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Shedding light on digital cameras
Date: Thursday September 14, 2000
Category: Beginners Guides Author: Jana Prikryl
Manufacture: None Turn Tech Glossary On Print Article Mail Article
People are buying up digital cameras like peanuts at the zoo because they allow the photographer to bypass that pesky development stage. Wanna know how they really work?
Rating: Software


Shedding light on digital cameras

Back in the 19th century, photography was the newest toy of a diverse range of documentarians, artists, dilettantes, debutantes, journalists, and other unlikely animals. Now, at the turn of the 21st century, digital technology has helped make cameras a brand new toy all over again.

This time around, the focus is not on the picture itself but on what you can do with it. People are buying up digital cameras like peanuts at the zoo because they allow the photographer to bypass that pesky development stage (often lasting a whole hour at one's local photo lab!) and instantly see what he's shot, virtually as soon as he depresses the magic button. Plus, once the photos are captured, they can be transferred to computers, to the internet, and thence to the world. There's no limit to how quickly and easily photos can travel if they've stored digitally, rather than on rolls of light-sensitive plastic.

Despite the flexibility digital cameras permit, however, they do have their limitations. Only specific (and more expensive) models will produce quality prints. The cheaper cameras are better suited to web and e-mail transfer alone. And price is its own hindrance: you'll still pay significantly more for a digital camera than you would for its conventional ancestor.

And yet, there is something undeniably appealing in the idea of sitting down at your PC and dispatching an embarrassing photo of your best friend to all your mutual acquaintances around the globe -- without, it should be stated, having to pay the film-developing middle-man a dime. This stuff goes straight from reality to your camera to your computer to the web. How does it work? Squint hard and concentrate, and all shall be made clear, almost instantly, below.

When you point a digital camera at the world, the camera doesn't see things the same way a film camera would. Film is covered with chemicals that get exposed to light for a split-second and are thereafter indelibly marked with the image that had been within their frame. In a digital camera, however, light enters the lens and hits a charge-coupled device (CCD) rather than a film surface. The CCD is a light-sensitive silicon chip made up of individual photosensors called pixels. Depending on the quality and price-range of the digital camera, its CCD holds thousands or millions of these microscopic pixels.

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Page 2: Pixels and Images


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