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By Gill Boyd
Editors Note: This month I sent Gill Boyd out to interview one of Houston’s top photographers and longtime HAL-PC member Reagan Atkinson. Reagan is at the forefront of digital photography both in his work with the Houston Camera Exchange and in his personal life. I have known Reagan for a number of years and have never seen him without at least one camera draped around his neck. If you have ever been to a HAL-PC General Meeting or any other official event at HAL-PC, you have seen Reagan shooting away. So, when it came time to put together this issue on Digital Photography, I couldn’t think of a better person to give a “State of Digital” perspective to digital photography. --Al Massey
Gill: Reagan, what can you tell us about Digital Still Camera Technologies and price ranges?
Reagan: Digital Cameras are going from $100.00 up to $1,000.00 for most of the Consumer grade. What we [Houston Camera Exchange] carry goes from around $300.00 to $1,000.00. The real low end we don’t handle due to inferior image quality. That’s why we don’t handle the 640x480 models.
Gill: Who has the best camera for the money?
Reagan: Right now, Nikon and Olympus. My favorite is Nikon because of the glass optics. That is transmitting a better picture to the CCD than the plastic lens with the other guys. Nikon prices range from $500 to $700 with a rebate, to $1000.00 without a rebate for the Nikon 990. The Nikon Cool Pix 950 has a $100.00 rebate if purchased before the end of the year. Nikon Cool Pix 800has a $75.00 rebate, some restrictions apply. For the money… Nikon uses Compact Flash for storage.
Gill: Supplied storage?
Reagan: Most include an 8 Meg card. This is your Digital Film. Olympus uses Smart Media cards. They’re much smaller. The beauty of [Compact Flash] is its capacity of 160 Megs whereas Smart Media is 64 Megs. Much thinner. A little fragile but, who’s gonna take it out and step on it? To me, Compact Flash is a much more durable medium.
Gill: I agree. I remember the Olympus 3 years ago with Smart Media. We were not ready for each other.
Reagan: The Olympus is a good product. Their top of the line is the Olympus C3030 for $1,000.00. Frankly the best buy is to get the Olympus C3000. Which is still a 3.3 Mega Pixel Camera. The big difference between these two is price of $799.00 vs. $1000.00. The Olympus C3030 comes with a 16 Meg, the Olympus C3000 comes with an 8 Meg card. The C3030 has a larger memory buffer so it can store more picture in a continuous shooting mode than the C3000. But who shoots in a continuous mode? They both do movies.
The Nikon Cool Pix 990 is the first Nikon to do movies. We also carry Sony, Fuji and a few Kodak Digitals. My problem with Kodak camera was their proprietary software on their previous models used for downloading your pictures. You had to have their software in order to download your pictures. It was not a standard JPEG. Now the new Kodak cameras (4800, 5000, 5800) will shoot in a JPEG mode like everyone else.
Another new really hot camera right now is the Sony CD1000. It shoots on the Mini 3.5 inch CD instead of the 5.25 inch CD. They even include a small doughnut for the Mini-CD in case they will not fit in your standard CD-ROM drive. My only problem with the Sony CD1000 is the size. Sure 10X optical zoom is great. It’s just too big.
Gill: How do these Digital Cameras mount / connect to the PC with a USB connection?
Reagan: Only the new ones do: The Olympus C3030, C3000 and Nikon Cool Pix 990. All the rest use serial cables. Frankly if you buy a lower model, buy a USB card reader for your memory type. It’s like a Zip drive hooked up to your computer.
Gill: Which reader would you recommend – One that reads more than one type of media?
Reagan: The MicroTech Camera Mate is one of my favorites, even though it has few quirks. It does not like to be left connected all the time to your PC. When your PC goes into sleep mode and wakes up, your PC will not recognize the device. You have to reboot the PC. You’re better off unplugging the Camera Mate when you’re done. I think they’re working on a new software driver. Let’s hope so.
We’ve also had great luck with Unity. They have a 1394/Firewire Compact Flash or 1394/Firewire Smart Media card reader not both like the MicroTech (USB) Camera Mate. Priced: $110.00. UnityDigital.com. I’ve been impressed with the USB readers but these 1394/Firewire readers are really fast! One of my frequent customers bought a MicroTech (USB) Camera Mate and did not like the problems going to sleep. He came back and bought a Unity 1394/Firewire reader and said this was almost twice as fast as the USB readers. I personally have a MicroTech at home. I got tired of going behind the PC to plug [USB Camera Mate] in so I purchased a USB Hub to plug in from the front. When I’m done downloading the camera, just unplug the MicroTech (USB) Camera Mate.
Gill: Reagan, in your opinion, is now a good time to get a Digital Still Camera? What recommendation in the $500.00 price range?
Reagan: Right now, Canon Elf S100.
Gill: What makes it special?
