What Digital Camera Should I Buy?
Inexpensive digital cameras worth looking at
by Chris Maher
Check out our mini review of PMA 2002
| “What digital camera should I buy?”
This is the most frequent question that we are asked, and one of the
trickiest to answer. In truth, everyone’s needs and expectations are
different, and so the ideal digital camera for each is equally different.
A host of different issues should be addressed, starting with the purpose
for which the pictures will be used, and ranging over the gamut of
technical and usability points. But after all is said and done, the most
important issues around which the others revolve are the price and the
quality of the images that the camera can produce.
With that in mind, we closely examined the results of
2002 PMA digital camera shoot out. Fifty-one digital camera
entries from 20 different manufacturers participated in the 6th Annual
DIMA Digital Camera Shoot-Out. The subject was a professional model
wearing a brightly colored sweater, well lit by studio type hot lights.
Prints were made from each camera, and hung side by side, arranged in
categories according to the price of the cameras. Attendees at the PMA
2002 Annual Convention voted on the results, and winners were selected. We
didn’t always agree with the popular picks. In many cases our practiced
eye found that cameras that were sharper were often passed by in favor of
softer images that flattered the model more.
| If you want to spend less that $100…
Can you really get acceptable results from a digital camera under $100?
Surprisingly, the answer is yes. The popular pick was the Zoran CamMini (Zoran
Corporation, Santa Clara, CA) but we liked the Argus DC3150. We felt it
was sharper, and showed slightly better color. Its 1280x960 resolution
would be more than enough for putting images up on the web, or creating
4x6 snapshots. It’s not going to satisfy folks who compare it to a 35mm
camera, but at this price it’s amazing how good the quality is. Hats off
to the manufactures competing in the under $100 price category, these
cameras just keep getting better.
| In the $100 to $199 category…
Here again we disagreed with the popular choice of the Toshiba PDR-M11
(Toshiba America, Irvine, CA) The Fugi FinePix A101 was remarkable for the
quality of the image it created for $179. Its resolution of 1280x960 is
fine for web and small prints. I’m not a big fan of smart media, but won’t
hold this against Fugi. Color was decent, and the sharpness was an
improvement over both Zoran CamMini and Argus DC3150.
| In the $200 to $299 category…
The Fuji FinePix 2600Z ($249.00 Fuji Photo Film U.S.A., Inc., Elmsford,
NY) was a clear winner. This camera produced image quality that I would
never expected to come from such an inexpensive camera. Producing a
1600x1200 pixel image, it also sports a zoom lens.
| In the $300 to $499 category…
The Kodak EasyShare Dx4900 (Eastman Kodak
Company, Rochester, NY) is a four-megapixel camera at a break though price
of $399. It takes CF cards, and has a resolution of 2048x1600. Although
advertised as a 6x zoom, in fact it is a 2x optical with a 3x digital
zoom. Out of the box it comes with a “KCRV3”nonrechargeable lithium
battery, which, despite its inherent long life, is an expensive way to
power a digital camera. The camera will also work with NiMH AA
rechargeable batteries. For $70 more you can purchase the docking station,
which includes rechargeable batteries, and automatically charges them when
the camera is in the cradle.
| Interesting to note....
Our favorite camera manufacturer, Nikon, chose not to
compete in the digital camera shoot off. The CoolPix 995 is currently
selling in the $450 price range and is worth looking at.