September 15, 2007 / Fall 2007 / Photography

Scrutinizing photography hardware

Written by Idea File Staff

There is a lot to learn about and assess when deciding what digital camera or scanner to buy. With any new venture, you need to learn about the product and decide what your needs are. To get you started, here is some basic digital camera and scanner information that should explain the equipment and help you determine how the equipment meets your needs. You might consider using this article to start your search online and then venture to stores.

Grasping digital cameras

Buying a digital camera can be confusing. Among the many factors to consider are cost, image resolution, ease of use and the type of photos to be taken, such as sports action, nighttime, portraits or landscapes.

Weighing cost versus resolution and megapixels will be one of the largest considerations. Like most technology, costs continue to drop while features continue to improve, meaning more megapixels are now more affordable. But how many megapixels do you really need? Start your search here for a digital camera, first by looking at resolution and other features, then by exploring online and in stores.

Features to consider

Resolution/Megapixels: Megapixels are the number of pixels in millions in an image. Cameras record a fixed number of pixels to capture an image. The more megapixels, the higher the resolution. For example, an image resolution of 2560 x 1920 pixels, or 5.0 megapixels, will produce a high-quality print as large as 8.5 x 11 inches. This means, the higher the available resolution, the larger you can print the image in your yearbook, or the closer you can crop a specific subject in the image without losing detail and sharpness. How many megapixels will you need? That depends on how large you plan to run the images in your yearbook and whether you are using the camera for closer images of people or for distant football action.

Also remember that memory cards will hold fewer images of higher quality. Some cameras come with memory, but you need to decide whether you need to supplement that with one or more larger-capacity memory cards.

Zoom: When buying a camera, consider its optical zoom, which magnifies a subject while maintaining resolution. Some digital cameras have optical zoom and some do not. Remember, the higher the optical zoom number, the more a camera can magnify the subject.

Shutter Speed: Controls the length of time the CCD, the camera’s image sensing element, is recording light. For example, 1/100 means the CCD is recording an image for 1/100th of a second. Faster shutter speeds help when taking action shots; 1/250 is the recommended minimum for most sports. Shutter speeds on most cameras can be adjusted both automatically and manually.

Sensitivity: Also known as ISO equivalent to film cameras, this represents the CCD’s sensitivity to light. Many cameras have adjustable sensitivity settings to mimic the effects of film speed. Having variable sensitivity on your digital camera is like having many different film speeds all on the same roll of film. The photographer can shoot outdoors at a 100-200 rating, then move indoors and change to 400 or 800. Unfortunately, when the camera is adjusted to higher ISO ratings, the image may contain odd specks of color called image noise.

Aperture: This device expands or contracts to adjust the amount of light passing through the lens. Aperture range is the number of settings available to adjust the light amount, expressed as f/stops. When reviewing lenses, remember that the larger the aperture range, the more control over exposure and depth of field.

Shutter lag: Unlike film cameras, digital cameras have the problem of shutter lag, the annoying period of time between pushing the shutter button and the camera actually capturing the image. Be sure to check lag time; most of the cameras on the chart are less than 0.5 seconds.

Costs: In our research, costs vary widely. This chart either has the manufacturer’s price, or is an average of several online sites. Some of these cameras are sold in kits containing different lenses or accessories, which also will affect price. These models were selected based on customer popularity and industry reviews from technology information sources such as dpreview.com, pcworld.com, pcmag.com and cnet.com. This information is not a specific endorsement of recommendation for any particular manufacturer or model.

Starting the scanner search

So, you have determined that you need to buy a scanner. What type of scanner should you buy? Which scanner will give you the best images for the best price? Start your search by learning about scanners and their key features. This is a brief overview; refer to the Walsworth Photoshop manual and websites such as pcworld.com, howstuffworks.com/scanner, kenrockwell.com, cnet.com and hp.com for more information.

First, there are two types of scanners to consider – flatbed and film (or slide) scanner. A flatbed scanner copies photos, artwork and documents and creates a file of the image on your computer. A film scanner will take the images straight from film and create a computer file.

Flatbed scanners are inexpensive, and you can still use the same film camera equipment you already own. However, a poor-quality scanner and dust can affect images. You also still have the cost of film and development.

Film scanners provide better quality image files because the digital file is created from a first-generation image – the negative. In addition, the resolution of the scan is much higher than a flatbed scanner. However, dust-free scanning conditions are necessary, and scanning takes longer.

Some flatbed scanners also have transparency or film adapters, however, be careful, as some flatbed scanners can handle film better than others.

Whichever type of scanner you purchase, make sure you also take into consideration your computer, the type (PC or Mac), configuration (hard drive, memory, etc.), your operating system and who will be using it (one photo editor or OK, you think you know which type of scanner you need. What else do you look for?

Color depth or bit depth is the number of colors the scanner can reproduce. Most scanners have 48-bit color depth, which means that each pixel has 48 bits available to create a color. The higher the color depth number, the better the color quality.

Resolution refers to the degree of detail that can be seen in an image. It is measured in pixels (picture elements) per inch. The higher the resolution, the more the image can be enlarged. The resolution needed is determined by how big the final image must be.

Dynamic range is the tonal range between the highlights and shadows of an image. It determines how well a scanner can reproduce the details in dark areas. Minimum dynamic range is 2.5.

Here are a few flatbed and film scanners to start your search. We are providing this information to help you in your purchase or use of a scanner. This is not a specific endorsement or recommendation for any particular manufacturer or model. Good luck in your search.

View a comparison chart of cameras
View a comparison chart of scanners

Idea File Staff

Idea File Staff reports are posts compiled by the Walsworth Yearbooks Marketing Department, covering a wide range of yearbook topics.