NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, July 2005
Digital Photography:
The Killer App of this Generation - Part 2

by Rick Altman

Last issue we extolled the virtues of digital photography in glowing terms. This month, we tell you why you might not want to vest yourself just yet in this second a two-part series about the impact of digital photography.

Here is how it happened in our household; you probably have a variation on the theme. My wife, Becky, who shall remain nameless, asked me to take photos of a family event with my then-new Nikon Coolpix 4500. I did what a digital photographer does:

1. Took over a hundred photos of a 10-minute activity.

2. Uploaded them to one of our computers, ditched the rejects, and lightened the dark ones.

3. Sent Becky the link.

Meanwhile, Becky did what a film photographer does:

1. She waited for the phone call from the drug store announcing that her photos were ready.

The photos sat for months until one day they inadvertently got taken out with the digital trash. That day coincided with the alignment of three planets in our solar system and the day that Becky asked, "Hey, I never saw those photos you took of..." It was later that night that Becky made her proclamation that lasted almost three years: "I do not want a digital camera!"

This little tale of domestic woe underscores one of the arguments against digital photography: It does involve extra work. Never mind all of the rebuttals, they are meaningless against the simple fact that for the person who has been dropping film off at the store for the last 30 years and having it processed and printed, no questions asked, digital photography adds a step in the process that is devoid of all warm and fuzzies.

The person in need of said warm and fuzzies should not yet invest in digital photography. Soon, we suspect—dropping the compact flash card off at Rite-Aid is almost as routine as it is with the canister of film. Almost, but not quite.

And when the day comes that every corner store can accept your media as it does your film, will that be the time for the less technically-savvy to go digital? Well, no. Turning over your media for processing and printing negates one of the most fundamental benefits to digital photography: your ability to review, reject, and refine. Without the three REs, is the extra cost of a digital camera worth it? Perhaps not.

If you are not ready to turn your personal computer into a personal darkroom, you should deem digital photography not ready for prime time in your household. At a minimum, you need to consider routine the following tasks:

    * Transferring photos from a media card to your computer

    * Finding the photos on your computer

    * Viewing the photos and deleting bad ones

    * Uploading desired photos to a print service

There is a conspicuous absence from this list: we did not mention printing the photos from your own printer.

We'll probably take some flack for this because we have seen some of the incredible photos that people have printed from their $99 printers. We know that to some, much of the magic in going digital is all about creating that print yourself.

Being able to make a quick print is fabulous... until you start thinking of doing it all the time. Then you will find out what "cost of consumables" means if you didn't already know. Ink and paper costs are too high to think of your personal printer as your main printing outlet. You really need to create a relationship with one of the online services, and if you are not ready to do that, you are not ready for digital photography.

The exception to this is if you intend only to email photos or place them on websites--two perfectly credible ways of handling digital photos. Of course, the technical buy-in for those two activities is higher than for photo printing, requiring that you learn about downsizing photos, creating attachments, and uploading to web servers. If you are not willing to learn how to shrink your photos for email purposes, then we all beg and plead with you not to go digital yet!

The next impediment to digital is financial: digital cameras cost more than film cameras. This is hardly front-page news and by itself is a rapidly diminishing factor, as we watch digital cameras drop in price. But you couple this with a second line in the sand, and the dynamic becomes particularly telling: * If your budget is around $300

* If you want to get good photos of your daughter scoring a goal on Saturday

This set of requirements becomes a digital photo break point. Most decent point-and-shoot cameras in the $300s are not responsive enough to shoot action sports. The lenses are plenty fast enough; the issue isn't shutter speed. Its shutter lag—that dreaded tendency of many cameras to fire the shutter as much as a half-second after you ask it to. This reduces action photography to a matter of dumb luck.

The price of a digital camera without shutter lag is about $600 and that camera will not shoot sports as well as a good film-based SLR that you could indeed get for your $300. For the photo purists, the veteran enthusiast, and the sports photographer — all of whom value the control of the camera over the price of the film — the cost of going digital might not yet add up.

Digital photography requires a higher commitment of dollars, time, and technical know-how than traditional photography, and any one of those things could be a tipping point for you. Far be it for me to play the Luddite here, he who owns three at a time and is never not in the market for the next one. Indeed, much of this article was a lesson in advocating the devil, but I do understand the commitment level required, and I know first-hand (from my anonymous wife, Becky) the perils of pushing someone to digital too quickly. One bad experience could sour them for years beyond the time that they might truly be ready.

If you think you're not ready to go digital, the one thing you can absolutely take to the bank is this: When you are, it will be waiting for you...

Copyright 2005, All rights reserved. R. Altman & Associates. http://www.altman.com.

Article reproduction coordinated by Steve Bass, a Contributing Editor with PC World and 23 year veteran of PIBMUG. He’s also the author of the second edition of PC Annoyances: How to Fix the Most Annoying Things about Your Personal Computer, O’Reilly Press. Check out a sample chapter at http://snurl.com/sample_annoyed2. It’s available on Amazon at http://snurl.com/annoyed2.

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