Subject: Re: digital cameras
Seasons greetings to all.

Kathy Bateman asked for advice on purchasing a digital camera.

I have had a Nikon Coolpix for about two years and delighted by its results. However, as you have seen, owners of other makes seem just as happy. It is perhaps fairest to say that the intense competition among the major manufacturers has made for a variety of excellent products. Unfortunately, one thing reviews can't tell you is durability--my otherwise wonderful camera pooped out towards the end of the first trip I went on with it. It was repaired under warranty and (stay away, evil eye) has been flawless since. I would summarize by suggesting that the major brands are far more alike than they are dissimilar--most of the features that differentiate them in a given price range are things you probably would rarely need. For example, I like my CompactFlash memory, but SmartCard and MemoryStick, the two major alternatives, are more than servicable (SmartCard is a bit more limited in its maximum capacity and Memory Stick has been a bit pricier).

Basically, the first step is deciding what price range and therefore what features you want. Higher price beyond rather limited entry level cameras gets you higher resolution and somewhat more zoom range. Most are extremely compact unless you want one of the increasingly popular (and expensive) interchangable lens models.

I take most of my pictures under conditions that are similar to those you describe. Personally, I have rarely shot pictures that needed more than 2 megapixels. Yes, I have heard how important higher resolution is for enlargements, but I have deliberately shot basically the same shot at various resolutions and have not found much benefit, even going past the SVGA (1 megapixel level) because there is little extremely fine detail that is typically important to the shot. At the same time, the pictures my current camera takes at the 1 megapixel level are far beyond those taken by my old Sony at .25 megapixel.

In particular, note that if you display your pictures on your desktop (my most recent ones are part of my screen saver), your screen is probably at 1 megapixel.

Here are some of the accessories I have found most useful:

1. A spare lithium battery (I have an off brand that works as well as the one I bought with my Nikon)

2. A wide angle attachment lens for shooting in the normally cramped European spaces. I also have a telephoto, but don't use it nearly as often.

3. A ScanDisk ImageMate or equivalent device to transfer images from the camera to the computer (vastly superior to the image transfer provided by the camera itself)

4. A good printer (I have always liked HP--the roughly $125 model I have is slower than the top-of-the-line model and does not offer direct from memory card printing, but I prefer to print from my computer software anyway).

5. Extra memory cards (their price has dropped by over 75% in the time I had my most recent camera.

6. Freeware (Irfanview, a viewing program, and Gphotoshow or flasher, screensavers that allow you to choose your own pictures).

7. Other inexpensive software. I bought Nero, which allows me to make up CDs with my own pictures for about $25.

I would also add that as much as a technojunkie I am for new products, I have absolutely no urge to get a new camera nor any of the other items I am describing save for possibly an additional memory card. Thus, while more expensive than film photography to start out with, your initial investment is likely to hold up (something I did not find true with my first, circa 1998, camera. My tough audience (wife, daughters) agree, though one daughter had a vested interest since she got my Sony when I bought my Nikon.

Any form of photography is never easy to even approach mastering, so be sure you have had practice taking pictures at home before you take it on a trip (advice that also holds for film cameras). What makes things wonderful for me is never to lose pictures for reasons like my film failing to thread or being zapped by airport security devices.

Ira H. Bernstein Dallas, Texas