Hardware

Peripherals - Scanners

Scanners

When it comes to colour scanners, the price has come down dramatically for one that provides a minimum of 600dpi true optical resolution with 24 or 36-bit colour density. You would normally pay more for a fast scanner, attachments to allow scanning of negative/positive film and multi-page feeder unit. Generally, the higher the true optical resolution; the faster the scanning speed; the cleaner, sharper and colour accurate the output; and the greater the colour density of your scanner, the more detailed and higher quality the digital image will be when matching to the original. And this usually translates into a more expensive scanner.

Unless you are in the professional desktop publishing, advertising or graphic design business, you would do well with a simple colour flatbed scanner with at least 600dpi true optical resolution and a minimum 24-bit colour rate.

For example, when the old Canon CanoScan N1220U came out in June 2001 with its renowned optics, it produced a particularly sharp image up to 1200x2400 optical dpi. Unfortunately for such a high optical resolution, it is surprisingly not able to handle transparencies and film. Also its advertised 48-bit colour optics is only while it is scanning, but for some unknown reason has to reduce that colour information to 24-bits when the image reaches your computer. However, the big plus for Canon is its size. Measuring not much larger than a piece of A4 paper and as thick as a couple of Zip disk cassettes, this machine will fit inside a portable laptop bag. And there is no need for a separate power supply: power is derived entirely from your computer via the USB port. The scanner will connect to Windows 98/2000 and MacOS (USB) systems.

At the time the scanner was being sold, the price of $A299 reflecting the fact that it came bundled with Adobe Photoshop 5.0LE, universal TWAIN Driver and ArcSoft PhotoBase software). But it was still considered reasonable for what this scanner can achieve compared with other similar scanners for the price.

Nowadays, manufacturers of scanners provide their own software or plug-in suitable for use with the industry-standard Adobe Photoshop. And as such, the price of these machines have dropped as low as AUD$60. You would only pay more than AUD$150 if it came with a higher scanning speed and other features.

UPDATE

Canon has already updated this scanner to the CanonScan N1240U for the same price (was there anything wrong with the previous model?).

Or if you want slightly greater flexibility to scan things like transparencies, try the Canon CanoScan D1230U for $A449 as of June 2001. It has all the bundled software as in the CanoScan N1220U. But there is the added extra of ScanSoft OmniPage Pro 9.0 for Windows and OmniPage SE for Macintosh. Combine this with a scanner that delivers true 1200x2400 optical dpi with full 48-bit colour input (and hopefully the same when it reaches the output stage), and the option to add a high intensity film adapter unit, and the package has to be considered a reasonable buy for consumers.

And if you are not quite sure there is enough choice from Canon, you can now buy the Canon N1250U2F scanner for PC only. This one will scan directly from 35mm film as well as standard colour photos and text documents thanks to the 1200 x 2400 optical dpi and special lighting in the lid. It also has three easy to use buttons for scanning (although we are still perplexed as to why there has to be three buttons just to scan an image). The price for this scanner is around the A$350 mark.

UPDATE

Canon has again updated the abovementioned scanners to the CanoScan D2400UF valued at A$899. This scanner delivers true 48-bit colour at both the input and output stage and has a true optical resolution of 2400x4800dpi. Canon has also gone to some effort in minimising imperfections during scanning in this model with a distinctly cleaner image output compared to many similarly-priced rivals. With the ability to scan slides, negative film and transparencies, web designers and the average multimedia enthusiast will find this scanner more than adequately meet their needs.

UPDATE
December 2004

And yet again Canon provides a new model called the Canon CanoScan 8400F for A$499. This model shows how far we have come in colour digital scanning with a whopping super high optical resolution of 3,200 x 6,400 dpi combined with a sharpness in images which is second-to-none, thereby making it superb for scanning colour negative and positive films. This might be a bit of an overkill but with its ability to batch 12 frames of film for scanning at any one time and its excellent software bundle to boot, this is a product worth a closer look.

Has Canon finally cornered the colour digital scanning market?

Well, there is an alternative "consumer" scanner if you are not interested in the Canon variety. Epson has released the Epson Expression 2450 Photo with the same resolution and true colour output as the CanoScan D2400UF. It is the fastest scanner of all the models discussed in this section because of its ability to interface with the latest USB 2.0 port. This scanner is good for all types of scanning work (including transparencies, negative film and slides) except for commercial printing. Priced at A$999, this is a serious competitor to Canon's CanoScan D2400UF for speed, quality and flexibility for roughly the same price.

Or for the truly professional "commercial printing" scanners to consider include the fast and high image quality of Microtek ScanMaker 8700 (true 42-bit colour at 1200x2400dpi optical resolution) for A$1600 as of June 2001 (now gone up to A$2099 as of May 2002) which uses a glassless scanning tray to avoid noise and other distortions during scanning. Or, if you have the money, purchase the more expensive Epson Expression 1680 Pro for A$2000 (some computer stores will advertise this model for A$2200).

