If you're looking for something really small, consider the Panasonic CoolShot at about $400. Tiny enough to fit in one hand, the camera produces surprisingly good pictures. Data is stored in a 2-megabyte flash memory card that comes with an adapter so that it can be read by any notebook PC with a PCMCIA slot. Toshiba recently announced an equally small camera. Both the Toshiba and Panasonic models, however, do not have a flash, which limits them to outdoors or well-lighted rooms.
Before investing in a digital camera, consider using a regular camera and a scanner. You'll still have to pay for your film, but the quality of the scanned images will be a lot better. The EasyPhoto reader from Storm Software costs less than $200 and produces pretty good images. HP's new $499 PhotoSmart scanner does a good job on prints and a very good job with negatives and slides, which are scanned at 2,400 dots per inch.
Even dedicated photo printers aren't as good as regular prints, but they're getting better every year. You can now get reasonably good prints using a good color ink jet printer like the Epson 800 Color Stylus, the Hewlett-Packard 693 or the Lexmark 7000 Color Jetprinter.
You'll get even better results with a special photo-quality printer such as the Panasonic Digital Photo Printer ($449), which uses photo-sensitive paper that costs about 75 cents for each 3-by-5-inch photo. HP's recently released $499 PhotoSmart Photo Printer uses special inks and paper to give you pictures that look good but are still short of what you get from the photo lab. And Canon today will announce that it's rolling out a new line of photo-quality Bubble Jet printers.
Printing your photos on a PC will save you a trip to the photo store, but it won't save you a lot of money. The special papers and ink needed for near-photo-quality images can cost as much as professional developing. Supplies for the HP Photo printer, for example, cost about $1 per 4-by-6 glossy print. If you're willing to sacrifice a bit on image quality, you can save a lot by using regular ink-jet paper that costs about 2 cents a sheet. If you mount the print in a photo album behind a clear plastic sleeve, you'll wind up with a glossy appearance at a fraction of the price.
Lawrence J. Magid can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. His World Wide Web page is at http://www.larrysworld.com