Please Explain: Digital Photography

Friday, March 18, 2011

The first digital camera came on the market in 1986. In only a quarter century, the technology has fundamentally revolutionized the way we conceive of and take pictures. From camera phones to the latest digital SLR technology, the plethora of digital cameras on the market has made taking a picture both easier and more complicated than ever. David Pogue, tech columnist for the New York Times, and Katrin Eismann, chair of the Digital Photography Department at the School of Visual Arts, look into the history of digital photography, explain how digital photography works, and tell us which cameras are the best on the market. Katrin Eismann's latest book is Real World Digital Photography and David Pogue is the author of David Pogue's Digital Photography: The Missing Manual.


Katrin Eismann and David Pogue

Comments [41]

Katrin Eismann from NY

Hello everyone,

Here is my SVA email address

Enjoy the light!

Mar. 20 2011 06:30 PM

Ms. Eismann was asked about color monitor calibration, and responded by suggesting that the questioner email her. She gave her email address over the air - as, I think, I attempted to email her with the same inquiry, using that address - also tried with Neither worked. Is it possible to get her correct email address for this purpose? Thanks.

Mar. 20 2011 05:41 PM
Mike Rose from Brooklyn

@Fred Barrett: The movies are stored on hard drives.

Mar. 19 2011 09:21 AM
Ann from South Village, Manhattan

To the woman with the Pentax film SLR:
Hang onto those old glass lenses! My Olympus E-510, fitted with an Olympus OM Adapter ring (MF-1) accepts the glass lenses from my old Olympus OM-1 (circa 1970). The 50mm f. 1.4 is outstanding, and it was bought as a kit lens. Lots of glass, front and back, so it takes in lots of light. With the OM-1 extension tubes, it does gorgeous macros.

Mar. 18 2011 09:56 PM

With respect to digital vs. film, it all depends on the "look" you are after; I agree with another poster that photography is a sensual medium, another referred to texture and grain, and Leonard mentioned film providing "air" to images. Different looks can be achieved using different films, but I don't think you can model a classic film look in a digital camera or software.

So there is no technology that is "better". If one doesn't care about achieving different looks, digital is "easier" and provides competent images.

I have stuck to film and silver prints as well to enjoy creating different looks for different subjects.

Mar. 18 2011 03:48 PM
Garrett White from Brooklyn, NY

Hi, Leonard. Great show. I would like to bring to your attention a book I edited, "Nash Editions: Photography and the Art of Digital Printing" (New Riders, 2007) which features essays by Henry Wilhelm, Richard Benson, and R. Mac Holbert, co-founder with Graham Nash of Nash Editions, the first fine-digital printing studio. It was Holbert and Nash who first adapted the Iris 3047 inkjet printer to that purpose. The book gives a complete overview of the history of digital printing. Again, great show.

Mar. 18 2011 03:44 PM
Brigitte Grignet from Brooklyn

To Ginny Fox

You should definitely keep your slides. You might want to have them scanned and archived on a dvd (plus a backup), for the convenience of looking at them.

Because like someone else said, a lot of digital pictures will be lost in the future. Most people don't back up their files, unless they are professional, and we know that a cd, dvd and even a computer are very fragile things.


Mar. 18 2011 03:04 PM
Edward from NJ

@Pro - While they do have big monitors in Time Square, Pogue was showing 16x24 printed pictures -- not displaying photos on those screens.

Mar. 18 2011 02:06 PM
Estelle from Austin

Plus there are all these cool things you can do with printing photos these days through the online services, like creating bound books of your child's first year, etc.---these books are a very popular gift item.

Mar. 18 2011 02:05 PM
Estelle from Austin

Printing photos is not "done." I order digital photo prints online, and put them into albums; my toddler loves being able to just pull these books out at will and pore over them. (I would not let her do this with an electronic device; at any rate, I'm probably using it myself at the moment!) I believe that much of my childhood has been solidified in my memory because of physical photo albums I went through like this. I still treasure them, too.

