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THE COOLEST STUFF IN THE UNIVERSE

Picture the Smile These Will Bring

November 30, 2000|ASHLEY DUNN | ashley.dunn@latimes.com

Digital photography came of age this year with cameras and inkjet printers that could finally challenge the best of the old film-and-paper world of photography.

Cameras such as the Nikon CoolPix 990 and the Olympus Camedia 3030Z have impressed even photographic pros, and this year's crop of printers has provided a level of quality that rivals traditional color photographic prints.

The bad news is that digital photography remains one of the most insanely priced pastimes in all of techdom.

If you thought MP3 players and personal digital assistants were expensive, you ain't seen nothin' yet. This is an industry that still thinks $1,000 slide scanners are in the "hobbyist" category.

Fortunately, there is no end to the little gizmos that digital photographers lust after.

MEMORY

The one thing that digital photographers are always short on is memory. It's a cruel joke that digital photography has done away with expensive film but has replaced it with the need for even more expensive "digital film."

The 3.34-megapixel Olympus 3030Z comes from the factory with 16 megabytes of memory, which is enough to hold exactly one--yes, that's right, one--uncompressed, high-resolution image. Using moderate compression, the camera can hold about 20 images on a 16 MB card.

There are several types of memory used in digital cameras, including Compact Flash, SmartMedia and Sony's Memory Stick. Some of the more popular memory makers include Lexar Media, Viking, Kingston, SanDisk and Simple Technology.

There is a wide range of prices, depending on how much memory you want to buy. You can get 8 MB of memory for as little as $25 for CompactFlash, $25 for Sony Memory Stick and $15 for SmartMedia.

Low-resolution cameras can get by with 8 MB of memory, but for cameras above 2 megapixels, you should aim for 16 MB and up.

For cameras with resolutions above 3 megapixels, don't even think about anything below 32 MB.

To really light up someone's life, just go for 64 MB of memory. Prices start at about $110 for all three memory types.

RECHARGEABLE BATTERIES

Digital cameras eat batteries alive. Most digital cameras are powered by regular AA batteries, and their life spans can be as short as a few hours. The main culprits are the cameras' flash and the color LCD screens that let you preview your digital pictures.

The solution is to get several sets of rechargeable nickel-metal-hydride batteries. These batteries generally last longer than standard alkaline batteries, and they can be recharged as many as 500 times. Unlike other rechargeable batteries, NiMH batteries have no memory. In other words, they can be repeatedly charged without weakening over time.

Kodak sells a set with a charger and 4 AA batteries for $50. Go ahead and splurge--buy a few extra sets of AA batteries. They go for about $20 for four.

PRINTERS

This year's batch of printers is the best ever. For the first time, inkjet printers are very close to matching the quality of traditional color photos.

There are lots of exotic printers on the market that produce beautiful prints, but it's tough to beat the $250 price of the Epson Stylus Photo 870.

It is one of the cheapest photo printers on the market using a six-color printing process. Most inkjet printers use four colors: cyan, magenta, yellow and black. The 870 adds a light cyan and a light magenta to produce smoother colors and sharper details.

Although the 870 costs more than a typical color inkjet, its ability to turn out photo-quality prints makes it well worth the extra money.

BLACK-AND-WHITE INKS

Printing black-and-white photos on a color inkjet printer is one of those frustrating tasks that just never seem to work out very well.

The problem is that blending the standard cyan, magenta, black and yellow to make various shades of gray is still too delicate a task for inkjet printers.

The solution is to use special black-and-white inks. The regular inkjet color inks simply are replaced with three shades of gray.

The results with a high-quality printer are very rich black-and-white prints that might have made even Ansel Adams happy.

Luminos Photo Corp. (http://www.luminos.com), Lyson Ltd. (http://www.lyson.com) and MIS Associates Inc. (http://www.inksupply.com) are three well-known makers of so-called quadtone ink sets.

Most of the quadtone ink sets are for Epson printers, which are among the most popular for photo printing. The cartridges cost $25 to $80 each.

Using the inks can be a bit troublesome because you have to purge your printer of old ink before using the new inks. But the results are definitely worth it.

CD-R

No digital photographer's setup is complete without a CD burner, which offers the cheapest way to store all those gigabytes of images.

CD-R discs now sell for about $1 each and hold as much as 650 MB of information, or about 1,000 high-resolution images using moderate JPEG compression. That's a lot of pictures.

CD-R discs can be written on only once. CD-RW discs can be reused, but they cost about $6 each.

Don't bother buying a CD-R drive. They are disappearing fast. The best bet is to buy a CD-RW drive, which allows you to use both CD-R and CD-RW disks.

Plextor and Hewlett-Packard are among the leading brands in this market, with a variety of CD-RW drives costing about $160 to $400, depending on the speed and the way the drive is connected to a computer.

*

Ashley Dunn is an assistant technology editor of The Times.

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