The Complete Digital Photographer
A very general overview
The less than complete photographer
So, have you got an extra $10,000 to $50,000? if so, then
you too, can be a complete digital photographer. All you need to do is rush
down to your local pro shop, or spend half a day shopping the net.
If not, then some compromises will need to be made. I hope I didn't scare
anyone off. Really, the beginning digital photographer can get started for
a couple of hundred dollars, assuming that there is already a computer present.
This is a huge improvement over the situation of just a couple of years ago.
One of the very exciting things about the field of digital photography is
the rapid pace of change at the present time. I will try to keep up, but
some of the things I wrote when first organizing this site are already outdated
I won't go into much detail on the requirements of the
computer. The beginner can almost certainly get by with whatever is on hand;
the advanced hobbyist will know what is required, and needs no advice from
me. There are a couple of things that I feel obligated to mention though.
Anything that deals with digital images is very resource intensive. In particular,
memory and storage are consumed at an alarming rate. Fortunately, RAM, and
hard drive space have become very cheap. Though an older CPU will slow things
down a bit, even a PII or slower Celeron will do the job, given time. Low
memory, or a small hard drive will absolutely cripple any attempts at serious
digital work. I would recommend at least 256 megs of ram, and nothing less
than a 40 gig hard drive, if you are planning any significant experimentation
with digital photography.
I generally use Timbuk2 for my digital work. This machine
has an average CPU (PIII 800), but holds 60 gigs on it's drives, and has
a full gigabyte of RAM. Even here, image processing can take some time, particularly
with 3 megapixel (and higher) resolutions. This machine has the better of
my two scanners attached to it, and also has the USB cable, as well as the
software, for my D30 camera. A reader is connected for pulling data directly
off of microdrives, or CompactFlash cards, and I plan to get a cd burner
for this machine. This is also where my film scanner will be connected. Even
with a 60 gig drive, it is amazing how quickly things get crowded. I have
(as of 2003) added a second drive with a capacity of 120gigs, and have also
added a dvd burner.
Most cameras, scanners, and other digital devices, are
bundled with imaging software. Sometimes this is as simple as the driver,
and twain interface, in other cases the packages can be quite elaborate. Twain
is a sort of a universal convention for digital imaging devices, and really
does no image processing. It merely provides a hook for imaging, and photo
manipulation programs to grab onto. A twain driver will send the image from
the twain device, to a viewing or manipulation program.
People have put up with some pretty bad software over
the years, but the recent popularity of digital imaging has greatly improved
things. It wasn't so long ago that no one who planned to do any serious work
in digital imaging would use anything but Photoshop. I still recommend Photoshop,
as the best of the breed, but it is not the best by as much as it used to
be. If the $500-$700 price of Photoshop scares you off, there are great programs
for well under $100 which will do nearly everything that Photoshop will do,
and with much less difficulty. Though I recommend Photoshop most heartily,
the best bet for the budding digital photographer is probably Ulead PhotoImpact.
There is probably nothing that most people will do in Photoshop that can
not be done more easily in PhotoImpact. Photoshop only really shows it's
superiority in the hands of the skilled graphic artist, and then only with
the addition of plug ins. Having said this, and being an avid Photoshop user
for years, I must say that I would feel at a disadvantage with neither program,
and truly professional work can be (and is being) done in PhotoImpact.
There are also, what marketing people like to call, "consumer
grade" products. What this generally boils down to are products which are
cheap, easy to use, but very limited. Adobe Photodeluxe is an example of
a consumer grade product, so is an Instamatic camera. The market for these
cheaper, less capable programs is drying up, and I predict their demise,
within a very few years. The main reasons for this are the increasing sophistication
of the home user, and the increasing abundance of free basic imaging software.
Most digital devices have some sort of simple imaging program included, though
if they do not, this is of little concern to the average consumer. This is
because, the latest versions of the basic Windows operating systems are bundled
with digital imaging software. Microsoft has Kodak Imaging, as well as it's
own basic graphics programs. Windows ME, and XP are even bundled with software
for editing full motion digital video.
Everyone has seen an old home movie, from the sixties or
seventies. They are recognizable by their blue or brown cast, depending upon
how they were stored. Similar effects are seen on old photographs, faded,
and discolored. Who doesn't have a drawer full of old negatives, generally
seperate from the prints made from them, and difficult to sort out, in order
to make a copy of a particular photo, when desired. Then there are the hundreds
of lost, damaged, or dirtied negatives, from which it will be almost mmposible
to make a decent print. These are all problems aflicting film photography,
which are no longer a consideration for the digital photographer. Not that
digital photography is without a set of problems unique to itself.
Save yourself some heartache, and buy a CD burner, if
you do not already have one. I recommend that you regularly store your photos
on CD's and keep them somewhere safe. Unlike film cameras, there are no negatives,
and no real material result from a digital camera. There is merely an image
on a display, and a collection of bytes on your hard drive. If that hard
drive crashes, gets lost, is accidentally erased, or has to be reloaded,
you could lose your entire photo collection, with no negatives from which
to get it back. A DVD burner might make a nice addition, but the humble CD
is still more prevalent, and allows the user to print photos on standard
Kodak booths in discount stores.
