How many times has a client said, "I could decide so much easier if I could only see what it would look like," or "Could you please let me see that new print as soon as it comes in?"
One of the hottest areas today involving personal computers is imaging. With a PC or Mac, you can add special effects and otherwise enhance photographs, then print them out, add them to a Web site or e-mail them to friends or customers. But first you have to get the photos into your computer, and the fastest way to do that is to use a digital camera. Sure, you could take photos with a conventional camera and scan the prints or negatives or have them scanned for you, but not only does that take time, it also costs money.
The big news in digital photography is the fall of some megapixel digital cameras below the $500 price point. Unlike earlier generations of digital cameras, and some inexpensive digital cameras still sold today, megapixel cameras produce photos that look quite good as four-by-six or even larger prints.
Picture quality is good because the images consist of at least a million pixels, or picture elements. Unlike lower-resolution 640- by 480-pixel cameras, which are fine for Web work and e-mail, 1,152- by 872- or 1,280- by 960-pixel cameras pull in enough detail to look good after enlarging and printing.
As they have in the past, digital cameras still involve trade-offs. You'll save money by not needing to have film developed, but the cameras are considerably more expensive than conventional cameras-around twice as much. And for those with a discriminating eye, the quality isn't as good as some of the least expensive conventional 35 mm compact cameras.
Still, nothing beats the immediate gratification of being able to work with an image right away. And manufacturers of some digital cameras offer companion printers that can print directly from the camera, without you needing to load them into your computer first.
The following are descriptions of five high-quality digital cameras. Each of these cameras, or the previous model from the same manufacturer, was recently judged to be "very good" or "excellent" by the editors of Consumer Reports magazine.
• Hewlett Packard PhotoSmart C30. At $399, this is one of the least expensive megapixel cameras on the market capable of resolutions up to 1,152 by 872.
Unlike some less expensive cameras, it comes with a built-in 2x zoom as well as a color LCD (liquid crystal display) located on the back of the camera. The zoom lets you better compose your pictures by cropping out extraneous material as you shoot. The LCD is helpful in selecting photographs you want to upload to your PC and deleting the rest.
The included memory card stores up to eight photos in superfine mode, 20 in fine mode, and 40 in normal mode. Check out HP's Web site, at www.hp.com, for more information.
• Casio QV-5000SX. This $499 camera can produce photos of slightly higher resolution than the HP PhotoSmart, up to 1,280 by 960 pixels. It also comes with a 2x/4x zoom rather than just a 2x zoom, which means you can take pictures at a greater distance from your subject. The camera's memory card can store up to 14 photos in super fine mode, 33 in normal mode and 55 in economy mode.
Casio sells a complete line of digital cameras, including the QV-770, a 640- by 480-pixel camera that sells for $399, and the QV-7000SX, a 1,280 by 960 camera selling for $599, that lets you zoom in up to 8x. Casio's Web site, at www.casio.com/digitalimaging, has the details.
• Kodak DC210 Plus. This $499 camera creates photos up to 1,152 by 864 pixels in resolution, but the picture quality exceeds that of some other low-cost megapixel cameras. It comes with a 2x zoom, and it can store from 26 to 120 pictures on the included memory card depending on the image resolution you choose.
Kodak also sells the well-regarded DC260, a 1,536 by 1,024 camera that's priced at $899. It captures enough detail to blow up prints as large as eight by 10 inches. At Kodak's Web site, located at www.kodak.com, you'll find descriptions of other cameras in its line, including reconditioned and surplus products.
Recently the 1,152 by 864 DC200, similar to the DC210 Plus but without a zoom, was selling for just $299.
• Nikon CoolPix 900s. At $799, this 1,280- by 960-pixel resolution camera will set you back a bit more than some other megapixel cameras. But like Nikon's conventional 35 mm cameras the CoolPix provides exceptional quality optics and enhanced shooting options.
It offers zoom up to 6x, settings for nighttime and low-light indoor settings, a hot shoe for connecting an optional external flash and the ability to use different lenses from wide angle to fish eye. The camera can store from 12 to 48 images on the included memory card.
Nikon also sells the innovative CoolPix 300, a 640 by 480 camera that's priced at $399. Along with taking snapshots you also can use the camera to record your voice and take notes with its included stylus. See Nikon's Web site, at www.nikonusa.com, for more information.
• Olympus D-400. Like the Nikon CoolPix, this $799, 1,280- by 960-pixel digital camera is more camera than digital toy. It looks and feels like a camera, and it comes with a bevy of features for optimizing image quality.
Along with zoom capabilities of up to 6x, it offers bracketed exposure control and both averaging and spot metering. For work that demands the highest quality, the camera offers an uncompressed mode, which stores just two images on the included memory card, though the card is capable of storing up to 120 images in standard mode.
Olympus sells a complete line of digital cameras ranging from one of the best regarded low-end cameras, the 640 x 480 D-220L priced at $299, to the 1,280 by 1,024 D-620L, a prosumer or professional/consumer model that sells for $1,199. Olympus' Web site, at www.olympus.com/digital, has more details.
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://members.home.net/reidgold.