- The Washington Times - Monday, November 26, 2001

A hot stock-market tip: If you own shares in companies that make photographic film, it might be a good idea to move
into something with more future, like slide rules.
Everyone has heard of digital photography. I'd guess most of us regard it as a geeky hobby, more trouble than it's worth. So did I. Then this old magazine photographer from film days bought a digicam, as we call them (a Canon G1). A conversion experience followed. I'll never touch a film camera again.
There was no particular feature of digital photography that had me walking around stunned and bumping into walls. It was all of them together. Let me explain.
A buddy of mine wanted a portrait to use with a dating service on the Web for scientists. Easy, I said, I'll fix you up. He came over.

A film/digital comparison

With a film camera you have to have (who would have thought it?) film. If you have it, it's the wrong speed. It's probably already in your camera, half used. Do you rewind, wasting the rest of the roll, to put in the correct film for what you are doing? (And film, at $5 a roll and $10 to develop, adds up.)
Digital: No film. No prob.
Bob showed up and I put him against a wall for a picture.
With a film camera, you shoot six or eight shots because you can never be sure what you've gotten. Maybe he blinked so he looks as if he were sleepwalking.
Digital: You see the picture before you take it, in the little LCD display on the back, like a tiny color TV screen. After you take it, you look at it. The first was badly lit, so I deleted it. The second was fine.
You know you have what you want.
Again, with a film camera, do you rewind the roll, wasting most of it, and go to get it developed? Or do you wait until some hypothetical and remote time in the future when you will have used the rest of the roll Bob remaining dateless? And of course you have to make at least two trips to the developer's shop.
Digital: You walk into the office, fire up your trusty Dell, and plug the camera into it. This took maybe three minutes, and there was Bob's smiling mug on screen, already developed, so to speak.
Now, the magic part. Bob was well exposed, but the background was a mess a doorknob, a sofa arm, molding. It was a bum picture, not calculated to inspire love in a biochemist.
Digicams typically come with touchup software and, depending on how serious you are, other programs are available (Photoshop 6.0 is the high end, but you have to know what you are doing). It took me ten minutes to remove all the clutter. I just cropped out most of the background since we didn't need it. It is absolutely simple. To remove a doorknob, basically you just use the cursor as a paintbrush and smear the color of the wall next to the doorknob over it.
This, done in a real photo lab, would require trained labor and cost as much as a small aircraft carrier. You get used to being able to do it yourself, and then you wonder how life existed, photographically speaking, before. Do you have a shot of your kid being charming against the summer sky, but somebody's elbow got in the picture? Remove the elbow. No problem.
Want prints? You get good results with the fairly cheap color printers available today. But I'm not sure that paper will always be the choice for looking at photos. Yes, people say they don't want to look at photos on a screen. Well, OK, maybe. But…
The advantage of a paper print is that you can hang it anywhere and look at it without a computer, and that paper has much higher resolution than a screen (today, anyway). A screen, however, emits light. Paper doesn't. When you look at a paper print of a glowing sunset over Arizona with the cactuses dark against all those fiery reds and oranges, it just sits there. On screen, it glows like the original. You can get used to this.
Sez me, digital is going to eat film's lunch. Soon. Resolution has been the sticking point, but today's three-megapixel-plus cameras produce a decent eight-by-ten. Cameras are improving at the usual headlong electronic rate. Film? Black-powder muskets have a brighter economic future.
Fred Reed now writes a weekly technology column for The Washington Business Times. He can be reached at [email protected]


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