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Digital Cameras for Photographers - The march of all the other digital toys, too, Simplifying your march with digital toys

photoshop film time software

I mentioned the Canon still video digital camera that I bought for $10,000 on Apple’s budget. It photographed using a 640 × 480 pixel array that was video quality. I can get the same thing from my 10-year-old video camera. This was not a camera that came anywhere close to 35 mm film in quality. At the time, I was not going to buy a digital camera until it could stop motion, shoot 3 to 4 frames per second, and the quality was close to what I could get by scanning a piece of 35 mm film at 4000 dpi.

Getting a great digital file by scanning film with a desktop scanner is something I have been able to do for about the last 10 years. I have tried lots of digital cameras over the years. There have been many commercial digital cameras costing $20,000 or more, although some of them could not stop motion. For my situation though, as a landscape photographer, why pay that much money when you can shoot film for cheaper and get better quality? For many commercial shooters, they could justify the $20,000 5 years ago so they would not have to pay for film or wait and pay for processing anymore.

I wanted a digital camera of at least 35 mm quality that would stop motion and shoot 3 to 4 frames per second and be able to use my existing Canon lenses. The Canon IIDx certainly fit the bill, but it was $8000 when it first came out. Had I been a commercial photographer, I could have saved that much in the cost of film and processing, not to mention those clients who are chomping at the bit to have a digital file to take home at the end of the shoot! The 6 megapixel Canon D60, at $4000, and 10D, at $2000, were certainly equivalent in quality to the Digital Rebel, but they did cost considerably more when they were released. When the Canon Digital Rebel came along with the same quality as the D60 and 10D but at a cost of $1000, then it was time for me to buy!

I’ve shot over 11,000 images with my Digital Rebel and I can make high-quality prints up to 22 inches in size. For some images, I can go even larger. If I had been shooting film over the last few years, I never would have shot that many images and I would have missed some great shots. With digital photography, I just shoot it and do not worry about it. I have more fun shooting and I get to see the pictures right away. Editing and correcting the images is much faster, even though I shoot more images. I have all the images instantly available to show prospective clients. With film I only would have had the time to scan a few of them. I bet many readers of this essay who shot film still have thousands of images on film that were “going to be sorted and scanned one of these days.” Most of the digital stuff I shoot now gets sorted and filed on the same day. I LOVE IT!!! Now I am eyeing the Canon 5D, which has the same size sensor as a 35 mm, is 12 megapixels, and costs only $3000. I’ve tried one with the 24-105 zoom and I’ll be getting it as soon as I get $3000 I can spare. Until something better comes along by that time, which it will of course.

Speaking of better, I was recently talking to well-known landscape photographer Charles Cramer and he is getting a $30,000 digital back which may replace the 4 × 5 film he has been shooting for 30 years. Since he spends $8000 a year for film and processing, this actually makes financial sense too. Check out his article about this in the essays section of www.LuminousLandscape.com. If Charlie is going digital, that tells me something.

The march of all the other digital toys, too

The brief history I have given you sharing the evolution of digital printers and cameras also exists for desktop film scanners, flatbed scanners, Macs, PCs, CRT monitors, LCD monitors, all the versions of Photoshop (I have used versions .087, 1, 1.1, 2, 2.5, 3, 4, 5, 5.5, 6, 7, CS, and CS2 so far), and all those third party Photoshop plug-in filters and virus protection software.

Then there is the history of backup storage devices which began with punch cards (yes, I used punch cards), reel-to-reel magnetic tape drives, optical storage disks (extinct), DAT tape drives (extinct), CDs, and now DVDs. What will be next, holographic storage devices? The power strips and surge protectors and the newest thing, camera memory cards are constantly changing. Both my digital cameras have the compact flash format, which I like. For the last 9 years or so there have been the monitor calibrators; scanner, printer, and film profile-making software; spectrophotometers, etc. These are things that can take up a lot of your time and can also take a big slice out of your pocketbook.

Let us not forget to mention digital projectors. I have been giving lectures with a computer hooked up to a projector since 1988 and probably even before that when I worked at Apple. I love my Epson Powerlight 745c, which weighs very little and can project 1024 × 768 real pixels and fill up a large room with my computer’s screen. Millions of colors are projected accurately and I use it all the time when giving talks and teaching workshops. You may be thinking: Why is he writing about the obvious? It is very important to know that many years of teaching Photoshop color correction using a 640 × 480 projector—where the projected color and contrast could not even begin to approximate the colors on my computer screen—gives me flashbacks to an unhappier era. I would have to say over and over again: “If you could actually see the colors on the projection screen then….” My son likes it too for projecting DVDs and we have learned that if you project them from a 1024 × 768 computer like my old G4, versus a VHS DVD player, you get essentially HDTV quality. Do not get a big screen TV, buy an Epson projector instead and use it for your business presentations and also for movie night.

