Chippewa Herald * July 17, 2003

Digital cameras are here to stay (but buy the right batteries)

by Tom Arneberg, Community Columnist

I wrote a column on digital photography about six months ago, and was surprised to hear from people who bought digital cameras after reading the article. Now that's "power of the press"! I didn't have room in that article, though, for some other aspects of digital photography that I'd like to talk about this time: getting prints, buying batteries, and adjusting for depth-of-field.

One thing is certain: Digital cameras ("digicams") are now in the mainstream. (Someone needs to tell that to the Northern Wisconsin State Fair; their photography contest this year inexplicably banned digital photos!) This mainstreaming hit home a few weeks ago, the day of our tri-annual Court of Honor for our Boy Scout troop, when I was able to get digital one-hour prints locally. We had completed a 40-mile bicycle camping trip on the Old Abe Trail, pedaling from Chippewa Falls to Brunet Island State Park in Cornell on Saturday and back the next day. As usual, I took over 100 digital pictures on that campout (which you can see on the web at "").

I was in a quandary, though -- I normally upload my digital photos to, where I can get high-quality 4x6 color prints mailed to my house for only 26 cents each. The problem this time was that we got back from the campout on Sunday, and the Court of Honor was the very next day!

Fortunately, I happened to be in Pick 'n Save that day, where I noticed the new Sharp photo processing lab. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Sharp now develops digital photos! I burned all the pictures on a CD-ROM and took it in Monday afternoon, and walked out with 28 color prints of our group shot, which I handed out to the boys at our Court of Honor that same night.

The bottom line is that you not only have all the advantages of digital photos -- you can take hundreds of shots for free, easily archive and access them on a computer, add text or crop photos -- but now that it has become popular enough, you can even get one-hour digital prints right here in Chippewa Falls!

Another digicam topic I'd like to address is batteries. I have spent time with countless friends and relatives in the last few months who are proud new owners of digital cameras. I was horrified to discover, however, that every one of them was using ALKALINE BATTERIES! And then they complain about how quickly their new camera goes through batteries.

The problem with regular old alkaline batteries is that the voltage level degrades while the battery is used up, due to internal resistance. A battery with a lower voltage may have plenty of life left in a flashlight or radio, but digital cameras demand a higher voltage threshold for proper operation. As a result, users will throw out regular batteries that still have a lot of useful life, but are no longer good enough for a digital camera.

Sony makes great Lithium rechargeables for their cameras, but for the rest of us, there is really only one kind of battery that you should use for your digital camera: Nickel-Metal Hydride ("NiMH"). These batteries not only have much better voltage characteristics for digicams, but they are also rechargeable with a VERY long life. I know this first-hand, as I am using the same batteries I bought in November 2001, which have now powered over 22,000 photos! I don't even want to calculate how much that would've cost if I had to keep buying and throwing away partially-used-up alkaline batteries.

You must use a battery charger made for NiMH batteries, but you can now get these at Best Buy. I bought mine online at "", where they have a Quest "Smart Charger Kit" for $33.00. This model is microprocessor-controlled so that it can rapidly recharge each battery independently. It includes four "AA" NiMH batteries, and you can buy extra batteries for around $3.00 each.

Are there ANY disadvantages of digital photography over regular "analog" 35mm cameras? Well, I have found one area that might be a downside. Because of their smaller image sensor, a digital camera has a much greater "depth of field" -- the amount of the photo that is in focus at one time -- than a 35mm camera does.

For most shots, it is advantageous to have more of the picture in focus. However, if you are taking a portrait of a person's face, for example, and would like to throw the background OUT of focus, then this is more difficult for a digital camera. I can still produce this effect on my Olympus c2100uz by using the full 10X zoom and the maximim aperture opening (fastest shutter speed), but it's not quite as dramatic as on a 35mm camera.

With all the other incredible advantages of digicams, though, I still haven't touched my old Pentax in over two years now. Digital photography is here to stay.

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