Digital SLR Cameras vs. Film Scans

A film scan on the other hand is a second-generation image. The first generation is camera lens to film and the second generation is film to scanner CCD. Digital camera images are first generation with the camera lens producing the final image. Each step in the process of image creation introduces the probability of some image quality loss. So technically it should be to our advantage to capture the image digitally in the first place.

Digital camera technology has come a long way in the last three years. One of the most significant improvements has been in reducing or nearly eliminating digital noise artifacts in ‘prosumer’ level DSLR cameras. Canon has done an especially good job of noise reduction with the 10D. ISO 400 and 800 images are very clean when compared to the same ISO output in film. Digital noise artifacts in some digital cameras are as noticeable and problematic as high ISO rated film grain. For those of us who like clean looking images, film grain and digital noise artifacts limit the upward scalability of an image.

Here is a glossary of terms used when investigating digital cameras:

Advanced Camera: Advanced digital cameras offer owners the option of manually controlling a variety of camera settings, including focus, aperture, and shutter speed.

Digital Zoom: Most digital cameras provide two methods for zooming: optical and digital. Unlike optical zoom, which uses the optics of the lens to magnify the size of an image, digital zoom discards pixels around the edge of an image, fitting the remaining pixels into the same space to give the appearance of zoom. Since digital zoom comes at the expense of resolution, you should always choose a camera based on its optical zoom, not the digital or combined figure.

Image Noise: Image noise creates specks of the wrong color in a digital image. Image noise usually occurs in low-light conditions when a camera’s light sensor registers an incorrect value, for instance recording yellow when it should record black. This error causes small dots to appear in the image. Higher quality cameras should have very little noise, even at high ISO settings.

ISO: ISO is a measurement of a digital camera’s imaging sensor’s sensitivity. Digital cameras with high ISO capability are better able to take low-light images and pictures of fast moving objects.

JPEG: An acronym for Joint Photographic Experts Group, a JPEG is the most commonly used type of digital image format. By eliminating very subtle color distinctions that the human eye usually cannot detect, JPEG images are compressed so that they can save faster and use less space. Because JPEG format actually alters an image, be careful because a certain amount of data is lost every time a JPEG is edited, saved, and compressed again.

Macro Mode: Macro mode allows a digital camera to take close-up pictures of small objects like flowers, insects, coins, etc. Macro capabilities vary by camera- check a camera’s reviews to see how its macro mode performs.

Megabyte: A megabyte (MB) is a unit of data used to describe the size of digital images and the capacity of a digital memory card. Memory cards are available in sizes ranging from 8MB to 2 Gigabytes (a Gigabyte is the equivalent of 1,024MB).

Mega pixel: A measure of resolution that reflects the ability of a digital camera to record detail. The more mega pixels a camera has, the more detail its images can contain and the more they can be enlarged without losing clarity. More mega pixels aren’t always necessary, however.

Memory cards: The most widely used digital memory format is a Compact Flash card. Memory Stick is another memory card format used primarily by Sony digital cameras. Smart Media is a memory format currently used by some Olympus and Fuji cameras.

Movie Mode: Movie mode lets digital cameras shoot video clips. Some cameras offer sound, while others can only take silent videos. The maximum length of a movie is determined by a camera’s internal limits and/or the size of the memory card.

RAW: One of the image formats available on some advanced digital cameras. RAW images are large, usually uncompressed files that, unlike JPEGs, are not processed by the camera and retain all their original data. RAW images are ideal for those who plan on editing their pictures with image-editing software. RAW images may require special software to turn them into a more common format like TIFF or JPEG.

Red eye Reduction: By firing the flash several times just before exposing a photo, cameras with a red eye reduction feature causes a subject’s pupils to contract, reducing the reflection that causes red eye.

SLR Camera: The most expensive of all digital cameras, digital SLRs offer complete manual control, higher resolution, advanced exposure control, and the benefits of detachable lenses. Due to the lens design, digital SLR’s are not capable of shooting video.

TIFF: Short for Tagged Image File Format, TIFF is an image file format that does not lose any quality when it is saved and compressed. Many advanced cameras offer a TIFF format option.

The opinion of many members of a users group I belong to is that the images of the Canon 10D digital camera approaches and in some cases may equal or exceed film scans produced at 4000 dpi. I would recommend demoing a range of digital cameras before making the purchase to make sure it meets your requirements.