Guide for Digital Cameras and Digital Media

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secretweapon

Member
 
Joined
Dec 6, 2003
Location
Pacific North West
I have recently seen many threads asking for what kind of digital camera to get, and what are different kinds of digital media. I’m writing this guide to get you guys a head start and hopefully answer some of those questions. I am by no means a photography expert or amateur for that matter, and this is my first forum guide so please bear with me.

Digital media:
These are the storage medium for digital cameras, they can be also be used in storing other types of data. (eg, jumpdrives/PDA etc) The common formats included are smartmedia, MMC, Compact Flash Type I (CF card), Compact Flash Type II (microdrive), Secure Digital (SD), XD, memorystick, memorystick Pro, memorystick Duo.

MMC & Smartmedia are generally for older/cheaper cameras with lower capacity. I have yet to see these 2 formats with cards bigger than 128mb.

Compact Flash is the old standard and is widely employed by Cannon/Nikkon. It is also the card of choice for prosumer/SLR cameras due to its larger storage of up to 12GB. Type I is a memory card with no moving parts while Type II is really just a small hard drive with ATA interface. Think IBM/Hitachi microdrives. The x is the speed rating and 1x = 150 KB/sec.

SD/Secure Digital was jointly developed by Toshiba/ Panasonic/Sandisk. It is much smaller than CF cards and is labeled as the future choice for digital cameras. More and more compact cameras are converting to this format. The Panasonic ones are considered the best as Panasonic cards with 256mb capacity or more have speeds of 10mb/s compared to 2mb/s for the generic stuff. Toshiba cards are also known as Dane-Electric. At the time of writing the highest speed SD card is 60x.

XD, Memory stick/Memory Stick PRO/DUO are proprietary memory format for Fuji/Olympus and Sony respectively. Olympus and Fuji co-developed XD and it is the smallest memory card of the group. Some of the Olympus cameras require Olympus brand XD cards for the panoramic function. Sony uses memory sticks. Memory stick Pro is faster and is required for their newer 640x480 30fps movie modes. Memory stick Duo is smaller and is used in their new compacts like the T-1. Some of the Konica-Minolta cameras such as the G-400/500 aka KD-410/510 can also use Memory sticks in addition to SD cards.

Keep in mind that the faster memory may or may not be worth the extra expense to you as it depends on your camera’s ability to use the extra bandwidth when taking/processing pictures. On a separate speed issue, most cameras top out at 2mb/s at max when transferring pics to your computer with the default USB cable. If you want to download pics to your computer faster, a card reader is needed. The USB 2.0 card readers will transfer the pics at the max rate the memory allows. Some SLRs also have IEEE 1394.

Digital Camera Technology:

Megapixel:
First thing people ask when they see digital cameras is how many megapixels. This is simply the resolution of the sensor at 1 million pixels:
1280 x 960 pixels = 1 Megapixel
1600 x 1200 pixels = 2 Megapixels
2048 x 1536 pixels = 3 Megapixels
2272 x 1704 pixels = 4 Megapixels
2560 x 1920 pixels = 5 Megapixels
And so on.

Just like on monitors, more resolution gets more details and information onto your picture. You can also print bigger pictures from higher megapixels. However a camera’s quality is not solely based on megapixels, sometimes a 5 Mp camera may have worse quality than its 4 Mp sibling. This is caused by the algorithms used by the camera and limitation of the sensor. In a compact camera the sensor size is limited. More megapixels means you have to pack more information onto the same sized sensor. More often than not you get more noise or picture quality problems if the sensor is simply overloaded. More pixels also means bigger file sizes, thus bigger memory cards must be purchased for same number of photos as a lower resolution camera.

Sensor:
This brings us to the sensors. There 2 main types of sensors on the market today. CMOS (Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) is the less popular type. Generally they are in the lower priced cameras/webcams; however recent advancements have made them appear in some of the high end cameras such as Canon’s SLRs. They do have the advantage of lower power consumption, and we all know that is better from the athlon mobiles and dothans. This is also an active sensor as opposed to the CCD.

