The Kodak DC-20

Just one thing confuses me about this self-portrait of me and the DC-20. It isn't the state of my hair or the pinkness of the room around me, these are accurate. It's the fact that my jumper is actually black, not green.

A picture of me taking the photograph
with my DC-20

Well, never mind. It's a cute little camera. It's small: 31mm deep, and would fit comfortably inside a coffee cup should you decide you need to dunk it. It's light: about 110g, I'd say, so it'd probably float. On the other hand, it's not quite cheap enough that I'd advise dunking it in coffee.

It's a digital camera. No film: it stores pictures in internal non-volatile ram until you download them to a Macintosh or Windows PC. No focus: it's got a fixed focus with depth of field ranging from 50cm to infinity. No flash: it'll take acceptable photos in very low light levels (although, as you can see above, it may turn your black jumper green). No way to attach a stand or power cable, either: this is a minimalist model.

It will store up to 16 pictures at 320x240 resolution, or 8 pictures at 493x373 resolution. I'm a programmer, so I distrust numbers ending in so many threes; I have no idea what's special about 493 and 373.

The camera comes with two serial cables (one for your mac, one for your PC). It also comes with software for downloading and adjusting photos, under the somewhat patronising name of "Photoenhancer Special Fun Edition". Photoenhancer gets the pictures from the camera using a PhotoShop plugin (which you can use with PhotoShop or whatever else, if you like). Unfortunately, the plugin is modal, slow, ugly and awkward. That is to say, you can't do anything else while it's running, it takes 10-20 seconds to download each shot, it has inane, windowsy icons like a half-open door for "exit", and there's no way to tell it "just download all sixteen photos while I read my mail". You have to click twice for each one. And you can't click ahead, either.

Big deal. This toy has finally let me remove the print cycle from my photography: I can take photos and shove them straight into email or web pages or someother electronic art -- and never a chemical needs to be exposed, or paid for. The sole cost of these photographs is their part in depleting the lithium battery -- which is expensive for a battery, but not expensive next to the price of film.

This certainly isn't the first digital camera around. There are Apple's QuickTake cameras, there are higher-end models from Kodak and from other companies. But this is the first I know of to be so small and relatively cheap. (I except the Connectix "eyeball" QuickCams, for while they are also cheap, they are kept on short serial leashes by their computers and do not have the opportunity to roam free as the DC-20 has, unless you have a rather portable computer.)

Cheap has the usual double meaning, by the way. The pictures you get are very grainy. The colour-correction software sometimes does peculiar things. Sharp edges in pictures are often flecked with unexpected pigments. Once again, big deal. Kodak is leaping at the low end of the market. I'm pretty happy about this, because that's where I am right now.

Ask me again after the battery runs out.

Copyright 1996 Sam Bushell,
25 August 1996