The Design & Publishing Center _/_ D'Lynn Waldron_/_Pros & Cons of Digital Still Cameras

The advantages and disadvantages of digital still cameras for amateurs and professionals, with D'Lynn Waldron, Industry Insider

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 and professionals.
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.)
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, than film.
  1. The wider the latitude the more detail you get in highlights and shadows.
  2. In flash photography, wide latitude lengthens the distance before complete fall off, and gives less harsh shadows.
  3. 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 photography.
Comparative latitudes:
Digital: ------------------------------
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 browser window.)
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 prints.
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 on this.
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).
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!
[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

D'Lynn Waldron. PhD

<- Back _|_ Top

D'Lynn Waldron THE IMAGE PERFECTED copyright 1999 and:

Got a hot news item or great product? Send your suggestions and leads to D'Lynn ... don't forget: this is a reader-driven web site.

Thank you for visiting D'Lynn Waldron's "Industry Insider" in The Design & Publishing Center , All content Copyright 1999 on behalf of D'Lynn Waldron, by The Design & Publishing Center, all rights reserved. Contact The Design Center design team for web page critique, makeover clinics, or website design, production and hosting. Products mentioned in D'Lynn's columns are the exclusive Registered Trademarks for their respective ownders. All Rights Reserved.