Digital versus Film for Travel Photography, 2009

Digital versus Film for Travel Photography, 2009
I began using 35mm film in 1978 and switched to digital cameras after 2004. This article explains why.
by Tom Dempsey, creator of
October 21, 2011
A. Advantages of Digital
1. Slow Film Work Flow
2. Fast Digital Work Flow
3. Compact versus SLR
B. Disadvantages
C. Film versus Digital Camera Table 2007
The instant feedback of a digital camera will improve
your photography much more quickly than a film
camera. Digital cameras have overcome the
disadvantages of earlier models and have surpassed
35mm film.
Digital cameras offer new capabilities beyond film,
such as instant image feedback, an informative
histogram of light values, white balance control, and
powerful RAW file adjustments which can recover
highlights & shadows after shooting.
Some photographers prefer film for long exposures,
for extra quality in poster-sized prints (requiring
expensive professional scan), and for other artistic
reasons. But just two years of using portable digital
cameras convinced me to forgo film.
Publishable pictures can come from almost any
camera. Good photography comes from you, not from the camera. A virtuoso violinist can make
any violin sing. A great Stradivarius violin won't make a beginner play any better.
Trees reflect in Tidal River, at Wilson's Promontory National Park, Australia.
The joy of using a Canon PowerShot G5 digital camera convinced me to quit using film.
Lightweight digital cameras for travel improved quickly from 2003 to 2009:
From 2003-2004, the little Canon PowerShot G5 camera was so much fun that I gave up 35mm film (see Michigan waterfall illustration below).
From 2004-2007, I preferred the Canon PowerShot Pro1 (25 ounces) which equaled the
print enlargement quality of consumer-level 35mm-film SLR cameras if shot at ISO 50 on a
tripod. Great for landscape photography on the move! My older Nikon N70 35mm-film SLR
system (1996-2003) was twice the size, weight, and price. Although not classed as an SLR,
the Pro1's electronic viewfinder (EVF) and great flip-out-and-twist LCD both showed a live
digital view obtained through the lens, so "what you see is what you get". However, the
Pro1 lacked Image stabilization (IS) and was very noisy above ISO 100.
In spring 2007, my Nikon D40X SLR camera was mounted with the Nikkor 18-200mm VR
lens, together weighing 38 ounces. The Nikon D40X SLR camera weighs only 18 ounces
(body with battery). Its 10 megapixel sensor captures excellent image quality to ISO 800+,
the same quality as the more expensive & heavier Nikon D200 and D80. The ISO 1600 and
3200 are also usable for smaller prints.
An upgrade to the similar Nikon D60 added crucial sensor dust auto-removal in 2008.
In 2009, the Nikon D5000 significantly improved dynamic range for RAW files, captured less
mottling noise in high ISO shooting, and flipped out a live view LCD (albeit with very slow
Live Digital View focus, compensated by instant focus if you use the viewfinder instead).
In 2006, Nikon introduced Nikkor VR 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G IF-ED AF-S DX zoom lens.
Its field of view is equivalent to a 27-300mm lens in 35mm film terminology.
Compact 11x zoom lens weighs 20 ounces.
Vibration Reduction (VR) lets you hand hold shots in 3 to 4 stops dimmer
light ─ 6 to 8 times slower shutter speed. Close focus to 18 inches (46 cm)
throughout the 11x zoom, to an area as small as 67 x 100 mm, or 4 inches
across at 300mm zoom.
An all-in-one zoom lens such as 18-200mm is great for travel. Avoiding
changing lenses frees creativity, saves time, and gathers less dust on the
sensor. Although 1.5 times heavier than my previous camera (compact 7x
zoom Canon PowerShot Pro1), the Nikon D40X with 18-200mm lens
extends zoom range to 11x and gains about 6 stops of faster handheld
shooting than the Pro1, due to image stabilization (VR) combined with low
noise up to ISO 800+.
Hand holding the camera from dawn to dusk, I'm mostly unchained from
setting up or carrying my 32-ounce travel tripod, allowing unprecedented
creative freedom. This new DSLR system also beats the weight & quality of
my former 35mm-film systems (Nikon N70 & Olympus OM-1 SLRs with
consumer-quality lenses).
In 2006, shirt-pocket-sized digital cameras with big LCD screens satisfied the needs of
most consumers. Consumer Reports rated the Canon PowerShot A710 IS a 2007 "Best Buy
for most consumers." The best subcompact digital cameras can focus quickly and make
impressive prints up to 12x16 inches, such as the 7-ounce "ultra-subcompact" Canon
PowerShot SD700 IS Digital ELPH, which served as my wife's main camera and as backup
for me. These tiny powerhouses shoot TV-quality movies, capture good macro closeups,
and record monophonic sound.
Fireworks explode over boats on Union Bay in Seattle, Washington at dusk on July 4, 2007. Shot
with a Nikon D40X SLR camera, Nikkor VR 18-200 mm zoom lens (27-300 mm equivalent in
terms of 35mm film), on a tripod, exposed 8 seconds at f/13, ISO 200, zoomed at 105mm, later
cropped into a square. To avoid hot spot and mottling noise on long exposures of more than 1
second, shoot at ISO 200 and turn off Noise Reduction on the D40X.
A. Advantages of a Digital Camera
2009 EXAMPLE: The handheld Nikon D5000 Digital SLR (DSLR) above beats scans of Fujichrome Velvia 35mm slide film in the 2003-2004 EXAMPLE on next page.
Behind Wedgewood Peak rises the pyramid of Mount Assiniboine (3618 meters / 11,870 feet), Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada.
Left to right are Lake Magog, Sunburst Lake, and Cerulean Lake.
Compare 2009 digital camera with 2003 and Fujichrome Velvia film
Above left, this 100% pixel display section from a Nikon D5000 DSLR (12-megapixel camera,
capturing 4288x2848) shows cleaner detail than obtained from scanning Velvia film in the
2003 example on next page. The D5000's pixel enlargement shows sharper detail and no
noticeable grain at ISO 200. Mount Assiniboine was captured on a Nikon D5000 DSLR with
Nikon 18-200mm VR lens, f/10, 1/200 second, ISO 200, with RAW file format optimized to
match what I saw on location.
35mm film photography remains a rewarding, patient craft for some, but requires
professional quality cameras and lenses mounted on a tripod and expensive professional
scanning, advanced knowledge, and experience. To clearly beat the sharpness of full frame
and APS-C digital cameras of 2009, professional scanning of medium or large format film is
I'm much happier with the Nikon D5000 DSLR than my former Nikon N70 35mm film SLR
camera. My prints and files are much improved and workflow much faster.
Using a full frame digital camera (with 35mm-size sensor) such as the Nikon D700 or D3
would further improve sharpness and high-ISO performance, but for travel, I prefer lighter
weight cameras with APS-C sensors.
Your camera needs may differ from mine. The best camera is the one you are willing to carry.
2003-2004 EXAMPLE: Below left: Fujichrome Velvia film. Right: Canon PowerShot G5. Canadian Rocky Mountains reflect in Herbert Lake in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.
Above left, scanned at 3200 ppi, the grain of the Fujichrome Velvia film image is visible (far
left), especially in the sky at 100% pixel display. Each Canon PowerShot G5 crop is less grainy
but resolves less detail (improved in future models).
The Fujichrome Velvia 50 ASA film image was shot on a tripod-mounted Nikon N70 film
camera with Sigma 28-105 mm f/2.8-4 Aspherical Zoom lens. The film was scanned to 12
megapixels (4259x2856) by the consumer-level Konica Minolta DiMAGE Scan Dual IV.
Better but more expensive and time-consuming results may be obtained from professional
scanning (such as using a drum scanner). The very best professional film slide images may
yield more information if scanned at higher resolution such as 4000 to 6000 ppi. But the
actual benefits from higher scanning resolution diminish as film grain obscures image details.
The old 5-megapixel Canon PowerShot G5 stands up surprisingly well to a film SLR twice its
size and weight, when using a typical home scanner. The G5's pixels are enlarged 150% to
align and match the mountain at the 100% film scan size. The G5 was shot at ISO 50, f/8,
1/100 second, at 9.1mm zoom lens setting.
2003-2004: Film and digital cameras are compared on a tripod.
Canon PowerShot G5 digital images look and print better than Fujichrome Velvia film scanned on a Nikon LS-2000 scanner (new in 2000), but not as good as on a 2004 film scanner. Digital cameras
quickly surpassed the quality from a 2004 consumer scanner.
Waterfall & potholes on Presque Isle River, Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Michigan.
Above left: Left photo was shot on 5 megapixel digital Canon PowerShot G5, 8mm lens, 1/25
second, f/8, JPEG. Three crops show 100% pixel magnification.
