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This story appears in the June 1999 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

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Looking for a way to produce pictures of your products for your brochures, newsletters, presentations and Web site? Is hiring a photographer or renting a studio too much of an expense? Then check out the newest digital cameras hitting the market.

With digital cameras becoming more advanced and widely accepted, the industry is gearing up for increased popularity. By 2002, according to analysts at International Data Corp., annual sales are projected to hit 9.2 million units.

Although they're basically the same shape and size as your old 35mm, digital cameras have one very different feature: They don't use film as we know it. Instead, they have built-in computer chips and sensors that capture and save pictures to a "flash memory"--technology that is effectively digital film. Flash memory cards in formats such as SmartMedia or CompactFlash (CF) can provide from 4MB to 16MB of additional memory, allowing you to capture and save more pictures.

Digital cameras offer options unheard of in cameras until now. Small, built-in LCD monitors on the backs of these cameras allow users to frame shots before taking them. Similar to those found on video cameras, the monitors let you view exactly how photos will look before and after you click the shutter. If you don't like an image after you've taken the picture, you can erase it with the push of a button and reshoot. The LCD also serves as a menu display with several icons for selecting types of shots--including zoom and panoramic--as well as a display area for messages about lighting conditions, memory status and the number of photos taken.

With the use of a cable, stored photos can be transferred into your PC's hard drive or directly output through your printer. When the camera is connected to a PC or Mac for transferring stored pictures into documents and desktop publishing programs, the images can be manipulated using image-editing software to resize, crop, rotate, add special effects and more. Most digital cameras can be hooked up to your television, VCR or videoconferencing equipment for viewing as well.

Not only do digital cameras offer the sheer convenience of no longer needing to carry around rolls of film, take them to the photo shop, wait for them to be developed and pay for processing, they also pack a world of multimedia benefits into their small designs. Creating a slide show using a digital camera is easy. The Sierra Imaging Image Expert software included with Epson America's PhotoPC 700 camera, for example, allows users to create and edit music or voice recordings and add them to digital images. (To do this, you'll need a microphone, a 16-bit sound card and speakers.) To hear recordings, just open the files and the appropriate audio clips will automatically play. You can also upload pictures, text and graphics into your camera from your computer, then play them back for TV presentations without using a PC or VCR.

Other advantages: CF and SmartMedia cards are reusable and removable. And depending on the resolution you use and the amount of memory you have, it's possible to store 100 images or more at a time. Best of all, once photos are transferred to your PC, you can add text, captions and titles, and preview images before printing them out on standard copy paper, special glossy paper or transparency sheets. You can also store the images as files on your computer's hard drive for future use.

Features on most digital cameras include self-timers, locking features that prevent users from accidentally erasing images, and various flash modes such as red-eye reduction, auto flash for low lighting situations and other flash options for special effects. The Olympus D-340R can transfer its photo images directly from the camera to videotape. Some higher-end products, including Minolta's Dimage EX ZOOM line, also have detachable lenses you can use up to five feet from the camera itself.

As impressive as these wonder machines sound, there are some downsides. There's quite a bit of equipment you must have on hand when it's time to process your pictures, including a computer with specific system requirements, a printer, batteries, a battery charger, storage cards, a CD-ROM drive and a variety of connectors, including a direct print cable, a serial cable and a video cable. Optional equipment includes extra lenses, filters and a tripod. An AC adaptor is also useful. Some manufacturers include these in their camera kits.

Transferring images between the camera and your computer can be time-consuming, and print quality (which depends on the resolution of both camera and printer) typically isn't as high as you'll find with 35mm cameras. To enhance the print experience, several manufacturers offer photo-specific color printers to support their digital cameras. Kodak sells the Digital Science 8650, and Olympus offers the dedicated P-330, which can hook up to a PC or TV monitor. This printer also reads from CF cards and instantly prints out photos.

Digital cameras offer entrepreneurs the flexibility to create and edit photos themselves and develop custom-made business materials. A digital camera can save both time and money--very important resources if your company depends on getting visuals to clients at a faster clip than the competition. We've listed entry-level models in our chart; for information on higher-end models, call the toll-free numbers listed and request a brochure or catalog.

Here are terms you may come across in your search for a digital camera:

Bracketing: Programming the camera to capture the same image several times at different exposures.

CCD (Charged Coupled Device): An image sensor that digitally stores patterns of light charges.

Megapixel: Offering a million or more pixels. The greater the number of pixels, the finer and crisper the image.

Resolution: The quality of a digital camera's photos is directly proportional to its resolution. Resolution is usually expressed in megapixels or as a matrix of horizontal pixels by vertical pixels.

Sequence shooting: Is when a camera takes several photos continuously to follow an action shot, such as how a machine works or the progression of a golf swing.

Stitching: Allows multiple images to be joined together for wide-angle views.

Watermarking: Adds time, date, logos and specific text to photo images.

Jill Amadio is a freelance writer in Newport Beach, California, who has covered technology for nine years.

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