Digital photography is a form of photography that utilizes digital technology to make digital images of subjects. Until the advent of digital technology, photography used photographic film to create images which could be made visible by photographic processing. Digital images can be displayed, printed, stored, manipulated, transmitted, and archived using digital and computer techniques, without chemical processing.
Digital photography is one of several forms of digital imaging. Digital images are also created by non-photographic equipment such as computer tomography scanners and radio telescopes. Digital images can also be made by scanning conventional photographic images.
The concept of digitizing images on scanners, and the concept of digitizing video signals, predate the concept of making still pictures by digitizing signals from an array of discrete sensor elements. Eugene F. Lally of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory published the first description of how to produce still photos in a digital domain using a mosaic photosensor. The purpose was to provide onboard navigation information to astronauts during missions to planets. The mosaic array periodically recorded still photos of star and planet locations during transit and when approaching a planet provided additional stadiametric information for orbiting and landing guidance. The concept included camera design elements foreshadowing the first digital camera.
Texas Instruments designed a filmless analog camera in 1972, but it is not known whether it was ever built. The first recorded attempt at building a digital camera was by Steven Sasson, an engineer at Eastman Kodak. It used the then-new solid-state CCD image sensor chips developed by Fairchild Semiconductor in 1973. The camera weighed 8 pounds (3.6 kg), recorded black and white images to a cassette tape, had a resolution of 0.01 megapixels (10,000 pixels), and took 23 seconds to capture its first image in December of 1975. The prototype camera was a technical exercise, not intended for production.
Analog electronic cameras
Handheld electronic cameras, in the sense of a device meant to be carried and used like a handheld film camera, appeared in 1981 with the demonstration of the Sony Mavica (Magnetic Video Camera). This is not to be confused with the later cameras by Sony that also bore the Mavica name. This was an analog camera based on television technology that recorded to a 2 × 2 inch "video floppy". In essence it was a video movie camera that recorded single frames, 50 per disk in field mode and 25 per disk in frame mode. The image quality was considered equal to that of then-current televisions.
Analog cameras do not appear to have reached the market until 1986 with the Canon RC-701. Canon demonstrated a prototype of this model at the 1984 Olympics, printing the images in the Yomiuri Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper. In the United States, the first publication to use these cameras for real reportage was USA Today, in its coverage of World Series baseball. Several factors held back the widespread adoption of analog cameras; the cost (upwards of $20,000), poor image quality compared to film, and the lack of quality affordable printers. Capturing and printing an image originally required access to equipment such as a frame grabber, which was beyond the reach of the average consumer. The "video floppy" disks later had several reader devices available for viewing on a screen, but were never standardized as a computer drive.
The early adopters tended to be in the news media, where the cost was negated by the utility and the ability to transmit images by telephone lines. The poor image quality was offset by the low resolution of newspaper graphics. This capability to transmit images without a satellite link was useful during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 and the first Gulf War in 1991.
US government agencies also took a strong interest in the still video concept, notably the US Navy for use as a real time air-to-sea surveillance system.
The first analog camera marketed to consumers may have been the Canon RC-250 Xapshot in 1988. A notable analog camera produced the same year was the Nikon QV-1000C, designed as a press camera and not offered for sale to general users, which sold only a few hundred units. It recorded images in greyscale, and the quality in newspaper print was equal to film cameras. In appearance it closely resembled a modern digital single-lens reflex camera. Images were stored on video floppy disks.
The arrival of true digital cameras
The first true digital camera that recorded images as a computerized file was likely the Fuji DS-1P of 1988, which recorded to a 16 MB internal memory card that used a battery to keep the data in memory. This camera was never marketed in the United States, and has not been confirmed to have shipped even in Japan.
The first commercially available digital camera was the 1990 Dycam Model 1; it also sold as the Logitech Fotoman. It used a CCD image sensor, stored pictures digitally, and connected directly to a PC for download.
In 1991, Kodak brought to market the Kodak DCS-100, the beginning of a long line of professional SLR cameras by Kodak that were based in part on film bodies, often Nikons. It used a 1.3 megapixel sensor and was priced at $13,000.
The move to digital formats was helped by the formation of the first JPEG and MPEG standards in 1988, which allowed image and video files to be compressed for storage. The first consumer camera with a liquid crystal display on the back was the Casio QV-10 in 1995, and the first camera to use CompactFlash was the Kodak DC-25 in 1996.
