Digital images, like other computer files, are simply information. The more information your camera captures, the better the resolution you get. Resolution is measured in pixels—"picture elements," the tiny dots that make up any digital image—or, usually, megapixels (millions of pixels). This year the major digital-camera manufacturers brought out consumer models that cost less than $1,000 and produce images of roughly four megapixels—more precisely, from 3.3 to 4.2. "Three-point-three megapixels basically means you can print out a good eight-by-ten photo," David Brommer, a digital specialist at B&H Photo Video, in New York City, told me. "But how many people print eight-by-tens, even with film? Most people print for their album; for that, as well as for e-mailing photos or uploading to Web pages, a three-hundred-dollar two-megapixel camera is great."
Indeed, digital cameras allow you to do much more than fill a photo album. You can send photos over the Internet; post them on Web pages; give "slide" shows on a computer, a TV set, or a digital projector; and use your computer to incorporate photos into greeting cards (printed or e-mailed) and other documents. Many models now also allow you to make short video clips, which add a remarkably pleasing touch to a slide show.
The Nikon Coolpix 995, the Olympus C-3040Z, and the Canon PowerShot G2 are among the top four-megapixel cameras costing $800 to $900, according to Brommer. Each features a liquid-crystal display for immediate viewing of photos, a zoom lens, a fairly wide aperture range, high ISO speeds, and shutter speeds up to at least 1/800 of a second. For less money there are many two-to-three-megapixel cameras to choose from. For analyses and comparisons of digital cameras, see dpreview.com, consumersearch.com, or consumerreports.org.
When I visited Studio Two, a graphic-design business in Lenox, Massachusetts, I saw what six megapixels can do. Kevin Sprague, a co-founder of Studio Two, converted to digital two years ago, when Nikon came out with the D1, a $5,000 three-megapixel professional single-lens-reflex camera that looks and operates very much like Nikon's popular F series of regular SLR cameras, and even uses the same line of lenses. Now Sprague shoots with the D1X, the D1's six-megapixel successor. A Coriolanus poster for the theater group Shakespeare & Company; a shot of Rolf Smedvig playing his trumpet in a summer garden for a CD cover; a lineup of whiskey bottles for a restaurant ad: you could never guess the digital origin of Studio Two's work.
"Students learning photography today should buy digital cameras and never look back," Sprague told me. "By the time they're out of school, no one will be shooting film commercially." Richard J. Linke, a professor of art at Skidmore College, went ahead and converted the school's entire photography studio to digital two years ago. "I thought it would be irresponsible not to," he told me recently. "I had to decide whether to retire an old fogy or learn the way of the future, and it's been a real, revolutionary thrill."