David Simchock Photography | The Benefits of Digital - Part 2: Chimping

The Benefits of Digital - Part 2: Chimping

June 25, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

Chimping in Grand Central Station - NYCChimping in Grand Central Station - NYC© Copyright David Simchock

What is "chimping", you ask?

Chimping is the process of playing back your photos on your camera's LCD. Yes, it's a real thing, and is a term commonly used by professional photographers. For those of you who know me, I'd be happy to demonstrate its origin the next time I see you. Just ask!

A couple of weeks ago, I put up a blog post about "Digital vs Film", and I got quite an interesting series of responses from folks on social media, ranging from, "Didn't we have this debate ten years ago?", to a rather intriguing claim that "ISO is not part of exposure", to a few suggestions that one of the greatest benefits of digital photography is the instant feedback one gets by reviewing a shot on the camera's LCD. For this week's post, I'm going to hone in on the latter of these pieces feedback, as I totally agree with those who raised the point (and I admit that it should have been included in my original Top 3 benefits, making it a "Top 4" list instead). As for the former comments, well, yes we did have this debate a while ago but apparently it wasn't completely settled; and, as for ISO not being part of the "exposure triangle", well, I think I'll just leave that one be.

So, yes, one of the single greatest advantages of digital photography over film is the ability to instantly review a photo that you captured -- "chimping". All you need to do is take a shot and hit the playback button and, voila, you can see what you just shot on the back of your camera. This is a huge advantage over the film days, and I can't believe that I didn't include it in my previous post!

This is an invaluable tool that has transformed photography and has taken some of the mystery out of the craft, particularly for novices and hobbyists. Not only can you check general exposure and focus immediately after clicking your shutter release, but you can also look at your camera settings (e.g., f-stop, shutter speed, ISO, etc., known as "EXIF data"), and make a tweak accordingly if you think you'd like to try again. Some digital cameras can even be set up to show you the specific focal point on a recorded image (e.g, the eyes) to help you determine whether you got the focus correct or not. There are also other useful displays such as the histogram, blown-out highlights, and a function called "live view" that allows you to see what you are shooting on the LCD in real time. Of course, there are now "electronic view finders" (EVFs) on modern "mirrorless" models that take real-time chimping to another level!

This instant feedback should most certainly help you to move on up the learning curve much quicker than the film days, when you had to drop off a roll of film at the local lab or pharmacy, and then a week later you saw you results. And, unless you wrote down your camera settings for each shot, you wouldn't know what your EXIF data was when you took the shots, unless you have a really, really, really good memory. Chimping should also help you to come away with a better-exposed, composed, and focused image than if you didn't have that capability to instantly review your work.

Now, chimping does come with a few drawbacks...

1. What you are seeing on your camera's LCD may not be a perfect rendition of what you shot. This is of particular concern if you are shooting RAW files, as what you are seeing on the LCD is actually a converted JPEG version of the image file. Bright ambient light and LCD brightness may also affect the accuracy of what you are seeing. I know that with my Nikons, what I see on my Mac monitor in my studio is almost always darker than what I see on the back of my camera (and my monitors are calibrated, so it's not the monitors), so I must account for this brightness issue when reviewing my shots and making adjustments.

2. Constantly reviewing your work on your LCD will draw down your battery. You definitely do not want to keep your LCD lit at all times. And, if you don't mind me noting here, keeping your LCD lit or constantly chimping your work in the photo pit at concerts can be very annoying to fellow photographers and to the fans on the rail. Check your work and settings discretely, and be aware of the possible distraction to others.

3. Perhaps the biggest danger of instantly reviewing your work is that you can get lazy and rely too much on chimping, and not enough on getting your settings correct in the first place. There is no replacement for understanding exposure (aperture, shutter speed, ISO), and your camera's sophisticated focus system. If you relay too heavily on the review process, and then make changes accordingly, you may never properly learn what you need to do in order to take more control of your creativity. Worst case scenario, you'll "spray and pray", chimp, then spray and pray again (and maybe even repeat this a few times until you get what you want). See my previous block post about "shooting with intent" HERE.

There is nothing wrong with using chimping as a tool to improve your photography. But, your playback ability should not be used as a crutch or replacement for learning how to properly set your exposure and focus.

But, despite these drawbacks, there is no doubt that one of the single biggest advantages of digital photography over film is the ability to "chimp" your work. Thank you to those who pointed this omission out in my previous post.

Chimping in Quito, Ecuador during a photo tourChimping in Quito, Ecuador during a photo tour© Copyright David Simchock



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