The marketplace for consumer digital cameras was originally low resolution (either analog or digital) cameras built for utility. In 1997 the first megapixel cameras for consumers were marketed. The first camera that offered the ability to record video clips may have been the Ricoh RDC-1 in 1995.
1999 saw the introduction of the Nikon D1, a 2.74 megapixel camera that was the first digital SLR developed entirely by a major manufacturer, and at a cost of under $6,000 at introduction was affordable by professional photographers and high end consumers. This camera also used Nikon F-mount lenses, which meant film photographers could use many of the same lenses they already owned.
Also in 1999, Minolta introduced the RD-3000 D-SLR at 2.7 megapixels. This camera found many professional adherents. Limitations to the system included the need to use Vectis lenses which were designed for APS size film. The camera was sold with 5 lenses at various focal lengths and ranges (zoom). Minolta did not produce another D-SLR until September 2004 when they introduced the Alpha 7D (Alpha in Japan, Maxxum in North America, Dynax in the rest of the world) but using the Minolta A-mount system from its 35 mm line of cameras.
2003 saw the introduction of the Canon 300D, also known as the Digital Rebel, a 6 megapixel camera and the first DSLR priced under $1000, and marketed to consumers.
Sensors and storage
Sensors read the intensity of light as filtered through different color filters, and digital memory devices store the digital image information, either as RGB color space or as raw data.
There are two main types of sensors:
charge-coupled device (CCD) – photocharge is shifted to a central charge-to-voltage converter
CMOS sensors ("Active pixel sensor")
Nearly all digital cameras now use built in and/or removable solid state flash memory. Digital camcorders that double as a digital still camera use flash memory, discs and internal hard disks. For a time floppy disks and mini-CDs were used in early digital cameras such as the Sony Mavica range.
Multifunctionality and connectivity
Except for some linear array type of cameras at the highest-end and simple web cams at the lowest-end, a digital memory device (usually flash memory; floppy disks and CD-RWs are less common) is usually used for storing images, which may then be transferred to a computer later.
Digital cameras can take pictures, and may also record sound and video. Some can be used as webcams, some can use the PictBridge standard to connect to a printer without using a computer, and some can display pictures directly on a television set. Similarly, many camcorders can take still photographs, and store them on videotape or on flash memorycards.
The quality of a digital image is the sum of various factors, many of which are similar to film cameras. Pixel count (typically listed in megapixels, millions of pixels) is only one of the major factors, though it is the most heavily marketed. Pixel count metrics were created by the marketing organizations of digital camera manufacturers because consumers can use it to easily compare camera capabilities. It is not, however, the major factor in evaluating a digital camera. The processing system inside the camera that turns the raw data into a color-balanced and pleasing photograph is the most critical, which is why some 4+ megapixel cameras perform better than higher-end cameras.
Lens quality: resolution, distortion, dispersion (see Lens (optics))
Capture medium: CMOS, CCD, Negative film, Reversal Film etc.
Capture format: pixel count, digital file type (RAW, TIFF, JPEG), film format (135 film, 120 film, 5x4, 10x8).
Processing: digital and / or chemical processing of 'negative' and 'print'.
The number of pixels n for a given maximum resolution (w horizontal pixels by h vertical pixels) is the product n = w × h. This yields e. g. 1.92 megapixels (1,920,000 pixels) for an image of 1600 × 1200. The majority of compact (not SLR) digital cameras have a 4:3 aspect ratio, i.e. w/h = 4/3. . According to Digital Photography Review, the 4:3 ratio is because "computer monitors are 4:3 ratio, old CCD's always had a 4:3 ratio, and thus digital cameras inherited this aspect ratio."
The pixel count quoted by manufacturers can be misleading as it may not be the number of full-colour pixels. For cameras using single-chip image sensors the number claimed is the total number of single-colour-sensitive photosensors, whether they have different locations in the plane, as with the Bayer sensor, or in stacks of three co-located photosensors as in the Foveon X3 sensor. However, the images will have different numbers of RGB pixels: the Bayer-sensor cameras produce as many RGB pixels as photosensors via demosaicing (interpolation), while the cameras with Foveon sensors produce uninterpolated image files with one-third as many RGB pixels as photosensors. It is difficult to compare the resolutions based on the megapixel ratings of these two types of sensors, and therefore sometimes subject of dispute.
