Pixels with Pedigree: More Pixels per Dollar, More Lens Options, and More Brands Than You Can Shake a `Memory Stick' At-A New Generation of Cameras Is Speeding Up the Adoption of Digital Photography

Article excerpt

Despite the fact that you can pick up extremely inexpensive film cameras nowadays (not counting single-use cameras), there's a very strong chance that the next camera you buy will be digital. The sales figures speak for themselves--digital camera sales for 2002 were reported to be up 104 percent on the previous year, with sales expected to double again in 2003. It seems that, on both commercial and consumer fronts, an increasing number of people are switching from film to digital.

In 2003 digital camera sales are expected to catch up with traditional film cameras--the trend is being fuelled by all ongoing price decrease across the board. For example, three mega-pixel cameras (for mega read million), once considered high-end models, today sell for less than $1000. Two mega-pixel cameras are around the $600 mark. Casio has a five mega-pixel camera with an rrp of $1999--unheard of even a year ago.

So, why the swing to digital? Isn't this a compromise when it comes to image quality? While it's true that early digital cameras were really only designed fin' capturing images for electronic applications (eg the internet), in the past 12 to 24 months the indtustry has wit nessed a massive pixel race that has changed people's thinking about digital photography. With pixels now peaking at around six million, the focus has switched to on-board processing software, as well as lenses, memory capacity, and ease of use.

Although there are still challenges to overcome, such as that grainy effect tin certain flash photos, the quality issue has to a large degree finally been laid to rest. Widespread adoption of digital cameras over the next three to five years is a sure bet, as camera owners enjoy the convenience, speed, and savings that digital photography provides.

Consider the benefits digital photography has over traditional 35mm cameras. There is the advantage of seeing your pictures as soon as you've taken them, then selecting the best for printing, and dumping the rest.

No longer do you need to keep spare film tin stand-by, and taking pictures costs you nothing.

Thanks to USB `plug and play' capability, digital cameras allow you to share photos with other people in an instant. The latest memory cards or `sticks', including CompactFlash, SmartMedia and Secure Media, can hold up to 128Mb of images and are, of course, re-usable.

Many people are now investing in one of the many specialist inkjet photo printers to `direct print' 35mm-like images on their desktop (Canon, HP and Epson for example)--a great idea, but be careful on your consumable usage. A new DPS protocol (direct print system) being developed in Japan is expected to make plug-to-print technology universal across the industry.

Which camera for me?

Understand that no one camera does everything perfectly--this is the advice from Minolta sales manager Steve Meadows of Tech Pacific. "Do you require portability, or high quality? Are you a `snapper' or a serious photographer? Many people simply want to record events, places and people. So my favourite piece of advice for them is: `the best camera in the world is the compact, portable you have with you, not that bulky high-spec one that never gets taken anywhere'."

Buyers should avoid cheap imports, stick to well-known brands, and reputable dealers who specialise in digital cameras. "Their pre-purchase advice is as important as their after-sales service" suggests Meadows.

Picking a brand is no easy feat. Look at the pedigree of the manufacturer--a digital camera is still a camera after all, so how long has that name been in the game?

Mike Armstrong, national manager camera division for Canon, believes that pixels aren't the "be all and end all"--auto-focus, exposure control, and lenses are just as important. "You can generally tell a good digital camera by the speed at which it looks at an image, decides what to do, and takes the picture," he says. …