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Features

Instant Imaging

New technologies and features have improved the performance of digital cameras as law enforcement tools.

December 01, 2003  |  by Dave Douglas


The Canon PowerShot G5 is a tough 5-megapixel camera with a deep menu of features and capabilities and a DIGIC processor.

Some of the first crime scene photographers were moonlighting newspaper cameramen, and their cameras were huge Graflex Speed Graphics and Crown Graphics systems. These nearly prehistoric cameras required flashbulbs to capture images on 4x5-inch, single-sheet, black-and-white film.

Eventually, police departments started hiring their own photogs, and the large-format Graflex cameras gave way to medium format 2_X2_ twin lens reflex cameras such as the Rolleiflex. Now for the last 30 years or so, the 35mm single lens reflex (SLR) camera has been the weapon of choice for law enforcement crime scene shooters.

But sometimes cops need a photo on the spot and can't wait for developing. That's why Polaroid has for some time now been a very big player in law enforcement photography. The original instant camera technology gave the street cop a moderately inexpensive camera with film that developed in his hand. You could see what you had in near real time and determine if it met your needs.

Today, instant law enforcement photography has taken a quantum leap with the adoption of digital cameras by many departments. Polaroid still has an important role in law enforcement (see "Crimes on Film" on page 37), but the digital camera is one of the most versatile and cost-effective investigative tools ever fielded by police officers.

Just like any new technology, digital photography is still suffering some growing pains. For example, because of the ease with which they can be manipulated, there are some courts that are still reticent to allow digital images into evidence. Using a program like Photoshop, an investigator or a prosecutor could alter a crime scene photo to add a gun or reverse a blood spatter pattern. But such evidentiary validity problems are slowly being addressed. Solutions involving software, hardware, and a combination of the two are being engineered every day and sooner or later digital photography will be accepted by all U.S. courts.

A terrific selection of digital camera systems is now available for law enforcement applications. These systems range from small consumer-level  2-megapixel cameras to professional-quality $25,000, 24-mega­pixel cameras.

Most of the systems discussed here fall somewhere in between these extremes. I can't really see my department handing over a $25,000 camera to John or Jane patrol officer to take snapshots at a property-damage-only accident scene. Nor do I think a crime scene investigator should be equipped with a 2-megapixel point-and-shoot box that sells for less than $300.

Some of the cameras discussed have the features of what the industry calls "prosumer" cameras. That means they fit some of the needs of the professional photographer and virtually all the needs of the amateur consumer. As cops, using the cameras for law enforcement applications, we fit neatly into the prosumer category. Prosumer cameras are feature rich but also almost cop proof.

Just suffice to say that there are some great digital camera systems out there that fit just about any budget and won't cause the bean counters to suffer seizures.

And if you need to justify the expense of digital cameras to your department's budget authorities, have them consider the fact that a large department can save tens of thousands of dollars annually by going digital.

Don't believe me? Ask your supply people how much money your department spends on film, processing, and Polaroid film. You'll be astounded.

Canon

The Canon PowerShot G5 was announced as the successor to the 4-megapixel PowerShot G3 in June. It is a 5-megapixel camera in the prosumer range, hence the G5 designation. Why then wasn't the 4-megapixel G3 called the G4? It was because of the similarity between the word "four" and "die" in certain Asian languages, including Japanese. Four is as unlucky in Japan as the number 13 in America, and marketers didn't want to name the camera the G4 because they feared sales would suffer.

The G5 is a sturdy, tank-tough camera that will go anywhere anytime. The lens quality is excellent for the price and the imaging screen is state of the art. Five years ago this feature set and resolution level would have cost you $8,000. Today, you can buy a PowerShot G5 for about $650.

The PowerShot G5 has a Direct Connect print function that allows printing without a computer via Canon's line printers. For creative flash photography, the G5 includes a 3-mode built-in flash with red-eye reduction. The flash can be operated manually or automatically. Supplementary lenses, including wide-angle and telephoto converters as well as a close-up lens, are available.

Canon developed its proprietary DIGIC (Digital Imaging Integrated Circuit) image processor specifically for use with its line of digital cameras. The technology combines the jobs of image processing and camera function control into one chip. Because it was specifically designed for use in digital cameras, DIGIC is also capable of handling JPEG compression/expansion; memory card control; LCD/Video control and processing; gain control (control of CCD signal amplification); Auto Exposure; Auto Focus; Auto White Balance control; and most other functions of the camera. The result is a product that offers fast and powerful auto focus, fast image processing, long battery life, and the ability to record 3-minute movie clips with sound.

Fuji

Built on the Nikon N80 body, the S2 Pro is a general purpose Professional Body Digital Camera that offers a full feature set for professional applications.

The FinePix S2 Pro has a 6.17-megapixel CCD and is capable of producing an image file with 4,256x2,848 recorded pixels for pictures with stunning color and detail. Additionally, the S2 Pro features a CCD Raw mode, which delivers the image before it has been processed by the camera's internal algorithmic settings. This feature may be very helpful for satisfying judges and prosecutors who are leery of digital imaging voodoo.


Fuji’s Nikon S2 Pro has a 6.17-megapixel CCD.

This camera also incorporates a fast dual PC interface, allowing for increased workflow with the speedy transfer of very large image files from the camera to a Macintosh or PC via FireWire or USB connections.

Kodak

The Kodak ICS-3000 is designed for the law enforcement or forensic specialist who needs to provide a photographic record of a crime scene. It is a specially designed digital camera that burns image files directly to a CD in the camera.

Images are immediately available and permanently archived the instant the shutter release is depressed. Any computer with a standard CD-ROM drive can access the images and the images cannot be altered on the CD.

Kodak also provides software that produces an alert when images are manipulated or tampered with. With Kodak Picture Authentication Software, the company's DC5000 and DC280 digital cameras can produce images that will electronically verify that no manipulation has taken place after they were captured, thus protecting the integrity of the chain of custody.

In March Minolta introduced its new DiMAGE Xt, a 3.2-megapixel camera that Minolta says is the world's thinnest, compact, planar digital camera with a 3X optical zoom. The 3X optical zoom is the equivalent of a 37mm to 111mm lens on a 35mm SLR, and that's an amazing lens on a camera smaller than a deck of playing cards.

Minolta

The DiMAGE XT features Minolta's exclusive folded optical zoom system, which helped the camera's designers eliminate more than 5 percent from the size and nearly 8 percent from the weight of the previous compact DiMAGE camera. The result is a versatile camera that is so small and thin that it can be slipped into a pocket or bag as easily as a wallet.

Don't underestimate this digital camera. It may be small, but it doesn't skimp on features. It's a fast, responsive camera that's ready to use approximately 1.1 seconds after you turn it on.


Minolta’s DiMAGE XT is only slightly taller than a 12-gauge shell.

Other features include metering and autofocus systems that can be adjusted to suit any given situation. Also, the DiMAGE XT's multi-segment metering and five-point AF add up to an easy-to-use system that yields sharp images. You can place the subject anywhere within the extra-wide focus frames and the camera does the rest with spot metering and spot AF that allows you to meter or focus on a specific subject.

Another great feature on the DiMAGE XT that's particularly applicable to police work is its ability to focus down to 5.9 inches at all focal lengths for close-up photographs without having to use a separate function. This really makes it simple to take a shot of a single small piece of evidence and have it cover the entire frame in sharp focus.

CONTINUED: Instant Imaging «   Page 1 of 2   »

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