A small portable computer with an imaging sensor and lens and designed to record images, much like a traditional film camera.
However, instead of recording light images on photosensitive material a digital camera records the scene using an electronic sensor chip - usually a CCD or CMOS chip. This data is sent to an internal camera which processes the image and saves it to memory or small hard disk. The image can then be transferred directly to a printer or to a personal computer for alteration and printing.
Digital cameras are considerably more flexible than chemical-based cameras because data can be recorded and altered instantly. By contrast, photosensitive material can only be used once - once film is exposed and developed (which takes time) you cant use it again. Digital cameras are thus perfect for low-cost snapshots and photography in which rapid turnaround time is desired.
At time of writing, however, film-based photography still has an edge over digital in terms of image quality. All things being equal, a high-quality film camera can produce much sharper photographs than a high-quality digital camera. However, technology is advancing extremely rapidly and within a few years this difference is likely to be insignificant, and film cameras will be eventually be relegated to a niche market of artists and hobbyists. Even today high-quality digital SLRs can produce printed photographs rivalling traditional 35mm processes. (though they cant compete with transparencies) Its now a question of driving down the costs to match film-based photography and developing digital cameras which can rival medium format processes.
Digital cameras seem to come in three basic varieties these days. First are the inexpensive point and shoot models, second are the digital SLRs which attempt to replicate the experience of using a traditional film SLR as much as possible and third are the more experimental high-end non-SLR models. The third category is particularly interesting. While digital SLRs allow photographers who have a significant investment in both traditional SLR lenses and SLR-using skills to feel comfortable, theres some interesting new ground being broken in the high-end digital market. For one thing, camera designers are no longer restricted by the limitations of moving reflex mirrors and film transport mechanisms. Cameras are taking on a bewildering variety of different forms. Just as early cars had all kinds of strange steering mechanisms before carmakers settled on the wheel design, no doubt we will see continued variety in new camera forms and shapes as the new technology settles in.
cf. CCD, CMOS, chip, digital, image sensor.
Entry last updated 2002-04-08. Term 350 of 1487.
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