Toolkits

Digital Camera - Point & Shoot - Assessment Guide

Mechanics

Overall Feel - overall feel is a fairly subjective measurement that is established by handling the camera.  Users should feel that they are holding a comfortable, durable camera.  As more cameras are used, certain characteristics will stand out as being better than others.  Things to look for are the relative weight of the camera, the tactile feel of the camera in the hand, and how usable the camera is.  Cameras should feel sturdy but not overly heavy, and should fit comfortably in a user's hand. 

1 = camera is abnormally light for its size, feels easily breakable, and is not easily used in one hand due to being either too big or too small. 

5 = camera feels well-built but not too heavy to hold comfortably, supports one-handed use, and is comfortable to operate without having to contort the user's hand.

Overall Appearance - overall appearance is another subjective measure.  Users should be able to look at a camera and feel that it is a reliable, familiar device.  As various cameras are looked at, certain characteristics in the camera will stand out as being better looking than others.  Things to look for are attractive finishes and camera controls, standard point-and-shoot appearance, and a welcoming interface.  Cameras should look professional and reliable. 

1 = camera has excessive body molding and extraneous parts, has a finish that does not fit in the user's intended setting, and looks too complex for a user to feel comfortable using it. 

5 = camera appears sleek but usable, with a simple interface and professional finish.

Material - materials used in the construction of a camera should be durable and easily cleaned.  The camera body should not flex excessively, and should be made of a solid and sturdy material.  Excessive rubber components may make it difficult to keep the camera clean in clinical settings.  The screen should not be difficult to see in normal room light and should be easy to clean and difficult to break. 

1 = camera body flexes excessively under strain, plastic molding appears not to be properly secured, rubber grips and port covers are hard to use and pick up dirt and grime, and the screen is hard to view and flexes excessively when pressed. 

5 = camera body is durable and sturdy, made out of either a metal alloy or a heavy plastic, molding is well attached to the camera body, the screen is clear in moderate to bright light and does not distort heavily under pressure, and the rubber components are easy to handle and keep clean.

Durability - durability is closely tied to the materials used in the camera's construction.  The components of the camera should feel well-built and not have the appearance of being easily broken.  Straps, buttons, port covers, lens construction and cover, and camera construction help define how durable a camera is. 

1 = camera parts do not seem to fit together solidly, camera buttons feel prone to breaking or wear, battery and port covers are prone to strain or breaking, lens wiggles in the camera body when extended, and the camera shows signs of breaking after experiencing minor drops or heavy use. 

5 = camera feels solidly constructed with buttons that provide good tactile response, battery and port covers remain secure after repeated use and under strain, lens is secure in both the open and closed position, and the camera operates normally after mild and moderate abuse.

Accessibility of Ports - ports used for transferring images, charging batteries, and sending video signals are made available in different ways on various camera models.  Rubber plugs, plastic slides, and metal-hinged doors can be found on many different cameras.  As users will regularly be transferring files and charging the camera, the ease with which the ports can be accessed is important. 

1 = ports are difficult to uncover and/or challenging to close, with covers that do not stay closed. 

5 = ports are easy to uncover and close, with covers that remain solidly closed. Camera has a simple mechanism for both charging and moving files, such as through a single cable or docking station.

Accessibility of Battery - depending on the model of the camera, the battery compartment will need to be accessed in order to either be replaced or recharged.  The battery compartment is typically covered by a sliding or latched door, with an additional mechanism holding the battery in place.  The battery should be easily removed, without any additional complication. 

1 = battery door is difficult to open and/or close, and accessing the battery is made complicated due to the secondary latching mechanism or due to problems with other ports or camera elements in the battery bay. 

5 = battery door is simple to open and close with one hand, with an easily disengaged secondary latching mechanism and no interference from other ports or the memory card.

Accessibility of Memory Card - the memory card is often, though not always, stored within the same compartment as the battery.  Some users may opt to transfer files by relocating the memory card into a multi-card reader, rather than using a cable.  

1 = memory card door is difficult to use, and accessing the memory card accidentally releases or automatically ejects the battery. 

5 = memory card door is simple to access and use.

Button Layout - button layout can vary enormously between different cameras.  Buttons should be easily accessed by the user without requiring strange positioning of the user's hand.  Buttons should not be accidentally pressed in the normal use of the camera.  Switching between various modes should be simple and intuitive. 

1 = buttons are too small or too close together to easily push the intended buttons, and the wrong button is inadvertently pressed while capturing images (such as the power button when trying to take a picture, or the review button when trying to zoom). 