Above right: Fuji Velvia 50 film was scanned to 8 megapixels (2405 x 3568 on Nikon LS-2000.
Three crops show 100% pixel magnification. The Fuji Velvia 50 film was shot on a Nikon N70 SLR
with Sigma 28-105 mm f/2.8-4 Aspherical Zoom lens.
Lower Right: The same Fuji Velvia 50 film slide is
scanned to 12 megapixels (3200 ppi) on a Konica
Minolta DiMAGE Scan Dual IV film scanner (new
in 2004, scanned in 2006), optimized and
sharpened. Expensive professional scanning at
higher ppi 4000+ may not help, due to noisy film
grain competing with image detail.
Notes for above Presque Isle River photos:
On trips to Michigan, Minnesota and Australia in 2003-2004, I shot tripod-mounted images
with a Nikon N70 camera (using Fuji Velvia film; & Sigma 28-105 mm f/2.8-4 aspherical zoom),
and compared with tripod-mounted shots from a 5-megapixel Canon PowerShot G5 compact
digital camera. To my surprise, I was happier with the quality from using the Canon G5 digital
camera compared with scanning film at 2700 ppi on a $1300 Nikon LS-2000 scanner.
Consumer-level scanners have improved since then. Some professional photographers prefer
expensive drum scans to get the most of their 35mm film.
In 2004 I stopped using film, and upgraded to the 8-megapixel compact Canon PowerShot
Pro1, which can make good prints with a minimum subjective viewing distance of about the
print's longer dimension (when shot at ISO 50 using a tripod). Pro1 image quality was as good
as my typical scans of Velvia film at 3200 ppi from a good 2006 consumer scanner. (Film scans
should be better if you always shoot ISO 50 or 100 film using the most expensive SLR lenses on
a tripod, under perfectly saturated light, and use a drum scanner.)
If you want the very best prints larger than about 24 inches, consider the highly skilled art of
using medium to large format film, scanned professionally. But using a full-frame DLSR costs
less and is easier to learn. Or downsizing to a DSLR with an APS-C sized sensor is cheaper and
much lighter weight for travel and backpacking. A digital Nikon D60 or D40X DSLR captured
better quality than my earlier Nikon N70 35-mm film camera or the compact digital Canon
PowerShot Pro1 or G5.
A1. "Advantages of a Digital Camera":
The Slow Work Flow of a Film Camera Delays Feedback
Why did I convert from a 35-mm film camera to a digital camera? Film systems offer less
flexibility, no quality advantage, and slower work flow than digital cameras.
The dynamic range for color slide film is so narrow from shadows to highlights that a
neutral graduated filter must balance bright sky with darker foreground.
35mm negative film has better dynamic range than slide film, but you cannot easily view
the image until printed, which is very inconvenient.
Some people prefer the highlight handling (exponential fall-off) of film, but I much prefer
the flexible highlight and shadow control of digital cameras with RAW. In contrast to film,
on a digital camera you instantly confirm final image, correct mistakes and create new
solutions in the moment. Digital RAW files let you recapture 1-2 stops of highlights and
shadows; and some new cameras in 2008 extend dynamic range automatically.
I must diligently set up a tripod for significantly more shots for film than when using a
digital camera, which is more light-sensitive and captures less noise at ISO above 100 (as
of 2009).
I must frequently pause to change film, more often than I changing batteries or memory
on a digital camera.
At shooting time, I can only hope to have captured a good image on film based on years of
experience, but I won't find out until two and a half weeks later, when the slides come
back in the mail from processing. Or, I could pay twice the price to get 2-day film
processing. Using film gives very slow creative feedback. After a 4-week trip, I usually
spent two full weeks editing and scanning trip slides (compared with instant feedback,
editing in the field, and quicker work flow using a digital camera).
Dust and scratches on film or slides cause frequent, serious and permanent problems
(versus remarkably clean & perfectly copyable images made by digital cameras).
Mistakes on film can happen easily, without later recourse when you finally view the
results. For example (images above): I shot Michigan waterfall images on film in the
shade, creating a heavy blue cast which was hard to correct in Photoshop. I should have
shot with an 81B warming filter. I took 20 minutes to custom scan each slide to a size of
3570x2400 pixels (8 megapixels) on a Nikon LS-2000 Super Coolscan 35mm Film Scanner
(better consumer scanners came in 2006 and later). Then I spent an hour in Adobe
Photoshop to optimize the blueish scan back closer to the appearance of the original
subject. Despite extra hours spent per image (optimized version shown above right), I was
not able to match the silken white beauty and good shadow detail of a waterfall captured
by the Canon PowerShot G5 compact digital camera.
The Canon PowerShot Pro1 (2004) and G5 (2003) cameras discussed below
were antiquated by better models within a couple of years.
One of the last advantages of film was that slides make wonderfully impressive shows when
projected large onto a screen. But the Canon Realis SX50 Digital Projector ($3500, SXGA+
resolution, 1400x1050 pixels, new in 2005) projects images better than a slide film projector,
with spectacular multimedia & DVD home theater shows. Most audiences will be equally
impressed with a good XGA-resolution projector such as an Epson Powerlite.
Film is best for long exposures of many hours: For me, film offers only one remaining
advantage: A manual camera such as the Olympus OM-1 can take 8-hour night sky star-trail
photographs. This is not possible with most modern battery-intensive cameras, such as the
Nikon N70 film camera, which consumes a whole battery in about an 8-hour exposure.
Rechargeable digital camera batteries are worse, and won't last in subfreezing weather,
limiting exposures to at most an hour or two, unless you plug into external power. (Power
inverters are available to plug into a nearby car.)
Despite a manual film camera's advantage for multi-hour exposures, the extra light sensitivity
and instant LCD feedback of a digital camera still lets you take better low-light images than
with film, limited only by battery life.
At high ISO and long exposures, digital shots require special noise handling:
Digital noise
For digital cameras, exposures longer than a few seconds at ISO 400+ create noise in
the form of mottling (grain-like appearance), plus dozens of annoying random bright
pixels, or "hot spots". Most digital cameras now have a Noise Reduction feature,
which automatically removes hots spots and mottling. Noise Reduction removes hot
spots with a "dark frame subtraction" algorithm, for example, causing a 30-second
exposure to take 60 seconds. (Astronomers avoid digital "hot spots" by specially
cooling their digital sensors.)
On my Nikon D40X DSLR, the optional Noise Reduction kicks in for shots at ISO 800+
or at shutter speeds of about 8 or more seconds. However, Noise Reduction can
deteriorate image quality (resembling a smeared watercolor painting), which reduces
effective printing size, so I turn off Noise Reduction and correct the "hot spots" using
editing software on the computer. Or better yet shoot at ISO 200 or 100 which
doesn't create hot spots or noise on the D40X (for at least 30-second exposures). At
higher ISO, reduce mottling noise with RAW Converter adjustments.
Anti-noise technique: Turn off Noise Reduction, then capture a black reference
image with the lens cap on, and use special software (such as Black Frame NR by
Mediachance) to automatically remove the hot spots from all images taken within a
few minutes. DSLRs of 2007 can take great images this way with 20-minute exposures
at ISO 100 or 200.
New 2008 DSLR cameras such as the Nikon D300 an D5000 shoot at ISO 3200
capturing much less noise than any film. Using high ISO gives you the option to
shorten exposures when you need to shoot in low light.
Antelope Canyon, Arizona, was shot with a compact Canon PowerShot Pro1 camera on a tripod
(0.4 seconds at f/8, at ISO 50, zoomed at 12mm, or 50mm lens equivalent in terms of 35mm).
A2. "Advantages of a Digital Camera":
Fast Digital Work Flow Excites Creativity
The instant feedback, high quality and powerful features of a digital camera make a better
creative tool than a 35mm-film SLR camera:
Scanning 35mm film doesn't offer significant quality advantages over a good DSLR with
APS-C size sensor (except perhaps when using highest professional quality film cameras,
lenses, and expensive scans).
When shopping for a camera, effective print size is the best criteria for judging
camera quality. In general, at a given megapixel size, cameras with larger lenses
and bigger sensors can usually make bigger and better prints, but the camera
brand's processing chip also has a big affect.
Highest quality subcompact digital cameras of at least 6 or 7 megapixels can
print well up to 16 x 12 inches (such as the Canon PowerShot SD700 IS Digital
ELPH new in Feb 2006, or older SD500).
The highest quality 8 megapixel compact cameras (such as Canon PowerShot
Pro1) can print well at 30 x 23 inches, assuming a 30 inch viewing distance.
