The Complete Digicam Kit
By Mike Pasini, Editor
Imaging Resource Newsletter
"Why don't stores that sell digicams display
prints?" a reader asked recently. It's a question we haven't
been able to dismiss. And after a recent foray into the
steel-reinforced brick and mortar world of digicam stores, an answer
Usually when we want to check out the latest
hardware, we just wander over to the Golden Gate Bridge or one of the
cable car turntables and wait for a tourist couple to ask us to take
their picture. In half a minute we get a rundown on the latest
Olympus, Nikon, Canon, Sony, Minolta, Kodak, Ricoh, Fuji, you name
But to answer that print question we had to hit
the stores. And we did. We hit the big camera stores (where the sales
guy dedicated to digicams fumbled on about the "pixel
problem"), the little camera stores (where the owner never
seemed present and the "help" was occupied with either
boyfriends or phone calls), the all-purpose chains (hey, where is
that Photo Joe guy? Making another commercial, we guess), and the
electronics chains (where the salesdudes were Dobermans whose barks
were less than their light).
"We're interested in a digital camera," we would invariably explain.
"OK. Well, uh, what do you want to do with
it?" was the brightest reply we got. But we're mischaracterizing
it. It might have been helpful once upon a time to ask that question
about computers, but asking it about cameras is way out there. You're
interested in a camera to take pictures, obviously. That's all they
Our universally dismal in-store experience is
unfortunate because it does indeed help to pick these things up in
your hands. Even with all the pictures, you can't get a feel for
these babies until you hold them, see how small and light they are,
how they rest in your hand, whether you can see through the
viewfinder or not, how responsive they are. They beg, in short, for a
But the in-store demos are rarely powered, always
tethered, without media and usually so dirty we can hear Auntie
Nightingale LVN screaming, "Germs! Germs!" from some dark
deep recess in our memory. Jeez, cameradudes and digidudettes,
instead of wandering around the aisle looking propellered, shine up
the merchandise. You've got time.
So where are those prints?
Well, these guys don't sell printers, see. So no
prints. And even if they did, they'd be in a different department.
Near the computers. And no, there isn't a card reader out of box
hibernation connected to anything so you can take a picture and print
it yourself. Can't imagine why. Even a used car dealer puts a little
gas in the tank.
Actually, the truth about a digicam is that it's
just one piece of a system. You may be able to extend your present
system to accommodate a digicam, swapping some components or adding
one or two new devices. But to actually do anything with a digicam,
you need more than the camera. In this game, you press the button and
you do the rest.
Without film, of course. "No film? How do you
get prints?" is a question everybody with a digicam has probably
Sure, there are ways to get prints, but prints are
just one of the things a digicam can produce (and not usually the
prettiest). We digicamers fall quickly in love with theimage on the
monitor. And we'd much rather burn a CD to share (if we can) than
laboriously sit there and punch out prints.
- The digicam. Can't overlook this one. Shop where you're comfortable returning
it. Some purchase protection is invaluable.
- Standby power. Big one, don't overlook this either. If your digicam takes
AAs, you need Nickel Metal Hydride batteries and a trickle charger for them.
Two sets. Run you about $50-70. Thomas Distributing or Radio Shack.
- Media. Sad to say we've yet to see a manufacturer provide a card with any
real room. They are all way too small. You'll need at least a 32-MB card for
a 3.34-megapixel camera. About $2 a megabyte today, although if you keep your
eyes peeled, you may get close to $1. Buy this online and save.
- The photo suite: tripod, bag, filters, lenses, strobe, gadgets galore. These
are not essential and many can be pilfered from a 35mm setup (and hence garage
- A graphic workstation. Some people call it a computer, but let's face it,
this is a demanding application. Your personal computer has to be able to
handle (not just display) 24-bit graphics with enough RAM and hard disk storage.
Each year this is less of a problem (except the RAM, where 64-MB is a squeeze),
but it could be your biggest bottleneck. Mail order is great if you've owned
one before, but if you're new to the game (unsure, that is, if the problem
is you or the machine), go where they don't mind holding your hand after charging
- Internet capability. Well, this should go without saying, but it seems to
need it all the same. A 56K modem, at least. So you can tap into online photo
processing, sharing and emailing images. Service providers are charging under
$20 a month for dial-up Internet access and under $40 for DSL.
- Software. Big, big deal. You can't "get there from here" without
an image editor. Fortunately there are shareware products for both Mac OS
and Windows that will get you going if your digicam did not ship with something
(and most do, particularly the starter cameras).
- Off-line Storage. Which, bang-for-buck, means a CD writer. Don't make the
mistake of calculating this investment solely on the hardware device. You
need duplicate copies of your work and a lot of work it will be. Burning $1
650-MB CDs is a no-brainer. Buying more expensive removable disks of lesser
capacity isn't going to happen. Same buying advice as a computer.
- Printer. At least an inexpensive, photo-quality inkjet. You'll get a lot
of mileage out of it and have a lot of fun printing your images as large as
8x10. How many of us have that luxury? We're usually squinting at 4x6 "jumbo"
prints. We'll give you jumbo. Just buy an inkjet (from the place you bought
- Photo paper. And don't scrimp on the paper or you won't have any idea what
the big deal is. Buy photo glossy (and not lightweight) at your neighborhood
- Frames. So you have that handful of 8x10s and you really do just love them.
If you want to see them, you have to display them. Buy some 11x14 photo frames
(about $8 each) and put them up. You can always change the pictures when you
get tired of them or give them away. So go nuts at garage sales, flea markets,
Put all that together and you can see why very few stores are prepared to sell
the whole package. We've come a long way since George Eastman sold us a black
box that we had to send back to him to get our prints made and film reloaded.
Now, we can do it all ourselves. And we bet, like us, you find that very exciting.