In 1900, Kodak released the Brownie, one of the first low-cost snapshot cameras constructed from cardboard and a meniscus lens that took two-and-one-quarter-inch square pictures on 117-roll film. The camera saw multiple iterations, upgrading from cardboard to a Bakelite exterior, but the basic idea remained the same—and its principles, while refined, guided the development of point-and-shoot photography for nearly a century. In 1996, Kodak released an early mass-market digital camera, the DC25. It was 1.3 megapixels, used a CompactFlash memory card, and retailed for a cool $500. And, as a quick eBay search shows, you can now purchase a Kodak DC25 for $13. Over the course of 15 years, the digital camera has depreciated 97.4 percent—even a nonfunctioning Brownie is worth more.
There is a certain ruthlessness to technological obsolescence, especially today. And with biannual updates and upgrades to our iPods and a spate of jazzy multidisciplinary phones, the camera has the unfortunate task of competing not only against itself, but also against a slew of electronics. Thus, yesterday’s megapixel is today’s minorpixel, and yes, your LCD screen is undoubtedly on the small side. In many cases, today’s digital cameras produce better-quality images than film, so much so that slow or fine-grained 35 mm films with speeds of ISO 50 to 100 have megapixel equivalents of 8 to 16 megapixels, and ISO 400 films come in at about 4 megapixels. And so the early digital camera goes the way of the typewriter, the VCR, and, begrudgingly, the boom box.
With all the major camera manufacturers in clear agreement that film is no longer the cash cow (Kodak drastically reduced production of traditional 35 mm film cameras in 2004, and Nikon and Canon swiftly followed suit in 2006), few can argue with the fact that, for a point-and-shoot camera, you’d have to be a dolt not to go digital. But with the market being as competitive as it is, one wonders if the consumer isn’t being hedged out of the bet. In order to make heads or tails of the options, we asked Steve Reczkowski, of the color-photo-processing lab Robyn Color, to help us rate the latest and greatest point and shoot models based on usability and image quality.