Immediate Image Feedback on LCD: An LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) lets me immediately
see if I got the shot right, by observing the light value histogram and magnifying to check
focus. Non-SLR cameras can flexibly compose with a live LCD image, some with a live
histogram. With a "flip-out-and-twist" LCD, I can easily see what I'm shooting when
holding the camera over my head for an unusual perspective, or on the ground for a tight
macro shot. The electronic viewfinder (EVF) on the Canon Pro1 (not found on the G5) lets
me easily see the captured image even in bright sunlight. Many newer 2006 LCD screens
are now reasonably visible in direct sunlight. In the LCD or EVF, I can instantly determine
whether or not I exposed the right length of time to create a silky blur for a waterfall
(using the Pro1's built-in digital 3-stop Neutral Density filter). In the field, I conveniently
review & delete unwanted images, and give instant LCD shows to my wife & friends.
Cost Savings versus Film: Digital memory and rechargeable batteries are reusable for
many years, and are much cheaper than film developing, scanning & printing over the life
of the camera. Compared to printing rolls of negative film, you will probably print fewer
digital images due to easy viewing & editing on a computer or TV. The initial cost of a
digital camera body is similar to a comparable film camera, and you get much more for
your money. My example: For the price of one year's worth of slide film & developing
(assume 80 rolls times $9 per roll, or $720 for 3000 images on 35-film), I can buy a new
top-quality-all-in-one digital camera. In just just two years I have saved enough on film to
buy a new compact camera including the memory cards & accessories! Digital cameras
can be sold on to mostly offset the cost of a new and improved camera.
A small and light-weight design encourages you to carry the camera everywhere.
Subcompact cameras will fit in your pocket. Compact cameras are much less intimidating
for photographing people.
Fast Lens & Sensitivity:
Digital lets me shoot more quickly, with less tripod use. Quicker photography
means I can catch up to my wife on a hiking trail more quickly.
As of 2006-7, the best newer compact cameras have "optical image
stabilization", which lets you hand hold shots in one to three stops of lower light
(two to six times slower shutter speed). Also, compact camera performance at
ISO 400 and 800 keeps improving.
The bright lenses & sensitive sensors on the Canon Pro1 or G5 compact digital
cameras capture two or three stops more light compared to my 35mm-film
system. On the 2003 Canon G5, the quick bayonet-mounted 245 mm telephoto
lens has a bright f/3.0 minimum aperture, with much more depth of field than
35mm due to smaller sensor size. Upgrading to the 2004 Canon Pro1 eliminates
lens-swapping, because of its professional quality "L" 28-200 mm f/2.4-3.5 zoom
With the new gains in light sensitivity, I can shoot at maximum depth of field
much more often than on my 35mm-film SLR.
At all apertures, the Canon Pro1 captures sharper images than my previous 35mm film cameras.
Due to the smaller sensor and lens combination, an aperture of f/8 on the
Canon Pro1 has much deeper depth of field or "depth of focus" than f/8 on a
35mm-film camera. As a matter of physics, at fixed angle of view (equivalent
focal length) and f/ stop, a smaller sensor camera will have a greater depth of
field/focus than a larger sensor camera.
Click this link for a great depth of field calculator for most cameras:
For example, using the Pro1’s 28 mm wide angle lens at its maximum
of f/8 (narrowest aperture), everything is in focus from 1.4 feet to
infinity when you focus at 2.7 feet (the “hyperfocal point”). 35mm SLR
camera lenses can only equal this depth of field at f/32, and can only
improve upon it at f/45 (which would take an unusual lens).
For all camera lenses, however, maximizing depth of field (using
highest f/ number) overly softens the image due to increased light
diffraction through the smaller aperture (see reference). Most lenses
are sharpest or perform best at an aperture somewhere between wide
open (smallest f/ number) and about 2 stops down. Optimum
sharpness (or resolution) of the subject in focus will occur at a smaller
f/stop (wider aperture) than maximum depth of field - check technical
lens reviews for details.
The wide dynamic range (ability to capture detail simultaneously in shadows and
highlights) in digital JPG, or even better RAW files, is better than you get from scanning
35mm slide or print film.
RAW files contain so much shadow and highlight information that I don’t use a
graduated neutral-density filter on my compact Canon PowerShot Pro1. The
Pro1 RAW shot from Antelope Canyon above right shows a wider range of light
values than I could have captured by scanning Velvia film.
Even when recording JPEG files, a Canon PowerShot G5 or Pro1 digital camera
exceeds the shadow detail of Fujichrome Velvia slide film. Velvia film looks
dramatic because it is a contrasty film, with deep blacks which limit shadow
detail. Velvia may be less sensitive to blown highlights than digital sensors, but
sensors keep improving. In my experience, digital RAW files are superior to
scanning film for preserving highlight detail.
Fujichrome Velvia slide film captures 5 stops of dynamic range, Kodak Gold 200
print film captures 7 stops, and RAW files from the Canon 1D Mark II digital
SLR camera captures 10 stops of recoverable information.
o says that JPEGs from good DSLRs can by default capture 8 stops
of dynamic range (such as the Nikon D80, Sony DSLR-A100, and Canon EOS 30D).
The Nikon D40X (click for dpreview) and Canon EOS XTi 400D DSLRs capture 8.5
stops of dynamic range in JPEGs. RAW file converters further extend the
recoverable dynamic range to 10 stops in the Nikon D80, and 10.5 stops for the
Nikon D40X. This translates
Adobe Photoshop CS has a feature to automatically combine shots of different
exposures into one shot of greater effective dynamic range (which you can also
combine manually in other programs).
Instant White Balance: A simple toggle easily adjusts white balance for sunny, cloudy,
indoor, and other lighting on each image, without requiring a change of "film" or filter. For
example, you can make waterfalls perfectly white in shade or sun, thereby mimicking the
subliminal ability of the human eye/brain to see whites in bluish/shadow conditions as
white, or to see "whites" indoors under yellowish incandescent or greenish fluorescent
lighting. Saving in RAW format at shooting time lets you decide the white balance later on
the computer!
Record Movies & Sound:
Most compact & subcompact digital cameras can capture as many movies with
sound as will fill up the memory card. They can also conveniently attach
recorded monophonic sounds/music/voice to any still image.
Digital SLR cameras (DSLR's) don't support movies or sound.
The ultra-subcompact Canon PowerShot SD500 digital ELPH (2005, DIGIC II)
nicely upgrades Movies to 30 and 60 fps options, with dynamic exposure and
digital zoom as you shoot, like a dedicated video camera. (SD500 or SD700 IS
sound recording isn't as good as on the Pro1.)
The Canon PowerShot Pro1 (released February 2004, with DIGIC I chip) takes
movies which are limited to a fixed initial exposure & zoom setting and only 15
frames per second (fps). (A dedicated video camera shoots 30 fps.) The Pro1 can
shoot up to 3-minutes per clip with an image sized 320x240 pixels, or 30seconds per clip at high quality 640x480. Seven seconds of movie take the
memory of one highest quality JPEG picture (~3.4 MB), so take 50 minutes of
video on 1 Gigabyte (GB) card.
Digital camera rechargeable batteries
yield more shots per unit weight (ounce
or gram) than rolls of film, which is
great news for backpackers. I shoot all
day on two rechargeable batteries using
the Canon Pro1, or on one battery using
the G5. I carry up to 8 batteries on weeklong trips away from power. The weight
and size of image memory cards is
almost negligible (for SD or
CompactFlash). On a multi-day trip
without power, carrying a given weight
of charged digital camera batteries
shoots more pictures than the same
weight of 36-shot film cartridges.
A side stream plunges into North Umpqua
River, near Roseburg, Oregon. On digital
camera LCDs, instantly view effects of
different exposures. Fuel your creativity for
the next shot. But with film, wait days or
weeks to develop. Shooting film is a slowly-learned art. Shooting digitally advances your
photographic skills much faster.
Immunity to airport XRAYs: You can now relax at airports, because digital cameras and
memory cards have no problem with airport XRAYs (whereas film can be fogged by
multiple exposures to XRAY, and airport security often forces you to XRAY carry-on film if
less than ASA/ISO 800.)
Digital edits easier than film:
I prefer the ease of digitally editing images on a computer, rather than fighting
the dust and eyestrain when I view slides & film with a magnifying loupe while
I'm hunched over a light table.
My favorite computer tool is Adobe Lightroom for quickest high-quality work
flow, with great image comparison, non-destructive editing, database, labeling,
& web gallery features.
