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About Digital Cameras...
Many people have been asking Your Ol' Webmaster here about digital cameras, so I thought I'd type up my experiences to help you make your purchasing decision.
|Steve's Digicams||Reviews galore, including printers and digital video|
|Imaging Resource||Reviews, tips, and more...And the "Comparator!", which allows you to compare similar pictures taken by different cameras.|
Digicam Tech Moves Forward Since 1999
The digital camera I used for a lot of the original GONewEngland photos was the Casio QV-2000UX. Unfortunately in early 2004 the flash on this camera failed, so I went out to see what was available. I decided on a Canon PowerShot A75, which is most worthy and beats the Casio on many points, however the Casio takes much richer photos outdoors.
Let's see how far digicams have come...
|Uses the same memory cards as the Casio, so I didn't have to buy new ones.|
|Does movies...with sound! (This has been fun. I have a few movies in the more recent "MONEYPIT" reports on my Mellotron site). No, they're not DVD quality---they're just for fun, and they're perfect for what I do.|
|Battery life is much better.|
|Camera is more compact.|
|It's 3.2 megapixels (still overkill for the web).|
|Handles the USB connection better. You can drag-and-drop photos or use the supplied software. The supplied software also allows you to control the camera (including snapping photos).|
|The camera has doo-dads like the ability to customize your own sounds (yawn) and your own startup screen (yawn). Who cares! JUST MAKE CAMERAS THAT TAKE AWESOME PICTURES!!|
Also worthy of mention:
|Got for free a free HP digicam from work, a low end sub-$150 one. I think I took one picture with it and gave it to a co-worker who didn't get one.|
|Won a Nikon Coolpix 5600. I took two sets of photos with it, see them here (Boxford State Forest, Bradley Palmer). The Coolpix can't figure out colors to save its life--have you ever seen an aqua sky? I use the 512MB SD card that I won with the camera and never use the camera. The Nikon is very small and light, but I'd still go with the Canon for photo quality. I'd still be using the Casio if the flash still worked.|
My (former) Digicam
Photo of the Casio QV-2000UX from the Steve's Digicams web site
My former digicam, the Casio QV-2000UX, is a 2.1 megapixel model which has about as much control as a regular 35mm camera. Fortunately it has a fully automatic mode, which I use most of the time. It also has 3x zoom with 2x digital zoom. The zoom I use a lot, the digital zoom rarely.
You can read more about the specifications for this camera from the above two web sites.
What to look for
In my own experience - taking photos outside most of the time, with some inside - I've put together some opinions about my camera and what folks should consider when buying one.
|Issue/Feature||How the QV-2000UX Stacks Up|
|UI - "User Interface", the way you
change the settings in the camera, view pictures you've taken, erase
pictures you don't want, and so on. Some cameras are simple and work
more like a standard point-and-shoot. Many cameras add a little LCD
display on the top to tell you what's going on. Many cameras have a
screen on the back that gives you even more information and extensive menu
A good UI makes the camera much easier to use, unless all you intend to purchase is a very basic camera, in which case "point and shoot" is what you'll get.
My recommendation is anything like the Casio---both the basic LCD on top (so you don't need to use the screen at all) as well as the more extensive on-screen menu system. Casio hit a home run here.
|The QV-2000UX has both the LCD on the top
(gives you basic status---number of pictures remaining, timer indication,
macro mode indication, battery level, and so on) as well as a screen on the
back. Reviews have raved about the Casio's menu navigation, and it's
brilliant. VERY easy, very fast. Press MENU and use the
up-down-left-right pad to navigate, and you're off and running.
The Olympus I bought for work has a screen on the back, but there's no menu system. You must fumble around four barely labeled buttons to figure out what you want to do.
Example - erasing all pictures on the card: On the Casio, deleting all pictures is MENU, Delete, Delete All, enter (or SET). The only way I've found on that Olympus is viewing a picture, holding the "down" button for 2 seconds, selecting YES, then hitting their menu button---for each picture. There's gotta be a better way somewhere in the documentation, but the Casio doesn't require reading the manual. Big difference.
|Battery Consumption - Digital cameras are notorious about this. They EAT BATTERIES FOR LUNCH! Go with NiMH (nickel metal hydride) batteries (two sets) and a recharger. These last a good long time.||Yummmmm...Let me eat them batteries!
Although probably not as bad as earlier cameras, the QV still goes through
The NiMH batteries work GREAT and allow for 40-60 shots with USB download time before dying. I keep an extra set to pop in when the other set needs recharging.
|Zoom - get 3x zoom, it's a great feature. Don't count on digital zoom, as results aren't always good.||Digital zoom isn't great. You're better off using the lens-based zoom and then doing your digital zoom using photo software.|
|Timer - so you can jump into the picture with everyone else.||...the only way Your Webmaster gets into shots! I use the 2 second timer for low-light and macro shots (so I can get away from the tripod and camera so it won't shake) and the 10 second timer for GONewEngland group shots.|
|Environment - where can the camera be used? How robust is the camera? What's the build quality?||The specifications say that this camera is not
designed to be used in temperatures less than 32 degrees F. I've
been using it all winter, and it has been fine, although I tend not to use
the display during the cold weather (you can turn it off). I also
let it sit for a while before using it after I bring it into the house.
