Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : January 2006

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Digital Camera Basics
By John Anderson

My digital camera used to be my spare camera. I always relied on my faithful film camera for all the important shots. Sure, I loved the idea of not having to pay for processing or waiting a week for prints, but digital cameras never seemed to measure up, at least the digital cameras I could afford. The resolution was okay but not great; most shots were blurry, the delay time between shots was frustrating and the batteries would last only a couple of hours. I gave up on digital for quite a while until two things happened. My daughter turned two, and my wife's birthday was right around the corner. It was time to reacquaint myself with digital camera lingo. I was skeptical when I started, but what I found when I started comparing cameras surprised me. But first some basics…

Digital images are composed from thousands to millions of tiny squares called picture elements, or pixels for short. Each square is a single color and when viewed all together allows for images to appear smooth when viewed at original size. Consequently, the more pixels the better.

Basically, the term megapixel means one million pixels, and it represents the maximum number of pixels found in an image created by a digital camera. It is generally the criteria used to classify cameras. More megapixels mean larger images, both in physical size and in file size. While this is generally an important feature, it is not the only item to examine when choosing a camera.

Here is a little math: the megapixel count is achieved by multiplying the number of one horizontal line of pixels by the number of pixels in one vertical line. A camera with a maximum resolution of 1,600 by 1,200 pixels is a 1.92 megapixel (1,920,000-pixel) camera.

Image Sensors
Digital cameras use a sensor to capture the image before putting it on a flash memory card for storage. There are two types of sensors, and both are between 20 and 40 millimeters squared. The CMOS (Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) sensors are usually found in cheaper cameras and offer lower image quality while the CCD (Charged Couple Device) can be found in more expensive cameras.

Optical and Digital Zoom
Optical zoom, digital zoom, what's the difference? Optical zoom is just like a film camera. The lens moves in or out to change the magnification. Digital zoom is a little different; it uses circuitry to enlarge a portion of the standard sized image. Digital zoom image quality is never as good as optical zoom and usually results in a fuzzy, less-crisp image.

Ah, the memory card – this is your film. And just like camera film, this too has different sizes and speeds. Cards can come in a variety of sizes from eight-megabyte to one-gigabyte or larger. I personally try to stick to the 512 MB and the one-gig range; any smaller and you fill your card too quickly, while locating specific shots on the larger cards can be like find a needle in a haystack. The speed of the card will allow you to record quickly and be ready for the next picture as soon as possible.

Aspect Ratio
The aspect ratio is the shape of a digital image. The first number represents the width of the image and the second number represents the height. Televisions have traditionally had an aspect ratio of 4:3. The new wide-screen TVs weigh in at about 16:9. Standard film cameras have an aspect ratio of 3:2, but most digital cameras have adopted a 4:3 aspect ratio so that images better fit on a standard computer monitor.

Downloading and Printing
The pictures taken by a digital camera have to be extracted by some means in order to get them onto a computer or printer. If you are lucky enough to have a camera that utilizes Bluetooth technology you won't need any cables at all; the images can be transmitted to your PC wirelessly. The most common connection is the USB cable, and if you have USB 2.0 support it is up to 40 times faster.

When my daughter's Grandma heard we were getting a digital camera she bought a wireless photo printer with card readers. Now every time we tell her we have some great shots of our favorite model she reminds us that we can come over (with our little angel) and print our pictures (two sets of course).

The most quick and convenient way to retrieve your photos is probably a flash memory card reader. You simply remove the memory from the slot on the camera and pop it into the appropriate slot on the reader, and then the computer system can access the card like a local disk drive. And if you want prints from the store, just take along your memory card. Pop it into the kiosk at your favorite photo store, pick your pics and come back for them when they are finished.

The End Rave Result
By the time I finished my shopping I found a digital camera that I prefer using more than my film camera. It is fast and simple, the images are sharp and it has many different shooting modes that allow me take pictures in any situation. But if you think this will save you money on film processing, consider this: Film cameras have 24 or 36 exposures per roll, forcing you to choose your shots carefully. If you have a good-sized memory card in your camera you can take more shots. And you can also instantly review and delete bad shots, resulting in a memory card full of great shots. It will be difficult to choose which ones to print.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: January 2006

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