Digital cameras are rapidly overtaking film cameras. Digital has a number of advantages - lower cost (at least
in terms of film and processing), the images are easy to manipulate, you
can see the results instantly, you can send the images instantly to
almost anyone, and you don't have to worry about x-rays or light ruining
your film (but watch out for magnets!).
What is available today (2005)? Well, digital
cameras on the market today aimed at the consumer market range in price from
under $100 to over $1,000. Within this price range are a wide variety of
options, and you can probably find a camera with any combination of them.
Bottom line? I have a Canon EOS 3 camera; it is
the best handling camera I have ever used. Since I bought my first
digital camera (a Canon D-60), I have run exactly 1 roll of film through
the EOS-3, and that was to test its capabilities against the digital
camera. I doubt I will ever buy another film camera.
||Inexpensive models have a simple optical viewfinder (not coupled to
the lens). More expensive cameras use a liquid crystal display
(LCD) monitor which can also allow you to examine the images you have
recorded. Larger LCD's are usually better, but check the
resolution. The most expensive digital cameras have both SLR
optical viewfinders and an LCD. By their nature, the LCD's on the
SLR types are usually not "live" as are the ones on other digital
While the glass viewfinder on an SLR is the best way to see what you are
photographing, there are advantages to a live LCD viewfinder. A
really nice feature is the ability to tilt and swivel the LCD, allowing
you to take pictures from unique angles.
||There are a variety of zoom lenses available; for the most part these
are similar to the ones available for 35mm compact autofocus cameras or
for camcorders. A few of the top models use lenses from the SLR
lines. Don't be fooled by digital or overall zoom; on most cameras
the digital zoom is useless. Focus instead on the optical zoom.
||This is a feature which uses software to digitally enlarge the
image. Often, the image takes on a pixelated look. It's
usually not very satisfactory.
||The higher the better. At the bottom end are 640 x 480 pixel
units; at the top are so-called megapixel cameras with resolutions up to
3072 x 2048 or better. Remember, you can always reduce the size of
an image! Models with higher resolutions often allow you to go to a
lower resolution to be able to save more pictures in memory. 4 MB
seems to be about the minimum both for onscreen and printed images.
||The more the better. Some cameras have built-in memory and must
be linked by a cable to a PC to download the pictures. Most cameras have
some kind of removable memory which not only removes the need for
cables, but also allows you to carry memory chips instead of a laptop
into the field. There are several different formats of memory
available; these range from "flash cards" at $25 for 32MB to
cards holding up to 4 gigabytes (and costing under
Memory prices continue to fall, however, and once the images are on the
computer you can save them on CD's for $1 per 600MB (and free up your
memory to reuse). Some cameras use 3.5" floppy disks (holding
1.5 MB) as memory; these are slow and limited to low resolutions. Other
options include miniature DVD recorders.
||Some cameras have a built-in flash, others use regular camera
flashes. The built-in flashes tend to be anemic and prone to
red-eye, but then again digital does not need as much light as film.
|NTSC Video Out
||This option allows you to put images (or short movies) into the
(current) TV standard. It can thus be recorded on videotape and
watched on a TV monitor. If you want to show your pictures to
friends, this is a good option because there are more TV's and VCR's
around than there are computers.
||Some cameras have a built-in microphone and can record sound as well
||This allows the camera to take many still JPEG pictures in quick
succession and record them as MPEG movies, which can be viewed on a
computer. If so equipped, the camera may be able to record sound
to go with the video. Nice option, but eats up memory - why not
get a camcorder?
||Even if they have removable memory, many cameras have the ability to
interface to the computer. There are many possibilities: serial
Links, IR (wireless), parallel links, USB, PCMIA, or the current speed
champ, IEEE 1394 (firewire). It all depends on how much data you
want to download, how fast you want to download it, and what ports your
computer has available.
Consider this as well as you go digital:
|First, if you are intrigued by the possibility
of capturing movies, you might want to consider a digital camcorder
instead of a camera. Slightly heavier, and limited in resolution,
these cameras have virtually unlimited data storage in the form of tapes
|Second, memory cards are expensive. If you are
going to be away from a computer for several days, it might be more
economical to get a portable digital hard drive. Some of these units
can store 40 gigabytes of photos and even include a LCD panel so you may
review the images. They have slots to download the photos from your
camera memory card, thus reducing the number of memory cards you need.
These units can be purchased for under $400.|
|Third, many of the affordable SLR digital cameras
used reduced-size image chips, that is the image chip is smaller than the
35mm film frame. This means that your 35 mm lenses, while they fit on
the camera, do not place all of their information on the image. The
camera companies like to say this makes a 100mm lens the equivalent of a 160
mm lens, but all it really does is crop the edges of the image so that a
100mm lens has the field of view of a 160 mm lens. Worse, your wide
angle lenses won't see as wide an angle as before. Cameras with full
size chips are available but cost 4x as much. These prices are bound
to drop. Also, some manufacturers are now producing special lenses for
their digital SLR's that have true wide-angle capability; however such
lenses usually won't work on film SLR's.|