It is remarkable how fast photography has shifted from film to digital imaging. If you doubt the shift is all but complete, check the impact on Kodak. Shutdown of US film operations has been accelerated several times, many thousands of employees have been cut, and Kodak stock has taken a beating as the company struggled to find secure footing in a new digital imaging world. All of this was happening while Kodak invested millions in developing digital imaging solutions in a market that was shifting like quicksand.

Digital, of course, is the domain of the computer, and the transition of artistic photographers to digital has been anything but smooth. The artistic types distrust turning their vision into cheap Adobe Photoshop tricks, and the tech-savvy are so enamored of technology and editing that they often don't have a clue about what makes a good photograph and what lens to use in a given situation. As AnandTech prepares to re-launch Digital Photography reviews, it is important that our readers understand at least the basics of digital photography. That is the purpose of this guide.

There are plenty of Digital Camera Review sites out on the web, so you may ask why AnandTech is re-launching a Digital Photography section? If you are a photographer or serious photo hobbyist you have many excellent review sites already available. They do a great job of providing the kind of information the serious photo hobbyist is looking for. However, our readers who visit those sites are often overwhelmed with the sheer amount of information and the background required to make that information accessible. For a computer enthusiast who wants to learn about digital cameras to make a buying decision, many current sites are a difficult place to find answers. Some sites make the assumption that the reader knows a lot more about photography than our average reader, which often leads to much of the review being gibberish to a non-photographer. Other sites dwell on tests of things like "start-up times" that were important in early digital, but have become all but meaningless in today's digital SLR market unless you are a professional sports photographer. Still other sites, which are very well-grounded in the traditional photography side show an obvious lack of knowledge about computers and computer tools that make digital photography so flexible today.

Some of our readers may not like AT delving into Digital Camera Reviews, and to them we say you just can't ignore digital photography any more. Today's digital imaging is nothing more than an optic stuck on a computer, and unfortunately there is very little left of the mechanical gems that once ruled the world of photography. It is our sincere belief that we can do digital camera reviews with a unique perspective for our readers and computer enthusiasts everywhere, but please help us as we try to reinvent this wheel.

There are some things about photography that have not changed in the move to digital, however. In the end taking a digital photo is still basically dependent on the same set of "rules" as taking a film image, as the only real difference in digital and film is what happens after the image is captured. This is particularly obvious in looking at Digital SLR cameras, which are currently the fastest growing segment of the Digital Photography market. You will find all the traditional photography names here - Nikon, Canon, Pentax, Olympus, Minolta - and this is where the "real" photographers work. Names like Casio, HP, Sony, Fuji, Samsung and Kodak don't exist in SLR space - except as the odd offering based on the lenses of one of the "real" Photography companies.

The reasons for this are really quite clear. Digital and computer imaging have concentrated on the sensor and ever increasing megapixel counts, while the people who take photographs for a living have continued to concentrate on the quality of the lenses they work with and the images that they sell. In both film and digital, all other things being equal, the best quality lens wins. Of course the best quality lenses and the widest variety of lenses come from the traditional photo companies like Canon, Nikon, Minolta, Pentax and Olympus. These companies have taken years to develop their extensive line of lenses, and these lenses are the ones in the hands of photographers. Today, it takes a lot of money and effort to develop a new lens line. As a result you have amalgams like Samsung using the Pentax lens line on their SLR, a Fuji Pro camera using Nikon lenses, and past Kodak Pro Digitals designed for both Canon and Nikon lens mounts - two models for each Pro camera.


Recently Sony introduced their first SLR, and one of our first digital camera reviews at AT will be the new Sony Alpha or A100. So did Sony break the rules? Sony is one of the world's largest manufacturers of digital sensors - the chip that captures an image in digital format. In fact you will see Sony sensors in almost every brand of "serious" camera except Canon and Olympus. Sony makes sensors for Nikon, Pentax and Minolta. Canon is another huge sensor manufacturer and makes their own sensors for their cameras, while Kodak and Panasonic both make four-thirds sensors used by Olympus in their various models.

