Magazine Article


Digicams Can, Part lll

Digicams Can, Part III

Beyond Dorian Gray

By Don Sutherland

October 2001

Does anyone know what makes a photo "memorable?" Is it defined as such at the moment the shutter clicks, or does it become so in hindsight? Can a photo start-off as memorable for one reason and become memorable for another?
I hadn't planned to wax philosophic this month, although I had planned to show photos designed to be memorable. When I started writing this they were memorable for one reason. Before I finished, they were for different reasons. You see 'em on the page. You know what I'm talking about.
Originally, each pic was meant to be a shard of photographic history. Each depicted a step in the march of digital cameras from the 640x480-pixel standard of 1996, to the 2560x1920 bursting onto the scene today. This should make a good Part III in a four-part series titled "Digicams Can," I thought.

Good Intentions
All the pix I picked show the same subject, their common link across cameras and years. As the cameras improved technically, the pix improve technically. As the cameras became more flexible, the pix depict their subject in more ways, new ways. Intending my pix eventually to trace digicam evolution, I thought they'd all be "memorable."
There were actually two common links among the pix. One was the Manhattan skyline itself. The other was the site where I shot them: a short stretch on the shore of Staten Island, the part nearest the city.
This is a great photographic testing ground. For starters, it's a quarter-mile from my house. Easy to reach at the drop of a hat. Convenient day and night, seven days a week. A common sight from the 'hood.
Being common, its characteristics and moods could be predicted. How would it photograph in sunshine or rain? With the sun in the East, or the sun in the West? You need to know these things, when testing a camera's features.
The skyline was a constant, surrounded by variables. The constants and the variables both posed special problems to digital cameras.
Those buildings afar off, the constants, had architectural details, very small in the picture. Could the digicam resolve 'em?
The sky over the city, the reflecting pond below, were the variables, with any range of brightness. They'd betray whatever "noise" and "artifacts" the cameras created.
If the structures in the background were frontlighted, the ships in the foreground backlighted, could the cameras capture highlight and shadow details in both?
Skies are blue, ships sometimes red or green. What could they reveal of a camera's color balance? Ships sometimes are white, too. What does that tell us about rendition?
Every digicam I've tested since 1991 has faced this setting and these technical challenges. I could have used resolution charts and MacBeth color cards. I preferred my postcard-pretty subject.
The pictures do their job. They show how cameras improved. That shoulda made 'em "memorable."

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