Reagan: Size and price. $589.99 for Canon S10 and $599.00 for Canon S100 — Each the size of a deck of cards. Lens: 2X optical zoom and 2.5X digital zoom. Most important – quick operation. Most Digital Cameras have a shutter delay before you actually take pictures. Uses Compact Flash. Picture quality is lacking for a 2.1 Mega Pixel. It’s physically too small. Picture quality suffers.
Gill: In the 3 plus Mega Pixel range, what’s the best Digital Still Camera for the money?
Reagan: Nikon Cool Pix 990.
Gill: And in the $500.00 range, we go down in resolution?
Reagan: Yes. My all around favorite even with those little quirks: the Nikon Cool Pix 950. They also have four different lenses: fish eye, wide angle and 2X / 3X telephoto. They just screw onto the front. The 35 to 105 lens becomes a 70 to 230 lens, 8mm 180 degrees side to side. Everyone says, “I want to spend a thousand to get that guy.” OK, do you really need to print everything you want to do 11x14? Most inkjets are 8.5x11, they’ll print 8x10 or smaller.
Gill: From your perspective, what are most people using their Digital Camera for? What type of photography?
Reagan: Most are using these for pictures of family around the home, although a lot now take them on vacations.
Gill: That brings an interesting question to mind – How do they handle storage capacity? How do they address that issue.
Reagan: I sold one of these [Nikon] to a gentleman 3 weeks ago. He was going to Europe for a week. He bought 2-160 Meg Compact Flash cards. That means he could store over 400 shots before downloading at the highest resolution.
Gill: Do most people really need that high resolution? Is that hype?
Reagan: Not really hype. Example: I used to collect Teddy Bears. I’ve been selling them for the past year and a half. Last year I took a lot of pictures of some of my bears. I sold a few of them on eBay with pictures taken from a Sony Mavica. Which is basically under 1 Mega Pixel Camera. Shots were easy to resize and make it acceptable on eBay without much effort in [Adobe] PhotoShop.
With the Nikon Cool Pix 950 I shoot the high resolution. Then in Photoshop I size it down to fit on a web page on eBay. It’s funny; I sold more bears with the new pictures on eBay. Everybody who saw the new pictures asked, “What camera are you using? Your pictures are so much better now!” Instant plug for the Cool Pix 950 [2.1 Mega Pixel]!
Gill: And the investment more than paid for the camera. As a consumer, is that the camera you’d recommend most to people?
Reagan: Yes. It has a few quirks but it will focus as close as 8 tenths of an inch.
Gill: For the business user doing documentation or the consumer, you’ve answered a possible requirement for those needing close-up capabilities.
Reagan: The Nikon Cool Pix 990 has the same capability just higher resolution.
Gill: For price ranges, would you consider the Nikon in the higher price range?
Gill: The mid price range – Olympus C3000?
Reagan: Yes and on the low end, Olympus D360 for $289.99.
Gill: What’s your take on the Digital Photography market? Where are we going?
Reagan: In the past month and a half, I’ve seen more couples and individuals thinking they wanted a 35mm point and shoot SLR. To take picture of the kids and stuff like that. I’m seeing a big switch to Digital. A couple married several years, her parents live in Italy, his in Paris, France. They’ve just had their first child and want to email the grandparents pictures. They bought the Olympus D360, a 1.3 Mega Pixel camera. They asked, “Don’t we want one with a zoom?” Frankly you can duplicate the zoom by taking 2 shorts steps. By the time you zoom in and out, the kid’s already moved. They’re happy with their choice. They’ve already emailed me a picture of their baby! They said, “This is too much fun!”
Gill: In recommending a digital camera, what features should we consider?
Reagan: 1.) Get as much resolution as you can afford. If they really want to reach out and bring something closer, there’s only one, the Nikon Cool Pix 950 or 990 since they’ll accept lenses. Olympus says they can do that too, but their system is highly inferior to Nikon.
Gill: We’re still talking proprietary lenses for specific digital cameras.
Gill: What’s being done to make your SLR lenses work on a digital still camera?
Reagan: The only thing that makes any sense for the upper-end consumer would be the Nikon B1. The camera body alone is $5,000.00.
Gill: Reagan, how would you classify this camera – consumer or professional?
Reagan: The Nikon B1 is a high-end pro-consumer to professional digital camera. Why? It takes all of the Nikon Auto Focus lenses. Which means you can go super-wide, super-close and super-telephoto. Yes, any Nikon lens will fit the B1. If you say that sounds like a lot of money, the only thing that comes close is the Kodak Canon model DC620 if my memory serves me right for $12,000.00.
Reagan: Yea, for $5,000.00, that’s a deal! The Nikon D1 looks a lot like the high end Nikon F5,their top of the line SLR film camera model. The D1 they claim was built from the ground up to be digital but it looks a lot like the F5. There are some other manufacturers. Fuji’s been promising their S1 Digital SLR, which takes Nikon lenses, since June and still can’t deliver. It’s made after the Nikon entry level SLR N60. It leaves a lot to be desired in terms of flexibility and adaptability to older Nikon lenses and so forth. The Fuji S1 is supposed to sell for a round $3,500.00 for just the body if it ever gets here. Canon has promised a similar model Digital SLR under $3,500.00 due out late this fall.