Resolution provides an indication of the amount of detail that is captured, but, like the other metrics, resolution is just another factor out of many in determining the quality of an image. Furthermore, different methods of creating an image make it impossible to compare the resolutions of cameras simply based on the number of pixels produced by the image sensor. For example, the Sigma SD14 camera uses Foveon technology, which is quite different from most other digital cameras. It claims to be a 14 megapixel camera, but is generally considered to have detail-capturing capabilities roughly equivalent to 9 megapixels in terms of Bayer sensors. 
The relative increase in detail resulting from an increase in resolution is better compared by looking at the number of pixels across (or down) the picture, rather than the total number of pixels in the picture area. For example, a sensor of 2560 × 1600 sensor elements is described as "4 megapixels" (2560 × 1600 = 4,096,000). Increasing to 3200 × 2048 increases the pixels in the picture to 6,553,600 (6.5 megapixels), a factor of 1.6, but the pixels per cm in the picture (at the same image size) increases by only 1.25 times. A measure of the comparative increase in linear resolution is the square root of the increase in area resolution, i.e., megapixels in the entire image.
Resolution in pixels is not the only measure of image quality; a larger sensor with the same number of pixels will generally produce a better image than a smaller one. One of the most important differences is an improvement in image noise. This is one of the advantages of digital SLR cameras, which have larger sensors than simpler cameras of the same resolution.
Practical imaging systems, digital and film, have a limited dynamic range which can be reproduced accurately. Highlights of the subject which are too bright will be rendered as white, with no detail; shadows which are too dark will be rendered as black. The loss of detail is not abrupt with film, or in dark shadows with digital sensors: some detail is retained as brightness moves out of the dynamic range. "Highlight burn-out" of digital sensors, however, can be abrupt, and highlight detail may be lost. And as the sensor elements for different colors saturate in turn, there can be gross hue shift in burnt-out highlights.
Some digital cameras can show these blown highlights in the image review, allowing the photographer to re-shoot the picture with a modified exposure. Others compensate for the total contrast of a scene by selectively exposing darker pixels longer. A third technique is used by Fujifilm in its FinePix S3 Pro digital SLR. The image sensor contains additional photodiodes of lower sensitivity than the main ones; these retain detail in parts of the image too bright for the main sensor.
High dynamic range imaging (HDR) addresses this issue by increasing the dynamic range of images by either
increasing the dynamic range of the image sensor or
by using exposure bracketing and post-processing the separate images to create a single image with a higher dynamic range.
HDR images curtail burn-outs and black-outs.
Applications and considerations
With the acceptable image quality and the other advantages of digital photography (particularly the time pressures of vital importance to daily newspapers) the majority of professional news photographers have begun capturing their images with digital cameras.
Digital photography has also been adopted by many amateur snapshot photographers, who take advantage of the convenience of the form when sending images by email, placing them on the World Wide Web, or displaying them in digital picture frames. Digital cameras have also been integrated into many cell phones, although, because of the small, poor quality lenses and sensors in most of these phones, the quality of these pictures makes them unsuitable for making even moderate size prints.
Some commercial photographers, and some amateurs interested in artistic photography, have been resistant to using digital rather than film cameras because they believe that the image quality available from a digital camera is still inferior to that available from a film camera, and the quality of images taken on medium format film is near-impossible to match at any price with a digital camera. Some have expressed a concern that changing computer technology may make digital photographs inaccessible in the future. A related concern in a specialized application is the use of digital photographs in court proceedings, with the added difficulty of demonstrating an image's authenticity. Some high-end film can also still be projected for viewing at a much higher optical resolution than even the best digital projectors.
Other commercial photographers, and many amateurs, have enthusiastically embraced digital photography because they believe that its flexibility and lower long-term costs outweigh its initial price disadvantages. Almost all of the cost of digital photography is capital cost, meaning that the cost is for the equipment needed to store and copy the images, and once purchased requires virtually no further expense outlay. Film photography requires continuous expenditure of funds for supplies and developing, although the equipment itself does not outdate so quickly and has a longer service life. Some commercial photographers have also begun moving to digital technology because of the tremendous editing capabilities now offered on computers. The photographer is able to color-balance and manipulate the image in ways that traditional darkroom techniques cannot offer, although film users can utilize the same technology with a film scanner. With fully color-balanced systems from the camera to the monitor to the printer, the photographer can now print what is actually seen on the screen.
However, digital cameras require batteries that need to be recharged or replaced frequently, and this means that a photographer needs access to electrical outlets. Digital cameras also tend to be much more sensitive to moisture and extreme cold. For this reason, photographers who work in remote areas may favour film SLR cameras, though many higher-end DSLRs are now equipped with 'weather-proof' bodies. Medium- and large-format film cameras are also still preferred by publications insisting on the very highest detail and resolution, such as Arizona Highways.
