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A digital world view

January 24, 2004

Student Sahiba Sandhu carries her Olympus digicam wherever she goes. Whenever she sees anything worth snapping, she whips out the Olympus and shoots instantly. If she doesn't like the result she simply erases the shot and moves on.

Sandhu has no doubts about the dilemma that millions of amateur photographers around the world face these days when they go shopping for a new camera: is it time to go digital? "Absolutely," says Sandhu. "I don't have to pay for rolls and developing and it is so much simpler to share photos via e-mail."

Agrees Ashok Garg of Rama Color, a Delhi-based photo lab, "People hardly ever get copies made and then courier them to friends, they prefer to scan photos and send them through e-mail. With a digicam you are saved the trouble of scanning, just send it directly."

There are, definitely, big advantages for digicam users. Firstly, you do not need to buy rolls. Pictures are saved on a memory stick in the camera and can then be transferred on to your computer. Two, there are no developing charges unless you decide to get prints of some pictures.

In that case too, unlike a regular camera, you do not need to get the full roll developed, just print the pictures you like. "In a roll of 36, only around 20 photos are good, but you pay for the developing of the whole roll. In case of the digicam, I can get prints of pictures I like," says Sandhu.

However, be warned, getting digital prints is an expensive business. A 4x6 photo will cost you anywhere between Rs 10 to Rs 15, depending upon your photo lab, whereas developing a regular 4x6 print costs you Rs 5.

The third advantage, and one which those who use digicams find most useful, is that sharing photos becomes very easy. You can either e-mail photos to friends, or if they start grumbling because your photos jam their inboxes, you can load them on to free sites such as Yahoo! Photos and send them the link.

Loading them on to such sites also saves you the trouble of saving all the pictures on your hard disk, and therefore, even if your computer crashes, your pictures are safe. Enthusiasts also suggest saving all the pictures on a disk.

But before you decide on going digital, do take a few things into consideration. First, it is an expensive proposition. Digital cameras are priced between Rs 9,000 and Rs 65,000. Also, most cameras come with a memory chip of 16 MB, which can store only up to 20 to 25 pictures.

So if you are going on a holiday and are not carrying your laptop, you can't save too many pictures. The solution for this is to buy a bigger memory chip, say around 128 MB which can store up to 200 photos. The chip costs around Rs 3,000.

When selecting a camera, the most important thing to look for is resolution. Digital images are made up of dots called 'pixels'. Resolution refers to the number of pixels in an image. The higher the resolution, the sharper the image.

What mega pixel camera you should buy depends on how serious you are about photography. For amateur photographers a 3.2 mega pixel digicam is what most professionals recommend. Professionals can try digicams with 5.2 to 6 mega pixel resolution.

Also, if you are planning to get prints of your pictures then resolution plays a very important role for if you try to print lower resolution images at a larger size, the results will look blurry and unclear, giving the image a 'pixellated' look. With a 3.2 mega pixel camera you can print photos of up to 8x10 size.

Canon, Kodak, Nikon, Olympus and Sony are the biggest names in the digital camera market. The Nikon CoolPix 3100 is a 3.2 mega pixel camera with 3x optical and digital zoom. It comes with a 16 MB memory stick and is priced at Rs 16,500. Similar models are the Canon IXUS, priced at Rs 22,000 and the Olympus D560, priced at Rs 25,000.

On the cheaper side is the Samsung Digimex 201, which is a 2 mega pixel camera without optical zoom priced at Rs 10,000. It comes with a 8 MB memory stick. And the Nikon 2100 is priced at Rs 13,500. However, the prices in India vary from shop to shop and are almost 40 per cent higher than abroad. So if you are planning a trip to Singapore or Bangkok, buy your digicam there.

Those who prefer a higher resolution camera could go for a model like the Sony DSC P92 priced at Rs 33,990 or the Sony DSC P10 priced at Rs 36,990. Both cameras have a 5 mega pixel resolution, 3x optical zoom and 12x digital zoom.

What's more, you can also take video clippings with audio. The duration will depend upon the memory stick. If you put in a 256 MB memory stick priced at Rs 7,000, you can store a 90-minute video clipping. However, this is in MPEG format and not JPEG format and therefore it is not that smooth.

If you would like to print your own pictures you can buy HP's photo printers priced between Rs 6,499 to Rs 19,999. But then you will have to buy photo paper, which costs around Rs 300 for 20 sheets.

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