Various reliable sources have estimated that very soon, the only people who will prefer film cameras will be those who want the cheap, single-use disposable cameras and professional photographers who want to create certain effects that they only feel with film. Can digital technology ever push film out as Joe Soap's choice for capturing and storing his precious image memories? Well, as we discovered, the answer is most definitely yes.
Digital cameras give you an impressive array of special features and modes that photographers could only dream about a few years ago. You can look at an image in the LCD viewfinder immediately after shooting it and know whether you got the photo you wanted. If not, you can delete it and try again, because there is no film or processing costs. You can quickly upload images to your PC if you want, but a number of cameras don't even require a computer - they transmit images by a CompactFlash (CF) modem plugged directly into the camera.
Storage isn't a problem anymore. The addition of a MicroDrive allows you to store hundreds, even thousands, of images without reloading. The applications are endless - especially with the time-lapse and remote-control capabilities available on some cameras - making them suitable for science, medical, nature, and surveillance work. Other digital cameras offer video, and some can record sound annotations with each frame. Many have panorama modes, manual controls, the ability to synchronize with an external flash, or burst modes for shooting up to 2 frames per second at full resolution. And of course, your web pages can be totally transformed quickly and easily by posting images taken with a digital camera directly onto your site.
Bear in mind that while two-million pixel digital cameras are more than adequate for most homes and small offices, enthusiasts and avid photographers will need to invest in at least a three megapixel model.
Scanners, once only the domain of design houses and printers, have become almost as common as printers. Over the last couple of years, the scanner has become quite inexpensive and relatively easy to use, making it a worthwhile addition to any home or business PC setup. And you can now easily incorporate exciting images into your presentations, Web pages and brochures.
Essentially, a scanner is an array of photosensitive silicon cells that measure the light reflected off - or transmitted through - an original. Those measurements are then mapped onto levels (for example, 256 levels per primary color for a 24-bit scanner) by an analogue-to-digital converter, and stored as binary digits that you can view and manipulate with your computer.
For most models these days, initiating a scan is as easy as pushing a single button on the scanner itself or on the interface. The use of parallel or USB interfaces in most of the latest models has eliminated the tortuous task of installing a SCSI board. The design and construction of even the least expensive scanners showed that they were able to deliver perfectly good images for the average user.
As a general rule of thumb, the minimum color depth you should consider for scanning photos and documents is 24 bits (8 bits per color or gray shade). But even the best 24-bit scanners suffer from noise, which means they fall short of the dynamic range of a typical photograph. In theory, a higher bit depth should always be better than a lower, but unfortunately this isn't always the case. For instance, some manufacturers use a 24-bit CCD and combine it with a 10-bit rather than a standard 8-bit ADC to stretch the output range of the colors into the shadows and highlights. So, in this case, a very good 24-bit scanner can still give you better images than a mediocre 30-bit one.
On the other hand, if you're scanning slides, negatives, or transparencies, which have a broader tonal range than printed photographs, 30 bits is the absolute minimum you can get away with.
It's a well-known fact that laser printers have major speed and quality advantages over their fellow print partners, the inkjets. But if this is so, why doesn't everyone have a laser on their desks? Well, up until now, the laser printer has also had to cope with some seriously 'big' disadvantages - high price and huge heft. But, the good news is that the latest batch of lasers has definitely slimmed down on weight as well as in price.
If you print loads of text-heavy documents and are hardly impressed with the print quality of your inkjet, then the laser is calling out to you. (Don't part with your inkjet though, if you need to print color documents or photos.) Not only are lasers zippy and sharp, but their consumables are much cheaper too. A laser's toner cartridge may cost more than an InkJet's ink cartridge but it lasts much longer, which all adds up in the long run, especially if you do a lot of printing.
The laser is a robust workhorse and can fit in quite well in any business environment.