Digital photography has taken the world by storm. Quick shots, easy-to-delete files, and cheap prints have helped to push the digital camera into the consumer market. While the ease of point-shoot-print has revolutionized the photography world, most people have no idea how complex a digital camera really is. In this article, I provide you with an insiders look at the complexity of a digital camera – both from the hardware and software perspective. As this article illustrates, the leading edge of technology is not always as great as it seems.
Up until about eight years ago, every single camera on the market was basically the same core device. You inserted the film, rotated a dial to load the film reel to its starting location, looked through a viewfinder, and pushed a button. This caused a small mechanical shutter to open and close, allowing enough light into the camera to leave a footprint of the 'image' on the film. Sure, you could buy high power lenses and use a flash to change the way the light played against the surroundings, but the entire process could be narrowed down to the simple fact that the film captured an analog representation of whatever light was allowed into the camera. In addition, the typical the capture was controlled by a series of mechanical functions that were pretty much the same from camera to camera. As a result, there were hundreds, if not thousands of places you could take a broken camera to get it repaired.
In this digital era, the concept of photography has changed drastically. The technology behind a digital photograph varies from device to device and from company to company. While the output is generally the same (for example, a JPG image), the process of how the analog light is transformed into a digital representation is complex and often proprietary. This lack of standardization also has the side effect of making repairs rather difficult for the average Joe, and usually involves sending the camera back to the manufacturer. Attempting to repair, or even disassemble, a digital camera yourself usually means that any and all warranty you have will be voided...and even if you take the risk, chances are you will not succeed. In fact, just learning how to use all the features of a camera is enough of a challenge that most people don't move beyond the point and click stage. A 160-page manual describing exposure, saturation, metering, noise reduction, and ISO sensitivity are mind-boggling for someone who is only used to dealing with shutter speed and image focus.
In short: a digital camera is not a simple device. As you will learn in this article, there are a lot of little parts that come together to make a digital picture. I'll go over them in detail.
This article will also describe in some detail how to take this particular camera apart and how its wireless technology functions to transfer your picture from the camera to the computer.
For reasons mentioned previously, I would not recommend you take apart your own digital camera, unless you are prepared to toss it in the trash when you're done.
The Nikon Coolpix P1 is a small camera with a big appetite, meaning it can take pictures with up to an eight megapixel resolution (as shown in Figure 1). It includes a 3.5x optical zoom, which is about average for a consumer camera. It also sports red-eye reduction, a nice 2.5" LCD screen, some basic onboard picture editing software, a very bright flash, the basic knob/button menu interface, and a wireless networking feature not found in many cameras. It uses a lithium ion battery that you have to remove to charge, and supports the Secure Digital (SD) format. For $500 it is a really good deal, especially when you consider that you can print a nice 20"x30" picture from an eight megapixel file. (Editor’s Note: we bought the camera used in this article online for less than $400.)
Figure 1 Nikon Coolpix P1