Digital Basics

This article unravels the basic fundamentals of digital photography. Whether you are contemplating buying your first digital camera or if you are struggling to understand some of the terminology associated with digital cameras and digital photography, this article should point you in the right direction.
Created: December 2011
Revised: July 2012
Latest Feedback: September 2014

Buying a New Camera

Buying a new camera today you'll not have a choice - it's all gone digitial. If this is a technology shock to you, the good news is that the principles of photography still apply and the quality of your results in many circumstances will be better. Your biggest challenges are mastering the new controls and understanding how to get the photos off your camera for storage or printing. So let's look at some of the new terminology that surrounds the modern world of photography.

Top Reasons to Go Digital

  • Immediate image review and deletion

  • Large and convenient image storage (thousands of photos vs the 24 or 36 shots available per roll of film)

  • Photos may be downloaded and stored electronically

  • Photos can be quickly and easily emailed to family/friends or stored on CD

  • You can crop and adjust your photos with image editing software before printing

  • You can select just your favourite photos for printing rather than paying to have all photos printed

  • You tend to take more photos because you don't have to keep the duds - because the more pics you take, the more practice you get and the better the odds of taking a good one

  • You have the option of printing your own photos or having them printed at a mini-lab or pro-lab

  • Mini-lab printing costs are now very low at the chain stores

  • Images may be copied from one medium to another without any degradation

  • Most digital cameras enable you to work in low light, and there is no need to change films to do this

Summary of Digital Terms

    Pixel:- PICture ELement, the smallest element of a digitised image. One small dot of light among the many dots that make up an image – be it on a computer screen or in your camera.

    Megapixel:- Unit of measure of the resolution of an image - equal to one million pixels. The higher the resolution, the more pixels in an image and therefore the greater the image quality.

    Resolution:- The number of pixels in an image. A higher number generally results in more detail in your image.

    DPI:- Dots per Inch. Number of dots a printer can prints per linear inch. For example, most laser printers have a resolution of 300 dpi, Photo quality inkjet printers now range from 1200 dpi or more. The DPI supported by a printer oftens needs to be considerably higher than the pixels per inch (PPI) of a video display device in order to produce images of perceptibly similar quality – this is due to the limited range of colours for each dot the printer can print.

    PPI:- Pixels Per Inch. The number of pixels per linear inch is used to describe image resolution for an image capture or display device. A higher ppi means more image detail displayed. Most monitors display images at approximately 72 ppi. PPI also describes the resolution of an image to be printed. Typical size good quality prints require at least 200 PPI, although this reduces with increasing viewing distance.

    Megabyte (MB):- An amount of computer memory consisting of about one million bytes. The actual value is 1,048,576 bytes.

    Kilobyte (KB):- An amount of computer memory, disk space or document size consisting of approximately one thousand bytes. Actual value is 1,024 bytes.

    JPEG (pronounced JAY-peg):- A standard file format used by many digital cameras for storing images. This format is also commonly used for images on the web and images attached to e-mail messages. JPEG, which stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group - the group that established this file standard, is one of the most widely used formats today. JPEG has a standardised image compression mechanism designed for compressing full-colour or grayscale images of natural, real-world scenes. JPEG uses lossy compression, resulting in loss of image quality each time the image is edited. Most JPEG images are 8-bit images allowing the display of 256 colours in each of the red, green and blue channels making for 16.7 million colours. This is superior to the GIF format common on the Internet which only allows the display of 256 colours.

    LCD:- Liquid Crystal Display. A colour display screen on cameras (and other devices) used to preview and review pictures and view information, such as menu options and camera settings.

    Memory Card:- A storage device used to store data, such a picture and movie files. Available in a range of sizes, such 8 MB, 32 MB, and 256 MB. Memory continues to get cheaper and memory capacities larger. It is not uncommon to see 2-GB cards, and thus you are able to store extremely large numbers of images. Types of memory cards are: CF (Compact Flash), SD, XD, MMC, SM to name a few.

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