Oct 07 2009

nobel committee honors the dawn of digital

Published by at 4:09 pm under healthcare,news,technique

The fathers of digital photography were honored yesterday with the announcement of the Nobel Prize in Physics. Bell Labs researchers Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith shared half of the prize for their development of the charge-coupled devices, or CCD’s. Millions of digital cameras and many other devices now use CCD chips.

My introduction into digital photography was less noble, but never-less momentous in my mind. I made the switch out of love.

Bone 1270 nobel committee honors the dawn of digital

An early digitally captured photo shot on assignment

I’d fallen in love with a clinical researcher that I met shooting while at UCLA Medical Center. With her having a son in a great public school system in Manhattan Beach it was better for me to move down there to be together. That meant moving away from a photo district in the Hollywood area that was full of professional film labs. I used to walk a block down my alley to a great lab and have my film back in two hours. Now I either had to drive 30 minutes to a pro lab, or use a consumer lab 10  minutes away and risk having my slides scratched.

Digital cameras started to become more sophisticated so I decided to make the leap. I’d been scanning film already and working on the files in Photoshop, so I only had to add in the digital capture. But I started slowly with my new Canon D-60. The first photos were taken on our honeymoon vacation down in Mexico in March, 2002. When these bone density scan photos were taken in October I still didn’t trust the camera for commercial assignments.

boneilc nobel committee honors the dawn of digital

The better film version of the bone density scan

Back in those days I would use my Polaroid back to test my lighting set-up. I would take a shot and wait for the “instant” 2 minute development time to see if I had the balance correct. The fist change I made was to use my digital camera in place of the Polaroid. The feedback was truly instant and I would use that for my tests. But I wasn’t ready to fully trust the final capture yet. I would shoot a few frames after the tests and then switch to film. The problem was with this first digital camera was a poor viewfinder that made it hard to focus and the half-frame CMOS chip (a cousin to the CCD) that changed the effective focal length of my lenses.

In the photos above, the main difference was that I could us my wide angle lens on my film camera to capture the more dynamic close view. I continued to use the duel system for the next year until the full-frame Canon 1Ds hit the market. I’ve been digital ever since.

Mark Harmel



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