Digital Prints — Fast and Easy Does It

By Scott Koegler | Posted June 30, 2004
You've just snapped a great picture of your client receiving an award. As you show her the image on the camera's LCD she says, "That's great! Can I have a print?" Printing snapshots from digital cameras quickly and easily has been a source of frustration for many people. But when it comes to business, being able to print a quick photo — without having to connect to a PC — could save you time, aggravation and — when it comes to keeping clients happy — money.

We look at two reasonably priced cameras, the Kodak DX6490 and Nikon's CoolPix 4200, and a surprisingly simple printer — Kodak's EasyShare printer dock — to find out how they perform in the work-a-day world.

The Featured Contenders
Both cameras offer four-megapixel quality — which means you'll get 4 x 6 prints comparable to pictures taken with a 35mm film camera and 8 x 10 prints that are nearly as good. That's as large as you'll want to go with a four-megapixel camera since photos larger than 8 x 10 lose color and image detail. If you're looking for large prints, you'll need a 10-megapixel camera or higher.

Kodak's EasyShare DX6490 10x optical zoom lens gives you that extra reach to bring your subject closer or to be more selective about what you include in your shot. The 11.9-ounce camera includes both an SLR-type electronic viewfinder and a large 2.2-inch LCD. You can see all the menus and settings right through the viewfinder, and it's great for following action. You can use the large LCD display even in direct sunlight.

Nikon CoolPix 4200
The compact, lightweight CoolPix 4200 takes great photos on the run.

Weighing just 5.5 ounces, the Nikon CoolPix 4200 is noticeably smaller than the DX6490 — small enough to slip into a pocket to have on hand for unexpected shots or if you need to carry it all day. The camera offers a 3x optical zoom lens, an optical viewfinder and a 1.5-inch LCD. The LCD is great outdoors, but doesn't perform as well as the Kodak in very bright sunlight.

It's compact size makes it easy to take the CoolPIx everywhere, and the images it produced were bright and vibrant. You can even take pictures as close as 1.6-inches.

Both cameras are easy to use, and have combinations of dials and menus that let you select the type scene you're going to shoot. The settings include portrait, landscape, action and backlit subjects. The DX6490 even senses when you've turned the camera 90 degrees in order to take a vertical shot. During playback either on the camera's LCD or on a TV, the image automatically appears as it was shot so you don't have to turn the camera or your head to get the right view.


Kodak DX6490
The full-figured Kodak DX6490 produces beautiful shots and its 10x optical zoom lets you capture every detail.

The Kodak DX6490 comes with 16MB if internal memory while the CoolPix 4200 has 12MB. Both cameras accept postage stamp-size SanDisk flash memory cards for additional storage, and both can record QuickTime format videos with sound.

Printing Photos — No PC Required
Kodak's EasyShare printer dock is a small printer designed specifically to print 4x 6-inch images quickly and easily. Since the dock and both cameras all support PictBridge (an industry-wide standard that lets you print from a digital camera to a printer through a USB cable), we used the EasyPrinter dock to print images from the Kodak and the Nikon — no need to download images to a computer first. You'll find a growing number of cameras and printers adopting the PictBridge standard.

You select the images you want to print by using the standard DPOF (Digital Print Order Format), which is part of the menu structure in each camera. This is handy when you want to print multiple copies of different pictures. Once you make your selections, and you've camera connected to a printer, simply choose Print from the camera's menu to print the requested images.

Features Kodak EasyShare DX6490 Nikon CoolPix 4200
LCD 2.2-inches 1.5-inches
Viewfinder Electronic optical Optical
Storage Media SD SD
Lens 38mm-380mm;
10x optical zoom
38mm-114mm;
3x optical zoom
Printer options EasyShare Print Dock;
PictBridge
PictBridge
Multiple-scene selector Yes Yes
DPOF
(Digital Print Order Format)
Yes Yes
Size/Weight 3.9 x 3.1 x 3.2 inches;
11.9 oz.
3.5 x 2.4 x 1.4 inches;
5.5 oz.
Body style SLR Compact
Price $399 $399

The EasyShare doc includes a cradle for Kodak cameras, so if you're using the Nikon, you'll have to stick with the USB connection. Using the cradle is more flexible because the camera's LCD display becomes the control panel for the printer. Use the buttons on the printer to select pictures and quantities. You can even have the printer put one, two, four or nine images on each sheet to create thumbnail previews.

The printer uses a thermal transfer process to put color on the paper. Each sheet of paper passes through the printer four times, each time receiving another layer of color. Printer supplies come packaged as a combination of paper and thermal transfer ribbon. A package of 40 sheets goes for about $20, and contains a ribbon that prints exactly 40 images, so there's never a question about running out of ink in the middle of printing.

While you give up the control you would have if you first put your image files on your computer and edited them with Photoshop or another image editor, you do get a quick and easy way to make photo-store quality prints. Our only complaint is that the printer doesn't take batteries — it requires a wall outlet. A battery-operated model would make it perfect for working out of the office.


Kodak's EasyShare Printer Dock
Kodak's EasyShare Printer Dock prints 4x6 photos directly from your camera.

The Bottom Line
The Kodak EasyShare DX6490, priced at $399, feels and acts like a 35mm SLR, has a powerful 10x zoom lens and shoots clear, beautiful images. It's great for general-purpose photography and matches perfectly with its EasyShare printer dock$149. It's larger and not nearly as sleek and light as the CoolPix, but it makes an excellent choice for anyone who needs high-quality photos and prefers a camera with a more substantial feel.

Nikon's CoolPix4200, priced at $399 takes great photos, and while its 3x zoom can't match Kodak's, it's small size makes it easy to take anywhere, and yet fits comfortably in your hand. If you're looking for a camera that won't weigh you down, this fits the bill.

Scott Koegler has been in the technology field for more than 25 years, and has written a book about systems integration as well as hundreds of articles about computers, software, digital photography, and networking over the last 12 years. He has been an IT executive in industries as diverse as health care, printing, and custom apparel.

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