Digital cameras: Ten myths

Mark Harris blows the cover on some of the more common misconceptions associated with going digital
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The Independent Online

1. GOOD DIGITAL CAMERAS ARE EXPENSIVE

Everyone's idea of expensive is different, of course, but you can now pick up a perfectly good digital camera for about the same price as buying and processing ten rolls of film. There are cameras available for as little as £20 but image quality from these is closer to cameraphones than proper cameras. Spend £80-£90 and you'll get you a basic three- or four-megapixel camera, probably with a fixed lens and a small LCD screen. Push your budget to £130 and you'll have a much wider choice - higher resolution, a flexible zoom lens, a larger screen and more features. If you're really keen, sophisticated digital SLRs are now available from under £500.

2. THE MORE MEGAPIXELS, THE BETTER THE CAMERA

Don't fall into the megapixel trap! Resolution, measured in megapixels, simply limits how large you can print your images: three megapixels is enough for postcard-sized prints, four-megapixel or five-megapixel images will look good at A4, and six megapixels or seven megapixels let you print at A3 size or larger. Other features, such as a long zoom lens for shooting distant scenes, compact dimensions for slipping into your pocket or a wide screen for easier framing may be just as important. Put together a checklist of what you want in a camera before you start shopping - and avoid paying for powerful features you won't use.

3. DIGITAL CAMERAS BECOME OBSOLETE THE MOMENT YOU BUY THEM

The digital camera market moves fast, with prices dropping and technology improving all the time. Almost any camera you buy will lose a lot of its value very quickly, even if you leave it in its box. But that doesn't mean it'll become obsolete. All modern cameras record images in the same way, so you shouldn't have any problems with sending, storing or editing pictures in the future, and the memory card formats used now are also firmly established. Choose a good quality camera that does what you want it to do and there's no reason why you shouldn't still be using it in five or ten years. Just don't expect it to be worth anything later - except as a museum piece!

4. YOU NEED A DEGREE IN IT TO USE ONE

Megapixels, CCDs, white balance, LCDs: digital camera jargon can be intimidating. But avoid expensive models with more controls than a space shuttle and you'll find that most digital cameras are actually easier to use than 35mm models. Inserting a memory card is more user-friendly than threading a roll of film, and large, bright screens make framing, reviewing and deleting images a doddle. Virtually all cameras have a clear "auto-everything" mode to let you simply point and shoot, and some manufacturers (notably HP and Nikon) include help functions inside the camera itself so you don't need to carry a manual around.

5. DIGITALS CAMERAS ARE SLOW AND HEAVY

The days of awkward, bulky digital cameras are long gone. As technology moves on, digital cameras have evolved into a huge variety of sizes and shapes, including folding cameras and cameras that are no larger than a pack of playing cards. Early digital cameras suffered from shutter lag - a delay between pressing the shutter and the camera taking a picture, and also needed a few seconds after taking a photo to process and store the information. Modern cameras are generally much swifter, with some able to shoot bursts of images at up to two or three frames a second. Many also record moving video clips with sound for playback on TV.

6. THE BATTERIES ARE ALWAYS RUNNING OUT

In a film camera, batteries do little more than wind on the film and fire the flash. In a digital camera, they have to illuminate the LCD display, power the processing chips, move the zoom lens, work the memory card - and fire the flash. Digital cameras do consume a lot of power, which is why many of them use rechargeable batteries - and why it makes sense to invest in a spare set (from £20). To keep your camera working when the batteries are running down, turn off the main LCD and minimise use of the flash. You could also activate power saving mode, which autodims or extinguishes the LCD screen when you don't need it.

7. GETTING REAL PRINTS FROM DIGITAL CAMERAS IS DIFFICULT

Digital images are easy to store and e-mail, but research group IDC found that over 60 per cent of people still prefer looking at a physical print. The good news is that it's never been easier, or cheaper, to get prints from digital images. The simplest method is to remove the memory card from your camera, take it to a photo lab and tell them what you want. Prices for postcard-sized prints range from 10p to 49p, depending on how many you order. Printing at home can be just as easy, with photo inkjets printers (from £75) that accept all kinds of memory cards or plug straight into your camera. Printing at home costs from just 20p-30p per photo.

8. YOU NEED TO BUY A COMPUTER

Every digital camera sold should come with a big stamp that says "No computer required". Home computers are flexible devices that can make owning a digital camera incredibly rewarding, but you absolutely don't need one to shoot, edit, store or print your photos. Take your memory card to a photo lab where you can edit images (often for free) on touchscreen kiosks, before printing pictures as tiny passport snaps or wall-spanning posters. Or feed your memory card to a home inkjet printer with a built-in screen and edit and print images without ever booting up a computer or wrestling with complex software. But don't rule out PCs altogether - there are image editing packages to suit all levels and tweaking or combining images can be a lot of fun.

9. DIGITAL PHOTOS ARE NO MATCH FOR FILM PRINTS

Hold a photo taken by film camera and printed in a photo lab side-by-side with the same scene captured on a good digital camera and printed at home, and you'd be hard pressed to see the difference. If you want to print enormous posters or crop in to a tiny detail, film still has the upper hand, but for the majority of images printed at standard sizes, film and digital photos are almost indistinguishable.

10. IT'S EASY TO LOSE YOUR PICTURES FOREVER

The dreaded delete key has claimed its fair share of photographic victims, but even if you don't accidentally erase your digital photos, how and where to store them permanently can be confusing. The best thing is to transfer them to a home PC and then back up your files regularly to blank CDs, DVDs or even a second hard drive. Software such as Adobe Photoshop Elements (£70) can help you organise images on your computer. If you haven't got a PC, don't worry. Most photo labs can also transfer images on to permanent CD discs for just a few pounds, and there's even a printer, the HP Photosmart 475 (£200) that can store around a thousand images on a built-in 1.5Gb hard disc.

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