Photo Opportunities

Digital Cameras

This page describes my experiences with different cameras over the last few years. If you're the kind of person who reads the last page of a mystery first, feel free to skip the history lesson and jump to the camera that interests you:

* Kodak DC-40 (1996)
* Kodak DC-50 (1996)
* Kodak DC-120 (1997)
* Olympus D-500L (1998)
* Olympus C-2000Z (1999)
* Olympus C-4040Z (2001)
* Olympus C-5050Z (2003)
* Nikon D70 (2004)

Generation 1: Stone Knives And Bearskins (1996)

Having figured out ways to scan pictures onto my web pages, you would think that I'd be satisfied, wouldn't you? Silly you. (I guess you didn't get to this page yet.) I wanted a digital camera. And carrying around a video camera and a video-capable computer seemed a bit much. So with a two week trip to Europe coming up, I broke down (and went broke) and got a Kodak DC40 camera. It's basically a larger capacity version of Apple's QuickTake 150. It can hold 48 pictures (96 at a lower quality setting) and then download them to a computer with a serial cable.

Here are a few pictures I took with the DC40. The linked JPEG images are the camera's standard 756x504 pixel 24 bit images. I have compressed the images to reduce file size. (The default format for the camera's Mac software is a 1.5MB PICT image file.)

Brussels Copenhagen Stockholm

Generation 2: Zooom Into The Future! (1996)

Less than a year after I bought the DC40, Kodak released two new consumer cameras based on Chinon designs. The DC50 has resolution specs similar to the DC40 but adds power zoom, autofocus instead of fixed focus and PCMCIA memory cards for expansion and fast download to your computer. The DC20 has lower resolution and limited capacity (eight 493x373 pixel images or sixteen at 320x240), but offers a low price and small size and weight (4.2 oz. plus battery).

To give you a basis for comparison, here are images taken with all three cameras. The location was the Fremont, California Arts & Wine Festival. All the linked images are the full resolution for their respective cameras. I converted them all to JPEG files at a quality setting of 60 to reduce file size. (The software included with the cameras uses a JPEG quality of 75, which produces files five times the size.) The thumbnail DC20 image is scaled by the same amount as the other images.

DC20 DC40 DC50
Wide Angle Telephoto

PCMCIA memory is one of the great virtues of the DC50. A single 20MB card will hold around 150 images. That's plenty of capacity for most of my trips, which saves me from having to carry around a laptop and transferring images as I take them. Carrying an extra card or two takes care of emergencies. That's a good idea, since finding a flash memory card in the tourist areas of Athens isn't nearly so easy as finding Kodachrome!

Generation 3: New Years Resolution (1997)

A year after the DC50, Kodak made another leap in consumer digital cameras with the DC120. The DC120 is slightly smaller than the DC50 but adds higher resolution (1280x960), a liquid crystal display for viewing and managing images and a macro capability.

All that extra detail means more control once we've taken a picture. Since 1280x960 is kind of big for most systems to display, I can reduce the image to a more manageable size (say 640x480) and get a sharper picture as a result. Or I can crop the image to eliminate extraneous detail and then scale to a standard size to produce a more carefully composed picture. Since many of the pictures I take are of scenes where distance to the subject is out of my control (unless those levitation lessons start paying off), the extra resolution gives me the equivalent of another 2X magnification of the final image.

Needless to say, I just had to get one. It arrived too late for my trip to Cairo, Istanbul and Budapest but finally got a workout during a visit to Birmingham, Alabama. Here are some JPEG compressed images from my visit to their botanical gardens, presented at the camera's full resolution, scaled to half size (640x480) and cropped and scaled to match my particular aesthetic preferences. Be warned that the full sized image files are big and will take a while to download:

Full Size (174k)

Half Size (49k)

Full Size (212k)

Half Size (80k)

Full Size (167k)

Half Size (66k)

Full Size (202k)

Half Size (75k)

Cropped (46k)

Cropped (81k)

Cropped (59k)

Cropped (75k)

The DC120 is an improvement over the DC50 in most ways, although there are a couple of drawbacks. Instead of the PCMCIA flash memory cards the DC50 uses for image storage, the DC120 uses Compact Flash cards. These are more expensive, lower capacity and were more difficult to find initially than their larger brethren. It's fortunate that these smaller cards come with an adapter to fit a standard PCMCIA slot, so transferring images to a computer is still convenient. A second complaint concerns the sensitivity of the camera's CCD. Where the DC50 did a good job on uniformly colored subjects like sky, the DC120 tends to produce a more mottled result at high resolution. But in some ways that was compensated for by the new camera's greater sensitivity in low light situations.

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Comments to: Hank Shiffman, Mountain View, California