Digital cameras and summer fun

Robert Segura of MicroCenter gave an excellent overview of digital imaging last Friday at 'Coffee and Computers.' He emphasized the fun and excitement using this new "instant" form of photography. Shoot, edit and print all from your own computer.

Even after he finished, there seemed to be a lot of questions about how to get started with digital photography. You need to start with a digital camera.

There are lots of digital cameras available now. They come with many of the features of film cameras plus a lot of new things that are unique to digital. So, how does a person decide what to purchase?

Obviously, you have to look at how you are going to use the final images. Are you going to share them with family and friends via email? Do you want prints for an album? How about a few 8 x 10 prints for your wall?

You can do any of these things with modern digital cameras, computers and printers. The only question is cost.

Let's start with how digital cameras are rated. Digital cameras are rated in resolution units of "megapixels," where a "pixel" is a picture-element in the image. In a one-megapixel camera, the image has one million individual picture elements making up the image. A two-megapixel camera has twice as many picture elements, etc. You can see that the higher the megapixel rating, the sharper the final image. However, the higher the megapixel rating, the higher the cost of the camera.

How many pixels do you need? I have seen demonstrations of $2000 four million pixel cameras and $900 color printers produce prints suitable for hanging in a museum. I also have received many email pictures produced with one megapixel cameras that look just great on my computer screen. So technically, it all depends upon final use of the images. The more you pay, the more versatility.

Incidentally, do any of the digital cameras compare with photographic film cameras? Currently the answer is no. While there is no direct comparison between the resolution of film and that of digital cameras, film still can produce higher resolution images. I don't know if "National Geographic" has given up on Kodochrome 25 transparency film yet, but I wouldn't be surprised to find out that they have.

Are there other digital camera features of concern? Look for "optical" zoom lenses. This is like regular film cameras. The camera lens lets you move in closer or further away when taking a picture. The rule still is "fill the frame," get closeup for people and wide angle for scenery. Digital cameras have "electronic" zoom, but this just takes part of the picture and magnifies it. Electronic magnification decreases the resolution. Not a good solution.

Another important feature of digital cameras is how the images are stored in the camera. There are a number of competing methods and the choice just may be convenience. There are Compact Flash Cards, Smart Cards, Memory Sticks, diskettes and mini-compact disks.

Some cameras require you to take out one of these devices and put them into a reader on your computer. Other cameras have the ability to transfer directly from the camera to the computer via a USB cable. Some new color printers have slots into which the cards fit so you can shoot and print directly. Personally, I have no preference for storage device, just so I can get the picture from the camera to the computer conveniently.

Image format is another feature but most cameras have both full resolution image formats as well as the JPEG compression format. So this is not a concern.

Another feature of concern is battery power for the camera. It is recommended that your camera be able to operate from standard "AA" batteries. Even if the camera uses another type of battery, in an emergency, it is nice to be able to replace the camera battery with "AA" batteries that can be purchased anywhere.

Finally, there is the whole subject of computer image processing software, the link between camera and printer or Internet. This is a subject for the future. Robert mentioned a number of low cost, popular software items and you can visit him at MicroCenter for advice.

So, don't hesitate to try a digital camera. There is one out there for your needs.

If you have further questions about digital cameras, or other computer topics, visit "Coffee and Computers" at the Tustin Area Senior Center, 200 S. 'C' Street, any Friday morning starting at 9 a.m. Bring your questions or just come in and visit. Incidentally, I will be gone again June 22 and 29. However, I understand that the group still meets and tells computer and "sea" stories while I am away. See you again July 6.

In the mean time, keep the neurons happy, synapses snapping and enjoy computing.


Dr. Art Holub is a long time resident of Tustin and teaches computer and Internet courses at the Tustin Area Senior Center and the Tustin Adult School. Visit his web site at: This column is written to address the computer adventures and concerns of older adults. If you have comments, questions or suggestions for future columns, Email HIM at:

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