Not so long ago, digital cameras were too expensive and complicated for the average family photo taker. But now decent, everyday digital cameras start at about $200. Quality is right in line with standard-film cameras, and there’s no better way to impress the family than by e-mailing cute-kid pictures or popping reunion snapshots up on your Web site. If you’re considering a digital camera, here’s what to look for:
- PC or Mac? While some digital-camera software is both Macintosh and PC compatible, that’s not always the case. Before you buy, make sure the digital camera you choose will sync up with your home computer.
- Resolution: Digital-camera images are measured in pixels, and the highest-quality photos are those with “megapixel resolution”—resolution in the thousands. For example, a resolution of 1,024 by 768 pixels is much better than standard 640 by 480 pixels. When shopping, always go for more pixels (but remember that more pixels means your storage medium—floppy disk, flash-memory card or whatever—will fill up faster).
- Image storage: Make sure the digital camera you buy stores pictures in a manner that’s convenient for you. The least-expensive cameras have no storage capacity, meaning you must download your images right away either onto your computer hard drive or a disk. More expensive cameras let you store images on a memory card or on floppy disk; when it’s full, you just pop in a new one.
- Camera capacity: Before you buy, see how many photos your camera can store at high-compression and minimum resolution. An 8MB card is ideal, and you probably shouldn’t go lower than 4MB.
Five popular digital cameras
This list is by no means comprehensive, but it includes a range of suggested prices:
Argus Digital Camera DC2000, $149.95
Samsung Digimax 800K, $299.95
Fuji MX-500, $374
Nikon Digital Coolpix800, $599
Sony Mavica MVCFD90, $899.95
It’s OK to be enchanted with technology, but don’t totally give up on negatives and prints. Remember that digital photographs printed out on your computer aren’t actual photographs. They’re ink images printed on paper, and ink and paper are subject to fading over time. (Since “real” photographs are processed with a bleach “fixer” and image stabilizer, they last “forever.”)
Also, if you’re not disciplined about burning your digital images onto CDs, you’ll lose your photos forever if your computer crashes.
So while it’s fun to go digital, you might also consider backing up your particularly important photo moments with “old-fashioned” film and negatives. Better safe than sorry.