Focus in on the costs and quality of digital cameras

I’ve spent a couple of months working with two megapixel digital cameras and
am impressed. But I have reservations.

That is not a ringing endorsement. I own a dozen cameras, including studio view cameras
and an aerial camera. To me, a digital camera’s biggest fault is the delay while it
stores images between shots. That’s now a thing of the past. The fast memory in the
two megapixel cameras let me shoot as rapidly as with a motor-wind single-lens reflex

Sometimes I must use a high-end 35-mm camera for good images and don’t mind
waiting an hour to a week for the prints. Other times a Polaroid is preferable to get
instant prints. A low-end or midrange digital camera can make instant prints, too.
Megapixel camera images—holding 1 million pixels or more—are as good as Polaroid
prints. If you take a lot of pictures, rechargeable batteries will cut the cost
considerably below that of Polaroid shots, even counting the far higher cost of the
digital camera.

The fast battery consumption surprises most users when they buy a digital camera. But
you can store and erase as many images as you want on the same removable media, and the
cost of standard batteries is comparable to what you would spend on film and slide

Don’t expect to get more than about 40 digital images using flash out of a single
set of alkaline batteries.

Aside from their usefulness for low-end prints, digital cameras are tops when you need
to transmit an image, insert it in a document or post it on a Web page.

I tested both cameras in publishing a dozen personal, business and local government Web
pages, and I never needed the highest resolution. A megapixel camera is overkill for most
Web tasks.

In shooting for the Internet, always keep resolution low. It will look OK on computer
monitors and will make pages load faster from the Internet.

But if you occasionally crop and enlarge images or want better resolution for printing,
pay extra for a midrange camera even if you work at the lowest resolution most of the
time. Lenses and other features will be better.

Users who work at high resolution should load up on storage. The same camera that
stores 40 or 50 640- by 480-pixel, low-resolution images in the standard version will
store only two to four megapixel images.

I tried the oddly shaped D-600L from Olympus America Inc., which was surprisingly
comfortable considering its large size, and the PhotoPC 700 from Epson America Inc. The
PhotoPC 700 had a 2-inch color LCD panel for previewing images, built-in 2X digital zoom
and an optional panoramic format.

The panoramic mode wasn’t appropriate for most Web pages, but it worked fine and
would be perfect for group shots. The PhotoPC also had an unusual power-on method:
rotating the large lens cover.

Both cameras weighed about the same, were equally easy to use and produced images of
similar quality at a maximum 1,280- by 960-pixel resolution with 16-million-color depth
and similar storage times. The Epson cost about $600 and the Olympus double that.

The Olympus’ shape, similar to that of 35-mm professional cameras, was dictated by
its extended lens barrel for motorized 3X optical zoom—the equivalent of a 36-
to-110-mm zoom on a 35-mm camera. The Epson had digital zoom.

Olympus’ latest D-620L model can shoot up to 3.3 images per second even at the
maximum 1,280-by-1,024 resolution. Yes, you can get equally good images and auto-focus,
auto-exposure and auto-flash features from a $200 35-mm film camera, but for direct PC or
Macintosh image transfers, you cannot beat a digital camera. And whenever you preview a
bad picture, just retake it.

John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with
computers since the early 1960s. E-mail him at [email protected].


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