Digital Cameras
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! A word of caution: Using a camera's flash close to your subject's eye could cause temporary visual impairment. Also, do not look at the sun through the viewfinder.

Purchasing and effectively using a digital camera can be a daunting process. Below is a simple comparison, from the consumer's perspective, of digital versus film cameras.

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Digital Camera

Film Camera




Sturdiness of construction and resistance to damage if dropped

Some are sturdier than others, most are small and relatively fragile.

Delicate, precision instruments, but probably sturdier than most digital cameras.

Image Development

With a digital camera, the images are stored on a CompactFlash disk or alternative media and then downloaded to your PC. The number of images you can capture is limited by the memory capacity of the disk and the size of each image. Once images have been transferred to your PC's hard drive, they can be erased from the camera's memory disk, allowing you to take more photos.

Digital cameras allow instant feedback to the photographer while taking pictures through an LCD screen located in the back of the camera.

Developed at local or home/business dark room.


2 megapixel and above cameras will allow enlargement to 8 X 10 while retaining detail.

Available from film processor or developed in at home lab.

Image Quality

Generally a quality 2 megapixel or greater camera will cost $300 and up. In this price range, a camera can be purchased that will produce excellent images for home or business use. Images can be creatively enhanced using photo editors such as Adobe's Photoshop, Corel's PhotoPaint, JASC Paint Shop Pro and Digital Light and Color's Picture Windows. If you use one of the aforementioned photo editors, a good user manual - spelling out techniques for retouching, colorizing, layout, use of masks, etc. is essential. These programs, in effect, offer darkroom capabilities at a tiny fraction of the cost of actually setting one up. For examples of digital images, see: "Beautiful Earth" and "Quail Botanical Gardens". These images were created with a Nikon COOLPIX 800 camera at 1600 X 1200 pixels. It also helps to have a good quality 17 inch or greater low dot pitch CRT or LCD monitor. A 16 MB or greater PCI or AGP video card is also recommended.  Both should have customizable controls for color purity, gamma, color temperature, brightness, contrast, etc.)

Not all megapixel cameras are alike- some may produce images with significantly better focus, color, light and sharpness than others. Some offer stronger flash capability. It is therefore important to read product reviews and participate in public discussion groups such as

Still offers the highest level of detail and image quality.

Development Costs

To print images with a digital camera, one requires a quality ink jet, color laser or photo dye printer. There are also services that will print the images for you. 

A good quality printer that is reasonably fast costs $200 or above. Recommended low cost printers would be the Hewlett Packard (HP) ink jet or PhotoSmart series ($150-$400). These models primarily vary with respect to print speed. The HP printers are also good general use printers and offer outstanding text and graphics output. Comparable printer offerings from Epson, Cannon and others should also be considered. One drawback of using conventional printers/inks is that the image may fade relatively quickly compared to processed film prints.

Some camera packages offer a USB interface or Memory Card Reader that will enable quick download of images to your PC. I believe the ability to quickly download of images to your PC is important to enjoyment of the "digital experience." 

Digital Cameras practically "eat" batteries. If the LCD display is used when taking  each photo, one can expect no more than one hours worth of conventional alkaline battery life from most digital cameras. Therefore rechargeable NiMH (Nickel Metal Hydride) batteries are ESSENTIAL. Also an A/C adapter is required if you are not going to use a memory card reader or do not have a direct USB interface to your computer and intend to use the relatively slow serial port to upload images to your PC. If you are running Windows 98/2000/XP, you can purchase a USB card for around $40 (if a USB port and connection isn't already built into your computer). USB hubs are also available to expand the available number of ports.

Finally, one needs good quality glossy photo paper to print images for distribution to others. This paper runs approximately .50 per sheet. In addition, a considerable amount of ink is used to produce the pictures, so this must also be factored into the total development cost. 

Usually heavily discounted and relatively inexpensive.

Custom Lens & Filters

Some digital cameras have options for telephoto, fish-eye, wide angle converters and various filters. Most optical lens have at least 2X zoom capabilities. Most (but not all) have autofocus capabilities. 

A wide variety of lens and filters are available for quality 35 MM cameras

Manual versus Automatic Controls

Some digital cameras allow manual control of aperture and shutter speed. Most have some flash control (usually relatively weak flash devices, though external flash devices may be available), exposure, white balance, etc. Most have tripod mounts.

Mid to higher end cameras have excellent flash capabilities and options for full manual control.

Purchase Options

Many mail order companies offer exceptional deals over the web. Mail order houses, often charge restocking fees for returns and shipment may not occur for 2-3 days after an order is placed. Service and support varies considerably between different dealers. Staples, Frys, Best Buy, Circuit City and Office Depot sell digital cameras as well. Their return policies are fairly liberal if the camera is returned within a 14-day period, though their prices are fairly high and they may also charge restocking fees. Service is usually mediocre. Local camera shops offer similar pricing and less selection compared to the mass retail chains, but much better service.

Same as for Digital Cameras.



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