CCD or Charged Coupling Device is the main stable of sensor for digital cameras today. It is essentially a grey scale light sensor with a RGBG color mask. The light hits the sensor and different colors are registered. The information is stored and converted to a digital signal and an image file is created by the camera’s software.

Foveon X3 sensors are a new innovation in sensor technology. This new process emulates the traditional film where RGB are present in different chemical emulsions and all colors are present at all points. RGB layers are embedded in the silicon and since light waves penetrate to different depth it can captures RGB at all points of the sensor. This is opposed to the grid setup in CCD where each point on the senor can only accept one type color as determined by its mask. You probably won’t see this sensor as it is only present in some the camera Sigma makes.

Super CCD is a Fuji technology where it emulates high grade film. There are large and small grains on the films and it is represented in the Super CCD as S& R pixels. The smaller pixels capture bright lights and highlights while the bigger pixel captures details on the darker areas of the picture and protects against underexposure. The honey comb layout of this sensor is also lightly different than a conventional CCD. As result of this, a Fuji Super CCD at 3 megapixels will have the detail of a conventional CCD at 4~5 megapixels. Do not be fooled by its interpolation features, a 3.3 megapixel Fuji camera interpolated to 6.6 megapixels will not have the true detail of a real 6.6 megapixel camera.

Lenses & Zoom:

All digital cameras are sold with a 35mm camera equivalent zoom number on the lens, for example 28mm. A lower number represents a wider field of view. Thus if you want to do landscape shots you would get a wide angle cam with a lower mm lens. The Zoom is also based on this number as a 3x zoom means 3 x ##mm. This means if you want to have more zoom distance for shooting far subjects you want a higher number rating. A 3x38mm cam gives you 30 mm more zoom than a 3x28mm would. Please note your lowest aperture rating on your camera will rise as you extend your telephoto. For example, if your aperture rating is F2.8 at no zoom, it maybe F4.6 when you’re at 3x zoom.

Digital Zoom is just another form of interpolation. It will degrade your picture quality rather rapidly and is of use only in limited situations.

Lens Elements terms:

You’ll often hear a camera’s lens is made of how many groups and what elements.
ED or extra low dispersion elements help to eliminate chromatic aberration (aka purple fringing.) Aspherical lens elements help minimize optical distortion.

Filters are well... filters. You can put these on lenses to produce different effects such as colors, polarization etc. They are usually only available on semi pro or SLR camera lenses.

Batteries:

Digital cameras usually take AA batteries or have a proprietary Lithium-ion battery. They are rated by Wh or mAh, higher rating means more power. Each camera has different power usage needs and the manufacturers’ rating on how many pics you can take is based on LCD on, 50% flash. Some semipro or SLR may also have a battery pack/handle to provide extra power on the go. When you have a camera that uses AA batteries, use NiMH rechargeables as Alkalines don’t have enough juice to power your camera for long.

Common Digital Camera Terms:

Aperture – This controls how much the lens opens. It works on the same principle as the Iris in your eye. Aperture size is shown in f-numbers. The larger the number, the smaller the opening. Aperture priority mode means you manually set the aperture while camera chooses the shutter speed.

Buffer - Temporary storage, usually a RAM chip. Buffer acts as a temporary place to hold data before transferring it to the digital camera. This helps to speed up camera operation, especially in continuous mode.

Burst mode – Aka Continuous mode, drive mode. Some camera allows you take a series of pictures in rapid succession. The speed and number of pics it takes depends on the camera. Useful to capture actions frame by frame, or for time lapse photography.

Chromatic Aberration – Aka purple fringe, some times when you see a dark area with highlights, such as a street lamp at night, on the border between dark and light you can see some purple/violet colored pixels.

