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Photography's Dependence on Equipment

cameras camera image images

MICHAEL R. PERES AND GREG BARNETT
Rochester Institute of Technology

Taking pictures, whether at a basic or professional level, requires the use of equipment. In this era of technological transformation, taking pictures also requires the upgrading of equipment at frequent intervals. From the moment that there is a need for photography to be undertaken and concluding with the final image delivery, various pieces of equipment are required in each step of the photographic process. The word “equipment” is often used to describe a single entity, rather than taking into account the many individual types of equipment required at various stages in the picture-making process. A number of essays in this encyclopedia explore various photographic tools in all the eras such as cameras, lenses, light, and imaging software. However, in each essay the tool is considered separately rather than as part of a continuum of linked and related pieces. Cameras, for example, can make exposures, which do not result in usable photographic images. In each step in this process, influences occur that affect how the final image will be formed and how it may appear.

For photography to work, a chain of linked events must be completed in order, producing an image that communicates to the intended audience. The process may include both mechanical and electronic imaging tools as well as the physiological process of seeing an image or images and then interpreting what is seen. This process from start to finish is often referred to as the “chain image.” Various locations exist in this sequence of events and most locations require equipment. The determination of what subject or scene should be photographed, evaluating the illumination requirements, measuring the light found in that environment—these steps and more, whether accomplished in a controlled or automatic way, must take place. The image-capturing phase requires a camera (or device that operates like a camera) that uses a functional lens with features such as an aperture. In each phase the equipment may influence the image’s characteristics, such as its contrast, sharpness, and color. At each place in the chain, the decisions that are made influence the photographic result. These influences are often a function of the tools that are selected and used.

Subject/situation/scene + light/energy spectrum + reflection/ transmission + camera + lens + image formation system + exposure + CCD characteristics + record system + storage system + file transferring + file saving + image processing influence + file saving + image system reading and display + image system archive I

Society plays a role in determining what photographic tools people may purchase and subsequently use. Improvements and breakthroughs in mechanics, optics, chemistry, and now electronics all have contributed to the rapid growth of photographic equipment and the processes of sharing images electronically. The most recent developments in technology have brought photography to highly sophisticated levels. In the world of digital technology, many people originally felt that equipment had become so advanced that it had a negative impact on the photographer’s creativity, but one only has to watch teenagers with cell phone cameras and Apple Photo-Booth® software, for example, to know that this could not be further from the truth. A camera—or any image-making equipment—must be operated by a user. Users may or may not be trained photographers. The features found in many cameras now allow photography to be undertaken in almost any difficult lighting situation and produce acceptable results by untrained photographers. In the recent past, a film’s color response was a major factor in the color quality, but now an image’s white balance can be optimized in almost any environment.

Photographic equipment can be broken down into major groups: cameras, lenses, accessories, camera supports, lighting-and studio-related equipment, computers, scanners, imaging software, and equipment for printing. Within each of these groups there may be further subdivisions.

Camera equipment can include the various types and formats of cameras, and lenses, including digital capture technologies. Camera supports refer to tripods, tripod heads, monopods, studio stands, dollies, and motion-compensation devices. Lighting equipment includes tungsten and studio lights, electronic flash for location and studio, reflectors and diffusers, and stands and booms. Darkroom and processing equipment, although rapidly vanishing, includes a wide array of items: sinks, processing tanks, thermometers, enlargers, safelights, driers, contact printers, and machine processors. Electronic imaging equipment, which is still a new and fluid category, represents the new technologies of photography, including computers, media, scanners, printers, software, and optical storage systems. The definitions of many of these devices are not so simple anymore.

Most people immediately think of a camera when the word “equipment” is used to describe photography. The earliest cameras were simple boxes with a simple lens; however, materials were not available at that time to record the visible images they produced. Development of light-sensitive plates in the mid-1800s led to the creation of what we would call a true photographic camera. Improvements in lens manufacturing and timing mechanisms for shutters provided early photographers with more control for recording images as camera technology advanced (see History cameras). With the advent of roll film, photography became available to the masses and multi-exposure cameras were available to anyone who could afford them. Improvements in film eventually created a demand for different sizes and formats. Over the years, many formats have come and gone. Those that have disappeared include the 110 mm, 126 mm, 626 mm, and disc formats. The era of the 35 mm film emulsion, the format most widely used, is clearly in the twilight of its usage. Medium and large formats, which were used extensively by professionals and advanced amateurphotographers, are still available, but digital photography continues to drive these markets as well. Medium-format cameras recently included 6 × 4.5, 6 × 6, 6 × 7, 6 × 9, 6 × 12, and 6 × 17cm. Some of these may be discontinued by the time of this book’s printing. The film size used in medium-format cameras was referred to as 120 or 220, depending on the length of the roll and the number of exposures. Large-format cameras use individual sheets of film or can easily accommodate direct digital backs. The film sizes most commonly used are 4 × 5, 5 × 7, 8 × 10, and 11 × 14, but as companies that make emulsions discontinue their product lines, brands and sizes are becoming more limited. Many large-format camera manufacturers are producing or distributing digital image capture components for their camera systems.

