HOME Technology Nov 2006
Digital overshadows film
Megapixel madness takes over

Despite the proliferation of low resolution devices that pretend to be cameras there’s a growing demand for more capable digital cameras that can capture images with enough pixels to produce an A3 poster at reasonable quality.

In fact it seems low resolution phone cameras have given younger people in particular a taste for migrating to the real thing, as higher quality digital cameras become more affordable and easier to use.

New Zealanders spent $41 million on digital cameras in the six months to June 2006, up 10 percent on the same period in 2005, according to consumer electronics researcher GfK.

Meanwhile the global migration to digital cameras from multi-purpose devices and the traditional film market, has caught many old school manufacturers off-guard, with digital now significantly outpacing film cameras sales.

Agfa went bankrupt last year, Kodak is closing its processing laboratories, Konica Minolta is withdrawing from the camera and film business, Nikon now only makes a few professional film cameras and Canon has ceased developing new film cameras to focus on digital models. Fuji the number two maker of film is also facing major restructuring.

While there are many newcomers in the digital camera game it’s still wise to buy from those who built their reputation in the film or lens business, or invested significantly to get into digital. These include Canon, Kodak, Olympus, FujiFilm, Ricoh, Pentax, Nikon, Panasonic, Sony and Genus.

The main drivers for buying digital include instant results and the ability to easily manipulate images and share them through removable media or over the internet. Cameras are getting smaller and the technology has overcome many early obstacles. Image resolution and battery life are improving, shutter speeds are quicker, with minimal wait before the next shot, and higher capacity memory cards are now more affordable.

We’re seeing greater use of technology that stabilises and compensates for camera movement, particularly at the higher end with larger lenses and longer zoom capability and larger screen LCD viewers (from 1.5 up to 3inch) that make things easier on the eye.

Sam Williams, senior digital imaging product manager with Sony, says prices are generally down at entry level but stable at the mid to high end, where more features have been added, often to make photography more fun or user friendly.

For example Sony has been pushing its ‘mode dial’ onscreen graphics which make the cameras more intuitive when operating in manual mode, or using pre-set ‘twilight, sunset and auto-exposure’ settings. In ISO sensitivity mode it’ll tell you: this is good for shooting images at night and will reduce blur’, which gives people greater confidence.

While the new ‘entry level’ is 6Mpixels, a robust 4-5Mpixel camera can still be purchased for $200 – $300, and even compact point and click cameras, that fit easily into the handbag or jacket pocket at under $150, can deliver a good quality 6 x 4 inch or A4 size print.

A 5 – 6Mpixel camera with 3-5 x optical zoom might sell for $300 – $500 and new 6 – 8Mpixel models are now positioning themselves where professional cameras were a couple of years ago at $400 – $600, with features that take a lot of the guess work out of the photographer’s life.

Increased lens capabilities (6 –12 x optical zoom), higher image resolution (8 –12Mpixels), onboard image stabilising and other features, can push the price up ($600 – $1600). If you are looking for a 35mm SLR (single lens reflex) replacement, it’s not uncommon to find bundles with wide angle and zoom lenses. Often you can use your old 35mm camera lenses on the new digital SLRs as well.

Before you settle on a camera you need to literally get a feel for it. Does it balance well in your hand and are the controls in easy reach of your fingers, giving you that sense of being in control. If you are comfortable with the look, feel and functions the chances are you will make better use of your new digital friend.

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