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Cameras

Is a film SLR camera better than a digital SLR camera?

I'm interested in switching from film to digital. Can I achieve the same quality pictures with a digital SLR as with my trusty 35mm camera?

I took a beautiful poster-size photo of my six grandchildren with my Nikon 500 35mm camera. Which digital SLR camera would give me the same result, please?

I am used to using an ordinary digital camera but have not tried an SLR digital camera before.

Valerie

Affordable digital cameras have been with us for nearly a decade now, but the debate continues over which is better, film or digital. Of course, as you've probably had to tell your grandchildren, it's not a race. Film and digital photography both have their strengths and weaknesses, and are suited to different tasks. That said, digital camera technology has matured to a point that digital SLRs can give film cameras a real run for their money.

The biggest advantage digital cameras have over film is of course their convenience. It's so easy to preview and print your images. What's more, you have complete control over your image in photo-editing software, rather than relying on the printing lab to get your picture right. To have that level of control over film requires a darkroom setup complete with fluids and equipment, and is far more labour-intensive.

You haven't mentioned what type of film you used for your image, but if you want to keep the 'warmth' of film, there are filters for Photoshop and other image-editing software that will replicate the film's particular grain. The advantage of this is that you can try different effects, and you won't be locked into one type of film with one set look.

The other big advantage of digital photography is the option to live preview your image on a screen. This is the defining feature of digital compacts, most of which don't have traditional viewfinders at all. Live view is now appearing on dSLRs such as the Olympus E-510, which is a lightweight and simple entry-level camera.

A major factor in digital image quality is the post-processing applied by the camera's electronic brain. Functions such as noise reduction and compression can cause problems. Over-vigorous noise reduction can soften detail in images, while excessive compression results in smaller file sizes, but can lead to horrible artefacts showing up in the picture. For this reason it can be better to shoot in uncompressed raw format, which preserves the original image information. Almost all dSLRs and even some compacts shoot raw.

It's often been argued that film has a much higher resolution than digital. As megapixel counts climb this argument is becoming less and less relevant, especially if your images are destined to be uploaded to the Internet, shared by email or printed out at smaller sizes. But for your purposes, when shooting for large poster-sized prints, a higher megapixel count will be necessary.

More megapixels don't necessarily equal better pictures, however, as the camera's lens and processor may not be able to cope with so many pixels. Today's dSLRs have sensors and processors that are big enough and clever enough to produce great images at the size we're discussing.

One problem that does occur in digital photography more than film is purple fringing. This chromatic abberation creates a ghostly purple halo around the edges of high-contrast areas in your image. dSLRs cope with this better than compacts, and there are ways to minimise purple fringing by, for example, not shooting high-contrast subjects at full wide angle.

As well as the Olympus, you might want to consider another user-friendly, entry-level dSLR such as the Nikon D40. Or you could push the boat out and go for something more advanced, such as the Canon EOS 40D. With a dSLR, for a little extra work you're rewarded with much greater control over your images, compared to a compact. With a little practise, you'll get the hang of your new dSLR in no time. Your only problem will be finding the wall space for all your great prints!