Digital Camcorder Reviews

If you don't have a digital camera and are trying to decide whether to buy one, you've got some thinking to do. To be honest, digital photography is still not as good in many ways as traditional film photography. However, it's only when large prints or very high image quality are important that affordable digital cameras suffer by comparison.

It's interesting to reflect back that image quality has not historically been the determining factor in which photographic process becomes most popular. The superb image quality of the daguerreotype was superceded first by the much inferior ambrotype and then by the even worse tintype. Over the history of photography, photographers have shown a willingness to forgo some quality for cheaper, easier processes. However, in the digital arena, what often appears to be inferior is really just different. An 8 x 10 color print from an inexpensive ink-jet printer may not look quite as good as an 8 x 10 print made at a leading photo lab, but it has its own charm and is much better than mass market enlargements. Any differences are not drawbacks, but opportunities to be artistically exploited.

 Click to return to top of page The curse of Moore's Law

Anyone who has bought a computer knows the perennial questions, "Is now the time to buy, or would it be better to wait?" As the ability to put more and more transistors on a chip increases, the cost per unit of computing power falls. In 1965 Gordon Moore, one of the founders of Intel Corporation, predicted that the density of transistors on a chip would double every year and a half. His prediction, known as Moore's Law, has turned out to be very accurate. In 25 years, the number of transistors on a chip has increased from 2,300 on the 4004 in 1971 to 28 million on the Pentium III Xeon processor in 1999. At this rate, Intel chips will contain 50-100 million chips by the year 2000 and will be able to execute 2 billion instructions per second.

Moore's Law drives innovation forward at a disturbing rate. In this environment it's only natural to think you should wait to buy a digital device because in six months you'll get much more for your money-and you're right! The problem is that you can use this rationale to delay a purchase for years, and even decades. New and improved models will always be six months away. In the computer world, power users buy their computers when they need them, knowing full-well that they'll pass them on in a few years and replace them with newer models. If you're really serious about photography, you may have to shed your old willingness to invest in a new camera system every decade or two and replace it with a 2-3 year time frame.

 Click to return to top of page The pros and cons of digital photography

Probably the biggest question of all is whether you want to buy a digital camera at all. There are pros and cons to the decision and you don't need a digital camera for digital imaging. You can always use a standard film camera and have selected slides or negatives scanned at your local photofinisher. Here's a table that weighs the pros and cons of each approach.

Point to Consider Digital Camera Scanned Film
Immediacy Images are instantly available Images are available only after the roll is finished and processed
Resolution Resolution (detail) is low compared to film. Even digital cameras with over 1 million pixels are only great for 4 x 6 prints and good for 8 x 10s. Excellent, many times higher than digital cameras. You can make 16 x 20-inch prints from 35 mm film if you shoot with a tripod.
Storage Magnetic or optical media adds to total image costs. Negatives and slides are self storing, but slides must be put in sheet holders for protection, convenience, and ease of use.
Longevity Storage media may not be readable in the future as formats and devices change. Prints are not as stable as silver-based prints. Slides and prints can always be viewed without devices; and slides, negatives, and prints should easily last a century or more.
Cost Film and processing cost is eliminated so you can shoot at no cost. However, costs are incurred when you store or print. Battery costs will also be a factor over the life of the camera. Film must be both purchased and processed. However, at that point there are no additional costs unless you want additional prints or enlargements.
Creative Controls All but the most expensive consumer level digital cameras lack all of the controls found on the least expensive SLR cameras. Choice of lenses is very limited. Professional level controls are found on even the cheapest 35 mm SLR. There is also an extensive choice of lenses for most models.

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