Subject: Re: Lightweight Digital Cameras
We just got back from our annual trip to Italy (#7). I will have some pictures to post, including a GTG with Marco De Angeli and friends in Como, shortly as well as a description of our Grand Slam of travel (luggage delayed going in both directions). The trip was wonderful, but before I get into it or this interesting thread becomes cold, I wanted to comment on the topic.

I have a Nikon 880 CoolPix which was basically their midrange a year ago (the closest current version is the 885). I do love the lens, but I am not sure how much better or worse it is than the major competitors (I would buy it again). In addition to using it for stills, I have a Sony MiniDV. Here are some observations you may find useful on the general topic.

1. If you can buy or borrow appropriate memory (CompactFlash, SmartCard, and/or Memory Stick), see if you can find a store that will let you take pictures inside the store to compare cameras. Don't forget that reliability is ultimately more important than features, which you probably will not use if your main application is vacation snapshots.

2. My Nikon uses CompactFlash, which inherently allows greater capacity than SmartCard, but the 128 meg size common to all three gives you a lot of pictures. The prices are declining rapidly, but Memory Stick is the most expensive, with the other two being equivalent. I take three 128 meg units and was on my third at the end of the trip.

3. The uploading procedure supplied with most cameras is not great. For about $15 you can get a CompactFlash and/or SmartCard reader which is much more convenient (there probably is also one for Memory Sticks).

4. My Nikon shoots at roughly 1 and 3.3 megapixels, but I hardly ever use the high resolution. The 1 megapixel matches my screen resolution and provides excellent 8 x 10 prints for most scenes. I do use the least compression, but, even so, I get 320 pictures per card.

5. Most cameras, but not my Nikon, come with rechargeable batteries. Be sure you get one. Indeed, it is not a bad idea to get a second battery (about $25).

6. I think I spend about $125 for my wide angle lens, and it was invaluable for shots taken in crowded Italian streets. On the other hand, I bought a telephoto (which is quite small for a digital camera) for roughly that price and hardly used it. Seeing a person with a big telephoto zoom lens was kind of a sign that they really had more money than photographic know-how. Note that you should practice the zoom settings on your camera and the wide angle or telephoto lenses (which are add-ons rather than replaceable) to minimize vignetting.

7. As with any camera, be sure to get familiar with it and its manual before your trip.

8. Although you may wish to bring a film camera on your first trip with your digital, you should eventually find that you have no need for it. Indeed, I see relatively little future for film in this context. How can you beat taking one or two memory units and uploading in five minutes, at no extra cost, as opposed to sending your vacation film out and waiting for the results?

9. I think the extended service policy is a total waste of money. When my Nikon went out in Florence a year ago, the plan would not have done my any good unless I had gone to some other city (Frankfurt?). When I got back, the camera was fixed under the regular policy and it has been fine since (this is not intended as a statement about the Nikon's reliability, as the problem probably could have arisen with any make).

Ira H. Bernstein UT-Arlington