Continuous Autofocus - The autofocus works all the time when the button is pressed and works before the shutter is pushed. Fuji F710 & Sony V-1 has this feature.

Cycle Times – How fast before you can take one picture after another.

Depth of Field (DOF) - The range of sharp focus. This is dependent on aperture settings and focal length opening of the lens. Larger apertures give you shallow DOF. Smaller apertures yield deeper DOF.

EXIF (Exchangeable Image File format) – is the embedded information your camera puts in the image file it creates. Graphic programs and some photo hosting websites can read and display this information. For example “Pentax Optio 555, 1/60s f/3.6 at 17.4mm iso64 with Flash”

Exposure – How much light reaches the imaging sensor. Aperture and Shutter speed determines this factor. Exposure compensation setting on the camera can manually override the settings aperture and shutter speed created.

Flash – Just an additional light source that helps to compensate available light conditions. Can help with better color, exposure, sharpness. Also allows for higher shutter speeds

Focus Assist (lamp) - Some cameras employ an infrared lamp/laser beam to illuminate the subject so the autofocus can work better in low or no light. Sony also has a hologram laser AF which projects a grid of laser to light up the subject.

Focus Lock – You’ve all seen the little bracket on the LCD of a camera. When you half press the shutter, the camera will attempt to focus on the subject. The bracket will change colors when it achieves focus lock. Pre focusing into a focus lock can help to capture action as the camera will shoot much fast when it doesn’t have to focus.

Histogram – This is the little bar graph you see on some cameras/software (It looks more like a wave.) It is an analysis tool that can help to determine the dynamic range and contrast of an image. It works on a 0-255 scale just like you’ve seen in Photoshop. 0 is white and 255 is black.

Image Stabilization - An optical or digital system for reducing camera movement (shake) in the lenses. Normally found only on SLR lenses or Super Zoom cameras like Minolta Z2.

Interpolated – Software algorithms can enlarge image resolution beyond the actual resolution by adding extra pixels. Digital Zoom is a form of this, as is SuperCCD interpolation. It is very bad for image quality.

ISO (International Standards Organization) - The light-sensitivity of a camera is rated by ISO numbers. A higher number indicates more speed and increased sensitivity to light. More noise occurs at high ISO, so set the ISO to as low as possible in the conditions you are shooting at.

LCD - Liquid Crystal Display. No need for explanation, just keep a lookout on how many pixels it is. A 2.0 inch LCD with only 94K pixels won’t be very sharp!

Macro – A mode where the lens is able to focus less than 8 inches on the subjects while keeping a 1:1 ratio. This is used to take pics of small stuff like an insect. Usually indicated by a flower on your camera. Nikon’s excels at this function. In addition, Supermacro is available on some cameras.

Metering – Measurement of exposure from current light conditions

Noise – Misinterpreted pixels that show up as a random group of RGB pixels. Looks like snowflakes usually. Long exposure and high ISO settings are the usual culprits

Optical Viewfinder – That little device in which you squint like a pirate to take a picture. Some super compact digicams have eliminated this due to real estate.

Orientation Sensor - A sensor that can tell when you flipped the camera over to take a vertical image. It will then send the information to the display to show a correct orientation.

Panorama – Making one of those super wide pictures by combining several pics together. You’ll need software that supports this.

PictBridge - PictBridge is a standard for direct print from camera to printer. Newer Cameras and printers support this function.

Pin Cushioning - A geometric lens distortion causing the image to wrinkle in the middle toward the center, usually found at telephoto focal lengths.

Pixel - The individual imaging element of the sensor or display. I’m gonna assume you know about this, since this is a computer forum..

RAW - RAW files are unprocessed image data from the camera. These are huge and probably best left to SLRs with their high speeds and large buffers. You need special software to see it but you can manipulate just about everything from white balance to exposure. Essentially take the picture and process it later.

RGB - Red, Green and Blue, the primary colors. If you remembered your art lessons they can make all other colors.