Scanning film versus digital shooting: See examples above. Some Canon
PowerShot G5 images required a short 15 minutes to optimize (such as to
correct for magenta and green ghost edges/fringing along high contrast
boundaries, correctable with Filter...Distort...Lens Correction, new in Photoshop
CS; and much less of a problem on the Canon Pro1). In comparison, I took much
longer (at least 90 minutes) optimizing an image scanned from film on the Nikon
LS-2000. Instead of upgrading my Nikon LS-2000 film scanner in 2004, I bought
the 8-megapixel Pro1 which gave me faster work flow and better quality. In
2006, I upgraded to the Konica Minolta DiMAGE Scan Dual IV film scanner,
which greatly improved dynamic range and resolution, with little Photoshop
work required (similar in quality to Canon Pro1 camera images). [The new
Konica Minolta scanner cost less money than I received by selling my former
Nikon LS-2000 scanner on e-Bay.]
Image editing & backup in the field:
On our 2007 trip to New Zealand, my 23 gigabytes in memory cards were
enough to store all the images for the 6-week trip (mostly RAW files, on my
8-megapixel Canon Pro1).
I regularly delete unwanted images in the field, and can shoot for days
without changing the "digital film" card. To back-up memory cards and free
up memory on a long international trip, I sometimes rent a computer at an
Internet Cafe and copy images to a compact disk or DVD. Use the "writeonce" CD-R, DVD+R, or DVD-R disks for greater longevity (~50+ years). The
rewriteable kind, CD-RW or DVD-RW disks, are only appropriate for
temporary storage for a few years. I like to travel lightweight and fast
without the burden of a laptop computer or portable hard drive.
On a compact digital camera, I shoot a mixture of RAW, high quality JPEG,
movie and sound files. A 1-gigabyte Compactflash card holds 290 highest
quality JPEGs (~3.4 MB each) on my 8-megapixel camera; or 400 JPEG
images (~2.5 MB each) on my 5-megapixel camera. RAW format images
consume 9.02 MB on my 8-megapixel Canon Pro1 camera, and 4.725 MB
on the 5-megapixel Canon G5 camera.
Great memory cards and file formats:
Despite their amazingly tiny physical size, "digital film" cards can have a
huge memory storage capacity.
In 2007, memory prices have dropped drastically, and the best price per
gigabyte is for 2-gigabyte cards. Buy at Costco or comparison shop at
For general travel use, I recommend the "SanDisk Ultra II 2.0 GB" cards
with a fast 60x write speed (9 MB/sec), 66x read (10 MB/sec) & a lifetime
warranty. These cards are so reliable that they have been known to go
through a washing machine without damage (but don't try it deliberately).
Other good brands include Panasonic, Lexar and Kingston.
IMPORTANT TIP using memory cards: Always Format a new memory card
in the camera before using it the first time (and any time that you wish to
efficiently erase all contents). Never Format a memory card using your
computer or card reader, and don't trust the format originally shipped on
the memory card, or else you may not be able to access the images on your
computer. Card readers have a much higher failure rate than the cards. I
have had at least two card readers go bad (or become incompatible with a
computer or operating system upgrade), but all memory cards are still
going strong after 3 years. To work around any card reader problem,
connect your camera directly to the computer with the provided USB cable
(a slower but sometimes more reliable interface). I find that writing files
from the computer to the card can make them unreadable in the camera's
playback mode. Only write/capture images to the memory card using the
camera itself, then the images on the card can be reliably read on any
standard computer card reader (or through the camera's slower USB
Convenient JPG and RAW File Formats: Canon's Superfine JPEG makes high quality
files less than half the size of RAW. But you must shoot JPG with all settings exactly
right, or else you can lose shadow or highlight detail. RAW format is much more
forgiving and lets you perfectly optimize white balance, contrast, tone, sharpness and
exposure AFTER shooting, with up to 2 stops more exposure latitude, and more than
16 times as much editing headroom to avoid posterization.
JPEG file format:
If you shoot with settings exactly right on a JPEG file and the image looks
great without changes, then RAW file format offers little advantage.
(Canon's Superfine JPEG files are initially indistinguishable from 8-bit TIF
files that you Convert from RAW using Zoombrowser.)
JPEG stores 8 bits for each of the three color channels (Red, Green, & Blue)
at each pixel, which is referred to as an "8-bit" image file format (or a total
of 24 bits of RGB color per pixel), which matches the output data size of
most current printers, monitors and output devices. Each pixel in "8-bit"
format can have a value from 0 to 255 for each color channel.
Beware when editing and saving JPEG files, since JPEG files always lose
image quality with each save, due to a "lossy" compression algorithm.
Always save your original JPEG to a TIF file (or other "loss-less" format)
before making changes, then make all saves to that lossless format. Beware
that editing deteriorates "8-bit" TIF files much more quickly than editing
16-bit TIF files (which you can create/convert from 12-bit RAW files).
Or if the image needs no changes, the RAW Converter can output the
smaller 8-bit TIF files, or much smaller 8-bit JPEG files with any size/quality
At each pixel, Camera RAW stores 12 bits (with a wide range of color values
from 0 to 4095) for each of the three color channels (Red, Green, & Blue).
RAW stores 4 bits more than 8-bit TIF or JPG files, which is two to the
fourth power, or 16 times as much color information. When you edit "16bit" TIF files, they preserve detail in shadows & highlights (skies) with at
least 16 times as much editing headroom as 8-bit TIF or JPG files.
My favorite all-around tool is Adobe Lightroom for quickest high-quality
work flow, with great editing & web gallery features.
I also like the handy RAW converter in Zoombrowser (version 4.6 or later),
supplied free with Canon cameras. The RAW Converter in Adobe
Photoshop CS, CS2 or CS3 is even better, and integrates well with the
included Adobe Bridge file manager.
Great piecemeal RAW-save feature: Canon PowerShot Pro1, G5 & G6
cameras let you optionally save in RAW format after each shot while in
JPEG mode (a feature not found in most other cameras). Note that RAW
images (on the Pro1 and G5 or G6) appear fuzzy at highest magnification in
playback, preventing a sharpness check, which is why I preset "File Format
= L (3264x2448)", which is the 8-megapixel JPEG mode, and I individually
convert each shot to RAW by pressing the FUNC button immediately after
shooting a displayed image. I zoom to the pixel level on the LCD to check
for sharp focus or depth of field, then I conveniently decide whether to
save in high-quality RAW format, or default to the Superfine JPEG format,
depending on my memory space priorities. (The Canon PowerShot G7
unfortunately doesn't have RAW.)
Whenever you make multiple edits (changing color levels, contrast, tone or
saturation and then re-save), an image can lose information or gain noise,
even in a "lossless" format like TIF. Therefore, for making prints larger than
8 x 10 inches, I recommend doing all editing in 16-bit TIF files obtained
from RAW.
RAW is a digital camera's native, flexible, highest-quality file format:
RAW contains the original data from the digital sensor.
RAW files require a developing step using a "RAW Converter" program on
your computer to create a TIF, JPEG, or other standard image format. Your
camera does a similar one-time conversion when it creates JPGs at
shooting time. But the RAW converter on your computer is more flexible
and powerful than the JPG converter in your camera.
While you cannot change ISO, shutter speed or aperture after shooting, the
RAW Converter does let you change most everything else on your
computer, including:
white balance, contrast, tone, sharpness, exposure compensation, and
noise reduction, with no posterization. On modern DSLR cameras, RAW
Converters can let you recover up to 2 stops of dynamic range beyond the
shot settings.
RAW Converters can output high-quality "16-bit" TIF format files, which
can be further edited with little loss.
MEDIOCRE: Television (TV has about 480 vertical pixels interlaced) =
Dubious quality (similar to VGA), but fast, easy and universal. You can show
quickly presentations on a TV directly from the camera's standard RCA wire
plug, with Movies and zooming capability (which can be controlled by the
Pro1 or its handy remote).
BETTER QUALITY: DVD (480 vertical pixels progressive; up to 576x720
pixels) played on HDTV = DVD is not a bad format for showing stills
synchronized with sound and music to an audience. DVD format pleases
general audiences, but due to lack of resolution & size on an HDTV, it has
much less impact compared to projection on a big screen. Straight lines
appear pixellated or wavy when viewed within 5 feet on our 32" HDTV. I
have used Pinnacle Studio (version 8.10.4SE and version 10 Plus) on a PC to
create a pleasing DVD show, but it does not allow mixing of the Movies
(from Pro1 or G5) with stills, and the program hangs frequently during
editing or rendering even on a powerful PC. Workaround for Movies: A
compact digital camera's Movies can be played on a PC, or transferred from
camera to video tape then played on a VCR.
