Feeling pressured to go digital?  Between now and the holiday season, millions of consumers will succumb to the advertising hype and take the plunge, which is exactly what the manufacturers had in mind.

Before taking the plunge, stop a while and take a deep breath.  Buying a digital camera and then USING it to a satisfactory end may seem like a fine idea, but it just isn’t as easy as most consumers expect.  Going digital may not be for you!

BASIC PRICING AND WHERE TO SHOP

workbootsnerd.com prices have come down – below $200 for basic models, fine for Internet posting and sharing online; up past $1,000 for top-tier consumer cameras.

The so-called sweet spot is in cameras that use 2.1 megapixel (million pixels) imaging sensors, most commonly a CCD (Charge Coupled Device) as the chip that “sees.”

The truth is that digital images from consumer digital cameras DO NOT have the quality of traditional 35mm film.  If you crop and enlarge a 35mm image, the enlarged print from the cropped area will look as good as the original.  You can make a HUGE print with great quality taken from a 35mm image.

The average consumer-affordable digital camera takes photos that can be printed only as large as 8×10.  Cropping and enlarging a cropped area will show a seriously degraded image.  More expensive digital cameras ($400 and up) can produce images that can be printed as large as or larger than 20×30, with cropped pieces printed and looking decent up to 5×7.

Unless otherwise noted, prices shown here will be for the best I found on the Internet.  I want to encourage readers to shop that way and SAVE.  You’ll get more for the money that way.  Everyone going digital HAS to have a computer, and most computer users have Internet access, so Internet shopping should be easy with some simple guidance.  I recommend shopping for best prices through your browser by doing a simple search for the camera make and model number, then comparing results OR go directly to Amazon, pricegrabber, ebay, nextag, and buy.com.  As a matter fact, try each of these resources as there may be price differences.

BATTERIES

For those who think they want to go digital, first determine what this camera will be used for – regular or occasional use, trips away from home or more around the neighborhood?  For posting on the Internet only or also for making prints?  If to make prints, how large – up to 5×7, 8×10 or larger?

For occasional use, I recommend cameras that can use standard “AA” alkaline batteries or the more expensive but longer-lasting disposable lithium battery pack. That way, even if used only a few times a year, the camera is always ready to go without dead batteries and the user will not have to wait for or deal with recharging batteries which do not retain a charge if left unused for weeks or months at a time.  Some cameras use proprietary rechargeable battery packs costing about $50 each, and it’s always a good idea to have at least one extra pack if the camera will see regular use.  For cameras seeing regular use and using “AA” size batteries, I use and recommend rechargeable PowerEx brand NiMH (Nickel Metal Hydride) 1800 mAh (milliamp hours) batteries made by Maha Energy, about $35 for charger with four batteries, another $15 for four more batteries.  Available at Thomas Distributing.

I recommend certain camera basics – If use will be ONLY for posting on the Internet, sharing with others via the Internet and printing usually no larger than 4×6, then almost any 1.3 megapixel camera will do.  A fine new example is the TINY Casio EXILIM available next month for a retail price of $299.  Casio has been there from the beginning of digital photography and now introduces the world’s thinnest, smallest and lightest digital camera.  Less than 1/2 inch thick and only 3 oz.  What a cool camera!  So what that it doesn’t have one of the things I find most desirable, an optical zoom.  Another, less expensive 1.3 megapixel camera with more features and a bit larger?  At its price I like the Samsung Digimax 130, $148.

For those who want to do more, cameras with a 2.1 megapixel sensor will be just the trick.  All should have an LCD display on the back, flash with timer and red-eye reduction capability and most, not all, come with software, which, may or may not be important, depending upon several factors (gone into later). If possible and practical for your needs, get at least a 2x optical zoom in addition to whatever digital zoom there may be.  Optical zoom maintains the quality of the image.  Digital zoom degrades quality.  You can choose to use only the optical zoom capability and be assured the picture won’t suffer when you zoom in.  A couple I have used and recommend in this category are one with 6x optical zoom, the Fujifilm Finepix 2800, $269 (read the full review on mrgadget.com HERE), and one with 10x optical zoom, Olympus’ C-700 Ultra Zoom, $339.  Both also feature the ability to record short, low-resolution video clips with sound, a useful and fun option, in my view.

