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Old Jan 3, 2005, 1:06 PM   #1
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This is incomplete (I wanted to keep my article to a one-pager), but I hope it's useful.


WINsome LU's Something Else – Upgrade your Photography from 30 Megapixels to 4 or 5!

Doesn't make sense, does it? Nor does the current emphasis on megapixels above all else in digital camera ads. I've read that 35mm film has about 30 megapixel resolution, but really really high-end dSLR (digital single lens reflex) cameras have less than half that resolution. Obviously, it's not all about megapixels. But why settle for 4 or 5 MP resolution, or even less? Well, have you ever paid to have a wall-sized mural printed from a 35mm negative? Neither have I. I'm quite pleased with the 8 ½ by 11 borderless prints I've made on a 6-color photo printer, minutes after I snapped the pics with my 4 MP digital camera. Commercial services will print 20x30 inch posters (how grainy?) from my digital images. So before you get seduced by ‘bigger is better', consider that your 35mm camera creates negatives (or slides) about 1 by 1 ½ inches -- not 4x5, 5x7, or 8x10 inches. (Yup, standard print dimensions began as negative sizes!) Photojournalists chose ‘miniature' 35mm cameras not just because they were smaller and easier to transport and use, but because they produced excellent photos in the sizes needed. So do today's consumer-grade digital cameras. And they offer many advantages over film.

You may remember that in Sep. '03, after I ‘replaced' my 1969 Nikon Nikkormat with a then-current Canon G3 digital, I wrote a gushing review for this newsletter. My appreciation for my digicam has grown as I've used it. You can now buy even better cameras for less money. Recently Derek and I offered buying advice to a friend of Perry's. I'd like to expand our recommendations and share them with you.

Even though megapixels are not the be-all end-all of considerations, let's deal with that spec first. As I said, 4 MP is sufficient for nice 8 ½ by 11 borderless prints. 3 MP cameras do a fine job too, if you don't need to crop out (eliminate) much of the original image. As the number of megapixels goes up, you can maintain sharpness while printing even larger or using less of the original image. Even a 1.2 MP camera can produce crisp 4x6 inch prints. Incidentally, since the aspect ratio (length to width) of digital images is 4:3, they perfectly match computer monitors, standard TVs, and 4x6 borderless prints.

Zoom range
is another frequently-touted specification. Generally stated as 3X, 10X, or some such, it's the ratio of wide-angle to telephoto focal lengths. For example, 35mm to 105mm is 3X, 28mm to 280mm is 10X. When evaluating zoom ranges, pay attention only to optical zoom; ignore digital zoom, because it just makes pixels from the center of an image larger and coarser -- fuzzier. A dSLR lets you interchange lenses, but for a fixed-lens camera, zoom range is fairly important. Some higher-end non-interchangeable lens digital cameras can use supplemental lenses to extend their telephoto and wide-angle capabilities. Some recent ‘IS' (image stabilization) digicams help prevent camera shake, as will a tripod, or a self-timer or wireless remote control when the camera is on a stable surface.

Memory cards serve as digital film. You don't need to pay, or wait, for film developing; you can view (and erase) images 2 or 3 seconds after you snap them. The cards are small, reusable, and can hold more images than dozens of rolls of film. You can take color and B&W images, use various (ISO) film speeds, and different resolutions, on the same card. Try that with film! You cannot shoot transparencies, but commercial services can make standard 2x2 slides from your digital images. The cards come in various formats (CompactFlash, SmartMedia, Memory Stick, SD, MMC, XD …), but most cameras can use only one format. If you already use memory cards in a
PDA (‘Palm') or MP3 player (‘Ipod'), a camera that uses the same format card will be convenient, but this shouldn't unduly influence your choice of camera.

Digicams have an LCD (liquid crystal display) screen to use as a viewfinder and image viewer. An optical viewfinder is a nice addition, because it may be more readable in dim or very bright light, and it doesn't reduce battery life. Optical viewfinders, however, are like a rangefinder camera's; they don't ‘see' through the lens, so what they see differs slightly from what the lens does (‘parallax error'), and they show less than the entire frame. The LCD also shows cameras settings and number of remaining shots. Consider an LCD that swivels, for shooting above your head and for less-contorted body positions when shooting at waist level or lower.

A digicam can be fully point-and-shoot, using its computer-on-a-chip to automatically do everything: focus; set shutter speed, aperture, and film speed for proper exposure; and adjust white balance for true colors. Many digicams also let you choose from preset modes for portraits, landscapes, night, snow, and so forth, or even provide manual controls to set whatever you want. More features = more control and more $$$.

Additional capabilities available on some digicams include macro focusingfor shooting close to the subject for life-size or larger images, burst shooting several frames per second (like motor drive with film), adding sound annotations to still images, making short (low resolution) movies with sound, and more. Each crop of digicams introduces more features, generally for less money. It's a great time to take photos!

If you have questions, please let me know. L8r, Lucky Luby
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