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Digital Advantage

A Digital Advantage
by Jim Doty, Jr
.

I was taking pictures during church yesterday and I realized I should have been using a digital SLR camera (DSLR) instead of film.

Using flash during most religious ceremonies is distracting if not downright obtrusive. Fast film and/or fast lenses are the solution.

I had my usual kit for indoor church services: a 35 mm SLR (single lens reflex) camera body, three lenses, flash (for when it is ok to use flash), and some rolls of Kodak E200 slide film.

When I use E200, I set the film speed on the camera body at ISO 640. When I have the film processed, I ask for "Push 2" processing. If you don't understand push processing of slide film, read my Color Film article (toward the end under "Slide Film Recommendations".

640 speed film allows me to have a decent shutter speed inside. I was using a 50 mm lens at f/2.0 with a shutter speed of 1/60 second. (For more on f-stops and shutter speeds, see my Exposure article.) At one point, I needed a much closer view, so I switched to a 100-300 mm zoom lens with image stabilization. I was now at an aperture of f/4.0 and a shutter speed of 1/15 second. This would ordinarily be way too slow to handhold a lens this long but the image stabilization built into the lens makes this possible. I have some published photos shot at 300 mm in focal length with a shutter speed of 1/6 second. Without image stabilization I would ordinarily need a shutter speed of 1/250 second to get a good image.

So far so good. A little faster film speed would have been nice, but I had what I had. (I don't like to push E200 beyond two stops, too grainy for my taste.)

After church there was a surprise birthday party. Then I wished I had slow-speed, fine-grained film since I could use flash. Had I known in advance, I would have brought along a second camera body with slow speed film. Or I could have changed film mid-roll in the body I had with me (I have done that before) but I did not even bring slow speed film (shame on me). Besides, it was a surprise and I didn't have much time to get ready to shoot.

Here is where a digital SLR, or any digital camera,  would be a real advantage since you can change the "film speed" from photo to photo. No film switching mid-roll or need to carry a second camera body (except as a back up).

With the new Canon 10D SLR, or any other similarly equipped DSLR, I could set the camera for a speed of 800, 1600, or 3200 for the low-light, hand held shots. The images would be a little grainier (actually "noisy" in digital terms) but useable without flash. Then for the birthday shots with flash I could quickly reset the camera to a speed of 100 for maximum quality. The digital advantage is that you can change the "film speed" with every single photograph as the situation requires.

March 10, 2003

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