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Infobank

The digital darkroom

 

The traditional photographic darkroom is a room, and it is dark (though very subdued yellow light can be used when making black-and-white prints). There is a characteristic smell from trays of processing chemicals. The modern darkroom is digital. It only needs a corner of a room, it isn't dark, and there is no smell.

Working in a digital darkroom is not only clean - it is fast. Processes that could take an hour or more in a traditional darkroom (making a colour print, for example) can now be done in minutes.

The change from wet processing to dry has revolutionised photography, but has also introduced a steep learning curve for many photographers. Although a sound knowledge of film photography is useful in the digital darkroom, it is not essential. What is needed is an understanding of the new technology.

Digital camera

The EOS digital camera is the start of the digital darkroom 'chain'.

Although not strictly part of the digital darkroom, the digital camera is a good place to start. In many respects, it provides a bridge between the old and new technology. An EOS digital camera looks much like an EOS film camera. It uses the same lenses and Speedlites, and retains the focal plane shutter and many other features.

The main difference is that a digital camera has a built-in sensor, replacing the need for film. It is often assumed that the sensor is digital, though this is not strictly true. The sensor is covered with millions of photo sensors (pixels) arranged in grid formation. Each sensor reacts to the brightness of light at its location and converts this into a tiny electrical current, or charge. It is only as these charges are moved from the sensor that this analogue signal is digitised.

The signal processing is carried out inside the camera using Canon's exclusive DIGIC image processor. This mini-computer looks after most of the image functions - JPEG compression, media card control, LCD information, autoexposure, autofocus, auto white balance, noise control, and more. DIGIC uses super-fast signal architecture and a high-capacity buffer to process data at incredible speeds.

Some photographers rate a camera by the number of megapixels offered by the sensor. In practice, the performance of the image processor is just as important.

The original DIGIC processor was introduced with the EOS 10D on 2003, and is also found in the EOS 300D. The second generation DIGIC II is used in the EOS-1D Mark II, 1D Mark II N, 1Ds Mark II, 5D, 20D, 30D, 350D and 400D. The third generation DIGIC III is a feature of the EOS 40D and 450D. The EOS-1D Mark III and 1Ds Mark III both use two DIGIC III image processors for increased speed and performance. Both the EOS 50D and EOS 5D Mark II feature the DIGIC 4 processor. This is faster still and adds in new features to the cameras.

The signal processing inside the camera can be compared to the processing of film. With film, the result is a negative (or positive) image; with a digital camera the result is an image file. One advantage of digital photography is that the image file is available within seconds of the exposure - film can take an hour or more to process, and the delay in seeing the images is much longer if you have to send the film to a processing laboratory.

EOS cameras can produce two types of image file - RAW and JPEG. The RAW file is often said to be the data as it comes from the sensor. This is not strictly true - there is some in-camera processing, though it is fairly limited. A RAW file cannot be viewed or printed; it needs additional processing before it can be used. A JPEG file, on the other hand, is printable out of the camera.

The advantage of a RAW file is that you can make significant changes to it after the exposure. Colour, contrast and brightness are all parameters that can be altered. With a JPEG image, you set these parameters before the exposure and the image is processed in the camera. Although it is possible to make some modifications to a JPEG image, there is less flexibility.

Sport and news photographers tend to favour JPEG files because the images are ready immediately. Wedding photographers also like JPEG files, because they don't want to spend time processing large numbers of RAW images. Landscape, portrait and studio photographers are more likely to use with RAW files so that they can work on individual images.

Media cards

 

SecureDigital (left) and CompactFlash cards.

After the subject has been recorded by the digital sensor, and the data passed through the image processor, an image file is saved to the media card. EOS cameras used CompactFlash or SecureDigital cards - and some of the professional models accept both.

The media card is sometimes said to be the digital equivalent of film. It is not a perfect analogy, since it is the digital sensor that reacts to the light from the lens. Also media cards have none of the characteristics of film, such as ISO speed or colour type - all these features are dealt with by the cameras. At best, the media card is similar to processed film, storing images until they are ready for printing or projection.

It is possible to retrieve the image files without removing the media card from the camera. This is done by connecting the camera via a cable (supplied with the camera) to a computer, printer or other device. However, it is usually more convenient, and faster, to take the card out of the camera before moving on to the next step.

Computers

For most photographers, a computer is the new darkroom. It is here that you can select and delete images, enhance and manipulate them, and output to paper.

But which computer do you need? The first choice is between operating systems (OS). Microsoft Windows and Apple Macintosh are the most popular, with Windows taking the lion's share of the market. However, the Macintosh OS has an established base with designers and photographers because it was the first with a graphical interface and, like cameras, people tend to stay with the system they know.

Today, there is not a lot to choose between Windows and Macintosh in terms of the results produced by the systems. There is more software available for Windows, but the Macintosh system is generally acknowledged to be easier to use. Macintosh computers are only made by Apple and tend to be stylish, but pricey. Computers with the Windows system come from a diverse range of manufacturers and suppliers - some of these computers are stylish, some are not, and many are relatively inexpensive.

If you have little or no experience of computers, ask around and find out what other photographers are using. If possible, ask friends to demonstrate their systems so that you can experience the interface.

In terms of the actual computer, you need one from the top of the range. It needs fast processors to handle photographic images, and a high-capacity drive to hold a large number of high-resolution image files.

You can choose between desktop and laptop computer. At one time, only desktops offered the power needed for image processing, but most laptops are now a real alternative. The advantage of a laptop is that you can carry it with you, from office to studio, from location to client.

