How To Buy Your First Digital Camera

When deciding to purchase your first digital camera, you're faced with many choices. How To Buy Your First Digital Camera is an educational CD-ROM that's designed to answer many of the initial questions you might have.

The presentation appears to have been produced in Hypertext Markup Language and uses whatever Internet browser software you have installed on your computer. Because of the design, I expected the CD-ROM to be cross platform, but this is clearly a Windows-only product. When I slipped the disc into my Power Macintosh G3's drive, it wasn't recognized. On my Windows 98 computer, the disc automatically triggered the AutoRun feature and launched Microsoft's Internet Explorer. In fact, navigating through the disc was much like browsing a web site.

How To Buy Your First Digital Camera presents its information in a straightforward manner without lots of glitzy on-screen special effects. If you like, you can print information from the screens to read while away from your computer and actually shopping for a digital camera. Another option is having one of the disc's producers, John Stewart, talk directly to you in calm measured tones.

The other option uses on-screen text that contains more details than the spoken word version along with illustrations made by Stewart. The audio portions of the disc use RealAudio of MP3 software allowing you to listen to the text. If you don't already have it, the disc contains a button that lets you install MP3. I already had RealAudio installed along with a set of Benwin flat panel speakers. Because the presentation is mostly Stewart's voice with occasional sound effects and music at the start of each section, you don't need to have a set of high quality speakers to get the most out of this educational CD-ROM, but I think that having good audio reproduction enhances the overall computing experience.

The disc is divided into five major sections: The first is called "Accessing Your Needs" and is an introduction to using digital cameras. While it may be too basic for readers of this magazine, true neophytes will find it to be a useful introduction to the pros and cons of using digital cameras. The second part includes information on basic imaging concepts such as resolution, interpolation, and compression. Things that you should know before shopping for a digital camera. This section contains some information not normally discussed, such as the fact that the size of the image sensor may not be the size of the captured image. Next, Stewart provides a guide for choosing the best digital camera configurations and pulls no punches in giving the bad news that a set of batteries can easily be gobbled up in an afternoon's shooting. Techies may be put off by Stewart's pronunciation of each of the letters in CMOS (Complimentary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) instead of phonetically as "Sea Moss." The fourth part provides information on digital film or what Stewart calls "image cards" along with some useful and practical accessories that can make digital imaging more fun. The final section includes details on digital camera features such as swiveling lenses, filters, and the pros and cons of using a built-in electronic flash. Although he skips over the current trend of providing hot shoes and PC connections on newer digital cameras. Throughout the disc, you will notice that there are no model names or prices mentioned, which is a realistic reflection of the fast-changing world of digital cameras.

Some people will point to camera backs like the Leaf Contare as proof that Stewart's assertion that digital cameras cannot produce film-like results is wrong. I tend to look at this CD-ROM as aimed at first-time digital camera buyers who are less likely to be snapping a Contare back onto their Hasselblad. On the other hand, Stewart is honest enough to admit that what might be a top of the line digital camera today, could be "old news" in six months. Overall, the tone of the presentation is that of sitting down and chatting with a knowledgeable friend and listening to his advice on what to look for when you go shopping.

A bonus section contains information about image-editing programs and the disc even includes two of them that were produced by European programmers. Stewart suggests that "even if you use another program, you will want to try these, as they may offer additional special effects and other features." Both programs are free and no registration fees are required. In addition to cropping and sharpening images, the Irfanview program lets you add text and special effects. Ultimate Paint from MegaLux is a paint program that can draw and edit graphics, although there are several additional built-in photographic processing functions and effects. You may find it useful to retouch existing drawings and photographs. Either one can be installed by clicking a button in your browser's window, which gives you the option of running the program directly or saving it onto your hard drive.

How To Buy Your First Digital Camera costs $24.95 postpaid and is available from the publisher at: (800) 647-8273 or you can order it directly from their web site at: www.acpress.com If you've been searching for answers before making your first digital camera purchase, this is a good place to start.

For more information, contact Audio Computer Information, Inc., PO Box 216, Spring Grove, MN 55974; (507) 498-3279.