Ramblings: Technology Thoughts from an Amateur Photographer

February 8th, 2008

In a digital world one has to be very thoughtful of where the industry is going before making a purchase. I wish tech companies would be more transparent in this regard though I can’t blame them for being hard to read; No one wants people to stop buying because in two months a new product is going to come out.

In realistic terms this has a large effect on how I buy camera equipment. I believe that, in time, full frame image sensors with be the norm on DSLR cameras. Basically, a DSLR that you buy today uses a image sensor that is smaller then a frame of 35mm film, but high end cameras are starting to come out with an image sensor that is the same size as a 35mm frame of film. This has a huge effect on the industry.

For years when you bought a lens you had to multiply what the actual focal length of the lens was in relation to the size of your sensor. The multiplier for a Nikon DSLR has always been 1.5x, so when you buy a lens, say a 70-300mm, you have to consider that when you are shooting with it on digital it’s really a 105-450mm. This is a boon for sports and wildlife people because they are getting a lens that is much longer allowing them to get in very close. On the other hand, this has been an issue for people shooting at wide angles. My widest lens, an 18-55mm, is really a 27-83, severely limiting how much I can fit into a frame.

Lens makers knew about this of course and began making lenses designed not to fill a 35mm film size sensor but the smaller digital sensor. The problem though, is that these lenses are not going to be compatible with the larger sensors. When you buy a camera and are looking at lenses if you can get a good quality digital lens that is small, lighter and less expensive then it’s film framed sized counter parts, which are you going to buy?

For these reasons it’s clear the smaller digital sensor is not going to go away. There will always be a market for people wanting the longer actual zoom range of a lens as well as ‘average’ people interested in carrying less weight. No, I think the two sizes will co-exist for a long time to come.

But it begs the question, what does a larger sensor give you? Sure, wide angles are nice but that is a small niche of the overall market. The benefit, in my mind, is the actual larger space. I don’t care how many pixels you can cram onto a smaller digital sensor, you will always be able to cram more into the larger digital sensor, but higher resolution isn’t the reason. It’s noise and sharpness. Everyone wants to be able to shoot images in dim light, easily. With the larger sensor they can use larger pixels at the same resolution. Larger pixels means a lot of good things which I can’t explain any better then Ken Rockwell already has, Take a Look. His site is great. More information than you could ever want boiled down until it’s relevant.

I am looking forward to shooting on a full frame sensor but also dreading it. All of my lenses, with the exception of the kit lens that came with the D40 are full frame lenses. It’s something I have always been aware of but I don’t let it stop me from shooting. It’s not going to make me dump my D40 or my D300 it’s just going to augment them. The camera body doesn’t matter nearly as much as the photographer. I have seen some amazing cell phone images.. and some really crap images from a $5,000 camera and $10,000 lens. It’s just something to keep in mind.

So, what else keeps me up at night? Mobile image backups. I’m not made of money, I’m just cheap. I don’t want to buy a small hard drive that I will use maybe a dozen times during the year. I want a drive that I can use more often. I’m thinking iPod.

Apple makes a device for the very purpose of backing up images from a digital camera… unfortunately it doesn’t support the new iPod Classics, only the iPods a generation older. Incredibly annoying, but it doesn’t mean it’s not possible. It’s just going to involve more steps. At the end of the day you can still mount an iPod on your computer like any other external hard drive. I can already hear the yelling, the iPod wasn’t designed to be used a hard drive like that. Well, yes it is. It won’t handle being used a boot drive for very long, the device itself will over heat, but using it to copy a few GB of image files isn’t going to hurt it one bit. What do you think happens when you are loading music on it?

When I go away for a weekend I bring my cameras, memory cards and my laptop. When I’ve filled my cards or the day has drawn to a close I copy the images from the cards to the laptop and then format the cards to be ready for another day. This means I only have one copy of the images. This doesn’t bother me too much when I’m not far from home but when I have to fly or if I’m going to be gone for a long while I start to worry about loosing all the images. I could have my laptop stolen, or I might drop it. Some kind of hardware failure could happen or.. I might just delete the files accidentally. It’s always best to keep two copies of all files but when I’m 1000 miles from home it’s tough to backup 10GB+ of data…

I currently own a 2GB 1st generation iPod nano, not the kind of device that would be able to handle a weekends worth of photos so I have my eye on a iPod classic to handle the task. Carrying around 160GB with me all the time is very appealing. Would make a good multi-purpose device as well. It’ll hold my music, of course, my picture backups, and various other media to watch on my laptop when I’m away. Spending $350 on an iPod classic doesn’t seem to bad when it can do so much for me… It’ll be cheaper then buying a hard drive for each of those tasks, that is for sure!

Topslakr

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