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Boomer Bytes #37: Photography – The New Way

Editor’s Note: Below is another column in Steve Canipe’s series called Boomer Bytes. The column, as the title suggests, will focus on a variety of topics that may be of interest to baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964. But Canipe also hopes to start a conversation with younger generations, too. Check out an introduction and Canipe’s (first self-titled) column here.

Photography – The New Way

By Steve Canipe

Sept. 26, 2014. Where is the picture of <some subject or event>? Have you been asked that question by a spouse or a family member and you were at a loss of how to answer? Well if you have, then you are probably in good company. When we were younger (certainly true for the oldest of us Boomers and even for the youngest of us) the basic way that you took pictures was using the tried and true film. Now this film might have been for producing 35 mm slides or for print pictures, but either way it was film.

Why do we even want to take pictures and especially have the instant ones? One obvious reason is that we want to record an event – usually a happy or memorable one. Sometimes it may be just to show people what they looked like or to see ourselves. I remember a trip to Tanzania with my handy digital movie camera taking pictures of some Masai children and the thrill they got out of looking at themselves on the tiny image viewer on the back of the camera.Bytes37photo1

A similar experience happened on a trip to China in Nanjing, where I had delightful Chinese children mugging for the photo. Maybe we are a bit narcissistic? Whatever the reason(s), we have been seeking these instant thrills of seeing images for a long time – it is why the 1948 Polaroid Instant Camera was named “instant.” With the advances in digital it was surely not to be too long before we could get faster gratification with the electronic imagery. I’ve used my digital camera to document an accident where a semi-truck here in Boone cut a corner too sharply and his rear wheels hit my rear bumper even though I was on pulled onto the shoulder and the guard rail prevented my moving over further. No question by his insurance company about paying for my repair because I had the visual evidence!!

Bytes37Photo2The first of the real consumer digital cameras happened with the Apple Quick Take introduced in 1994. It was followed fairly quickly by the Casio in 1995 but probably the real impetus came when Sony introduced the Mavica line in 1997. This camera was priced at $500/$700 for the two models, which were introduced. It came with a recording medium on the 3.5” floppy disk and had a resolution of a whopping 0.6 megapixel!! For those of you not up on the resolutions – a small point-and-shoot digital camera today is in the range of 10-12 megapixels. Even the old Apple iPhones had a resolution of 5 megapixels. See the article here to find out more of the history of the early digitals.

The reason I made mention of these digitals is that now I have everything on digital. But only recently I went through more than 50 albums of paper prints and more than 7,000 slides and either recycled or converted the “valuable” images to digital. In my early working days, I was teaching high school science and in particular biology and environmental science/ecology. It was very helpful to have photos to illustrate various habitats, specific plants and animals, as well as the obligatory shots of family standing in front of signs announcing Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon National Parks.

I found that after I had left the teaching ranks, I was rarely if ever looking at the slides; setting up the projector was just too much of a hassle. The same I determined was true of the print albums – I never went back to look at them—or hardly ever. The last time I remember looking at the prints was in 1996 when my son was graduating from high school and the yearbook editors wanted an informal picture to post. When DJ was about 5, we were travelling in San Francisco, and one of the cable car tenders invited him to “help” turn the car at the end of the line. So the image of him “pulling” the car around was a meaningful shot. There were lots of others like him eating his first lobster in Maine or “driving” a car in the theme park at Old Tucson; but these are now on digital format and the paper has been recycled!!

It’s not that we want to forget the old times but how much paper do we need or how many slides do we need to keep? Rather than take up 5 book shelves with albums or several closet shelves with slide trays; I can now keep all these images on a 500 megabyte supplemental drive that is about the size of a deck of cards and still have room about 3 times more. Ah you say what if the drive stops working? That is a good question and one that I have had happen – I actually keep a backup of the image drive but more than that I use a free online storage called Flickr.com. This provides free storage of one terabyte or enough to hold about 500,000 images. If you are interested in seeing my images they are located here. I also submit a large number to an educator friendly site called Pics4Learning and you can see them based on searchable topics.