Sony has some very feature-rich and capable fixed lens cameras in their lineup, and their own form factor for memory, but Sony has coveted a big piece of the "serious" photography or SLR market. Sony apparently did not want to brand themselves a second tier player in the SLR market by offering an SLR for other brand lenses. Instead they entered into a joint development agreement with Konica-Minolta last year. Then, early this year, Sony bought the Konica-Minolta camera business and announced they would continue development of the 20-year old Minolta auto-focus lens system to work with their own new Digital SLR cameras.

The Sony Alpha or A100 is the first camera that marries Sony technology with the Minolta system. It is a new Digital SLR brand with a new Sony 10.2 megapixel sensor and an existing lens base of some 20 million Minolta Auto-Focus lenses. By purchasing the Konica Minolta camera business and assuming warranty responsibilities, Sony instantly became a major player with a full lens line. When you consider that only Sony and Canon make their own sensors for their digital SLR cameras you can clearly see what Sony can leverage in the DSLR market, and why they were willing to buy an existing lens line. Sony didn't break the rules, they just bought instant credibility in a market that is difficult to crack.

If you want to learn about digital photography you should find this guide a good place to start. If you are in the market for a new Digital SLR then this is a good place to gain the background to intelligently compare these cameras. The Digital SLR market is hot and we will be covering the six new 10 megapixel cameras that sell for less than $1000 in detail in the coming months: the Sony A100, Nikon D80, Canon Rebel XTi, Olympus E-400 (Europe/Asia only), Pentax K10D, and Samsung GX-10.

Digital Directions
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  • sliver1 - Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - link

    Nice wrapping article! There is one thing that doesn't fit though...

    If you're a pro photographer, then you don't need such a website to learn about photography or entry-level consumer DSLR cameras. A thing like "a good auto white balance" doesn't mean anything since pros are shooting RAW anyway. Also, you don't embrace a "camera system" solely for the body and the lenses -- there are lots of other accessories required that may not be available or as good as those of the two major players with offerings from other companies. (Have you heard of pro photographers working with anything but Canon or Nikon?)

    On the other hand, yes, other websites prepare extensive reviews that cover, among other things, startup times, location of mirror lockup or second curtain sync features, discuss MTF charts and review lens by talking about chromatic aberrations/distortion/corner softness, etc. -- all sort of things that that matter to pros, even if it won't be covered on this site.

    Where does that leave this new Anandtech section? Inevitably to consumer or photo hobbyists/enthusiasts. This is for people who expect better image quality and more freedom in picture taking than what a point-and-shoot can offer -- yet not being anywhere near pro.

    So as long as you stick with this segment, spend paragraphs talking about the "direct print" features, discuss "picture styles", explain the effective range of the built-in snap-up flash, then okay. But it would be ridiculous to write articles about top of the line cameras like the Canon 5D, Canon 1DsMkII, Nikon D2xs, etc., as much as it would be ridiculous to talk about thousand dollar pro lenses, etc.

    While I'm at it...

    1) You seem to believe that the crop factor has an influence on the "rule of thumb" for handheld shots. A 50mm lens, equivalent to a 80mm on a 1.6x crop, still has a "rule of thumb" of 1/50s. Keeping only a smaller part of the image circle does not lengthens a lens, does not add vibration...

    2) Image Stabilisation (IS) is very handy (no pun intended), but cannot replace a faster lens. Even if you can shoot handheld 3 stops slower (or even 4 stops, as in the new Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM), this won't help for a moving subject, and you may well end up with blurry pictures after all -- especially if you're shooting people/animals...

    3) You seem to diminish/discard the importance of a full-frame sensor. A full frame sensor has a dramatic impact on the quality of the images, especially because of lower pixel density. Also, the only comparison you've mentionned for film vs digital left readers to think that digital still had something to envy film -- which is really not seeing the whole picture. Digital reduced noise (grain) dramatically. It has been reported by more than a serious source that a 1DsMkII has more resolving power than *medium format film*. Color rendition is better in digital by *far*. More control over the whole workflow. All in all, digital is winning easily, which is why pros are all going digital and companies are giving up film. The only drawback is the higher initial cost.

    And finally...