It is interesting to recall the different types of computer memory chips that I purchased and installed over the years. I always enjoyed installing my own memory chips and have done that on the original Intel 8086 board (64 K maybe), the Apple II (I had the one and only special 80 K one so I could re-compile the Pascal computer), Apple III (128 K), Lisa (1 megabyte, wow!), Original 128 K Mac (I had 4 megs in mine for Mac Smalltalk), Mac II (32 megs, I believe), Mac CI, Mac Quadra 900 (the most expensive Mac I ever bought: 32 megs cost $1000 and I had 128 megs), Mac Power PC 201?, Mac Power PC 8600, Mac aqua G3 tower (seldom worked properly), PowerMac G3 (I still use it with 750 megs), iMac (we have 4 at 256 to 750 megs), EMac (we have 4 at 750 megs to 1.25 Gigs), Mac Duel Processor G4 (my previous computer, 1 Gig, we use it to watch DVD movies), Mac Duel Processor G5 (my current computer which is great, 2.25 Gigs). I do also own one PC but it runs NT or Windows 98 and has the original AMD Athlon processor, which I tested Photoshop on for my friend at AMD. I received this machine in lieu of a payment for evaluation so technically I have never actually purchased a PC! I guess my next Mac will have an Intel processor and the family is due for a new portable. Maybe Apple will send me one after reading about all the Apple computers I have bought and used over the years.

Simplifying your march with digital toys

Part of the reason I have told you this long story is so you will understand and appreciate the words of wisdom I am about to share. The advice I will give is coming from someone who has been deeply involved in technology for the last 30 years and who now wants to focus on personal photography.

I know many photographers tend to be gadgeteers. Photographers are people who have spent lots of time looking at the latest cameras and films to analyze their inherent qualities. With digital photography there are a lot more gadgets to keep up with and if you feel that you always have to know the latest of everything, you will find that this can take up most of your time. If you need to buy the latest of everything, it can take up most of your money too.

You do not have to be independently wealthy or have unlimited amounts of time to spend to be able to produce beautiful prints with today’s digital cameras and printers. If you are just entering this field, you have chosen the correct time. Digital cameras have evolved to the point where I can say for 99 percent of the population, “don’t bother with film.” If you want to do really large landscape pictures and cannot afford $5000 to $30,000 for the best digital cameras, then maybe shoot 120 or 4 × 5 film. If you start shooting film now, you will have to buy a scanner and have to find a quality place to get the film processed. You may need a scanner anyhow to scan film that you have shot in the past but otherwise, I’m now ready to say skip it. Film is going out and digital cameras are really great these days.

Limit the size of your digital gear bag

The software applications I use most are Adobe Photoshop, Bridge, and Netscape Navigator for e-mail and the Web. Because I write books, create training videos, and have a Web site, I also use Adobe GoLive, Acrobat, Premiere, and InDesign. Most of these Adobe applications come in one bundle, reasonably priced, called Adobe Creative Suite. TextEdit, which I use for letters, is free with the Mac. I do not use Microsoft Word or any Microsoft products, it is simpler that way because you never know if Microsoft will be feuding with Apple and something you rely on will suddenly not work on the Mac. I also use Color Vision Optical to calibrate my monitor and Snapz Pro X to make screen grabs for books and articles. I do not use any third party Plug-ins because with my Photoshop Artistry book and workflow techniques you can actually do most things a photographer would need to do just by using Photoshop. I no longer make scanner or printer profiles because the canned profiles that come with Epson printers and even third party papers these days are just fine. If my monitor does not exactly match my print, I can fix that with either Optical or Photoshop.

I have previously tried third party Photoshop plug-ins, had lots of profile making software and hardware, used various scanners (which I still use occasionally), tried USB hubs, still used Microsoft Word, and had Filemaker, Excel, Illustrator, etc., just in case I needed it. The problem is that when you have all this stuff you need to drag it around with you and update it all the time. This takes extra time and costs money too.

For example, a software company had kindly let me borrow a spectrophotometer, which had a serial cable hookup along with $3000 worth of software to make profiles. Now this was a $2500 device! A year later, I upgraded my computer and wanted to also upgrade the software so I could talk about it in a new version of Photoshop Artistry . I called the company and they sent me a new $2500 device, now with a USB cable instead of a serial cable, and a new set of software worth $3000. I installed all the software, got the new spectrophotometer hooked up, and nothing would work because the USB dongle (a copy protection device) was incompatible with the new software. After calling this company several times to get a new dongle and not getting one, I just had better things to do and I have not used this stuff since. Imagine how frustrated I would have been if I would have paid for all that paraphernalia! Note: Every company I’ve known that has used a dongle for copy protection has eventually gone out of business!