For the traveler, I like the 2x optical zoom, $275 Canon S200.  It’s so small it hides behind a credit card, and it is ruggedly made of stainless steel with nothing protruding when it is turned off – perfect for throwing in a pocket so it will be always ready for use and never left behind because it’s too bulky (like some others).  The S200 uses a proprietary rechargeable lithium battery pack so this camera is recommended for those who will not let it sit for months without use.  I love this camera!

This is also a good time to mention camera cases – GET ONE and use it (with rare exceptions).  They’re handy for holding extra batteries, chargers, lenses, removable memory, cables and connectors and other necessities, plus, the case protects the camera from banging around which isn’t good for its longevity.  On the other hand, cases can be bulky and cumbersome, so get one that isn’t overkill for your needs.  You don’t want to lug around a big case or you’ll never use the camera.  When you’re on the go the little and rugged pocketable cameras such as the Canon S200 will do well in a pocket, unprotected, but you’ll want to have the case on your trip to store the extras and to keep them together and organized.  The brand I’ve been using with great satisfaction is Targus, with a reasonable price and lifetime guarantee.  My large digital camera case cost was only $15.  Also investigate the cases provided by the camera manufacturers themselves.

Also for the traveler, I like and have used the $240 Canon A40 with its 3x optical zoom, ease of use AND for the excellent and relatively inexpensive optional, under-$100 wide angle adapter that allows users to see more up, down, left and right while remaining close to the subject.  This is perfect for capturing everyone at the dinner table, getting the whole building in the picture without having to stand back in the next county, and more.  This is a wonderful capability not to be taken lightly.

I’ve also been testing and like the results I get with the pocket-sized Konica Digital Revio KD-200Z.  At $295, this plastic-bodied gem is small, lightweight, easy to use and operates from either two standard “AA” alkaline batteries or a readily-available, disposable $9 Lithium CR-3V battery.  I’ve taken hundreds of photos with the original Lithium battery that came with the camera, and it’s still going strong.  The secret is judicious use of the built-in LCD display and only occasional use of the built-in flash.  I use the display only to verify and occasionally view images. I see what I’m about to shoot through the optical viewfinder.  This camera comes with NO software. No matter to me, though.  When I connect it to through the supplied USB cable to my PC, it is recognized as a USB hard drive.  Then I just copy off the photos and reformat the camera’s memory, wiping out the old photos in the camera.  It’s even easier on my Macintosh.  More on the beauty and utter simplicity of Apple’s Macintosh and digital photography later.

The bargain camera of the group is the $171 Kodak EasyShare DX3500 – digital zoom only, but a great little camera.  I also like the new $229 Kodak EasyShare CX4230 and the little pocket-sized $256 Kodak EasyShare LS420.  It’s good, small and basic in the 2 megapixel family.

The least expensive, higher quality 4 megapixel camera I know of is the $345 Kodak EasyShare DX4900 with 2x optical zoom.  This is an example of a camera that can take a photo capable of being printed as large as 20×30 and still look good.  This also means users can crop and zoom in on a smaller portion of one of these photos and still print a 5×7 at decent quality.

Kodak makes telephoto and wide angle lenses for the EasyShare cameras, too!

A new Sony example of simplicity in a small 2 megapixel camera is the DSC-P2.  With its compact design and 3x optical zoom, it’s worth a look.  The just-introduced camera has a suggested retail price of $400, so expect retailers through the discount shopping sites listed above to be at or close to this price for a couple of months or more.

Of course, there are very good digital cameras from the other prominent suppliers, including Nikon (their CoolPix 2000 and CoolPix 2500), Minolta, HP among many more.

Why so much about Kodak?  Simple, they’ve re-invented themselves from a traditional film-only company to a major player in the digital era and done some very exciting things along the way.  Taking a system approach to the digital dilemma, they offer among the easiest to use solutions.  They call it EasyShare and, for the individual who just wants to be a simple “snapshooter” (isn’t that most of us?) it just makes sense.  Read about EasyShare HERE.  More on this later, but first, let’s look more at digital versus film.

THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN DIGITAL AND FILM

The biggest drawbacks to going digital are inherent in the differences between electronic and film media and how we use them.  With digital, there is no “shoebox” in which to store your photos.  When you want to see your pictures, they will have to be or have already been printed or you will need to view them on a nearby computer or online where they are already stored (more on this later). You will need to keep them on the computer hard drive (not a good idea) OR save the photos to a CD, which can be done inexpensively and easily by many consumers using what is generally referred to as a “CD burner,” an internal or external CD drive that can create or “burn” a CD.  Your files of any kind, sound, video, text or even digital photos, can all be written to a CD, called a CD-R (for Writable one time) or CD-RW (for Re-Writable, which means it can be used over and over again).  Most photofinishers also offer to place digital images on a CD for a fee, usually about $5, but look for this price to drop as competition heats up for this business, finally, after 10 years.

Digital cameras use digital “film.”  This is the memory onto which the pictures are stored.  The memory in digital cameras is ALWAYS reusable.  The greater the number of pictures taken without transferring to the computer, the larger the capacity and more expensive is the memory that is required.  Most 2.1 megapixel cameras that can use removable memory, and there are several types of memory devices, may come with about 16MB, enough for as many as 20 photos at full resolution.  A 128MB memory card of the various memory types now costs about $60, less than half what it was a year ago.  It’s either a case of taking extra memory on a trip or taking your laptop computer (or an expensive device that will off-load the images and store them while you’re on the go).

The type of memory is irrelevant in the cameras referred to here that are in the 2 megapixel family.  In cameras with non-removable memory there is also no choice.  What there is is what you use and re-use.  However, in higher megapixel cameras, from four megapixels up, the type of memory may be an important factor.  The speed that a photo can be written to the memory card is a factor in determining when the camera will be ready to go again after the last picture.  The faster the memory, the sooner it’s ready to go again, basically.  The newest and fastest memory types are called SD for Secure Digital and similar-sized MM, for MultiMedia, and many of the newer cameras are using this type.  They’re postage-stamp sized and priced as the others, though super-high capacity SD memory cards are not yet available.  The highest capacity at this writing for these memory cards is 128MB.   Memory providers include Lexar, SanDisk, Kingston, SimpleTech, and PNY.  Despite the claims, they’re all about the same from manufacturer to manufacturer, so buy on price, whether you need Compact Flash, SmartMedia. MultiMedia, Secure Digital, or Memory Stick.

PRINTING AND OTHER VIEWING OPTIONS

Next comes the printing issue.  It is relatively expensive to print photos on an inkjet printer.  Paper costs can run from about $.23 each for 4×6 sheets to about $.50 each or more for good quality, high-gloss 8×10 photo paper.  Add the cost of the ink and each photo can run from $.50 to $1 each, or more.  Also, in most cases, these inkjet photos do not last but a few years without fading, especially if you want to frame these photos and expose them to daily light, even if not direct sunlight, while traditional photographic prints last for many generations.  Some inkjet printer makers are offering what they call archival inks that they say last as long as traditional photos, but at considerably greater cost.  Any color inkjet printer, and especially inkjet photo printers will do a decent job.  You can shop for photo paper in various sizes and in various finishes, but the following information may save both time and money.  I have been extremely pleased with some Konica photo paper I have been using.  The quality is as good as anything I have used and the photos dry INSTANTLY.  The paper is reasonably priced through their Website HERE.  Look into it and compare for yourself.  I think you will be pleased.

There are also dye-based photo printers starting at about $300 that will do a great job printing photos.  Check out these products from Sony, Olympus and two from Canon, HERE and HERE (I’ve used and been rewarded with magnificent results from the Olympus and Canon products, but I am sure they are comparable to Sony’s).

