Understanding digital photography
Digital photography is a form of photography that uses an array of light-sensitive sensors to capture the image as opposed to an exposure on light sensitive film. The captured photo is then stored as a digital or electronic file ready for digital processing (color correction, sizing, and cropping), viewing or printing. Until the advent of this technology, photographs were made by exposing light sensitive photographic film that used time consuming chemical processing to develop the image. By contrast, digital images can be instantly displayed, printed, stored, manipulated, transmitted, and archived using digital and computer techniques, without chemical processing. Since the introduction of modern digital photography, the use of film is has become a thing of the past.
The quality of a digital image is a composite of various factors, many of which are similar to those of film cameras. Pixel count (typically listed in megapixels [MP] millions of pixels) is only one of the major factors. Digital camera manufacturers advertise this figure because consumers can use it to easily compare camera capabilities. It is not, however, the major factor in evaluating a digital camera for most applications. The processing system inside the camera that turns the raw data into a color-balanced and pleasing photograph is usually more critical. Read below “Not all megapixels are created equal.” Resolution in pixels is not the only measure of image quality. A larger sensor with the same number of pixels generally produces a better image than a smaller one. One of the most important differences is an improvement in image noise, formerly called “grain” in film. This is one of the advantages of digital SLR cameras, which have larger sensors than simpler cameras of the same resolution.
Not all megapixels are created equal
Every year, camera manufacturers bring out their latest models touting an ever increasing number of pixels. In theory, the greater the number of pixels, the higher resolution the image. While the number of megapixels (MP) is still somewhat important, it is vital to understand not all megapixels are created equal. In the early years of digital photography it was assumed by most that a 5 MP camera was superior to a 3 MP unit, but this is not the case. The size and price of a camera is, in great part, determined by the size of the digital sensor. Smaller sensors used in most point-and-shoot and cell phone cameras is about 1/15 the size of those used in the typical DSLR cameras. Cramming the same number of pixels into a smaller sensor means smaller pixels. The smaller pixels just can’t absorb the same amount of light (and photo data) as the larger pixels, so you end up with excessive noise (graininess) in your enlarged photographs, particularly when taken under low light conditions. This also translates into a poorer quality final image or photograph. Depending on the manufacturer, size and shape of megapixels are very different, and size matters. There is no way to compare two cameras solely based on the number of megapixels. As an example, Canon’s “EOS-1D” an older professional 4.2 MP camera has pixels 12 times larger than the pixels on Canon’s 4 MP “G2” consumer camera. This of course makes a big difference in image quality, that few if any camera store salesman will mention. To get great color and detail in each photograph, you need to capture as much light as possible from the scene. Each camera sensor can only hold a fixed amount of light and process that into digital data, so a larger sensor means a greater space to capture light; more light means more data; more data means you get a clearer photo that can be enlarged without losing much image quality.
Above: Small sample comparison of the many digital camera sensor sizes
Do it yourself digital photos, a big mistake
With the introduction of digital cameras came thousands of people who now considered themselves photographers. With each passing day more businesses are turning their efforts to unskilled employees or friends, for money saving do-it-yourself digital photos using a newly purchased camera. But instead of professional quality photographs they are soon previewing dozens of poorly framed, out-of-focus, and improperly exposed pictures. The results are frequently a major disappointment, a complete waste of time and resources. It can be a very expensive experiment in attempting to save money.
Here are some of the disadvantages of using a digital point-and-shoot or cell phone camera. These consumer cameras are great fun for informal events and even vacations. This is exactly what these cameras were designed and manufactured to do. However when you turn their uses towards business and professional needs they fall short.
- Poor lens quality, which will bring you inferior grade images. Professional lenses are far superior to those found on consumer cameras.
- The majority have fixed-focus lens designed to capture photos in most normal situations. When focus becomes critical these cameras fail to yield the sharp photograph you often need.
- No manual focus capabilities and unable to adjust their f-stop or shutter speeds. These important features often found only on professional cameras, are repeatedly the deciding factor in final results.
- Your digital exposure may also be incorrect as these cameras have a metering systems less sophisticated than a professional camera. Resulting in badly exposed photographs that are often times harder to correct and or fix after the shoot.
- The point-and-shoot camera’s tend to have excessive noise or grain due to the small camera sensor size. See sensor photos below.
- Unable to change lenses for different photographic situations. If your camera has a zoom capability, the optical quality of that lens is often very poor. If the camera has a digital or optical zoom feature, this can be even worse.
- Unable to use studio lighting as these cameras are not compatible with this equipment. In fact most of these cameras offer only the small on-camera flash posing more limitations and poor results.
Remember, the images you chose to show and market your company’s products or services is a reflection on the company itself. Poor quality photographs are not going to yield the same marketing results one would get from professional images. Make your business stand out in your field, and leave your completion far behind.
Lighting can make or break your results
The most important variable in today’s photography is proper lighting. Lighting can make or break an image and amateurs frequently lack the know-how and proper equipment to achieve the best quality results. The light issue becomes most important with an indoor or studio-type atmosphere. While a single or on-camera flash can sometimes help, it often yields poor and often harsh effects. Ask a professional photographer and they’ll tell you, good quality photographs are the result of proper lighting. Indoor, skilled use of the correct lighting equipment can make the difference between outstanding and unfavorable images. Professional lighting equipment can cost thousands of dollars. Knowing how to use these tools and create the best possible photographs takes talent and expertise derived from years of experience.
Camera lenses often an overlooked factor
A valuable note on do-it-yourself photos comes from the glass or camera lens. As noted above, consumer point-and-shoot and cell phone cameras are inexpensive and lack the high-end optics found on professional grade equipment. As a result there is a world of difference in the final image quality or output. Moreover, the professional lens offers adjustable f-stops not found on consumer cameras. If you want a high-quality image for your company or business, hire a pro who uses professional grade equipment and lenses.
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