Saturation – How much white light dilution on a color. Different settings show how vivid your image is.

Shutter Lag – How fast your camera takes the picture after you click the shutter. This is not instantaneous like on film cameras.

Shutter Priority - You choose the shutter speeds while the camera picks the aperture. Long shutter time lets more light in while short times allows less light. A long shutter time is good for the blurring effects while short shutter speed freezes the moment.

Slow Sync - A flash that opens the shutter for a longer than normal and engages the flash right before the shutter closes. This is useful for keeping the dark background while illuminated the subject in the front.

SLR (Single Lens Reflex camera) - These are your big pro camera with removable lens. I won’t go into detail about their technology considering this is a beginner’s guide.

TIFF - Tagged Image File Format - A file format that has no compression and produces no artifacts. Your scanner probably uses this image format too.

Vignetting - The darkening of the corners on the image. You’ll see this more often at full zoom.

White Balance – This is exclusive to digital cameras. It refers to adjusting the relative brightness of the RGB so that the brightest object in the image appears white

Essential Software:

ACDsee 6.0 – This is an image viewer package that offers the ability to fix/resize/crop/organize your photos. The main use for this is imaging viewing as it is fast and convenient. Its other functions are good for basic use, but not powerful enough for the purpose. They had a problem with program crashing due to some bad programming but this is now fixed with their latest update.

Adobe Photoshop – This is pretty much self explanatory. Probably the best consumer level software for editing photos. It’s in my opinion a must have.

Adobe PhotoAlbum – A program designed to organize your digital images. Will download your photos from your camera or card reader directly and organize them into folders. Very easy to use and makes things a heck of lot easier.

Jasc Paint Shop Pro – Another powerful program you can use modify your photos. This program is more gear toward creativity on your photos as oppose to fixing them. Lots of great fun to had in this one.

Sources of Information:

Camera Reviews & Information:
http://www.steves-digicams.com
http://www.dcresources.com
http://www.imaging-resource.com
http://www.megapixels.net

Great forums:
http://www.dpreview.com

Photography Techniques:
Coming soon

Magazines:
Coming soon

Books:
Coming soon

Where to Buy:
Canada:
http://www.cameracanada.com Massive online retailer with good price and shipping options. Usually cheaper than most other stores.
http://www.mcbaincamera.com A true professional camera shop. The guys at main locations are very very knowledgeable and can help you make a good choice. Their prices are a lil higher but they do have sales & sometimes refurbished cameras for cheap.
http://www.wolfcamera.com
http://www.ritzcamera.com These two websites are from the US but they are part of the border free shops and can bring in cameras without any duty fees.




I fully credit these sources for my most of my understanding on digital cameras and digital photography. Please do go to them for more in depth knowledge

Tips & Camera Picks:

Tips:
1. Don’t look at megapixels as the most important thing. Camera’s lens and software algorithms are much more important. A Fuji 2mp camera will beat a Vivitar 3mp camera 10 times out of 10.

2. Think about what you will do with camera. Travel a lot? A big zoom camera like Minolta Z2 may not be something you want to carry around. Need to do sports/ fast action? A faster camera with continuous AF or SLR may be your answer. Indoor low lighting is where you’ll need it most? That Sony T-1 may look nice, but it won’t give you the power you need.

3. Check around before you buy, lots of online retailers sell cameras for less than you would have to pay locally. As always check reseller ratings and reviews before buying. A deal seems to be good to be true probably is. Lots of resellers will sell you gray market cameras with no warranty and/or try to get you buy useless and overpriced accessories and warranty. If you don’t buy them they will claim “out of stock”

4. Handle the camera first. If the layout or size is uncomfortable in your hand it’s not going to be a happy relationship.

5. Learn about your camera. Go read up on internet, magazines, books, try different shots in different situations, take a photography course, you’ll be much better at taking photos, and enjoy your camera more by doing these things.

