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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 January, 2004, 15:30 GMT
Why digital cameras = better photographers
Dot.life - Where tech meets life, every Monday
By Jonathan Duffy
BBC News Online

Digital camera
Digital cameras don't only eliminate the cost and hassle of film processing, they should help do away with bad holiday snaps and see us all become better photographers.

The scenario will be familiar to most of us.

Having retrieved your photos from the chemist, you dart into a damp shop doorway and hurriedly rifle through the prints one by one, hoping to magically rekindle memories of a recent holiday.

And what do you get instead? A disappointing crop of pictures which bear little resemblance to the mental snap shots you filed away at the time. Exposure problems, poor focussing, bad composition, flash flare and "red eye" are the most common problems experienced by amateur snappers.

Many such headaches are a symptom of traditional cameras and film. But news that Kodak is quitting sales of 35mm and APS cameras in Europe and the US, in favour of digital, is a sign of things to come.

While some professionals still swear by the quality of film over digital, the new format is taking over. As more and more holiday-makers pack a digital camera in their suitcase, disappointing pictures should become a thing of the past.

Here are five reasons why digital cameras make us better photographers.

1. SHOOT AT WILL

How do the professionals get that exceptional shot? Sometimes, it's a case of just keeping a finger on the shutter button and seeing what comes out. That's an expensive exercise with film, but the "wipe clean and start again" nature of digital photography means it costs nothing.

Digital compact cameras seem to allow close-up shots more than point-and-shoot film cameras
Daniel Meadows, photographer

"Professionals often don't know what they're doing," says photographer Daniel Meadows, "they'll just blast off up to 10 frames a second, and later look to see which works."

At National Geographic - to some, the pinnacle of magazine photography - snappers average 350 rolls of film per story. That's almost 12,600 individual pictures, of which about 10 make it to press.

2. EXPERIMENT

Roll of transparency film
Snap happy, until you get the bill from the processors
The biggest buzz about digital is that it delivers results instantly. Commercial snappers used to rely on Polaroid cameras to test a shot, before shooting it on film. Now, anyone can do the same on a digital.

Instant results mean you know straight away whether it works, and if not, just hit delete. "It encourages people to experiment who might not normally do so," says Meadows, who confesses some of his best shots have been "out-takes".

3. FORGET FILM

Despite all the work to refine it over the years, there's no getting away from the fact each roll of photographic film is a mini chemistry laboratory. Heat and/or moisture are its enemies, as are the stronger x-ray scanners recently certified in US airports.

Film can react in odd ways, particularly in low light, making it hard to know how pictures will eventually turn out.

Digital cameras often give a more faithful reproduction and have a higher tolerance for poor lighting, so there is less need to resort to the harsh built-in flash on compact cameras.

4. COMPOSE FROM A DISTANCE

Back of digital camera
The LCD viewfinder seems to aid composition
All but the cheapest digital cameras allow you to compose the shot by looking at an LCD screen, rather than through a conventional viewfinder. This gives a completely flat image - just as the finished picture does, and should aid composition.

"Digital makes you stand back and study the thing in 2-D rather than the 3-D you get through a normal cameras," says John Henshall, one of the first professionals to embrace digital.

"You also see what is coming through the lens. On a point and shoot there's a parallax - the distance between the viewfinder and lens - which means there's a slight difference between what you see and what the lens sees."

Meadows believes it helps frame a shot. "I think you see fewer of those pictures where there's a tiny head in the frame, which was about 20ft away from the person pressing the button."

5. PHOTO-EDITING SOFTWARE

If all else fails, you can always rely on a little bit of what's known in the trade as "post production". Digital pictures are easily downloaded on to computers and most PCs now come with rudimentary photo-editing software that enables basic adjustments.

"If you've got the exposure a bit wrong you can adjust it," says Meadows. "You can even sharpen something that's out of focus."

And, with a few deft clicks of the mouse, party snappers can bid a final goodbye red-eye flash syndrome.


Add your comments to this story using the form below:

I completely agree. My old photos were always a disappointment - usually my thumb ended up in half of them. Since I got my digital camera two Christmases ago, I haven't produced a bad pic! The fuzzy, red-eye, thumb stained pictures just get deleted and only the beautifully crisp, well structured ones get to the printing stage.
Katie, England

While digital won't make Baileys of us all, the readiness of the medium that allows one to carry, see and share results far more readily encourages the one thing that makes better photographers of us all: practise!
Barry, Oxford, UK

I haven't changed to a digital camera for one reason: how can we be sure that we'll be able to look at the photographs in 40 years time? Do we still have the technology available today to read computer data saved 20-30 years ago?
Huw Morgan, UK

I fully agree with the comments you make regarding digital photography. I bought a camera for Christmas and took approximately 200 pictures of which I decided to print only about 40. This saved on the cost of film and printing
Simon Reed, England

A problem with holding the camera away from one's face to view the LCD screen is a high risk of camera shake, especially in low light when shutter speeds are slow.
Ron Simons, England

You are right about the disappointing holiday snaps. But where film really scores over digital is in these conditions. You can pull from a badly exposed negative some sort of image. With a digital camera there is nothing at all there to squeeze out from a poor exposure
Dave Slater, UK

Digital doesn't make you a better photographer. It makes you lazy and go for opportunity shots. True it's cheaper but I remember the old days with seven shots a roll. You used to compose and think about each one and they all came out. Now that makes you a better photographer.
Chris Rose, UK

The cheapness of digital compared to film means that more people (like me) can afford to take pictures of everything and anything around - and the more shots you take, the easier it is to find some that are good.
Tom Russell, UK

I disagree. While digital makes it easier for anyone to take and review their snapshots, they will not become a better photographer for it. The only way to improve your photography is to improve the basics, such as composition and exposure when setting up the photograph.
Ben, UK

Digital cameras have improved my photography by a huge amount over the past couple of years. The immediate feedback allows you to see what went wrong and think about what you can do to improve it.
Dan Santillo, UK

The slower I work, and the less shots I take, the better the results. I have a digital compact and a digital SLR but my best shots seem to be taken on a simple camera with a simple lens. Oh, and with film.
Clive Rowley, UK

Digital will make better photographers of the next generation. My 5 year old niece loves using my digital camera. Not all her shots are great but unlike film, I do not mind as it costs me nothing. With the costs of developing film I would not have let her take the 40 odd pictures she took on Christmas day.
Stephen Morris, England

Over Christmas, my Auntie took 20 photos of her Brussels sprouts at the dinner table, and every one was awful so she deleted them - what was the point?
Rob, England

I've been a keen photographer for over 20 years and recently upgraded to a digital SLR during a trip to the UK last year. The ability to immediately check exposure, composition etc and, if incorrect, make adjustments and re-shoot, meant I got the images I wanted.
Sabrina Davis, Australia

I know where this is coming from. I've taken thousands of pictures with my digital camera. It's helped me progress in composing shots and learning to catch the perfect looks. But no digital print will come close to satisfying me like a photograph hand printed in my darkroom.
Kelly Tapani, USA

Although a digital convert, I would argue that in deleting anything but pristine shots you are in danger of living in "chocolate-box land". Its those ill-conceived, inopportune shots, that are your real history. They have as much worth as those where the subject is perfectly composed.
Alan Vear, UK

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