When buying a colour scanner, look for the ones that have high-density LED arrays (for lighting up the page you want scanned) like the CanoScan N1220U instead of the conventional fluorescent types (found on older scanners such as the Agfa SnapScan 600). LED scanners uses not only less power saving you money on the electricity bill in the long-term, but they last a whole lot longer.

UPDATE
October 2003

Hewlett-Packard has released a revolutionary new scanner known as HP Scanjet 4670 for A$499. This compact "take anywhere" scanner with a thickness of 19mm and slightly larger than A4 in size is designed to scan any flat surface you care to throw at it (preferably not at a high rate of speed!). All you have to do is press the translucent scanner area against a book, painting or any other flat surface and you will get a high quality digitised image of the surface at up to 2,400 dpi optical resolution and 48-bit colour. Traditional document scanning is acheived a little different than other scanners in that you place the scanner on a cradle stand and then sandwich the document into the machine for scanning. Another smart move from HP is to throw in an adapter for scanning 35-millimetre negatives and slides.

Think of this scanner as coming between the versatility of a digital camera (which scans absolutely anything it can see) and the traditional table-top scanners discussed above.

UPDATE
June 2005

Epson has come up with a great product called Epson Perfection 4990 Photo for scanning paper and 35mm slide and negative film and delivered via a USB 2.0 connection. It is a 48-bit colour flatbed model with a maximum optical resolution of 4,800dpi. The resolution is particularly good to the point where you can hang on the wall large prints from your 35mm negative film with this scanner. Colour quality, highly respectable contrast and super sharp detail make this an excellent scanner for 2005. Price is A$899. Comes with Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0 for manipulating your scanned images.

Expect these prices to drop by 2009.

Digital cameras

What happens if you want greater flexibility in the type of images you want digitised (or scanned)? Is that possible?

There is a portable electronic device known as the digital camera. It does more than take digital snapshots of documents and photographs on a glass lid. With a digital camera, you can take it practically anywhere and digitise just about anything you see. Later, you can plug it into your computer and download all the images and have them processed, printed (in photographic quality), displayed in a digital picture frame, and stored somewhere for future use.

NOTE: Digital images, if stored on a reliable and high-quality backup unit, will last forever without loss in colour contrast or other issues.

In 2001, five major drawbacks of digital cameras included (i) the low resolution of the CCD (charge-coupled device) sensor (usually less than 6 megapixels); (ii) the number of images you can hold on their tiny memory sticks or cards (anywhere from 27 to 64MB built-in is standard but should be bumped up to a minimum of 2GB to be of any practical use); (iii) the quality of the lens (needs to be of the highest quality to get the sharpness you require together with an Optical Image Stabiliser at 5x optical zoom or higher); (iv) the price (generally too expensive); and (v) the generally poor results in low-lighting conditions.

In 2009, Sony unveiled a refreshing range of new and powerful digital cameras and lenses designed to address virtually all the drawbacks of the old models. For example, in the sharpness department, Shigeki Ishizuka, president of Sony's digital imaging business group, claimed the new 28-75mm zoom and supertelephoto lenses of unspecified focal length will be better than Nikon and will handle the new large CCD sensor the size of a frame of 35mm film in Sony's new higher-end digital SLR (most digital cameras use the smaller, less sensitive and cheaper to manufacture CCD sensors even in lower end digital SLRs). As Ishizuka said:

"Sony is passionate in proving better lens development."

It will also come with a decent storage card and taking pictures in low-lighting conditions will be significantly improved.

The new Sony digital cameras are expected to provide a serious challenge to market leaders Canon and Nikon. Unfortunately the new cameras are not yet cheap for the mass market.

Until then, you can buy alternative digital cameras. In fact, a number of dirt cheap digital cameras for under the A$100 mark are available as we speak. They'll do a fine job for school projects and simple christmas card sized shots. But if you want really high quality images up to A3 size and still have the flexibility to do things like being able to zoom in on any subject matter in any lighting condition, you will have to pay considerably more. Better quality and more flexible features pretty much equates to higher prices in the world of digital cameras.

UPDATE
October 2003

High quality digital images comparable to standard film SLR cameras up to A3 size is possible with digital cameras priced as little as A$400 (or $A200 as of 2010). You would only consider buying a higher priced digital camera if you want bigger enlargements (i.e. a greater resolution in the CCD sensor and high quality precision optics in the lens for super sharp images), with more built-in memory, more pictures per second (especially for taking multiple shots and maybe to produce movies), the ability to see through the lens just like a proper SLR, produce short-length digital movies, a more sensitive and bigger CCD sensor for a more detailed and faster shot, and how well and fast the camera calculates the correct exposure.

For example, in 2003, you could get a 6.1 megapixel CCD on a digital SLR camera for A$499 (e.g. Nikon D50 Digital SLR), which is the minimum for creating sharp enlargements of A4 size or slightly greater. But anything below A$150 is only useful for taking fairly good looking digital images at christmas card sizes.