Some people find the keypad on a laptop difficult to use, and the screen can be rather small for some photographic work. One answer to this is to buy a separate, larger screen that can be run from the laptop, and to plug in a separate keyboard and mouse. This gives to convenience and usability of a desktop computer, while retaining the portability of the laptop away from the office.

Card reader

Card readers take the media card from the camera and make it appear as an external drive on the computer desktop.

A useful peripheral for your computer is a card reader. This takes the media card from the camera and makes it appear as an external drive on the computer desktop. You can drag-and-drop the images from the card into a folder on the computer. It is quicker and more convenient than downloading the images from the card in the camera.

Once the images have been transferred, you can erase the card and use it again. However, always erase and reformat the card in the camera, using the menu Format function. Although it is possible to erase and format from the computer while the card is in the reader, it may not be compatible with the camera.

Canon software

All the software you need to start processing image files is on the CD supplied with the camera.

EOS Utility

With EOS Utility, you can download images from the media card in the camera to your computer. The camera must be connected to the computer using the cable supplied with the camera. Images can be transfer all at once, or selectively. You can also operate the camera remotely from the computer keyboard using the supplied cable. In addition to immediate and delayed firing, you can set the software to fire the camera at pre-set intervals. It is compatible with Windows 2000/XP Home Edition/Professional and Mac OS X v10.2 - 10.4.

ZoomBrowser/ImageBrowser

ZoomBrowser (for PC) and ImageBrowser (for Mac) allow you to view, organise and edit your images. You can convert JPEG and RAW files (which are sent to Digital Photo Professional for processing), crop images and adjust contrast and saturation. They are compatible with Windows 98SE/Me/2000/XP Home Edition/Professional and Mac OS X v10.2 - 10.4.

PhotoStitch

PhotoStitch enables you to produce seamless panoramic views from multiple images. It is compatible with Windows 98SE/Me/2000/XP Home Edition/Professional and Mac OS X v10.2 - 10.4.

Digital Photo Professional Software

Digital Photo Professional (DPP) is a high-speed RAW image-processing program, but can also be used to view and edit JPEG image files. RAW image processing includes image rotation, white balance adjustment, exposure compensation, dynamic-range adjustment, colour adjustment, fine-tuning of tone curve characteristics and Picture Style image processing. RGB image processing includes tone curve, brightness, contrast, hue and saturation adjustment. Batch conversion and saving is available. It is compatible with Windows 2000/XP and Mac OS X v10.2 - 10.4.

Other imaging software

One of the most powerful image editing applications available is Adobe Photoshop, and this is popular with many professional photographers. It is relatively easy to learn the basic editing features, but there is a high learning curve if you want to make the most of the program.

Adobe Photoshop Elements is a cut-down (and less expensive) version of Photoshop that simplifies and automates some of the techniques. However, it does not allow the conversion of RGB files to CMYK, which might make it unsuitable for anyone submitting work to printers.

Apple Aperture is attracting the attention of Macintosh users (it is not available for Windows). Aperture is a combined asset manager and image editor. You can organise your photographs in folder and albums, and also adjust the colour, saturation and exposure - among other changes. There are also many features designed for photographers, such as viewing two or more images side by side, rapid-fire image review, and a virtual loupe for magnifying parts of an image up to 1600%.

Adobe Lightroom also aims to provide a one-stop solution for photographers, but is available in both Windows and Macintosh versions. It allows you to process large numbers of images, renaming them, organising folders and making adjustments.

Printers

 

Printing is often the final stage of the 'photographic process'.

For many photographers, the final stage of the photographic process is making a print. The digital darkroom makes this relatively simple. All you need is an ink-jet printer connected to your computer. Canon makes a range of printers for A4, A3+ and large format papers.

Canon Easy-PhotoPrint software is available for the A4 and A3+ printers. It offers a useful range of options, including one, two or four images printed on a sheet, or index prints of 20, 48 or 80 images. There is also a choice of bordered or borderless prints.

Easy-PhotoPrint also offers a range of basic image enhancements, but professional users will want to enhance and modify the image before reaching the printing stage.

For the best results, it is important to print on good photo quality paper - and preferably the paper supplied by the manufacturer of the printer. You can test this for yourself. Buy small packs of paper from different manufacturers and print the same image on a sheet from each packet. The paper from the printer manufacturer is likely to give the best results, as the paper will have been optimised for the characteristics of their printer.

Scanners

 

Scanners give a digital file from a print or slide.

Another useful item in the digital darkroom is a scanner. This is essentially a copying device, giving a digital file from a print or transparency. Once you have the file, it can be enhanced or modified before new prints are made, or the image is added to a website.

Some scanners are only designed to work with paper originals; other scanners will handle paper and transparencies. Not many years ago Canon supplied a film scanner, designed for 35mm slides, but this is now discontinued as the results from flatbed scanners are just as good.

Multimedia projectors

 

Canon has a range of multimedia projectors that can project images from a computer.

When digital cameras were first introduced, one of the main drawbacks for some photographers was the lack of projection facilities. Slide projectors were used for 35mm transparencies in a range of situations, from entertainment and education to presentations to seminars.

This is no longer a problem. Canon makes a range of multimedia projectors that can be linked to a computer. Whatever is on the computer monitor can be projected onto a white wall or screen. This solution is much more flexible than a slide projector. Text can be added to or beside an image, two or more images can be displayed together, and a range of fade and dissolve effects are available if you use slide show software. You can even add music or commentary that will stay in perfect synchronisation with the show.

Canon offers two ranges of multimedia projectors - XEED for larger business and imaging professionals, and LV for classrooms, meeting rooms, auditoriums and business people on the road.