Beware: Digital cameras
dogged by shortcomings
by Alan Zisman (c) 2003 First published in Business in Vancouver
Issue #719 August 5- 11, 2003 High Tech Office column
like millions of others, you’re looking to buy a digital camera. About
dozen manufacturers with a hundred or so models are competing for your
to decide? One obvious is price; digital camera prices remain higher
than film cameras, starting about $200 and ranging up to $7500 for Kodak’s new 14-megapixel DCS Pro 14n
popular models cost $400-$750. Three megapixel picture size is allows
for prints up to 8 by 10 inches, with relatively small file sizes.
Four-five megapixel cameras offer more flexibility; they can always be
set to take smaller, more space-saving photos, while their larger
settings allow for larger printouts and produce photos that can be
cropped while still leaving lots of pixels for display or printing.
what’s most important for you. You can get a camera that’s small enough
to fit in your pocket or that includes a large optical zoom, but you’ll
rarely find both in the same package. Which do you prefer: a larger
or more pixels? You can get both, but you’ll pay for the privilege.
of us, most of the time, simply leave the camera in automatic mode,
point, and shoot. Despite this, most cameras pile on additional modes
and features. All too often, though, the menus and user interface are
poorly designed, making it hard to get to these features when you want
them. A nice plus on some models is the ability to customize the menus,
making more-often used features more accessible. Also nice is a movable
LCD screen, especially helpful taking shots in a crowd.
aware of digital photography’s dirty secrets. Among them:
- unlike film cameras, there’s a noticeable lag time
between you press the button and when the picture is taken. Some models
also suffer from auto-focus lag. As a result, what you see when you
click often isn’t what you get. As well, most models also take a second
or two (or longer) to store the image to your memory card. All of these
make for problems using digital cameras for sports or action
(or even for shooting active young children).
- Battery life varies widely among models, and can be
hard to find out. Even though many models come with battery chargers,
the number of shots per charge makes a big difference. You don’t want
your charge to run out in the middle of the day, far from your charger.
The ability to use standard AA batteries in a pinch is vital. Invest in
a couple of sets of NiMH rechargeables. Cameras that take two AA
batteries tend to be smaller than models requiring four batteries, but
also tend to take far fewer pictures per charge.
- You want a zoom to focus in on the important part
of your picture. But the widely-advertised digital zoom is in most
cases next-to useless; unlike the real, optical zoom, digital zoom
simply throws away pixels, making the pixels at the centre larger. You
don’t get more detail, you simply get larger pixels.
- The built-in flashes are rarely usable beyond 10-12
feet. Beyond that, you’ll get dark subjects against black backgrounds.
Make sure it’s easy to turn the flash off.
- The memory cards that ship with all models are too
small. Budget on getting one or more larger cards, 128 MB or larger.
And there are at least five incompatible memory card formats, which can
be a problem when you’re shopping for your second or third camera, only
to discover that the new model you want can’t use the extra memory
cards you already own. Compact Flash is the most widely used format,
and offers the biggest range in sizes, up to gigabyte sized mini
hard-drives (for maxi prices).
If you’re researching digital camera
models, check out Steve’s Digicams (www.steves-digicams.com)
with extensive and trustworthy reviews.