Digital Camera Overview
There is a wide variety of digital cameras available, from camera phones to scanning backs. Which type of camera will work best for you? It depends to a great extent on the type of work you do.
Figure 1 First picture your own unique needs to know which camera type is best
Digital photography’s goal is no different to that of shooting with film: capture and achieve the best translation of the scene (from your vision) to a photographic image. The difference is simply how the “data” captured – now 1s and 0s, not a film negative (or positive) – holds the image. In the professional photography realm, this requires understanding all the choices and making appropriate decisions to the best match of image quality to workflow needs.
Despite tension between the race to higher resolution (megapixels) and the overall image quality (IQ), digital camera technology has been advancing at a steady rate. New cameras, in every category, are generally better than preceding models. Yet higher megapixel counts have sometimes preceded the ability to achieve higher image quality. Manufacturers, moreover, have been extremely clever in overcoming issues that occur with packing more photosites into the same-size sensor. As a general rule, bigger sensors and bigger photosites on a sensor can achieve higher image quality. This is only a general rule since many other factors enter into the equation.
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Cost is always a consideration and it certainly factors into camera choice. When it is difficult to tell the difference between a print made with a $2,700 DSLR and a $30,000 medium format back, some serious thought needs to go into why you would choose one over the other. High quality ink-jet output, in fact, may be the only place where the extra resolution of an expensive medium format back can be seen. Offset printing detail is limited by the type and frequency of the line-screen, and images published on the web or mobile devices are limited to the resolution of the monitor or screen used.
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"Some people shoot a lot to get a lot. Some people shoot a lot to get a little. Some people shoot a little to get a little" Jeff Shewe quoted in a Lightroom video.
Understanding the shoot parameters should inform camera choice. Does your assignment require you to shoot a little or a lot? Are you after a few “hero” images, or do you need to create many useful images—perhaps to tell a story through images? What are the light conditions? Do you need to work with ambient light only? If so, is it a consistent color temperature, or will you be working indoors and out, going from strong light to low light—then to almost no light? Will the lighting vary from flat to contrasty and back again? Will you be controlling the light with studio flash, handheld flash, or continuous lighting?
How much time and control will you have? Is your style and preference to get it “right” in the camera, or does your style or assignment parameters suggest that artistic vision develop throughout the process from shoot to final image, which may be blended, retouched, composited, combined, stitched, or processed as a high dynamic range (HDR) image? What are the criteria for the final output? Screen or substrate, or both? Traditional offset press and or digital press? Big output, or little output?
Sometimes "f/8 and be there" trumps any other consideration. Consider how many newsworthy events are now captured with camera phones. Some photo journalists make great use of compact point-and-shoot cameras because they are lightweight and unobtrusive.
A digital scan back may take the highest-resolution pictures, but a point-and-shoot image from the front lines of Iraq, or even a camera phone image, may rise to the level of nearly perfect if content, timing and artistic intent are considered.
One of the most significant differences between capturing on film vs. digital capture is that digital capture allows instant viewing. Art directors and clients quickly learned that there are some significant advantages to seeing images as they are shot. Almost all high level shoots are done with the camera tethered to an external monitor. If you do this kind of work, finding the right combination of camera, computer and software is key.
Read more in Raw vs. Rendered
A raw (or camera raw) file is the unprocessed linear data captured by a digital camera sensor and any associated metadata. It can be likened to the digital equivalent of a latent image but with the ability to be infinitely reprocessed or developed.
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Digital cameras can record images as raw data or they can process raw data into JPEG, or less commonly into TIFF file format. Many cameras can record raw + JPEG, giving you the option of a processed plus an unprocessed version of each image. We will explore the features of these format choices plus the pros and cons of each choice for various shoots.
Read more in Raw vs. Rendered
Institutions and individual photographers are struggling with large film archives that require digitizing. Setting up digital cameras to photograph film negatives and positives can fill an important gap in the scanning environment enabling large collections to be scanned onsite with low cost equipment and easily trained operators. Digital camera scans can now produce very high-quality images suitable for nearly any kind of reproduction.
Digital still cameras have recently gained a new feature: the ability to shoot high definition video. Still photographers are finding that clients are increasingly interested in having video to supplement stills since the Internet supports still and video media almost seamlessly. Having one tool that can shoot both is becoming a compelling feature. Dedicated filmmakers are interested in video capable DSLR cameras because they feature relatively large sensors compared to standard video cameras. This lends a large format look (with shallow depth of field), and their interchangeable lenses provide a wide range of focal lengths.