MadSci Network: Engineering

Re: Do different cameras have different effects on the final photograph?

Date: Fri Feb 25 15:18:52 2000
Posted By: Adam,
Area of science: Engineering
ID: 951349241.Eg

Hello, Sarah, Danielle, Wendy, Neil, and Katie - thanks for your question. 
Yes, cameras make a big difference to the quality of your image. There are 
several aspects to consider though, and a lot of the decision in choosing 
a camera will depend on what you want from your images.

First there is the lens  to make a camera all you need is a pinhole  the 
smaller it is, the sharper the image  but the longer the exposure takes. 
So lenses get round that. They come with much bigger holes (called 
apertures) to let the light through than a pinhole and rely on the shaping 
of the glass (or plastic) to make sure the image is sharp all over.
Some lenses are better than others and produce sharper images than others. 
Equally, some lenses come with bigger apertures  which allows the 
photographer to take pictures in lower light conditions at the same 
shutter speed.
The best lenses can have large apertures and are capable of giving give 
sharp images all across the scene. They are expensive. As with everything 
else, you get what you pay for.

Secondly there is the format that the camera uses. If you want to make a 
print, the less magnification you have to use, the better the image will 
be. Back at the beginning of the century (its not actually over yet..) 
cameras could have huge plates giving negatives as big as the final print. 
The quality was superb. But the camera was big, not very handy to use and 
so on. So smaller and smaller formats have been developed and advances in 
films have allowed this with decent final image quality. Nevertheless 
format size is important. There is another point, though  smaller format 
allows the scene to be focused down on a smaller area  so all the light 
collected is more concentrated  this means cheaper lenses for a given 
effective aperture. In turn this means cheaper cameras for similar 
abilities to take pictures in given light conditions. So its all about 
If you want to make great big enlargements  you want the biggest format 
you can get away with, and generally 35mm is as small as you would go. 
Digital cameras usually have very small formats  so magnifications can be 
huge and it doesnt really matter how many megapixels the camera boasts, 
the lens probably cant resolve to a frequency better than the equivalent 
of a couple of megapixels on such a small imaging sensor. This 
magnification factor is why digital cameras still have a long way to go to 
catch up on conventional ones  if you want really good enlargements.

Thirdly there are other factors to do with the range of shutter speeds 
(how short a time the lens is open), how vibration-free the shutter 
mechanism is and so on which distinguish good cameras from not-so-good. 

The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating. Its the final 
print  or slide  or digital image - that matters. If its good enough 
for your purposes  then  no need to spend more money. The choice is 
huge, and you can get terrific pictures even from a one-time-use camera  
which is pretty cheap. You can also spend literally thousands of dollars 
on cameras and lenses which will give great quality and allow picture-
taking in a much wider range of conditions.

I hope this is useful and not too complicated. If you have any more 
questions or dont understand anything e-mail me (  
I will not be able to answer (vacation) for the next week but promise to 
do so after then.

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