Consumer Reports Guides Shutterbugs to Picture-Perfect Digital Images; Ratings and Recommendations of Digital Cameras and Printers

Now that digital photography has moved from gee-whiz innovation into the mainstream, today's shutterbug has an unprecedented range of options for shooting, saving, and printing images. In its latest guide to picture-perfect photography, Consumer Reports (CR) found that consumers can expect very good -- sometimes excellent -- results no matter what set of options they choose. The trick comes in knowing what the options are and which ones best fit the interest and skill level of the photographer.

To help figure that out, the July issue of CR includes ratings and recommendations of digital cameras and printers, and advice on editing, organizing, sharing and printing photos. The report highlights essential information geared toward the needs of three types of photographers: Casual, Serious and Advanced.

What kind of photographer? Consumer Reports divides shutterbugs into three categories:

Casual -- This group wants snapshots, not enlargements. They are in the market for an inexpensive camera that's easy to use. They want prints quickly and don't want to spend a lot of time or money.

Serious -- This group wants a camera that can deliver great snapshots but also handle tricky scenes. A serious photographer is willing to spend time at the computer editing and is looking for high-quality prints.

Advanced -- These photographers are passionate and devote lots of free time to their hobby. They are looking to trade up to a full-featured camera and editing program and willing to invest in a top-of-the-line printer.


Digital Cameras. The experts at CR recommend that consumers look at all the features, not just a camera's megapixel count, to know whether it will suit their needs. But CR also continues to find some corner-cutting: skimpy memory, no editing software, and no viewfinder.

Casual -- Photographers in this group should expect to spend no more than $250. CR experts recommend a 3 to 4 megapixel camera, with specific scene settings, AA-battery power, a cradle to easily upload photos, and PictBridge capability for printing without a computer. Extras that the casual photographer might need include a 128-MB or greater-capacity memory card, memory- card reader, 4x6 photo printer, and rechargeable AAs and charger. Consumer Reports' tests turned up high-quality cameras at good values for the casual shooter. CR recommends the following models as compact, simple to use and best values for snapshots: Canon PowerShot A510 ($180), and these CR Best Buys: Fujifilm FinePix A330 ($140), Kodak EasyShare CX7430 ($186) and Olympus D- 580 Zoom ($189).

Serious -- Photographers in this group can spend between $250 and $800. CR experts recommend a 3 to 6 megapixel camera with the same specs as the casual user. But the serious photographer will probably also want a zoom range of 4x or greater, some manual controls, and continuous frames to help capture fast action. Some extras may also include a 256-MB or greater- capacity memory card, basic editing software and an inexpensive photo printer. Consumer Reports' tests turned up these best values for shooters who want to get creative: Canon PowerShot S1IS ($350), Olympus C-5500 Sport Zoom ($316), and the Fujifilm FinePix S3100 ($239).

Advanced -- These photographers will spend between $500 and $1500. CR experts recommend a 6 to 8 megapixel camera with a zoom range of 4x or greater, an image stabilizer, full manual controls, an ISO of 800 or higher to capture fast motion, and metering modes for tricky lighting situations. Some extras may also include a 512 MB or greater-capacity memory card, spare battery and charger, full-featured editing software, lens hood, tripod, and top-of-the-line photo printer. CR designated the following models as CR Best Buys and two of the best choices in point-and-shoots for serious photography: Fujifilm FinePix E550 ($308), and Olympus C-60 Zoom ($282).


Editing. CR notes that most digital cameras no longer come with full photo-editing software, but that there are several no- cost tools available to help photographers crop, correct color, brighten, and sharpen images. CR experts advise that Casual and Serious photographers should expect to spend nothing to edit images. Many common editing tasks such as red-eye removal, rotating, cropping, auto color, and contrast of an image can be done with the camera. The Serious photographer can use the software that comes with the computer such as iPhoto for Macs, and PC users can download free software such as IrfanView. The Advanced photographer should expect to spend between $80 and $100 for commercial software such as Adobe Photoshop Elements or Corel Paint Shop Pro9.

Organizing and Sharing Photos. The ability to shoot and store many digital photos at little cost translates into a major burden: how to organize shots so that they can easily be printed or shared. CR notes that the Casual and Serious photographer can organize files on a computer hard drive or use software that came with a computer or was downloaded from the Web (such as Picasa 2). Advanced photographers will want to use commercial software that integrates organization with sharing and editing, such as Adobe Photoshop Elements ($80 to $100) and ACDSee 7.0 PowerPack ($80). The CR experts point out that there are many Web sites that allow photographers to put photos into virtual albums that friends can view. Many also offer photofinishing and other services. and, for example, offer free accounts with unlimited storage for 12 months.

Printing Photos -- At home, in stores. CR has rated snapshot printers and full-size inkjets that make photo printing easy, and rated online photofinishers and in-store services. CR's tests of photofinishing services showed that consumers can expect consistently high-quality prints if they use an online service or in-store processing with a Fujifilm minilab. CR found that Kodak's in-store processing varied widely in quality, and online processors using Kodak tended to cluster in the bottom half of the ratings.

Among photo printers, CR notes that compact 4x6-snapshot printers are best for the Casual photographer. CR found that higher prices don't mean better print quality, and supplies can make even low-priced units costly to own over time. CR also found that the HP PhotoSmart 245 (inkjet) ($190) and the HP PhotoSmart 375 (inkjet) ($190) were the only printers to deliver excellent photo quality and some of the lowest printing costs at 35 cents a print. Among moderately priced all-purpose printers, CR found that the HP7760 ($130) and the Lexmark P915 ($135) are both smart choices. And for top-of-the-line printers that will be used mainly for photos, CR recommends the HP 7960 ($230), HP 8450 ($230), Canon iP8500 ($330), and the Epson R800 ($390).

For consistently high-quality prints through an in-store service, CR recommends Fujifilm processing available at Costco minilab, Ritz, Walgreens, and Wal-Mart minilab. In CR's ratings of online services, Shutterfly and Kodak EasyShare Gallery delivered excellent prints and offered versatile album-management and editing tools. But they were expensive. For the best print quality at the lowest price, CR recommends Target Photo Center and Wal-Mart Digital Photo Center.

Consumers can visit the Electronics section at and access free information in the Digital Cameras & Photography Decision Guide.

Posted: Tue - June 7, 2005 at 09:25 PM