    4) No pro relies on full-auto settings in a camera, no matter how sophisticated it is (or will become). Even if technology (what this website is about) keeps bringing tools to facilitate the photographer's job and render sharper, cleaner images, etc., that's not what makes a picture compelling. A 39MP PhaseOne digital back won't do any good in the hands of a beginner, as much as a pro could make astounding pictures with a very modest camera... So, please make sure you don't play the marketing game companies are using to have consumer believe they can make wonderful pictures with the touch of a single button ;)
    Reply
  • silver - Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - link

    " It has been reported by more than a serious source that a 1DsMkII has more resolving power than *medium format film*. Color rendition is better in digital by *far*. More control over the whole workflow. All in all, digital is winning easily, which is why pros are all going digital and companies are giving up film. "

    Not at all ! Pro's jumped on digital as it speeds up their entire workflow and is more effecient than film. It reduces costs significantly as most studios have film processing and proofing costs around $4,k~$5,k per month. Also having the image immediately available to the client has huge returns in sales points. These are trully the only reasons. Film is still far and away better when comparing apples-to-apples.
    Reply
  • sliver1 - Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - link

    As others have said it, at this point, there would be endless arguing about digital vs film, and I understand that some could still want to use film for obscure/critical reasons, such as shooting in harsh -60 celcius north pole conditions. ...But seriously, what I was simply trying to point out, though, is that the only mention of "film" in the article was an argument in favor of film, which doesn't allow to see the whole picture.

    As for why pros are switching to digital... If it was only a matter of saving on the studios' workflow, or speeding things up for photojournalists, then only some fields of photography would have made the switch. Many other pros -- in landscape photography, for example, where you can get very complex histograms pushing the range to its limits -- would have stuck to film. The fact is that they are all switching.

    http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/shootout...">http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/shootout...
    Reply
  • silver - Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - link

    I can honestly say I don't know a single photographer shooting quality landscapes on digital. I certainly don't know any that would bother with purchasing a a $33,000 Phase One digital back for a medium format camera when a $1.00 sheet of film in a 4x5 will best it in color and tonal scale.

    http://www.calumetphoto.com/item/PE71278.html">http://www.calumetphoto.com/item/PE71278.html
    Reply
  • Visual - Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - link

    this is a topic with no definite outcome yet. you two can argue all you want, but especially with the nicknames you've got here it'll just look stupid ;) Reply
  • silver - Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - link

    Who's arguing ? Digital has progressed to being nearly as good as 35mm but there is no solid documetation that I've read stating that its level of quality up to 6x4.5cm, 6x7cm, 6x9cm format film cameras.

    As to why pro's switched to digital, it's beyond dispute. Dollars make sense. Money talks and film took a walk. It's really that simple. Pro's have one and only one job : making money. If the quality of 8MP digital is adequate to the masses then that is what they will shoot. It doesn't matter if Mamiya has a 22MP or that you can get a $30,000 Phase One digital back for your Hasselblad. Pro's will use what is deemed acceptable or necessary by the client and that's all there is too it.
    Reply
  • Resh - Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - link

    Hate to fan these flames as this is ultimately a useless discussion, but here are some resources:

    http://www.luminous-landscape.com/essays/back-test...">http://www.luminous-landscape.com/essays/back-test...
    http://www.luminous-landscape.com/essays/Cramer.sh...">http://www.luminous-landscape.com/essays/Cramer.sh...

    N
    Reply
  • silver - Wednesday, September 27, 2006 - link

    LOL ! Hopefully you don't consider Michael Reichmann and Co. to be professionals !!!!

    Please, take a look at the following :

    http://www.montezucker.com/">http://www.montezucker.com/
    http://mattkim.com/">http://mattkim.com/
    http://www.clayblackmore.com/">http://www.clayblackmore.com/
    http://www.cantrellportrait.com/">http://www.cantrellportrait.com/
    http://www.silvermanstudio.com/">http://www.silvermanstudio.com/
    http://www.lionphotography.com/">http://www.lionphotography.com/
    http://www.orangeexposure.com/">http://www.orangeexposure.com/
    http://www.mattramosphotography.com/">http://www.mattramosphotography.com/
    http://www.ftapia.com/">http://www.ftapia.com/
    http://www.gordonmgrant.com/">http://www.gordonmgrant.com/

    Yeah, these are PRO's who WORK in the field of photography ! And note that most of them don't even use the words "film" or "digital". They simply don't care what the tool is. They have a job to do and that job is to use their talents to make money. Short and simple. Digital is to the working pro as tires are to the rims on your car : a perfect fitting necessity.
    Reply
  • wheel - Monday, September 25, 2006 - link

    Hi,

    I am a big computer enthusiast, overclocker, IT professional and long time Anand Tech reader (since inception?) I also have been into amateur photography for about 7 years, recently switching to digi SLR about 14 months ago. All my knowledge is self taught from reading stuff on the web and my own experimentation. I use 6 lenses and have taken around 12,600 photos with my SLR camera in the time that I have owned it! (just providing a gauge of my photographic experience and enthusiasm)

    I was very disappointed with this article! Firstly because it degraded other excellent websites while simultaneously borrowing content and images from them! And secondly from a technical point of view I disagreed with some of the assertions made.