Digital photography was used in astronomy long before its use by the general public and had almost completely displaced photographic plates by the early 1980s. Not only are CCDs more sensitive to light than plates, but they have a much more uniform and predictable response, and the information can be downloaded onto a computer for data analysis. The CCDs used in astronomy are similar to those used by the general public, but are generally monochrome and cooled with liquid nitrogen so as to reduce the noise caused by heat. Many astronomical instruments have arrays of many CCDs, sometimes totaling almost a billion pixels. Nowadays amateur astronomers also commonly use digital cameras, including the use of webcams for speckle imaging or "video astronomy".
Digital camera backs
Main article: digital camera back
Most digital cameras are built to operate as a self-contained unit. This is especially so at the lower-end, for these cameras usually include zoom lens and flashes that cannot be changed. However, at the highest-end, some digital cameras are nothing but a sophisticated light-sensing unit. Experienced photographers attach these digital "camera backs" to their professional medium format SLR cameras, such as a Mamiya.
3-strip CCD with color filters
Linear array cameras are also called scan backs.
Multi-shot (three-shot, usually)
Scanning and multi-shot camera backs are usually used only in studios to take pictures of still objects. Most earlier digital camera backs used linear array sensors which could take seconds or even minutes for a complete high-resolution scan. The linear array sensor acts like its counterpart in a flatbed image scanner by moving vertically to digitize the image.
Many early such cameras could only capture grayscale images. To take a color picture, it required three separate scans done with a rotating colored filter. These are called multi-shot backs. Some other camera backs use CCD arrays similar to typical cameras. These are called single-shot backs.
Since it is much easier to manufacture a high-quality linear CCD array with only thousands of pixels than a CCD matrix with millions, very high resolution linear CCD camera backs were available much earlier than their CCD matrix counterparts. For example, you could buy an (albeit expensive) camera back with over 7,000 pixel horizontal resolution in the mid-1990s. However, as of 2004, it is still difficult to buy a comparable CCD matrix camera of the same resolution. Rotating line cameras, with about 10,000 color pixels in its sensor line, are able, as of 2005, to capture about 120,000 lines during one full 360 degree rotation, thereby creating a single digital image of 1,200 Megapixels.
Most modern digital camera backs use very large CCD matrices. This eliminates the need for scanning. For example, Phase One produces a 39 million pixel digital camera back with a 49.1 x 36.8 mm CCD in 2008. This CCD array is a little smaller than a frame of 120 film and much larger than a 35 mm frame (36 x 24 mm). In comparison, a consumer digital camera usually uses a much smaller 1/2.5 inch or 7.176 x 5.329 mm (~ 1/1.8 inch) CCD sensor. Further, the 1/2.5 or 1/1.8 inch diagonal measurement is the size of the entire CCD chip- the actual photo-sensitive area is much smaller.
At present, there are relatively few complete digital SLR cameras with sensors large enough to compete with medium to large format film cameras. Phase One and Mamiya manufacture medium format digital devices that can capture 16MP up to 39MP. The units tend to be quite large and expensive, but offer vastly higher . Additionally, because of their high build quality and lack of moving parts tend to be quite long lasting and are prominent on the used market .
In late 2002, 2 megapixel cameras were available in the United States for less than $100, with some 1 megapixel cameras for under $60. At the same time, many discount stores with photo labs introduced a "digital front end", allowing consumers to obtain true chemical prints (as opposed to ink-jet prints) in an hour. These prices were similar to those of prints made from film negatives. However, because digital images have a different aspect ratio than 35 mm film images, people have started to realize that 4x6 inch prints crop some of the image off the print. Some photofinishers have started offering prints with the same aspect ratio as the digital cameras record.
In July 2003, digital cameras entered the single-use market with the release of the Ritz Dakota Digital, a 1.2 megapixel (1280 x 960) CMOS-based digital camera costing only $11 (USD). Following the familiar single-use concept long in use with film cameras, the Dakota Digital was intended to be used by a consumer one time only. When the pre-programmed 25 picture limit is reached, the camera is returned to the store, and the consumer receives back prints and a CD-ROM with their photos. The camera is then refurbished and resold. Since the introduction of the Dakota Digital, a number of similar single-use digital cameras have appeared. Most of the various single-use digital cameras are nearly identical to the original Dakota Digital regarding specifications and functionality, although a few include superior specifications and more advanced functions (such as higher image resolutions and LCD screens). Most, if not all, of these single-use digital cameras cost less than $20 (USD), not including processing fees. However, the huge demand for complex digital cameras at competitive prices has often resulted in manufacturing shortcuts, evidenced by a large increase in customer complaints over camera malfunctions, high parts prices, and short service life. Some digital cameras offer only a 90-day warranty.