However, this has changed as of 2010. As of 2010, the Canon digital Powershot cameras can deliver nice sharp A4-sized images at a minimum of 10-megapixels at under A$200.

For the very best quality digital cameras having the highest sharpness in the pictures, go for an SLR. The body is big enough to cram a lot of features including a bumper-sized memory and enough flexibility to help you take photographs in virtually any lighting condition and under high motion of the subject.

For instance, the world's best quality digital images in a camera that is essentially no different than an SLR camera is the Nikon D1X Pro for A$11,950; or the Canon EOS-1D for A$13,459 as of 2003.

The slightly cheaper version of the Nikon D1X Pro is, naturally enough, the Nikon D1X. Priced at a tad over A$8000, you will get an effective 5.74-megapixel CCD sensor in the camera body, meaning that it can create a raw and unprocessed solid digital file image size of up to 3008x1960 pixels. Excellent detail in the digital images is achieved up to A3 size thanks to the camera's superb ability to accept any kind of super-sharp modern Nikon lense (including the Autofocus variety) you care to throw at it. There is also a nice feature that allows you to take up to 3 frames per second to help capture that crucial moment. And you will not be disappointed with the shutter speed of 30 to 1/16,000 second with electronic flash.

If quality images is what you want, this is one very serious digital camera that will deliver.

However, if the price tag for a Nikon D1X of $8000 is a little bit too pricey for you (there is a cheaper digital SLR version called the Nikon D100 having an effective 6.1 megapixel CCD for $2,999 after a $200 cashback by redemption offer and comes with a Nikkor AF 28-100mm lens interchangeable with any other Nikkor lens), there is the Canon EOS 10D Pro for A$3450, which is better than the A$13,459 price tag for the truly awesome Canon EOS-1D Digital SLR camera as of July 2002). This is essentially a full digital SLR camera with a respectable 6.3 megapixel CMOS sensor delivering an 18MB RGB file for each full colour image suitable for A3-sized enlargements. There is a 35-zone metering for more accurate exposures, a newly-developed DIGIC Imaging Engine for creating automatic quality colour, brightness and contrast balanced images, a 256MB memory card for storing digital images, full manual control, and continuous shooting at 3 frames per second come standard with the Canon digital camera.

The Canon EOS 10D Pro is more than capable of delivering the same quality results as the older top-of-the-range digital camera on the market.

Or there is a cheaper Nikon digital camera called the Coolpix 5700. With 5.24 million pixel CCD sensor, this camera will create sharp enlargements up to A3 poster size. With a 256-segment Matrix Metering for reasonably accurate exposure times, a USB interface and a hot shoe adapter for an external flash, this is a nice camera. Although you will not be able to attach Nikon lenses to this unit (it does come with its own 8x optical Zoom-Nikkor lens), expect this one to be a good buy for its quality image delivery. The Coolpix 5700 had been priced at A$1,900 as of July 2003.

The other low-cost but quality alternative is the Canon PowerShot G2. This is an effective 3.87 million pixel CCD sensor camera and comes with a high quality lens. You will know how good the lens is once you see how sharp the images are on this camera. Truly awesome. Perhaps this is Canon's way of saying "You don't always need a Nikon lense to do the job properly."

The price for the Canon PowerShot G2 is around the A$1900 mark.

UPDATE
April 2003

Sony has joined the digital camera revolution with an excellent 5.0 megapixel CCD sensor camera known as the Sony DSCP92 Cybershot for A$999. It comes with a 3x optical zoom, multiple scene modes and a sturdy, compact metal body. The only slight problem is the limited 16MB memory stick that comes standard with this camera. Given the size of the digital images capable with this high resolution CCD sensor, you would need a minimum of 64MB for the average weekend traveller unless you intend to constantly plug this camera into your computer on a regular basis. There is a slightly cheaper version called the Sony DSCP8 Cybershot digital camera for A$849, but this camera suddenly drops its CCD resolution quality to 3.2 megapixels. The same optical zoom and memory stick is built into this product as with the expensive version. If Sony is what you want, you are better off paying for the extra A$100 to $150 to get the high resolution digital camera version — it is more versatile and far better quality at larger image sizes.

UPDATE
September 2003

Prices for the Sony Cybershot has dropped to A$759 for the 5.0 megapixel camera and A$529 for the 3.2 megapixel camera.

UPDATE
November 2003

The boundary between true digital SLR cameras with the ability to accept interchangeable lenses for under A$1000 and the standard pocket digital cameras are getting blurred. Check out the new Fuji FinePix S5000 and Kodak DX6490 cameras for a glimpse of the latest products.

The Fuji FinePix S5000 is a reasonable camera for A$799. But be careful how this product is marketed by some vendors. Vendors may say it is a 6 megapixel camera because it produces 6 megapixel images, but in truth has an effective 3.1 megapixel CCD.

