I was looking through some of my older articles the other day, and realised with surprise that the digital camera buyer's guide is nearly two years old. While most of the advice it contains is still relevant, there have been a lot of changes in the digital camera market over the past couple of years, and it's high time I updated it to reflect this, so welcome to the digital camera buyer's guide v2.0.
The State of the Art
While most people still think of digital cameras as being a pretty new idea, in fact they have been around for at least 20 years, and prior to that there were some primitive video-based electronic still cameras available in the mid 1970s. The first true digital cameras appeared in the late 1980s, with models such as the Fujifilm DS-1P. In the early 1990s Kodak was manufacturing digital SLRs based on existing Nikon and Canon film cameras, and these quickly became popular with professional photojournalists.
Consumer digital cameras as we know them today first appeared in the mid 1990s, and quickly developed many of the features that we now take for granted, with models such as the Casio QV-10, which was the first to have an LCD monitor, or the Ricoh RDC-1, which was the first to offer video clip recording. Early cameras used very limited internal memory for storage, but the Sony Mavica series used standard 3.5-inch floppy disks, while others used the now-defunct SmartMedia flash memory cards.
The first digital cameras had very low resolution sensors, usually VGA (640 x 480 pixels) since this was the standard resolution of early computer monitors, equivalent to approximately 0.3 megapixels. This gradually increased, first to 0.5 megapixels, then to 0.8 (1024 x 768), and by 1997 the first 1.3 megapixel cameras were available. Since then sensor resolutions have continually increased, following some variant of Moore's Law, while simultaneously prices have tumbled. Looking back through some old magazines reveals that in 2002 £500 would have bought you a 3.3MP, 3x zoom Pentax Optio 330. By 2004 the same price would have bought an 8MP, 8x zoom Nikon Coolpix 8700, a top-of-the-range semi-pro bridge camera. Today £500 will buy you a Sony A350 digital SLR with a couple of lenses. Never before has so much choice been available to the camera-buying public.
Unfortunately too much choice can in not necessarily a good thing, and the sheer number of digital cameras on offer, with their bewildering array of features and options can be enormously confusing for the first-time buyer. Heck even I find it a bit of a headache sometimes, and I do this stuff for a living.