The price of 35mm compact cameras have dropped with manufacturers further outsourcing to countries such as China. Kodak announced in January 2004 that they would no longer sell Kodak-branded film cameras in the developed world. In January 2006 Nikon followed suit and announced that they will stop the production of all but two models of their film cameras, they will continue to produce the low-end Nikon FM10, and the high-end Nikon F6. In the same month, Konica Minolta announced that it was pulling out of the camera business altogether. The price of 35mm and APS compact cameras have dropped, probably due to direct competition from digital and the resulting growth of the offer of second-hand film cameras. Pentax have reduced production of film cameras but not halted it.. The technology has improved so rapidly that one of Kodak's film cameras was discontinued before it was awarded a "camera of the year" award later in the year.
Since 2002, digital cameras have outsold film cameras. However, the use of 35mm cameras is greater in developing countries. In Guatemala, for example, extremely high import duties on all digital products serves to encourage sales and use of film cameras.
The decline in film camera sales has also led to a decline in purchases of film for such cameras. In November 2004, a German division of Agfa-Gevaert, AgfaPhoto, split off. Within six months it filed for bankruptcy . Konica Minolta Photo Imaging, Inc. will end production of Color film and paper worldwide by March 31, 2007. In addition, by 2005, Kodak employed less than a third of the employees that it had twenty years earlier. It is not known if these job losses in the film industry have been offset in the digital image industry.
In addition, digital photography has resulted in some positive market impacts as well. The increasing popularity of products such as digital photo frames and canvas prints is a direct result of the increasing popularity of digital photography.
Throughout the history of photography, technological advances in optics, camera production, developing, and imaging have had an effect on the way people view images. Prior to the 1970s, most people in the United States used slide (or "chrome") film and viewed the images with a slide projector. After that, people began to make prints from color negatives. The simultaneous increased use of the Internet and email, relatively cheap computers and digital cameras led to a tremendous increase in the number of photographic images in digital formats.
In the early part of the 21st century, the dominant method of viewing still images has been on computers and, to a lesser extent, on cellular phones (although people still make and look at prints). These factors have led to a decrease in film and film camera sales and film processing, and has had a dramatic effect on companies such as Fuji, Kodak, and Agfa. In addition, many stores that used to offer photofinishing services or sell film no longer do, and those that do have seen a tremendous decline.
Photographic images have always been prone to fading and loss of image quality due to sun exposure or improper storage of film negatives, slides, and prints. Since digital images are stored as data on a computer, the image never loses visual quality, detail, or fidelity as long as the digital media upon which it is stored remains intact. The only way to ruin a digital image is to delete the image file, to corrupt or re-write some of the image file's data, or to damage or destroy the electronic storage media (hard drive, disk, CD, flash card, etc.) upon which the file resides. As with all computer files, making backups is the most effective way of ensuring that a copy of a digital image can always be recovered.
Of growing concern for both archivists and historians is the relative non-permanence or transitory nature of digital media. Unlike film and print, which are tangible and immediately accessible to a person, storage of digital images is ever-changing with old media and decoding software becoming obsoleted or inaccessible by new technologies. Historians are concerned that we are creating a historical void where information and details about a given decade or era will have been lost within either failed or inaccessible digital media. It is recommended that both professional and amateur users develop strategies for migrating stored digital images from old technologies to new.
It is likely that film will never again be purchased and used on the scale it was for most of the 20th century. However, it probably will not disappear altogether. At its advent in the early 19th century, many believed photography would supplant the painting of portraits and landscapes. In the same way that acrylic and oil paint are still dominant media in use by artists and hobbyists, it's likely that photographic film and equipment will continue to be an option for enthusiasts. It is also important to note that the differences between film and digital photography are far less significant than the differences between painting and film photography.
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6 Carolyn Said, "DYCAM Model 1: The first portable Digital Still Camera", MacWeek, vol. 4, No. 35, Oct. 16, 1990, p. 34.
7 a b PhotoAccess reveals 4:3 ratio prints: Digital Photography Review
8 Foveon X3 Sensor Claims Put to the Test
9 Used Phase One Medium Format Digital Backs, Capture Integration
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