VERY GOOD QUALITY: Personal Computer monitor (SXGA, 1280x1024 or
better) = Excellent quality, but can be seen only by a few people at a time.
Microsoft Powerpoint 2003 can load a folder of images at once using
Insert>Picture>Photo Album, then I add titles and music to make a nice
VERY GOOD QUALITY: Digital projector XGA (1024x768 pixels) = For
highest-quality presentations to rival or exceed the quality of projected
film, use a digital projector (or large computer monitor) connected to a
laptop/notebook computer, at least XGA (1024x768 pixels) resolution.
Projectors are now reasonably priced ($600-$1600), but the cheaper ones
can look pixellated or artificial. Epson and Dell make good XGA projectors. I
have admired the color rendition of the Epson Powerlite 73c projector
(XGA, 1500 lumens, 500:1 contrast, about $1600 in 2005), which should
impress most audiences, including professional photographers.
BEST QUALITY: Digital projector SXGA (1280x1024) or higher = SXGA
(1280x1024) is best, which looks about as detailed as a projected film slide
at typical viewing distances. I now enjoy the excellent Canon Realis SX50
Multimedia Projector ($3500 in October 2006; SXGA+; 1400 by 1050 pixels;
1000 to 1 contrast; 2000 measured lumens; true 720p HD broadcast),
which makes fantastic presentations, generally better than slide film. [In
comparison, film projectors such as the "Kodak Carousel 4600" perform
poorly, due to the following: smaller contrast ratio, requiring a darker
room; and focus problems on every slide - even after the film warms up,
the edges or middle are always out of focus, despite the projector's
correcting "C" lens and autofocus, requiring labor-intensive glass slide
mounting to resolve.] For projecting DVDs from a Progressive Scan DVD
player, the Canon SX50 also creates a spectacular movie theatre
experience, especially if you have a 6-speaker Surround Sound system!
A3. "Advantages of a Digital Camera":
Choose from Two Styles of Camera: Compact or DSLR.
Both SLR and compact styles of high-end digital cameras (2004 or later) generally exceed the
capabilities of 35mm-film cameras in a given size class.
Recommendations for nature travel photography:
For latest camera recommendations, click BUY menu on
Competition between brands constantly improves the camera quality.
Your creative photographic skills will have much greater impact than your camera choice,
as described in my book, "Light Travel: Photography on the Go."
The image quality gains from larger sensors or camera formats mainly affects
how close you can view a print before it looks blurry. Highway billboard images
can be made from cameras of all sizes, as viewing distance from your car is more
than two or three times the width of the sign.
I published images from all types of cameras, from SLR to point-and-shoot.
Advantages of SLR digital cameras over compact digital:
DEFINITIONS: an SLR (Single Lens Reflex) camera has a mirror that lets the viewfinder see
directly through the interchangeable lens. SLR cameras come in film or digital models. A
digital SLR is commonly called a DSLR.
Most SLR cameras autofocus instantly, whereas many older compact digital cameras have
significant shutter lag (as do "point-and-shoot" film cameras). But as of 2006, many highend compact cameras eliminate most shutter lag. The subcompact Pentax Optio S5i (new
in 2004) offers a shutter lag of only 0.4 seconds. My Canon PowerShot Pro1 with firmware
upgrade version (December 2004) reduces shutter lag to as low as 0.2 or 0.3
seconds. The ultra-subcompact Canon PowerShot SD700 IS camera (new in 2006) has a
faster click speed.
Low noise at higher ISO: When shooting at a speed above ISO 100, DSLR digital cameras
capture significantly less noise than compact cameras. DSLR cameras are excellent for
photographing low light, indoor, and action subjects (children, sports, pets, birds, animals,
insects), much better than film technology. (Digital noise looks like random-colored grain,
most noticeable in the shadows or continuous tone areas such as skies.)
SLR systems offer a bigger variety of high quality interchangeable lenses (in which you
may have already invested). Manufacturers have retrofitted existing SLR body designs by
fitting a smaller digital sensor in place of the 35mm film, which crops the image area,
using just the "sweet spot" (central area) of the lens, and creates a nice 1.5x or 1.6x
telephoto "magnifier" effect (but "wastes" the unused glass, makes the design
unnecessarily heavy, and forces you to buy a wider angle zoom lens to compensate for the
effect). A few of the most expensive professional DSLRs have fitted a full-35mm-size
sensor (with 12+ megapixels) with no field of view cropping effect, which can shoot with
impressively less noise at higher ISO.
Battery life for DSLR cameras is often superior to compact digital cameras. (Battery power
on my Nikon D40X lasts 2.5 times longer my compact Pro1 in real world use.)
The extra quality of DSLR cameras can be useful if you intend to print larger than 16 x 12
inches, such as for fine-art posters. For a given megapixel sensor size, SLR digital cameras
can make significantly larger prints versus compact digital cameras, due to bigger lenses
and physically larger sensors which gather more light, more accurately at each pixel.
Note: 35mm film measures 36x24mm.
than an SLR's LCD, and shows a live histogram. No movies. Its RAW files are
unnecessarily large, 20MB, requiring more memory card space and slow shot
turnaround. You can extend the telephoto 1.7x to 204 mm f/4.8 (by adding a
hefty 2.2-pound, 5.75 inch long “VCL-DEH17R tele conversion lens”, $400 in
2005). For better alternatives, see "Best Travel Cameras".
For example, the Canon EOS 20D DSLR has a light sensor 22.5 x 15.0 mm, 6
times the light-gathering area of the compact Canon PowerShot Pro1
sensor,which measures 8.86 x 6.64 mm, yet both sensors capture 8 megapixels.
The extra light-gathering power on the bigger SLR sensor captures significantly
better color accuracy, wider dynamic range and significantly less noise,
especially at ISO settings of 400 and higher. This difference will only become
noticeable around ISO 200 or higher when making prints larger than 5x7
inches. The 2007 Nikon D40X sensor is 23.7 x 15.6 mm and captures 10
megapixels with excellent quality.
Disadvantages of SLR digital cameras over "compact" digital:
DSLR (digital SLR) cameras can be about twice the size, twice the weight and twice the
price of compact digitals, which may discourage you from carrying them everywhere, so
you may miss many great shots.
Better value: You get more for your money with an "all-in-one" compact digital, which lets
you upgrade sooner to the next generation camera (every 2 years or so), if desired. You
can sell your former cameras on or e-Bay like I do. Compact digital cameras
offer a portable all-in-one photography solution with quality good enough for most
consumers. See "The Best Travel Cameras"
SLR digital cameras don't record sound or Movies with sound (while compact digital
cameras do). "SLR" digital cameras don't display a live image or capture movies, due to
the viewfinder mirror blocking the sensor. On an SLR, you must first snap the shutter
before seeing a fixed image on the LCD. [In contrast, before clicking the shutter, compact
digital cameras act like a video camera showing a live, continuous view of exposure, white
balance and in some cases a live light-value histogram, as you creatively pan and zoom
through all possible compositions.]
Macro or close-focus photography is more difficult on an SLR due to the lack of a flip out
and swivel LCD, and more expensive & heavier, requiring a separate macro lens. [Many
compact digital cameras have excellent built in close-focus ability with good depth of field,
such as 1 or 2 centimeter close focus.]
Changing lenses opens an SLR to a serious dust problem on the sensor, which is difficult
to clean, and mars every image - many professional photographers complain about this. I
use the Giotto Rocket hand-squeezed blower for my Nikon D40X, which required
immediate dusting when new out of the box. (Compact digital cameras don't let dust onto
the sensor, yet still accept high-quality external add-on lenses, which actually increase the
Break-even point of DSLR versus non-DSLR cameras:
When shooting at ISO 50, the 8-megapixel Canon PowerShot Pro1 (at half the
bulk) equals the quality of a 6-megapixel DSLR (such as the Nikon D70). At ISO
100 or higher, a DSLR image will capture less noise than the Pro1. Noise looks
like random color or monochrome spots visible in areas of continuous tone like
shadows and skies.
The 10-megapixel Sony DSC R1 has image quality equal to an excellent 8megapixel DSLR (such as Canon Rebel XT) at ISO up to 400, and at a better price
value. Unfortunately the "R-1" is just as bulky as a small SLR. The Sony DSC R1 is
the first fixed-lens "prosumer" camera with a large sensor (APS-C size,
measuring 21.5 x 14.4 mm). The Sony DSC R1 has a superb 24-120 mm lens,
with f/2.8-4.8 widest aperture. Shutter release time is as good as an SLR in good
light (but slows in lower light). The flip-out & twist, top-mounted LCD is
transreflective (visible in direct sunlight), and has better manual focus visibility
For travel, use the lightest DSLR cameras such as the Canon Rebel XTi mounted with
lightweight, high-quality Canon "EF-S" lenses which are specifically designed for the "APSC" digital sensor size. Or get the Nikon D60 DSLR mounted with Nikkor "DX" lenses. Or buy
Sigma "DC" lenses for most DSLRs. The "designed for digital" lenses focus better on the
inset photosites of digital sensors, with less vignetting. The older, pre-digital lenses (such
as Canon EF) are heavier, with enough glass to focus on a full 35mm-sized film frame.
