Digital camera/projector package recommendations

I’d appreciate it if the Quarter to Three denizenship could lend me their expertise.

I have a friend who is an accomplished photographer in Ireland. As part of his charity work, he teaches photography courses to teenagers who come from broken homes, drug addiction, teenage pregnancies, etc. These courses are primarily aimed at composition and framing techniques, as opposed to highly technical photography stuff. He just wants to teach people how to take interesting, good-looking pictures. The way the course works is that one week, everyone will go out and take a bunch of pictures and turn in the film to be developed for them. Next week, they are handed a box of slides of the pictures they took, as well as a small light box, and they are asked to find two to three pictures that they would like to present to the class as ones they are especially pleased with, and also to find two to three pictures that they think could have turned out better. Then they get feedback and suggestions from the class and, at the end of the course, present their work at a professional photography gallery.

At any rate, my friend has been teaching this course up until now with standard cameras and film, but he wants to move over to digital photography. There are a couple of issues with this:

a) He doesn’t know anything about digital photography
b) He has remedial computer skills… for example, he checks his email on a black and white Mac.
c) His students will almost definitely have even more remedial computer skills.

Basically, his specs are that he wants to mimic as much as possible the “box of slides and a lightbox” approach. I don’t think this is really a problem, as long as the digital camera has a decent browser that will allow students to see images of their photographs and select the ones that they want to present. The user inteface for this camera would have to be very intuitive and easy for a completely untechnical student to grasp. The camera itself would have to be able to produce a decent A4-sized print and he would want the camera to be more wide-angled than long, so minimal zoom capabilities.

He will also need to purchase a high-quality digital projector. At the very least, he needs this to have a decent keystone and brightness adjustment settings.

The other aspect to this equation is his own computer ignorance. He originally asked me to put together a package where the digital projector would interface directly with the cameras, but I talked some sense into him and he now plans on purchasing an Apple laptop to project these from. So any digital camers and projectors need to be Apple compliant. Furthermore, since he isn’t particularly good at any of this stuff, the ability to present digital photographs from the Apple would have to be very intuitive, as would actually -gathering- the photos from the cameras in the class. Basically, the students need to be able to indicate which slides they wish to present and he needs to be able to quickly, one after another, load them from their camera for presentation. I’m not sure what the best way to do this is - perhaps a fast media card reader?

The last issue is cost. Not including the laptop (I assume), his budget is around €5000 (around $6,000). This needs to purchase twelve digital cameras and the projector. To help offset this, my friend has contacts at Fuji and Yashica who can give him generous discounts. So projectors/cameras from those guys would probably be preferred.

Could anyone recommend a package here that would fulfill the above specs? Also, could people recommend some good digital camera web sites where I could find similar recommendations? Just to reiterate: the number one priority is ease-of-use and intuitive interfaces. Thanks in advance.

I don’t think there’s any out of the box solution, but I could be mistaken. I would suggest your friend get the laptop, the projector and just one camera. Then he can get comfortable with the equipment first and figure out some routine for the class to follow.

The camera is giong to need a decent size LCD so class can use it as a viewer to preselect their photos. This is a problem because it’s hard to know if your shot really did come out until you see it on the comptuer. Those thumbnails can be hard to judge. Another problem is giong to be maintaining the camera. You’re pressing the camera into the role of the cardboard box in most scenarios I can imagine. That can’t be good for the camera.

If your budget were bigger, you could get a PC and camera for everyone in the class. Of course, then it would be more of a computer class and your friend doens’t know that much about computers.

I was a little vague in my initial post: I’m not looking for an out of the box solution here, but separate recommendations for different parts of the package.

Well, XP has just made a huge attempt to make getting digital pictures from your camera to your PC much easier. I imagine it’s the same on the Mac. Why are you recommending Mac, by the way?

I’m not… he wants a Mac because of color accuracy. As far as color coordination is concerned between image and screen, Mac still has a reputation for being out-of-the-box much more accurate than Windows and PCs. Windows XP is definitely not going to be accepted by him.

