In a few days I'll be leaving for a weeklong business trip to Japan, and I still haven't decided what camera to take along with me. Not what kind of digital camera, but what kind of camera, period.
As General Editor of this magazine, that's making me think. After all, here at the editorial offices of Digital Camera Magazine, we live and breathe digital cameras and we consider ourselves their cheerleaders and champions, so why would I even consider a regular old chemical camera?
Now before you wonder just how committed we are to this wonderful new technology on a personal level, I want you to know that I really do think digital cameras are the best thing to come along since the proverbial sliced bread.
Ever since I bought my first digital camera, the Olympus D-300L, I've been totally sold. So much that I decided to gamble a good part of my financial future (and credibility) by convincing my business partner Howard Borgen to start a magazine dedicated to digital cameras and nothing but digital cameras. I did that because I consider them a fundamental technological breakthrough, and also because I was convinced that traditional photography magazines wouldn't give them the attention they deserved (and actually hoped they would go away) and that the general computer press would treat them as nothing more than another PC peripheral.
In addition, even though the Olympus D-300L was one of the earliest truly usable digital cameras, it was far more than just a technology demonstration. To our big surprise, the images it produced were actually good enough to be used in one of our other commercial publications, Pen Computing Magazine. Though the D-300 L's 1024 x 768 resolution didn't allow printed images larger than four by three inches or so, that was plenty good enough for a lot of our illustration needs, and we've never looked back. Even early digicam images were actually better than what our expensive scanning equipment could get from the dupes of dupes of dupes of original slides that we so often get from PR firms. And with today's megapixel digicams, we can quickly take just about any production image we want and have it in Photoshop in minutes. The images are perhaps not museum catalog quality (yet), but they are plenty good enough for our purposes. So why would I even consider taking an old-fashioned chemical camera on my trip to Japan?
Two reasons: batteries and storage medium. Using digital cameras around our offices with all its power adapters, drawers full of alkaline and lithium batteries, and and assorted SmartMedia and CompactFlash cards lying around by the bushel is one thing. Being 8,000 miles away from home with just my camera is another.
I've never been to Japan and I am sure there will be many once-in-a-lifetime shots I want to take. And with digital cameras being notorious battery hogs, what if my digicam runs out of juice just when such a shot comes along? Or what if I run out of space on my storage card? Or what if I won't be able to plug my AC adapter into an outlet in my hotel room? I know I am displaying my blatant ignorance about a country that's totally foreign to me, even though most of the electronic devices in my life come from there. So here's what it boils down to: if I take my old Nikon with me, I know that I'll never have to worry about batteries since they last almost forever even though it has a motor drive and lots of onboard electronics. I am also fairly certain that I'd be able to buy 35mm film just about anywhere, even though I don't speak a word of Japanese.
On the other hand, if I take one of the digicams currently in our office, say the Olympus D340-L or the Nikon CoolPix 900 or the Ricoh RDC-4300, would their batteries die on me before I even made it past immigrations in Osaka? Would I fill my three or four storage cards before I got to see the temples in Kyoto? For all I know, the Japanese might have SmartMedia and CompactFlash vending machines at every bus stop. But what if they don't? Or what if I found a place that sells storage cards but they cost more yen than I can afford to spend on an American journalist's salary?
Though I'll be leaving in a couple of days, I haven't decided yet. I'm sort of leaning towards taking the Nikon CoolPix rather than the Olympus. I prefer the Olympus, but this way, if I do get stranded with a dead camera and no pictures from my trip, at least I can blame Dave, this magazine's editor-in-chief and primary digicam guru, who recommended the CoolPix.
Incidentally, I am facing the same problem deciding what sort of computer to bring along. I know I'll want to take lots of notes, and since I'm going to visit Sharp, I should probably take my Mobilon 4600 handheld PC. But there's the battery and the adapter issue again. And I don't think Netcom has a local access number in Osaka. So I'll probably bring along my old Newton MessagePad 2000. It may not wow my Japanese hosts (what US electronic device would?), but it'll never run out of batteries.
Right now I feel quite foolish about my quandaries. After all, I make a living reporting on new technology and here I am wondering if I can trust it enough to take it on a trip.