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HP Digital Camera C20

TechnoFILE's Digital Camera Buyers Guide

A Pixel's Worth a Thousand Words?

Conventional camera makers may shutter to think that digital photography is giving them a run for your money, but it's true. Digital cameras are hot - and deserve to be. They're fun, easy to use and give you instant results.

But what should you look for in one? Read on

Most manufacturers of computers, and film cameras have now embraced the digital photo medium, including Hewlett Packard, Canon, Kodak, Fujitsu, Apple, Sony, and Casio. Digital cameras don't use film, they record images onto memory bank - from little memory cards to floppy disks. Rather than run down to the drug store to have your prints developed, you merely transfer the shots to your computer, where they show up as image files you can use in desktop publishing or graphics programs - and you can e-mail them to friends and relatives.

Captured photos, can be edited to your heart's content; including changing the brightness, contrast and color balance, eliminating red-eye and removing zits faster than you can say "Clearasil." Most cameras come with software that lets you preview your pictures and download only the ones you want, as well as performing basic manipulation.

Digital cameras aren't cheap, but they save you money on film and developing, and (for those who use pics online) prevent the hassles and/or cost of scanning. Some models let you view the pictures you've taken on a built in LCD screen, so if you don't like the picture you've just taken, you can erase it and shoot again. This saves storage space in the camera and download time to your PC.

Digital pictures are fine for most applications, but if you need fine detail and true color for professional reproduction, a film camera - or a really high end (read "multiple thousand dollar) professional digital camera - is your best bet. Home/small business digital cameras cost up to about $1,000US, while the big time professional models run as high as $20,000. Digital cameras are also relatively slow in recording the image, compared with their film brethren, so they don't work well for action photography or times when you need to shoot quickly.

The quality of a digital camera depends on various parameters, including resolution, color depth, capacity, optics and convenience features. As usual, the more you want the more you'll have to pay.

Here are a few things to look for in your digital camera:

  • Resolution. The more pixels the camera can record, the larger the image and the finer the detail. Also the larger the file size and the fewer images you can store at once (and longer download times). Most of the relatively affordable digital cameras can record images at 640 by 480 resolution, which is the same resolution as many computer games and will yield a printed image of about 4-by-3-inches. Some cameras let you switch resolutions.
  • Color capability. The more colors a digital camera can reproduce, generally measured in "bit depth," the better your results. Bit depth determines how many digital ones and zeros the camera uses to record each pixel's color information. The better cameras handle 24-bit (up to 16 million) colors.
  • Picture Capacity. How many pictures your digital camera can take is governed by resolution and memory. Low-end cameras typically store between 16 and 40 pictures, though the actual number can also depend on the compression ratio you choose (if your camera allows such a thing). Most cameras come with snap-in memory modules you can exchange for additional storage, while Sony uses conventional floppy disks that, depending upon how many you bring with you, allow for virtually unlimited cheap storage: when you fill one, you can replace it with another. Memory cards aren't cheap, which makes Sony's floppy concept a great idea. The best cameras can store a hundred pictures or more and even record some sound to go with them
  • Optics. Lower end digital cameras have fixed-focus lenses that are more or less like those 35mm film "point and shoot" cameras. They're great for small groups or landscapes, but like their film cousins fall down on the really grand shots. Better models have zoom lenses ranging from wide-angle to short telephoto that can produce better portraits and landscapes.

Most cameras have a built-in automatic flash, which is nice.

A lovely convenience feature is the abovementioned liquid crystal display screen, which lets you second guess your work. On some models, the LCD takes the place of the viewfinder. This lets you see exactly what you're shooting, but tends to wash out in bright sunlight. Other cameras have an optical viewfinder and an LCD.

Good luck!


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January 31, 2006