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Clueless In Digicam Land

At this year's Photo Marketing Association trade show, sales figures were released for last December during which U.S. consumers spent $522 million on digital cameras compared to only $220 million for film cameras. Clearly the tide is beginning to turn, but will new digicam owners be happy with their purchases?

I predict many of them will not be satisfied because most digicam manufacturers are still clueless when it comes to the kind of product people really want­ the digicam that would gain wide acceptance among the public and force them to put their film cameras into retirement. I know what that camera should be like and so do you. So why isn't it on the market?.

Recently a magazine columnist voiced his dissatisfaction with digicams because he thought it was "strange" that they looked like conventional cameras. He said he'd like to see digital camera manufacturers "ditch all conventions and think what a digital camera should be like." Actually, Agfa, Nikon, Ricoh, and others tried that with their swiveling designs; unfortunately, it didn't set the digital world on fire and they also had to market conventional-looking digicams.

Camera designs have always been evolutionary, not revolutionary. When film replaced glass plates, and was supplanted, in turn, by roll film, there was hardly a ripple in the industry; minor modifications were made to cameras but they essentially looked the same because form followed function. Even when integral light metering and autofocus arrived, they were neatly tucked into existing camera bodies.

In their rush to market digital cameras, some manufacturers have ignored the most basic elements of camera design. When it first came out, the Toshiba PDR-M5's zoom lens blocked one corner of the viewfinder's field of view, making it impossible to compose a shot accurately. But though reviewers downgraded the camera for this design gaffe, its successor, the PDR-M65 had the identical problem. Not being an old-line camera manufacturer, Toshiba may not consider this significant, but it's a sure bet they wouldn't manufacture a laptop that displayed only half a screen of information.

The number one consumer complaint about digital cameras is their high battery consumption. You'd think solving that problem would be a priority. Instead, manufacturers advise users to keep the LCD monitor off– the very feature that makes digital so appealing. It's a case of ignoring the problem and hoping it will go away. In some cases manufacturers add insult to injury– like Kyocera and Nikon using wimpy batteries in their Finecam S3 and CP2500, or other manufacturers like Kodak and Olympus reducing battery capacity from four to two in some of their digicams.

Digicam owners are also disgruntled about having to go through menus, sub-menus, and sub-sub-menus; it's is like deep diving for pearls– eventually you'll reach the oysters, but you'll damn near be out of breath when you get there. Menus are confusing and waste time; they should be reserved for stuff you usually set once (or infrequently) and then forget– like date and time, sleep settings, video out, card format, and resolution. Dynamic settings, like exposure compensation, shutter speed and aperture, zoom, flash, manual focus, and others should be controlled by buttons, dials, or rings so you can adjust them quickly when required. Take a look at any good film camera and see how easy it is to use compared with most digicams.

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