The Casio isn't the most rugged cam in the world, so I put it into a padded pouch. I don't bang it around, and I'm mindful of the doors and other slightly delicate bits on the unit. Several Casio QV-2000UX owners have complained that the lens motor has failed on them, and I have noticed that the motor stops now and then in mine. But opening/closing the lens cap or removing the batteries and replacing them brings the camera back to life.
|Pixels - the more, the better (generally), but the more the BIGGER file sizes. Note that for the Internet anything over 800x600 is overkill, as display technology stinks. But if you are going to be printing the photos, get more pixels.||I have the Casio set to do 800x600 for most shots, and that has sufficed. The images are most often compressed in Microsoft PhotoDraw and then used on the Web. I do not use the compression offered in the camera, as I'd rather capture the image uncompressed in case I want to print it later.|
|Image quality - when viewing test images, pay attention to the reds. They can get smeared, or the whole image can be tinted. Look for jagged edges, bizarre colors, and other unnatural looking things.||The QV-2000UX is rumored to have a red tint
problem, and my camera does have this tint on occasion. I am able to
correct it using PhotoDraw, but I shouldn't have to do so. Newer
cameras hopefully will do away with color problems. Otherwise the
QV-2000UX produces images that are plain in color, sometimes washed out a
little, sometimes richer, depending on conditions. Overall the colors
are acceptable. There images aren't jaggy. Focus on occasion is
a bit off, but that could be the result of my not-so-steady hand as well (I
had the same problem with a 35mm film camera).
From other people I have received photos with inaccurate colors to the point where the image won't even compress---the pixels are wildly inconsistent, causing compression algorithms to fail. I experienced this with pictures from an older HP digicam.
Photos I've seen from a Nikon Coolpix 900 are very rich in color but shift into the blues and reds a bit, making them seem unnatural to me.
I recently purchased an Olympus digicam for work, and it takes decent pictures with reasonable colors. We use it to take snaps of whiteboard drawings.
|Photo subjects - Most of my subjects are mountains, trees, brooks, and sometimes people. Will your subjects be moving fast, like race cars? Do you take macro pictures? Pictures at night?||My camera captures most things just fine. Mountains don't tend to move much. :-) It'll do macro, and it's been OK for flower close-ups and such. The Casio takes great pictures in low light (as I've come to find out after reading the manual), and there are secret button sequences to press which will give you FULL control over aperture and shutter speed, meaning you can catch just about anything however you want.|
|Speed - of pictures being taken. Long "cycle times" (times between each shot) aren't good - trust me.||The QV-2000UX has a mode which allows you to snap pictures about 1/2 second apart. Plus it has a rapid-fire mode. These modes use a fast buffer to store the pictures before they are written to the CompactFlash or MicroDisk. In general, time between shots on the QV-2000UX is a bit long, especially if waiting for the flash to recharge.|
|Control - over the camera. 35mm camera buffs eschew automatic mode and know that they compose better shots with light meters and all that. Most of the rest of us love having a fully automatic camera, as they are often "good enough".||Auto-focus and fully automatic exposure is
available, plus a fully manual mode (including that hidden feature to let
you get full control over aperture/shutter speed).
Generally auto focus works well, although it will get confused if you're taking pictures of something like a snowbank - it needs color contrasts to focus.
I have been having trouble with the light metering in high contrast situations, such as snow and forest. Often the darker areas will come out too dark. The Casio offers two light metering modes, one which averages the light across the field of view and one which takes the light from the middle. I have not experimented with this, and I just wind up doing the brightness corrections using PhotoDraw, with varying results.
|Storage - of the photos in the camera. Memory is cheap now, so digicams tend to use CompactFlash or other similar memory devices. Some use floppies, some recordable CDs, and some tiny hard drives.||The Casio supports CompactFlash. I have
the 8MB which came with the camera and a 32MB which I picked up for about
$80. The 8MB will store about 22 photos and the 32MB over 100 photos
at 800x600 resolution (uncompressed). I tend to use between 10 and
20 shots per activity.
The Casio will also handle the IBM MicroDrive. Although it'll draw a little more power, this tiny disk drive (the size of a matchbook) will store 340MB!
|Hooking up to the PC - You probably need to connect your camera to a PC. Get a USB connection if you can - it's very fast! Serial is extremely slow, and you'll eat batteries waiting for pictures to download. If the camera uses CompactFlash or other similar devices, there are adapters available which allow those cards to talk to the PC in different ways, such as using the floppy drive mechanism.||The QV-2000UX has serial and USB
connections. Even at 115Kb the serial connection is slow, so go with
WindowsNT 4: Had to use serial (the operating system doesn't support USB). Used Casio's Photo Loader software to get the photos onto the PC. s-l-o-w.
