HOME Technology 2004
Digital photos move to mass market
Beyond megapixels to improved performance
Entry level digital cameras are more affordable than ever and photo fanatics looking to upgrade will find quicker point and click and refresh rates, larger optical zoom and LCD displays and better battery life.

There’s a growing migration of film camera users to digital largely because of the saving on film and development costs, the ability to take a large number of images and delete those you don’t like instantly.

There’s also the ease of editing with the bundled software and quick sharing of images between devices via USB cable or memory card. Editing software and USB cable are typically part of the package. With a video cable images or mini videos taken from digital cameras can be displayed direct to the TV.

Prices are about half what they were three years ago. An adequate digital camera can now be bought in the supermarket for under $100 but first time users who want more megapixels and greater control need to invest $200-$350.

While megapixels (Mpixels) are important gauge in determining photo quality, a more educated public and more discerning camera manufacturers have turned their attention to lens quality, zoom capability, data storage, anti-shake technology and more advanced image capture chips.

The major players in the market are Sony, Canon, FujiFilm, Olympus, Kodak, Hewlett Packard, Nikon, Pentax, Ricoh and Minolta however there are a couple of newcomers making a mark.

Taiwanese-based Genius the entry level niche with its sturdy 3Mpixel models for between $200-$300. Dove electronics product manager David Bates says the Genius is now pitched at where the $600 camera market was 18 month ago.

It’s aimed at tradespeople such as plumbers who want to photograph jobs, schoolchildren and those who’re who need to post images on websites like TradeMe or eBay.

There’ll be plenty of enticing deals about over the next few months. Canon for example is bundling its A400 3.2Mpixel camera and an IP2000 printer for about $500.

The more experience photographer should expect to invest between $400-$700 for a 4-6Mpixel camera. More pixels requires more memory. While memory cards are typically in the 16-32Mb range you’ll fill that quickly – ask for an upgrade to 64Mb or 128Mb.

In the professional range expect to pay between $1000-$3000 for a 6-8Mpixel digital camera with 3-10 x optical zoom. For a single lens reflex (SLR) equivalent add another $500-$1000 - one advantage is the ability to interchange lenses from your existing film cameras.

Fiji Film which owns the Hanimex brand of digital cameras says processing power and efficiency are important in a camera and it and others have improved technology to ensure they don’t drain battery life so quickly.

Canon marketing co-ordinator Sarah Slawson says the more megapixels the better for cropping close-up detail but a standard 3.2Mpixels will still give you a quality A4 photo.

Research company IDC believes digital camera ownership is closely linked with PC ownership and will help drive the replacement cycle as users look for faster image handling and processing and multimedia capabilities.

A phone camera might be fine if you simply want to email or use the images on a web site but paying $1000 or more for a phone in the hope of getting a quality camera is likely to disappoint.

Chris Thorley, Konica Minolta product manager for Tech Pacific says the lack of control over the initial photograph and the quality of the lenses means those who are serious about images will still buy a separate camera.

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