Mac Daniel's Advice

Digital Photography and the 68K Mac: Time for a PCI Power Mac

Dan Knight - 2003.02.06

Q: I have a question I would like to pose to you. With you're background of photography I figured you would be a good source of information for a budding Mac enthusiast.

I'm beginning to learn the art of photography. Now I've only been taking pictures for about a year now. I have to say I love it. Now I would like to get a degree of some kind and pursue this as an alternate source of income.

I have a Bell & Howell compact with a 35-70 zoom. It takes excellent pictures; however, it limits your creativity. Outside of Polaroids, I also have an Argus C3 Matchmatic rangefinder. I have a 50mm lens as well as a telephoto lens. I just need the adapter to make it fit on my camera.

I would like to obtain a digital camera. I have an LC 580 with 32 MB of RAM using OS 8.0. Is there a decent digital camera that will work on this wonderful computer? This will allow more opportunities to practice the art without the expense of film developing.

I'm the type of guy who upgrades kicking and screaming. I love this old Mac, and I loath to give it up.

I use an Epson 600c scanner to turn my prints into digital images. Is there a photo printer out there that will turn these images into prints? I use an ImageWriter and a 2400 color scanner at the present time.

As for a good film camera. I would love to get an SLR with a powerful zoom lens. But that will have to wait for a little while. Finances are an issue.

I'm going to try the rangefinder to see if that will help me get by for a little while.

Besides it's fun.

If you can be of some assistance I would appreciate it.

A: Almost all digital cameras today use USB. None of the 68k Macs support USB, nor can they be updated to do so. If you want anything but an older, low resolution digital camera, you're going to have to buy a newer computer.

Ditto for good color printers - they're all USB these days. I'm a big fan of the Epson Stylus Photo printers, but you're going to have to get into a newer level of computing to get USB.

If you're generally content with your LC 580, I'd suggest you try to find a nice used Power Mac 5400, 5500, or G3 All-in-One. These share the all-in-one design of your 580 but include three very important things: a SCSI port for your current scanner, a Mac serial port for your ImageWriter, and a PCI slot that you can plug a USB card into. USB cards are a commodity these days; you should be able to add one for under $30.

You'll also want to have Mac OS 8.6 or later on the newer Mac for good USB support. Although you'll probably be content with whatever size hard drive comes standard with these newer all-in-one models, you should settle for no less than 64 MB of memory - and at least double that if possible.

Because these are older, heavier models, try to buy locally and avoid the cost of shipping. On eBay, 5400s typically close at $50, 5500s at $110, and G3 All-in-Ones are quite uncommon. Locally they may fetch a slightly higher price simply because you won't have to pay to ship a 50-70 pound box.

For the money, the 5400 looks like a steal.

Most digital cameras these days have a 3:1 zoom ratio, roughly equal to a 35-105 zoom on a 35mm camera in most cases. For playing around, you'll probably be happy with a 1.0 to 1.3 megapixel digicam, many of which are available at close-out prices since the entry level has pretty much moved to 2 megapixels.

All told, you'll probably have a couple hundred dollars invested in the new computer, USB card, and camera. Then hold off on buying a photo printer until you need to print larger photos. For the most part, you can get snapshots done at the local Walmart, Meijer, and even some camera shops for only about 30¢ each - and a 1.0 to 1.3 megapixel camera will give you great snapshots. You can't really cover the cost of ink and paper for a 4" x 6" snapshot at that price, let alone justify the initial purchase price.

For a lot more information on picking a digital camera, I suggest you read Picking the Right Digital Camera on Digigraphica. It's a series of helpful articles that explain megapixels, lenses, and other features to help you be a more informed consumer.

This will force you to migrate from your current Mac to something a year or two newer, but I think you'll find it worth the minimal expense (around $50 for a 5400!) to have a Mac that supports today's scanners, printers, and digital cameras.

As for making money in photography, that's a whole nother story. There are good books on the subject, but first start by mastering the basics of exposure, shutter speed, aperture, lenses, and so on. One step at a time. LEM

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