Can you remember what things were like before everyone had computers at home and at work? Computers have affected nearly every aspect of our lives. In the fire service, we have computer aided dispatch along with computers on the apparatus that show the address to which we are responding and hazards associated with that address. (At least I have heard that some departments do.) Most departments have computers in the firehouse to do reports and possibly surf the Internet. Photography is similar to the fire service in that, with very few exceptions, over the last century very little has changed. Technology has allowed the equipment to get better but the bottom line is the same, it still takes a knowledgeable operator to get results. The newer, digital cameras are phasing film out of photography just as leather boots seem to be phasing rubber boots out of the fire service. Just as many seasoned firefighters refuse to wear a hood because they like using their ears as heat detectors, many veteran photographers are resisting the change to digital because film is their old standby. The change from film to digital will not be overnight. Many of the film and camera makers have seen the light and have turned much of their research and development to digital.
Digital cameras work much different than film cameras but the end result is the same, a properly exposed photo. Instead of light striking a light sensitive emulsion, the film, digital cameras use small sensors, CCD or CMOS that measure light as an electrical charge. When converted to a tone or color, that charge becomes a pixel. Digital cameras are measured in the amount of resolution they produce. Resolution is how much detail a sensor can capture and then how large a photo can be reproduced. Resolution is measured in Mega Pixels, the more pixels the better. A photo taken by a 1.0 Mega Pixel camera can be enlarged to a maximum of 5x7inches. A 2.0 Mega Pixel camera will produce an 8x10 and a 3.0 Mega Pixel camera an 11x14in. photo. A pixel is the smallest unit of a digital image. They are small, square screen dots that carry a specific tone and color. When first produced, cameras had 1 mega pixel sensors and those with 2 or 3.1 mega pixel sensors were considered very advanced. Today, camera manufacturers are producing 9 and 15 mega pixel cameras. But with greater resolution comes a greater price. One mega pixel cameras can be purchased for less that $200 but the higher resolution, SLR cameras run in the thousands of dollars. Digital cameras are also available in styles similar to film cameras. They range from point and shoot to professional SLR cameras.
Unlike film photography where all you need is a camera and film, digital photography requires a few other accessories. You will need a memory card and if you plan on doing any editing or printing at home, you will need a computer, photo paper and a high quality printer. Digital cameras take the pictures and then save them to memory cards. There are two common types of memory cards: Compact Flash and Smart Media. Most cameras use either one or both of these. Sony has created the Memory Stick for use in their cameras. Memory cards can range in size from 8 Megabyte to 1 Gigabyte micro drives. Digital cameras come with either USB cords or Fire Wire to download the photos from the camera onto the computer. One of the downsides of digital cameras is that they use batteries at a much greater rate than film cameras. Downloading photos directly from the camera to the computer requires you to leave the camera's power on. If you want to conserve battery power while downloading, it is recommended that you buy a Memory Card Reader. You simply remove the memory card from the camera and plug it into the reader. The reader is connected to the computer through a USB port.