When used on digital SLR cameras, only the center or "sweet spot" of a Canon EF lens is
used, which can help eliminate edge distortions, if any.
camera's light-gathering power. In 3 years of dusty travel, my Canon PowerShot Pro1
never got dust on its sensor. Although some dust & maybe fungus did get into the inside
surface of lens elements through lack of sealing of the zoom, which must have softened
images a little, I did not notice any affect on image quality.)
An SLR can be overkill for many photographers:
Little cameras can now make high-quality large prints.
Top-of-the-line compact digital cameras of at least 5 to 8 megapixels can create
an image file similar in quality to scanning 35mm film, in a given camera class.
For example, the little Canon G5 (2003) makes good prints to 12 x 16 inches, like
a similar-sized film camera.
For bigger prints, get a top of the line compact camera:
While the extra quality of digital SLR images can make superior prints beyond 16
x 12 inches in size, this size exceeds the needs of most magazine, book, or web
publishing. If you want more megapixels in an image (for added quality in giant
enlargements & panoramas), you can shoot a panorama (or square) of multiple
images and easily stitch them together with software.
If your only goal is high quality image projection on an HDTV or computer monitor, you
need less than two megapixels of resolution, or as little as SXGA, 1280x1024 pixels; but
this severely limits sharp print size.
As of March 2009, the best travel camera for its size & weight is the Panasonic Lumix
DMC-GH1. The Panasonic GH1 easily beats the image quality (by two or three times the
real resolution) and shutter response of my former Canon PowerShot Pro1 (new in 2004).
In 2011, the Panasonic DMC-G3 beats the GH2 and GH1.
In a very compact size, the Canon Pro1 offered quality similar to scans of 35mm
film from an SLR-film camera. The 8-megapixel Canon PowerShot Pro1 rivaled
the quality of 6-megapixel SLR cameras when shooting at 50 ISO.
I really enjoy an all-in-one, carry-everywhere camera such as the 2004 Canon
PowerShot Pro1 which is less than half the weight and size of an SLR, yet equals
digital SLR print quality up to at least 16 x 12 inches (when shooting at ISO 50 on
a tripod). I have sold impressive prints measuring 30 by 23 inches from my
tripod-mounted Pro1 shot at ISO 50 or 100.
High-end compact digital cameras such as Canon Pro1 reduced shutter lag to as
fast as 0.2 to 0.3 seconds (with firmware upgrade version, not bad.
The Panasonic GH1 and successors beat the Pro1, "hands down."
Reasonable performance:
Shutter lag is reduced in more recent cameras (2007), along with less sensor
noise. The Canon Pro1, released in 2004, uses the relatively noisy DIGIC I chip.
Canon's "DIGIC II" chip, used in the ultra-subcompact Canon ELPH SD500 and
SD700 IS, greatly reduces sensor noise at ISO up to 400. In 2006, Canon DIGIC III
cameras offered faster & better performance at ISOs up to 400 (but ISO 800 is
very noisy on compacts). In 2008, DIGIC IV was incrementally better.
B. Disadvantages of an Older Compact Digital Camera:
2003 Canon PowerShot G5
Short battery life on digital cameras:
Surprisingly, battery life is not much of a problem, usually lasting for a full day on
the G5 or half a day on the Pro1. I change digital camera batteries less
frequently than changing film camera film! Battery life is limited in weather
below freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit or 0 Celsius) unless you frequently
exchange with a warm battery in a pocket near your skin. I had no camera
problems shooting in Antarctica in near-freezing temperatures in a snow storm,
other than trying to keep the camera dry.
3 backup batteries work fine for me on the G5. On a 4-day backpacking trip
away from power outlets, I shot hundreds of images yet used only two batteries.
After using the G5 for more than 5 or 6 hours total "on" time, I put in a spare
battery. The Pro1 runs for 2.5 to 3 hours.
The Canon Pro1 and G5 require a special battery which must be charged from an
electrical outlet, or through a car adapter. Chargers for cars luckily have the
same plug worldwide. A few small adapters convert to AC power plugs
After 3 minutes of inactivity, the camera shuts down automatically (adjustable)
to save power.
At half the size and weight, the Canon PowerShot G5 managed to exceed overall
capabilities of my SLR film camera! The G5 was so much fun that I quit using film.
But the G5 had some disadvantages, with workarounds shown below in italics.
I resolved G5 limitations by upgrading to Canon PowerShot Pro1 in 2004.
Shutter lag: 1-second delay as G5 focuses and exposes before taking picture:
Not a problem for most of my travel/nature shots, since after holding down the
shutter button halfway for a second while composing the shot, the full press is
then instant. Shooting in manual focus also reduces the delay.
Upgrade: The Canon G6 shutter lag of 0.8 seconds isn't much improvement over
the G5. Upgrade to Canon PowerShot Pro1 (with Firmware upgrade version, downloaded from Canon's Support web site), which can focus at an
impressively fast 0.2 to 0.3 seconds at wide angle (twice as fast as Pro1
Firmware version G5 or G6 is not good for shooting action, fast moving
young children, pets or sports.
G5: sharp manual or macro focus is sometimes hard to determine BEFORE taking the
shot, even using the manual-focus live LCD magnifier provided:
The G5’s LCD is hard to see in bright sunlight:
Workaround: Use the viewfinder or shade with a large hat, or jacket. Upgrade:
The Pro1 corrects the problem by providing an electronic viewfinder with an eye
shade. (Also, new "day view" LCD screen technology visible in bright sunlight is
becoming available on some newer cameras.)
Workaround: Check focus AFTER each shot by magnifying image in LCD (BEFORE
saving RAW format). Autofocus usually works, except for being fussy in macro
Upgrade: The Pro1 improves manual focus compared to the G5, but is still not as
good as an SLR camera. SLR digital cameras focus much faster.
4-second wait as G5 boots up each time you turn it on: Not a problem. Upgrade: Pro1
starts up in 3 seconds.
G5 Lens/Sensor Flaw: Edges of high contrast shot below F4.5 on some images
can have a magenta/purple/or green fringe. This is the most serious flaw in the
G5, but is only a problem in prints larger than 8x10 inches. Workaround:
Shooting at f4.5 or higher can help. Easily correct chromatic aberrations in
Adobe Lightroom; or use quick Filter...Distort...Lens Correction in Photoshop CS.
(Film cameras have many worse problems such as: inability to adjust white
balance on every shot; lack of instant creative feedback on an LCD; and
significant losses from scanning that take hours of Photoshop time to
compensate.) Problem may be due to "charge bleeding" on adjacent pixels in the
sensor. (Nikon LS-2000 film scanner has a similar problem bleeding of red into
high contrast edges, especially on silhouette images.)
Part of G5 lens appears in viewfinder:
Upgrade: The Pro1 has a new professional quality lens and sensor which greatly
reduces the problem.
Not a problem if you use the great LCD which shows 100%. Upgrade: New
electronic viewfinder on Canon Pro1 eliminates the problem and shows 100%.
A good 5-megapixel camera to replace the Canon G5:
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ20 with image-stabilized, high-quality 12x optical zoom lens, or
successor 8-megapixel FZ30. Or, get a carry-everywhere subcompact camera the size of a
deck of playing cards, such as Panasonic DMC-TZ1 or DMC-FX7, or Canon ELPH SD700 IS
(all with image stabilization) and successors.
In Fall 2006, Canon released the PowerShot G7 (half the size and weight of the G5; and better
pictures). The G7 has 10 megapixels, DIGIC III, image stabilization, 35-210mm f2.8-5.9 lens,
0.4" macro, 2.5" LCD visible at high angles (but no flip-out-and twist). Unfortunately G7 has no
RAW file support, which returned as a feature in later G series models.
C. Camera Comparison Table: Film versus Digital in 2007
For travel & nature photo subjects, look for compact, lightweight, high-quality imaging equipment on a moderate budget. In 2004, at half the size and weight of my Nikon N70 film camera, the
compact digital Canon PowerShot Pro1 camera equaled the quality from film digitized on a Minolta home scanner. In the table below, compare four cameras:
1) Nikon D40X Digital SLR (DSLR), 2) compact digital Canon PowerShot Pro1, 3) compact digital Canon PowerShot G5, and 4) traditional Nikon N70 SLR shooting 35mm Fujichrome Velvia 50 film.
