Snap decision

Introduction

Digital photography has come a long way in the past few years. Digital cameras are now at a stage where a good-looking A4 picture can be printed on a low-end ink-jet. To achieve such results requires at least a two-megapixel camera – the class of camera that we tested for this feature. A two-megapixel camera has a resolution of over two million pixels, although not all those pixels are addressable in every mode. A two-megapixel camera might boast only a 1,600-x-1,200-pixel resolution (1,920,000 pixels), because it uses its remaining pixels for other modes. At this level of camera, there are few bargains – with average prices between £500 and £600. Two-megapixel digital cameras are mid-range between consumer snappers and top professional gear. This band of users are stuck with the “prosumer” label. Some of the cameras – the Olympus C-2500, in particular – have professional features. However, there’s still some ground to make up before many pro photographers go digital. Resolution is no longer a big issue, but factors such as external-flash features and lens adaptors are important. Digital cameras will make some inroads into professional photography, but professional photographers will not change en masse overnight. It’ll take years, with many photographers preferring the look-&-feel of film. So although the target audience for two-megapixel-cameras does includes professional photographers, it also embraces the non-expert professional user – estate agents, surveyors, insurance loss-adjusters and have all used digital cameras for some years now. Another key user-group is keen amateur photographers, because the results can be superb – and instant. A further beauty of digital photography is that recently taken pictures can be posted on the Internet or attached to emails within minutes. They can then be printed at photographic quality. It is a compelling scenario. But, for those who require a digital camera for Web-use only, a lower-end model will suffice. Slow snaps
One drawback of high-resolution cameras is download times for larger files. If you’re using a USB-equipped Mac, this is no problem as most of the cameras tested have a speedy USB interface. However, if you have an older Mac – sporting a serial connection – it will be painfully slow to download images of large images. The Kodak DC280, for instance, supports a serial connection, and has a 20MB memory card. To download a full card takes as long as downloading a 20MB file from the Internet. And that’s very slow… There are a couple of solutions for serial Macs. The expensive option is to buy a new Mac, which means you can also take advantage of faster processor speeds for editing images. A more sensible option is investing in a USB PCI card (Keyspan USB, AM Micro, 01392 426 473) to add USB capability to your beige Mac. You’ll also need a card reader (such as Microtech’s USB CameraMate (New Century Computers, 0181 902 6789). This will set you back around £100 but will reduce your download times to a couple of seconds – instead of hours. Memory cards are solid-state storage media that store images like miniature floppy disks. There are two main formats – SmartMedia or CompactFlash. Even with USB Macs, it’s more convenient to buy a card reader than to mess around with cables every time you take a picture. You can leave the card reader plugged-in permanently, and pop the card in for instant access to images. Only Sony breaks format, using its proprietary Memory Stick card. There isn’t anything especially better about the Memory Stick – it’s just a device to make you buy Sony-branded peripherals, whether you want to or not. A bigger drawback is that, currently, there’s no Mac-compatible Memory Stick reader available, so you’re stuck with USB-only picture downloads.
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