Welcome to
Curtin's Guide to Digital Cameras
And Other Photographic Equipment


Digital cameras have triumphed over traditional film cameras in less than a decade, causing the greatest shift in photographic technology in 150 years. In a few short years film will be a specialty item carried only by a few Internet companies that cater to photographers exploring historic processes such as platinum and albumen prints. The only downside to this dramatic change is that since digital cameras are less expensive to make and use software instead of moving parts, models tend to proliferate at a much faster rate than traditional 35 mm cameras did. To differentiate their offerings, camera companies initially added new features at an almost unbelievable rate, but as the field has matured, they now mainly just combine existing features in an endless series of variations. As a result it has gotten harder to rationally choose the camera you want to buy. One reason for this is that it's hard to understand the descriptions and specifications these companies supply for their cameras, or the reviews written about them, because few terms are ever defined and camera companies invent their own names for common features to make them sound unique. One of the primary goals of this book is to help you understand the terminology used in digital photography so you can get more out of what you read. Although camera models differ from one another, they all draw on the same common features discussed in this book.

Close-up photography, like this photo of a horned toad in Santa Barbara, works better with some cameras than others. You need a macro lens or macro mode and the ability to focus precisely

What I hope to bring to this book is my experience accumulated over years of observing, practicing and writing about digital photography. In 1999 I started using a Nikon Coolpix 950 and my transition to digital was so abrupt that I left 20 rolls of unused slide film in the refrigerator—even though I had prepaid for processing. Only recently did I gave the film to a friend who was still laboring with the old technology. What attracted me so strongly was the immediacy of digital photography. Not just the immediacy of seeing a captured photo, but also sharing it with others. Since using that first digital camera I have written books on 30 or so digital cameras and three textbooks widely used in schools around the world. My hope is that this experience will help me guide you as you consider what it is you are looking for in your next camera purchase—or help you figure out why and when you use the many features in your current camera. I apologize for the book's length, but there is a lot to consider. I hope I can make wading through all of these features as interesting as possible.

Action and sports photography require a long lens, good focusing ability, and fast shutter speeds

Here are just some of the questions we'll try to answer for you:

Why go digital?

What is a digital photograph?

How does a digital camera work?

What is digital photography?

What do all of the camera features do?

What resolution do I need?

What's the best way to buy new equipment?

What are the most important accessories?

What do all of the buzz words mean?

Hopefully the best thing about this book is that it doesn't just describe most camera features, it shows you why they are important to you as a photographer and how they affect your photographs. This makes the book a valuable reference after you have purchased a camera because it explains things camera company manuals assume you know. I also try to match features with the kind of photography you do. Although all of us do general photography, many of us tend to concentrate in areas such as landscape, close-up, studio, street or sports photography. It's in these specific areas where some camera features become much more important than others. For example, I spend much of my free time hiking and taking nature photographs, especially landscapes, wildlife, and wildflowers. My needs are much different than someone who is photographing products for sale on eBay, taking wedding photographs, photographing sporting events or doing travel photography.

Photographing items for eBay requires a camera that you can accurately focus and that lets you adjust the exposure to lighten or darken the image.

This book discusses features, not specific cameras. You won't find a single camera that includes all of the features discussed here, and different cameras combine the features they do have in different ways. Cameras come and go very quickly, but entirely new features are introduced only rarely. This book lays a foundation for you, but to take what you learn here and zero in on a specific camera you have more work to do—Internet research. You need to visit on-line discussion forums and camera review sites to see what others are thinking. Some of these sites, and Amazon, list their best sellers if you want to base your decisions on what others are doing and run with the crowd. To get you started, we list some of the Internet sites we like in the section on Buying a New Camera and Other Equipment.

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