Pro Digital SLRs and
One-Shot Digital Backs
By Allan WeitzAt the top of the pro digital SLR pyramid are the Kodak DCS 560 and 660, Nikon D1X and D1H, Canon EOS D30, and FujiFilm FinePix S1.
Not long ago, as the "d" word became an increasingly popular
topic of conversation, it was easy to dismiss digital cameras as
expensive toys that produced images that were, in many cases, not
as usable as the same images captured on film.
Today the quality of digital technology continues to improve as rapidly as the ticket prices drop. Truth be told, much of what you see in print today is digital. Most weekly news publications and news organizations depend on the speed and immediacy of digital capture. The concept of transmitting images through a laptop's modem from anywhere on the planet lends credence to the term "breaking news."
For journalists, digital images know no boundaries. They can't be X-rayed, hand inspected, or edited by the local authorities. Travel time is measured in bits per second.
For live-action subjects you use single-capture cameras. These cameras operate much like their film-based cousins. The difference is that instead of light striking the surface of film, it strikes the surface of a charged coupled device, or CCD.
CCDs consist of rows of light-capturing devices called pixels. These pixels are laid out in a mosaic grid pattern of rows and columns. Examined closely, these clusters consist of light-sensitive pixels laid out in groups consisting of one red-, one blue-, and two green-sensitive pixels each.
When light strikes these pixels, they emit a corresponding electrical charge. The brighter the light, the higher the charge. The camera's software then analyzes this information and reassembles it as a photographic image.
PRO DIGITAL SLRs
Single-capture cameras are available in the form of "digital 35s," as well as detachable backs for medium-format and 4x5 cameras. The main players in the 35mm arena are Kodak, Canon, Nikon, and Fuji.
At the top of the digital SLR pyramid are the Kodak DCS 560 and 660 models. The 560 is based on a Canon EOS-1N chassis; the 660, on a Nikon F5 chassis. The technology they share is centered on a Kodak 6-megapixel chip. This CCD array device produces raw RGB files of up to 18MB, large enough to bleed a repro-quality image off the edge of a spread. The 560/660 captures up to 3 images at one frame per second before having to clear the memory buffer.
A year ago, these pups went for over $25,000. Today you can pick them up for under $15,000. Aside from the complete elimination of film and processing bills, what do you get for your money? How about instant feedback of images as you work. How about the ability to edit, label, and save images to various storage folders while on the run?
Forget whether that executive portrait you shot last week was in Des Moines or Delaware, or where a particular construction site photograph was taken? An optional GPS receiver can tag each image to the exact spot on the planet the exposure was made. If notepads slow you down, just speak into the microphone and captions or sound bites can be tagged to images.
Another Kodak option is the 520/620 series. Although the 520 has a smaller file size than its 560/660 siblings (5.7MB)-a 2.2-megapixel chip opens up to 5.7MB -it's capable of capturing 12 images at burst rates of up to 3.5 frames per second.
Less expensive 35mm-based cameras on the market utilize software interpolation to produce large output files from smaller chips. Worth looking at: Nikon D1 at $3,800, the Nikon-based Fuji FinePix S1 at $3,400, and the Canon EOS D30 at $2,995 (all average street prices).
These cameras have found enthusiastic reception among editorial, event, and wedding shooters. They capture images using 3- to 4-megapixel chips, then process them through interpolation software to produce final file sizes ranging from 11MB to just under 18MB. ISO equivalents range from 80-1600.
SET TO DEBUT AT PMA
As of this writing, Nikon is set to introduce two D1 cameras at the PMA Convention in Orlando. First up is the Nikon D1H-average street price: $4,500-which reportedly uses the same chip technology as the original D1, but packs a larger buffer memory that results in shooting bursts of up to 40 images at five images per second. For fashion shooters and photojournalists, this is real cruising speed.