Sales of the filmless cameras are expected to outpace those of film cameras this year.
By TAMARA CHUANG
The Orange County Register
I, like thousands of other people, received a digital camera last Christmas.
My pictures turned out blurry, and I blamed the camera, a Nikon CoolPix 3500 with a trendy swivel lid. But reviewers were gushing.
So, I made it my quest to figure out what to look for in a digital camera and how to take a great picture. I tested four sub-$500 cameras from Nikon, Canon, Olympus and Toshiba, chosen because of price, pixel size and a manual configuration feature for amateurs who plan to one day move beyond automatic.
Through it all, I realized one thing: If you don’t know how to take a good picture, it doesn’t matter what camera you’re using.
First things first
According to InfoTrends Research Group, 20 percent of U.S. households have digital cameras, and sales this year are expected to outpace sales of film cameras for the first time.
No wonder. There’s no need to buy film or mess with loading it into a camera. You get instant gratification because you can see the photo right after you take it and delete it if you don’t like it. And you can easily burn photos to a CD or e-mail them to grandma.
Features to look for:
- Speed. One frustration is digital cameras don’t seem to take pictures fast enough. They, apparently, need time to figure out white balance, exposure and focus. “Lag time has been a problem with digital cameras, and it has not been overcome,” said Fred Lerner, president of Irvine-based Ritz Interactive, an online retailer of cameras and accessories at RitzCamera.com.
For those wanting a camera to document their child’s soccer games, Lerner recommends two things: Look for fast recycling time (the time a camera needs to set up each new shot) and fast shutter speed (the gizmo inside the camera that opens and closes to let light in.) Lower-priced cameras take a few seconds between each shot, while higher-end cameras, such as Canon’s $1,500 EOS 10D, offer 3 frames per second. For sports photography, shutter speeds of at least 1/1000 of a second are recommended. Or look for “burst” or “continuous” modes for taking multiple pictures simultaneously.
- Pixels. The more pixels a camera has, the more details it produces. It’s the difference between seeing someone’s eyes and seeing individual eyelashes. Megapixel refers to the tiny dots that form the picture. Today’s “sweet spot” is the 3-million-pixels-per-inch range, and the average price is $350, according to InfoTrends Research. But if you’re used to printing out 4-by-6-inch photos, you’ll be content with a 3-MP camera, says Ron White, author of “Click! The No Nonsense Guide to Digital Cameras.”The more pixels, the more you can enlarge a photo and still have it look great. Otherwise, a grainy, slightly out-of-focus photo results because pixels are stretching to fill the space. To get detail comparable to a 35-mm camera, however, you theoretically need an 11-MP camera, White says.
- Zoom is a nice feature. A three-times optical zoom is equivalent to a zoom of 37 mm to 111 mm in a 35-mm film camera. Anything more will likely bump the camera’s price above $500, although Olympus is pushing its new Camedia C-740, a camera with 10-times optical zoom, for $499.
DON’T, experts say, buy a camera because of its digital zoom feature. Digital zoom doesn’t add any quality to the photo but merely enlarges the pixels that already exist.
Tweaking with software
Don’t like those crow’s-feet around the eyes? Is the background lighting too bright? No problem. Free software included with most digital cameras helps you easily fix beady, red eyes, sharpen lines and brighten up photos with the click of the mouse.
Most cameras, photo printers and scanners include digital-editing software. But one standout is Adobe’s consumer version of its Photoshop software. The $99 Photoshop Elements 2.0 may not offer everything that the $600 professional version does, but my husband, an artist, had a hard time figuring out differences. You can “despeckle” an old photo to remove scratches. Or do digital plastic surgery by narrowing a nose or tinting lips a deeper shade of rose.
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