5 = buttons are well spaced and allow for easy navigation of the camera's modes and menus, with buttons naturally falling into alignment with the user's hand.

Camera Size - cameras can be both too large for comfortable use and too small for easy handling.  The camera should fit a range of user's hands reasonably well, and should be sized so that the user does not inadvertently press buttons, block basic functionality, or otherwise impede image capture while taking a picture. 

1 = the camera is too small to easily fit in a user's hand or is too large for small hands to comfortably hold, with user's being prone to accidentally covering the flash or lens while holding the camera. 

5 = the camera fits a wide range of hands comfortably, with no accidental obstructions when using the camera in common settings.

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Ease of Use

Powering On / Off - sometimes the most simple features can be a challenge to users.  The power button should be clearly labeled and easily engaged, without being located in a place that would cause the user to turn off the camera during normal use. 

1 = the power button is hard to find or turn on and off, or the power button is easily mistaken for the shutter button when capturing an image. 

5 = the power button is easily accessed by the user and can be turned on and off without difficulty, and is never accidentally triggered during normal use of the camera.

Auto Mode - the ability for a camera to take a quality picture with minimal user input is one of the hallmarks of the point-and-shoot camera's Ease of Use rating.  Auto mode detects the correct environmental aspects of the image, white balance, flash requirements, and macro settings to take a picture without having the user do more than press the shutter button. 

1 = the camera requires manually setting at least one of the items in the previous list, or else improperly sets the controls when taking the image. 

5 = the camera requires zero input from the user beyond pointing the camera and taking a picture, with all automatically-selected settings correct for the photo being taken.

Scene Mode - point-and-shoot cameras often have an option to allow the user to set a scene for the camera when taking a picture, such as "portrait" or "indoor".  These scenes allow the user to specify the environment that the photos is being taken in, with certain camera settings being automatically adjusted to fit the selected scene. 

1 = the scene options are buried within the menu, and frequently result in images that are inferior to those selected in auto mode. 

5 = the scene options are easily accessed and switched on and off, resulting in images that are as good or better than those selected in auto mode.

Video Mode - most point-and-shoot cameras support some sort of video recording.  Switching between video and photo modes should be simple, and the recorded video should be crisp and the audio should be clear. 

1 = switching between modes is difficult or happens accidentally, with video appearing pixelated and audio being unclear or overpowered by background noise. 

5 = switching between video and photo modes is easy, with video available in high-definition and a clear audio signal.

Macro - many clinical specialties benefit from the ability to shoot images of the subject at a very close range, which is sometimes referred as "flower" mode due to the standard icon used when indicating a macro setting.  Macro mode should be automatically selected if the camera is within the range of the macro setting of the camera, and the camera should be allowed very near to the subject while retaining sharp focus. 

1 = the camera does not include an auto-macro capability, is difficult to switch into manual mode, and requires the user to be 20cm or more from the subject. 

5 = the camera automatically switches to macro when the subject is in range and allows the user to be between 2-4cm from the subject.

Flash - the flash provides additional light when shooting in low-light settings, and can help to provide "fill light" to shadowy areas in well-lit environments.  The flash should provide adequate light to the scene, and many cameras will automatically detect if a flash is needed. 

1 = the flash does not have an automatic setting, does not allow a user to prevent the flash from firing, and either overpowers the images, resulting in a "blown out" area of white light and no detail, or else provides inadequate illumination. 

5 = the flash allows the user to determine whether or not to fire the flash, with an automatic setting that chooses the appropriate use of flash, resulting in images that are evenly lit and full of detail.

Settings Menu - cameras tend to have configuration options available through a set of menus.  These settings adjust default camera behavior, image quality, and sometimes control which mode the camera is operating in. 

1 = the menu does not save settings after powering down the camera, is difficult to navigate, with many levels of navigation that a user must go through in order to make a change, and requires the user to access it in order to perform common actions on the camera, such as changing the scene or automatic mode of the camera. 

5 = the menu is well-organized, with settings saved after the camera is shut down, and common camera tasks are kept out of the menu system.

Image Review – reviewing images after taking photos of a subject is important to ensure that the lighting and focus are sufficient for clinical diagnosis.  Image review should be easily entered and allow detailed examination of the photo. 

1 = switching to image review mode is difficult, takes multiple seconds to engage, is challenging to get out of, zooming or panning around the photo to assess focus and clarity is cumbersome or impossible, and the screen is either overly dim or overly reflective. 