Recent advances in the design and consumption of digital cameras has been dramatic, to say the least. Photographers can choose from a wide selection of cameras in this era of manufacturing of new cameras, which has seen the release cycle change from a two-year period to fewer than three months. 2004 saw the first 6M DSLR camera priced under $1000, while a 10M camera for less than $1000 was offered in the summer of 2006. These cameras also allow for adding of data such as audio recordings or other important information to the image file. Practical features, such as wireless file sharing, that seemed so distant just a few years ago are now common. Shutters for these cameras and their film counterparts are available with either mechanical or electronically controlled timing. Modern optical engineering has produced lenses with a resolving power that sometimes exceeds what can normally be observed by the human eye. Combined with advanced multi-coating and low-dispersion glass, today’s lenses offer outstanding performance. Certain lenses have been designed and manufactured specifically for digital technology to assure a direct path to the pixel.

Today’s exposure meters, whether built-in to a camera or external, offer a high degree of accuracy and a number of exciting features. In the earliest times of photography’s history, many failed attempts at determining exposures often led to poor image quality. Today, technology provides features that would astound early photographers. A typical professional meter will be able to measure incident, reflected, spot, flash, or combination readings almost concurrently. Meters talk to cameras and computers simultaneously. Many meters can store multiple readings, which allows averaging or zone system calculations as they are entered. Cameras with built-in meters offer the ability to take many readings, allowing the photographer to choose lens and shutter settings, which in turn leads to the automatic exposure control in challenging situations. Many of these in-camera meters also have selectable metering patterns. Within these camera advances, there are also built-in electronic flash capabilities that are also synchronized with the meter. Through-the-lens (TTL) metering, found in the latest camera technology on the market, is extremely accurate and produces image and exposure control that experienced photographers are always impressed by.

Good photography often requires the use of camera support equipment to create quality images, regardless of the type and format of camera. View cameras and other large-format cameras require some kind of support system because these cameras are heavy and cannot be characterized as hand-held. The basic goal of tripods has not changed much since their invention; however, lighter metal alloys and more ergonomic features characterize modern tripods. Most manufacturers carry various types and sizes of tripods that offer a choice of panning and tilting heads. These options allow the working photographer to use one base assembly with several different heads. Monopods are a lighter-weight alternative to tripods when stand-alone stability is not required. The type of photographic work undertaken will of course influence the type of materials, weight, features, and, ultimately, cost of such a piece of equipment.

The studio photographer needs a more substantial support system. Studio tripods are designed to meet this need. Typically, these stands have a heavy base, complete with retractable wheels and a counter-balanced arm that can be adjusted with a minimum effort. Studio stands are capable of supporting heavy, large-format cameras without vibration or the possibility of tipping over. Camera dollies are mobile shooting platforms. They are primarily used for professional motion-picture and video camera requirements. For situations in which the camera is subjected to constant motion, such as aerial photography, gyro-stabilized mounts are available. Many of these devices use mounted gyroscopes coupled with stabilizing lenses to absorb vibration and sudden movements.

Photography often requires the use of artificial light. The earliest form of artificial light was created using flash powder. This explosive, gunpowder-like mixture was set off with a small triggering explosion just as the shutter was opened. While it did provide a burst of enough light to make an exposure, using too much often resulted in un-staged fires. In today’s world, a wide array of tungsten and electronic flash equipment is available. Studio lights have remained fundamentally unchanged for many years. Mini-spotlights, focusable spots, spots with fresnel lenses, and diffused lights are all still widely used today. Small but powerful quartz lights are popular with photographers who specialize in location and architectural interiors. Diffusers or reflector panels are used to soften the hard light produced by these units. HMI lights and other new technologies have resulted in many interesting new products, including LED lights, which are finding applications in science. (See Lighting—Material & Process Essentials.)

