are better, but know what you're buying
First published in Business
Issue #627, October 30- Nov 5, 2001: The High-tech Office column
by ALAN ZISMAN (c)
Only a few years ago, shooting pictures with a
could be counted on to create a stir. Users tended to be either on the
high-tech cutting edge or minorities such as real estate agencies who
the ability to rush images into print a clear benefit.
Prices on the far side of $1,000 for pictures of
mediocre quality helped
to keep the market limited.
Quality, though still not as good as 35-mm film, has
prices have dropped. As a result, digital cameras are no longer
and most of the traditional camera-makers have entered the market. When
choosing among the growing number of models consider:
- How much is too much? It was once a big deal
when digital cameras
started claiming "megapixel" images, offering picture sizes of 1,024 x
768 pixels. Picture sizes have continuously risen, with higher-end
now offering four or more megapixel images, and even low-end units
2.1 megapixels. Larger pixel sizes are required if you need to print
large images such as near-film-quality 8.5-by-11-inch prints.
But the larger images you shoot, the fewer you can
store. With some
cameras, at their highest quality you may be able to store only two to
four at a time. If your end uses are photos to post on a Web site or
that will be reproduced at relatively small size or photocopied, then
images are overkill. You can set most cameras to take smaller pictures,
allowing you to store more at a time. But why pay for more camera than
- What features do you need? In the
increasingly crowded market,
manufacturers are piling on features. For example, many models now can
shoot short low-resolution video clips, complete with sound. Will you
use this? More features mean more complexity and more cost. Once again,
buy what you need.
- How many shots can you get on a set of batteries?
dramatically among models. Batteries vary, as do photographers' habits,
so any published figures are, at best, estimates. Battery life is still
one of the most common complaints of digital camera users. I returned a
camera after consistently getting 30 shots to a set of alkaline
The vendor contacted the manufacturer, who admitted that this was
for that model. By contrast, Fuji claims that its low-end
2300 and 2400 models should get about 200 shots with the LCD display (a
big battery drain) turned on and about 400 shots with it turned off.
This information can be surprisingly hard to find.
Before buying a particular
digital camera model, try an Internet search with the camera make and
and the words "battery life." Or talk to someone who uses that model.
- Accessories worth buying. When you're
planning to buy a digital
camera, budget for some extras. Many higher-end cameras come with
batteries. Buy an extra set. Other models use standard AAs. Buy two
of NiMH rechargeables and a charger.
Virtually all digital cameras store their pictures on
a tiny removable
card, either Compactflash, Smartmedia, or Sony's Memory Sticks.
You're going to want one with a higher capacity to store more pictures
at a time. The eight-MB Smartmedia card shipped with Fuji's 2400, for
holds 19 two-megapixel shots (or 89 Web-friendly 640x480 shots). An
64-MB card ups that to 159 high-resolution shots (or 663 at the lowest
resolution). Unlike film, these cards are reusable as you move the
over to your computer. Transferring your photos to a computer is
battery-drain. Consider an AC adapter or a memory card reader to save
batteries for taking pictures.
See Gear guide, in