SHCC WYSIWYG Article from December 2005

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This article was written by Don VanSyckel, the club president, as a part of "The President's Pen".  This article appeared in the December 2005 WYSIWYG newsletter.

Digital Camera Advice 2005

by Don VanSyckel

I was asked by a club member recently for some advice about what digital camera to buy. The club member didn't want to buy on price but rather a good camera with good features that the family could use for years. I present my answer here, cleaned up a little, for your consideration.

1)All cameras advertise a number for zoom. Zoom is made up of two parts A) optical zoom and B) digital zoom.
A)Optical zoom involves using optics to get the image you desire a picture of onto the electronic sensor array inside the camera. The best picture has the most optical information on the sensor. In other words, you'd like the image you're interested in to fill up as much of the sensor array as possible. This is done with optics. In my opinion the 'optical' zoom of a digital camera is what gets you the better shots if the subject isn't right next to you.
B)Digital zoom is the ability of the camera to take a portion of the image on the sensor array and 'blow it up' for the view finder. This does not add information (resolution) to the process, it simply takes a little image and shows it to you larger. Anything you can do with digital zoom on the camera, you can do on your PC later using some image or photo program. A program like this usually comes with the camera. In my opinion the 'digital' zoom of a digital camera gets you little to nothing in the picture process. 10 or 12 optical zoom is about as high as you can readily purchase today. I have an Olympus with 10X optical. It also has 2.7X digital zoom but I have never used the digital zoom. Other manufacturers also offer zoom in this range.
2)The next part is the number of mega pixels. If you are only going to look at the pictures on the PC probably any would do. I have been told that a 2 to 3 mega pixel camera can have pictures printed up to 5" X 7" and still look good. To print larger, like 8" X 10", more mega pixels like 5 or more are needed. The more mega pixels in the picture the larger the file is; it takes more space on your hard disk. If you want to conserve disk space and get a camera with a higher mega pixel capability you can always take pictures in a 'lower' resolution most of the time and switch to the higher resolution for those 'special' shots. In today's market, I would look for a camera in the 4 to 7 mega pixel range. The other thing about taking pictures in a higher resolution is if you want to crop any to a smaller size or blow up a section of a photo, you can still display it at a larger size and still have a good picture.
3)Make sure the camera can use 'AA' batteries. Buy two sets of NiMH (Nickel Metal Hydride) rechargeable batteries with a charger. One set for the camera and one set to carry. These should cost you between $20 to $35 which you will discover is cheap if you have to purchase the regular type alkaline batteries. Just remember to take the charger with you when you go on vacation. With the camera I have with the motorized 10X optical zoom I get about 150 to 200 pictures on a set of batteries with only a few of the pictures using flash. Motors and flash each take a bit more battery power and their usage will make your battery milage vary.
4)Make sure the camera can use a large enough 'memory card' to hold a day's worth of pictures. With a digital camera when pictures are virtually free, I find that I take a lot more pictures and review them later, throwing the not so good ones away. I've been known to take 80 to 120 pictures during a full day of sight seeing. This many pictures require 64Mbytes to 256Mbytes of memory depending on the picture resolution being used.
5)The last issue is if you travel and take pictures, do you buy enough memory cards for the camera to hold all the pictures until you get home or do you buy one memory card large enough for one day and take a laptop with you to download the camera back at the hotel in the evening. Of course there's a lot of variation with this depending on the quantity and resolution of pictures snapped. I took the laptop approach and was glad I did. The first digital camera I had broke and the second one did not use the same type of memory cards but they both talked to the same laptop.

If you go the laptop route, it has other uses. For instance, you can rename the pictures you download from the camera and organize them in the hotel each night during a trip instead of wasting time watching TV. When you get home you can start sharing the pictures with family and friends instead of taking a couple of nights getting them ready. If the hotel has internet you might even email a picture or two to a friend. You can scan your email on line to see if any of the messages are urgent enough to need your attention. Last but not least, you can use the net to help plan your adventures for the next day. All this because you bought a laptop with the $100 you saved buying the smaller memory card for the camera.

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