Snap decisions: Holiday camera shoppers focus on digital options
Mike Ronnie can't think of a reason why people shouldn't go digital when they buy a new camera. "I'm a big believer that digital is the superior format, just because of its flexibility," says Ronnie, digital imaging senior product specialist with...
Mike Ronnie can't think of a reason why people shouldn't go digital when they buy a new camera.
"I'm a big believer that digital is the superior format, just because of its flexibility," says Ronnie, digital imaging senior product specialist with Best Buy in Fargo. "Digital is going to cost more upfront, but by not having to develop the film, it's going to save you money."
While digital imaging technology is not new to the market, it has become more affordable, making it a realistic option for shutterbugs.
Robb Siverson, a sales associate with Ritz Camera in West Acres Shopping Center, says about 75 percent of his camera sales are digital, which has doubled in the last two years.
"It's crazy how rapidly it's advancing," he says. "Everyone must have one."
Ronnie says digital cameras are popular Christmas sellers.
"Last year was huge. This year I'm expecting to be quite a bit bigger," he says.
Not only are the cameras a popular gift item, "lots of people want them so they have it for the holidays," Ronnie says.
Consumers need to ask themselves what they're going to use the camera for, how big they want the photos to be and what kind of photographer they are.
A photographer who likes to operate a camera manually -- using different apertures, lenses or a mount flash -- has different needs than a person who just wants to snap photos. Your average photographer will want to explore the burgeoning point-and-shoot market.
The first feature to consider on a digital camera is its megapixels. Digital cameras are commonly labeled as 2-, 3- or 4-megapixel.
"Mega" means million, and pixels can be thought of as dots that make up the image.
"The higher the better," Ronnie says. "The higher the sharper the picture will be.
According to ConsumerReports.org, 1-megapixel models cost from $50 to $100, but are basically obsolete.
A 2-megapixel camera will produce good 4-by-6 inch photos, but not any larger.
"They say about three is about equivalent to a point-and-shoot (film camera)," Siverson says. "If a person is serious about getting a nice finished copy, I would look at getting a four or five."
A 4-megapixel camera costs about $400, Siverson says, compared to $1,000 a year ago.
Michael Miller, Monarch Photo store manager, says people may want to consider a less expensive model to supplement their existing 35mm camera.
"If they're looking for a digital camera to pocket and carry around and snap candids to share over e-mail ... they don't need 4 megapixels," he says.
Miller's store carries 15 different models. Prices range from $100 to $1,000.
His cheapest model has 2 megapixels and no zoom.
"That's going to be for the person who has an interest," he says. "It's a good way to get into (digital photography) without spending a lot of money."
Zoom, zoom, zoom
Zoom is another feature consumers must consider. Standard optical zoom is 3x, or a magnification of three times, which Ronnie says is good for portraits or posed photos. But Siverson says most people want more. For long-distance shots, such as of wildlife, some cameras now offer 10x zoom.
Some cameras tout digital zoom, which is basically the same as taking a large photo and cropping it.
Ronnie says most cameras also have the ability of filming short videos, but not high quality ones.
"That's not something that's going to replace the digital camcorder," he says.
Some digital camcorders can also capture still frames, but at a poor resolution. Quite possibly down the road, though, a dual product may be available.
Siverson says that consumers should also look for a brand name they recognize and trust.
"I would look at some of the main camera brands," Siverson says. "It seems like everyone is trying to dabble with digital photography now."
Having $400 to spend on a digital camera doesn't mean you can buy a $400 camera.
Shoppers need to leave room in their budget for accessories, such as additional memory cards, a card reader, batteries and a carrying case.
"Digital cameras can be very easy but they can be very frustrating if they don't have the right equipment," Miller says.
For example, a photo taken on a high-megapixel camera takes up more memory than a photo taken on a camera with fewer megapixels, so a larger memory card is needed to store the same amount of photos. Miller says he stocks few 32 megabyte memory cards; a 64 megabyte card is about the smallest. His largest holds one gigabyte of information.
Ronnie says that most cameras use either AA or lithium batteries. AA batteries won't last very long -- perhaps 30 to 40 pictures -- but are easy to replace, he says. While rechargeable lithium batteries can take upwards of 100 pictures before running out, they can cost $30 to $50.
Finally, consumers need to think about how they're going to convert their pictures from a digital file into an image that can be admired.
"I think everybody thought the whole world was going digital and we'd all be looking at photographs on the computer," Miller says. "The fact of the matter is everybody likes prints."
The problem, though, is that ink jet printers do not produce a quality image, and do not last a long time.
"Moisture, humidity, sunlight fades them, bleeds them," Siverson says.
Consumers need to look for dye sublimation printers.
More and more film developers also offer digital imaging kiosks where customers can print from a disc or memory card. Some companies, such as Kodak, allow customers to order prints online. Either way, the photos will have the extended lifespan, without having to print extra photos that didn't turn out.
"The greatest thing about digital is knowing what you got and knowing you got the image and being satisfied with it," Siverson says.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5525