Our recommendation for a quality low-cost digital camera for the consumer market (with the ability to consistently set the correct exposure and show natural colours even in portrait or regions of an image suffering from extreme bright and dark regions) should be the effective 4.0 megapixel Kodak DX6490 with 10x optical zoom and a wider than normal aperture for A$399 as of March 2005. However, better cameras at the same price are now available as of 2009, so check your local camera store.

This nice compact Kodak camera has a very sharp Schneider-Kreuznach Variogon lens for picking up exceptional details even in macro mode and is virtually distortion free. It has an electronic viewfinder, but its LCD display at the back of the camera is so large and easy to view under all lighting conditions that you could do away with the viewfinder altogether. More important is Kodak's new colour processing chip which now has the ability to produce accurate, natural true-to-life colour images especially with skin tones. So taking pictures of people will definitely show the skin colour in a natural way. If necessary, you can always enhance the colour a little more if you need to in the menu system.

A tiny built-in flash is standard with the option to add an external flash if needed. The built-in flash is sufficiently powerful enough for portrait or other types of close range work within 5 metres.

The only four disadvantages in this camera from Kodak would have to be:

  1. the built-in 16MB memory which is enough to store 10 highest quality images (saved as JPEG);
  2. the inability to specify no JPEG compression and just go for the RAW data for the highest quality digital images possible with this camera;
  3. the plastic body is more susceptible to damage than a full metal body; and
  4. service and repairs for a broken Kodak digital camera in some parts of the world can be slow (e.g. Australian customers will have to send their Kodak cameras to Thailand for repairs).

To minimise some of these problems, we strongly recommend purchasing an additional SD memory card of at least 256MB and preferably 1GB (A$30) to make it less of a pain in having to transfer the images onto your computer on a regular basis (a 256MB memory card will give you 190 high-quality JPEG pictures plus you can switch to the 16MB inbuilt memory for the extra 10 more).

Ideally you should try to purchase the largest memory card you can afford with a camera that can provide RAW file formats for the best image quality. And when Kodak decides to put in decent built-in memory into the camera sometime in the future, then maybe Kodak will provide the option of no compression when storing the digital images.

Ignoring these four minor irritations, the Kodak DX6490 is truly the culmination of several years of excellent research and experience in building early model digital cameras. This latest model proves Kodak has come of age with a quality consumer digital camera with features that would make even the professionals very happy indeed. And now Kodak has gone one step better with a new DX7590 model to replace the DX6490 for A$599 as of March 2005. This one has 5 megapixel capabilities and 32MB in-built memory to round off what is considered a good introductory digital camera.

However, for a better quality digital camera and one that doesn't break your bank balance, we strongly recommend the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ25 for A$969 as of January 2005. Actually, the large lens for this digital camera is from Leica — world-renowned for its excellent optics. Only the world's best cameras use Leica lenses (although Canon and Nikon lenses are quite good). This means the sharpness of the images in this camera will be much better than the Kodak DX7590. All other aspects of this camera are very similar to the Kodak except Panasonic has decided to bump up the optical zoom range to 12x (giving an equivalent optical zoom of 35 to 420mm for the standard film camera lenses), give a faster 30 frames per second shooting mode for creating movies, throw in 256MB of internal memory (who needs a memory card this time?) with room to expand (up to 1GB), and a built-in "optical image stabiliser" to keep images looking sharp at the highest 12x optical zoom.

Now if only Panasonic could put in a decent 8 megapixel CCD into the Lumix DMC-FZ25 and price it the same as the previous model and you can be sure it will sell like hot pancakes. Come to think of it, it could see the end of all traditional analog cameras if Panasonic can achieve this aim.

NOTE: Panasonic has sensibly gone for two digital camera models to suit all customers thereby making it easier for everyone. While other digital camera manufacturers such as Canon, Kodak, Olympus (e.g. Olympus E-500), Konica Minolta, Fujifilm and Samsung will produce a multitude of compacts, SLR-look-alikes and true digital SLRs to overwhelm consumers, Panasonic has chosen to design only two excellent digital cameras considered the ultimate in their features. The first is the compact Panasonic Lumix FX7. And the second is the awesome Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ20. Because digital cameras don't need to have true SLR features such as an interchangeable lens or have the ability to see through the lens, Panasonic has seen the light as far as choosing the world's best lens from Leica and be able to include a decent 12X optical zoom which pretty much covers the needs of up to 99 per cent of consumers. Therefore there is no need to have an interchangeable lens. And with the LCD screen, you won't have to manually look through the lens (and get cross-eyed after a while).

If we have to be picky about this Panasonic camera, it would be in the macro feature — it is not quite as good as the Kodak DX6490 or DX7590. Ignoring this fact, the Panasonic camera is truly a superb choice for a digital camera for virtually any other aspect of what it can do such as landscape and portrait work and one that is likely to do away with all other digital cameras except for the most expensive Nikon and Canon SLR digital cameras.

