Ann Arbor Business to Business
Small Business and the Internet

In Camera: Secrets of Digital Photography

January 2000

By Mike Gould

Right now, you're probably saying to yourself "Ya know, it's the beginning of the Zips (or Naughties, or whatever we're calling this decade these days); I really need to get into digital photography!". And you're right, you should. Photography is Phun, and you can justify your purchase (and even write it off) because you can use your digital photos for business purposes. I know; I do it all the time; this is the easy way to get pictures up on the Internet.

I am Joe's Camera
Today's modern camera of the future looks pretty much like the point-and-shoot 35mm camera we've seen for years. A shiny silver body, lens sticking out, buttons here and there, baffling instruction manual; the usual. Then you turn the camera around, and mirable dictu (which is Latin for "Holy Mackerel, lookatthat!" - I promised my high school Latin teacher that I would promote the classics whenever possible), there's this little TV screen back there that shows you the picture you just took. How do they do that?

Well, light comes in the front of the camera through the lens, and instead of hitting a piece of film, it hits a sensor thingie. The thingie then turns the image into ones and zeroes, which, through the miracle of computer micro management, get stored onto a tiny memory chip and displayed through the miniature computer screen on the back. So instead of waiting for your film to come back from the developers to see how badly you've botched that shot of the Dan Quayle action figure you're trying to sell on eBay, you can see right away how wretched it looks. You can then push a button, erase the bad shot, try another angle (maybe not shooting into the sun?) and get it right. Instant Karma. Eureka (OK, OK, so that's Greek; it still adds a bit of badly-needed class to this discourse).

You then plug a wire between your camera and your computer, download the picture onto your hard drive, mess with it in the software that came with the camera, and save it for posterity. Then you can print it out with your fancy new color printer, send it to eBay or anyone via the Internet, and/or post it on your website.

It's a System
As with anything to do with computers, you're not just using a camera, you're grappling with a camera SYSTEM. You need a camera, a computer, a printer for output, a wire, some memory, some more memory for the camera, yet more memory for the computer, and still more memory for you, in the form of manuals, books, and magazines. Seems like a lot, yet compared to the darkroom you would have to assemble to do this sort of thing the old fashioned way, it's not all that bad. And at least you don't have to deal with chemicals, dust, sinks, and enlargers, etc.

Thanks for More Memory
Memory comes in 2 species, disk and chips; you need more of each. Your hard disk's size limits the number of pictures you can store; your chips limit how big a picture you can work on and how many applications you can have open at once. If you are interested in getting into digital photography, you will need at least 64M of RAM, and more is better. I have 256M in my G4 at home, but I do this professionally. ( I need more...). Cameras need more RAM as well; most use postage stamp-sized removable chips called Compact Flash or slightly larger Flash Cards. The more RAM you have, the more pictures your camera can store. More is better.

Once you start shooting, you need a place to store all the pictures. Most computers come with around 6 Gigabytes these days (that's 6 bazillion bytes; a lot); and this will probably hold you for a while. When your hard drive fills up, you can buy another and hook it into your existing system. Or you can buy a cheap CD ROM burner and transfer your pictures to CD ROM; the drive costs less than $300 and the blanks are around a buck a piece. Each disk holds 600M or so, enough for lots of pictures. And once on a CD ROM, they can't be altered in any way, making this an excellent way to archive images of anything; your inventory, your collections, whatever will hold still long enough to shoot.

The nice part of doing this all digitally is that once transmogrified into ones and zeroes, the pictures don't fade, curl, discolor, or get torn and crumpled. Your printouts may do all the above, at which point you can just print out fresh ones using the latest and greatest printer at your disposal.

Printing Your Best Shots
Now that you have your pictures in digital format, it might be nice to have some printouts to enjoy during those precious few moments when the computer is turned off; here's where a printer comes in handy. Today's color printers do an absolutely amazing job of printing out pictures. For $250 or so you can get a printer that can print photos on glossy paper which are difficult to distinguish from what you get from a photo finisher. You pull up your photo on your computer screen, tweak it to your satisfaction, hit PRINT, and the finished print comes thundering out of your apparatus. Ecce Photo! (Behold the Snapshot, has Caesar would have commented). Just the thing for doing up a one-off brochure customized for that special customer.

Out of room again; tune in next month for more Info Digitatorum Preposterous (Amazing Digital Facts) - pros and cons, where to shop, where to look for more info, etc.

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