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Digital Cameras

Original article: 28th July, 1998

Last Update: 15th July, 2004

Download a copy of this article in EPOC Word format here: Camera.wrd  (73KB)   (Updated 15th July, 2004)



Digital cameras seemed like a bit of a gimmick when they first started to appear in the mid-90's. Low resolution images and limited onboard memory coupled with exorbitantly high prices meant they were effectively the reserve of extreme gadget freaks [as opposed to just Psion owners, say... ;-) ]. After all, why bother with them when for the cost of a budget flatbed scanner (~ú150 at that time) and a disposable camera, you could produce prints of far higher resolution and scan them into your PC? This all at a fraction of the cost of a then fairly large, clunky, digital camera.

Well, digital camera technology has moved on:-
  • Usably higher resolutions - the so-called 'mega-pixel' cameras (ie. CCD's containing > 2, 3, or more million pixels) offering > SVGA resolutions
  • Larger size memories (essential for the larger requirements of high resolution images) now on removable media ('SmartMedia', SD, or Compact Flash cards)
  • More compact-sized cameras - but still retaining the built-in colour LCD displays that enable you preview your picture as soon as you've taken it
  • Other goodies such as flash (sometimes omitted on the early digital cameras), optical zoom lenses (as opposed to the inbuilt digital ones that just crop the image!), IrDA compatibility, USB compatibility, etc.
  • Prices down and still falling

There are quite a number of brands about - from some well-known consumer electronics companies (eg. Panasonic, Epson, etc.), to the more traditional camera manufacturers (eg. Olympus, Nikon, Canon, etc.), and on to some of the companies perhaps better known for being photographic film manufacturers (eg. Kodak, Agfa). This last category are the most interesting (Kodak especially IMHO) as these are companies who are facing the possible demise - or at least decline - of their traditional bread and butter market for film. It's good to see them accepting the challenge and coming out with a good range of products.

In my opinion, the future is fairly clear. SLR (Single Lens Reflex - ie. view-through-the-lens cameras usually with changeable lenses) and other professional-type cameras will be around for a long time because they offer a versatility and image quality that won't be beaten for the foreseeable future. Disposable cameras will also survive because they're so cheap that nothing can challenge them. The big inroads however will be into the compact camera and 'instant picture' market.

People like compact cameras because they're small and easy to use. Picture quality is acceptable (especially for 'snapshots') although lens quality rarely comes close to SLRs and can become a limiting factor.

Instant picture cameras however have even fewer saving graces I suspect. They're relatively bulky and picture quality is poor (often worse than, say, VGA resolution), the film is fairly expensive although the camera prices are relatively cheap. I think however that their days are effectively numbered. As digital cameras becomes smaller, cheaper, and still higher resolution, somebody's going to come out with a cheap little 4"x5" or 5"x7" high quality paper printer. Certainly, if I worked for the camera or film manufacturing division of a certain well-known 'instant camera' company beginning with 'P' I'd be updating my CV I think...!

So what are the criteria for a Series 5/mx/7/netBook/MC218 owner thinking about buying a digital camera. The most obvious one is the choice of memory media - although in my opinion there isn't any choice! Internal-memory-only cameras are limited to their internal memory's capacity (naturally). SmartMedia memory cameras are fine - although SmartMedia cards aren't available in as large capacities as Compact Flash cards. The compelling factor however is of course that the Psion uses Compact Flash (CF) cards. Hence you can take photos on the camera, transfer the CF card to your Psion, and view your photos immediately (albeit in shades of grey on a 5/mx/MC218 - or 256 colours on a Series 7/netBook). Most digital cameras are capable of storing the images in a standard DOS format directory as Jpeg (.jpg) images which you can view using either the web browser in Message Suite (on a Series 5), 'Web' on a newer 'ER5' machine, Opera's new web browser for EPOC, or a 3rd party program such as Lieuwe de Vries's excellent MBMView.

[Update 2004: Actually, I don't think this applies any more. The fall in memory card prices in recent years has negated the need for most of the above. It's cheap and easy to carry multiple cards. My latest camera (see below) is a CF card camera - but it'll probably be the last. Partly because the manufacturers are gradually moving away from CF cards and partly because SD/SM cards are smaller and more convenient.]

Actually there's even more flexibility available to your average Series 5/mx/7/netBook/MC218 user than that. After you've taken some photos, you can store images that you want to keep on your Psion - thereby freeing up your camera CF card to take more pictures.

Most of the CF cameras available today come with a card supplied (4, 8, or 16Mb) - which is always useful. If you're like me and have had your Psion for a while, you may already have a spare card (left over from the dreaded 'upgrade path' disease) - hence more free 'film'!!

I bought myself a Kodak DC-210 in 1998 for a trip to the US and it proved to be quite a useful wee thing.  It came with a 4Mb CF card (small but still useful at the time), has a 2x optical zoom, flash, video-out, IrDA (which I never did manage to get to work with the Psion's IrDA), plus all the cables and software.  I was able to click away to my hearts content (actually, not so much click - there's no mechanical shutter - as, erm, 'capture' I guess) and swap the card into my Psion later to do a high resolution 'view' and keep or discard as required.  Neat.  I can see me effectively filing my 35mm compact camera in the back of a drawer for a while! The Kodak DC210

The Kodak DC240

Well, the life of my DC-210 was relatively short-lived...  It got dropped on the ground in 1999 and refused to co-operate any further.  However the insurance company came up trumps.  Since the 210 was no longer being made, they instead shipped a brand new DC-240 direct to my house from a distributor - excellent!  Higher resolution, a USB connection (very nice!) and lots of goodies in the box (an 8Mb and a 16Mb CF card, a PCMCIA CF card adaptor, 2 sets of researchable batteries + charger, etc.).  A very useful piece of kit and 100% compatible with my Psion...
Update 2004: Well, I upgraded again last year (2003).  This time to a Canon Digital Ixus v3.  Significantly smaller (really 'pocketable'), higher resolution (3.2 Megapixel), but still a CF card camera made it very lust-worthy!  ;Č)  It goes on all my trips with me.  True, long-gone are the days of AA battery powered cameras as far as it's concerned - but then carrying around 4 AA cells, a spare set (since they didn't last very long!), and a mains recharger kind've negated the 'ubiquity' advantage in the Kodaks I had before.  The lithium-ion cells that it uses are smaller, lighter, and much higher capacity - so no contest. The Canon Ixus v3


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