Digital Life

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Filtering it all out

This column is dedicated to all those who, like our friend M, say they look at this stuff every week and don't understand a word of it. And also to those, like our super-intelligent pal A, who says: ''When I see the word 'pixel' I stop reading.''

He stops at pixel? Really? He never gets up to ISO sensitivity, RAW versus jpeg, phase and contrast detect auto focus and bokeh - not to mention the anti-aliasing filter, as we do in the review of the Pentax today. We are hurt. We've spent 10 years coming to grips with the technical jargon of digital imaging and find we are writing for a tiny cohort of nerds and geeks who want to know about zoom ratios and the burst mode speed and how to improve the dynamic range of the photograph's tones.

Well, there's no point in sulking. What does a person need to know in order to take photographs? If you can find the on-off switch and the shutter release then you are pretty much ready to go. After all, in 1954, Virginia Schau won the Pulitzer Prize for Photography with a box Brownie.

Presumably, Virginia didn't think about the physics and chemistry involved in making, exposing and developing the film, so why should you?

The difference between Virginia's interaction with a film Brownie and yours with a digital camera is that you have more choices. More choices means more decisions, which involves having information on which to make them. And information and decisions is what most people want to avoid.

When Virginia put the film in the camera she had set the ISO sensitivity automatically (it was ASA in her day - American Standards Association - now it is International Organisation of Standards); she had also decided in advance whether it would be black and white or colour; the image resolution was set by the size and dispersal of the silver crystals in the film. She only had to see the photo opportunity, frame the picture in her little reflex viewfinder and press the button. Just like a smartphone, you might say.

Here's the good news: your camera, no matter how complicated it may appear to be, can be set up to work like a box camera. The important thing is to make sure that when it has been optimised for point and shoot, the little knobs and dials must never be touched again. That is, except for one vital, easy-to-understand control that we will come to in due course.

Next week we will give the lowdown on camera set-and-forget. Incidentally, pixel is a made up word from ''picture element''. That's not too hard.