Ann Arbor Business to Business
Small Business and the Internet

In Camera Redux: Secrets of Digital Photography II

February 2000

By Mike Gould

Recapping our discussion from last month, we established: digital cameras are fun, you want one, you need a pretty decent computer set-up to deal with pictures, and you can still screw around with classical languages to make a point here in the technical vastness of the future. Evoe! (Latin: Let's rock and roll!)

Bigger is Better
The alert reader will recall that I spent quite a lot of ink in past articles telling you to make picture files as small as possible to fit on the Web. Now I am going to tell you to make your digital pictures as big as possible to feed to a printer. This brings us back to the issue of resolution; the number of dots of ink or pixels (think: digital ink) per square inch that make up your picture. The more resolution you have, the better your picture looks; finer detail, better contrast, etc. What you want to do is always use the highest resolution available when shooting pictures with a digital camera (DC); you do this by setting the picture quality setting on your camera as high as possible.

You have probably seen cameras advertised as "MegaPixel"; this means that the highest resolution available for a given camera results in picture sizes of around a megabyte (a floppy holds around 1.5 megabytes, for instance). This is the bare minimum I consider good for a DC, and most of the current crop of cameras achieve this easily. A picture taken with a 1 MegaPixel camera is more than acceptable for the Web, and prints out well at sizes up to around 5" x 7". Size of the print-out is the key here: the higher resolution your picture, the larger you can print it (and the bigger you can display it on the Web).

Some numbers: the recommended resolution for serious printing is 300 ppi (pixels per inch). Anything higher is wasted on your printer (unless you are preparing a shot for the cover of Time Magazine, in which case you are out of this league entirely). Using an Epson Stylus Photo printer ($250 or so at your local computer store), glossy paper (around $.75 an 8 1/2 x 11 inch sheet), and a digital picture at 300ppi, you can print out pictures with phenomenal quality. Just the thing for a one-off brochure for that special customer.

E Unum, Pluribus(Multi-purpose is the way to go)
The nice thing about large size picture files is that it is easy to make them small for the Web. You save your pictures in high-res for printing, and shrink them down when needed for the Web - one picture, 2 uses. This doesn't work the other way around; when enlarging digitally, you lose information and your pictures look grainy.

Resolution Conflicts
DC's have settings for picture quality; the trade-off is that if you shoot everything at highest quality, the pictures consume more of your on-camera memory (RAM). Your camera may hold 50 pictures at low resolution, but only 20 at high-res. This may be an issue if all you are doing is shooting your child's birthday party - you may decide that lower res/more pictures is a better bet than having to periodically leave the party to dump your hi-res pictures to your computer. The answer here is more memory for your camera. I have a 32 megabyte (32M) RAM chip in my Kodak DC 210 Plus camera (~$500), and it is good for around 110 pictures at highest possible resolution.

The nice thing about "Digital Film" is that it is reusable: you fill up a chip, dump its contents to your computer, erase the chip, and go on shooting. Or in the party scenario above, you fill up the chip, pop it out, pop in a fresh chip, and continue. With FlashRam chips costing around $100 for 32M, this is a pretty good way to go.

Pros and Cons
Is a digital camera the best solution for you? If your ultimate output is the Web, then yes, run right out and buy one today. You can shoot a digital picture, process it, and upload it to your website in less than fifteen minutes; instant gratification. If you are shooting for fun and family though, the answer is maybe. Remember, you have a lot more control over your pictures with digital; you can crop, sharpen, lighten and generally tweak up your shots in the computer before printing. But all the above is very labor-intensive. It is a lot easier to shoot up several rolls of film, drop them at your local developer, get them the next day, etc. With digital, you have to examine every shot, tweak as necessary, and print out. You can discard (or at least, not print) the bad shots, but getting the good shots just right takes time.

Caveat Modemer (Modems take forever)
Now this is changing; digital print shops are coming. In the near future, you will be able to drop off your RAM chips, or FTP (digitally transfer) the shots to your favorite processor; they will print out the pictures and you pick them up, just like with film. There are already services on the Internet that will do this. The problem here again, is file size: to do it right, you need to send a megapixel file over the Internet. This takes forever with a slow modem, and is not practical via email. That is why pictures printed from the Web look less than delightful: they are low-res pictures designed to look best onscreen, not printed out.

You may also not save much money in going digital; good ink is expensive, the paper is expensive, and your time may be expensive. Tempus Fugit (Time=$$), as Mercury (Roman god of florists) once remarked.

Dang, Out of Room Again
I thought I was going to finish up this month, but this topic just won't quit. Next issue: some specific cameras to consider, where to buy, more info on the Web. Ave Atque Vale! (See you next month).

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