Buying a digital camera? Ignore the media at your own peril

John Breeden II

Interested in a good memory game? Try to recite the different types of media available for digital cameras. There's SmartMedia, Compact Flash, Micro Drive, Memory Stick, Secure Digital, MultiMedia Card and, most recently, xD media.

The other day I went to the store to process images from my digital camera and was struck by the number of slots and ports available just to transfer a few images.

Besides all these ports I've mentioned, you could also transfer images via three different types of USB ports and even through a CD or DVD disk.

I'd pay good money for a hybrid card with the quality of a Compact Flash card, the size of xD memory and truly universal connectivity so I don't have to worry about what kind of digital film my camera is using and what type of USB port it has.

All these factors make purchasing a point-and-shoot camera a daunting task. As if you didn't have enough to keep in mind with media, you have to weigh in price, megapixels, size, battery life and added features such as motion picture capability and menu interface. And depending upon your expertise, you might also have to take into account whether you can customize the shutter speed, aperture, white balance and a plethora of other settings.

Recently, we decided to upgrade our GCN Lab camera and replace the outdated, 2.1-megapixel Olympus C-2000 Z we've had for more than 4 years.

My approach was very laid back. I knew the camera would mostly be used within our facility, so it had to do well under fluorescent lighting. I also looked for a camera that came with a generic USB cable'not proprietary, like many of the Sony cameras'particularly since this camera will be used by people with varying degrees of computer savvy.

Lastly, I made sure I got a camera with the best battery life I could find. I figured I couldn't go wrong'after all, I've looked at more than 500 cameras in the last four years at GCN.
I decided on the FujiFilm FinePix A310.

Compatibility problems

The day I got the camera, I heard a lot about how nice it looked and how great its pictures looked. The camera is fast'a factor I hadn't considered, so I just lucked out on that count'it's easy to use, has good battery life and lets advanced users change almost any setting they want to. So I was feeling pretty proud of myself.

It was right about then my research skills took a hit. I realized I hadn't paid attention to the media. The A310 uses the new xD media, which is small and high-quality but so new that it was incompatible with any of the card readers in the lab'or in the building, for that matter. We couldn't process the media.

Luckily, the USB cable still made it easy for a novice to transfer images from the camera, but now we're stuck with three USB card readers we can't use.

Luckily for other people, I always learn from my mistakes. In this case, I had relied more on my own memory and experience than on scientific method. I should have made a list of the things I wanted and needed from a camera.

Now, when I people ask me advice on buying a digital camera, I sit them down and make that list with them. At an average of about $500 per high-quality camera, you don't want to make a mistake.

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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