From the September 2000 issue of Startups

Barbie has her own digital camera, so why shouldn't you? Sure, the Barbie Photo Designer Digital Camera ($60) can only hold six pictures and comes in (you guessed it) vivid pink, but luckily, you have other options. Go ahead and thank your tech gods for the dozens of digital cameras available.

Before you buy, though, figure out your current and future needs, beyond just family reunions, graduations and office parties. If you're creating images for, say, your Web site, a digital camera will save you the hassle of having film developed and then scanning in the photos. Plus, sending images as e-mail attachments or sprucing up brochures, press releases and presentations can be effective for supplying customers with visuals.

You don't have to be Ansel Adams to put a digital camera to good use, but consider your level of expertise when deciding on buying a camera. For you point-and-shoot disposable-camera types, there is an abundance of sub-2-megapixel cameras out there; they're the cheapest of the bunch and usually the simplest to operate. Tops in this class are the Kodak DC215 Zoom ($300) and the Olympus D-340R ($250). Just don't try to print any super high-resolution banners from these types.

For those of you with a little more expertise (or a willingness to spend some quality time with the manual), there are the 2-megapixel cameras. The poster children in this category are the Nikon Coolpix 950 ($899) and the Olympus C2020 Zoom ($650). We tried one out for good measure. After pulling out the Nikon, we congratulated ourselves for taking that photography course in college. We were snapping pictures within five minutes, but it took an hour with the CD-ROM manual to really know what we were doing. The excellent picture quality and flexible features make it worth the time. Add-on telephoto, wide-angle and fisheye lenses can increase your shooting options. While the sub-2-megapixels are last year's technology, the 2 megapixels are just last week's. It's hard to beat these when it comes to image quality and features.

The newest consumer class of digital cameras has catapulted over the 3-megapixel mark. At current prices, you'll have to really want that extra megapixel to buy one of these. The Nikon Coolpix 990 clocks in at $999, the Canon PowerShot S20 costs $700, and the Casio QV-3000EX goes for $800. For professional photographers who don't want to jump up to $5,000 for the pro-level cams, the 3 megapixel makes sense. For the rest of us, a 2 megapixel will deliver the goods for hundreds of dollars less.

Your digital photography hardware options don't stop with just the camera. Near-lab-quality prints can be made in your office with the right equipment. Foremost on the list is a photo inkjet printer like the somewhat new Hewlett-Packard PhotoSmart P1000 ($399), the Epson Photo 870 ($300) or the wide-format Epson Photo 1270 ($500). You will also have to invest in special paper, but the results are impressive.

Most digital cameras use either the SmartMedia or the CompactFlash cards. You'll want to pick up a card reader like the SanDisk ImageMate USB ($40) so you don't drain your camera batteries while you're transferring photos.

Pixel Dust

You don't have to pay for more pixels than you need. Digital cameras come in all shapes and sizes:

  • 3 megapixel: near-film-quality prints; enthusiast- or semi-pro-level cameras are found here
  • 2 megapixel: up to 8 x 10 prints; good for most high-resolution uses
  • 1 megapixel: good for Web use; bargain cameras are found in this range
  • Less than 1 megapixel: adequate for Web use