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Disadvantages of digital (11/02/2003)
By Tom Hirsch
Almost all modern cameras rely on batteries as their source of power - this is just a fact of photo life. Film cameras are relatively easy on batteries, allowing you to go from one to five years on a battery, depending on the camera-battery combination, before the battery gives out. Digital cameras, on the other hand, consume battery power at an alarming rate.

To deal with the digital battery bugaboo, you might want to consider rechargeable batteries. For backup you'll want at least one additional set of batteries, and two sets is better; one set in the camera, one set as backup, and the third set in the charger. Oh yes, you'll also need to carry along the battery charger.

For additional security, carry a set of non-rechargeable lithium batteries. Check your owner's manual, though, to make sure the camera will handle these high-powered batteries. Some digital cameras won't. If that's true of your camera, rely on alkalines, although the lithium batteries will last much longer.

Some digital cameras come with a built-in Lithium-ion battery that never (or almost never) needs replacing. This battery can be recharged numerous times before it wears out (possibly for the life of the camera). The main drawback is that you must be near an electrical outlet (in America that's 110 volts) to recharge it when the camera indicates that the battery needs recharging.

To conserve battery power, many digital cameras provide an optional AC adapter so you can use electricity as the power source. This is especially useful when viewing images on the LCD monitor, or downloading them onto a computer.

Shutter lag in digital cameras is another potential problem, or at least a nuisance. This is the period of time between pressing the shutter release and capturing the image on the memory card. The lag may be as long as several seconds, or as short as two one-hundredths of a second, depending on the particular camera model and the compression mode selected. JPEG settings are the fastest, but they are the most compressed and produce images with the least amount of information. Selecting the TIFF or RAW mode will result in the best images, but with longer recycling time.

To overcome the lag problem, you could buy an expensive digital camera. If that's not practical, in fast-paced situations you can use the old trick of anticipating the peak of the action. Focus on the subject beforehand and press the shutter release halfway down. The camera will go through its preliminary program, and when you're ready to take the picture, continue pressing the shutter release and you'll get immediate results.

If you're into sports photography and like to shoot at fast shutter speeds to stop rapid action, you might have to spend more to get this capability. Most of the lower priced digital cameras are limited to 1/400 as their fastest shutter speed, although there are exceptions. Shop around if fast shutter speeds are important to you.

Similarly, most digital cameras, other than the more expensive ones, limit the range of apertures available to you for artistic or aesthetic purposes. This isn't a big deal because most of us don't pay that much attention to depth of field anyway. Anyhow, because of the nature of the cameras, even a relatively large aperture in digital will provide more than adequate depth of field. It's when you want shallow depth of field that you can run into problems. This isn't really that much of a problem either because with many of the moderately priced image enhancing programs, you have the capability of simulating shallow depth of field.

Another disadvantage, if you want to call it that, is the inability of digital cameras to take long exposures. The shutter on many film cameras can be locked open to take hours-long exposures of star trails at night. Don't try this during the daylight hours, or anytime with a digital camera - it just can't be done due to the nature of digital image recording devices. Unlike film, long digital exposures create "digital noise" which is sort of a breakdown of the recorded image, producing very "grainy" pictures. 


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