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Welcome to the digital camera world! (Posted On: Thursday, February 02, 2006)

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“I received a digital camera for Christmas and am not sure how to use it”. This is the feeling of many people who recently received a new digital camera for Christmas. It seems the jargon used in digital photography is foreign to many so let’s see if we can clarify some of it for you and get you well on your way to taking great digital photos. Let me start with what I like to call “Digitalk”.

Pixels - short for picture elements. Images are divided into pixels (square sections). Generally speaking, the more pixels in an image the better the quality of the photo when printing. Each pixel represents a dot of color in the finished picture.

Megapixel - Some digital camera’s are described as “Megapixel” which means their images contain at least one million pixels, a higher resolution. For example a 5 mega pixel camera would contain 5 million pixels of information per picture when camera is set at the highest resolution.

CCD- Charged Coupled Device. Microscopic photocells which measure light via camera shutter. The CCD is kind of like film, but instead of slivers of silver halide, the CCD is made of pixels which register a voltage based on the intensity of the light striking it. It is also the heart and soul of a digital camera.

DPOF- Digital print order format- Process that allows you to mark photos within your camera for printing. Standard adopted by the industry so those components of different makes can work with each Sony camera with a Kodak flash card printing on an Olympus printer..

Resolution- The amount of information, or overall sharpness in a computer image. It is measured in pixels, and higher numbers are better, since the higher the resolution, the more pixels that are being packed into the same physical dimensions.

Making sense of resolution
With all those pixels in my camera, how do I know how much I am capturing? To make sense of capture resolution, think about the area of a rectangle. The area is the length multiplied by the width. In the case of a digital camera sensor, the number of horizontal pixels times the number of vertical pixels is the capture resolution. Let’s use a 3.1 megapixel camera as an example. The number of horizontal pixels is 2,160. The number of vertical pixels is 1,440. When the two numbers are multiplied, the result is 3,110,400 pixels or 3.1 megapixels. If you know the size of print you want, you can use the table below as a guide to the capture resolution you need.

Maximum Print SizeCapture Resolution Needed
5 x 7 inches (15 x 20 cm)1 megapixel
8 x 10 inches (20 x 25 cm)2 megapixels
11 x 14 inches (28 x 36 cm)3 megapixels
20 x 30 inches (50 x 75 cm)4 megapixels

I always encourage students I teach to shoot at the highest or second highest resolution setting as it allows more flexibility afterwards. For example, if you shoot a scene at low resolution and you want to print that picture you will be very limited to how large you can print it, often not much bigger than a wallet size. When you shoot at a higher resolution the file size is too large to send via email. The difference is that you can always downsize a higher resolution file size to work for email but you can’t upsize a low resolution image to improve printability. Higher resolution photos take up more memory on both your computer and your storage media/flashcard but I feel it is worth the space. How do you know the setting you are shooting in? Often, it is referred to as good/better/best settings on your camera with “best” of course creating the larger file sizes.

File size - Refers to number of megabytes of memory required to save image to a computer. High-resolution photos create larger files in computer memory.

Optical zoom- uses higher magnification glass optics to enlarge the focal length and consequently enlarge the subject, just as you’d find in a conventional 35mm camera. Optical zoom specifications are far more important than digital zoom.

Digital zoom- Instead of changing the focal length a digital zoom uses part of the CCD to capture a segment of the total image and enlarge it as if with a magnifying glass. The disadvantage of digital zoom is obvious; it sacrifices the resolution of the image in order to zoom in on part of the scene. Digitally zoomed images are noticeably lower in resolution than ordinary images-even to the naked eye and thus you should try and avoid them. Best of all is to……“zoom with your feet!”

Picture taking modes

Digital cameras offer a variety of picture-taking modes, including auto, portrait, landscape, sports and action, and night (low light). The selection modes usually appear on a dial somewhere on your digital camera. Check your digital camera or your user's manual to determine what picture-taking modes are available.

Using auto mode A good choice for general picture-taking is auto mode. When you use this setting, your digital camera automatically sets the exposure, the focus, and the flash. With auto mode, you may override the flash's automatic options and choose to turn the flash off, use fill flash, or red eye reduction.

Using landscape mode With landscape mode you can capture subjects that are a great distance away from you, such as mountains, city skylines, and expansive vistas. Sometimes a slow shutter speed is chosen automatically in landscape mode, so you should use a steady support, such as a tripod. Camera shake will blur your final image.

Using portrait mode Using the portrait mode sharpens your subject and renders objects behind your subject out of focus. Portrait mode works fine with single subjects such as a person, a pet, or a favorite flower. Be sure to turn your camera vertically and move in close to your subject. Experiment with how blurred the background will be using the telephoto portion of the camera.

Using sports/action mode
Capture subjects that are on the move such as cars, athletes, and children, with this mode. Try panning when using this mode. Preset the exposure and focus by pressing the shutter button half-way down. When you're ready to take the picture, press the shutter button all the way down.

Using night mode
Use this mode to capture night scenes or low light conditions. The flash will illuminate subjects that are close to the camera. A longer exposure will capture details in the background. It is a good idea to use a camera support such as a tripod or a flat surface.

As a final thought, the main problem I hear about from students I teach has to do with flash settings. Check your manual to differentiate between settings but generally speaking setting your camera on auto flash works best. One exception to this is when you are outside in brighter light be sure to set your camera on “fill flash”. Most people think that if it’s bright outside then you don’t need a flash but this is often the reason people’s faces or objects are too dark. Fill flash will rectify this problem but be sure to return setting to “auto” when finished as another problem can occur. When using a fill flash indoors in low light the results are usually blurry pictures as fill flash does not offer enough light. A good rule of thumb is to try shooting on auto but if flash does not trigger then set to fill flash and shoot again. You can delete all the bad photos later or on the spot so keep snapping and experimenting with settings until you get the result you want. Unlike film shooting it doesn’t cost you until you print so get out there and shoot away. Joining a local camera club or taking digital photography courses are highly recommended to improve your ability.

Shane MacLaughlan- President- MasterPix Photography.

25 Second Street,
Collingwood ON
L9Y 1E4
Tel: 705-444-0657


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