In each row of the table below, I rate each feature as follows: ****=Best of these four cameras; ***=second best; **=third best
Feature to Compare
4rth best: Nikon N70 (new in 1996)
SLR camera, shooting 35mm Fujichrome
Velvia 50 film
** 3rd best: Canon PowerShot G5 (new
in 2003)
compact digital camera
*** 2nd best: Canon PowerShot Pro1 (new in
compact digital camera
**** BEST: Nikon D40X DSLR (new in 2007) with
Nikkor 18-200mm VR lens (new in 2006)
Weight with lens
system & battery:
54 ounces (includes camera & two
interchangeable lenses below, giving a
range from 28-210 mm)
** 28 ounces (19-ounce G5 camera with
4x zoom 35-140 mm equivalent, plus 9ounce bayonet-mounted fixed 245 mm
equivalent telephoto lens)
**** 25 ounces (a completely self-contained, small
and lightweight 7x zoom, 28-200 mm camera)
*** 38 ounces (18-ounce camera, mounted with
excellent 20-ounce 11x zoom lens, 27-300mm
equivalent, with 4 stops optical image stabilization)
5.9 x 4.1 x 2.8 plus 2 lenses.
*** 4.8 x 2.9 x 2.8 inches plus telephoto
makes G5 bigger than Pro1. G5 is about
half the weight & size of Nikon N70.
**** 4.6 x 2.8 x 3.5 inches all inclusive. Smallest,
lightest high quality system for a travel
photographer & hiker such as myself! Great for
backpacking, extended trips or day hikes.
** 5.0 x 3.7 x 2.5 inches (126 x 94 x 64 mm) body,
plus lens extends 3.8 inches / 96.5mm from the
body, and has diameter of 3 inches / 77mm. Much
bulkier than the Pro1, but proportionately more
* 5 megapixels, 2592 x 1944 native size,
of sufficient quality to enlarge prints up
to 12x16 inches, (with quality similar to
Nikon LS-2000 scans of 35mm film).
Dynamic range is superior to slide film.
DIGIC I processor. Image proportion = 4:3
matches computer monitors & TV.
*** 8 megapixels, 3264 x 2448 native size (sensor
size = 8.86 x 6.64 mm), of sufficient quality to
enlarge prints up to 23 x 30 inches (with quality
similar to higher resolution 35mm film scans, such
as Konica Minolta DiMAGE Scan Dual IV at
3200dpi). Dynamic range is superior to slide film.
DIGIC I processor. Image proportion = 4:3 matches
computer monitors & TV.
**** 10.2 megapixels, 3872 x 2592 native size
(sensor size 23.7 x 15.6 mm CCD; 1.5x FOV crop).
Enlarge prints to 23 x 30 inches (or larger
maximum print size if viewed from a distance equal
to the longer print dimension). Image proportion =
The D40X's ISO 800 captures less luminance noise
than Pro1's ISO 100. This is three stops
improvement in terms of ISO speed (because the
D40X sensor gathers 6.3 times more light area than
the Pro1's; the D40X's DIGIC II processor is superior
to the Pro1's DIGIC I; and the 1.7x larger diameter
lens gathers more light). ****
1. 35-140 mm (in 35mm-film terms),
amazingly fast f/2.0-3.0 zoom lens.
2. Fixed 245 mm f/3.0 telephoto lens,
with quick bayonet mount. (Brighter lens
requires tripod much less than film
*** 28-200 mm (in 35mm-film terms), f/2.4-3.5
zoom lens (professional "L" series, UD & fluorite,
ultrasonic). The high-quality 7x zoom lens means
no more annoyance of juggling multiple lenses!
(Brighter lens requires tripod much less than film
**** 27-300 mm in 35mm-film terms, or actually
18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G IF-ED AF-S DX VR ZoomNikkor. The f/3.5 widest aperture on this lens is
one f/stop slower than the Pro1's f/2.4, but its
physical glass diameter (72mm) is 1.7 times bigger
& gathers more light.
Megapixels, Sensor,
and Effective Print
** ~12 megapixels = quicker & better
scans on the ** Konica Minolta DiMAGE
Scan Dual IV at 3200dpi, making 2892 x
4284 pixels, of sufficient quality to enlarge
prints up to 20 x 30 inches, but only from
exceptionally sharp slides.
* ~9 megapixels = time-consuming &
lossy scanning of slides on a * Nikon LS2000 scanner at 2700 dpi with dynamic
range 3.6, creating an image 3700 x 2500
pixels, of sufficient quality to enlarge
prints up to 12x18 inches. Image
proportion for 35mm film = 3:2.
1. Sigma 28-105 mm, f/2.8-4 zoom lens **
2. Sigma 70-210 mm, f/3.5-4.5 macro
zoom telephoto lens
4rth best: Nikon N70 (new in 1996)
SLR camera, shooting 35mm Fujichrome
Velvia 50 film
** 3rd best: Canon PowerShot G5 (new
in 2003)
compact digital camera
*** 2nd best: Canon PowerShot Pro1 (new in
compact digital camera
Focus/shutter speed:
*** very fast to lock focus and release
Very slow to lock focus, about 1 second
(not good for action). Image capture is
instant (less than 0.1 seconds) if you first
press shutter release halfway to lock
focus, or use manual focus. Spot
autofocus may also be faster than area
** Quick shutter response 0.2 - 0.3 seconds (with
Firmware upgrade version . Image capture
is instant (less than 0.1 seconds) if you first press
shutter release halfway to lock focus, or use
manual focus. Spot autofocus may also be faster
than area autofocus.
Battery Life:
**** ~1000 images (but note that I must
frequently pause to rewind and change
36-shot film rolls on this 35mm SLR
camera, at least 4 times more often than I
pause on a digital camera for any reason,
such as to change the rechargeable
** ~400 images or 6 hours.
~160 images or 2.5 hours. (I change rechargeable
digital camera batteries less often than I would
change 35mm film.)
** 1.8 inch LCD (118,000 pixels), flips out
and twists for easy overhead, waist-level
or macro shots. Light value histogram.
Instant image review and magnification!
**** 2.0 inch LCD (235,000 pixels), flips out and
twists for easy overhead, waist-level or macro
shots. Light value histogram. Instant image review
and magnification!
**** 2.5 inch LCD TFT (230,000 pixels)
No LCD - cannot view image until film is
developed, days or weeks later. Often
clumsy to frame macro or overhead shots
through viewfinder.
In this small viewfinder, the lens
protrusion blocks the view by 18%. (Using
the LCD is usually more helpful.)
*** Large electronic through-the-lens viewfinder
(EVF) works even in bright sunlight. Matches LCD
view (235,000 pixels). Light value histogram.
Instant image review & magnification! I like this
EVF as much as the through-the-lens viewfinder of
an SLR camera, except for focus accuracy, for
which I usually rely on autofocus or zooming into
the image after shooting..
**** bright & detailed optical viewfinder, with
focus indications, AE/FV lock indicator, Shutter
speed, Aperture value, Exposure/Exposure
compensation indicator, Exposure mode, Flash &
Exposure compensation, Number of remaining
exposures, Flash-ready indicator
Feature to Compare
** Through the lens (SLR), nice and sharp.
(--But cannot see the captured image, a
histogram, or the effect of exposure
**** BEST: Nikon D40X DSLR (new in 2007) with
Nikkor 18-200mm VR lens (new in 2006)
**** very fast to lock focus and release shutter
*** ~ 420 images
White Balance: (Very
important to adjust
each shot for cloudy,
shady, or artificial
lighting situations.)
Very limited or clumsy control (by using
warming filters or changing film).
[same as Canon Pro1 on the right]
**** Easy to control white balance for each shot;
plus total control using RAW, where you can
change white balance and 1-2 stops exposure on a
computer after shooting!
Movies with sound:
No movies or sound recording.
*** 320x240 pixels Movie+sound @ 15
frames/sec. Can also attach sound
recordings to stills.
**** 640 x 480 pixels Movie+sound (also 320x240)
@ 15 frames/sec. Can also attach sound recordings
to stills.
*** Changing white balance requires annoying 5+
button presses on the D40X (but only 2+ presses on
the Pro1).
No movies or sound recording.