5 = switching between image review and live modes is simple and occurs quickly, convenient and accessible controls for zooming and panning around the image are available, and the screen is bright and does not have excessive glare.

Image Delete – deleting undesired images from the camera prior to uploading them to a computer can be useful to avoid confusion and wasted time in the imaging workflow.  Deleting images should be simple, with measures in place to ensure that photos are not accidentally deleted.

  1 = the mechanism for deleting images during review is not made readily accessible, takes multiple seconds to complete, and either requires excessive steps to confirm intent to delete an image or provides no attempt to confirm intent to delete and image. 

5 = deleting an image is intuitive and fast, allows for deletion of either one or all photos, with a confirmation request when a user attempts to delete an image.

Take a Photo - Auto – most users prefer to take images in auto-mode, without having to play with settings to get their desired image.  Automatic mode should easily create a picture with appropriate settings with minimal input from the user, resulting in a good image. 

1 = the image taken by the camera shows inappropriate flash, white balance, focus, or scene settings while shooting in various conditions, with zero indication to the user if there are problems focusing while capturing the image. 

5 = the camera provides a well-illuminated, detailed picture in various conditions, with a visual and audible indicator that the camera experiences difficulty when capturing a photo.

Take a Photo - Macro – macro photography is very useful in many clinical settings, and the ability of the camera to function well in macro mode is important.  Macro photos should be clear, with sharp focus and appropriate illumination. 

1 = images taken are frequently blurry or out of focus, have key areas that are over-exposed by the flash, with no indication if the camera experiences difficulty while capturing images. 

5 = images taken are clear and sharp, even at close distances, with balanced illumination from the flash or ambient light, and visual and audible indicators are used to indicate that the camera is unable to focus on the subject.

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Macro

As macro photography is considered to be extremely important in clinical settings, a detailed review of the macro settings can be beneficial.  While elements pertaining to the ease of using macro mode are important (as rated above), specific details about how well a camera operates in macro mode can help clarify the above ratings.

Minimum Distance – minimum distance refers to how close the camera can be to the subject while still producing an image that is clear and properly in focus. 

1 = camera must be 20cm or more from the subject in its widest lens setting (zoomed out). 

5 = camera can produce a clear image 2-4 cm from the subject in its widest lens setting.

Ease of Macro On/Off – the trend in point-and-shoot cameras is to automatically detect whether or not macro mode needs to be turned on or off.  Not all cameras have adopted this standard, and still require users manually switching to macro mode. 

1 = it is difficult or unclear how to switch the camera into and out of macro mode, with the user having to go through menu settings to move between modes. 

5 = the camera provides a simple button on the camera to move between macro and normal mode, with the current operating mode displayed on the screen or viewfinder.

Super Macro Required – super macro is the requirement that a user switch from normal mode for regular images, to macro for close-up images, and then to super macro for extremely close images.  Requiring users to perform that extra step can be confusing, and may result in out of focus images. 

1 = the user is required to switch between macro and super macro modes. 

5 = the camera only has one macro mode.

Auto Macro – as stated above, many cameras new to the market in 2009 have an automatic macro mode.  This functionality makes it so that users do not have to consciously switch between modes depending on distance between the camera and the subject. 

1 = the camera does not have an automatic macro mode, or the camera consistently uses the wrong setting when automatically detecting the range between the camera and the subject. 

5 = the camera automatically switches between modes consistently and appropriately under various lighting conditions.

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Power

Battery Type – the batteries used in digital cameras are a challenge to rate, and should be done in accordance with a user’s needs.  Proprietary lithium-ion batteries tend to hold a charge for a long time, but they can be very expensive to replace.  Rechargeable AA batteries are cheaper and more readily available if they need to be replaced, but may not take as many photos. 

1 = battery type fails to meet specific organizational preferences and needs. 

5 = battery type meets specific organizational preferences and needs.

Battery Charger – battery chargers are frequently used as a part of the operation of a camera.  Some organizations may choose to recharge the battery after every use, while others will recharge it only when it is low.  Chargers should be easy to use, with appropriate indicators for the status of the recharge process. 

1 = retractable charger plugs accidentally close when attempting to plug into the wall, charger does not indicate status of the recharge process, and it is possible to incorrectly insert the battery into the charger. 

5 = the recharger plugs easily and securely into the wall, with clear indicators for the percent of the charge in the battery, and does not allow the battery to be improperly inserted into the charger.

In-Camera Charging: USB – some models of camera allow for recharging through a USB or other specialized port.  Recharging should be automatic, with ports that are easy to access.

