Discussion on the Digital Image:

The opinions contained in the following are those of the photographer, and have not been solicited or paid for by any manufacturer of digital cameras or computer software.

I was born in 1936, the year Kodachrome film was introduced, and my photography spans sixty years and many technological changes leading to the current “digital age.” I've worked in both the fine arts and commercial milieus and as a teacher of photography.

I first experimented with digital photography in 1997. Since then, I have studied constantly in order to stay abreast of the technology. I'm now using my twelfth digital camera and I'm more excited about my work than I've ever been.

Four decades ago, I became convinced that the digital image was the future of photography. By the mid-nineties, I had observed several professional studio photographers at work with high-end digital equipment, but I couldn't make a financial commitment to that level of digital imaging and wasn't interested in owning a digital camera that had to be tethered to a computer, no matter how portable. Most of my work was done on location, often in remote locations.

In 1997, I began experimenting with a reasonably priced "prosumer" camera, which proved to be a rather remarkable product, despite its limitations. I discovered it could be "tricked" into doing things it wasn't programmed to do. I also discovered that with Adobe®; Photoshop®, I could interpret the original JPEG files in a way that produced striking results, some of which were commercially applicable.

Since 1998, I have continually upgraded my cameras, computers, printers and computer software. The tools I currently use include Adobe®; Photoshop®cs5.5 and a number of plug-ins from onOne Software and Nik Software.

I've found that many commercial photographic requirements can be fulfilled with lower end digital equipment. With my earlier prosumer digital cameras, I produced many photographs for reproduction in printed media without an apparent compromise of image quality. The important consideration always was the size of the final image required. It was—and still is—important to recognize the limitations imposed by the size of the image file and not to overestimate the cameras' capabilities.

Although I have always preferred Nikon cameras, The earlier Nikon Digital products felt out of my reach in the late 1990s, inasmuch as I was no longer working commercially. So, between 1999 and 2002, I completed several projects incorporating the images made with modestly priced Olympus digital cameras. The most ambitious of these was the revised edition of Tulsa Art Deco, a large format "Coffee table" book that was originally published in 1980 and totally re-designed for the Tulsa Foundation for Architecture in 2001. For the first edition, I used medium and large format cameras and film. For the new book, I made my own digital scans of the original photographs and supplemented those with new images made with an Olympus E-10.

In 2001, I also used the E-10 to photograph the Williams Championship LPGA Tournament at the Tulsa Country Club. In July 2002, I traveled to Alaska with an Olympus E-20N and used that camera under a variety of conditions that took the measure of its capabilities. The results were gratifying.

In 2003, I began using a Nikon D-100. Nikon was my mainstay for 35mm photography over the many years I worked with film and I had a substantial investment in Nikon lenses and accessories. Though the increase in image file size wasn't substantial, my 5-megapixel E-20N images simply did not have the quality of those I made with the 6.1 megapixel D-100. (While I frequently mention the megapixel count, please understand that while consumers tend to equate a higher number of pixels with improved quality, there clearly is more to it than that. I mention the number of megapixels as one simple way of differentiating cameras in this discussion,)

Late in 2004, and after much deliberation (the prices of cameras were getting out of my comfort zone), I decided to purchase a Kodak DCS Pro SLR/n, featuring a 36 x 24 mm, 12 bit RGB CMOS image sensor yielding 13.5 megapixel image files. My decision was guided by a desire to have a camera with a full-size 35mm frame sensor, and compatibility with all my Nikon equipment. While I was initially satisfied with the quality of the images I made with the DCS Pro, Kodak discontinued its manufacture and did not support it beyond the end of 2008.

In June of 2006, after three months of research, during which I tested competitive products and made side-by-side image comparisons, I bought a Nikon D2X. I was delighted to discover that the 12.4 Megapixel D2X produced images superior to those I made with the Kodak DCS-Pro. As noted above, there is much more to image quality than the megapixel count. Having said that, my current camera of choice is the Nikon D3x (24.5 MP) and I plan to add a D800 (36.3 MP) to my equipment list in the near future. But inasmuch as all these cameras are Nikons, it is proper that the image quality discussion emphasizes the image file size.

I use an Epson "desktop" scanner to convert images from my "conventional" medium and large format negatives and transparencies. In the past, my results often exceeded the quality of scans of those same images made by pre-press houses with much more costly hardware. I wont argue the relative merits of scanners, but I'm very satisfied with my Epson scans. They serve my purposes well.

Photographers, collectors and others continue argue the relative merits of film and digital based photography, and I expect those arguments to continue to the last man standing. I'm tired of the arguments and am losing patience with the debate. To me, photography is all about the image, not the method. Film images and digital images have their differences and depending on your sensibilities, you are completely justified in preferring one to the other. But to me, neither is better; they're just different and becoming less so in the hands of skilled craftspersons. Still they will probably always be a difference, just as photographers and their perceptions are different. Let's be glad for that.

Photography and the graphic arts have seen enormous changes since I began making pictures. The "rules" that governed my activities throughout my years as a commercial photographer have changed remarkably and the opportunities that were opened to me through the use of computers and digital cameras have afforded me control over the finished product that I couldn't have imagined at the outset of my career. Today I have the ability and tools to manage the entire workflow, and that continually makes photography more exciting for me.

The proficiency gap that always has influenced the level of trust between photographers, processing labs, printers and lithographers is likely to remain, but there is no question that digital photography is becoming the standard, especially as so much of modern communications has become web-based. Still, I hope we always will respect the craftsmanship and artistry that each alternative process requires, and I hope those methods of image making remain a vital part of the photographic curricula in our schools and universities. An understanding of the fundamentals of photography is as important to digital photography as it is to film-based image making, and solid grounding in those fundamentals shortens the digital learning curve and stimulates one's creativity.

 

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