Small Screen, 12(1), 28-29, 1999.

Introducing the Digital "Still" Camera

Johanna E. Katchen

In the article on storyboarding in this issue (p. 10), the author mentioned that a digital camera was used to take the storyboarding images.  An ordinary still camera could have been used, but the digital was available and offered some advantages.  While still images are not normally considered “video”, they are visual, and with the converging of technologies and current features of digital cameras and software, these images need not be static anymore.

Though a bit heavier than typical still cameras, digital cameras have other convenient features.  Most important, you can see the image you have just captured, a great feature for poor photographers like me.  Instead of wasted film and photos of fingers, you can quickly delete bad photos and use the space for more.  Newer cameras use ordinary computer floppy disks instead of film; about 30 images fit on one disk.  You can save your photos on floppies or pop them into your computer and save them there.  There is no longer any need to plug your camera into your computer; just carry your floppies.

Focus controls, wide angle, brightness levels, and flash are standard features. When taking photos, you have several options, such as sepia or black and white in addition to color.  Depending on the model, other kinds of programming are possible.  But even if you don’t want to set too many dials when taking photos, once you put them into your computer, you can decide what you want to do.  My camera saves photos in jpg format and the software comes with the graphics section of Windows.  I like to insert photos within text, as I do in this newsletter.  With Word 7.0 (for Office 97), for example, when you get to the point in your text where you would like to put the photo, click INSERT and PICTURE and the name of the file/image—and there it is.  The Word picture toolbar lets you change size, adjust brightness and contrast, crop the image, add a frame, and make a few other adjustments.  If you want to do more detailed editing, then software such as Paint offers many more options for modifying your image. Of course, ordinary photos can be scanned into your computer, and from the editing process on, the procedures are the same, though the results may differ depending on the quality of the original photo.

What if you want to print your photos?  More and more photo shops will print out images from your floppy so that you can carry your favorite photos with you.  But you no longer have to order multiple copies for everyone in group photos.  After a Christmas dinner with my advisees, I sent them copies of the photos via e-mail attachment.  Moreover, color printers are getting better, and with the special quality paper available for printing photos, you can first edit your photos and then make personalized cards or other materials. 

Because images in a computer can be edited and changed, they have potential movement.  Remember that the first films were a series of still images moved past a light in rapid succession.  A few months ago, I noticed that when I played with the brightness levels of a digital image of a sunset taken on my camera, I could see movement from late afternoon to darkness and then create a sunrise.  Recently, at the Thai TESOL Conference in January, I met John Morgan, an English teacher in Thailand.  He has put some of his poems on his website <> and each poem is accompanied by a moving image.  In one of these, we are looking down a road in the middle of nowhere, and the image alternates between daylight and night, with the periods of night lasting longer than those of day.  John explained that he started with images from a digital camera and used internet editing software. 

While these small, alternating images are not what we usually consider video, they are moving images—images that more and more ordinary teachers are learning to create.  Who knows what we will be doing just five years from now?  For more on this question, see the interview with Hamish Norbrook, p. 18 in this issue.

So far, others I’ve met who also use a digital camera have the same complaint I do—that sometimes the quality of the image when viewed in a computer is not as sharp as it seems on the LC display on the camera.  Both wide-angle and close-ups show mixed results.  Indoor photos need to be set for higher brightness than seems necessary from the LC display, though using flash can make a close-up image too bright.  Perhaps we amateurs need to practice a little more.  Nevertheless, I love my digital camera.  I can photograph students’ activities or conference activities, send the photos to students (or anywhere) via e-mail, put them on a website, and print the images out with text for various purposes, from the department bulletin board to this copy of Small Screen.

If you like keeping your photos in your wallet or in photo albums, a digital camera is probably not for you.  But if you want to take photos primarily for computer applications, you will love the digital camera.

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