Gill: To recap features to look for: 1.) Get as much Mega Pixel quality as you can afford.
Reagan: Yes. For #2: Preferably Compact Flash. If you’re close to your PC most of the time, consider Smart Media on the Olympus or Fuji. Our 3rd consideration would be lens quality. Glass is better than plastic or a combination plastic/glass (achro-chromatic lens). Some manufacturers claim achro-chromatic lens work as well as glass, not me. The glass lens is another plus for the Nikon.
Other features to consider — Get a digital camera with a separate optical viewfinder. Your biggest memory hog will be the LCD screen. Turn it off!
Gill: Power consumption was a problem for us at Comdex using the Olympus Digital Cameras. What do most manufacturers use and what are our alternative power supply choices?
Reagan: Nikon uses standard four AA batteries. The biggest accessory we sell for them is a rechargeable nickel metal hydride battery - Four batteries and a charger for $35.00, same also for Olympus. Now if that’s not enough power, we sell DigiPower by Mizco battery packs and connecting cord for those who want to use the LCD screen for extended periods of time. They claim 4 hours of total use for $55.00.
Gill: Some of us are curious about storage capacity. You have the IBM 340 Meg MicroDrive. Who uses that?
Reagan: Nikon D1 users.
Gill: Casio also has a digital camera, which utilizes that drive for storage.
Reagan: Yes. For $1,000.00 you get their solution with 340 Megs of storage. The problem there is terrible lens quality. Your picture quality will suffer. Casio has never been highly rated for picture quality.
Gill: Where do you see digital cameras going? Are we there yet for professional photography?
Reagan: In the beginning of the year I saw it coming on strong, but several professionals moving to the Digital D1 have backed off a little bit due to problems.
Gill: Can you be more specific?
Reagan: The Nikon D1 shooting pictures of Caucasians puts a magenta cast on them. Nikon claims they’re coming up with a fix.
There’s a guy out of Austin, TX who’s already written a shareware computer program, which he’ll sell you for thirty bucks called Bibble.com He has a filter already set up. You run your picture through it and it removes the magenta cast out and it works wonderful! I’ve already bought it! It’s easily worth the thirty bucks.
If you buy the Nikon D1, they’ll try very hard to sell you their specialty software that will let you shoot in what they call the raw mode. Their special software costs over five hundred bucks! The $30.00 Bibble software will do the same thing. Why pay $500.00 when you can get the $30.00?
Gill: Sounds now would be a good time to get a digital camera if someone wants to.
Reagan: Oh Yes!
Gill: Whether they want to start out for play or whatever.
Reagan: For folks just starting out, I recommend the Olympus. Why start small? 1.3 Mega Pixel picture quality is unbelievable.
Gill: How do you see prices? Are they going down while quality goes up?
Reagan: Yes. Right now they claim they’ve hit their limit with 3.3 Mega Pixel in terms of maximum resolution on a digital [camera].
Gill: So what’s on the Nikon D1?
Reagan: 2.7 Mega Pixels. The big difference: The size of the CCD chip. The D1 CCD is almost 4X the size of these smaller digital cameras. And the size of the actual pixels in the CCD is 4 microns whereas the D1 pixels are 11 microns, which is 3X larger. That’s why picture quality on the D1 is so fabulous.
Gill: So what’s happening to get over the 3.3 Mega Pixel barriers? We’ve already heard there’s gonna be stuff of the 5 to 6 Mega Pixels next year. Somebody has already crossed over the threshold and come up with something new.
Gill: Whom would you expect to be the first to make an announcement?
Reagan: Probably Canon, Sony or Nikon. I kind of hate what Sony’s done on memory storage. Their Memory Stick is proprietary. I don’t like that. It’s something else to confuse the consumer. Sure it looks convenient and quick but…
Gill: Everyone’s been asking for your return visit to our Build Or Buy a PC SIG to discuss Digital Still / Video Camera Technologies. Of course you’ll be there when Canon & Digital Origin joins us in October — Thanks! We'll look forward to that and we’ll make the announcement regarding other appearances when you’re ready.
What’s your take on those of us interested in whether considering getting a Digital Still vs. a Digital Video Camera?
Reagan: If you can afford it, get both. Pictures are better on a digital still camera.
Comments: Thanks to Reagan Atkinson, Houston Camera Exchange, for a peek into digital photography technologies and considerations for purchasing a digital still camera. When we take a closer look into digital video in the coming months, we’ll have to again talk to the expert!
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Web Development, Gill Boyd & Team - Published & Posted For October 2000; Revised on BuildOrBuy News Archive 08/23/2005