Digital Cameras

The Range of Digital Cameras is absolutely wonderful.

Digital Cameras can be a real treat to use and a very useful tool. However, if you are not careful, just like a regular camera, you can be very disappointed with the results. With digital cameras, often what you pay for is what you get. Expect to spend a lot of money for a good camera and I would advise avoiding the cheaper ones. So lets start real quickly by asking, how much is how much. To me, anything less than $200 for a camera will give you questionable results, poor images, and be dissapointing.

Things to look for:

Pixel size captured and of the camera. Make sure the camera captures at a high enough resolution for what you are shooting for. If it is for simple screen displays such as your computer or the internet, you only need a picture that is 90 dpi and the lower settings of 640x480 probably will do just fine. For Printing, you want as high a capture resolution as you can get. but you know, my recommendation would be to take every picture at the best possible resolution. when I go out to take pictures, I never know which one really turns out well and I want a good print of it. If you haven’t taken the plunge yet with a digital camera, there are a few things you should be thinking about. Image size and resolution counts for nearly everything. You will see cameras talking about the size of the image they capture in mega pixels but that really doesn’t tell you until you dig a little deeper as to how many pixels are in the image you just took a picture of. You have to look at the camera settings.

Cameras talk about the CCD (Charged Coupled Device) as how they capture pixels. For most manufacturers, what they advertise is what you actually get. But beware, there are several companies that tell you that you will get say 6 megapixels on the camera but they use software or internal tinkering to get you there. Read the fine print. So what print size or pixel size will get you the print that is hard to distinguish from a "real" photograph?  It depends on what size print you want. 1 Million pixels (a megapixel) will do a good job to give you a 3x5 print. You have to do the math so bear with me. From what the experts say, most printers do a very good job with an image if you set the resolution at between 200 and 300 dpi (dots per inch) which is about the same as pixels. So to get a 3x5 inch print, you will need around 1500x900 pixels. The following table gives you an idea of the picture sizes available from different megapixel sizes if I use an average of 250dpi.

Camera Image
Print Size in inches
1.3 1280 x 1024 5.1 x 4.1
2.1 1600 x 1208 6.4 x 4.8
3.3 1984 x 1488 7.9 x 5.9
4.1 2288 x 1712 9.1 x 6.9
5.2 2560 x 1920 10.2 x 7.7

Let me tell you first of all, I have made some very good prints at 8x10 using a two megapixel camera but also I had a very good camera to use, used a tripod or stand, and had good lighting to work with. You can probably get a good 11x14 out of a 4 megapixel camera but you might be pushing it. Of course, the funny part of it all is that for web sites, if your image is more than 200x200 pixels, it is a large image! In fact, to email someone a picture, you probably send it at 640x480 pixels in size or less. Please don't get confused as in this part of the discussion, we are talking about total pixels without any regard to dots per inch that will be needed when printing the image out. Total pixels is really a matter of how that image looks on your screen and for more reading material on that, look at my article on how to buy a scanner. One quick note is that if you have a camera and want to email a picture to someone, first make sure it is saved in the .jpg file format. 2nd is to check the file size and make sure it is no larger than 50K. If you go into control panel and look at display settings, you will see numbers like 1024x768 if you are using a large monitor or a flat panel screen, or maybe 800x600 for a 15 or 17 inch monitor. A picture that is 400 pixels wide would take up to one half of the 800x600 screen while it is pretty small on my own system.

Some things to watch out for. Most cameras capture images in the .jpg format. .JPG is a very commonly used image format that has a few limitations you need to know. First, it is a compressed image format. In other words, in order to create smaller file sizes, the software looks at the image and takes away pixels that it doesn’t think it needs. Think of this for a minute. It takes away and discards the pixels it thinks you don't need. If you decide later that you want to expand the picture for a larger print, you can't get them back. The good news is that it really reduces the amount of data you need to email across the internet. For instance, The Olympus C3020 camera is a 3.2 megapixel camera and takes a picture that is 2048 pixels by 1536 pixels in size. A file that size in .TIF format takes around 6MB of space while the same file in .JPG format takes only 500K. That is less than 10 percent. That is because of the huge amount of compression that takes place in the file.

These .jpg images look great on the screen because of the low dpi (dots per inch) that you view an image but not so well when you print them. So you need to consider what you will be using that picture for. If just to email and view on a screen, then by all means use .jpg. If you will think of printing or enlarging the image, then you must use a file format that doesn’t lose any of the pixels like .tif.

