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Digital Camera Chronicles

02 -- Living with digital cameras (Oct 1998)
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)

A mere four years ago hardly anyone knew about the Web, and today many of us can't imagine living without it. Young couples publish their children's pictures on web pages so that the grandparents back in the old country can see them. The Web has replaced singles bars as the place to meet. And you can't be in business today without a website. The Web was something that happened so quickly and so completely that no one really noticed until it was here.

It's almost the same with digital cameras. They may look the same as traditional cameras, but they are a different breed altogether. People use them differently. Which isn't a surprise considering that two or three years ago few people had even heard of digital cameras. Today, the Web and digital cameras have become inextricably intertwined. How many digital photos end up on America Online without ever even being printed? How many digital camera owners have the patience of waiting for film to come back from the lab? Or even see one single reason why they should have to do something so old-fashioned. You don't hire a monk to make copies anymore; you use a copy machine.

Digital cameras are something completely different from traditional cameras in ways that most vendors don't seem to understand yet. Oh, there will be those who view a digicam as an alternative to their SLR, but for most people that's not the case. At least not yet. Digicams are part of their computer, a handy extension that makes it even easier to communicate and connect digitally over the Web and email.

This is why it's so weird that digicams are hampered by some of the same limitations as their chemical cousins.

For example, I have been taking pictures since my dad gave me my first Kodak Instamatic when I was six years old. I have taken thousands of pictures all over the world, and thousands now litter my house. They are everywhere, in every closet, every drawer, every box in the garage. Despite my best intentions, few actually made it into a photo album or even a labeled folder. Whenever I need to locate a picture, I know I have it somewhere, but chances that I'll find it are slim. And let's not even talk about the negatives. I am sure there are many people who are much more organized than I am, but then again, others may be as disorganized as I am, or worse.

So when I got my first digicam--the landmark Olympus D-300L--I thought the days of misplaced pictures was over. Boy, was I wrong!

A couple of years into my life with digital cameras, I find that little has changed. I have digital image files everywhere. Some are on my home PC, some on my notebook computer, and many on the several computers I use at the office. I try to store most of my pictures in the "My Documents" directories on all of my computers, but often they end up somewhere else. Some pictures are stored on disks, but I am not sure where they are. Unfortunately, I also never seem to find time to give my pictures descriptive names, so they all have filenames like "img 017.jpg" instead of "Margaritas at Rogelio's." Several times I made attempts to organize my pictures with one of the digital image album tools out there, but you know how it goes (or doesn't).

I also found that getting digital images printed takes an extraordinary effort. Printing has always been one of the darker aspects of computers. I probably spent a good year of my professional life configuring printer drivers or tracking down printer problems. Lately, I've been spending a shocking part of my salary on inkjet cartridges and special paper. A couple of years ago I thought it should be simple to plug a digicam into a little photo printer specially designed for digicams. Such printers do indeed exist, but, at this point, they haven't exactly become appliances yet. I know that this will change, and it can't be too soon. Sometimes nothing but a print will do, and the whole hard copy process must get easier, less cumbersome, and less expensive.

When digital cameras came into my life, I thought I'd finally seen the last of those horrible "manuals" that come with even the most expensive traditional cameras: cheaply printed, carelessly translated, and peppered with moronish warnings ("do not look into sun," "call doctor if swallowing batteries"), graphics seemingly designed by third graders, but little useful information. A few years ago I lost one of those beasties and Nikon told me that it would take six months to ship another one from Japan. Auugh! With my digicam I want a manual in decent English and English only. One with real information and no idiotic warnings (it's just a camera, for heaven's sake, not a chainsaw). I need the kind of logically presented information, specs, and schematics that I get when I buy a computer or computer peripheral.

Finally, since I began my digital life, my house and office have been taken over by numerous unlabeled cables, unlabeled power adapters, different standard memory cards, and incompatible software. Give us a break. Standardize. No holy wars over whose connector will prevail. At the very least, please label each cable and adapter so that I know what it's for. A digicam without its cables and adapters is as useful as a PC without Internet access.

Digital Camera History
01 - The Newman Factor

02 - Living with digital cameras

03 - Traveling with digicams (I)

04 - Traveling with digicams (II)

06 - All isn't well yet

07 - Digital camera experiences

09 - Is it camera, or not?

10 - Go for the gold

11 - The CoolPix 990

12 - Confused by digicams?

13 - From film to digital

14 - Megapixel madness

15 - Digital film

17 - The horseless carriage

18 - Why I wish the Mac had won

19 - What makes a good image...

20 - The Coolpix 995

22 - 9/11 - A low point

23 - Time is precious

24 - A bright, sunny morning

25 - Digicams and road warriors

26 - Wonders of digital imaging

27 - We've come a long way (I)

28 - Beyond image capture

29 - Digital passes film

30 - Where are we headed?

31 - Digital imaging saves lives

32 - Making hard copy

33 - PictBridge, PIM, Exif, etc

34 - Strugglingw ith autofocus?

35 - We've come a long way (II)

36 - Zoom-zoom

37 - Megapixel madness (II)

38 - What should I buy?

39 - Changes in digital cameras

40 - Konica Minolta RIP

43 - What separates cameras today?

46 - Digital cameras at the end of 2007