If you go for the Kodak DX7590 or the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ20, complement this with a good quality colour photo inkjet printer such as the Canon i865 and you really can't go wrong.

UPDATE
December 2003

Canon is aggressively competing in the digital camera market as we speak. Canon has announced the company's cheapest digital SLR for around A$1800 known as Canon EOS 300D. This product comes with a 6.3 megapixel CMOS sensor capable of replicating the ISO speeds of 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1600 — a feature considered enough to encourage more film users to convert to digital. Then you have an auto-focus system with seven sampling points, 35-zone "through the lens" metering for accurate exposures, and facilities for white balance and colour rendition processing. The camera is fully compatible with both Mac and Windows systems.

And now Sony is fighting back with the release of the professional Sony 8MP Cybershot DSC-F828 with a high-end Zeiss lens for around A$1500. This has an awesome 8 megapixel four-colour CCD, a fast image processor, and will capture images in RAW, TIFF and JPEG. A 7x optical zoom is standard (equivalent to 28-200mm in the traditional 35mm camera film market) and a 14x digital zoom for magnifying the pixels in an image already zoomed optically (not always a good feature to have). However, this is not a proper SLR digital camera like Canon's latest professional variety for around the same price.

Yet again Canon counters Sony's latest offering with a Canon Powershot Pro1 for A$2,079 as of June 2004. This is a true optical 8 megapixel CCD with a 7x optical zoom, 2-inch LCD screen, macro mode, high speed shooting at up to 2.5 images per second (up to 6 images), movie recording with sound, a generous 64MB of RAM, and can imitate the speed of standard film within the range of ISO 50/100/200/400. Combine this with a quality Canon lense and you have a pretty good digital camera.

UPDATE
April 2005

And just to rub it in a little more, Canon provides the latest EOS 350D true digital SLR camera in an incredibly lightweight, strong and compact package for A$1,899. Canon has taken the 8 megapixel CCD of the Powershort Pro1 and rammed it into its previous EOS 300D model to create a marvellous new product. Compatible with a range of 50 interchangeable Canon EF lenses and accessories, this camera will quickly make a professional photographer out of any amateur enthusiast.

"What about the Olympus digital cameras?" you may ask. Olympus digital cameras are also quite good. The best thing about Olympus is the fact that this company does understand the importance of quality precision optics for its lens when building a digital camera. The digital images produced by an Olympus digital camera are quite good. But you will need to shop around for a good price as a quality Olympus camera can cost over A$1000. Also when it comes to reproducing skin tones in a natural way, the Kodak DX6490 does a better job than Olympus. And now that Kodak has chosen quality precision optics in this latest camera, you should consider the Kodak product for the price (now under A$399).

If, however, you want that extra flexibility in controlling exposure and shutter speed over a much greater range, to have the accuracy to see exactly what is through the lens (although considered obsolete with LCD screens), and to have virtually no restrictions in file types and compression levels as well as a decent memory size for storing images, consider the latest digital SLR camera from Canon (and perhaps Nikon if the prices for Nikon digital SLR cameras have come down a little). Or better still, go for the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ25, which is clearly an outstanding camera for the price.

UPDATE
September 2004

Just to settle the dispute in the consumer digital camera market, Nikon has come out with an absolute beauty. The D70 SLR digital camera for under A$2,000 (or A$2,199 with an 18-70mm lense) produces crisp and clear 6.1 megapixel pictures with accurate colour renditions. At this price, this is a body-only camera, but the quality and rugged nature of the camera will appeal more to professional photographers than the delicate-looking Canon EOS 300D SLR digital camera. Controls on the Nikon camera are very similar to those familiar with Nikon film cameras. A bright, high resolution LCD screen helps to view the photographs with ease. Colours in the photographs are balanced, sharp and well-exposed.

UPDATE
January 2005

The Nikon D70 digital SLR camera is now priced at A$1,799 with a Nikon 18-70mm zoom lens, just to put the slight edge over the Canon EOS 350D. But it could do with an 8 megapixel CCD upgrade to keep Nikon on top of the game.

UPDATE
January 2005

Kodak has now come up with an absolute shocker of a digital SLR camera. And by shocker, we mean it in every positive sense of the word. The latest digital camera from Kodak packs a whopping 14 megapixels into its highly dense CCD sensor, making it the largest available on the market. Kodak knows the competition is fierce, so it has gone the full hog with its impressive CCD and other features. For example, the ISO range is the widest possible of any digital camera (6 - 1600 ISO range). And you get RAW (uncompressed) image burst of 19 frames per second thanks to its built-in 512MB buffer.

Consumers would also benefit from this massive jump in capabilities of the Kodak camera because the camera now helps to future-proof itself and keep ahead of the competition for at least a couple of years. The only thing detracting from its professional, clean and powerful look is its price: you would be emptying the bank balance at A$5,499 as of June 2005. But when you see what you get for it, it is worth every cent.

