Cameras to Fill a Room with a View

Spread brilliant images of your adventures across the wide-open spaces on your walls with the latest generation of photography's technological wonders

Jun 1, 2002
Outside Magazine

ON JOHN WESLEY Powell'S second expedition down the Colorado River, photographer John Hillers's "film" consisted of cumbersome 9-by-12-inch glass plates. Hillers created peerless images of the epic float through the Grand Canyon and of the Navajo, Hopi, and Ute who inhabited the Colorado Plateau, but he had to set up a tentlike darkroom before each shot and coat each plate with a chemical cocktail of silver nitrate, alcohol, and guncotton. He had no choice, of course—it was 1872. Luckily, you do. Today's astonishing array of highly portable, top-notch camera equipment means that even a weekend photographer can capture a gallery-quality image. Your only dilemma will be deciding which format fits your style: digital, video, or film. At least Hillers didn't have to agonize over a dizzying range of glass plates to buy.

With more than half of all pictures now shot digitally—a fact that has nabobs of negativism signaling film's death by 2010—the transition to megapixels seems unstoppable. Two-megapixel resolution makes for crisp Web-site photos or e-mailable JPEGs; for prints, you can get away with three megapixels, but you'll need at least five megapixels if your aim is to rival film's quality output. And the last barrier to going digital—no-brainer software—appears to have been broken. All the digital cameras reviewed on the following pages come with programs that automatically download your images onto your computer the instant the camera connects to your Mac or PC via a USB port. Add a photo-image printer and you can open your own Photo Bug.
But maybe you're thinking video. In that case, the new incredible shrinking camcorders combine both snapshot capability and 60 minutes of video in a package that's smaller than most film cameras. Two years ago, you would've paid $3,000 for the features that today's smaller and more technologically advanced camcorders offer for about a grand.

Still, no matter how wide your technogeek eyes get, film isn't going away, despite the digerati's prognostications. Celluloid provides a richness of color and depth that digital cameras can't yet touch, and the medium continues to handle extremes in contrast and brightness better than its pixelated brethren. Good thing too, since in Cuzco film is eminently easier to find than a Memory Stick.

But before you try to photograph, say a hissing cobra at a bazaar, a few words of advice: When choosing a machine, wrap your hands around it and peer through the viewfinder; it should feel sized just for you, the various controls all naturally under your fingertips. Get the right fit and what you see will be what you'll get with every snap.

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