Don’t believe the marketing flyers—try it yourself

I have been buying digital equipment for 30 years and I seldom believe the marketing hype. You can read the marketing materials for the specs about a particular device, but to really decide if you want it, test it yourself or get advice from someone you trust who has used it. One manufacturer’s 6 megapixel camera will not perform the same as another company’s product, and so one camera may have more digital noise, may not be as sharp as another, or may capture the color in a way that you do not like. If you find a manufacturer you can trust, get to know a local store that carries their stuff or ask a local rep from the company. They will be able to tell you 90 percent of what you need to know. When a new product comes out that you want to buy, contact the local store or representative and see if you can borrow one for a day or week before you buy it. If you are a good customer, especially with photography equipment, this can usually be arranged. For example, I’ve been shooting Canon cameras all my life and I have also been using Epson printers for the last 10 years. During that time, I have grown to rely on their products and trust the people I know at these companies. The same is true for Apple and Adobe. It would take a really great product to get me to switch to Nikon cameras, HP printers, or a PC workstation. I do know they have good products, but switching from what you know takes time and money to adjust. By the way, over the years I have known many photographers who have switched from PCs to Macs but very few have gone the other way. Lately, I have also come across quite a few Nikon lifers who are now buying Canon digital cameras, but in my travels I have not seen much activity going in the other direction. Folks with a lot of Nikon lenses should also consider the Fuji digital cameras, which are compatible with Nikon lenses.

Find friends who read and/or do their own tests

There is so much information out there these days that you could spend 24 hours a day reading information just on Photoshop Web sites. There are some good sites online though. Just go to www.Google.com and type in the kind of information you are looking for; for example, “digital camera reviews,” “Adobe Photoshop downloadable training videos,” Epson 2400 printer reviews. The most useful sites on the Web change frequently so, instead of my listing them, I suggest that you Google the things you are interested in and then decide for yourself who is just spewing marketing hype and who has useful information. I just spent 30 minutes doing a search because I got distracted by some of the stuff I found testing the above phrases using Google. Be careful, the Internet can suck up your time. Occasionally I subscribe to magazines but they are also a time sinkhole. Find a friend who reads all the photo magazines or better yet who performs their own tests. I have lots of photographer friends. Some, like Charles Cramer and Bill Atkinson, are people I have known for many years and realized that they share a lot of my interests and they also spend more time in some areas of photography than I do. I just read one of Charlie’s articles on Luminous Landscape (a great site by the way). There is lots of great information and also amazing images at www.charlescramer.com and www.billatkinson.com. Charlie and Bill also teach workshops, which you can find out about on their sites.

My friends in Corvallis, Oregon, Dave McIntire and Thomas Bach, are also photographers. I got to know them via the local Corvallis Photo Arts Guild. Dave makes amazing landscape prints and I have learned a lot about photography from him. Thomas Bach performed substantial research on inks and printer issues at HP but now he makes art prints for himself, painters, and illustrators who want exact copies of their one-of-a-kind art so they can sell the reproductions. Thomas is a wealth of knowledge about printers, how to clean clogged inkjets, papers, etc. (www.photobach.com). Bruce Ashley, a commercial photography friend in Santa Cruz (www.bruceashleyphotography.com), used to do most of Apple’s product photography and we became friends when I worked at Apple and we were both interested in this “new” digital photography. Bruce always knows about the latest cameras and monitors and many other things and I always appreciate his advice. Maria Ferrari is a commercial photographer in New York (www.mariaferrari.com) whose work I really admire and she knows a lot about commercial photographers as well as their Photoshop needs and priorities. She also teaches Photoshop workshops in New York. Carl Marcus is a great landscape photographer and friend in Telluride, Colorado, who also likes to hike and photograph. I appreciate his opinions about cameras, printers, papers, etc. I call these friends to get their opinions and I trust what they have to say. I get ideas from them and then I often also try new products out myself. If I bounce something off these people and they do not agree with what I am saying or thinking, then I know I better look at it more closely. It is good to find your own group of photography friends; you can all learn from each other.