The camera is called Kodak DCS Pro SLR/c. At this price, you do get a Manfrotto tripod and head, a Lexar 1GB Pro CF card for storing images, and a Canon 24-85mm USM lens (any Canon EOS lense can be attached). Maybe it would be even nicer if it could serve the drinks as well!

Maximum file sizes capable with this Kodak camera is 40MB stored in the TIFF file format.

UPDATE
February 2006

Nikon is trying to fight back. If price is an important consideration for buying a digital SLR for the consumer, how about a Nikon D50 Digital SLR for A$999 with a Nikon AFS 18-55mm Zoom, 6.1 megapixel CCD, 2-inch colour LCD screen, 1/4000 second shutter speed, built-in flash, and 2.5 frames per second in fast shooting mode? This is a pretty good basic digital SLR if you don't need all the fancy features from the world's best digital SLR cameras.

UPDATE
April 2006

Olympus has come out with a good SLR digital camera known as Olympus E-330 for A$1,799. The biggest drawcard for this product is its revolutionary new approach to viewing what you see through the camera lens on the 6.4cm LCD monitor in real-time called Live View. This is the first camera to actually do it properly. The camera manages to achieve this by re-engineering the layout of mirrors and prisms in the camera body such that the visual information coming through the lens can reach a second CCD sensor. It is through this second CCD sensor where you get the opportunity to see what the lens is seeing in real time.

Another big plus is the extra effort by Olympus to reduce the dust from reaching its CCD sensors (the main one can produce descent 7.5 megapixel photos).

The only drawback to this product is that Olympus has produced quite a unique camera lens containing a special technology called Four Thirds System, meaning you must buy lenses specifically designed for the camera. But given its powerful new technology this shouldn't pose a problem as other companies including Panasonic will join Olympus in the new lens design. This means Leica lenses will soon come with this new technology.

This is a good, solid and rugged camera to suit every enthusiast.

UPDATE
June 2006

Canon has dropped the price of the digital SLR 350D to $1,400.

UPDATE
July 2006

Let's end this nonsense with one really good digital SLR to blow your mind away. How about the most compact medium-format D-SLR auto-focussing cameras known as Mamiya 645 AFD II or the Hasselblad H1. Now these are what we call cameras. Truly professional. The biggest advantage are the sharpness of the images (sharper and more detailed than the Kodak DCS Pro SLR) and the ability to interchange the back of the camera for digital or traditional film work (avoiding the need for professional photographers to carry two cameras).

You'll pay a little more than the Kodak DCS Pro (about US$2,999 for the Mamiya 645 AFDII body only and US$5,199 for the Hasselblad H1), but it is worth every cent when you see the quality of the images. Serious about selling professional images to agencies? Don't settle for anything less. Go for these medium-format digital/film hybrid cameras.

On eBay, the slightly older Mamiya 645 AFD are now selling for US$1,100.

UPDATE
August 2006

A major shake-up in the camera market. Japan's top camera makers have virtually decide to go digital. Could this be a mistake? One would think so when Nikon announced it would go purely digital and within days consumers bought almost every remaining new Nikon film SLR cameras on the market.

The decision to go digital is supported by sales figures. In 2002, worldwide sales of Japanese-made digital cameras (24.6 million) exceeded file cameras (23.7 million). In 2005, Japanese makers sold 70.2 million digital cameras. In terms of all cameras produced and sold worldwide, this represents a 92.3 per cent of the total market.

Among the Japanese makers intent in going digital include Nikon, Matsushita, Sony and Fuji. Canon is also gearing up for a purely digital camera market. Why? Because consumers love the idea of not having to pay for film and processing of the photos. Once you have the computer and software, you can do all the processing yourself.

But will film SLR cameras disappear altogether?

UPDATE
2009

Sony has quietly been doing some research and development. In 2009, it has unveiled some excellent high-end digital SLRs designed to challenge the market leaders of Canon and Nikon.

**

Whatever you decide, if the consumer-variety of digital cameras are what you want (understandable when price is the prime consideration), always remember to go to a camera store and see them up close and personal. Touch them. See how they feel in the hands. Is it easy to see the pictures you have taken? If so, ask to have a few pictures taken with each digital camera and look at the results. Try to transfer the images to a computer and compare the pictures. Also see how large you can get them on the screen before you start to lose out on the detail. In general, you should steer towards a camera that can provide you with an original RAW uncompressed image for the most information. Cheaper cameras use higher and higher JPEG compression rates to fit more pictures into its built-in memory and external memory cards. But this will lose some information, reducing the quality of your pictures. Make sure there is an option not to have JPEG compression of any sort for the highest quality pictures. Also are the images well exposed and correctly colour balanced? Do the skin tones look natural? Are these images the sort of thing you would be happy in your photo album, web site or magazine?

This is still the best way to sort out the quality digital cameras from the ordinary ones.

Or better still, stop hassling over the right camera and just go for the ultimate — try the Mamiya 645 AFD. You won't be disappointed.

