Digital Photography

My interest in pursuing digital photography, after many years working on the technical side of color film technology, was triggered by the availability in 2001 of reasonably-priced digital cameras and color printers that could produce high-quality photographs without the mess and fuss of solution-based processing. Advances in imaging technology made possible the capture of quality digital images with pleasing color rendition, low noise, and adequate sharpness and resolution. Improvements in ink-jet printers have produced devices that produce pleasing prints at reasonable cost with excellent color reproduction and light and heat stability.

Initially (around the year 1999), before high-quality, reasonably priced digital cameras became available, film scanners offered a route for capturing digital photographic images. Moderately-priced scanners, using 35 mm. or APS-format color negative or color positive (slide) images could yield scans at 2700 dpi or more, and were considered an ideal approach by those who had large investments in expensive cameras and lenses. Consequently, I started my work with a Nikon LS-30 film scanner that scanned at 2700 dpi .and I used a good Olympus point-and-shoot camera for film originals.  A number of photos on this website came from scanned color negatives; examples are “Nauset Light” (CapeCod),“Mexican Flowers” and “Holly Berries” (Flowers), and “China: Girl” and “Jim” (People).

Scanned images did have their problems, two serious ones: dust or scratches and grain, also known as "noise". Grain is apparently magnified as a consequence of the scanning process itself as described in the article by P.L. Andrews (www.photoscientia.co.uk/Grain.htm).  Dust is not so easlily handled with a simple brush or compressed air—in fact, it sometimes behaves as if it were embedded in the film.  Scanner software can be used to mitigate both of these noise problems, but if applied too vigorously can compromise image sharpness.  Even with good noise filtration, some selective use of Photoshop will probably be required to handle whatever leaks through the noise fllters.  This removes some of the charm of using scanned images.  

The third problem in using a scanner is TIME: it takes at least 30 seconds to scan an image and repeat scans may be required with machine adjustments before an acceptable image is retrieved.  Combined with the requirement for post-processing hinted at previously, it is obvious that this is not a process that lends itself to mass-production.  I cringe when someone tells me he's considering scanning his large collection of Kodachromes to save as digital images. 

In early 2001, I switched to all digital photography and purchased an Olympus E10 camera.  My choice was based upon three factors: (1) actual photographic samples posted on the dpreview website (www.dpreview.com) which I downloaded and printed; (2) resolution of four megapixels, which at the time was considered "high" but which turned out to be adequate for making attractive 12”x16” prints, and (3) the fact that it was an optically-based single-lens reflex. This last factor was important to me to avoid the parallax problems (incorrect framing) that I ran into with my point-and-shoot on close-up photography. The ever-lasting noise problem I incurred with the Nikon scanner disappeared: the E10 camera occasionally produces some noise in large expanses of blue sky, but nothing as serious as that produced by the scanner. Image quality is high enough to permit attractive 12"x16" prints.  The good image quality also allowed image-sharpening in Photoshop--a number of people commented on how sharp the prints look (with less than adequate image quality, sharpening will exacerbate graininess problems).  Most of the pictures on this website were shot with the E10.  A certainly enjoyable aspect of a digital camera is the opportunity for "wasteful" shooting--take lots of pictures and throw away the 95 percent that are bad; all you've wasted are a few electrons!  This, in fact, is the key to getting good pictures.

For color printing, when archival quality is important, I use an Epson 2200 printer driven by a Macintosh G4 computer. I use Photoshop for retouching and adjustments in print characteristics (more about printing later) and CD's for storing digital images (about 250 camera images in jpeg format can be stored on one disc). The CD's are indexed and described in an Excel file so I can find items when required.

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