Digital photography has surpassed film photography
in popularity in recent years, a fact
that has relegated some amateur and professional
film cameras to the unlikely task of becoming a
paperweight. In the art world, however, film cameras are
coveted. The lesson is simple: choose the tools that you
need to get the results you want.
Just a couple of years ago a professional would have
chosen from a vast array of film camera types—single lens
reflexes, twin lens reflexes, rangefinders, and view cameras
to name a few—when selecting the tools of his or her
trade. Now, with the advent of digital technology and digital
software, the serious photographer can, for the most
part, rely on a digital single-lens reflex camera, or D-SLR.
A D-SLR is an incredibly advanced and refined tool
that still offers the all-important ability, as in film version
cameras, to view your subject through the same lens that
records the image onto your sensor. This is achieved via
a mirror and a pentaprism so that what you see is what
you get (often referred to as WYSIWYG). It is hard to
imagine that every time you press the shutter to take a
picture, a mirror between the rear of the lens and the
image sensor flips out of the way, the camera shutter
opens, and the sensor is exposed for the required time.
Meanwhile, the camera’s microprocessor is writing the
multitude of information the image sensor has recorded
to the camera’s memory card. This is incredible in itself.
Now consider how incredible are the cameras used by
sport and press photographers, which manage this at
eight frames a second!
For all intents and purposes, there are two types of
D-SLR cameras. The first is a traditional-looking camera
roughly based on the 35mm film camera bodies that
preceded it. Photographers who would normally use
both medium- and large-format professional cameras are
discovering that in some instances the modern high-end
D-SLR provides superior image quality when compared
to the scan that was possible from their film. (The “format”
of a camera refers to the size of the negative of film
cameras and the size of the image sensor in digital cameras.
Large format refers to cameras with a 4 inch by 5
inch negative and larger, whereas medium refers to cameras
between 35mm and large format.) Previous users of
high-end film compacts and rangefinder cameras are also
gravitating toward the more advanced functionality and
image quality provided by the D-SLR. At the time of this
writing, manufacturers such as Leica and Epson are close
to producing a digital replacement for the rangefinder,
but high-end digital compacts and D-SLRs are currently
filling this void.
The second type of D-SLR is based on the mediumformat
SLR. Some models consist merely of a digital back
on a medium-format film system camera, whereas a few
manufacturers are producing large D-SLRs using the
largest CCDs. These cameras tend to be used for pictures
that require the highest image resolution, such as landscape
and still life.
Once you have your new camera, you should keep in
mind that the camera essentially houses a miniature computer.
Keep your camera software/firmware up to date.
The camera manufacturers continuously tune and finetune
the firmware that runs your camera. Updates can
be downloaded from the support section of the manufacturer’s
website and the instructions to install them into
your camera will be found in your instruction manual.
Copying the firmware file to a memory card normally
does this. Once the memory card is in your camera, use
the camera’s menu to upload the firmware to your camera.
As soon as you buy your camera, check to make sure
that you have the latest firmware.
Bear in mind that this is new technology that is continuously
evolving and improving. Just as it is with computers,
as soon as you buy a new model and are familiar with using
it, a newer one will be on the market.