Lenses make as big difference on a digital camera as they do on the traditional still cameras. I have seen some that take really terrible pictures and the only real difference is the lens so it pays to stick to name brand cameras like Nikon, Olympus, Kodak and some others. You want a camera that can handle different memory sizes as well and preferably, using either the Secure Digital or CompactFlash memory cards. Large resolution pictures take up a lot of memory and with these cards, you can eat up that Memory in a real hurry.

See if the camera stores images in a common file format like .tiff or a very low compression .jpg so that you don't need to use conversion software to handle your images.

Taking pictures will be a problem for a couple of reasons. Some digital cameras take upwards of 12 seconds to transfer the images from the CCD to the camera's internal memory. Expect delays. Also, if you use the flash or the onboard LCD screen to look at your pictures a lot, you will use batteries like never before. Get the rechargeable batteries for best life.

I prefer to use a USB card reader that allows me to directly transfer the images from the camera to the computer without having to use transfer software. Very fast and efficient. The good news is that most new cameras come with a USB Connection and cable with the camera and if you are running Windows XP on your computer, you can just plug the camera into the computer and it comes up looking like another disk drive.

The other thing you will need when dealing with electronic images is a good image editing program and I can recommend either Corel's Paint Shop Pro or Adobe’s Photoshop Elements, both are less than $100. Either of these programs will let you take that digital image and resize it for printing and viewing or emailing. If I go back to that image that was captured at 2048x1536, on a computer monitor, it will look like it is 22 inches wide! And depending on the software, who knows what it will turn out printed. There is so much to learn and do. So, what to buy ?? Good quesion and you have to look them over, hit the superstore and get your hands on them because you have to feel comfortable using it. Best bets would be Nikon, Panasonic, Olympus, Canon, and Kodak.

Memory and More memory.

Let me count the ways. This is getting silly. There are now at least a dozen acceptable memory card formats and sizes out there to get confused with. The most common used are CF, SD, XD, and the Memory Stick. As I think about it, there are even newer versions of these coming out with higher speeds and more storage capacity. Get good name brand memory cards, I have had to return several no names as they stop working and worse yet, are much slower in recording the picture as some of the good names like Lexar, Sandisk, & Kingston. Also, get the faster cards. Speed does make quite a difference.

Secure Digital (SD)

Probably the most common now yet another size but this comes with a write protect feature to save what is written. Highly secured, the size of a postage stamp at 24x32x2mm and weighs 2 grams. See it in cell phones, lots of digital cameras, and other small unit devices. High transfer rates nearly 4X over MMC and low power consumption. 1 Gigabyte for around $30.

XD Picture Card

An even smaller version of the SD Memory card featuring a high speed throughput for writing images. The size is 25x20x2mmMemory sizes range from 64 - 512mb. Developed in 2002 by Olympus and Fuji, not much used right now.

Compact Flash (CF)

One of the most widely used today and used in Digital Cameras, PDAs, and MP3 Players to name a few. Comes in two flavors, 3.3v and 5v. Be careful which camera uses which one. Also comes in three sizes, Type I, (43x36x3.3mm) Type II (43x36x5mm), and oversized like the IBM Microdrives. PCMCIA-ATA functional specs as well. You will also see “Ultra” CF Cards that have higher transfer rates. Size of a matchbook and weighs ½ ounce. 1Gigabyte for $30.

Smart Media (SM)

Benefits are they are very small and very thin. Problem is that they are very small and very thin. Low power consumption and high speed transfer rates. Also easy to lose, the size is 45x37x1mm and weigh 1.8 grams. Don't see these much anymore.

Memory Stick

First developed by Sony for their devices. Odd shaped but high capacity and high transfer rates. Size is 22x50x3mm. Pricing now is pretty comparable to the SD Cards.

Mini SD Card

The smaller version of the SD Memory card about 60% smaller.  Mostly for MP3 players and GPS Devices

MultiMedia Card (MMC)

The same size as a SD card and in fact, the first generation. Probably identical without the cryptographic security features. Designed for cam-corders, cell phones, GPS systems, and portable music systems. Don't see many of these either.

Memory Gate Memory Stick & Memory Stick Duo.

Yet another memory stick derivative.

Resources for Digital Cameras:

Best Digital Photography

The Photo Forum at Detailed comparisons of cameras.

The Digital Camera Resource Page

Digital Camera Magazine

Digital Photography Review

Return to Sansoft LLC Home Page

Email Robert Sanborn at: 

Copyright 2009 Sanborn Software Systems LLC
This Page Last Updated: November 22, 2009 .