Digital Cameras Everyday Digitals

The migration from film to digital photography became obvious in 2003. Have you noticed, when in crowd, the number of people holding those tiny digital devices at arm’s length to take pictures, compared to the few still squinting into film camera viewfinders?
Everybody, it seems, is smiling for the digital dickie-bird – an observation backed up by the reality of sales figures. recent study by InfoTrends Research Group (IRG) expects worldwide unit sales of consumer digital cameras to reach almost 53 million in 2004, surpassing film camera sales. Seventy-five percent of those digital camera sales will go to the top five manufacturers – Canon, Fuji, Kodak, Olympus, and Sony.
According to Michelle Slaughter, director of digital photography trends at IRG, digital cameras have become essential communications devices. “People are becoming accustomed to the immediacy of digital photography and are integrating digital photos into their daily communications with friends, family and the workplace. Consequently, digital cameras have higher intrinsic value than film cameras.”
Steve Morley, general manager Australasia, Kodak Digital & Applied Imaging, has watched new category of buyer emerge in the past 18 months. “The digital camera was initially B2B product, and then it became popular with male ‘early adopters’. Today, sales are driven by declining prices, and the user’s ability to move easily from picture to print.”

Push button prints
Until recently, would-be buyers of digital cameras were put off by their lack of confidence in converting images to print via their PC. But the emergence of new class of dye-sub printer from printer manufacturers, which can deliver quality output and be connected directly to digital cameras, is eliminating the perceived obstacle. Even camera makers like Kodak – which has led the charge to move cameras away from PCs – are now producing dedicated photo printers. Kodak’s thermal-ribbon printer dock 6000 and 4000 are designed specifically for its digital cameras to be ‘docked’ on top. Touch button and you have photo print as good as you’ll get from the local processing lab, and at comparable price.
A new industry standard technology for digital camera direct printing, called PictBridge, is further proof that DIY photo printing is about to catch-on big time. This technology allows camera users to print easily to any PictBridge-enabled printer, regardless of brand. The standard is supported by key industry players, including Canon, Epson, Fuji, Olympus, Sony, and Hewlett-Packard. Others are expected to follow in 2004. Canon’s range of PictBridge compatible products already includes digital cameras, video cameras, bubble jet printers, and card photo printers.
Other advances in digital photography include better battery life and faster response times (for start-up and shutter-speed); more compact, lightweight design; larger LCD view screens (up to 2.5 inches); better lenses (non-traditional camera makers have partnered with leading lens makers); improved memory/storage capacity; and what many believe to be the most important factor of all – improved resolution.
“Until last year, entry-level models consisted of one to two mega-pixels, which aren’t sufficient for print enlargement,” explains Sony’s Williams. “In 2003 the standard was set at three mega-pixels, even for entry-level.” But the resolution of three mega-pixel camera starts to deteriorate as it approaches A4 in size so “a five mega-pixel camera may be more desirable”, adds Williams.
Indeed, five mega-pixels may well be the entry-level in 12 months’ time, despite the fact that 95 percent of the world’s photos are output on 6×4 prints.
Meantime, be prepared to spend around $500-$800 for three mega-pixel camera, and $900 to $1200 for four to five mega-pixel model.
For the optimists who think they can combine their need for capturing still and moving pictures by purchasing digital video camera, remember that the image resolution may not be quite what you need. Digital video is, after all, designed to be viewed on screen, not printed out on photo paper.
“Digital video cameras, such as Sony’s DCRPC330E, are available with up to three mega-pixel CCDs,” says Williams. “But remember, still camera will take better photograph and offer extra features applicable to still photography.” His recommendation is to tuck digital still camera into your carry case, along with your camcorder!
While some manufacturers, such as Fujifilm and Minolta, make excellent still cameras for capturing digital video, it’s always going to be compromise.

What about film?
The film versus digital debate will rage for some years yet, and the market won’t close the shutters on film in the foreseeable future – if ever. Disposable film camera sales are currently going through the roof.
While we won’t attempt to predict the future here, it is interesting to see the recent swing to digital SLR. The Olympus E1D SLR, for example, is all-digital and has interchangeable lens produced specifically for the camera. “It’s total camera system, not hybrid mix of existing technology,” says H E Perry’s Simon Millidge. Digital SLR cameras will, he thinks, increasingly appeal to the top-end of the market, as film purists come to understand their capability and to see them as worthy replacement for silver halide.
The adoption of the “FourThirds” standard for lenses will also accelerate digital SLR camera sales. This standard allows for the interchangeability of digital lenses made by different manufacturers onto camera bodies made by other manufacturers. Kodak, Fujifilm and Olympus have already expressed interest.

Buyer and user tips
In market flooded with options – New Zealand is not far behind Australia which has in excess of 350 camera models – you can’t, generally speaking, go wrong if you choose recognised brand and buy from reputable, ‘informed’ supplier. Together they will deliver camera to match your needs while offering degree of simplicity.
For example, it’s little silly to purchase five mega-pixel camera if you just want to share images with friends and family over the internet. two mega-pixel camera will do the job nicely.
And don’t get confused between the terms ‘digital zoom’ and ‘optical zoom’. As Tech Pacific’s Minolta sales manager Steve Meadows explains: “Digital zoom has virtually no value, as all it does is crop the image in order to enlarge it. Not surprisingly, quality is therefore reduced. Optical zoom, on the other hand, is exactly what it says it is – it uses all the mega-pixels available regardless of magnification.”
Most buyers only use fraction of the available features on digital camera. “The manuals that come with cameras offer useful hints and techniques on how to get the best images,” says Canon product manager Rochelle Mora. “So take the time to read them to get the most from your camera.”
While digital cameras represent leading-edge technology, they can’t perform miracles. “The basic rules of photography still apply,” says Millidge. “If you put rubbish in, you’ll get rubbish out and no amount of image software is going to improve it. Remember that the LCD screen represents 100 percent of the frame. Experiment with all the modes of the camera too, you’ll be surprised at what it can do.”
John Ryan, Casio marketing manager for Monaco Corporation, suggests camera users “select the highest resolution available for each picture, and get as close to the subject as possible. Keeping the flash selected for daytime photos is also advisable because it helps to overcome any shadow problems.” He also suggests the use of ‘Best Shot’ modes, allowing the camera to automatically compensate for the conditions, and he recommends the three-shot self-timer mode for ensuring that nobody gets caught blinking.
And contrary to popular belief all digital cameras have moving parts, just like film cameras – so taking them to the beach, or anywhere there’s dust and grit, is risky.

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