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Digital Photography I
June 2005

Advertisements for digital cameras are everywhere, but I had been putting off writing about them because until quite recently I thought that they were too expensive. Despite this, digital camera sales have now overtaken those of the old fashioned kind, and large film companies (like Kodak) are laying off staff in tens of thousands.

You'll see why if I explain the economic differences between digital photography and the more traditional kind.

If you are a non-digital photographer, you first buy a film (which only works once) on which your camera stores an image that you hope is what you looked at. That film is then treated with chemicals (after more money has changed hands), to reveal the image. This picture is then projected onto a bit of photographic paper, more chemicals are involved, even more money changes hands, and you end up with a wallet of photos, some of which may be what you wanted, but most of which will be of the sky, your thumb or some wretched child pulling a face. You then pay still more money for copies to send to your sister.

Digital photography cuts out the middle men in droves. You use the camera in exactly the same way, but the clever stuff inside converts what you see into numbers and remembers them. You can immediately look at the picture on a little screen on the camera, and if it is wrong, delete it and have another go. Note: no money has changed hands yet.

Then you go home, plug the camera into your computer and move the pictures from the camera to your computer memory. You can now look at them again on your computer screen, and fiddle with them (lighten, darken, add captions, change colours, delete that irritating friend of your daughter and so forth). You can send some of them to your sister in Venezuela by email, and she can look at them on her computer. Note again: nobody has paid anything to anyone so far.

You can now re-fill you camera memory taking more pictures, and still no money has changed hands. (You can see why Kodak is worried).

Finally, you might print a picture or two on your own printer, or (and this is my advice) order proper prints from one of those firms whose envelopes used to fall out of the colour magazines. You just email them the best ones and pay about 10p or so per print. They will generally arrive by post in a day or so. Fantastic.

The best thing is that you are paying only for the pictures that you actually want, rather than being forced to buy all the pictures on a roll of film, good or bad.

In the same way that it used to be said that Mrs Colman's fine gowns were paid for by the mustard we left on the side of our plates, the Kodak fortunes were made by the pictures we had to pay to develop, but threw away when we saw them.

The photographic giants have got their come-uppance, and about time too. Given the opportunity to take pictures at a sensible price, we are grabbing it fast, and Eastman Kodak's share price is half what it was five years ago.

So that's the background; next month I will deal with the practicalities of buying and using a digital camera, and some pitfalls to avoid.

Meanwhile, if you are a beginner and thinking of buying one, please don't spend too much. They are getting cheaper all the time. Also, make sure that your computer is up to the job, as without it you'll be stymied.