The last thing you need is a lecture on the benefits of cataloging good photos of your work. You already know they are important, even vital. What you really want is a relatively easy method for getting consistently good -- possibly great -- pictures of your projects without it costing an arm or a leg. For that, dear reader, the time has come to think digital.
Just as almost any off-the-shelf computer will now do more than you ever dreamed possible at a cost you probably wouldn't have imagined, so is digital camera technology bringing the prospect of achieving near professional results within reach of the average Joe.
Take Minolta's DiMAGE Z1, for example. Priced at less than $400, this camera boasts a 3.2 megapixel resolution and 10-power optical lens, which lets you zoom in on a penny close enough to count the whiskers in Lincoln's beard. This camera allows you to take all the pictures you want (go ahead, there's no film to buy), choose your best shot and then generate a 5 x 7 photographic quality print of Honest Abe's distinctive profile. It's easy to do, and the results can be positively amazing.
How It Works
Whereas film relies on chemistry and mechanical processes to capture a moment in time, digital cameras live exclusively in an electronic world. In a way, it's almost like a scene from The Matrix, in that living, breathing denizens of the analog world are converted into systems of 1's and 0's for consumption by the camera's onboard computer. It may not be very romantic from the mortal perspective, but it is extremely effective.
When light enters the lens of a digital camera it strikes a component called an image sensor, which is populated by millions of tiny diodes called photosites. Employing technology similar in form to solar panels, these photosites convert photons (light) into electrons (electrical charge). The brighter the light that hits a single photosite, the higher the electrical charge accumulated.
Each photosite records a tiny section of the captured image, which is referred to as a pixel. The more pixels present to record image information, the higher the quality, or resolution, of the resulting photograph.
Two types of image sensors exist today for processing information. A charge coupled device (CCD) traditionally produces a higher quality image than a complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS), which is cheaper to make. Within recent months, however, breakthroughs in CMOS technology have produced image sensors boasting quality equal to or exceeding that of CCD sensors, and at more favorable costs.
Another advantage of improved CMOS technology is faster image processing times, which means taking pictures of moving objects are less susceptible to blurring in your finished photos. Add that benefit to the savings in production costs, and it is reasonable to assume that most high-end digital cameras will eventually in utilize CMOS image sensors.
Resolution, Compression And Storage
As mentioned previously, image size is measured in pixels. A resolution of 1600 x 1200, for example, uses 1.9 million pixels (1.9 megapixels) to create an image. As you might imagine, storing all that information becomes problematic inside a camera built for taking lots of pictures without stopping to reload film. Thus, removable external storage devices, such as Smart Media, Compact Flash or Memory Sticks, have been developed to transfer image information from the camera to your computer. Some removable devices are now capable of storing up to 4 gigabytes of information on a single card.