Camera Requirements -- Sicily 2008
Journalism 391R, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Camera technology is in a rapid transition from film based imaging
to digital and we find ourselves with quandary this year. Up
until now, I have insisted that the photographers in the class use
film based, single lens reflex cameras for their photography in Journalism
391R. I have based this requirement on several issues with "point
and shoot" digitals:
Low Quality Images: Most of today’s “Point
and Shoot” digital cameras don’t record images that meet
the file size and quality requirements for professional photojournalism.
Control: Most digital cameras don’t
offer the photographer enough control over camera functions such as
aperture, shutter speed, and depth of field.
Viewfinder Accuracy: Most digital cameras
have notoriously inaccurate (viewfinders.
Shutter Lag: Shutters on most of these cameras
have a delay that can be infuriating when the “moment” is
No Accessories: Most digital point and shoots
don’t let you change lenses or use filters and lens shades – a
Risk of Loss: Digital image storage is subject
to catastrophic failure. Hundreds of images can be lost in a
microsecond when something goes wrong with the memory card – a
real tragedy when one is traveling and making irreplaceable images
(that you’ll be graded on at the end of the semester!).
Image Review: This “feature” of digital
photography is mostly a myth. The review screen is tiny and
impossible to see in bright daylight.
However,camera manufacturers have been
introducing Digital Single Lens Reflex cameras that
are actually useable, produce high quality images, and are becoming
is our quandary: If you need to buy a camera for the course,
you would be choosing between a lower priced, film based, SLR or a
higher priced digital.
The choice is complicated by the fact that the film camera will require
you to buy film and pay for processing for as long as you use it. While
in Sicily you could shoot 12 –15 rolls of film representing
an additional expense of $150 to $225. Now the camera doesn’t
seem so cheap. If you continue with your photography, you’ll
have this recurring cost for the life of the camera and you’ll
have to digitize your negatives (or have them scanned) to do anything
with them in Photoshop. (FYI: last year, I had to go to 3 photography
stores to find 15 rolls of slide film to take to Sicily. Film
availability is quickly becoming an issue as well.)
Let me address my above list
of digital complaints in light of the newest technology:
Low Quality Images: This is not a problem anymore
when we look at the newest cameras with 8 to 10 Megapixel imaging
only have the file sizes gotten bigger, the image quality is quite
acceptable as well.
Control: With digital SLRs the photographer has
the same control of camera functions that are available with film-based
models. Actually, there are more options available for creative
control of the images than with the film models.
Viewfinder Accuracy: Problem solved. The
viewfinder uses the camera’s lens to show the photographer what
he or she is about to take – just like the film-based cameras.
Shutter Lag: Imperceptible in the new models. You
regain control of the moment.
No Accessories: Lenses, filters, shades, external
flash – all available.
Risk of Loss: This one hasn’t gone away, but
there are now more options for safe storage. For instance, some
iPods will store the contents of memory cards with the addition of
an inexpensive adaptor. There are battery powered, portable,
DVD burners (we will have one with us for the course) that allow one
to write images to disk while traveling, thus creating a safe back-up
of work while still on the go.
Image Review: Screens are bigger and brighter but
still hard to see in daylight. However, with accurate viewfinders
and shutters, it becomes much less important to constantly review
your work on the fly. The large capacity memory cards that are
now available and affordable let you take many shots and edit later
when you can see.
And then there’s airport security. Film is a constant
problem as we try to escape or reduce the exposure to the x-ray machines. Hand
inspection these days is probably out of the question.
If you already own a newer (last 10 years or so) film based,
autofocus, Single Lens Reflex camera, then you are fine. We
have 2 Nikon film scanners to convert your negatives to digital
files for use with Photoshop.
If you don’t, then I can no longer recommend that you buy one. The
initial cost, plus the ongoing expense of feeding it will quickly
add up to more than the purchase price of a low-end digital SLR -
maybe not during the Sicily course, but with certainty if you continue
to use it.
So we are in an odd time. You could buy a film camera, pay
for film and processing and do it for less than the price of a new
digital SLR. However, you’ll own a piece of technology
that is quickly becoming obsolete. If you continue with your
photography, the ongoing costs will soon exceed the cost of one of
the above digital SLR cameras. It’s a tough choice when
money is scarce, but it’s an investment that you will appreciate
for several years to come if you choose the digital route.