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August 2000, Week 3 -- Getting Personal: Picking a Digital Camera.

 

 

   One of the most common reader requests is for advice on purchasing a digital camera. They're a big hit with consumers, and were initially an even bigger hit with businesses.

   The cameras are handy for snapshots but even handier as a quick and easy way to add illustrations to sales brochures and operating manuals.  There are numerous articles on the subject in computer and photography magazines that go into the features of dozens of digital cameras at great length. But just like choosing a computer, the final selection is not obvious. For the short side, I pass along my own thinking on the matter.

 

   After considering many models I bought a Panasonic "PalmCam" for $800. It did not have the best resolution; for that you should look to Olympus or Nikon. It did not have the best zoom lens; Nikon again. It did not have the highest storage capacity; the Casio, with a 435 MB (megabyte) IBM hard drive took those honors. What it did have was a built-in Imation SuperDisk drive, which takes a 120 MB disk. Other features were similar to other cameras in its price range.

 

   Image resolution is measured in pixels -- dots in the image. High resolution images these days run 2-3 megapixels (millions of pixels). Digital camera companies heavily promote these megapixel counts because they know that's what buyers usually look for.

 
Floppy Disk Compatible

   As a practical matter, however, there is little call for taking digital pictures at such high resolutions. The image files are too large to send over the Internet except at great time and expense. The person receiving such a file may have to tie up their computer for the better part of an hour to download one picture, impractical except for special purposes. If you want a really high resolution image you are still best off using film. An ordinary 35mm slide would have an equivalent pixel count of around 16 million.

 

   High resolution pictures with digital cameras have other problems. Most digital cameras use flash memory cards, typically 8MB. At high resolution these cards will hold only two or three pictures. Larger capacity cards are expensive. A 120 MB Imation disk on the other hand is cheap and can hold nearly 100 pictures at the PalmCam's highest resolution of 1.3 megapixels. At medium resolution it will hold 400-500 pictures.

 

   Storage capacity was more important to me than megapixel image size. Having 400 images lets you select the best ones. We already have Imation drives attached to our computers and can simply take the disk out of the camera and pop it in for browsing and editing. For computers without such drives attached, the camera itself acts as an Imation disk drive. Since the disks are cheap, they don't have to be erased and re-used, but can be labeled and shelved to serve as digital albums.

 

   Like selecting a computer, it all boils down to what features of the equipment are most useful to you. For myself, high storage capacity was more useful than high resolution; if I need a high resolution image I'll use film. Kodak, by the way, will transfer such images to a CD for a small charge.

 

A hard drive for your pocket

 Digital Wallet

 

   The most interesting new gadget we've seen in many moons is the "Digital Wallet" from Minds@Work.

   The name is somewhat misleading, because it has nothing to do with credit cards or setting up spending accounts online, it's a six gigabyte hard drive. The device weighs 13 ounces (370 grams) and measures 5.25 x 3.75 x 1.25 inches (135 x 95 x 32 millimeters). It would fit in most men's shirt pockets and easily fit into a jacket pocket.

 

   Six gigabytes is a lot of storage. You could transfer the entire contents of a typical computer to the Digital Wallet. Or, you could store about 3,000 high resolution digital pictures.

 

   The Digital Wallet is designed to work with Windows 98 or 2000, but has its own processor and operating system: Motorola's "ColdFire" processor and "Digital DNA" system. This means it can also work without being connected to a computer and can transfer files to almost any device able to accept a USB (universal serial bus) connector, or equivalent adapter. The device can also read flash memory cards.

 

   List price for the battery powered Digital Wallet is $500. Phone information: 800-459-5799 or 949-707-0600; web: www.mindsatwork.com.

 

Internuts: It's a game of inches

-- www.sportscliche.com You're a new sports writer on the paper and worried about your first story. Why not use the cliches that more experienced writers have used for years? It's a whole new ball game. It's all over but the shouting. The fans are going wild. This could get ugly.

-- www.fastball.com/foulpole/quotes Great quotes from baseball coaches and players, like ... Casey Stengel: "All right, everybody line up alphabetically according to height." And Yogi Berra: "Baseball is 90 percent mental; the other half is physical."

 

-- www.marksport.com Their logo is a bullseye, and their target is the great outdoors. Lots of information about hunting and fishing.

-- www.greatentertaining.com This is an online store, but also offers party ideas and recipes. Particularly good for children's parties and prices seem reasonable.

-- http://donsbosspage.com Personal site from a guy named Don, on how to avoid work at the office and defend yourself against the boss. Try the sound effects for typing and whipping.

 

NOTE: Readers can search more than four years of columns at the "On Computers" web site: www.oncomp.com. You can e-mail Bob Schwabach at bobschwab@oncomp.com or bobschwab@aol.com.