Factors to consider in selecting a digital camera price.

Don't look at price until you consider other factors which are more important.
How large do you need to enlarge your images?

For sending snapshots of your family to your grandmother you can use almost any snapshot camera. Your enlargement will be about 2 x 3 inches on e-mail. More size than that will clog your grandmother's computer.

For desktop publishing probably 8x10 enlargement is okay unless you intend to do 11 x 17 or 13 x 19 inches as we do in the FLAAR studios. A 2 megapixel camera will probably suffice at the low end, if your standards are not too high. Desktop publishing in this case implies a good quality laser printer such as GCC for B+W or Minolta-QMS for color. For further information, see our course for entry level digital cameras.

For professional magazine publishing I would certainly not want less than a SLR camera in the 4 megapixel range though if no one sees your studio you can probably squeak by with a 5 megapixel point-and-shoot camera nowadays. However if you are being paid commercial rates, and if you wish to maintain your professional reputation, you will use a SLR, medium format scan back, or tri-linear scanning system. For further information see either our course on entry level or our course on professional level digital photography.

If you need to do wide format printing (which is what this course is all about), yes, you can squeak by with a 3 megapixel camera at 24" enlargement (minimum for large format is 24" printer). But you will get pixellation and anyone who expects a professional output will unlikely hire you again if they see someone else's comparable shot with a 5 megapixel camera. Here you definitely want the information from our special course on digital photography specifically for large format printing.

If you need to do tradeshow displays or anything truly large format (36" and above) then you need a serious professional camera. Although many people do achieve excellent large format with a SLR, that is not my way of doing photography. But if this is all your budget allows, we will do our best to learn how to handle large format from a SLR.

But since your competition across town may have a better camera, perhaps you might wish to take advantage of this course and learn what is the best of the best digital systems.

Since most people who do large format printing want to get into the giclee printing bonanza, here we can be especially helpful since Hellmuth has been doing art photography in museums for years. Besides, in the room adjoining his office he has a Cruse reprographic digital system, all $ 97,000 worth of it. There is no other university in the USA that we know of which has this particular model of the Cruse.

Can you do fine art giclee photography for under $97,000? Yes, of course, we have a complete system for under $10,000 (not including scan back) at one of the museums on campus. FLAAR works at two universities concurrently, so we have plenty of experience in all this. One university has two large art museums on campus, so we know what museum quality means. This kind of digital camera is precisely what Bowling Green State University of Ohio provides in its courses, which are open to everyone. You do not have to be a student at BGSU to take these courses. Nor do you have to set foot in Ohio. You can take this course from Europe, or Alaska, or from South America. Actually you can ask your questions of Professor Hellmuth in Spanish or auf Deutsch too.

What do you need to photograph?

For sports or fast action (such as wildlife) certain model cameras are better than others.

For portraits, namely subjects which move but not as fast as sports or birds in flight, you need a different kind of digital camera.

For objects which won't move at all, such as architecture, other cameras are the natural choice. Besides, with architecture you need perspective control.

For studio photography (objects that don't move) again, a special kind of digital camera. But for product shots of fizzing CocaCola, or bubbly Champaign, a different camera.

What if you shoot portraits one day, studio photography another day? A commercial photographer might use two totally different cameras. After all, here at FLAAR, we have about eight or more different cameras just for old-fashioned photography with traditional film (many 35mm, several medium format, several 4x5 large format; 8x10 larger format).

We cover all these aspects in this course.

Do you need to shoot out on location?

The FLAAR crew shoots outside a lot, including in remote locations. But we are accustomed to this and have a large crew available. If you are one person, or a two-some, you may not want to hassle with a complex mass of equipment. Yet Andrea and I have taken the entire Better Light tri-linear scanning system all over Central America. This is about the most tethered system you can imagine but we have had it deep in Hillbilly country of the Missouri Ozarks and even deeper into the volcanic mountains of Guatemala.

Nonetheless, there are other systems that are more portable. Obviously all point-and-shoot 3-to-5 megapixel cameras are fully portable. None are tethered. Of the 35mm SLR cameras, most are un-tethered; Leica was one of the few that was fully and absolutely tethered, and to an inside studio (you needed a computer card, so forget going out on location). But Leica's digital system died during birth, so to speak. Too bad, since it had many aspects I preferred over Nikon's D1 (which survived).

I discuss portability in each chapter, on medium-format and on large-format digital camera systems.

Can you survive with a tethered camera even in the studio?

You may prefer an untethered camera even in the studio, in order to be more spontaneous and move around. Since I usually prefer shooting from a tripod, I am not as worried about being on the move. Besides, I can move a tripod rather fast anyway. But if you are doing portrait photography, you need to decide whether, and to what degree, you wish to be tethered by cables and cords.

Since my subjects are dead, a few cables don't bother me, or my subject. As an archaeological photographer, my subjects have usually been stiff for over a thousand years. They won't move anywhere soon.

How much instant obsolescence can you withstand?

Of course you realize that the minute you buy your expensive new digital camera a new model will come out within six months with more power…at less cost. But if you keep waiting you will never start making money in digital photography. If you are good you can afford to buy the newest camera once a year anyway. And if you sell your old one within a year, it will still have value on the used-camera market. Besides, the better professional digital cameras are completely upgradeable. Yes, you can take a Better Light, Kigamo, and other brands, and simply upgrade the CCD sensor with each new generation.

With Better Light most software upgrades are free as well. In distinction some other brands charge about $500, or more, for their software upgrades. This is one of many reasons we prefer Better Light.

For point-and-shoot digital cameras, and for all SLR digital cameras, I am not familiar with any upgrade path. You are stuck with what you paid for. Best you can do is give it to one of your kids or siblings or spouse so they can learn digital photography, or sell it real quick on e-Bay before its value plummets even further. If you sell within 2 years you can still get some of your purchase price back.

However 5 megapixel point-and-shoot cameras will hold out for several years. Because if Nikon were to offer a 7 megapixel point-and-shoot for $999, no one would pay $5,999 for a 4 megapixel SLR Nikon D1.

Above are only a fraction of the questions that the new BGSU+FLAAR and UFM+FLAAR courses in digital photography offer.

Check out these courses. If you can't afford to buy the wrong digital camera (and need help to keep from making a mistake). If you wish to get professional assistance and consulting expertise on digital photography, directly and personally with Dr Nicholas Hellmuth, just sign up for either course.


Most recently updated Jan 7, 2001.