Making the Transition to Digital Photography (Part One)

About a year ago, when I contemplated a total conversion from conventional media (film-based photographs, audio CDs, and analog camcorder) to digital media (digital photography, music, and video), I knew that my first step had to be photography. I'm the father of a 3-year-old boy, and pictures are very important to me. My wife and I document even the smallest things our son does because we know he'll appreciate that effort when he's older. But buying film, developing pictures, scanning images into the computer for my son's Web site, and managing all those paper-based photographs is a mess. If there's any digital-media task that makes sense on the PC, it has to be digital photography. Let's look at the issues you should consider when you make the move to digital photography.

Choosing a camera

The first step is choosing the right camera. Look for a camera that can create 2.1 megapixel (MPX) or higher images. MPX refers to an image's resolution. On a PC, we think in terms of X and Y coordinates, such as a 1024 x 768 resolution screen. To make digital photography terminology more understandable to consumers, the camera industry settled on the MPX term. So a 2.1MPX camera can create an image that's about 1792 x 1200 resolution (2,150,400 pixels); a 3.1MPX camera creates an image that's about 2160 x 1440 resolution (3,110,400 pixels).

A more important consideration is print size. You can send your digital photographs to Internet-based photo services if you want traditional paper-based prints, which is nice. But your camera's resolution limits your ability to enlarge these prints past 5 x 7. As a rule of thumb, a 2.1MPX camera can generate high-quality 8 x 10 enlargements and a 3.1MPX camera can produce 11 x 17 enlargements. So, depending on your needs, you might be able to save money by purchasing a lower-end camera if you don't need to make enlargements. Last summer, I purchased a nice 2.1MPX camera; if I wanted to purchase one this year, I'd buy a 3.1MPX model. But the quality of the prints you can make from just about any digital camera is astonishing, and you only have to print the pictures you want, not the entire collection as you do with paper-based photography.

Cameras support different types of storage media, which might influence your purchasing decision. For example, Sony cameras use expensive and hard-to-find MemoryStick storage. The Kodak camera I purchased uses COMPACTFLASH storage, which is far less expensive and easier to find. I purchased two 32MB storage cards; each card gives me 44 pictures at the highest resolution. And with prices coming down all the time, 64MB and 128MB cards are well within most people's budgets, so you don't have to worry about running out of storage space when you're on vacation.

Although you'll want to consider other features, I prefer the point-and-click style cameras. I've found that I usually leave the camera on the same setting and just take pictures without ever really fiddling with it. I suspect most people would use a digital camera the same way. Buy the camera that has the features you want at the lowest price and use a service such as Consumer Reports to find recommended models.

In the next issue of Connected Home EXPRESS, I'll look at the computer and OS issues surrounding digital photography and examine how to acquire digital photographs and copy them to your PC.

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