That’s no longer true, but we’ll humor him. :wink:

On the digital photography side, he should start with two web sites (assuming he can surf the web):

and

http://www.steves-digicams.com

There are some pretty decent, low cost cameras out there now that can do 2 megapixel stuff (good enough for up to 4x6). You can also find pretty good projectors for under $1500 in the US, though I can’t say what they would cost in the UK or Ireland. I’m assuming he wants 1024x768 at a minimum, correct?

You also might want to keep the camera directly to projector option open. Most all cameras I’ve seen can do a straight composite out and most projectors a composite in. (NTSC or PAL, I dunno…)

Of course, I would also get a laptop because well, that opens up a whole lot of possibilities for these kids to become bad photoshoppers. :o

I’ve been thinking a laptop will be necessary because he needs to be able to bring a lot of photographs in from different sources and present them all at once. I’m not an expert on digital projectors, but it seems like that would be messy without a computer interface.

Thanks for the links to those sites, I’ll check them out. I’m actually not sure what sort of resolution needs to be supported… I was given a spec of " a clear A4 print", which is roughly the size of a regular piece of printing paper in the US (I’ve been gone long enough that I forget what the measurements are for this (parenthetical parenthesis: 11x8?), but it is definitely above 4x6, so I guess the camera will have to be better than 2 megapixels). The aim is to eventually have the best photographs hanging in a local Dublin gallery for an exposition, so they would have to be big enough to frame in a gallery.

I don’t believe that the box of slides and lightbox approach can be replicated in-camera. For starters, cameras show you the pictures one by one, which makes it difficult to make comparisons across the entire portfolio.

A solution may be to let students view thumbnails of their photos on a computer. Or to print out a contact sheet of a student’s work on a color printer.

Secondly, focusing can be difficult to judge with a digital camera. The lightbox probably also comes with a 4x loupe, allowing students to examine the sharpness of their photographs and weed out the blurry ones. Digital photos always need a measure of sharpening to compensate for the averaging inherent in digital sampling. Even in a sharp digital photograph, zooming in will make edges look blurry.

Students need to be made aware of this, so that they don’t throw away perfectly good photographs.

He will also need to purchase a high-quality digital projector. At the very least, he needs this to have a decent keystone and brightness adjustment settings.

1024x768 InFocus DLP projectors start at about $1800. A friend uses one as his main viewing screen for television and film screenings, and it’s very nice. The bulb has a lifetime of about 2000 hours, after which one must by a replacement for about $400.

Basically, the students need to be able to indicate which slides they wish to present and he needs to be able to quickly, one after another, load them from their camera for presentation.

If it were me, I think I would:

  1. Load all my students’ photos into the computer.
  2. Print contact sheets for the students so they can evaluate their work as a whole, and circle the images they wish to keep.
  3. Run an unsharp mask on the keepers to make them fit for projection and for printing enlargements.

Fuji and Yashica… projectors/cameras from those guys would probably be preferred.

While Fuji and Yashica/Kyocera have a range of digital cameras, they do not make digital projectors in the price range. For example, Fuji’s digital projector costs nearly 1 million yen ($10,000).

Also, in Ireland and the UK, I believe there is a high, 17.5% value-added tax on consumer purchases. If his purchases can be made VAT-free, that will give him more to work with. Or, if he can obtain some corporate sponsorship, even better. Free cameras.

Assuming he can obtain a projector for $2000, $4000 remains. Split amongst 12, that is $333.

Digital cameras in the $300 range are consumer point and shoots. Most will have a wide to short telephoto, variable aperture zoom lens (35mm lens equivalent: 35mm-105mm/2.8-4.8).

What I would do is browse the list of $300 cameras at www.bhphoto.com, then look up the camera at www.dpreview.com to examine its interface.

Finally, some cameras in this price range do not have manual exposure settings. At most, they may have an aperture-priority mode. If manual shutter and aperture settings are important to your friend, please pay attention to the camera’s available exposure modes.