Mar. 18 2011 01:59 PM
Fred Barrett from Blauvelt, NY

I wonder what the medium is for digital projection.
i.e. what is the substitute for reels of film.

Mar. 18 2011 01:59 PM

Film is made of dots, they just aren't arranged in line. It's naturally "randomly" arranged, and that's where the grain comes from. And resolution can still measured using resolution targets, so they can easily (and are) comparable.

This "tech-dude" is over-extending himself again.

Mar. 18 2011 01:58 PM
Joe from New York

To the woman with the Pentax film SLR: You could use your old lenses on a micro four thirds camera, with very good results. Models include the Olympus E-P2, E-PL1, E-Pl2, and Panasonic GH2, GH1, G2, G1, GF1, and GF2.

Mar. 18 2011 01:58 PM
Brigitte Grignet from Brooklyn


I am a photographer and I think this debate is more about technology than photography. No camera will ever take a "glorious picture", a person will. A camera is just a (important) tool.
I use digital when it's required, mostly for jobs, but I still use film for my own work. For me digital and analog are 2 different mediums.
There ARE differences between digital analog. I personally LOVE grain, I hate the cold super sharp digital look. Grain gives texture. And what about RYHTHM of photographing? When someone takes a photograph nowadays, the first thing they do is look at it, ehile the action is still happening, therefore losing maybe the shot.
Digital makes everything faster, which is important in some cases, but it should not be said that only digital pictures can be reproduced endlessly. This can be done with film too.

At the end photography is more about perception than technology

Mar. 18 2011 01:57 PM
Rudi from Queens

"I choose my movie theaters based on [digital vs. film] projection."

Leonard, please follow up: Which is better????

Mar. 18 2011 01:57 PM
Sarah from LES

Can you ask them about the value of "prints." In the old days photographers could sell prints on photopaper and there would be a limited amount. Digital photos are exact copies, how are photographers making money selling "prints" these days.

Mar. 18 2011 01:52 PM
Estelle from Austin

OK, how can it have been proven that something *just invented* lasts 200 years???

Mar. 18 2011 01:52 PM
Pam from ny

Leonard: Ask your guests about this.

The reason not to migrate to the cellphone camera is that it doesn't zoom. Isn't zoom much more imp. to photographers than MP?

Mar. 18 2011 01:51 PM
Westchestery from westchester

What if you want to show someone a photo 20 years from now? Good luck pulling that hard drive or old digital memory card out of the drawer and showing the photo.

You have to print the image on good quality paper with good ink.

Mar. 18 2011 01:50 PM
John A. from Westchester

Rudi from Queens: have a salesperson show you a Canon s95. Very much faster than anything I owned before, except a DSLR, which is what you were avoiding. Many pro features in that little s95.

Mar. 18 2011 01:49 PM
joe russiello

Could you explain 300 dpi publishers say they can only purchase 300 dpi pictures
how does that compare to a picture taken at 3 or 5 mega pixils

Mar. 18 2011 01:48 PM
Jamal rashad from Staten island

Please explain HDR. Is it considered cheating by the professional photographer? I sometimes think Peter Lik is using HDR

Mar. 18 2011 01:47 PM
Pam from ny

Leonard: Ask your guests about this.

The reason not to migrate to the cellphone camera is it they' doesn't zoom. Isn't zoom much more imp. to photographers than MP?

Mar. 18 2011 01:47 PM
Michelle from Brooklyn

Please talk about the new apps that can be used to manipulate digital images.

Mar. 18 2011 01:47 PM

So, what was the resolution of that screen you tested the image resolutions on?
Where you compared the different MP resolutions?

1984x1488 ... 3MP


Mar. 18 2011 01:46 PM
rudi from Queens

I am SO sick of my cameras (and it seems all cameras) that take the picture long after I've pressed the button. Smile is gone. Moment is gone. Often the PERSON is gone!

And if I've just understood your guests correctly, there is no solution? Is there no good, portable point-and-shoot that you point and it actually shoots?

