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Nine Newbie Questions

The Transition from Film to Digital

Nine Newbie Questions

Nine Newbie Questions

I was recently asked to give "my best answers" to nine newbie questions for a new website for seniors. What with it being close to Christmas and all, how could I refuse? I decided to add them to my FAQs page so I hope you find them useful!

Q.1

Many people still use the old film cameras. You buy a film, take 24 or 36 photos, then you take it to the photo lab. This is where you get all your pictures (the good AND the bad) handed to you in an envelope. Assuming there is someone reading this who still uses film the old way. Tell us in a nutshell what you think they are missing by not "going digital". In particular, how much money (and possibly time) they may be unknowingly wasting.

A.

To me, the boom of digital photography has been a doubled-edged sword in many ways. On the one hand it has pushed the limit too far for many "old school" pro photographers. Those who were either too stubborn, unwilling or simply not able to grasp the technology and all that it involves. It's silly really as it isn't that difficult to get to grips with.

On the other hand, when I now think of how much money I frittered away on film, paper, time and chemicals in the 1980's and 1990's it makes me cringe. Having the ability to really play and tweak images during post-processing has brought so many photographers more acclaim than they had in the days of film.

Digital imaging can allow your creative juices to flow that much more and at a fraction of the cost. Above all it is fun! Plus on top of that, the ability to delete your unwanted files throughout a shoot means that you generally end up with more "keepers". Too many sometimes!

The "time-saving" point can be argued in that with film you simply:

  • Took the shots
  • Popped them in the post or down to the lab
  • And many times the job was done

Now I would say that half or more of my time is spent post processing my images. Not forgetting the digital albums, slideshows, photobooks and uploading to the web etc. So for me, the jury is still out on the old time issue! Once you get the hang of filing, uploading and managing your digital images, it's a breeze.

Lastly, there are many pros who still use medium or large format film for their high end clients and commercial work. Of which they can still upload and play around with in Photoshop. I have noticed that many people are actually reverting back to film for a taste of nostalgia. However, for speed and cost I would say digital is the way to go.

Q.2

When a digital photography "newbie" gets their first digital camera, they may soon realize that they miss actually having a printed photograph. Sure, emailing and sharing online all their pictures is great and easy. Scrap-bookers though, and those who love photo albums will immediately want to know the best way to print their photos stored on their camera. In your expert opinion, what do you think is the best way to get photos off the digital camera and into someone's hands?

  • Printing them at home, in-store services like at drug stores and Wal-mart
  • Online companies where you upload your photos to their site and receive the printed photos in the mail?

A.

This is a point I think about quite a bit. When we left our house in Spain I think I personally only had one enlarged print on the wall. I also had over 70,000 images on various hard drives. My wife on the other hand, had hundreds of prints pinned to the fridge and all around the kitchen that she had taken with a digital point and shoot.

It is important to continue to print your images. When you actually bother to do so, they can look so much better "in the flesh" as opposed to on screen. Here are my thoughts…

Like my wife and most people new to digital, if you shoot JPEGs and you generally don't load them and process them using PC or MAC software, just take the card (straight from the camera) to a local store or printers and use the machines. I used a high street lab in Spain and was amazed at the quality.

JPEGS

If you shoot JPEGS and like to tweak them on your computer you can still load them back to the card. Or even to a CD/DVD and take them to the lab. If you like more professional prints or pro sizes etc, online stores are quite reasonable with a good turn around. I also find that the wait for the prints in the post is quite exciting like in the days of film.

I had a professional A3 printer in my office in Spain. At first I "burned" so much paper testing screen calibrations, printing techniques and generally for fun. I was actually spending more money on paper and ink than in the film days. Although I did make some beautiful enlargements on it for clients and I loved the way they looked. Of course, they were in my hands instantly too. However, I still don't think you can beat a well printed image from a professional lab.

Lastly, I would recommend getting a cheap, basic photo printer at home that fires out 6" x 4" or 7" x 5" prints on quality paper. The costs involved for me to drive (petrol and time) for a single print from a high street lab just isn't worth it. If you just want one or two prints it is extremely handy and cost effective. Again, for larger amounts of prints it is better to use high street labs.

Generally I would say to start with, use the high street labs mostly. However, also invest in a half decent photo printer for your home.

Q.3

What is the biggest challenge or barrier (mentally) most people face when deciding to go digital?

A.

I think in general, people think it is too difficult to go digital without actually trying. It is learning how to get the images from the camera or card and on to the PC and filing them away that stumps many people.

For the professional who shoots RAW in digital it is the fact that they now have to process the images themselves. This includes white balance, colour saturation, sharpening, cropping etc. Whereas the nice people at the labs did all this for them in the past. I have known a professional who shot film for more than 20 years give it all up because the challenge was too much.

In reality, for the beginner it can be quite easy. Open two files on your PC. One with the images on the card, the other an empty folder where you want to put them on your computer. Select all the images from the card and drag them into the "pre-named" folder…simple. Then most PC's have built in viewing software so you can view them straight away.