NOTE: Some software packages may save JPEG files in a different file format such as TIFF resulting in a much bigger file size. For example, a 535KB JPEG file could be saved as an 11.4MB TIFF file. This is just the way JPEG compression works by removing hopefully the least important information from the files to make them smaller in size. Depending on the width and height of the final image you wish to keep, a small standard-size picture (up to 10 x 8 inches) can be saved as JPEG and you will barely notice a loss in quality. However if you intend to blow your pictures up to much larger sizes without losing quality (as required for full-colour coffee-table edition magazines or posters), you will need every single pixel of information coming from the CCD sensor of your digital camera.

Digital compact cameras

The biggest drawback of all digital SLR cameras has to be their size: it is large and bulky. Totally understandable if you want the quality features to take quality pictures in a compact design while travelling around a lot. In 2003, you basically had no choice.

However, in recent years, compact digital cameras have approached a descent level of quality in the images that may be worth exploring if you are not into professional digital photography.

As of 2008, the best compact digital camera you can buy would have to be the Leica D-Lux 3. While it does come with the world's best and sharpest lens, you will be paying quite a bit for this camera. Lowest price of around US$669 is pretty much the goer.

For this you get a 10 megapixel CCD sensor, 4x optical zoom (equivalent 28 to 112mm zoom range), USB 2.0 connection, 2.8-inch (207,000 pixel) LCD screen for previewing an image before taking the shot, a quality Leica DC Vario-Elmarit 6.3-25.2mm f/2.8-4.9 ASPH lens, built in Optical Image Stabiliser (OIS) to compensate for camera shakes and so ensure a shape image at all times even in the telephoto range, option of menually setting the aperture and shutter speed, and choice of image size formats (16:9 HD-TV-ready at 8 megapixels; and 3:2 at 6 megapixels; and the standard photo size at 10 megapixels).

The camera can also handle low light conditions such as taking pictures inside a museum where you can't use the flash (note that this camera does not have a built-in flash).

Some experts believe this compact camera could become a classic digital camera.

We think you should wait for the next generation model known as the Leica D-Lux 4 to really enjoy the best of the compact digital camera world.

If this camera is too expensive, Panasonic has a near equivalent version known as the Panasonic DMC-FS20 with a 28mm wide-angle Leica DC Vario-Elmar lens, 4x optical zoom, 10.1 megapixel CCD sensor, and is priced at approximately US$410.

Other good compact cameras include the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX36 with 720p HD-quality video recording, maximum ISO of 6,400, 10 megapixel CCD sensor, 2.5-inch (230,000 pixel) LCD screen, 22mm thin and 146 grams in weight at A$419 through online stores; or consider some of the top-of-the-line compact digital cameras from Canon.

Digital cameras in mobile phones

Don't bother with these toys for taking pictures if you are serious about digital photography or at least getting decent pictures. If you don't need a powerful digital camera and instead prefer to have really ordinary-looking photos taken digitally, you may wish to invest in a handheld PDA device containing a mobile phone, be able to run Microsoft Word, Excel, Outlook and Internet Explorer for access to the internet and emails, listen to MP3 music and watch movies in full-screen mode. For example, try something like O2 Atom for A$1229. This powerful little unit has a respectable 2 megapixel digital camera and comes with a tri-band wireless GSM/GPRS, Wi-Fi (802.11b) and Bluetooth technology. Combine this with the ability to run the core set of Microsoft software products together with an FM radio, digital MP3 music player, and show pictures and video in a very simple and elegant design, you really can't go wrong with this amazing little unit. Or if you need a mobile phone as well, try i-mate JASJAR for A$1,699. This is basically a miniaturized laptop with its QWERTY thumb keyboard, a 180-degree swivel display boasting a 9.1 centimetre colour screen that doubles as a conventional handheld PDA, a mobile phone and wireless connectivity of every sort imaginable and you've got yourself an amazing device.

The new digital video camera of the future

Continuing on this image capturing theme, both Panasonic and Matsushita have unveiled a new concept for digital still cameras and digital video cameras. Each company has released their own product that can now blur the boundary between taking still and motion pictures in the digital format.

The key feature of these new cameras is the ability to detach the bulky cassette deck, leaving behind a reasonably lightweight and compact still camera. For example, the new Panasonic "Transformer" without the cassette deck weighs in at 300 grams and fits comfortably in your hand.

For a quality camera of this type, we recommend the one sold by Panasonic. Why? Because not only does it have a respectable 1.08 megapixel CCD, but it also comes with a quality Leica Dicomar lens for taking exceptionally sharp pictures, even with its 10x optical zoom set at maximum.

The Panasonic "Transformer" is expected to retail for $4000. "Ouch! Where's that bank manager of ours?"

UPDATE
March 2005

Digital video cameras are trying to reach a higher level of quality in the recorded images. The main problem with digital video cameras is the lower resolution (usually less than 2.0 megapixels) so that the cameras can store the information in their limited memory and do it quick enough to give a sense of motion in the images.