If you are a professional photographer then the size limitations here are significant but if you are the hobbyist, then this should not create a problem. I probably shoot more phots than the average person. In my earlier days when I was first married and we had our first child and my wife was not working, I needed to work another part-time job to make ends meet since teaching was a rather low paying career. (actually still is.)   I taught photography classes at Central Piedmont Community College. This was the day of black and white and developing your own and then printing them in the dark room. Except for the smell of the chemicals, it was a lot of fun. I probably would still enjoy doing it but finding black and white film is difficult and pretty expensive. I had my own darkroom and you can manipulate images but it is now so much easier to do it digitally using either the commercial Adobe Photoshop or the freeware GIMP program. You can shoot in color and then have a gray scale or B&W filter applied. I used to develop my own color slides but never ventured into color prints – just too expensive for the chemicals and the paper.

Because of my experience with photography, I often get asked for advice about cameras. Unfortunately the advice is generally prefaced by questions because the best camera for an individual depends a lot on the intended usage and what is expected as an end result. For my readers let me provide some of the most general guidelines that I provide.

One of the first questions is usually about the single lens reflex (SLR) versus the point-and-shoot (PAS). For most folks that are just weekend photographers or recorders of family birthdays or general trips the most logical is the PAS camera. They are typically less expensive and with image capture quality of 12 megapixels, they are adequate. One of the disadvantages, especially if shooting outdoors, is that the screens on the back of the camera make seeing the image clearly difficult. If most of the images are being shot in the inside then this is not an issue. Previously if you desired to do any sort of modifications to, for example, shutter speed or focus then you would have needed to move to a SLR. In the newer PAS cameras it is possible to go fully automatic or to make some simple modifications.

A second typical question is what manufacturer should be selected? Again it depends; this may be a preference of selecting Ford or Chevrolet, Lexus or Mercedes. Neither choice is wrong but neither is obviously more right than the other. If you have been shooting with a film SLR and have a lot invested in lenses for either Canon or Nikon, then the logical digital SLR would be of the same brand since almost all lenses are interchangeable between film and digital camera bodies. The old Minolta film SLR cameras (no longer being made) lenses are interchangeable with the Sony Alpha line.

The key piece of advice I would give is be comfortable with what you select. It should fit what you plan to use it for. I have found recently that I have moved to the middle range of cameras – between the simple PAS and the more complex SLR. These are termed either Advanced Compact cameras or Bridge cameras. Since my photographic background was with Canon, I have a Canon ELF PAS that fits in my short pocket, a Canon EOS digital SLR, and also a Canon Bridge camera called the PowerShot 50. The latter has a 50x optical zoom and a 2x digital which equates to the film equivalent of a 2400 mm lens at the super zoom mode! It has become my recent camera of choice for most things. There is a macro function allowing it to focus down to 0 cm! Yes I did say zero – of course shadows and distortion at that level can happen but it is possible to be than close. This camera weighs next to nothing at about 19 ounces with the extra advantage that I don’t have to carry a series of lenses. Nikon has a similar camera called the CoolPix. If you don’t have previous experience with cameras, I would suggest borrowing a friend’s camera or spending some time at a local or nearby big box store– just handling and getting to know the camera body you are considering is valuable. If you have a favorite camera store, visit there also. Would you buy a new suit without trying it on? Probably should not do it with a camera either especially with such a wide variety of prices.

If you check out my Flickr account and look at the early images, you will see what are today rather low resolution photos but in the latest ones, you will have either the 12 megapixels of the Canon PowerShot or the 16 megapixels of my Canon EOS.

Let me hear from you concerning your ideas and thoughts about cameras, photography, or the boxes of photos or slides you are still keeping. What is your biggest pleasure in taking photos? Send your thoughts, either via email at boomerbytes@yahoo.com or post them at the end of the column. I’ll look forward to hearing from you.