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TinyCams explained - Charles Islas gives an account of the pros and cons of the tiny digital cameras now available.
By Charles Islas
Digital cameras have flooded the amateur and professional market. While a professional must invest several thousand dollars to get a camera with the control and features he needs, the magic number for the average consumer camera seems to float somewhere between $250 to $500 (US). But, what about those cheap, little, pocket sized cameras that you see on late night TV? What are they all about? How can they sell a digital camera for less than $100? And, now that you want one, do they really work?
Yes, they work. The Internet auction sites, my e-mail in-box, and my desktop are full of them. (I just can't resist.) There are dozens of models. They're called Pencams, SpyCams, CleverCams, 3 in One Cams, Pocket Cams, MegaCams, and more. To avoid confusion, I have taken the responsibility to name this category of digital cameras TinyCams. By my definition, TinyCams are cheap, plastic, pocket sized, digital cameras that use CMOS chip technology to capture images and translate them into digital format that you can display on your computer. TinyCams are everywhere.
The Islas Law of Electronic Gadgetry: 'The more money you spend, the more buttons you get'. $100 buys you two buttons. ON/OFF/MODE and SHUTTER BUTTON. These are very simple, point and shoot cameras. They have almost no controls. Focus is preset. Exposure and white light correction are automatic. There's no zoom, often no flash, and no built in preview screen. Expect to be able to shoot 100 to 300 photos on one set of alkalines. Most of today's TinyCams shoot 640 X 480 pixels images. That's about 0.3 megapixels and will fill your PC screen nicely. A couple of models now shoot 1.3 megapixel images and still sell for under $100. To produce a nice 8 X 10 inch print you need an image file with 2 to 3 megapixels of information. Ah, now you're beginning to understand.
They fit in your pocket and many of them are so small you can hide them in the palm of your hand. But they work! In fact there are some really good photographs being made by talented photographers who use these cameras. For examples visit www.pencam.org, www.elvisthefish.com and www.geocities.com/charles_islas. Put in some fresh batteries, turn it on, fill the little viewfinder with your image and squeeze the shutter button. With USB connections, transferring images to your PC is easy, even the first time. The colors are sometimes muted and the images tend to be overexposed in bright sunlight and underexposed indoors. But the raw images can be improved significantly with a little software manipulation. Reducing the image size to 480 X 360 or even 320 X 240 improves the overall quality considerably. This creates the perfect sized image for web pages and for sending to your friends and family by e-mail.
For a very small investment you can experience the rush of instant gratification when you see your first digital images appear on your PC monitor. You'll get a taste of the exciting world of digital photography. While I'm afraid of loosing my expensive, name brand, digital camera with all the buttons, I never worry about my TinyCams. If I drop one and step on it or leave behind in a restaurant, I can afford to buy a new one!
Now here's the best part. I carry a TinyCam (sometimes two) everywhere! Therefore, I shoot a lot more photos. Sure, some of my shots are junk. Some didn't get enough light, or are out of focus. I learn from those and then simply discard them. And since I don't have to think about exposure, depth of field, or focus, I spend more time composing my shots, trying different angles and being more creative. The result is that some of my photos are really good! And you know what? I'm becoming a better photographer!
What's the best model? Wow that's tough! While I'm writing this article AIPTEK's MegaCam is my choice. But ask me again next week.