Now the latest consumer versions of digital video cameras can achieve 2.3 megapixels in resolution, have 1GB of in-built memory, and have multiple CCDs (also described as the eye of any video camera) dedicated to the three primary colours which when combined will produce images with superior, true-to-life colour.

For example, the Panasonic GS150 uses 3 CCDs for each of the primary colours — red, yellow and blue — for creating exceptional colour in the recorded images. Add to it a quality Leica Dicomar Lens, 2.3 megapixels in resolution, and the option to add a 1GB SD card, and you have a pretty impressive digital video camera.

Is there anything Panasonic cannot do with digital cameras these days?

How to convert analogue-to-digital video

It is good and fine to have a digital video camera to take digital still or moving pictures, but what about the people who have invested in a standard camcorder of the old analogue variety like Video8, Hi8, or even VHS-C?

Yes, we cater to your needs. And no, you don't have to throw away your camcorder for a new digital video camera just yet! To transfer the images to your computer, there is a device to help you achieve that goal.

Called the Canopus ADVC-100 analogue-to-digital video converter, this black box will accept the standard and original RCA Video In and L- and R-Audio In plugs as supplied with all analogue camcorders. There is also an S-Video In port as well. Connection from this unit to your computer is through the 6-pin FireWire input/output port.

Conversion of the analogue video signal (can be either NTSC or PAL) appears to be excellent by delivering a clearer and crisper image to the computer than the original. All converted video images are recognised by Adobe Premiere, Apple Final Cut Pro, and Apple iMovie.

Finally, you can go the other way and re-record your digital videos onto your analogue video tapes if you wish using this unit.

With a price of only A$599 as of July 2005, the converter is certainly a whole lot more affordable than forking out $4000 for a new digital video camera. And in fact, in theory, you could carry your laptop and converter on your waist and use your old analogue camcorder as if you are creating digital videos.

For further details, contact www.canopus-aust.com.

NOTE: For real portability, you may still have to purchase a proper digital video camera. (1)

UPDATE
January 2010

Digital cameras are rapidly approaching a common and acceptable resolution of 12-megapixels. Now consumers must find a camera with a super-sharp lens and one with easy-to-use features.

Ease-of-use, price and the sharpest images in the lens provided will be the three factors consumers will look for when deciding which digital cameras to buy.

Where to buy?

As silly as this may sound (all you have to do is walk down to the shops in your local area), you should be aware of a couple of things. There are places like eBay where you can buy relatively recent digital cameras at a price considered a bargain compared to the full retail price in your local area. In most cases, the products you will receive will usually be in very good condition and should work fine.

But remember, if anything goes wrong with the products obtained from another country, the hardware manufacturer of the products may decide the warranty of the products is effective only within the country they were originally sold. And don't try to contact the original owner of the products in another country for assistance — they may have likely disappeared by the time you find out what happened.

If you have to buy the products second-hand, do it within your local or national area (using eBay is fine). In that way you can see the products up close and test them on-the-spot. Or at least get the warranty for your country. Because at the end of the day it is your money and you must be happy with the products you buy (including the warranty that comes with them).

Beware of license fees for using proprietary video formats in professional cameras

In the CNET article Report: Apple developing a Flash alternative, a CNET user going by the name of AndroidFTW said:

"You see, there is something very important, that the vast majority of both consumers and video professionals don't know: ALL modern video cameras and camcorders that shoot in h.264 or mpeg2, come with a license agreement that says that you can only use that camera to shoot video for "personal use and non-commercial" purposes (go on, read your manuals). I was first made aware of such a restriction when someone mentioned that in a forum, about the Canon 7D dSLR. I thought it didn't apply to me, since I had bought the double-the-price, professional (or at least prosumer), Canon 5D Mark II. But looking at its license agreement last night (page 241), I found out that even my $3000 camera comes with such a basic license. So, I downloaded the manual for the Canon 1D Mark IV, which costs $5000, and where Canon consistently used the word "professional" and "video" on the same sentence on their press release for that camera. Nope! Same restriction: you can only use your professional video dSLR camera (professional, according to Canon's press release), for non-professional reasons. And going even further, I found that even their truly professional video camcorder, the $8000 Canon XL-H1A that uses mpeg2, also comes with a similar restriction. You can only use your professional camera for non-commercial purposes. For any other purpose, you must get a license from MPEG-LA and pay them royalties for each copy sold....

The H.264 being used right now on the web won`t be free much longer. That is why FF/Opera don`t want to support it. Millions of dollars in licensing fees will be required." (Dalrymple, Jim. Report: Apple developing a Flash alternative: CNET News.com. 8 May 2010.)

If this is true and the H.264 video encoding format does become an additional cost to users when selling their own works commercially, consumers will need to convert their video encoding into an alternative format that does not require paying a license fee.