Today's CD writers are cheap, fast, and come bundled with
enough software to make things pretty easy. Nearly all of the writers being
sold today can write to CDR or CDRW discs. This means that they are capable
of incremental writes. An incremental writing CD can use packet writing programs
which allow them to be used in the same manner as a floppy drive. With CDR
discs, the disc can be written to as needed, and then closed when full. With
CDRW type discs, the disc can be written to and overwritten. I prefer the
use of CDR discs, for a couple of reasons. For archiving, the CDR lasts longer
than the CDRW, and can not be erased. They also hold more. The most popular
packet writing program is Adaptec Direct CD (now owned by Roxio). In order
to receive packets, a CD must first be formated. For a standard 650 meg CDR,
this reduces the capacity to 620 megs; for a CDRW, this reduces the capacity
to a bit over 500 megs. The CDRW discs are also about three or four times
the cost of the standard CDR, and are generally not overwritten for archiving.
Though the CDR is probably the best method of saving photographs,
there are others. Floppy discs were used at one time, and are still used
by some models of the Sony Maciva. The problem with the floppy is that it's
1.44 meg capacity pales before the current large sized files generated by
today's high resolution camera. The Maciva itself, at high resolution, can
only put eight pictures on a disc. There are Zip discs, which hold 100 or
250 megs, and they are quite nice, being much faster than the CDR writers.
They also require no special software, or packet writing programs. The disadvantage
to the ZIP, is three fold. The largest discs only hold a bit over a third
of what a CD will hold. They can only be read in a zip drive, which is not
as common on computers as a CD reader. The discs themselves are expensive,
costing $15 or so, compared to well under a dollar for a blank CDR. There
is also LS-120 drive, which holds 120 megs, but many of the same advantages,
and disadvantages of the Zip drive apply to the LS-120.
Getting the pictures in
Digital imaging, is by no means limited to the use of
a digital camera. Images can be acquired from a number of sources, including
scanners, video capture cards, cameras, webcams, and can even be taken from
the web. Most people will find scanners, and digital cameras to be the main
source of images.
Scanners are cheap, and offer fairly high quallity. There
are basically two types which the average user will find. These are the USB
type, and the Parallel type. As a general rule, the USB versions are to be
preferred for their speed. At one time, SCSI scanners were offered, and were
the preferred versions, but SCSI is slowly disappearing from the PC scene.
There are also scanners which will take legal size paper (*****), as opposed
to the letter standard, which most take (******).
The USB scanner is quite a bit faster than the Parallel
port scanner, but can be a problem to install. Though they are not as bad
as they used to be, there are some tricks to installing USB devices. Some
models require that the software, including driver programs, be installed
before the scanner is plugged into the computer. Other models are plugged
in first, auto detected, and then installed via driver programs on the included
CD. What makes it so important, that it be done right the first time, is
that USB devices can be notoriously difficult to unistall, if th einitial
install is done incorrectly.
Most scanners have a resolution of 600 dpi, these days.
Some are 600x1200, some have more. All scanners, when being compared, should
be rated according to optical resolution. There are many scanners out there,
advertising themselves as having resolutions of 2400, 4800, or more, but
they are often talking about enhanced resolutions. These resolutions are
enhanced by programs that come with the scanners, and do not really reflect
the quallity of the hardware.
Capture cards can be either stand alone units, plugged
into the back of the computer, cards installed inside of the computer, or
a part of a high end video card.
Web cams are generally unsuitable or any serious digital
imging, because of their low (320x240) resolution.
The Digital Camera
Probably the best way to get origonal digital content is
by the use of one of the many digital cameras on the market today. Five or
six years ago, the digital camera was the domain of the serious
Low end models, the instamatics of the digital world,
are generally small cameras with fixed focal length (often fixed focus) lenses,
and little creative control. Though some start out with resolutions as low
as 640x480, most are capable of 1 to 1.25 megapixels. These models will generally
hold 100 or so images in their non removable memories. Some good work can
be done with these units, if the photographer can learn their limits, and
constrain himself to work within them.
- Low end models (instamatics) $100-300
- Hobbyist/amatuer models
- Pro models/digital SLR
- Camera backs
Hobbyist models are a big step above the low end units,
and will offer zoom lenses, removable storage, and a bit more resolution.
Most of these units are capable of very high image quallity, and resolutions
of 3 megapixels are getting to be common. The zoom lenses of these cameras
are reasonably fast, making available light photography possible. They have
a bit more sharpness that those of the lower end models, and tend to be inetgrated
into an autofocus system. In addition to superior lenses, and higher resoultion
sensors, these cameras tend to have many more features than the low end units.
Most are equipped with built in flash units, as well as self timers, and
removable memory units. Many of these cameras have LCD display units, allowing
the photographer to preview images, and do a bit of in camera editing.
The high end proffesional models start out at about the
level of some of the better hobbyist models, and then the sky is the limit.
The best are designed around 35mm film cameras, and offer total control,
printers (unacceptable, unless you are rich)