When I moved to Corvallis, Oregon, 8 years ago, most people in the Photography Guild there were just using film. I was the digital guy. Now many of them are digital experts themselves. Find smart friends who can afford expensive toys and then let them buy first. One of my friends has a Canon II Ds Mark II, a Canon 20D, and the newer Canon 8 megapixel Digital Rebel. No way that I could afford to get all three. I think he got the 20D first then decided he wanted bigger files so he bought the IIDs Mark II, and finally he decided that both of those cameras were too heavy for his extended backpacking trips so he bought and uses the 8 meg Digital Rebel for that. It is a really light camera but since I already have the regular Rebel, I am shopping for the 5D next. What my friend told me about his uses of these cameras was very helpful information. Many of my workshop students have all the latest and often most expensive camera and computer equipment but they take workshops from us to learn how to use them and make really great digital prints. We try out their toys and often help them figure out how to use them. Since we don’t have to buy them either, it is great fun.

Get the most from the equipment you have

You do not always need the new version of everything. If you are taking pictures and making beautiful prints, be happy and create your art. If you need to do it faster or better or with higher quality then look into getting something new. With online update checking, computer software is always out there seeing if there is a new version of something. I set up my computer so it NEVER automatically installs anything. If your computer automatically installs something, this may break something else. You want to know when something changes and you want to know what changed so if something no longer works properly, it is possible to figure out what went wrong. As I mentioned earlier, when I was at Apple, we had a new operating system available to us almost every week. The person in the next office was always upgrading to the next version. He also always had all the extra software, control panels, desktop toys, Photoshop plug-ins, etc., that he could find. His computer was always crashing or something was not working properly. I kept on getting things done while he had the “hood open” on his computer trying to figure out what was wrong.

Let other people do the testing

When I do update things, I tend to assume I will have to update several things, learn new stuff, and deal with conflicts. When a new version of the Mac OS comes out, or a new computer like the new Macs with Intel Processors, I let other people bang their heads against the wall. People who are the first to try that new Mac OS or that new Intel Processor are often the ones who discover that some of the software they use and rely on does not work anymore. They have to lose productive time discovering this and then they have to spend time and money getting new versions. The worse situation is updating to a new OS then finding out that there is not a new version of the software you need that works on that OS. Usually after a new OS or computer has been out for a year or so, most of these problems get solved and other people spend their time figuring them out.

Buy the older version at a discount

When a new computer or software comes out, you can usually get the better configuration of the previous model for a lot less than it ever was before and also a lot cheaper than the new version. I am using a duel 1.8GHz Mac G5, which is great for the workflow I have. Photoshop might be 20% faster sharpening a file if I had the 2.5GHz model or had 4 Gigs of memory instead of 2.25, but for my workflow this would only save me 5 minutes a day. I would rather spend that extra cash on more hard disk space or the Canon 5D that I want. If I were sharpening images every 5 minutes 8 hours a day, then that faster machine would be worth it.

The pressure to be up-to-date

Because we make part of our living from our Photoshop Artistry books, we have to be using the latest version of Photoshop. We are now using Photoshop CS2 and it is one of the best Photoshop updates ever. I love all the new features, but I could still make wonderful prints using Photoshop CS or even Photoshop 7. There would be certain features I would not have in those older versions, but my creativity would still be very close to the same. The CS2 version does allow me to work with digital camera files much more efficiently so I upgraded my camera to the digital world and it also helped to upgrade Photoshop. Updating for a good reason is great but American society, marketing, and keeping up with the Joneses puts pressure on us to always have the latest of everything and this is not necessary. Take an extra photography vacation instead. Are you learning about the new versions of Photoshop? Play with it. Try things out, make prints, try this, try that. If you have a hunch, try it. Go through the menu bar and look for new features. Use the online help system or the help menu to look things up. The only other Photoshop book I have ever read thoroughly, besides my own, is the Photoshop manual for very early versions of Photoshop (say, version 2). I learned 90 percent of what I know about Photoshop from trying things out. When I need to learn something new, I will check the online help system and that will usually explain 60 percent of what I need to know. It will tell me what a tool does and what the options are (some of them at least). Then I learned the rest, how best to actually use the tools, by trying things and experimenting. Do not always believe the manual either or even my book or anyone else’s book. You may discover a better way. I do have several other Photoshop books, but I usually use them as a reference to see what other authors do with particular features. They often do things in different ways or have different opinions than I do. We all learn from each other. I try one way, I try another, and I often come up with something different from either. You need to learn how to do this too. Trying something with a backed-up digital file has zero risk. When you get a totally new piece of software, you sometimes have to break down and read all or most of the manual or some book about that software. After using computers for so long, most software is similar to something else I have used before and I am able to feel my way around and figure it out. Many years ago, when I first started at Apple and in college, I used to always read the entire manual for things. You can learn a lot of useful things that way but to really understand them and have the information useful for the future, it is better to actually use those things and try them out under different circumstances. This is what we have our workshop students do. They try our color correction workflow and techniques on their own images. Making a great print with your own image is always more satisfying and a better learning experience. Have fun in this, now digital, photography world!

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