Windows2000: Casio has drivers which allow the QV-2000UX to look like a disk drive. You can drag your photos off the camera directly (or use the Casio-supplied Photo Loader software, which will talk over USB). Note that the photos are stored in a web site inside the camera, so drag and drop the whole thing. Very convenient!
PROBLEM: Often times the QV-2000UX USB driver will work once, then it won't recognize the camera being plugged in to the USB bus again until you reboot. Casio has not resolved this problem to my satisfaction; their support people just keep quoting the driver installation procedure to me. Sometimes it works, most times it doesn't, so you just reboot your Windows2000 box with the camera attached. A-freakin'-noying! Possible workaround: In lieu of a reboot, unplugging all USB devices and then plugging the Casio in by itself may help.
Windows95/98/ME: Have not used the Casio with these versions, but I suspect that the serial and USB support will be pretty much the same, except maybe less trouble with the QV-2000UX USB driver supplied by Casio. Don't know.
The Olympus camera I purchased for work is great in this regard. You hook it up, and Windows 2000/XP immediately mounts the camera as a removable drive---no drivers needed! You can just drag your photos off. I hope Casio has improved their cameras to handle downloading better.
|Photo Loading Software - You need a way to get the pictures off the camera, right? If you cannot do drag-and-drop (as I can with Windows2000), then your camera probably comes with some kind of software to grab the photos off the camera. Some photo loading software also serves as a librarian for you!||Casio's Photo Loader is very basic. It grabs the photos off the camera and puts them into a small web site for you on your machine. Convenient, quite workable.|
|Photo Editing Software - If a camera comes with this, it'll likely be very basic. But it's really essential that you have some photo editing software to correct things (tint, brightness, etc) in your photos. It's also good to crop them and compress them if you will use them on the web or e-mail them---it saves on download time!||None came in with the Casio. So I picked up Microsoft PhotoDraw
on special when purchased as a bundle with FrontPage 2000. It's not high end,
but it does what I need it to do.
Microsoft has since discontinued PhotoDraw, unfortunately. I find it to be just what I need and most capable, but I'm just doing basic photo editing. Other photo editors, such as Adobe Photoshop, are much more robust and more popular.
|Cost - Consider your budget! You can get a one-use 35mm cam for short money plus development charges. Film cams are pretty cheap. Digital cameras are still several hundred, unless you go with a low resolution unit with no features (which may suffice---it depends on what you are going to do).||The QV-2000UX was the first model in the $500 range which offered 3x zoom and a host of automatic and manual features. I purchased it in November of 1999. There are now other cameras which do about the same for less money or have better resolution (and all the features) for the same money.|
|Bells & Whistles - you may or may not want include things like sound recording, panorama mode, MPEG movie recording, sepia tone or similar effects, and so on.||Bells and whistles on the QV-2000UX include sepia, movie recording, and panorama (and probably other stuff). I've used the panorama, and it's OK. Movies are without sound and use a lot of memory (and thus are limited), plus the movies aren't in a standard format (they are supposed to be "AVI" but need some kind of translator software to be played with AVI players). Sepia and similar effects can (and should!) be done with photo editing software.|
|Your needs - must be considered. I take crappy photos, and I don't like to wait a week with film before finding out I screwed up a shot I wanted! Digicams with screens let you view photos right away (and you can delete the ones you don't want and try another shot). If you're doing a photo web site like this, a regular digital camera will probably work fine. If you're doing upscale photography work, stick with film.||For what I'm doing - this web site - the Casio
works just fine. I've had a blast with it, and I believe people
enjoy seeing the pictures out here.
I've even printed photos out on an Epson Stylus Color 880, and results are good on good photo quality paper. But we're still a ways from film quality.
You can get your pictures printed by web sites like Ofoto or EMemories, among others. They print them onto photographic paper for a nominal fee. I haven't tried any of these. The important thing to remember is DO NOT COMPRESS OR EDIT THE PHOTOS when sending them out to be printed. Send the photo file that you get from the camera, as there's information in the file which will help the photo printer do the best job possible for you.
For what I do - taking pictures of outdoor activities for the GONewEngland Web Site - the Casio has been a little bit of overkill, but it has done its job very well. I don't use all the features of the Casio, but those features I do use (the outstanding menu system, macro, zoom, timer, CompactFlash, USB downloading, flash) have allowed me to take some decent shots, as this web site will attest (even if the photos are compressed).
Generally speaking the digicams designed and built by camera companies will have better optics and probably result in better pictures. Casio is an electronics company, but, for its time, the QV-2000UX was a bit of a breakthrough for any company.
Since this original review was written, digicams have come a long way. They're more stable, the colors are better, and the prices are lower. But one expects that with most any technology these days! :-)
...kl...Feb 25, 2001
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