Digital Point-and-Shoot Cameras
If my memory serves me right, the first commercially available digital cameras began making their appearance in the mid to late 90’s.
These were sub-megapixel point and shoot doodads with tiny LCD screens and were hugely expensive!
For the same price today one can easily buy any of a range of digital SLRs with sensors in excess of 15 megapixels, equipped with multi point autofocus, interchangable lenses, high ISO capability, large, sharp LCDs, multi mode shooting options and the ability to shoot in RAW…and still have some change left over!
Prices plummeted as megapixels soared!
If the 90s was the era of the analog point and shoot film camera, the first decade of the new millennium undeniably belonged to their digital counterparts.
My first digital camera was a Nikon Coopix775 that was bought in 2002 (2.1 megapixel 3x optical zoom, 1.5” LCD screen). Over the next decade I went through a number of these cameras including the Canon A80 (4MP, 1.5” screen) and a sleek 12.1MP Canon IXUS.
A very significant contribution to the success of the digital camera was the fact that now everybody owned a computer with enough processing power and storage to handle large digital images.
At last there was no need to buy an endless supply of film and then spend large sums of money to have them developed only to obtain a few usable pictures.
The ‘No Pain, No Gain’ dictum seemed to have been wiped clean off the slate with the advent of digital photography. Which begs to ask the question: Has digital imagery ruined the art of photography?
I personally don’t think so.
What digital photography does is that it opens the doors of photography to a wider range of people.
There are those who would simply like the opportunity to record a moment or event and prefer not to be bothered with technicalities. The present day digital point and shoot cameras are ideal for them.
A family trip to Disney for instance. Just shoot the image and check it on the LCD. It’s so simple that you can even hand the camera to a nearby stranger and your family shot with Winnie the Pooh is off the check list with absolute certainty!
To those wishing to be a bit more adventurous, there are a number of attractively priced digital SLR cameras available with interchangeable lens options for various shooting conditions and situations.
My First Canon DSLR
I bought my first digital SLR in 2007. Since I already possessed a Canon EOS SLR film camera (EOS 50/ Elan II) it was logical to invest in a Canon EOS system so that I could share lenses and equipment.
I bought the Canon EOS 400D along with the kit lens an EF-S 18-55 f/3.5-5.6 II.
For the first few years I continued where I left off from the EOS 50 – only using the Auto/ Program modes (see Part II of these articles).
The images were acceptable. The AutoAdjust Image in Canon’s supplied software program ImageBrowser further improved most discrepancies and I was a happy trooper.
Like most amateur photographers, my enthusiasm was no longer dampened with issues of expense of film, cost of development and the time taken to see the results. I could now shoot at will, instantly check results, delete if not satisfied, learn from and correct errors and reshoot immediately.
I soon began to realize that I was far from using the 400D to its full potential and that the supplied kit lens was not ideally suited to bring out the best in the camera.
I had read a number of reviews of the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens both in terms of performance and cost effectiveness and I decided to buy it.
What a difference it made!
I think it was the improvement in the quality of images from this lens that encouraged me to switch to manual mode to try and further improve the quality of my pictures.
Computer Hardware and Software
By this time I had shifted my computer allegiance to Apple and bought the mesmerising 27” all in one desktop computer with i5 quad core processor.
Organizing my digital images, both personal and professional, was becoming increasingly difficult. Migrating from the iMac’s bundled iphoto image application to Apple’s Aperture3 solved this problem. Aperture3 has a totally customizable image organizational system, and also offers the option of maintaining separate image libraries.
I was so impressed with my 50mm f/1.8 lens that I decided upgrade the kit lens.
The ‘L’ series lenses are Canon’s luxury range of lenses and are known for their build quality and superior optics. All I can say is compared to the kit lens the rave reviews this lens received on the Internet do not do it justice!
Whew! My camera kit now consists of 2 bodies and several lenses. On a recent trip to Sri Lanka I found it difficult to carry so much equipment and I wound up taking only my Canon IXUS!!
This is when I decided to opt for a camera bag and one that would take all my camera equipment and my Macbook pro 13” laptop as well. After reviewing various models ranging from Lowepro, Vanguard, Tamrac, Think Tank etc I settled for a Kata 3n1 33. I carried this backpack to the hospital as well as it housed all my delicate equipment (laptop, camera, lenses and operating loupe) snugly and safely.
The sheer convenience of having everything safe in one bag did compensate for the occasional caustic comments of: ‘Of to school with your backpack eh?!’ or ‘Going out of town Doc?!’
Another huge advantage of digital photography is the ability to tweak the image via software. And to take full advantage of this I switched to shooting images in RAW.
Most serious photo enthusiasts will shoot in RAW format so as to preserve the maximum amount of data within a given image. This makes a significant difference when editing it later on the computer. I have to admit that (at the time of writing this) my editing skills are limited. I have recently moved from ‘auto enhance’ preset to experimenting with the various brushes available in Aperture3. (The polarizer brush is my current favorite!)
Despite all the progress somethings will NEVER change!
I think I have learned more lessons in photography in the past year than I had over the past 3 decades!
Returning to manual mode, shooting in RAW, appreciating the value of good equipment and finally my first steps in the mind-blowing world of digital editing.
I have also come to realize that no amount of tweaking in any software will transform an average image into a great one.
To get that one killer image – the one who’s spot has been reserved in your portfolio of images for years but never managed to get occupied – can only be done using the same principles and thought process as one used when working with the film cameras of yesteryear.
One still needs to understand composition, lighting, shutter speed, aperture and film speed.
Each lens and camera will have its own attributes and peculiarities. One must be prepared to go through a mandatory learning curve with every piece of equipment, no matter how good it is, before even hoping to achieve optimal results.
The same care you took before exposing each precious frame with your analog SLR 15 years ago or, for that matter, your medium format twin lens reflex camera 30 years ago applies to your digital camera as well if you truly want quality images.
What digital technology does is it certainly goes a long way in helping you get your perfect image with instant review, cost-effectiveness and most importantly, the ability to tweak the image to your own personal satisfaction on the computer.
Today, sitting in front of my computer and watching my images blossom as I apply software changes I get a tremendous sense of de ja vu.
I get the same feeling of excitement and anticipation that I experienced decades ago as I set out of my house and walked down the street to the local camera shop wondering how the prints I gave for developing would turn out.
PS I wrote this article around 2010.
In the time it has been languishing on my computer I have made further upgrades to my Equipment. I bought the EOS 7D to replace the 400D.
Also, the lure of bird and wildlife photography made me looked at the various options in the telephoto range and finally settled for the Optically stabilised Sigma 150-500mm OS lens. Many feel there are other options in this range that would have been preferable.
I also got myself a EF 100mm f2.8L IS Macro lens which is an awesome portal into the mind-blowing world of macro photography!
One thing is for sure: I better upload this article soon before I need to add another postscript to it!