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Which Way to Digital Imaging?

Which Way to Digital Imaging?

Digital imaging has become one of the hottest uses for computers, and why not? You can transmit moving images over the Internet, create Web-based photo albums, and store your pictures on durable CD-R media.

But there are many paths you can follow to the perfect digital imaging system.

Step 1: Decide what you mean by digital imaging

For some people, digital imaging means the "see it now!" benefits of digital cameras rule. You want instant feedback, instant results, and you might even want instant prints. If you fall into this category, you've decided that digital is it no more film cameras for you! I call this the instant imager.

For others, digital imaging is really "digital archiving", providing a way to restore, crop, color-correct, and organize old photographs, negatives, and slides. If you fall into this category, you are using digital imaging as an adjunct to film cameras. I call this type of user the digital archivist.

Fortunately, you don't need to choose one or the other. However, depending upon which kind of digital imaging you prefer can affect the equipment you buy and the upgrades you may need to make to your system.

Step 2: Make sure your system is ready

What do you need to fulfill your vision of digital imaging?

If you're an instant imager who's content with screen-resolution pictures for use on the Web or in email, you don't need much:

    1-megapixel digital camera
    USB or serial port for data transfer
    Zip or LS-120 SuperDisk for mass image storage

You may not need to add anything to your existing system but the digital camera to get started. But here's the problem: sooner or later you'll want prints of your digital pictures, and a one-megapixel camera doesn't have enough pixels for even 4x6-inch snapshots.

Want to be a well-equipped instant imager ready for printing and viewing images? Your shopping list of requirements looks a bit different and a little more expensive:

    2-megapixel or higher-resolution digital camera (3 megapixel for 8x10-inch enlargements)

    USB-based card reader for the camera's flash memory card

    32MB or larger flash memory card (the largest your camera can use is recommended)

    inkjet photo printer (for instant prints, get one that has a built-in card reader for printing directly from the media)

    CD-RW drive for mass image storage

What if you're more concerned about preserving and enhancing your existing photos and slides? The digital archivist needs the following:

    600 dpi or higher optical resolution flatbed scanner for prints; USB or SCSI interface preferred

    2400 dpi or higher optical resolution slide/transparency scanner for 35mm slides and negatives; SCSI or IEEE-1394/FireWire interface required

    SCSI or IEEE-1394/FireWire interface as required

    CD-RW drive for mass image storage

Know What To Use When

Do you really love photography and computers? Take a blended approach to digital imaging. It's the approach many users prefer, because it gives you the best of both worlds.

Use digital cameras when you:

    want immediate, digital results
    plan to use the pictures online or for email
    need only a few prints of selected subjects

Use film cameras when you:

    want masterpiece image quality
    don't plan to digitize immediately
    need prints of most or all images
    need slides or negatives for projection or enlargements

Film cameras have the following advantages over digital cameras:

    higher image quality than even 3-megapixel cameras

    lower camera cost (you can buy two SLRs or four high-performance point-and-shoot cameras for the cost of one 3-megapixel model)

    picture CD services allow you to get prints and a high-quality scanned CD when your film is developed

    faster lenses, shutter speeds, and wider choice of film stocks mean you'll get the picture when digital cameras can't.

Digital cameras have the following advantages over film cameras:

    immediate review of photos and easy retakes

    no film processing cost

    flash memory cards can be partially or completely erased for continued shooting

    images are already in digital form for emailing, web posting, or incorporation into electronic documents

    you can get instant prints if you have a photo printer with a built-in flash memory card reader

The Supporting Cast

2-megapixel or larger digital camera images and 300dpi or higher scanned images will give your system a workout. Editing high-resolution images can quickly become tedious if your system is underpowered.

These system upgrades will make working with large images a lot easier:

    256MB of RAM (up to 512MB maximum with Windows 9x or Me); improved photo-editing performance

    400MHz or faster CPU (the faster the better!)

    20GB hard drive or larger (to allow for a large swapfile and more workspace)

    24-bit or 32-bit (true color) color depth and at least 1024x768 (1280x1024 or higher preferred) screen resolution

    19-inch or larger CRT or 15-inch or larger LCD panel

    720dpi by 1,440 dpi or higher-resolution photo printer

Digital imaging is fun, whether you're looking for the immediate image or are preserving the past. With today's PCs and the right hardware, you can do both.

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