1 = the camera does not provide automatic recharging through any standard PC connection. 

5 = the camera recharges through a docking interface that plugs into a computer via USB.

In-Camera Charging: AC – other models of cameras may allow charging of the camera through a special AC power connector.  Recharging should be automatic, with ports that are easy to access. 

1 = the camera does not provide an AC recharging option. 

5 = the camera recharges through a docking interface that draws power through an AC power adapter.

Photos Per Full Charge – also known as “battery life”, most cameras will indicate how many photos can be captured on a full battery as a part of their standard specification.  The number of photos taken in a week will rarely exceed this number, making this a concern only for organizations that have special requirements to go multiple weeks between recharging batteries or to regularly shoot hundreds of photos. 

1 = less than 100 photos on a single charge. 

5 = more than 500 photos on a single charge.

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Image Transfer

Memory Card – most memory cards will work with standard card readers and operating systems, but there are occasional issues with compatibility between different formats and file folder structures.  If an organization is known to have concerns or special needs regarding memory cards, cameras should be tested to ensure compatibility. 

1 = memory card or file storage is not compatible with existing systems. 

5 = memory card works without requiring any changes to the existing systems.

Ease of USB Transfer – most users will typically transfer files by connecting the camera to a computer via a USB cable.  The ports on the camera should be easily accessible, easily connected, and should result in the camera being recognized by the computer. 

1 = accessing the ports is difficult, connecting the USB cable to the camera is challenging or can be done wrong, the cable is not firmly seated into the camera, and the device is not recognized by the computer as being plugged in. 

5 = the camera connects to the computer through a docking station or easily accessed USB cable, has a firm connection between the cable and camera, and is quickly recognized by the computer when plugged in and turned on.

USB Cord - Quality – as the USB cable will frequently be used when transferring images from the camera to another device, it is important that the cable be well constructed and of a standard type. 

1 = the cable feels weak, with connectors that are easy to bend or break, and utilizes a proprietary connector on the camera-facing end. 

5 = the cable has sturdy construction, with durable connectors build in compliance with the USB standard for cable plugs, such as USB Mini-B.

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Image Quality

Image Detail – image detail refers to how clear the image is when zoomed in for review on a computer monitor.  Details in the subject should be clear and easily identified when viewed at 50-100% of the image size.  Fine lines, hairs, and skin coloration should be sharp and in focus. 

1 = the image shows signs of blurring or fuzziness, with small details difficult to identify. 

5 = the image is in sharp focus, with no blurring around identifiable elements such as lines in the skin or fine hairs.

Color Accuracy – the images captured by the camera should be accurate and close to the real-life subject matter.  Color-casts and artificially warmed tones that may make for a more appealing family portrait are often inappropriate for clinical review. 

1 = the image has a strong coloration that does not properly reflect accurate skin tones, and has improper contrast between different skin colors in a single image. 

5 = skin tones are accurately and clearly represented, with balanced tones and even lighting across the subject.

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Test Image Guidelines

Images should be taken as instructed in the Imaging Guide section of this toolkit.  Key elements should be used in rating a camera’s performance when comparing images, in addition to the standard Image Quality and Color Accuracy metrics.

Back –

1 = images show excessive highlights and shadows from strong overhead lighting or a completely flat surface due to excessive fill from the flash element, with excessive specular highlights. 

5 = images of the back should show even lighting, with sufficient highlights and shadows to indicate topographic details around the shoulders, spine, waist, and arms.  

Profile –

1 = images show excessive light on the shoulders, with significantly less light on the sides of the face, with strong shadows obstructing views of the ears and eyes. 

5 = images are evenly lit across the side of the subject, with light shadows providing detail and contour information for the face and ear.

Full Hand –

1 = images show difficulty focusing on the subject at this range, with excessive flash use resulting in blown-out highlights, or insufficient flash resulting in a dull, flat image. 

5 = images are evenly lit across the entire hand, with details clear across the length of the hand, from wrist to fingertip.

Fingers or Thumb –

1 = images show strong specular reflections from the fingernails, and images are blurry or out of focus from the close range of the camera. 

5 = images are evenly lit through natural light or flash, with both the skin and fingernail surfaces clear of strong highlights or reflections.

Mole or Rash –

1 = images appear flat and without contour, with a blurry appearance from the close range of the camera. 

5 = images have depth and clear contrast between the lesion and normal skin tones, with fine details such as hairs or lines in the skin sharp and well defined.

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