Then, I naturally gravitate to this forum (partly in hopes that we'll someday start a rousing conversation about the photographic side of Vermont Foliage).
Over in the Foliage Forum, there was was an ever-so-brief conversation about "my first digital camera." It got me thinking about where this is all going.
"My" first digital camera was a 3 megapixel, Canon "point & shoot" (P&S). Like old computers, we still have that camera, in a "junk box" somewhere in the basement. It rendered JPEG files that were small, and kind of "noisy" (grainy) and which couldn't generally be printed much larger than 5 x 7 with anything close to quality. But the instant gratification was pretty exciting (I still remember my mom getting a "Polaroid Swinger" for Christmas one year). But for me, a 35mm SLR user since the mid-1970's, it wasn't quite ready for "prime time" yet.
Back "in the day," (we used to use something called "film" ) most "serious" photographers eventually gravitated toward 35mm "SLR", medium format, or for the stout of heart, large format "view" cameras. It was not uncommon to purchase one of those and still have and use it regularly 20 years later.
In contrast, it seems to me that today's digital cameras are more like computers, and have a much more limited "shelf life."
At the same time, what they can do for us technologically is amazing (of course, other than giving us certain technology, they don't make us "better" photographers -- or make "better" photographs from an aesthetics viewpoint).
I have recently begun to experiment with "HDRI" (high dynamic range imaging). In my studies, I was pleased to learn that research is coming ever-closer to being able to create a sensor that can capture the range of light that the human eye can see. At the risk of boring/offending the knowledgeable among us, in the days of film, we spoke in terms of how much "latitude" a particular film had. Photographers generally measured this in terms of "stops" (since the camera/lens system worked in stops). Today, digital "experts" refer to it as "dynamic range."
If you have ever been to a very dramatic scene and seen a beautiful blue sky with puffy white clouds, and beautiful trees, flowers, rock formations, etc., in the foreground and shot a photo to capture it -- only to be very disappointed when the slides or prints came back from the lab because the sky was completely burned out, you have experienced the (current) limitations on film/digital sensors. Its not that the camera cannot capture the same range as our eyes, it just cannot do it in one exposure.
The human eye can see the difference in thousands of these stops. The camera, at best, can capture ("see") a few stops (at a time). So far. But, "we've come a long way, baby." The sensor and hardware on my current SLR (Nikon D200) is capable of capturing a RAW image that has the potential of 7 stops of dynamic range (and it is, at 2 years old, already a bit "dated" technology!). The ability to "manipulate" (I use the word with some trepidation) the digital bits and bytes with programs like photoshop have given us the ability to have an Ansel Adams - like darkroom experience.
HDRI is even more exciting, giving us software which will allow us to capture several images and then mesh them to get that dynamic range which approaches what the eye can see. And within my lifetime (I hope), I believe we will see affordable cameras capable of capturing this in one exposure.