If you keep them on your hard drive, you will soon find that you don’t have room for anything else. Most people store their digital files on an external medium such as a Zip disk or a CD-ROM.
When shopping for a digital camera, check for all the same features you would in a standard camera, including whether it has a zoom lens, autofocus, autoexposure and flash. Ask about the size and type of the storage medium, the size of the LCD screen and whether it is in color, the camera’s maximum resolution, and whether the output is compatible with whichever system you use on your home computer.
Copyright Hearst Magazines Jun/Jul 1999
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