Friday, October 1, 2004

Choosing an entry-level camera


By David Gewirtz

Over the past months, we've been getting in a ton of letters from readers. Frankly, we've just been too lazy to dig through them all and turn them into our standard Letters to the Editor column. However, this week, I've been busy enough on other topics that I haven't gotten around to writing my usual column and a good letter will do just the trick to get me out of my article's due blues.

Barbara Gray writes:

I have never owned a digital camera nor have I used one. Help! What do you think of the new Canon Powershot SD200 (3.2 megapixels) or the SD300 (4.0 megapixels) for a new digital camera user? I don't take a lot of pictures right now - mostly vacation and family type pictures. I may want to blow up a picture no more than an 8X10 and I might want to do a little cropping? Is there some other camera that would be a better fit for me? Thanks for your time! I have just discovered your articles on the Internet and think they will be helpful to me.

Well, Canon makes great little cameras. I have one of Canon's higher-end digital SLRs (not what you'd want). The Canon Digital Elph series (which include the SD200 and SD300) are sweet little cameras. The two cameras are virtually identical, except that the SD300 is about half an ounce heavier, can capture a higher image quality, and, of course, is about $100 more expensive. If you can afford the extra bucks, go with the higher-resolution camera. This will give you more flexibility, especially if you want to crop and then mount a picture. If you can't afford the extra cost, the SD200 is still a fine camera -- just remember to fill the frame better when you're composing your picture, like we used to do back before the turn of the century with them old fashion film cameras!

Another issue when considering a camera is whether your printer can print quality images. Obviously, printers are much less expensive, but if you're unable to get decent quality prints, I'd not necessarily recommend a higher-end camera.

In this particular instance, the real issue is exactly one of price performance: do you spend an extra $100 for more picture? If you can afford it (these are pretty inexpensive cameras already), then it's not a bad idea. By the way, Managing Editor Denise Amrich has a Casio Exilim and absolutely loves it. Both the Canon and the Casio should do nicely for you.

One final note: a year or so ago, an issue for the larger megapixel cameras was the cost of the flash memory. If you wanted to take bigger pictures, you'd wind up using up more of the memory card and that could get very pricey. I just picked up a 1GB SD card at the local CompUSA for under a hundred bucks. Flash memory prices are coming down so hard that the memory cost is really not much of a factor anymore.

I'll end this with a quick promo plug. If you're thinking about getting your first digital camera, I recorded a great audio program that will give you everything you need to know about. It's audio, which I know seems weird when we're talking about a digital medium, but it's incredibly informative. I'm including the links to it and our What the Heck is a Megapixel? Solutions Guide in the section below.