Wary about diving into digital? Do it my easy way!
No, no, dammit, film is not going to disappear, so stop writing me scaredy-cat letters about how "we duffers are gonna fade away silently clutching the last rolls of Kodachrome to our breasts."
Silver-halide emulsion sales are at about 25 percent of their peak. New films are being introduced, oldies are getting tweaked. Some pros are sticking with film, others use film and digital. (One International Center of Photography Infinity Award winner recently declared at the award ceremony that he only shot film. Not one person in the photography-knowledgeable audience gasped.)
Why stick with film? Old habit, maybe. Some photographers can't put an objective finger on it but insist they just like film-picture quality better. Others find digital image storage irritating and complicated. A small percentage say digital photography is hopelessly confusing.
My advice: If you're a film junkie, more power to you. Ignore friend and foe and the overwhelming pressure of digital advertising. But I'm here today to tell all you film-only curmudgeons that you might take a short, quick, painless digital dip, useful for snapshots or to know your enemy better.
I've assembled a short, painless course of digitaliana for you. When finished, you will have a digital system similar to what you would have had with film, namely pictures you've shot, simple storage of the images, and 4x6 snapshots. Your one major investment will be a cheap digital point-and-shoot camera, which I think you may have more use for later than you can imagine.
What camera would be ideal? I consulted the online listings of our major advertisers. At the very bottom were eight point-and-shoots, all priced between $110 and $120.They had similar specifications: 5 to 6 megapixels, 3X-4X zooms with 35mm equivalent focal lengths from (about) 35mm to 100mm, and built-in flashes.
|DIGITAL EQUIVALENT TO FILM? Start with the memory card that comes with the Canon PowerShot A460. Have a photofinisher transfer images to a CD, with index prints, and make prints of everything on the CD. Store the CD and index prints together.|
I chose the Canon PowerShot A460 ($115, street), not only because its directions were specifically designed for know-nothing digital camera owners, but because the camera has a zooming optical finder in addition to an LCD screen at the rear.
Why is an optical finder so important? We've all marveled at the physical gyrations of digital camera owners, as they gamely try to take pictures while waving the LCD screens around at near-arm's length, vainly hoping to get the composition correct without tilting or angling the camera. And woe betide the helpless photographer attempting to view these screens in brilliant sunlight!
Alas, far too many point-and-shoot camera makers, bowing to the apparent wants of the general public, have squeezed out optical finders to make room for larger and larger LCD screens. Not Canon. Its engineers know that God created noses, foreheads, and cheeks all the better to steady cameras with. And they know that optical finders at eye-level deliver clear bright images in all kinds of light -- and prolonged battery life, too. Canon has managed to include both LCD and optical finders in most of its point-and-shoot cameras.
When buying your A460, don't let a store clerk or friend addle your brain with a superquick lesson of everything you need to know. It won't be, and much will be forgotten. Instead, take the PowerShot A460 outdoors on a nice sunny day when you have two hours, sit under a well-foliaged tree, get comfortable, and open the box.
Everything you need is within, including AA batteries and a 16MB SD memory card which acts as your film. It's good for 10 shots -- just enough to get you started.
The A460 comes with a Basic and an Advanced User Guide (leave the latter at home). The basic one begins with pages of camera diagrams with callouts showing camera controls. Pass them by or you'll be stuck for sure. Start on page 5, which nicely illustrates how to load the batteries and memory card. Continue following the preparation for using the camera, referring back to the diagrams only when the instructions mention a specific control and you need to find out where it is.
Using your basic guide for the next 14 pages, you'll learn how to operate your camera on automatic exposure, and how to edit and erase unwanted images in your camera. To see how many pictures you have left, set the mode dial to Auto (page 8) and push the Func Set button on the back twice. The approximate number of shots remaining appears in the lower right corner of the LCD.
|TOGETHER FOREVER: If your photofinisher makes 4x6 index prints, cut them down to 4x4 and they'll fit neatly inside your clear plastic CD cover.|
When you reach page 20 in the guide, quit to avoid information on connecting the camera to a computer or printer, and hie yourself to the nearest drug, camera, or discount store to purchase a 128MB SD memory card. It will give you about 86 shots. Then go out and shoot like crazy. Erase images you don't want.
When you've shot all or nearly all the images on the memory card, remove it, take it to the photo shop or drugstore and tell the clerk you want a CD plus index prints and "one-of-each" 4x6 prints. Now you can erase the images on the card and start shooting all over again.
The CD will preserve all of your images; the index print will show you all of them, so you can identify them if and when you want more prints. And now you're just about where you were with film: images preserved on the CD, identifiable with the index print, and sharp, colorful, 4x6-inch prints that you can easily have made by any photofinisher.
That wasn't so bad, was it? And, by the way, you needn't clutch that Kodachrome so tightly. There's a new version of Fujichrome Velvia 50 that's just come out.
Ask Herbert Keppler
Q. How can I carry my digital point-and-shoot safely in my pocket?
A. The most accident-prone part is the LCD screen. If there's no small, soft case made for your camera (there usually isn't), put a cardboard protector inside a film-camera case, with the LCD facing it. Replace the cardboard if it gets grungy.