Join the Digital Frenzy
These days, everyone expects you to be able to e-mail pictures of your baby -- at the very least. Some parents have Web sites devoted to their baby's growth, complete with digital slide shows set to music.
If you're new to all this, never fear: Joining the digital revolution is as easy as ordering a photo CD when you drop off your film. Better yet, invest in a digital camera. They're still pricey (at roughly $300 to $500, you can pay more for your digital camera than for your stroller and car seat combined), but the joy you'll spread is worth it.
For instance, the same day your baby stands up for the first time, all your relatives can see the photo, or even a short video of the milestone! So with apologies to all of you who are already digital-savvy, here's a non-techie's primer to the world of digital cameras.
Comparing the Costs
Old-fashioned cameras cost you money mostly in film and developing. Digital cameras cost you money in batteries, printing, and memory cards or sticks. Does one work out to be cheaper? It's almost impossible to say. But you have fewer wasted pictures with a digital camera.
In general, the higher the number of megapixels a digital camera has, the clearer the photos will be. If you expect to be printing many of the photos you take -- as opposed to just e-mailing them -- spend the money for 4 to 6 megapixels. If the camera has fewer than 4 megapixels, the image will look slightly hazy when you blow it up.
Load Up on Batteries
Here's what we've learned from our own adventures in digital photography: Never go anywhere without a spare set of batteries. Using the LCD screen as you take photos is especially power-draining, and of course the camera is useless if the batteries run out. In addition, it's a good idea to carry a second memory card for storing pictures in case you fill the one you have.
The biggest drawback of digital photography is that it's far too easy to dump pictures in a folder on your computer and never get around to making prints. In fact, according to Certified Digital Photo Processors, only 13 percent of digital pictures taken ever end up on paper. Don't be a slacker; any of the following ways can help you put your good photos to use.
Take Me Shopping
When shopping around for a new camera, check out these Web sites:
Amazon.com has honest, helpful user reviews, as does Epinions.com. It's always nice to read a real person's experience.
Shopping.com helps you find a model you're interested in at the lowest price.
4 New Cameras We Love
1. Kodak EasyShare DX7590 It couldn't be simpler to take and manage pictures than with this camera. Adjust for very specific situations such as a day at the beach or an indoor party, and mark favorite pictures for printing or e-mailing later. Features: 5.0 megapixels; virtually no lag time between clicking the shutter and getting the picture; films QuickTime videos Cost: $500 (kodak.com/go/easyshare) Costs less: Kodak's DX7630 ($400) and DX7440 ($300) give up megapixels and zoom power to save you money.
2. Olympus Stylus 410 It's lightweight and easy to use, and it comes with an extremely user-friendly manual. If you have a PictBridge-compatible printer, you don't need to turn on your computer to make prints. Features: 4 megapixels; weather-resistant; films short videos Cost: $350 (olympusamerica.com) Costs less: The Stylus 300 ($300) has 3.2 megapixels and no sound with the video.
3. Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-W1 It's so tiny it fits in your pocket. You can plug it into many computers to e-mail photos without installing special software first, though the software lets you edit. Features: 5.1 megapixels; huge LCD screen; films short videos Cost: $400 (sonystyle.com) Costs less: The Cyber-Shot DSC-P93 ($329) has the same number of megapixels but is just a little bigger and heavier.
4. CVS Digital Single-Use A single-use camera is the cheapest way to try digital photography. It holds 25 still pictures, so delete duds until you get 25 good shots. Features: Leave it at a participating CVS pharmacy for developing; you'll get prints plus a photo CD for e-mailing. Cost: $20 plus $10 for developing Costs less: The $10 one doesn't let you preview pictures -- and previewing is half the fun!
Ready for Video?
What about digital camcorders? Parents we know love them because they make it easy to edit out boring footage. In addition, they can double as digital still cameras -- isolate a frame and you can make a print or e-mail it. They have incredible video and sound quality, are lighter to carry than camcorders that use tapes, and let you store and watch home movies on DVD. But they can hog your computer's memory and are pricey (roughly $300 to $800).
To Print or to Upload?
Printing at Home
The latest rage? Printer "docks" that a camera sits in, like the Kodak Easyshare DX7590 ($199; kodak.com/go/easyshare). It lets you make prints straight from the camera. But there are other great printers that work from the camera's memory card, like the Epson PictureMate ($199; mypicturemate.com for stores). To get the best prints, remember:
High-quality paper gives you nicer, longer-lasting prints. Don't skimp and waste your time with cheap stuff.
If you're unhappy with your prints, check the camera manual. You can usually set your camera to hold lots of pictures with less quality, or not so many pictures but with better quality. For printing (versus e-mailing), change the settings so you get fewer photos of better quality.
Web Sites and Software
- Photosite.com lets you set up your own free Web site. The main point is to create albums and slide shows to share with others, but you can also order prints.
- Snapfish.com has no charge for storing and viewing photos from the site, and prints are cheap at 19 cents each. Mail in old-fashioned film, and they'll upload the pictures for you to show friends.
- Ofoto.com, owned by Kodak, lets you share and store pictures, and delivers high-quality prints to your home on Kodak paper.
- Nero PhotoShow Elite software ($50; nerophotoshow.com) allows you to make some of the greatest musical slide shows we've ever seen, complete with animated special effects. It can also help you set up your own Web site, burn photo CDs, order prints, and more.
- BrilliantPhoto ($29; brilliantlabs.com) helps you organize thousands of pictures by attaching key words, ratings, and descriptions to them for easy sorting. It links to shutterfly.com for ordering prints.
There's Still the Drugstore
If you don't want to invest in an at-home printer and don't have the patience to upload and order prints online (particularly a problem if you have dial-up modem service), just take your digital camera's memory card to the photo counter at a drugstore. Most now have digital kiosks. Put the memory card in, select pictures to print, and pick them up the next day.
Originally published in American Baby magazine, September 2004.