Feature to
Advantages +
Disadvantages --
4rth best: Nikon N70 (new in 1996)
SLR camera, shooting 35mm Fujichrome
Velvia 50 film
+ Very fast focusing, good for action. ***
(true for both film & digital SLRs)
+ Can add a larger variety of different
lenses, including VR (Vibration Reduction,
or image stabilization)
+ Change batteries only once every ~1000
images (-- but have to change film
-- Must wait weeks before reviewing
images; must bracket and shoot extra
expensive film to capture correct
-- Large and heavy equipment, gathers 2
or 3 stops less light than digital systems,
inconvenient for travel
-- Slide film has a low dynamic range,
losing detail, and often requires a
graduated filter.
-- Cannot easily change white balance.
-- Must frequently change lenses, which
consumes vital shooting time and lets dust
enter to scratch film. Workaround: use a
good all-in-one 28-200mm lens.
-- Must pause to change film often (more
often than changing batteries or memory
on a digital camera)
** 3rd best: Canon PowerShot G5
(new in 2003)
compact digital camera
*** 2nd best: Canon PowerShot Pro1 (new in 2004)
compact digital camera
+ Sharp, detailed shadows &
highlights, DIGIC accurate tones
(quality similar to, but much quicker
than film scanning+Photoshop) **
+ Makes impressive prints up to
12x16 inches, equaling print quality
from my film scans.
+ Impressive lens with good 35-140
zoom range, great in low light, don't
need tripod as often as film camera.
+ Change to telephoto less often than
film camera. **
+ Dedicated button for each major
+ Built-in digital 3-stop Neutral
Density filter, great for blurring
+ Uninterrupted photography: Pause
to change batteries or memory less
often than I would change film on a
film camera. ***
+ Sharp, detailed shadows & highlights, DIGIC accurate
tones (faster & better than film scanning+Photoshop)
+ Makes impressive 23x30 inch prints, usually better
than my film scans. ***
+ Less need to add a telephoto lens, due to wide 7.250.8 mm (28-200 mm) 7x zoom range, and higher
resolution of 8 megapixels allows extra cropping (or
digital zoom) ***
+ Fairly quick shutter release 0.2 - 0.3 seconds (with
Firmware upgrade version **
+ Dedicated button for each major feature.
+ Built-in digital 3-stop Neutral Density filter, great for
blurring waterfalls.
+ Versus Canon G5: Pro1 has better lens quality & wider
zoom range (7x versus 4x); can use electronic
viewfinder in bright sunlight; much less magenta/green
fringing on high contrast boundaries; much faster
autofocus; bigger LCD; flash pops up for better lighting;
backlight on top display
+ Uninterrupted photography: Pause to change batteries
or memory less often than I would to change film on a
film camera (but more often than G5 battery change). **
-- Very slow (1-second) shutter
response when autofocusing.
-- Magenta/green fringing in high
contrast boundaries, especially from
f2-4.5 (but correctable in Photoshop,
and still looks better than scanning
-- Need to recharge 1 battery daily
when shooting heavily (but carrying
backup batteries resolves this.)
-- Noticeable vignetting at wide aperture & telephoto
(correctable in Photoshop)
-- Versus Canon G5: The Pro1 has half the battery life;
and its lens is a half stop slower (but makes up for this
with wide 28-200 mm zoom range, better quality, etc)
-- Need to recharge 1 or 2 batteries daily when shooting
heavily (but carrying backup batteries easily resolves
this; and I change batteries much less frequently than I
formerly changed 36-shot 35mm film rolls.)
**** BEST: Nikon D40X DSLR (new in 2007) with Nikkor
18-200mm VR lens (new in 2006)
+ 11x zoom is better quality than Pro1's 7x zoom. Less
vignetting. ****
+ Four stops vibration reduction. ****
+ The D40X's ISO 800 captures less luminance noise
than Pro1's ISO 100, which is three stops improvement
in terms of ISO speed. Why: The D40X sensor gathers
6.3 times more light area than the Pro1's; the D40X's
DIGIC II processor is superior to the Pro1's DIGIC I; and
the 1.7x larger diameter lens gathers more light. ****
+ Longer flash range, guide number 17 at ISO 200.
Higher pop-up for less red eye. ****
+ Quicker shutter release and shot-to-shot timing.
+ Batteries last 2.5 times longer than Pro1. ***
+ Improved megapixel resolution, for 23x30 inch and
larger prints (viewed from a distance of the print's
longer dimension). ****
+ Can add a larger variety of different lenses. The Nikon
18-55mm lens in the D40X package is of excellent
quality, lacking VR, but has slightly better optics than
my 18-200mm VR Nikkor. ****
-- No flip-out-and-twist live LCD for assisting macro and
overhead shots.
-- Since the LCD doesn't show a live video image, the
effects of exposure compensation and white balance
are not visible until after the shot.
-- No movies or sound.
-- Removable lenses leave the sensor open to collecting
dust. Workarounds: Upgrade from D40X to Nikon D60
with automatic dust removal system. (A hand-squeezed
blower removed most factory dust from the new D40X.
Mounting an all-in-one 18-200mm, or 27-300mm
equivalent lens helps avoid changing lenses.)
-- Lacks dedicated buttons for white balance & ISO
(though one button can be reprogrammed). Changing
white balance requires annoying 5+ button presses on
the D40X, but only 2+ presses on the Pro1.
-- No built-in ND filter (found on Canon Pro1 & G5)
-- Editing slides with loupe and light table
is dusty, laborious and time consuming
-- Annoying multiple button/dial presses
required for most features on Nikon N70
(though other SLR models resolve this)
Other film
versus digital
- - bad
+ good
-- Long delay (>2 weeks) before film is
developed & image viewed.
-- File scanned from film looks dull &
requires hours of Photoshop work to
restore appearance to match reality,
although newer scanners released after
2004 have significantly improved quality
and require less touch-up time.
-- Labeling and editing is laborious and
dusty using loupe and light table.
-- Dust and scratches cause permanent
problems on film & slides.
-- Must pause to change film more often
than you change battery or memory on
digital camera.
-- Slides & film often begin fading after 20
-- Airport security XRAYs can accumulate
and fog undeveloped film. (My film has
never fogged, but I often worried and
required film to be inconveniently handchecked)
-- Multimedia slide film presentations
require more than one projector, need
specialized synchronization equipment,
and are very limited for special effects.
[same good points as Canon Pro1 on
the right]
+ Image looks wonderfully accurate as shot when using
appropriate white balance; few or no changes required
in Photoshop or Zoombrowser's RAW Converter.
+ Instant visual feedback on exposure, light value
histogram, focus (playback enlargement), & tone.
Encourages creativity in the field.
+ I efficiently review & delete undesired images daily in
the field, which adds creative input in the field and
saves later editing time.
+ Instant shows on TV; LCD screen; PC monitor; or
digital projector (best).
+ Show stunning multi-media presentations on a digital
projector (XGA resolution or higher), connected to a PC
running Microsoft Powerpoint or other software.
+ Make DVD shows (a fixed 720 x 576 pixel format;
limited to VGA quality) for HDTV; future movie disc
formats of 720p and higher will take much better
advantage of HDTV capabilities.
+ Camera automatically labels image with detailed
time & shot settings. Additional editing and labeling
are quick & easy on the computer.
+ No problem with dust or scratches marring image
(though camera's little lens makes water spots look big,
and needs frequent cleaning with silk cloth to remove
dust or spray, just like for any camera).
+ Archived image files are secure on CD-R or DVD+R
with 50+year long life; and you can easily make perfect
copies to future storage formats as technology
Feature to
4rth best: Nikon N70 (new in 1996)
SLR camera, shooting 35mm Fujichrome
Velvia 50 film
** 3rd best: Canon PowerShot G5
(new in 2003)
compact digital camera
*** 2nd best: Canon PowerShot Pro1 (new in 2004)
compact digital camera
+ Image looks wonderfully accurate as shot when using
appropriate white balance; few or no changes required
in Photoshop or RAW Converter.
+ Instant visual feedback on exposure, light value
histogram, focus (playback enlargement), & tone.
Encourages creativity in the field.
+ I efficiently review & delete undesired images daily in
the field, which adds creative input in the field and
saves later editing time.
+ Instant shows on TV; LCD screen; PC monitor; or
digital projector (best).
+ Show stunning multi-media presentations on a
digital projector (XGA resolution or higher), connected
to a PC running Microsoft Powerpoint or other
software. Or use new DVD formats on HDTV.
+ Camera automatically labels image with detailed
time & shot settings. Additional editing and labeling
are quick & easy on the computer.
+ Archived image files are secure on CD-R or DVD+R
with 50+year long life; and you can easily make perfect
copies to future storage formats as technology
**** BEST: Nikon D40X DSLR (new in 2007) with Nikkor
18-200mm VR lens (new in 2006)
Digital versus Film for Travel Photography