Mar. 18 2011 01:44 PM
Estelle from Austin

Just a P.S.: The first time, and only time, I got a "digital contact sheet," I was royally P-Oed! Thumbnail digital images from an ink printer should not be called contact prints. Contact prints are made with the negatives making direct contact with photosensitive paper. These "digital contact prints" were useless, just a blur under the lupe. Aaargh!

Mar. 18 2011 01:42 PM
John A. from Westchester

I would be interested in the two guests' projection as to how widespread Hybrid (photos and movies) cameras will take over for camcorders.

Mar. 18 2011 01:41 PM
david from ditmas park

many professionals use DSLR, but there are many who use digital backs, phase one, leaf, on medium format systems.

phase one just release an 80 megapixel digital back...crazy!

Mar. 18 2011 01:41 PM

My new digital camera use different kind of memory chips than my 1st one. Why can't they all use the same chips like film cameras do?

Mar. 18 2011 01:40 PM
ginny fox from bronx,ny

I have heard varied opinions regarding the best way to archive old images that are on slides- convert to a cd or keep as slides?

Mar. 18 2011 01:39 PM
Ellen Dubin from Manhattan

The bad hotspots that you often get with digital photography is one difference between it and film. I am a freelance photographer in NYC. I photograph people, and I am sitting here editing through a job at this very moment, bemoaning the hotspots that my images have on my subject's nose and forehead. I can get rid of them in photoshop, but I never got those hotspots with film.

Mar. 18 2011 01:38 PM
chris james from flushing

My fear is that digital photos are essentially ephemera - I have boxes of film based photos from my life. They are on paper and last forever. I think because of lax backup habits most digital photos will be lost over time. No family photos in a box twenty years from now?

Mar. 18 2011 01:38 PM
a listener

The fakery by journalists has led to the development of programs that detect when an image has been altered.

Here is a famous fake by an LA Times photographer.

Mar. 18 2011 01:38 PM
david from ditmas park

hey was still better than waiting 90 seconds for a polaroid to cook...

Mar. 18 2011 01:37 PM
Samantha from bklyn

I think Mr. Pogue is being a little too dismissive of the sensual difference between film and digital images. Photography, when not purely documentary, is a sensual art medium. Some people are always going to prefer grain in their prints. Why laugh at that preference? Digital adds another tool. It doesn't negate the beauty or usefulness of older tools.

Mar. 18 2011 01:36 PM
Connie from nj

Once you post a picture to a site like Shutterfly, can you get that file back or can you only buy prints? I can't see a way to 'copy back' a picture.

Mar. 18 2011 01:36 PM
John from brooklyn

I'm a photo student (at SVA incidentally). I agree on the positive aspects of digital photography you've mentioned, but could you talk about the cost difference between large format digital vs. film? For instance, to make a 40x60 print, it is much cheaper to shoot film and scan it rather than shell out the cost for an expensive digital capture system

Mar. 18 2011 01:35 PM
Estelle from Austin

What about the PRINTING of digital vs. film photos? I assume digital images are printed with ink in a printer, whereas "printing" film images is a chemical process activating dyes in the case of color. B&W prints were traditionally the only permanent, non-fading type of print, because they are not dependent on dyes. And now?

Mar. 18 2011 01:35 PM
Joseph Caserto from Brooklyn

I'm a publication designer and art director. Until just hearing it on your broadcast, I forgot about waiting several seconds for each shot during the first professional digital photo shoots I worked on. That was only about 8 years ago, but it seems like forever, because of how quickly the technology has evolved.

Mar. 18 2011 01:32 PM
A listener

Nikon was the gold standard for decades, but they were slow to adapt to autofocus technology, which left the door open for Canon.

Professional photographers eventually dumped all their Nikon gear for Canon. You can see Canon's signature white telephoto lenses at all major sporting events.

Nikon has remained behind the curve into the digital era and is now in the same position Canon was in years ago...people have too much money invested in lenses to even consider switching back.

Mar. 18 2011 12:37 PM

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