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The Need For Speed

Speed Trumps All • More Display Methods • Capturing In RAW + JPEG • Keeping On Budget • Erase, Erase, Erase

This Article Features Photo Zoom

tech tips This image was taken at Tioga Pass in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, California, and was captured using a Canon EF 17-40mm ƒ/4L wide-angle zoom. I could be using the faster EF 16-35mm ƒ/2.8L wide-angle zoom, but the 17-40mm is lighter and considerably less expensive with comparable sharpness. The exposure was 1.5 sec. at ƒ/22

Speed Trumps All
Everyone touts the fast wide-angle zooms (ƒ/2.8 lenses) and says that speed is the most important factor in a lens. I’m an avid amateur photographer who shoots everything from family/kids to nature to travel. Is it worth the money to get the fastest optics?
B. Harmon
Via the Internet

The faster lenses were important when we shot with film because quality films were at low ISOs. The ability to shoot in lower-light conditions was completely dependent on the speed of the lens. Today’s digital cameras aren’t nearly as dependent on the speed of your optics because they give high-quality results even at ISOs that far exceed any films available in the past. All of the current D-SLR camera models give excellent results from ranges of ISO 100 to 800, and acceptable results at as much as ISO 6400—even higher on some specialized cameras.

While slower lenses are lighter and less expensive, better-quality lenses are also often the faster ones. If you’re looking for the best possible quality, choose the top-rated manufacturers’ lenses (designated as “L” for Canon and “ED” for Nikon, for example). Otherwise, if you’re not shooting a lot of sports or editorial images in low-light conditions, choose a quality optic that may be slower, but lighter and less expensive.

More Display Methods
You had a section in your column about running out of wall space. One option you didn’t mention is the LCD picture frames that can hold a variety of memory cards. You can position them on a wall or shelf and program them to rotate through photo selections unattended.
J. Sidler
Via the Internet

You’re right. LCD picture frames are excellent ways to display your images and the technology is offering bigger screens, better resolution and even wireless input from your computer. The simple, small frames that hold a memory card are a great way to change your photographic displays, and you can create various shows around specific themes. A more sophisticated system involves larger screens that can be displayed like art on your wall. With wireless capability, these units can receive an image series directly from your home computer; there’s no need to download to a card.

Capturing In RAW + JPEG
My camera is set to capture in both RAW and JPEG. Is this necessary, and are there any advantages to capturing in JPEG?
B. Thomas
Los Angeles, CA

Whether to capture in RAW and/or JPEG depends on the ultimate use of your images. RAW capture provides more image data in larger files, and it’s preferred if you want to make high-quality, sharp, large-sized prints or to sell your images for use in advertising. If you’re not printing in large-format, it may not be worth the disadvantages to shoot in RAW: Big file sizes mean fewer images per card, and all RAW images must be postprocessed in image-editing software to be used in any form. With the large files produced by RAW capture, your options for optimizing your images are greatly enhanced; more data offers better gradations in solid color areas and the possibility of more information in dark sections of the image.

JPEG captures produce smaller files, with less information in them. While a perfectly exposed JPEG file is capable of making a large print, an image with exposure, contrast or color problems needs extensive work in image-editing software and may not be of acceptable quality for professional use. JPEGs are fine for small prints or the Internet. An advantage is that JPEGs can be minimally processed within the camera, and the JPEG file may be more compatible in second-generation devices that can’t read a RAW file.

Photographers sometimes capture simultaneously in JPEG and RAW to take advantage of the ease of immediately using or viewing the JPEG files, while also preserving the maximum amount of data in the RAW versions for possible future large prints or commercial use. I occasionally shoot RAW and JPEG together when testing new cameras for which my image-processing software still doesn’t have a RAW converter. This allows me to see my images in JPEG and store the RAWs until the software manufacturers catch up. For fully supported cameras, I shoot only in RAW.

Keeping On Budget
With the field of photography constantly advancing, what’s your advice to amateurs who are on a tight budget to stay more focused on image making with simple, old and trusty equipment?
A. Jaleel
Via the Internet

There’s a simple conflict in your question. Yes, the field of photography is rapidly advancing, and serious photographers want to achieve the improved quality and creative opportunity offered by the latest cameras, lenses, computers, software and printers. The latest equipment solves many of the vexing problems of exposure and depth of field that were impossible to perfect with film capture. If taking images is what fulfills you and you’re happy with the results, you won’t need to advance with the field.

How old and simple is your equipment? If you’re talking film and you’re serious about photography, you’ll be increasingly frustrated with your results as parts, replacement equipment, chemicals and/or quality film processing become impossible to find. And your results won’t be competitive with the best of digital.

But beyond the initial cost of entering the digital realm, it doesn’t have to be expensive to maintain a level of competence and to participate in the creative and technical advances. The cost of quality digital cameras has plummeted, and you can get a competent, beginning D-SLR for $600 and low-priced consumer-level lenses that are very capable. Computer skills are essential, but there’s a wide variety of imaging software available. It’s not necessary to upgrade your software each time a new version is issued; you usually can skip a couple of generations. But wait too long, and you may have to learn an entirely new program. Inexpensive training is offered by community colleges, clubs, camera stores and manufacturers and photo magazines. Low-cost opportunities abound for sharing images—at no cost over the Internet or in high-quality, inexpensive photographic printers.

Image-making is still about the basics of photography—composition and image quality—and the ability to accomplish these basics well is vastly enhanced by digital. Sometimes fields don’t just advance—they’re revolutionized. This is the case with photography in the last 10 years, and it’s essential for any avid photographer to make the move to digital.

Erase, Erase, Erase
How long do SD cards last? Can I erase them over and over without them failing?
S. Campos
Via the Internet

SD cards and other media cards like CompactFlash have no moving parts and generally last a long time—from tens of thousands to even over a hundred thousand cycles, according to manufacturers. Usually, the higher number is associated with high-quality cards from Delkin, Lexar, SanDisk and Kingston and others. An inexpensive generic card most likely will fail sooner, but there are other factors to consider when assessing the “life” of capture media.

How the card is handled can affect its longevity. Keep them clean, keep skin oils off the contacts (SD cards), don’t put them through the wash in pockets and care for them as you would any delicate electronic part. With that said, a camera occasionally can corrupt a card, either within its processing or because the photographer opens the door to the card slot while the camera is writing to the media. Corruption or damage also can occur while using a card reader to download data to a computer. You can restore the information and extend a card’s life by using rescue software that recovers the images on the non-responsive card and reformats and potentially repairs any damage the card may have experienced.

The safest process to use in downloading your images is to copy them from the card, be sure you have them on your computer and reformat the card in your camera rather than allowing your computer software to delete the files.

For information about upcoming seminars and digital-imaging workshops, visit If you have any tips or questions, address them to: OUTDOOR PHOTOGRAPHER, Dept. TT, George Lepp, 12121 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1200, Los Angeles, CA 90025-1176 or online at

One of North America’s best-known contemporary outdoor and nature photographers and a leader in the field of digital imaging and photographic education, Lepp is the author of many books and the field editor of Outdoor Photographer magazine. One of Canon’s original Explorers of Light, Lepp finds inspiration in advancing technology that fuels creative innovation and expression of his life-long fascination with the natural world.