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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  • wheel - Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - link

    Thanks for your reply.

    Regarding the Canon 50mm 1.8, I think most people would agree that the 1.4 is better since it has full time manual focus and also a silent USM motor, plus 8 aperture blades instead of 5 for nicer, smoother looking bokeh (out of focus areas in an image). Of course when you consider the cost differential most people choose the f1.8 and for many it is the smarter choice! However I still believe your sentence in the article suggesting that it happens to be the sharpest lens in the lineup a little misleading. Not a big deal I guess.

    If I can make some comments on the following paragraph:

    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. It appears that current sites are rarely on target with what computer enthusiasts want to know about digital cameras. 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. Still other sites, which are very well-grounded in traditional photography show an obvious lack of knowledge about computers and computer tools that make digital photography so flexible today. It is our sincere belief that we can do it in a better way for our readers and computer enthusiasts everywhere, but please help us as we try to reinvent this wheel. 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 there is very little left of the mechanical gems that once ruled the world of photography.

    A few points:

    "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."


    So a 'non-photographer' will find a technical review on the big digital camera sites gibberish? I don't think that is a problem, because such reviews aren't really aimed at non-photographers. I would guess that non-computer users are going to find articles on Anandtech about ram timings difficult to understand too!

    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.

    See my comments re: sports / action photography in my previous post. Start up times, shot to shot times and file flush times are quite important to me! Other sites have (very comprehensive) standardised tests that include these timings. I wouldn't say they dwell on the subject though, unless a particular camera is unusually bad at it. If it is not something that is relevant then a reader can easily skip it.

    Still other sites, which are very well-grounded in traditional photography show an obvious lack of knowledge about computers and computer tools that make digital photography so flexible today.

    In my years of reading the major photo review websites, I haven't encountered this. Without asking you to be specific, can you mention general examples of what you mean?

    Cheers,

    Ian
    Reply
  • tagej - Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - link

    The reality is that most computer geeks (myself included) are not photography experts, but are overall tech-savy and interested in things like digital SLR cameras.

    Sure, I can go to sites like dpreview and the like, and they do an excellent job of reviewing cameras from a pro or prosumer perspective. I could sit and read a bunch of stuff on those sites and educate myself to the point of becoming very knowledgable about cameras... Most of us don't want to do that, or we would have already done so. Instead, AT hit it right on the head with this article, it's a look at digital photograhpy for the tech savy who are not photography experts.

    Reply
  • arswihart - Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - link

    I totally agree with "wheel." If you feel the need to review cameras, go ahead, but thats not what I come to Anandtech for. Reply
  • aeternitas - Monday, September 25, 2006 - link

    " 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. "


    I stopped reading there. If you want respectable people to respect you, its a good idea not to be a fucking jackass and insult the readers in the second paragraph. Get some common sence.
    Reply
  • Resh - Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - link

    Have to side with Wes on this one. Nothing in his words are offensive. He is simply stating the view point of two extremes of the population who both hold very valid positions. Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Monday, September 25, 2006 - link

    These are comments from discussions I have had on Forums and in emails with readers. They were not meant to offend, but to point out the fact that the art and technical don't always mix well. This is particularly true when the market, and not the people affected, is forcing changes in the way people work. Reply
  • ksherman - Monday, September 25, 2006 - link

    since we have had a camera review on AT! Kudos!

    To those that say no, I also like to read reviews from multiple sources. AT- dont try to be dpreview, make your reviews a little less technical, easier to understand. Not to fault them, but you need to have some pretty serious photography knolwedge to get their reviews. I would welcome an easier to understand set of reviews. (I do still enjoy reading about my level :-))

    On another note, on the last page, you called canons new camera the Rebel XT1, its actually the XTi.

    Also, take a gander at the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50, its a sort of pre-digital SLR camera. It basically is a digital SLR, but with an attached lense. Its looking to be my next camera purchase since I am too poor to afford the "real" DSLRs.
    Reply
  • saiku - Monday, September 25, 2006 - link

    I am a hobbyist photographer (Canon 350D) who likes to do macros/scenery when I can. What I'd love to see are guides for people who want to get into DSLRs and don't know which camera system to buy into. For example, if a person is interested in macros, should he buy into a Nikon system? What about the guy who wants to shoot lots of indoor shots of his baby? Lens choices are very tough for newbies to make and a hefty dose of attention to what lens to pick would be great.
    Reply
  • PokerGuy - Monday, September 25, 2006 - link

    Wes, thanks for the great article. I'm a grizzled vet when it comes to PC tech, but when it comes to photography I'm pretty much a noob. I appreciate the article and look forward to reviews, especially since I'm about to purchase my first digital SLR camera.

    One dumb question: are lenses for SLR cameras "standard" in terms of connecting to the camera body? ie, can I take a Canon EOS Rebel 2000 SLR lens and hook it up to some other digital SLR camera?
    Reply
  • Resh - Monday, September 25, 2006 - link

    Also, Canon EF-S lenses only fit certain cameras (Digital Rebels, 20D, 30D), but EF lenses work on all current Canon bodies, digital or film.

    Third party manufacturers like Tamron and Sigma will make lenses for both Canon and Nikon.
    Reply

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