    What you correctly identified in your article was the flexibility of an SLR camera. However you also said a few separate times that comparing times including power-on time had now become irrelevant because they were all pretty fast? I disagree!

    One use of an SLR camera is sports or action photography where start up times can be very important. Just this weekend I took pictures at a car rally, where on one day it rained heavily and on another it was very dusty. I held my camera under my jacket and only pulled it out and turned it on at the last minute so to keep it from getting too wet. I think the 350D is 0.2 seconds start up time which is fine for this use, but I would not consider a camera that forced the user to wait for much longer (for example if it needed to clean the sensor). The nature of sports photography demands more of the performance of the camera as interesting things may suddenly unfold so the performance of the camera and the ability to change settings quickly rather than navigate menus gains importance...

    I think DPReview and Steves Digicams both understand that their readers may vary significantly in what they want from a camera - that is in part why they may be seen as ambiguous in their conclusions as they avoid giving cameras an overall score like 88% etc. That they cover a many technical details in the article allows the readers to decide what features are important and reach their own conclusions.

    Another thing you wrote was that there weren't many positive things about zoom lenses. I have both zooms and prime lenses and appreciate that they both have strengths and weaknesses.

    You also said "Canon and Nikon still make reasonable 50mm f/1.8 lenses, which also happen to be the sharpest lens in either lens lineup." Can you qualify this statement re: sharpness? The Canon 50mm 1.8 lens is cheap and pretty good but not a silver bullet. The 50mm f/1.4 beats it in all areas and is still quite reasonably priced. And of course I am sure the 50mm f/1.2 is excellent, although very expensive.

    So I am sorry but I think you should have a little more respect for the established sites who have done a fantastic job over the years in the field that they specialise in. I shall read your reviews in parallel with the established camera sites but will take your opinions with a grain of salt!

    For others interested in digital SLR photography I recommend the following websites:

    Body reviews:
    http://www.dpreview.com/">http://www.dpreview.com/
    http://www.steves-digicams.com/">http://www.steves-digicams.com/
    http://www.luminous-landscape.com/">http://www.luminous-landscape.com/ (also general info and lens reviews too)

    Lens reviews:
    http://www.fredmiranda.com/reviews/">http://www.fredmiranda.com/reviews/
    http://www.slrgear.com/reviews/">http://www.slrgear.com/reviews/
    http://photosig.pcphotoreview.com/">http://photosig.pcphotoreview.com/

    Cheers,

    Ian
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - link

    It was not my intent to degrade other excellent photo websites, in fact I mentioned no site specifically in my introductory guide. You obviously appreciate the level of some the more technical digital review sites and I certainly can appreciate where you come from. As I have stated several times, we do not want to try to emulate those sites, but to try to chart our own style. We also will not please everyone with our approach.

    Where we have used images that are not public domain we have attributed those images to their sources in the guide. This is an introductory guide, and not a review.

    Photodo is the well-respected Swedish lens data/review site that was extablished by Lars Kjellberg and is now owned by ePHOTOzine. The Nikon AF 50mm f1.8D is rated a Photodo MTF of 4.4, while the more expensive f1.4 is rated a 4.2. The Canon 50 EF 50mm f1.8 II costs $70 and is rated a Photodo MTF of 4.2, while the earlier 50 F1.8 is rated 4.4. The $350 Canon EF 50mm F1.4 is also rated at 4.4. All 5 of these lenses are among the highest MTF rated Canon and Nikon lenses you can buy, and all significantly outperform most zoom lenses in either line. The Canon 50f1.8 at $70 is a stellar value, at half a stop slower than the 1.4 and 1/5 the price. The plastic lens mount on the II version is cheesey, but owners have not complained about durability issues.
    Reply

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