Consumers can also upload digital photos to a photo sharing Website, such as ofoto.com, and at prices starting at $.50 for 4×6 they will use that same photographic process as with traditional 35mm film to make prints from your digital images that will last, because they are just like 35mm film prints.  HERE is an up-to-date and maintained list of most of these sites with a write-up on and link to each.  These photo sharing Websites, at least the free ones, are a good place to set up albums that you can invite others to view, all online.  Once uploaded, the photos can be organized and captioned, and some sites offer the ability to view the albums as an on-screen slideshow.  These sites also offer to print photos for visitors.  This is a wonderful way to invite all your friends and relatives to see your life passages without having to do something special for each person on your list.  It’s also kinder to all the others as well as to yourself.  You send the photos once and no one has to download them through their e-mail in order to see your pictures.  It saves lots of time and is a much more elegant solution.

An increasingly popular alternative to doing it yourself at home or to using an online digital photofinisher is a local solution.  Do-it-yourself kiosks are sprouting up at retail locations that accept the removable digital media from your camera and offer photographic prints at a reasonable fee.  Both Kodak and Fuji are leading the charge, with Sony announcing recently a move into this market.

I just learned today at my local Costco that they will make photographic prints from my “digital” film; 4×6 photo prints for $.20 each, 5×7 prints for $.75 each, 6×9 prints for $.99 each, 8×10 and 8×12 prints for $1.99 and huge, 12×18 photos from my digital camera for only $2.99 each.  Out of the camera and off to Costco.  Designate to print ONLY the images deemed keepers.  That gives me an idea!  If I want to get “fancy” I can bring my photos into the computer, do my fiddling with the images and add text and any effects I may want.  Then, I can transfer them from the computer back to the camera’s digital memory through the camera connection or through an accessory digital memory card reader that connects to the computer.  Once back on the memory device, I can take it to Costco and say, “Print these, please.”  At those prices and with that convenience, I may never print my own digital photos at home again!  I’ll be money ahead.

THE KODAK DIFFERENCE

All of this brings me back to Kodak.  Their system approach includes their EasyShare cameras AND their $47 camera dock AND their FREE (I love that word) software.  The cameras connect to the computer through the attached dock and with one touch the pictures are transferred to the computer.  The software helps users organize and send as e-mail, upload to a printing service or print to a local connected inkjet printer.  This latter option also includes what Kodak calls Quality Prints. Kodak says if you choose their method using their camera, their software and their paper in your printer, your results will be of the outstanding Kodak quality you have come to expect.  The newest version of their EasyShare software is shipping with the new CX4230 and will be available as a FREE download to everyone with Macs and PCs in a few weeks.  It can be used with nearly any digital camera, Kodak and the others.  The CX4230, in ANY mode will also take a picture if the picture-takin’ button is pushed.  No hassles, no resetting if you are in playback mode and looking at photos on the LCD display, no waiting.

The bottom line on Kodak is that consumers would be wise to consider Kodak’s digital solutions when shopping for a digital camera.  Again, if you just want to take digital pictures and NOT make a career of it, consider the Kodak solutions that have most everything you want and need and nothing you don’t.  For the FREE EasyShare software, check HERE starting in July, 2002.

THE SOFTWARE CONNECTION

To be sure, there are a number of commercial, pay-to-play software programs available to consumers with digital cameras.  In fact, most cameras come with some kind of image organization and manipulation software.  Some camera makers have their own software.  Some use off-the-shelf programs.  Among the most popular providers are Adobe, Ulead, Roxio, and ArcSoft.  ArcSoft has just introduced the ArcSoft Personal Software License (PSL). According to the company, this is “a new and unique way for consumers to purchase and upgrade digital imaging software.  Under the PSL agreement, ArcSoft customers can purchase any ArcSoft photo and/or video software and all subsequent upgrades for one low annual subscription price, rather than continuously buying new versions of software.  A sales model often seen in the enterprise software market, ArcSoft is the first software company to offer consumers this subscription-based pricing option.”

“ArcSoft is offering two PSL options: ArcSoft PSL Photo, a suite of digital photo software, and ArcSoft PSL Video, a collection of digital video software, each for an introductory price of $79.99 USD per year.  As a third alternative, consumers may opt to purchase ArcWare PSL, the complete suite of all 14 ArcSoft photo and video software titles for $99.99 USD per year, a potential savings of $440 USD.  With any of the titles, users can easily manipulate any digital image or raw video footage and create a variety of fun finished products such as a colorful multimedia email or home movies.  Users can then manage and store the media on their desktop, or take advantage of 50 MBs of free online photo-sharing space at PhotoIsland.com.”

