2004-07-18

Digital photo printing

Megapixels
This is a big hobby horse of mine. Well, photography is a hobby of mine, but the horse I ride is about people insisting that they have a huge number of megapixels. I looked carefully at the pros and cons before purchasing and have been ever so happy with my decision to stay with the lower megapixel camera but better optics and better reviews. The same sort of reasoning would apply today although you'd be looking at the other features on offer.

I have a 1.3 Megapixel camera. I have printed A4 size with excellent results, far better than I thought, and recently I printed A3, I really didn't think I would get as good a result as I did. The resolution of the image is 1280x960 and printing on 42cmx30cm which is about 80dpi once you allow for border ... and the print looks great. Only cost $6 too. I had a 4 Megapixel image printed up too, I was just as pleased. I have yet to go over it with a magnifying glass, but nobody I have shown so far can pick which has the higher resolution source image.
Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

The 4 Megapixel image was 1.3MB, the 1.3Megapixel image was 0.3MB. My 256Meg card can store 700 images (1.3MP) at fine resolution. The 128Meg MMC card for the 4MP camera could only store around 90. When I go away on holidays I take about 8-10 rolls of 36 exposure film on average. So the 4Megapixel camera wouldn't cut it. I would have to buy one of those external hard drive downloaders, or take a laptop. Plus my hard drive would fill up 4x as fast.

The obvious solution is to set your 4MP camera to low resolution, which is exactly what I do. You have the advantage of setting to higher resolution whenever you really want / need it. Most cameras behave better at lower resolution settings too, they have more light per pixel to play with. And light *is* the image.

Most of my images are for screen viewing or web or emailing. My screen is only 1280x960, the highest resolution on my 1.3MP camera. Any bigger and the viewing programs would just resize it anyways. For web, the best I want is usaully 640x480, so some scaling down there, and the same for emailing, I would NOT make friends by sending 4MP files and gumming up email accounts. Like some of them do to me. Bastards.

There are other way more important numbers that you want to look at in a camera. You can't get 1.3MP cameras anymore (unless they are built into a mobile phone ... in which case they are probably CMOS and have a horde of other lense related problems), but if you want to save money then the easiest way is to reject the "supersize me" mentality on megapixels. YOU DON'T NEED IT!

Once you get an idea of the things you are looking for then check DPReview (www.dpreview.com) for an excellent guide on the various numbers. You should also check eBay if you're game, plenty of bargains - just make sure you are getting the full pack - because sometimes they leave things out to make it cheaper (Like the lense on the Canon Digital Rebel). Also Google around for online camera stores for the make model camera you want.

Video
Still image digital cameras have video, and if you're going to go that route, and damnit - I would, then you had better get one with sound - or what is the point? People gripe about cameras only being able to take 20 seconds at a time. Me - I think this is a great idea. You want to make a real video then get a video recorder. But for most people - nobody wants to see you pan around for 5 minutes occasionally zooming in and out. Think about the scene, take the clip and move on. Nobody wants to watch your stuff anyway.

Start up time
Start up time is kind of important. Some cameras just take way too long and if you are after a snap of an incident in progress ... long start up times can ruin you.

Delay to shoot
The time taken from your press down on the button to the actual image being captured is VERY important. Many cameras out there just don't cut it. You want a car going across your view, you see the car, press the button ... wait ... click - car long gone.

Zoom
Yeah, optical zoom is the best, BUT the amount of zoom out (wide angle) is absolutely critical. This is usually measured in the 35mm equivalent, but some stores / ads don't use that. Forget all them, check DPReview. Digital cameras usually can only zoom out to 35, the best ones go to 28. The lower the number the better. Any camera with it's widest zoom > 35 is complete rubbish and should be avoided.

Why don't I worry about "zoom in"? 3x is plenty good enough. I don't even like going that far. The more you zoom in the more you are prone to movement blur from shaking the camera, less light is getting onto your CCD making it darker or lengthening the exposure (even more prone to shake blur), the more issues there are with lense aberations. Forget it. Just walk closer to the subject. Walking back is the hard bit, regularly cannot be done because of walls, cliffs, gardens, roads!

Macro
Lesser importance, but one that I use moderately often is the macro zoom. You should be able to change the camera into a macro mode and get extremely close to what you want to capture. Some cameras only get you 40cm to the subject, some will let you get 1cm! This is awesome for taking shots of flowers, bugs, and small items for insurance / eBay.

Battery life
Oh yeah, if you get the wrong camera, say from Minolta, then you can be really chewing through the batteries - like a set every 10 shots. You get the right camera and put it in the right mode, you can get > 200 shots without needing a change your precious power mechanism. The only way I have seen to find this information out is to check the user feedback on DPReview or talk to someone who has one. Don't trust salesmen unless you get them to write down what they say on paper and sign it.

Memory card type
Compact Flash is everywhere and really popular but the SD/MMC is newer smaller and fast gaining acceptance. Whatever you do, avoid like the plague anything that takes proprietary memory, like MEMORY STICK (evil evil evil) meaning that you are stuck with one company for memory supply and they will charge what they want, and they always want more than you want to pay.

Also check out:
Buying a camera
Photo printing
Camera Comparison
DPReview
Lunar photography

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