PhotoPC and Kodak's DC20 Digital Cameras
Worth a Thousand Words
by Jim Bray
riding the information wave have some new allies in the latest generation
of affordable digital cameras.
are probably causing film manufacturers to "shutter:" they don't
use any film. Instead, pictures are stored on chips and, once you've snapped
your shots, you download them straight into your computer. From there
you can print them out, distribute them via floppy disk, use them in brochures
or on a Web site, or even have them saved as digital photo CD albums.
aren't new, but they've never been particularly affordable to - or practical
for - the ordinary consumer or small businessperson. But now that the
technology is cheap enough (relatively speaking), it shouldn't be long
before they take off in a big way.
has advantages over taking "pictures:" the results are immediate
and the cameras eliminate film development and/or scanning costs. And
there's a lot you can do to improve a digital image after it's shot, thanks
to software that lets you enhance the color, contrast, and brightness
to correct lighting problems you may have had while shooting. You can
even add jazzy special effects.
Of course digital
cameras also have drawbacks. Printing out the pictures works better if
they're of a reasonably high resolution, and if the output size is reasonably
small - say, about three inches wide. You also need a color printer to
do it justice.
Not only that,
but if the people to whom you'll be showing your pictures don't have computers,
printing out your shots - either yourself or via some lab - is mandatory.
The latter method costs money, so you might as well stick with film.
And, while getting
pictures into your computer is merely a matter of downloading them via
your serial port, that assumes you have an extra serial port sitting patiently
on the rear panel of your computer. If you don't, downloading becomes
a REAL CHORE.
I don't, so
I had to unplug my mouse to make room for the camera's cable. Then I had
to reboot and work "mouseless" (a fate worse than death), save
the photos to a file or gallery, plug the mouse back in, reboot, reload
the software, and go back to work.
say, that made downloading more of a challenge. To put it mildly.
a lot to like about digital photography.
I've been playing
with - er, testing - Epson's PhotoPC and Kodak's DC20 and, while they're
quite different in price and execution, they both point toward a digital
future that could relegate traditional photographs to a museum.
Both of these
units, available for Windows and Macintosh, are extremely easy to use
and offer good value in different ways.
looks and feels just like a conventional 35mm "point and shoot"
consumer camera, though slightly bigger, so there's virtually no learning
curve. And, like a plain vanilla conventional 35mm camera, it's mostly
lacking in extra features. It doesn't even zoom.
That said, however,
Epson says the unit will accept 37mm camcorder lenses and filters, which
would definitely increase its flexibility. Unfortunately, I didn't have
the opportunity to try any.
"snapshot" cameras, the Epson's standard lens (and the Kodak's,
too) seems to move your subject away from you, so if you're taking portraits
you have to get up close and personal - right in your subject's face.
Otherwise, you'll have to blow up the picture once it's inside your computer,
which can cause it to lose detail and increase in file size.
you've figured this out you can get quite acceptable results, even with
the basic configuration. You won't be the next Karsh, but you'll probably
be happy with your work.
with 1 megabyte of memory (expandable to five), which lets you shoot up
to 32 shots on standard (320 x 240 pixels) or 16 shots on high (640 x
480) resolution. Images are in 24 bit (16.7 million shades) color. Color
accuracy, saturation, and the like are about what you'd expect from the
nineties version of an Instamatic. That's not a putdown; these things
have gotten good!
A little LCD
panel on the unit's top tells you what resolution you're using, how many
shots you've taken (and how many remain), and the control panel next to
it lets you change settings or erase the last image shot if your subject
sneezes at the last second. There's also an automatic flash that can be
used on dull days or for "fill" light.
software included with the unit loads a quick "thumbnail" of
the images stored in the camera. You then choose which ones you want to
download for real, then sit back and watch as the camera spills its guts
into your hard drive.
You may want
to pick up the optional AC adapter, 'cause this process is a bit of a
battery hog: PhotoPC uses four "AA" batteries and in four shooting
sessions I went through two and a half sets of 'em. I think things would
have been better if I'd had the use of my mouse, though; while fumbling
around I had to repeat actions that, by pointing and clicking, would've
photos are dumped into a "gallery," and you can either edit
them there or, even better if your needs dictate, with something a little
more hefty, like PhotoPaint, Picture Publisher, or PhotoShop. "EasyPhoto"
only gives you basic image manipulation (masking, cropping, rotating,
and some enhancement) so if you want to paint a digital moustache onto
a photo of your boss, you'll have to shell out for something better.
While your photos
are in the gallery, you can add a caption to the shots, or click on a
button below the "thumbnail" and a little "tooltip"
balloon appears telling you where the file is located on your hard drive.
Getting them out of the gallery is done by dragging and
camera is very similar in most ways, but it really knocked my socks off
when I unpacked it: it's barely one quarter the size of the Epson, a camera
I had thought was awfully compact to begin with!
The DC20 is
so small you can easily carry it in a shirt pocket - which means if you
bend down your $500 digital camera will quickly hit the ground with a
the size of the Kodak exacts a hefty price: you can only shoot 16 pictures
on low resolution and a miserly eight on high resolution. The camera defaults
to high res, too, and when I took it into the mountains to do some shooting
I was annoyed to find I'd scarcely begun when I was out of memory.
I guess that
shows you should read the manual
the thing warns you when it's about fed up: a little light near the viewfinder
flashes three times when there are three shots left, twice when you're
down to two shots, and once when your digital goose is cooked.
You could get
around this by downloading the pictures into your computer, erasing them
from the camera, and starting again, but what if your computer's at home
and you aren't?
Can you imagine
being limited to eight shots at a wedding or graduation? Better to stick
with low resolution whenever you can get away with the lesser quality
shots. And to be fair, the quality's good at both resolutions.
The Kodak takes
a single, three volt lithium cell, which should cost about ten dollars
to replace. Battery life is supposed to be much better than "AA"
alkalines. Good thing, too, because there's no AC adapter available for
the Kodak. Still, I was satisfied with how the battery lasted through
my experiments, though they were all too brief.
The DC20 is
even easier to use than the Epson. There are only three buttons (Power,
Shoot, and Erase), and they all fall easily under your right index finger.
The "Shoot" button is much larger than the other two, so there's
little danger of erasing your last shot when you're trying to take your
"PhotoEnhancer" software with the camera and it lets you manipulate
the image somewhat. It works well for a basic package and, like EasyPhoto,
is probably all a consumer will need.
You also get
two "bonus" applications: "Slides and Sounds" and
"Kai's Power Goo." The former is a "slide show" program
for displaying your handiwork. "Kai's Power Goo" is a cutesy
program that lets you add a few special effects, like smears and blurs.
Fortunately, it's included with the price of the camera, because I wouldn't
pay for it.
best for you depends on which features best suit your needs.
to have that extra serial port, or you'll be cussin' a-plenty!
are definitely the future of photography, and should become very popular,
Pity poor, old
tech Snow White, waiting patiently for her "prints" to come.
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