A digital dilemma

Digital photography is still trying to make the leap from being a professional pastime to a consumer must-have like its film cousin. A sure-fire way to know it has caught on is when your mum is toting a digital camera at the next family gathering!

Most people shoot a roll of film with great expectations. They dash around the family barbecue, stop people in mid-conversation, line 'em up and capture the moment. Before you know it, 36 glossy pics are in your pocket.

The next time you see those moments you captured, though, there is big disappointment. Tell me a time when you have got a roll of film back and been happy with every pic. There are always duds. Someone moves at the last minute, blinks, and a great photo is spoiled. This is where digital cameras are perfect: you take the pic, some mug buggers it up, you can stop and delete the pic while Uncle Fred puts his false teeth back in, and presto, a great family photo. This is a dream most photographers have, so why isn't this digital caper catching on?

Well, it isn't the price point any more. Some of these digital snap-happy cameras start at less than $500. You can fork out more for digital doodads and functions, but for the point-and-click crowd they are perfect. Digital cameras come unstuck when it comes to getting to the pics after they are taken.

Their film cousins, with easy-to-load film that is available at the corner chemist, the airport in Istanbul and everywhere in between, means film photography is not a hassle. Consumers are so accustomed to film that many don't even know that digital cameras don't have film. A colleague who attended a retail convention recently cited this as an issue that a big-name retailer was having with digital cameras. Its customers were returning after purchasing a digital camera, and asking, "Well, how do I get the film out?"

This is an understandable mistake if the customer just grabs the box off the shelf, as many digital cameras sport the same look, feel and form factor as their film brethren. Plus, many sales staff are not adequately trained to explain the intricacies of digital cameras. Getting the pics is an issue for novices and experienced users alike.

Last time I was at Sydney International, a dapper gent was asking the newsagent (who had a wall of film behind her) where he could get a SmartMedia card for his digital camera. He certainly couldn't at this international airport. Nor many others. So what is a traveller to do?

Stock up before departure is the conclusion we came to this month, when preparing the feature "Sites of Passage" (page 57), in which we look at how to keep family and friends abreast of what you are up to when abroad. Suffice to say you won't be coming back with mountains of pics to bore the family with on your return, because unless you can find a way to download the pics on your travels, you may be limited to just 100 shots.

Of course, if you are at home, this is not an issue, as the minute you get home you can easily download the pics to your PC. Great - then what? It's not like popping the roll in for developing in the morning then picking up the snaps later.

What digital photographers need are photography labs where you can download your pics, get a CD burned of the files, have maybe the best five photos enhanced and printed, and away you go. It is happening, but the take-up rate is slow. Photographic companies need to lead the charge in Australia, and encourage their labs and franchises to introduce more options for digital photographers. Maybe one day media cards will be as ubiquitous as film.

In the meantime, PC World decided to drill down on getting the most from your digital pics, with a great guide on how to transfer files, make them look better, and share the pics, plus what to look for in printers. Once you have created the digital masterpiece, you'll now have high-quality prints.

No doubt you still need to be a photographic and PC enthusiast to be sporting a digital camera these days, and you may not end up with a box full of snaps, but digital photography opens up a new world of possibilities. Now, when you get home, you can share the memories online with the Scandinavians you met in Prague, or friends in Dubbo.

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Amanda Conroy

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