In this article it is assumed that you have
used an ordinary camera for years and know your way around it. Before
we get started in this section it is a good idea to realise the limitations
of this relatively new technology.
You STILL cannot achieve the high quality results in enlargements obtainable by conventional photography. This is not a limitation of the technology, but more a practical memory issue - the highest quality photos need heaps of memory. If you want to know everything there is on this subject then Steve's Digicams pages are for you - absolutely brilliant! Actually we can't praise this site too much. Steve has helped reduce our "mistake rate"!!!
Do You Need a Digital Camera?
So rather than get embroiled in technical issues let's concentrate on what owning a digital camera can do for you as a motorhomer. First up it is idiot proof as you can instantly see the results. If you have made a boo boo you just retake the shot. Instead of using film a digital camera "stores" the images on a memory device. This can be built into the camera - to get the photos off you plug the camera into your computer and "download" the photos. This is relatively easy to set up and use. Cameras with USB output is MUCH EASIER to set up particularly with Windows XP as you do absolutely nothing to set it up! All other cameras use "removable" memory. Sadly this is like the VHS/Beta saga as there are several non compatible systems out there! Sony have hedged their bets and are the only manufacturers using plain old vanilla floppy disks as well as a gadget called a "memory stick". A huge mistake that many first time purchasers make is FAILING to take into account just how they will store images. If you intend going overseas you will take at least 2,000 photos. Now how do you store these? One way is to lug a laptop around with you. Another is to buy lots of memory sticks - not a brilliant idea as these cost $150.00 each and hold around 100 images (400 at web quality). Sony have a camera that uses a small rewritable CD. Sounds good but we burn a lot of CD's in our line of work and we can't see this camera working for too long in the field - corrugated roads spring to mind! ($2400.00) We travel with laptops but don't overseas as they gobble up 4 kg of your carry on luggage allowance. So if your photos will be taken around home you can use your home computer. If you are on the road you will need a laptop or a camera with a floppy or CD. A digital camera is a worthwhile investment for any motorhomer and will give you hours of pleasure.
Tricks and Tips
Most cameras come with included software. This really is the icing on the cake as it opens up some amazing opportunities. You can easily alter anything on a photo even to the point of adding people that aren't even in the picture! You will find that you will use contrast and brightness quite a lot. You can bring out more detail in flash photos and get rid of that "flat" look. Most software has an automatic feature - it guesses at the best settings for each picture. If you want to get really serious lash out and buy Photoshop or similar.
Many newbies fall into the hazardous pixel trap! They think that the more pixels the better the camera. This is only true up to a point. In the real world a 5 megapixel camera is not going to fit many pictures on to any memory device. You only need huge megapixels if you intend enlarging photos and very few RVers need to do this. We have achieved good results with as low as1.2 megapixels. We currently use a Sony 1.6 and an Olympus 3.4. All the pictures on this site start life at 640 X 480 and come in around 144K. We then reduce this to around 10K. We always keep the original files in case we want to print out later on. So please don't let salesman bamboozle you. The Sony is wonderful in that it will let you easily change resolutions right up to TIFF quality. A factor far more important than megapixels is the method of compression used. Compression is a method used to reduce the file size. It does this by "averaging" the picture and all manufacturers use their own methods. The Sony FD92 for instance has two different compression rates for the same resolution of 600 X 480. Using their floppy disk yields a 32K file. Using memory stick gives 144K. On portraits and motorhome bits you would be hard pressed to spot any difference. Where problems do show up is on photos with lots of grass and trees when we compress these down further for web use. Unless you are using your photos for the web you probably don't have to worry about this. We have only mentioned this here as the "experts" just never seem to know about these problems. We have never actually seen a professional review ever cover this aspect! All cameras have different problems. Our Olympus C3020 for instance gives a file of 57K. Sadly the next setting gives 570K - ouch!! This camera though has a different lens to the Sony and is great for taking photos inside motorhomes as it is a much wider angle.
The Best Compromise
We feel that Sony are 100% on the right track with their Mavica range which uses floppy disks as the primary or secondary storage method. One floppy holds 32 photos and costs less than a dollar. If overseas you can easily post the disks home as you use them. Other advantages are you can make security copies of disks simply by visiting any Internet cafe. There is no such thing as a free lunch however so here are the problems! Talking to other digital camera owners and looking at their results is a safe way of avoiding mistakes!
This is yet another misunderstood area. Please don't be misled by manufacturers advertising huge zoom sizes. Chances are the figure they refer to will be achieved digitally. Put simply this means at high levels your precious photos will "pixelate" and look all jagged. YOU DO NOT NEED DIGITAL ZOOM! You do however need OPTICAL zoom and the more the better. Camera manufacturers keep messing around with zoom. Sony for instance offer 10 times optical on their entry model yet it drops to 3 times on say the FD 100 middle of the range and around $1,100.00. You can thank goodness have the option of turning off digital zoom on most decent cameras.
The Huge Advantages
First up once you have bought the camera your running costs are exceptionally low as there are no processing costs unless of course you wish to store your memories in a conventional photo album. The biggest problem you are faced with is what camera to buy. We can't really help you much with this but can tell you our own deductions. As mentioned many times on this site you need to get out your crystal ball and look ahead as far as you can.
A Clever Way to Buy
Digital cameras are fairly robust devices with few if any moving parts so in our view are fairly safe to buy secondhand. We suggest you take a look at Ebay in Australia as there are lots of bargains on there and it is reasonably safe if you pay using a credit card as most of the vendors are dealers. Some cameras advertised are in the USA. Worth checking out.
Good Supplier in Australia
We can only give accolades of praise to Clive Peters. They have the BEST DISPLAY of any retailer and they are not even photographic specialists. Most shops have a round kiosk with the cameras set up on the periphery and huge monitors overhead in the centre. You simply walk around and try each camera - they are sending the output to the monitors instead of the camera. It is a great system and makes comparing a doodle!