Greg Gore is Vice President of Praxis International, Inc.
Technical Training, Consulting, and Publishing since 1988

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Go Digital with Your Photography
by
Greg Gore

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After reading about digital cameras and talking with several of my friends who own one, I decided a digital camera would solve two of my personal photography challenges - too many photos of poor quality that I never got around to discarding and some good photos laying around uncatalogued in various places. With digital photography, I could simply erase the bad photos and easily catalog and store the good photos on my hard drive or zip drive. I could also easily share digital photos with friends and family via e-mail or on the web.

Of course, digital photography comes at a price. In researching prices through various mail order catalogs of computer supplies, I found that digital cameras from leading manufacturers like Canon, Casio, Fuji, HP, Kodak, Nikon, Olympus, and Sony ranged in price from $279 to $1299, with most of the offerings in the $499 to $999 range. These cameras offer a lot of "bells & whistles," including high resolution (1-3+ mega pixels), zoom lenses, fast shutter speeds, self timers and the like.

Mainstream digital cameras also feature LCD displays that show the image you've just taken. Plus, some of these digital cameras can also be used as video camcorders. The images are stored on internal memory in the camera, on removable "picture cards" or "sticks," or on regular floppy disks. (A floppy disk, for example, may hold up to forty still images in the industry standard JPEG format.) Picture cards and sticks add to the total cost and range in price from $69 to over $300 depending upon memory and how many pictures you want to store. 

I was looking for a digital camera that would be comparable to the cameras I take on vacation. On vacation, I want something small, light and inexpensive. If my camera gets lost or stolen I don't want to feel too badly about it. I have found that the disposable flash cameras for $7 to $10 meet my needs and the photos they produce are acceptable for family use. Developing costs are about 12 to 20 cents per photo on a "buy one set of prints and get one set free" basis. So, counting the cost of the camera and the developing costs, a photo costs me from 35 to 40 cents. If I exclude the poor quality photos I should probably throw away, I think a good guess is that I'm paying a dollar a photo.

Knowing my needs, and with some knowledge of what's available in the marketplace, I was ready to begin to narrow my search for a digital camera. Everyone I talked with who owned a digital camera recommended "the higher the resolution the better" approach. I was told I needed a least one mega pixel and preferably higher. One mega pixel is approximately equal to a resolution of 1152 x 864 on a computer screen. I did some research and found that the resolution of film is equivalent to 12 to 15 mega pixels-much higher than the 1-3+ mega pixels most good quality digital cameras produce. Yet, the quality of digital photos I had seen had been remarkably good.

Thinking practically, I considered that although my computer monitor had a resolution of only 800 x 600, the images are very clear. I also used my scanner to see what kind of results I got when I scanned in photos at low resolution. The quality of the scanned photos was acceptable to me.

Lastly, I considered that I would not be printing my photos. I have a high-quality laser printer, high-quality dot-matrix printer, and a bottom-end color inkjet printer with a 600 x 600 d.p.i. resolution. I did not want to upgrade my printers and I also did not want to buy expensive paper for printing high-quality photos. Storing photos on my hard drive or on a Zip disk and sharing photos via the web were my goals.

I found the camera that fit my needs in a TigerDirect.com catalog. It is a Largan Chameleon. At 3.4" long by 2.2" high, the camera is the size of a credit card. (The width is 1".) The small size combined with the light weight-5.5 oz including carrying case and 2 AA batteries-make it ideal for travel. Moreover, it can be used as a digital camera, pc camera, or video camera. Other features include a macro mode (close-up focusing at 8"), flash, and self-timer. At $119.99 I thought it was a great deal.

The trade-offs are that the resolution is 640 x 480, it does not have a removable memory device, and it does not have the LCD feature that allows you to view the image just taken. However, with its internal memory, the Largan stores up to 128 images, which is more than I use on a vacation or holiday. Additionally, the Largan features a USB interface for downloading the images to my computer. A USB interface was one of my requirements because the USB interface on my Compaq CPU is conveniently located in the front of the unit.

Installing the software that came with the camera for downloading and editing the photos was easy and trouble-free. Instructions for using the camera were also complete and easy to follow.

"The proof of the pudding is in the eating" and I was very pleased with the quality of the photos the Chameleon produced. For an image size of 6.67" x 5.00," the size of a single photo file in standard JPEG format ranged from 60 to 80kb. At that rate, I can store at least 1,250 photos on a ZIP 100 disk for a cost of $.008 each. I figure my cost breakeven point for equipment and storage is about 125 photos-not bad!

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The Greg Gore Web Site on Computers and the Internet (www.GregGore.com)

This column was published in the Daily Local News, West Chester, PA on October 11, 2000.. Greg Gore can be reached at gg@GregGore.com.

2009 by Greg Gore. All rights reserved.