Film is so last-century. Photo processing is so passé. Why wait one hour when you can have instant gratification? The rest of your business moves at Pentium speeds-and so should your photography undertakings. Digital cameras have shifted away from being interesting gadgets and become business essentials for many entrepreneurs. If you haven't taken the digital dive yet, now is a good time. If you were an early adopter, the technology has improved enough that you may want to upgrade.
The first decision when choosing a digital camera is 2, 3 or 4 megapixels. The maximum megapixels a camera is capable of indicates the highest quality image resolution it can achieve. Higher megapixels equals higher quality. For low-cal, Web-only graphics, you won't ever need more than a 2 megapixel camera like the $299 (all prices street) Kodak DX3600. When you start branching out into the world of brochures and high-quality images, 3 megapixels is enticing and suitable for most applications. Expect to pay in the $500 range.
If you're into do-it-yourself photo printer activities, the newer 4 megapixel devices will give you near-film-quality images at sizes of up to 17 x 20 inches. Those who consider themselves semi-professional or advanced amateur photographers will appreciate the high resolution capabilities and manual adjustment features of these cameras. If you know you will use the extras, the budget trade-off is justifiable.
Digital cameras are wising up when it comes to pictures for the Web. The $400 Nikon CoolPix 775 is one good example. Its one-touch Web uploading feature gets your photos online fast. The Ricoh RDC-i700 takes uploading a step further with an optional wireless Internet feature. The convenience will cost you, though. The $1,299 camera requires purchasing a separate wireless card, but you also get e-mail capabilities and Web surfing, among other features, with this unusual piece of hardware. It's more of a mobile solution center than just a digital camera.
All the cameras in our chart come with built-in zoom lenses. But not all zooms are created equal. A 3x optical zoom is pretty standard these days. The Kodak DX3600's 6x zoom translates into a 2x optical zoom and a 3x digital zoom.
Be aware that digital zooms have the drawback of reducing image quality.
In terms of capturing motion, an increasing number of digital still cameras are cropping up with the ability to film short video segments. The $699 Toshiba PDR-M81 handles up to three minutes of motion at the lowest resolution (15 frames per second). A built-in microphone and speaker let you record and listen to a sound track.
If you only buy one accessory for your digital camera, consider an extra memory card. The $999 Olympus C-4040 Zoom comes with a 16MB SmartMedia removable storage card. But as soon as you start snapping pics at its ample 4.1 megapixel capability, that 16MB of space will disappear faster than you can say "cheese." A 64MB card will cost about $75. Some cameras, like the Ricoh RDC-i700, accept either SmartMedia or CompactFlash cards.
With prices down and image quality up, it's a good time to invest in a digital camera for your business. Competition among digital camera manufacturers is tough, so there's a model out there for every purpose and budget. You'll save on film and processing costs and gain a lot of flexibility. Your scanner might start to feel neglected, but you won't miss the time spent waiting for images to load into your computer.