This is an interesting and innovative approach.  However, for consumers who, like many of us, simply want to take photos and do simple things such as cropping, rotating, red-eye fixing, preparing for e-mailing and a few more things, the Kodak solution may be all that is needed, and that is why I indicated earlier that software may not be such an issue.

APPLE GETS IT BEST

As far as general ease of use on the computer side is concerned, absolutely no one does it better than Apple and the Macintosh.  Start with ANY new or recent vintage G3- or G4-processor equipped Macintosh, portable or desktop model, running Apple’s Mac OS X (Operating System version 10) and higher.  All it takes is Apple’s FREE iPhoto software which is receiving universal praise from the four corners of the earth.  Plug in nearly ANY USB-equipped digital camera and the software automatically recognizes it, launches iPhoto and gets ready to transfer the images to the iPhoto program in the computer.  After transfer, all those photos can be placed in a new folder that YOU name in plain language and can easily see in the iPhoto window.  From there, edit, adjust, rotate, crop and organize the photos, prepare them for uploading to make a print book like I did ($3 per page with a choice of up to four photos per page, a cover page and introduction page capable of loads of text to explain the contents of your photo book, and captions throughout the book, if you wish).  Select a theme, any of six, determine the order and captions, the cover color, then click on Share and select Order Book. It happens before your eyes.  With one click, I ordered a beautiful, linen-covered keepsake photo book that will be handed down to my heirs!  These books will be popular gifts.

iPhoto users may also select to print locally to an attached color printer OR click on Order Prints to send selected images to a Kodak photofinisher which will make photographic prints that also will last generations, sent directly to you in the mail.  I have done this and I must report the system works flawlessly.  Or, prepare the images you select and click to e-mail them to anyone.  There is no better, easier way to go digital than with a Mac and digital camera (and you don’t even need a digital camera, but that story is just ahead).  Apple just gets it!

YOU DON’T NEED A DIGITAL CAMERA!

However, not everyone, despite how easy it is becoming, wants to or needs to go digital like this.  Not everyone has the time or interest to make a serious lifestyle change such as what can occur when going digital.  It can really eat up a huge chunk of time.  You really DO NOT HAVE TO BUY OR USE A DIGITAL CAMERA!  If you don’t want to spend the tremendous amount of time and energy, not to mention the expense, there are alternatives that will yield the same results.  Really.

First, use a traditional “PhD” (for Push here Dummy, auto-everything 35mm camera – great ones with adequate zoom, date imprint, various flash modes, timer and more cost about $200. Most photofinishers offer the option to put your photos on a Photo CD in addition to making prints at a nominal cost (usually about $5).  Now, you’re digital!  Just put the CD in the drive on your computer.  The images are suitable for sharing via e-mail and for sharing using a photo sharing Website, or even for importing into programs such as Kodak’s EasyShare for Macs and PCs and into Apple’s iPhoto.  Hey, if the photos are on a CD, they’re digital, even if they originated from film!

You could also buy and use an inexpensive scanner with your computer and scan the standard photos to digitize them with remarkable quality, and bring them into the computer to send in e-mail or to share on a photo sharing Website.  I like and recommend the sleek, simple to operate Canon photo scanners, from about $60 to about $121.  They do a fine job for most users including me!

Finally, don’t forget about the original instant gratification photo device – the Polaroid camera.  I have their newest, the Mio, that delivers wallet-size instant photos.  Mio retails for about $80 with an Instant Print Film Twin Pack of 20 exposures selling for $20.  Even these instant Polaroid photos can be scanned in and digitized for use in the computer and on the Internet.

BUY THIS BOOK

Before buying a digital camera, I suggest reading an excellent online synopsis of a $20 book called “A Short Course in Choosing A Digital Camera” by Dennis P. Curtin and available at http://www.shortcourses.com/choosing/contents.htm.  Everything, and I mean everything is covered.

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