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PUBLISHING–Photo Quality Aside, Time and Money Are Big Factors

Going digital is not always picture perfect when talking about cameras in the publishing industry.

While there are pros and cons to the issue, the final decision to convert to digital photography is unique to the needs and time, quality and cost considerations for each publication.

If getting photos quickly is of high importance, digital cameras might be the way to go for publications such as newspapers, according to Eric Welch, photo editor for course development at the Gemological Institute of American in Carlsbad.

Although Welch does not use digital photography in his current job due to quality issues, he used a digital camera for two years while a photographer for a Missouri newspaper. He is also the job bank information chair for region 10 of the National Press Photographers Association.

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Currently, digital cameras can produce a photograph with the quality of an 8-by-10 print of a shot taken with 400-speed film, he said. While this is sufficient for some publications, advances in film have maintained its superiority over digital shots.

While this is average, Welch said that some high-end cameras that start at $20,000 are capable of producing quality shots. However, the cameras have long exposure times and are only useful for table-top photography of still images.

With the biggest misconception is that digital cameras are cheaper than film cameras, he said that in the end, the cost is equal or even higher for digital cameras.

Although Welch believes the debate of digital vs. film will become a question of preference rather than quality in 20 years or so, for now each publication has to decide what is best for them.

Using and experimenting with a few digital cameras for several years, the North County Times decided to start using only digital cameras in 1997, making it one of a handful of daily newspapers in the country to completely abandon film cameras, said Scott Varley, photo editor of the paper.

When the paper began using the cameras in the early 1990s, one camera body without any lenses cost about $18,000. By 1997, each body cost about $14,000, he said.

The Times, a daily paper with a circulation of almost 94,000 in North County, purchased 15 cameras for the staff of 10 full-time news photographers, in addition to the lenses and digital hard drives, which is the “film” that stores the photographs, he said.

– Costs Have Been

Cut Over Time

While the transition was costly, Varley said the company has saved thousands over the years in film, lab and chemical disposal costs.

The newspaper also doesn’t have to wait for film to be developed and scanned, he said. A photographer can download photos onto a laptop and transmit them over a phone line, he said.

As with any new technology, adjustments have been needed. The photographers had to learn how to use the cameras, and lab time has been replaced with computer time, he said.

“Everybody had to go back and fine tune their skills,” he said, adding that photographers have to be more precise when using digital cameras.

An overexposed or underexposed film shot could still be used after a little work in the darkroom, he said.

While some work can still be done to fix a shot, exposure is critical with a digital camera since information is lost when a picture is either overexposed or underexposed, he said.

– Quality May

Be Compromised

Quality is also lost when photos are cropped and/or enlarged too much, he said.

While film quality is superior to digital photos, Varley said that the quality is good enough for newspapers, for the most part.

So far, only digital shots of things such as fireworks or fires have fallen a little short, he said.

However, technology has vastly improved the quality of digital photography in the last few years and prices have dropped significantly, he said.

Today, a much better camera would cost about $5,000, he said, adding that the newspaper is preparing to replace the cameras, and that five cameras are expected in the near future.

The Times normally replaces cameras every three or four years because of the extensive wear and tear incurred by use, he said. In addition, the camera lenses will not have to be replaced.

– Uncertainty Over

Using New Technology

While the Times may have been able to go digital, the leap into the photo technology is not as easy for some.

Sherri Kukla, publisher of the monthly San Diego Off Road Magazine, has considered going digital to save time on developing and scanning photos. Since the 18-year-old publication with a circulation of 3,000 is relatively small, Kukla has many issues to consider.

First of all, photographers who shoot racing or other events in the county send in many of the photos that she scans and uses.

As a result, a digital camera would only account for 30 percent of artwork used in the magazine, which is printed on bookstock paper, she said.

Kukla also has to consider whether a digital camera would be a worthwhile investment as far as time. Based in Julian, she takes film to El Cajon for developing, she said.

Keeping this in mind, she knows a digital camera would save time and money, Kukla said.

– Camera Price

Stretches Budget

Still, Kukla is unsure whether she is ready to make the transition. She does not want to spend more than a few hundred dollars to buy a digital camera.

At this price, Kukla is uncertain about the quality of the photos and whether or not it would meet the magazine’s needs, she said.

While Kukla is still researching the prospect, going digital may not happen for some time yet, she said.

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