Technology

Digital Decisions

Investigate Which Digital Camera Might Be Right for You.

In a profession that relies on sight as well as smarts, commercial real estate practitioners have taken to digital cameras like ducks to water. The main advantage of digital is immediacy. Moments after the shutter is pushed, you can view the photo on the camera's LCD screen. If you don't like the angle or the lighting, delete it and take another shot.

Versatility is another plus. With digital cameras, you can snap several views of a property in different resolution modes, download them to your computer back at the office, e-mail or post the low-resolution images to your Web site, and print out the high-resolution images for brochures and presentation packages.

However, to the uninitiated, sometimes just reading about digital cameras requires a translator. Megapixels, storage media, compression level — it's a new language. Even those who have explored the inner reaches of 35 mm photography may find the switch to digital a bit daunting.

But according to an informal survey of commercial real estate professionals, the journey is well worth the effort. Brokers, appraisers, consultants, and others praise digital cameras, recommending a variety of models by different companies.

Things to Consider If you are ready to cross the digital divide and don't know where to leap, here are features that other commercial real estate professionals consider important.

Today, most digital cameras provide 1 to 3 megapixels, which has improved picture quality dramatically. (A megapixel equals 1 million pixels, the little squares that compose computer images. The more pixels, the better the picture.) Of course, prices rise with the number of megapixels offered.

But no matter what your price level, you can count on finding universal serial bus connectivity and removable storage media as standard, as well as built-in flash and at least three image settings and resolution modes. Almost all models have two main file formats — JPEG provides the most Internet portability but TIFF provides better image quality (and thus a bigger file size). Most cameras offer an optical zoom lens, which physically moves like a 35 mm camera lens. A digital zoom electronically magnifies a portion of the image, but image quality suffers. Look for a camera that offers both optical and digital zoom.

Battery life also is important, since digital cameras are power-hungry machines. And you should know how many photos the provided removable storage card will hold. Most cameras ship with 8 MB or 16 MB cards, which can be reused. You can purchase additional cards with higher storage levels.

From a practical standpoint, most commercial real estate professionals like a pocket-size camera that isn't too heavy. They also enjoy such features as audio annotation that allows sound to be attached to images for identifying photos. And some like being able to take short videos that can be e-mailed or used online — a feature offered in higher-priced models. Many look for a camera with a wide-angle zoom or purchase an add-on wide-angle lens for the best range of property exterior and interior shots.

How Will You Use It? When deciding which camera to buy, commercial real estate practitioners fall into two camps: those who use images online and those who want to print high-quality images to use for marketing purposes. Although all digital cameras offer both options, picture quality sometimes is sacrificed by compressing files so they download easily.

Practitioners who primarily are interested in using photos online recommend the Sony Mavica line hands down. It is the only digital camera that stores images on a regular 3.5-inch computer disk. After taking the photos, you insert the disk in your computer, save images as JPEG files, and then e-mail or post them to Web pages. 

However, if you take high-resolution photos, you're going to need a lot of disks. For instance, the Sony Mavica MVC-FD95 holds only four full-resolution images per disk.

To reduce the storage problem, Sony introduced the Mavica MVC-CD1000, which uses a 3-inch 156 MB rewritable CD that can hold 160 full-resolution images and 1,000 at the lowest setting. (Sony provides an “expander doughnut” so that older CD drives can play the smaller format.) The 2.1 megapixel camera sports a 10x optical lens, lithium batteries that recharge in the camera, and the ability to record MPEG video and audio files. At 34 ounces and $1,300, this Mavica is heftier in size and price than other digital cameras, but users report excellent image quality. Contact Sony Electronics at (800) 222-7669  or

Print Quality
Those looking for a digital camera with high-quality print images have a host of 2- and 3-megapixel cameras from which to choose. The accompanying chart lists several newer models of megapixel cameras. The list is not comprehensive and inclusion does not constitute a recommendation.

Over the past five years, picture quality and ease of use have improved dramatically. Prices are still in the $800-$1,000 range for 3 megapixels, which produces the best quality print images at sizes as large as 8 by 10 inches and in some cases, 11 by 14 inches.

Most megapixel cameras also have improved the ease of getting photos out of the camera. All of them now provide the faster USB cable that connects from the camera to the computer for downloading images. They also use removable storage media such as SmartMedia or CompactFlash cards. These cards can be popped into adapters resembling computer disks that are inserted into a computer's disk drive for downloading images.

In addition, Hewlett Packard, Epson America, and Kodak all make printers that print images directly from removable storage cards without even hooking them up to a computer. And the combined forces of Olympus America and Polaroid recently introduced the Olympus C-211 Zoom that has a built-in instant printer. You can print a photo on site and then download digital images later for other uses. The 2.1 megapixel camera has a 3x optical lens, offers TIFF and JPEG file formats, and records video. The photos print in 15 seconds and use Polaroid instant film. The C-211 comes with 8 MB SmartMedia card and one Polaroid film pack for printing 10 photos. It costs $800. Contact Olympus at (800) 622-6372 or .

Cheaper Alternatives Both 2- and 3-megapixel cameras offer a host of features that allow you to override automatic settings to produce better photos. But if you're just looking for an easy to operate, point-and-shoot digital camera mainly for Internet use, consider 1-megapixel cameras. Most of these offer USB cables, removable storage media, LCD viewfinders, and a built-in flash. Their print quality is good up to 5 by 7 inches. Two recommended models are the Olympus D-460 Zoom, a 1.3 megapixel camera that costs $500, and the 1-megapixel Kodak DC215 for $300. Contact Kodak at (800) 235-6325 or .

Not everyone has fallen under the digital spell. Some practitioners rely on scanning 35 mm photos into their computers for both print and Internet use. Others have their 35 mm photos developed onto a CD, a service that most film developers now offer. Still others take stills off their video cameras.

Comparing Megapixel Digital Cameras

Camera

Resolution/lens

Battery life

Storage Media

Wide angle

Audio or video

Canon PowerShot S20
(800) 652-2666 $800

3.3 megapixels; 2x optical/4x digital

55-230 shots

16 MB CompactFlash card holds 6-30 images

Zoom lens has a 2:1 wide-angle/telephoto range

Not available

Epson PhotoPC 850 Z
(800) 873-7766 $800

2.1 megapixels; 3x optical/2x digital

Rechargeable batteries

8 MB CompactFlash card holds 120 standard images

Lens adapter included for optional wide-angle lens

10 second audio per image

HP PhotoSmart 618
(800) 613-2222
$600

2.1 megapixels; 3x optical/2x digital

Lithium batteries; 765 shots

16 MB CompactFlash card holds 57-165 images

Not available

11 second audio per image

Kodak DC4800
(800) 235-6325
$1,000

3.1 megapixels; 3x optical/2x digital

Lithium batteries recharge in camera;

280 shots per charge

16 MB CompactFlash card holds 7-21 images

Optional wide-angle and telephoto lenses

Not available

Nikon CoolPix 990
(800) 526-4566
$1,000

3.3 megapixels; 3x optical/4x digital

1.5 hours with alkaline batteries

16 MB CompactFlash card holds 1-333 images

Optional wide-angle, fisheye, and telephoto lenses

Not available

Olympus C-3000 Zoom
(800) 622-6372

$800

3.3 megapixels; 3x optical/2.5 digital

Rechargeable batteries; 80-150 shots

8 MB SmartMedia card holds 1-82 images

Not available

MPEG video; 8 second audio per image

 

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