One of the fantastic things about the modern computing world is that Digital Cameras are here to stay. Once the exclusive domain of professional photographers, the technology and manufacturing has advanced to such a level that even the higher resolution models have become affordable for most consumers. Storage media densities have increased while prices have come down, meaning you can fit hundreds of pictures on a single $60 memory card. Compact Flash, Smart Media and now Mini-CD have all helped bring the joys of digital photography to the masses, and I’m astonished by the speed of the advances.
Back in the day, I opted for one of the more advanced cameras, the Olympus D-360L. Yes, it is a paltry 1.3 megapixels and has no optical zoom, and yes, it has a slow serial connection and eats batteries like crazy when the LCD is on, but it has been a good, reliable camera. The trusty 8 megabyte Smart Media card has served me well, allowing 18 Super High Quality (SHQ) images to be captured in their full 1280x960 glory. The 4:3 ratio matches the ratio on the computer screen, so pictures are easy to work with in a photo editor while maintaining the proper aspect ratio at all times. The included flash works wonders for internal photography in particular. However, as nice as this camera has been for me to have, it pales in comparison to what is out there now.
One of the knocks that digital cameras have taken is that they are not up to par with the quality of 35mm film prints. This has been, and still is the case. According to my research, when digital cameras hit the 8 megapixel mark, they should absolutely match and possibly exceed 35mm print quality. Currently, the market is pushing past 5 megapixels and heading to 6, so in another year, we should reach the magic mark of 8 megapixels. This means you will have no quality loss in switching from 35mm film to digital media, provided all other things are equal.
What are these other things? Well, the lens, the flash and all of the nifty F-Stop / Exposure settings, to name a few. Capture speed can also play a part, as can compression settings and their adjustability. It is likely that the higher-end digital cameras will have all the features you need to get great shots, and even the lower-end models should do a pretty darn good job.
One feature that I lament not having is an actual Optical Zoom. I have a digital zoom, but all that does is “blow up” the image digitally, pixellating it. Optical Zoom does not use interpolation, but actually uses the lens to zoom in on the object you are taking a picture of. The difference is noticeable in almost all circumstances, so if you have the chance to get Optical instead of Digital, I’d recommend paying the extra money for it.
Another impressive advance in technology comes in the area of printers. With six color printing at 2880x720 on photo paper, you can get incredible images on Epson printers with an entry price of $100-$150. While HP, Canon and Lexmark are still major players, it really looks like Epson has this photo-printer thing figured out. Their newer models even have a color matching technology, now referred to as P.I.M (Print Image Matching), built right in. This technology, when implemented in both the printer and camera, allows for direct communication of color information between the two devices. Color balancing, tone, shading and sharpness can all be automatically sent from the camera to the printer for each digital image. Each print can automatically be optimized for varying light conditions, color saturation and a whole lot more. While modern software like PhotoShop and Paint Shop Pro do a great job of compensating for variances, it is a whole lot easier to have the camera and printer talk to each other directly via the header embedded in each image. These advances are pretty darn exciting if you ask me.