Santas eye latest digital cameras

A rumor within photography circles was amazing in that so many people believed it: Nikon would stop making film cameras to concentrate on digital.

It's not true, folks at Nikon say. A total switch by any of the major camera manufacturers won't happen anytime soon, but whether you're an amateur or pro shooter, you know the digital future is around the corner. It's not a matter of if you will buy a digital camera but when, and Christmas is prime shopping season, whether you're eyeing a gift, or planning to document the parties or gift-unwrapping ceremonies under the tree.

Basic digital cameras are running well below $200, with some as low as $100. These are great for those interested only in Internet posting and sharing images online, while top-tier point-and-shoot models from Nikon and Canon can reach $1,200. (We're not discussing professional cameras which can cost more than $7,000.)

But digital cameras may not be for you if you're the type who needs a "shoebox" for storage. Photos must be kept on a computer hard drive (not a good idea) or saved to a CD. Saving photos to a disc can be done inexpensively and easily by using a CD or DVD burner. This calls for some technological know-how, but you could also drop the camera's memory card at one of a growing number of photofinishers, or upload the file to a photo-sharing Web site for storage, viewing or reprinting, again, calling for computer expertise.

The cameras' image quality is measured in megapixels: The more megapixels, the higher quality the image, and the larger the file size. Higher quality makes for better enlargements.

The sweet spot for digital cameras was once 2.1 megapixel (million pixels) sensors allowing for good reproduction for a 5-by-7-inch photo. That's increased to 3.3 "megs," though a few cameras like the Nikon Coolpix 5700 hits an incredible 5 megapixel mark allowing excellent prints up to 11-by-14, depending on printer quality.

Generally, plan to spend $50 to $100 for 1-megapixels; $80 to $300 for 2 megs; $200 to $450 for 3 megs; $350 to $1,000 or more for 4 megs and up.

Digital cameras don't use film but memory cards that pictures you've shot. The memory is reusable, but larger capacity, though more expensive, means you can take a greater number of pictures without stopping to transfer images to your computer, or other media.

There are several types of memory devices, though the most common has been about 16MB, enough for as many as 20 photos at basic resolution. A 256MB memory card now costs about $60 at Costco, less than half what it was a year ago. Despite claims, the cards are all about the same from manufacturer to manufacturer, so buy on price, whether you need Compact Flash, SmartMedia, MultiMedia, Secure Digital or Memory Stick.

Sifting through dozens of digital cameras on the market can be a daunting task so focus on your needs. If all you want to do is take the occasional shot and e-mail photos to family and friends, the $40-Polaroid Fun 620 might be enough. Professional photographers are more likely to look for 5-megapixels and up.

Here are some tips:

>> Decide how much money you're willing to spend. You'll need a computer to download and e-mail images, and a printer if you want a hard copy of photos.

>> Compare prices on line. If you can spend between up to $350, look for a camera with a liquid crystal display, which lets you preview a photo before and after you take it. Cheaper cameras lack this feature. Don't be afraid to ask your local camera dealer if they can match or come close to Internet prices. Byteware in the Kamehameha Shopping Center has some of the lowest prices. Call 847-0360.

>> $500 will get you an excellent camera with at least a 3x optical zoom, meaning the photographer can enlarge the subject by three times. Using the zoom feature to properly frame the shot ahead of time also saves the photographer from editing the photo, which can degrade images.

>> Accessories matter: Lower-priced digital cameras are not designed to accommodate attachments for wider angle or telephoto exposure, limiting the photos you can take. Another handy option is a flash mount for an external flash rather than relying on the harsh lighting of built-in camera flashes.


Popular models

Below are some of the most popular digital cameras, with manufacturers' retail prices:

Three megapixels

>> Fujifilm FinePix 3800: $340
>> Olympus Camedia C-750 Ultra Zoom: Under $600
>> Nikon Coolpix 3100: $340

Four megapixels

>> Canon PowerShot G3: $520
>> Nikon Coolpix 4300: $390
>> Konica Digital Revio KD-400z: $450

Five megapixels

>> Nikon Coolpix 5700: $890
>> Olympus Camedia C-5050: $620
>> Sony Cyber-shot DSC-F717: $730

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