6. Checkout the shutter lag, power on until first shot time, cycle times, and accuracy of the zoom.

Camera Picks (based on personal opinion)

Personal Favorites:
Pentax Optio 555, Sony V-1, W-1, T-1, Fuji F710, Canon S-60, S-1, Minolta Z2, Nikon 3700, and Canon 20D for SLR.

Fast Action:
Sony V-1, Fuji F700/710

Long Zoom:
Konica Minolta Z2, Canon S1

Super compact:
Sony T-1, Casio Z-40, Nikon 3700

Movies:
Pentax Optio MX, Canon S1

SLR:
Canon 10D/20D.

Other stuff:

Well this is the end of the guide. I have left out more advanced topics such as motor drive lens, infrared photography, SLR tech, Photoshop techniques etc, as the intent of this guide is to help you get started, not to help you improve your photography skills. If you are asking those kinds of questions you should be looking at more advanced source of information anyways. If you have any suggestions/comments you can pm me and I will do the best I can to modify the guide. I will update the “coming soon” sections in the near future.

Please don’t ask me photography questions or “what camera should I buy.” There’s much better places to ask questions like this, such as the Sources of Information I’ve listed. People there are much more knowledgeable, and will be able to help you much better than I can. Thanks for reading.
 
Last edited:

Nero

Member
 
Joined
Jan 9, 2001
Location
Brooklyn!
What a post! An excellent info for those who need it. I've been using ACDsee for going on 5 years now, and I still find it so handy, even now with Photoshop's browser providing some stiff competition.
 

secretweapon

Member
 
Joined
Dec 6, 2003
Location
Pacific North West
Thanks for the comments Nero. I wrote this because there was way too many questions on basic digicam stuff. Actually started in May but didn't get back to it until yesterday :p And yeah ACDsee is sweet. I been using it since version 2.26.
 

Too Smart

Member
 
Joined
Feb 16, 2002
Thanks for the post, a lot of good info there. Maybe someone could sticky it? I'm in the market for a good digital camera. Right now I just got a cheap Vivitar Vivicam 3350 which is not even a 1 megapixel camera, it's just a VGA camera that's sold only at Walmart for $28 Cnd (that's like $18 US), I just bought it to see how I like digital cameras and I like them but now it's time for me to move on to something of a bit higher quality. Again thanks for the detailed information, it saved me from having to start a post.
 

mateo

Member
 
Joined
Dec 7, 2002
Great sticky, here are a few add-ons:

www.robgalbraith.com has the best CF/SD performance database I have seen, period.

www.fredmiranda.com has some very good and cheap Photoshop actions that deserve looking at. The forums there are the best, the equivalent of the OC Forums with a great focus on actual photography along with gear. Watch out though, don't be drawn into the black hole that is the "L bug" like me, you'll be on ramen noodles for life ;)

www.dpreview.com is the best place to find info for each individual camera, but don't touch the forums with a ten-foot pole. Sometimes known by others as d_ _ s_ _ _ review, but the individual reviews are the most detailed on the net. Fill in the blanks for yourself.

Lenses are referred to as "fast" or "slow". This refers to the maximum aperture of a lens/ the ability of a lens to let in light.

You really need a DSLR to cover sports. To cover them well, you also need good, fast telephotos, at least f/4 or less, preferably f/2.8 or less. This is another black hole for which your wallet will never forgive you.

If you're serious, Photoshop is worth every penny. Learn it, it may seem overwhelming but it is worth every penny, like I have said. The best books from a photography angle are the "Photoshop __ Artistry" by Barry Haynes and the one by Bruce Fraser, which I can't remember the title of. I don't like Scott Kelby's books, but that's just a personal preference. Also, your best results will come from tailored actions or plugins that use Photoshop filters to your best advantage.

