The advantages and disadvantages of digital still cameras for amateurs and professionals,
with D'Lynn Waldron, Industry Insider
The Advantages & Disadvantages
of Digital Still Cameras
by D'Lynn Waldron. PhD
- Digital still cameras are an excellent choice for many uses, for both amateurs
- FOR THE FAMILY
- Digital still camera prices are down and resolutions are up, making a digital
still camera a good choice for the family with a computer.
- Cost advantages:
- 1- No film to buy.
2- No processing to pay for.
3- No wasted film and unusable prints.
- Convenience advantages:
- 1- Know immediately if the picture is worth saving.
2- No trips to the photofinisher.
3- Hundreds of images on a single memory card (with j-peg compression).
4- Images are in digital form right out of the camera, no scanning needed.
5- Images can be indexed and archived on CD.
- 1- Battery life is short if you use the LCD screen. Use the viewfinder.
2- Cost of memory if you need additional capacity (which will pay for itself very
quickly if you shoot many pictures.)
- FOR THE PROFESSIONAL
- In addition to the above, professionals will find:
- Convenience advantages:
- 1- No Polaroid test prints for studio work.
2- Real-time previewing.
3- Deleting of unwanted pictures from the camera memory.
4- Reusable media.
5- No bulky rolls of film to carry around.
6- Media is stable without refrigeration.
7- A digital image ready for transmission and pre-press.
8- Automatic white balance- no filters needed for Kelvin compensation.
- Convenience disadvantages:
- 1- It is often difficult to get memory if you need it right away.
2- Must have battery or AC adapter power.
- Quality advantages:
- 1- No loss of image information as happens when scanning film or prints.
2- No film grain as happens in a scan of film.
3- Greater latitude than any film can give.
- The Latitude advantage:
- Film has always had a very limited latitude. The slower (and, with that, the
finer the grain the film), the narrower the latitude of a film stock. Digital cameras
have a wider latitude, and better color fidelity between highlights and shadows,
- The wider the latitude the more detail you get in highlights and shadows.
- In flash photography, wide latitude lengthens the distance before complete fall
off, and gives less harsh shadows.
- Digital cameras can provide information in low and artificial light situations
where film would be just black. With Photoshop, that digital image can be enhanced
to make clearly visible information that is critical for crime scene and surveillance
- Comparative latitudes:
ISO 400: -------------------------
ISO 200: --------------------
ISO 100: ---------------
ISO 25 : ----------
- Color Fidelity advantage:
- Film tends to exaggerate the blue in shadows in full daylight and go orange in
low light. Digital cameras set a white balance to compensate for the Kelvin color
shifts, and they also have far less shift of color between highlights and shadows.
This is a great advantage in portraits, where I have been able to get very natural
skin colors in open shade near sunset, with lovely gradients as well using a digital
camera. (see example in separate
- Smooth gradient advantage:
- Because of the latitude, digital photographs normally have smoother gradients
than images taken on film, and especially better than the scans of film. For this
reason, digital photography is excellent for portraits.
- Quality disadvantages:
- 1- A digital image does not carry as much information as fine grain film, so
you cannot crop as deeply into the image and still have enough resolution for large
2- Jaggies on high contrast diagonals, especially with lower resolution cameras.
- JPEG compression and automatic sharpening disadvantages:
- 1- JPEG compression creates artifacts, so you should always look for a digital
camera that gives you the option of taking an uncompressed TIFF image.
2- HOWEVER, taking an uncompressed image is pointless if the camera or the driver
does automatic sharpening, which creates many of the same artifacts as JPEG. Olympus
has proprietary in-camera sharpening and saturation enhancement. Nikon assures me
it does not make any changes to the original image. Kodak provides no information
- Digital Zoom disadvantage
- Avoid digital zoom, which just crops into your image and then interpolates pixels
to make up the size. You can do this better yourself in an image editing program.
- Current costs of memory:
- 10/20/99 examples of street prices for Compact Flash Cards:
32 meg $100, 98 meg $235, 124 meg (no price yet).
- BOOKS ON DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY
Do not depend on ANY book (or even printed magazine) for prices and features of digital
cameras, as these change before the information reaches print. For current information
on prices and features you should go to the Web.
- For the beginner:
- START WITH A DIGITAL CAMERA: John Odam . grayscale with color inserts, 401 pages,
7 x9 inches, Peachpit, $44.99. This beautiful book is perfect for the beginning digital
photographer. In a very easy to understand way it tells you about how digital cameras
work, how to take a good picture, how to bring your images into the computer, how
to work on them in a program like Photoshop, and how to make good prints. The illustrations
provide examples and inspiration for those who aspire to take really fine photographs.
An Editor's Choice in
DT&G Magazine. Also highly rated by Amazon.com!
[Editor's Note: This is a lucious book for anyone, beginner or not. Odam is a superb
mentor and writer who can cut right to the essence of a topic -- after you read this,
you actually understand the subject matter. Highly recommended! Right on, D'Lynn]
- For the advanced amateur to professional:
- REAL WORLD DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY:
McClelland and Eismann. All Color, 145 pages, 8.5 x 11, Peachpit, $34.99. This is
a comprehensive book that covers all the technical information that the advanced
amateur needs to know to be a guru of the medium, including even the Adams/Weston/White
Zone System translated for Photoshop users (by Richard Chang). This book is too densely
written and technical for the beginner and the photographs are there to provide technical
instruction, rather than inspiration.Read
our review in the &FOTOgraphic department, or the reviews at Amazon.com
D'Lynn Waldron. PhD
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