August 30, 2004
Q: I am still considering buying a digital camera for the first time. Has any of the info changed since your December 2003 article? — Ruthie
A: Much about the digital camera world has changed since my last column, but most of the buying guidelines remain the same.
For the casual photographer, what hasn’t changed much is that digital cameras have relatively slow response times, the LCD displays suck the life out of the batteries and the output is still not as sharp as film, although they continue to get better.
If you plan to take pictures and e-mail them, post them on Web sites and print 5-by-7 images from a mid-priced inkjet printer, then you can do just fine with a 3 megapixel camera.
If you want to work with the images in a program such as Photoshop (especially if you want to be able to zoom in and crop a lot) or if you plan to print 8-by-10s, then be sure to buy at least a 4 megapixel camera.
The pixel count is not everything, but the more you have to work with, the more you can do with the image. Because almost every software adjustment that you will ever make in your computer is going to reduce the number of pixels in the final version, more is always better.
Stay away from "fixed focal length" lenses as they don’t have the ability to zoom and typically denote lowerquality optics.
Ignore any "digital zoom" specs, which simply crops the image inside the camera, as opposed to an "optical zoom," which is a true lens adjustment toward the subject.
If you have a larger budget, look for an SLR (single lens reflex) camera that will allow you to interchange the lenses.
The type of battery used is critical. The best-case scenario is a camera that comes with a rechargeable battery and can use disposables in a pinch. The worst battery systems are the ones that require expensive proprietary disposables that can cost you an arm and two legs on vacation.
The type of storage system used is important as it can have a large impact on the final price. The included memory card is generally so small (16K to 32K) it can only store 20 to 30 images at the highest resolution. Check the price of 128K and 256K memory cards for the cameras that you are considering, because some of the newer storage technologies are very expensive.
One of the biggest benefits of digital photography is the ability to take lots of shots and delete them immediately. Give yourself the room to take redundant shots to ensure that the lighting and focus are good.
Out-of-focus images are hard to detect on the small LCD screens unless you zoom all the way in.
Ken Colburn is host of the "Computer Corner" radio show noon Saturdays on KTAR (620 AM). Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.