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About Digital Photography...

ISO Equivalents and Exposure

Like conventional cameras, where you can select films with different sensitivities to light, many digital cameras offer multiple sensitivity settings ranging from an ISO (International Standards Organization) equivalent of 100 through 400. Even if there’s no ISO choice, you can do some sensitivity tweaking by adjusting the camera’s exposure compensation controls. However, just like film, the higher the ISO, the grainier (actually "nosier") the picture will turn out. Look at it as tuning in a distant radio station; you can get it louder, but you’re also going to pick up more static.

Technicalities aside, most digicams take perfectly fine pictures under low light conditions because their lens apertures are pretty fast, usually around f-2.8. And as a standard feature, most have a built-in flash for really dark conditions and for filling in deep shadows on sunlit, high-contrast subjects. And when it comes to freezing action, some even have shutter speeds up to 1/10,000th of a second! (Of course you’ll have to be shooting in pretty bright conditions to take advantage of that feature.)

Speaking of exposure, many digicams have only two apertures, usually f-2.8 and f-5.6. or f-8, or f-11. Between the two, they can handle most any situation by varying shutter speeds. While this may seem a bit unconventional if you’ve shot film all your life, lenses used on digital cameras are of extremely short focal length; coupled with tiny CCDs they have extraordinary inherent depth-of-field. So even with the lens aperture wide open, subjects both near and far usually remain in focus. Of course, if your digicam has a zoom and you set it to telephoto, you can use the wide aperture for creative effects– selectively focusing on a subject, for example, and letting the background go soft.

That Lagging Feeling

What you may find disconcerting at first is the slight time lag that occurs between pressing the shutter release and the actual exposure. That’s when the camera spends a fraction of a second going through its pre-shot calibration and white-balancing act ( color correcting each scene, even those shot under fluorescents). However, shooting digital comes with a new rule book. Press the shutter release halfway down and hold it there before you fire. This eliminates lag time and emulates the feel of exposing with a conventional film camera.

There may also be some delay between shots (ranging from 1/2 –10 seconds) while the camera processes and compresses the image. But most digicams now have built-in buffers that let you continue shooting as images get processed. Others have sequence (or burst) modes that can click off as many as 15 shots-per-second when you press the shutter release– great for action. After resolution, I’d say the most important feature to look for is fast shot-to-shot time. Many digicams in the 2 to 3 MegaPixel range offer this.

Even the best digital camera will seem like a poor choice if you can’t keep it steady while shooting. A digicam should have a conventional optical viewfinder (or through-the-lens reflex viewing), in addition to its LCD monitor. Cameras that provide only an LCD screen to preview the image require holding the camera away from you to frame the shot– which creates unsteadiness. In no time flat you’ll know what it’s like to be in Basic Training, holding your rifle at arm’s length as punishment for not properly spit-shining your shoes. Also, LCD images wash out if you shoot outside with the sun at your side or back unless you use an accessory hood.



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