by Mike Exner

Last week I picked up a new toy: The Canon D30 digital camera. I am having a lot of fun taking pictures. This camera is just awesome in what it can do and the quality of images is unreal. If you’re serious about taking pictures and have the means then this is the camera that I recommend.

Going from a fixed lens digital to a true SLR digital camera is a mind blowing event. I can use my EOS 630 lens with the D30 so I didn’t have to make the huge investment in lens that some might and now I no longer have to wait to get high quality prints as I can do it fast and easy at home.

Picture Perfect
Take a look at the image of my daughter Theresa below for an example of the sort of images this camera can create. The image you’re viewing in JPG web format is 19kb. In its original camera format the image is over 2 MB! Even with the massive JPeg compression the color saturation, clarity and depth is remarkable and the loss of image quality is minimal.

Now before you hop out and get the Canon D30, you need to know it retails for $3,000 but you can get it on line if you look around for around $1,800. I’ll tell you a bit of what to expect here along with my recommendations on some other good digital cameras.

Lenses
This cost mentioned so far is for the body of the camera only and doesn’t include lens. Decent lenses for this camera can run from $100 to $10,000 dollars depending on what your looking to do. I would suggest a decent midrange zoom lens as a starting point. Say a 28-105mm F4-5.6 lens. Costs depending on brand from $200 to $400 dollars. Mine is a sigma lens which you should be able to find for around $200. I have five lenses for mine:

28mm f1.8
50mm f1.8
100mm f2.0
28-105mm F4-5.6
500mm f8 (mirror optics)

The lower the f stop the more light that can get through the lens and the less flash, if any, is needed, and the more the lenses cost. For example a 28-105mm f3.5-4.5 will cost you about $400 as compared to $200 for the lens above that I mentioned.

The Lower End
We’ve talked enough about the high end stuff. If you are looking for a decent point and click digital camera then I would suggest any of the following:

Kodak DC4800 3 megapixel average about $500
Olympus C-3040 3 megapixel average about $700
Canon G1 3 megapixel average about $800

The 3 megapixal cameras will all produce images than can be printed at fairly large sizes with near film like results. You can easily produce and 8×10 inch print that rivals the quality from traditional sources and with a little skill in the digital darkroom, you can even make 11×17 inch enlargements.

If you want a small easy to use fairly inexpensive digital camera that has a lot of nice features then I would suggest this one:

Olympus D-490 2 megapixel average about $400

The “glamour” camera of the last few years has been the Canon Elph series… first introduced as an APS film camera, it was the first really small and elegant “pocket” digital camera. The latest offering in this series is the Canon S300, which measures a mere 3.7 x 2.5 x 1.2 inches and sells for about $599… a little on the high side for a 2.1 megapixel unit, but a real beauty. If you are interested in last year’s model, the S100 (same camera except that it has only 2x zoom as opposed to 3x), you will find closeouts in the $375 range.

Print At Home
The printer that I use is the HP1100 which is one fine printer and is very inexpensive. Low priced, high quality printers that are dedicated (or primarily) photo printers are readily available from Epson, HP, Canon and Kodak. These full sized printers generally print up to full letter sized prints. The main difference in prices at this end of the market is the speed at which a full page color photo will print. If you’re willing to wait a few minutes, you can save several hundred dollars from the price of the top of the line ink jet printers.

Another category that is increasingly popular with home photo buffs is the small thermal dye transfer “snap shot” printer. The prints are all one size (usually 4×6) but they are FANTASTIC quality and print relatively quickly (from 70-120 seconds). You can take the memory right from the camera, view the image on your TV screen and print it from the camera memory in these little gems. Of course, if you didn’t take the perfect picture and you want to improve it with one of the many software applications (prices from free to thousands of dollars), you will have to get the image into your computer and then print from the computer. These printers work just like your Deskjet in that case.

To find out more about digital cameras a good place to start is C|net.com:

http://cnet.com/hardware/0-1078.html?tag=dir

Click on the popular cameras link at the top of the page.

C|Net have reviews of the top cameras as well as pricing and links to places you can buy the camera you choose. When buying a camera make sure you call first and ask two basic questions:

1. What is the final price (shipping, insurance, ect..)
2. Does the camera have a US warranty

Many places will sell the camera real cheap but charge lots for shipping and/or insurance. To ship and insure a camera should only cost about $30.

As to the warranty a lot of places are selling Japan, European, etc. cameras that do not have a U.S. warranty which means that if you have a problem you would have to either pay to get it fixed or send it to an overseas repair center.

Most of the popular brands have enough followers that they have established communities on the web. Discussion forums on even individual camera models are not uncommon (for example, there are several discussion groups on the Nikon D1) as well as “brand forums” such as the Nikonian site that deals with all facets of the “Nikon” experience… cameras, lenses, flash, etc. A Google search on “Canon forum” brought me to several interesting Canon discussion groups on just the first page of listings.

Conclusion
The final word of advice would be to think a little bit about what you are going TO DO WITH THE CAMERA before you start shopping based on price alone. If you use it only sparingly and don’t mind a strap around your neck, then one of the larger cameras may well have a feature or two that you find important. If you want to “carry it everywhere” size and weight count. The digital camera is no different from the film camera… if you don’t use it, it doesn’t take great pictures… if it doesn’t have the features you personally need, it wasn’t such a great bargain… if you bought one that is more complex than you will ever master, you wasted some money and probably wound up intimidated by your camera. Buy the one that does what you want to do… if you grow out of it, so be it… time to take advantage of improved technology by then anyhow.