Ted decided to give his mother, age 67, a digital camera for her birthday. She had been snapping pictures of the kids and the rest of the family for decades with her old Brownie. Amazingly, it still worked even though it occasionally produced double exposures…pictures on top of pictures…because it no longer advanced the film properly.
She looked delighted with her present. After Ted inserted the memory card, she snapped a few pictures.
“It’ll never run out of film, Mom, because it has no film. ”
Everything seemed to be going great until two weeks later, when she gave it back to him.
“Oh, I don’t like it. ”
Bill was disappointed. “Why, Mom?”
“Sometimes it takes too long to shoot a picture, and it’s too complicated to develop the photos at the photo shop. ”
Bill was disappointed. He couldn’t talk her out of it. He realized that, when he had tried to introduce her to a new technology, he’d forgotten to prepare her for it…
Digital versus film, the old debate
One would think that “the digital camera revolution” would have killed off film photography by now, but it hasn’t. Just as flat screen, high definition television is steadily replacing analog tube sets; it seems that film should be relegated to history.
The reason many people do not own digital cameras is because the digital camera still has significant drawbacks.
1) Dealing with menus often “throws” people who are not digitally literate. For them, the advantage is lost.
2) Digital zoom is not as useful as optical zoom and harder to manipulate.
Most cameras, even at the low end, offer an optical zoom which, as the name implies, is a function of the optics allowing the user to “zoom” in, i. e. change the focal length of the lens to bring things closer.
Digital zoom magnifies the image on the CCD at the focal point of the lens. Because of this, one has to manipulate the zoom on the screen, not in the viewfinder. At high magnifications this becomes difficult.
3). Film processing is not as convenient as digital picture processing, but is easier for the technically unsophisticated.
Yes, denizens of the digital age know the convenience of being able to upload our pictures to our PC, manipulate them with Photoshop, and again upload them to the photo processor of our choice (or print them out).
Yet, for the technically unsophisticated this is not an as simple as it seems. It takes a certain degree of computer literacy, including the knowledge of USB cables and connections, to be able put digital photos into the PC and from there to the local photo processor, let alone stopping and manipulating them with Photoshop.
4) Carrying the camera down to the drugstore to have the photos processed and dealing with their upload service isn’t a whole lot more convenient than one hour film processing at the same store (and their machine can be somewhat initimidting).
5) Film cameras are ready to take pictures when you want to, not the other way around.
Maybe this is the worst drawback of the digital camera, the fact that the cycle time, the time required to process the information in order to actually produce a picture, is something beyond the control of the photographer. For the uninitiated, this can be very frustrating.
The facetious solution? Maybe you should give your friend two cameras instead of one. Then they can be taking a picture with the second while first in cycling.
How to keep your gift from coming back
When you give a digital camera to someone who is, shall we say “digitally illiterate” as well as PC illiterate, you are basically making a commitment to spend time with them to help them “come up to speed”.
There are several things you should do:
1) Explain the basics of digital photography and emphasize the advantages over film.
2) Show them that it saves money and time.
For one thing, a camera with a large memory card can take many more pictures than 36 exposures on a 35 mm roll of film. Saving money on film, as well as the time it takes to replace spent rolls with fresh film is a big advantage.
3) Spend time with them taking pictures.
“Walk them through” the first picture, showing them how to use the menus and other digital displays. Show them how to use the optical and digital zoom. When they get to a place where “cycle time” becomes important, explain it to them and show them techniques for compensating for it.
4) If they have a computer.
Make sure it has a USB connection. Buy them a USB cable that can connect to the camera and show them how to attach it. Show them how to use simple software to upload it. Once the photos are uploaded to the PC, show them how to again upload their photos to their favorite photo processing shop.
5) If they don’t have a PC
…and can’t upload photos, take them to a photo shop and show them how to upload them there. When they see the convenience of this, they will be more amenable to switching to digital.
The bottom line…
Somebody that is new to the digital world and is computer illiterate (and this includes more people than you know), will need time in personal instruction to help them find the best solution for using their new camera.
Keep in mind from the beginning - you gave them that camera for a present, and you really DON’T want to get it back.
John Young lives in Santa Barbara with his wife and pet cat “Bear”. He is editor of “The Digital Camera Zone’, a new ezine dedicated to the needs of your photographic skills. You may find it at
and its sister site