Opinion » Cybernaut


Let’s get digital



When the camera was invented in the mid-19th century, some traditionalists felt that the process cheapened the work of the portrait painter. It accomplished in minutes what took the artist months of toil and trouble, and put immortality, once reserved for aristocrats, within reach of everyday people.

One German newspaper editor even went so far as to suggest that photography – invented by a crude Frenchman – was the work of the devil, and that photographs were inherently blasphemous because in capturing the image of man in all his vanity, ergo we are also capturing the image of God in that we are made in His divine image.

Lucky for Hugh Heffner, Ansel Adams and Annie Leibowitz, that particular chain of reasoning went nowhere, and the art and technology of photography continued to evolve.

Now we’re waist deep in the digital age, and still the technology shows no signs of slowing down or leveling out. If anything, the technology is moving at a faster pace.

Even a few years ago, digital cameras were reserved for people who work on the Web. Most newspapers and magazines preferred film quality shots, although much of the time those pictures were scanned and sent pixel by pixel through news organizations on the Internet. Regular users also didn’t see much point in going digital, either because they lacked the technology and know-how, or felt they would wind up with inferior print quality if they wanted to transfer their digital photos to slides or the family photo album.

Those issues are quickly and quietly being resolved. While digital music may never triumph over analog vinyl for the serious audiophile, digital pictures may never take away from the austerity of conventional photography. But it’s not for a lack of trying.

If you’re in the market for a new camera, and are thinking of going digital, here’s an overview of the basics.

The Camera

Digital cameras can run anywhere from about $300 for a simple point and shoot to $10,000 for a top-of-the-line professional set-up, which leaves a lot of room for performance-enhancing features.

Your basic camera will likely include a colour LCD screen, a flash with four settings (off, on, automatic and red-eye reduction), a 16 MB memory card, zoom settings, simple controls for contrast and darkness, and two resolution settings, low and high. Low resolution doesn’t necessarily mean lower picture quality, just fewer pixels.

For example, a 2-megapixel setting will capture images of 1,600 pixels wide by1,200 pixels high. On paper, that reproduces well as an eight by six inch. A 3-megapixel camera will capture images of 2,048 by 1,536, which reproduces an equivalent picture quality as an eight by ten. Resolutions in excess of 5.5-megapixels are possible with some high end digital cameras.