Monday, September 11, 2006

Digital Cameras

This article is a draft of an article that may be submitted ot Old Mill News.

While most of the articles in Old Mill News deal with old mills or pieces of equipment and how they function. This article will deal with a side of mills that many of us do which is the photograph of the mill structure and equipment. Many of us began our photographing of old mills using a 35mm SLR (single lens reflex) camera, others have used a more simple point and shoot camera including disposable cameras. With the digital camera coming of age many of us have either purchased or considering the purchase of a camera and understanding the specifications can be confusing. I have also discovered many who made purchases of digital cameras have not been pleased with the results. In this article I will try to explain the specifications of digital cameras and try to help you understand the many choices that you must make in deciding on the proper camera.

First you must have a clear understanding what you want to do with the camera; this is before looking at stores or ads. Without this understanding it is very likely that you might purchase the wrong camera. Some of the questions that need to be answered are:

--What will you do with the pictures you take?
--Are you going to print the pictures?
--View them on a computer screen?
--If you plan to print your pictures than you must decide what size is the maximum size you believe that you will print pictures to be.

If you will display your pictures on a computer screen than a low end camera will meet your needs most likely. If you will be printing your pictures no larger than 4 inches by 5 inches than again the expense of the camera can be minimized; but if you plan to print pictures 8 inches by 10 inches, 8.5 inches by 11 inches, 11 inches by 17 inches or bigger than the expenses will greatly increase. Also if most of your pictures will be of the outside of mills the expense is much less than if you plan on taking lots of interior pictures. The size the image can be enlarged to is based upon two major factors; the number pixels (picture elements) contained within the image and the quality of the lens.

If the purpose of the camera for mill photograph is to take outdoor pictures that will be displayed on a computer screen, the camera should have between 3.1 and 5 megapixels (a megapixel is the number of dots in the image, mega meaning a million), a moderate zoom lens of 3x to 5x optical zoom (never look at the digital zoom when purchasing or using a camera, most cameras that have digital zoom can be turned off and I would highly recommend doing this). This type of camera will also work fine for printing pictures no larger than 4 x 5 inches. These cameras can usually be purchased for less than $200, there are lots of brands to choose from but these are the major features, except the type of media (memory) that the camera uses. There are lots of different formats, Compact Flash (CF), Secure Digital (SD), Memory Stick (two formats, only in Sony Cameras), and many others but these are the three types I recommend, because they are easy to find in discount stores for purchase. Think of the memory chips as different brands of film. Your camera you should also have a USB II connector for connection to your computer. Rechargeable batteries are nice but not a luxury that you must have and in some ways they can be more of a problem on the lower end cameras, because you can always carry a second set of disposable batteries, but you might not have another set of rechargeable batteries and in some cameras the rechargeable batteries cannot be removed. If you plan on taking lots of indoor pictures of mills than I would suggest a higher end camera even if you still are going to display them on your computer. You should use an external flash instead of the built in flash for two reasons, the flash is a real energy drain on your camera batteries and they are usually not bright enough to illuminate the interior of the mill, I would suggest the middle end camera that will be discussed next if interior pictures are you interests. If your camera has a view finder use it instead of the display as this will extend the life of your batteries and the number of pictures you can take, always have your camera set on the highest quality settings as you can always make images smaller, but never improve the quality of the picture.

For those who plan on printing larger pictures, better lenses are needed on the camera and also in general more megapixels. These cameras are very easy to spot in the stores because the lenses on the camera are usually much larger. When you look through the viewfinder you usually are looking through the lens. Yet the lenses are not removable. The megapixel range will vary from 5 to 10 on these cameras. The optical zoom is usually greater than on the previous class of cameras. The expenses of these cameras usually range between $300 and $1000. The media formats are the same as what was discussed earlier. On most of these cameras you can control the shutter speed and the size of the aperture (the opening of the lens), therefore you can experiment with depth of field (the smaller the aperture the more of the image is in focus). This also gives you the ability to stop moving objects like the waterwheel or water falling from the mill dam. These cameras usually have a hot shoe to place an external flash on the camera that will be controlled by the camera, make sure the flash that you purchase separately is compatible with the camera. An 8 megapixel camera is excellent for making a picture as large as 13 x 19 inches.

The final class of cameras are the SLR cameras, the lens will be removable on these cameras and most are manufactured by the traditional camera manufactures (Note Sony has purchased Minolta and they are bringing out a new line of cameras under the Sony name, but they are related to the Minolta cameras). These cameras start at around $500 and upwards of several thousands of dollars. The lenses can be equally expensive. They usually have between 6 and 12 megapixels (cameras for this holiday season have yet to arrive and they may be even greater). One of the features is the ability to take pictures very rapidly, such as 3 to 6 pictures per second. The clarity of the images is better due to the better optics of the cameras, making better enlargements.

There are many ways to get your pictures printed many companies now allow you to upload your pictures via of the internet. Most local stories that print pictures also have computers that can read your memory chip or attach via your USB cable. Note: not all USB cables work on all cameras therefore always keep your cable with your camera. Printing pictures at home is a nice convenience but in general costs many times more than taking it to the store, this includes the small photo printers and the larger computer inkjet printers. Yet the prints that can come from modest price inkjet printers using photographic quality glossy paper can be better than what can be printed at a camera store. I can print pictures in the thousands of dots per inch, but the local camera story prints only up to 300 dots per inch. If you wish to display your pictures online, there are many free or very inexpensive services that will allow for your pictures to be displayed, you need to carefully research the maximum size of the upload picture. I have placed many of my pictures on and they have a group for historical mills. This service gives you a limited amount of upload space free per month or at a modest cost a very large amount of upload space each month.

Film cameras and digital cameras have now reached a point of equality, as long you stay within the specifications of the camera, a cheap film camera would not have made a very good 8 x 10 and neither does a cheap digital camera. Effective use of your digital cameras and video cameras are another whole topic beyond the scope of this article and will be discussed in a future article. I now take nearly all of my pictures digitally.

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