Electronic flash has become the mainstay of many photographers. On-camera flash units are also widely used by photojournalists, wedding photographers, and amateur photographers. Most of the popular point-and-shoot cameras produced today are equipped with built-in flash units. In fact, the single-use camera, which became one of the most common cameras used in the 1990s, has a model with this feature built in. Some of the main advantages to using electronic flash over tungsten lights is the ability to stop action. Studio flash units offer a flexible output of light with a high degree of control and portability never before seen. Many systems allow for individual flash heads to be rationed at the power pack. Infrared remote control units and triggering are some of the features offered by sophisticated studio flash systems and are operable from the automobile electrical system with a proper adapter.

Many accessories are available for lighting equipment, including various types of stands, boom arms, clamps, diffusers, reflectors, and umbrellas. Some of these items bear unusual names such as cookie cutters, salad bowls, honeycombs, light panels, and gobos. They are all designed to aid in the placement of—or control over—lighting. Collapsible reflector panels made of fabric have become popular because of their light weight and portability. Plastic tubing, fiberglass wands, or spring steel bands are used in the reflectors for support. They are available in a variety of reflective surfaces and colors.

Darkroom and processing equipment has evolved significantly from the early days of developing daguerreotype plates over mercury vapors. Today’s increased concern about handling dangerous chemicals has led directly to these improvements. Professional labs and home-darkroom enthusiasts alike have a wide array of equipment to choose from. In the 1990s, however, decreasing profitability for darkroom equipment manufacturing and sales has forced big changes in this industry. Most large-scale labs that processed film have switched over to small-automated machine processing. While smaller custom labs and home darkrooms still use many of the traditional tools, finding these labs and related chemicals is becoming difficult in some communities. Mail-order labs still can be located via the Internet, but the next decade will certainly see fewer of these vendors and their services. Most darkroom enlargers are collecting dust and only the true practicing artist seems determined to still use darkroom facilities. EBay has become the world’s best resource for selling and buying darkroom equipment.

Electronic-imaging equipment is photography’s modern technology. The initial debate as to whether electronic imaging will ultimately take over photography is no longer considered. The market has spoken. Needless to say, the new technologies will continue to alter the photographic equipment world. Central to electronic imaging is the personal computer, or PC. The Apple Macintosh system took the early lead as the premier imaging platform in the 1990s because of its graphic user interface and color display technology, but today, the Windows and UNIX machines command equal respect with Apple in these same industries. The fast pace of development work on these imaging systems has brought prices of digital equipment in all of its iterations down to a level that a typical professional photographer can afford.

Scanners are very common devices that allow users to digitize silver-based images into a computer imaging system. Transparencies, prints, or color and B & W negatives can be scanned and transformed into digital images that can be directly manipulated by software programs. High-quality scanners are able to resolve film images at original levels. The ability to maintain the original resolution, color, and density values of the image then becomes dependent on the hardware and software being used. Whole new services exist that offer scanning services at a variety of quality and cost levels. As the world continues to digitize images and other archives, such as those found in museums, the scanner has become a powerful tool.

Software packages for imaging offer an incredible number of features, allowing images to be manipulated in just about any fashion imaginable. Adobe PhotoShop®, which was released in February 1990 for the Macintosh, is the most well-known image-editing software on the market; its CS2 version (Version 9.0) was released in 2005. Color, density, and contrast can be altered or adjusted, and special effects such as image inversion can be executed in milliseconds. Sophisticated editing tools allow for cutting and pasting segments of images together and can be done so precisely it can’t be detected. Other tools can take samples of colors or textures from one area of an image and reproduce them elsewhere. High-end imaging software can produce color files that can be electronically transferred to prepress for reproduction in the printing process. Once an image has been manipulated, it can be printed out directly by the computer or sent to a film recorder or paper printer. Color inkjet printers—as well as other technologies, such as thermal—are available that can produce photographic quality prints, sometimes using RA-4 papers.

Image-storage technology and its related equipment is advancing rapidly forward. In 1992, the price of removable storage media was approximately $1USD per MB, while in 2006 that price had fallen to $ 0.01USD per MB. Change seems to be the only constant in the foreseeable future for the tools, manufacturers, and users of photography and its related supplies and equipment. Photography will always require equipment and related technology. Since 1993, when the 3rd Edition was published, significant changes have occurred in this field. One can only speculate what the next 15 years will bring.

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