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Office Technology
It is often said that a picture paints a thousand words. That is why we, in the assessment profession, need (or should be) constantly updating the photographs of all improved properties in our respective municipality. Pictures are a great public relations tool; not only can we demonstrate that, yes, we have seen your property, but pictures can help both the assessor and property owner tell a story and agree on details.

With the advent of the digital camera, we have the advantage of taking a picture, reviewing it in the field, deleting it (if need be), re-shooting and then moving on to the next property. No longer do we have to take a roll of film to the corner drug store and wait a day or two for the prints. Once we're back in the office, we can download the pictures to RPS V4, ImageMate or a variety of other photo sharing/cataloging software.

So let's assume you're in the market for a new camera - here are three things to consider:
•Budget
•Pixels
•Zoom

It's Cheaper Than You Think

First thing to do - check your budget - make sure you've got $200 to $400; in most cases, a camera shouldn't "break the bank." You could go for a high-end ($1,000 plus) camera, such as an SLR (Single Lens Reflex) with interchangeable lenses, but this would be like buying a $75,000 Cadillac XLR to do your field review - either way, it's the taxpayer that gets taken for a ride.

More Pixels make for better pictures! Right?

Not really. Most of us have heard the term megapixels - we know that if you look at a photograph under a strong magnifying glass, we will see different colored dots that compose the picture. We have been told that the more dots that we have, the better picture the picture will be; that's true - IF you are looking to create posters, and most assessors are not. With a picture projected on your computer monitor, you can, with a good photo software, zoom in on the picture; at some point, the picture will start to "pixelate" - it looses its clarity. Well defined lines now start becoming blurred shadows - the dots are spreading out, trying to cover more territory, but it gets stretched thin. More pixel will help, but again, we are now talking about an image of poster size quality - in out profession, don't sweat the small stuff.

Another consideration, when it comes to picture size, is how much room do you have on you computer's hard drive?

Although you probably won't find a camera in the two or three megapixel range anymore, these are more than adequate for the assessment community; the "cheap" cameras usually start off at about 10 megapixel.

Optical Zoom vs. Digital Zoom

Another choice you will have is really a no-brainer and it concerns that house sitting 300 feet off the road, and the property owner doesn't want you on their land. It's time to "reach out and touch someone." Cameras are often advertised with two numbers: "Optical Zoom" and "Digital Zoom." It's important to know which zoom will really give you the results.

Optical zoom lenses actually readjusts the glass inside your lens - it brings the subject "closer" to the camera without sacrificing quality. The higher the optical zoom, the better those far away shot will look "close up." The optical zoom, for all practical purposes, is the same as the zoom on an older film (35 mm) camera. Optical zoom trumps digital zoom any day of the week.

Digital zoom there is no adjustment of the lens; instead, the camera crops the entire image, and then digitally enlarges to the size of the viewfinder. The end result is a loss of quality. By using image-editing software, such as Photoshop, instead of the digital zoom on the camera, is that you can decide how much to crop, and how much to enlarge the image. When you use digital zoom on the camera, the image quality is irreversibly lost.

The bottom line: Compare optical zoom and ignore digital zoom. Optical zoom capabilities make all the difference in the final product. The higher the optical zoom, the farther away from the subject you can be and still get a great, clear, crisp quality shot.