07 January 2006

Digital Camera Diatribe

For all the advances in digital photography, the
objectives haven't changed much: make the picture quality equal or
surpass film, and shrink the cameras as much as possible. Progress has
been measured in megapixels of resolution, optical zoom levels, and
storage capacity.



In their quest to duplicate
film camera functionality, digital camera manufacturers haven't taken
advantage of digital capabilities to truly differentiate new products.
This is recognized, however. Yesterday Kodak's CEO Antonio Perez noted
they've been too focused on swapping "silicon for silver."



Slowly,
however, gee-whiz features are creeping into cameras. Last year Kodak
introduced the EasyShare-One, which uses an included Wi-Fi radio to
send pictures from the camera to either a computer on the home network
or Kodak's online EasyShare Gallery. This year Kodak's big CES
announcement was the V570, dubbed as the first dual-lense digital still
camera in the market. One lense is a nice 3x optical zoom (39mm-117mm,
and the other is a 23mm wide angle lens. That wide-angle lens works
with onboard software to take nifty panoramic photos.



Let's
say you're trying to capture a wide scene. Using most cameras, you'd
start on one side (say the left), snap the first picture, locate an
object on the right side of the viewer (maybe a blue house), then
slowly turn your body to the right until that blue house is on the left
side of your viewer. Snap picture number two. Lather, rinse, and repeat
until the entire scene is captured across multiple images. Hopefully
software on your computer can help you crop and stitch the images into
one photo.



The V570, however, simplifies this
process, by previewing that "blue house" on the LCD, then using onboard
software to stitch together what you missed. It'll also adjust lighting
and combine edges to give the finished image a smooth look.



But
this isn't the leap ahead we expect. Hopefully over the next few years
camera manufacturers will declare a truce in the megapixel war and
focus on features.



By the way, I'm often
asked what to look for in digital cameras. I suggest you buy the
smallest one that fits your budget, as a snazzy camera is useless if
it's not handy. Try to get one with an old-fashioned viewing window, so
you can frame pictures when the LCD is washed out by direct sunlight or
the batteries are running low. Make sure the memory card works with
your other devices (my camera, MP3 players, and Smartphone all use SD
cards; the PSP, alas, uses a MemoryStick Pro Duo. Blast you, Sony!).
And take the time to learn an application that eases transferring the
photos into your computer, editing, and sharing. I highly recommend
Google's free Picasa.

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