Neat Image is a program that removes noise quite well. It can be a godsend, but use it sparingly or get plasticky skin tones. www.neatimage.com

Noise Ninja is supposedly better than Neat Image, although I don't have it so I don't know. Photoshop plugin for it is in late beta stage, from what I understand. www.picturecode.com

If you're going SLR...Nikon vs Canon. The Nikon D70 is a better entry-level camera, and Nikon has better wide-angle and consumer lenses. However, Nikon's big weakness is noise, which is Canon's biggest strength. Canon also has better telephotos, if you're ever looking in that direction. The new 20D has people comparing it to the $4500 1D MK II, and although its not really comparable, the point is that its a very very good performer, especially at its price point. The 10D is nice too, and now you can pick it up for around $1k or less used in good condition. Once you learn to massage its autofocus its an excellent camera, but the 20D is much much more responsive. The big part of SLRs is buying into the system, the cameras change and depreciate quick but the lenses don't. Also, one system might fit one set of needs while another might fit a completely different need. There is no one better one, just the one that works better for you.

Why does the 3 MP D30 absolutely pwn the 8 MP consumer digicams?

The D30 was Canon's first major DSLR. Aside from all the advantages you get from an SLR, like a better viewfinder, many more manual controls, a comprehensive lens system, and responsive shutter, the images from the D30 are better than those from consumer cameras, despite the megapixels. This is because of the size of the sensor; DSLR sensors are considerably larger than those of consumer digicams. This allows for much lower noise and better imaging characteristics in general. Megapixels count, but only in the right context.

www.bhphotovideo.com is the Newegg of photography. www.adorama.com is the Googlegear. I love B+H :)
 

Too Smart

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Joined
Feb 16, 2002
I was told when buying a digital camera to make sure it has optical zoom instead of digital zoom. What does this mean?
 

RP Racing

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Joined
Nov 3, 2002
Location
midwest
Too Smart said:
I was told when buying a digital camera to make sure it has optical zoom instead of digital zoom. What does this mean?


Optical zoom is like older 35mm SLR's and video cameras had only. Was no digitizing at all. The way I understand digital zoom is that the camera digitizes teh image to get a closer view of beyond what the lens can physically do. Quality in digital zoom sucks anyways.
 

Christoph

JAPH Senior
 
Joined
Oct 8, 2001
Location
Redmond, WA
Great stuff here. Thanks for the info and pointers to other sources of info. The links will be especially useful since this thread is the only one on the first page that mentions cameras. ;)
 

PixelMover

Member
 
Joined
Aug 2, 2001
Location
Moved to London!
The difference between optical and digital zoom is is that optical zoom works by moving lens elements to zoom in and out, like changing your lens form a telephoto to a wide-angle or vice versa. Digital zoom is not really zoom at all, it is basically enlarging a selection of the digital image (cropping) and showing you that part full-frame. I say they should call it what it is and name it 'digital cropping. If you did it in photoshop it would be called interpolation.(imagine having a 10x15 pic of granny in photoshop, at 300dpi. Now unfortunately it is a landscape with granny in it so her face is just 2x3cm. If you crop the image in such a way that granny looks much bigger and resize THAT image back to 10x15 at 300dpi, that would be the same as digital zoom. You are actually losing image information this way. This can be especially disappointing if you want to make large-ish prints alter as the lack in quality show up much more than it does on a pc-screen. If you have a choice, leave digital zoom alone and use optical.
 

RP Racing

Member
 
Joined
Nov 3, 2002
Location
midwest
secretweapon said:
Compact Flash is the old standard and is widely employed by Cannon/Nikkon. It is also the card of choice for prosumer/SLR cameras due to its larger storage of up to 12GB. Type I is a memory card with no moving parts while Type II is really just a small hard drive with ATA interface. Think IBM/Hitachi microdrives. The x is the speed rating and 1x = 150 KB/sec.

Slight clarification.

Type I CF cards are 3.3mm, type II are 5mm. Generally flash memory is Type I, but there are also Type II flash memory cards. Microdrives are exclusively Type II.
Type I can fit into type II slots, but not the other way around.