One big problem for most people is resizing or downsizing the images for emailing. I have received many huge files that clog up my servers because of this. Please learn to reduce file sizes as a priority if you intend to email them to anyone.

Q.4

What do you suppose is the biggest learning challenge most new digital photographers face or will face when they go digital?

A.

In a word…Photoshop. Most people somehow get hold of a copy because they think they need it…you don't. As a beginner, Photoshop has a massive learning curve and is altogether unnecessary for most people.

If you want to have a play with your images, start with a freebie program like Picassa from Google. Or even a cheapie like Photoshop Elements. You can do tons with these and they all have tutorials built in.

Also, learn to delete unwanted files. You will take so many more than before, you will end up with a ton of cr*p clogging up your valuable hard drive space. DELETE SOME!

Q.5

At the risk of sounding like you are promoting or plugging a particular brand or manufacture, can you name 3 or 4 digital cameras under $200 that are great cameras for those new to digital photography?

A.

With that sort of budget I heartily recommend going for a well known brand like Canon, Nikon or Olympus. Buy too cheap and you end up buying again sooner rather than later. This means you more than double your initial budget.

Try the Nikon Coolpix range…

Good resolution and a decent zoom should be a good start.

For slightly more, the Canon PowerShot range is better in my opinion…

Sturdy, sleek with great images.

However, for just $40 over the $200 budget, you can get a whole lot more camera like the Canon Powershot SX range.

Spending a little more will make a huge difference to the quality and creativity of your camera and photography. Magic for the price!

Q.6

So someone gets a new digital camera, they've taken great shots and have even learned how to pull those photos off the camera and onto their computer. Aside from any software that may come with the camera, what software would you recommend. You know, new folks look into getting for simple edits like cropping, red-eye elimination, etc? (The free-er the better. But the easier to use, the best).

A.

As I mentioned earlier, Picasa from Google is free. Also, Adobe Photoshop Elements (older releases) are very cheap and a great way to start. However, if your readers sign up to my newsletter at ATP (below…plug plug), they get access to my back issues.

No spam, just imaging related news, reviews and tips.

In the September 2007 issue I give details of another piece of free editing and viewing software. One that is a breeze to use and is packed with great features!

Q.7

As we all know, digital cameras are sold in a variety of "Mega pixels". 5.0 Mega pixels. 6.0 Mega pixels. Even up to 10 Mega pixels. Many folks new to digital photography don't have a clue what a Mega pixel even is. Without going into the technical aspect of what a mega pixel is, tell the readers how many mega pixels they should look for in a camera. If they just want a camera for emailing photos or posting them to the web, printing out standard 4×6 photos, and for printing out larger prints like 8×10. All budgets aside, wouldn't it just be better to get as many mega pixels as you can afford?

A.

Ahh, the megapixel myth…more is better. Not so. I used a 6 megapixel camera years ago and some prints were made for huge billboards and they looked great. I even had a 4 megapixel image taken with a point and shoot used for an A3 window display.

The problem when you pack more megapixels into smaller sensors is that the quality can suffer badly. The actual size of the sensor is more important than the megapixels.

In general, for a point and shoot and to obtain the criteria you mentioned above, a 4 megapixel to 8 megapixel camera would do just fine. Up to 10 x 8 or even bigger for the beginner. I could take a shot from a 6mp point and shoot and a 12mp DSLR and print them both to 10" x 8". Most people wouldn't know the difference.

If you can afford more megapixels in a newer camera it may be worth spending more. Simply because the technology could be better with regard to other factors such as the lens quality, zoom reach and image quality.

Q.8

You can always tell who has a new digital camera based on the emails they send you. Usually, the photograph is enormous and takes the email forever to come through. I have told my readers about the Microsoft Image resizer that can make large pictures very small at the click of a mouse button. Do you have any other image resizing tools that you recommend? What about for cropping?

A.

Again, the free software on my newsletter above has all this. As does Picasa and Photoshop Elements. In fact most software nowadays has these abilities as they are the most widely used. My resizing is done in either Photoshop (save for web function) or in ACDSee Pro which is a great piece of software also. Simply load the image into any software, find the resize button and make the longest edge of the image around 600-800 pixels. That should do fine for email/web use.

Q.9

I always tell new users of digital cameras that emailing photos is so 2006 (old school). Nowadays, people just upload photos to a private photo sharing site like Kodak Gallery, and send links to those photos to family and friends. Do you recommend any other sites used for photo sharing that would be easy for first time digital photo sharers?

A.

There are so many now it would be hard to pick just one. I guess the most obvious is Facebook as it is easy to use. It's free and you can upload videos too. Others include…

Just tell your readers to beware of image theft. Either upload small images or watermark them for security: Add a Watermark to Your Images

I recently had a bride from a wedding I shot have one of my images stolen from her Facebook page and sent in to The Sun newspaper. They had hired Girls Aloud for their entertainment which was obviously newsworthy. Just be careful.

I'd like to have 10 questions, but can't come up with a 10th one at this time. Nine newbie questions will have to do : )

Thanks for your time my friend!

Jamison

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