Digital Cameras: It's a Snap

We've all been there — forced to make amends or concessions with clients or subs for property damages that we knew predated our involvement. Hopefully, you've also witnessed the look of surprise that comes after producing a photo to demonstrate the preexisting nature of the damage and your innocence.

March 31, 2005

Dave Taraboletti
Dave Taraboletti
Contributing Editor

We've all been there — forced to make amends or concessions with clients or subs for property damages that we knew predated our involvement. Hopefully, you've also witnessed the look of surprise that comes after producing a photo to demonstrate the preexisting nature of the damage and your innocence.

Traditional film photography is a limiting factor in your ability to stack the odds and evidence in your favor. Instant photos cost approximately $1.20 each, and they lack the image quality needed for printed marketing materials. Cameras that use 35mm film average just $0.35 per photo and offer exceptional image quality, but add the delay of processing time.

Digital photography, however, offers immediate availability and high quality images for as little as $0.19 per print — almost free if stored in digital format.

Given the number of choices available these days, the following suggestions may help you make your selection:

  • Look for a camera with a minimum of 3.2 megapixels. This will produce photos of high enough quality for use in some marketing materials, proposals, and 8×10-inch prints.
  • A camera with both optical and digital zoom functionality uses physical lens movement and software to provide levels of magnification that would otherwise require a large telephoto lens. I suggest 3× optical and 3× digital.
  • The smaller the camera, the more expensive. You want it to be small enough that you can always have it with you.
  • Look for an LCD display that is bright enough to be viewed when taking photos in bright sunlight.
  • You're likely to be taking photos after dark and in indoor spaces with limited light. Look for automated aperture settings and a good flash.
  • Batteries have a way of dying at the wrong time. I recommend a camera that accepts standard-size, rechargeable, easily purchased AA batteries.
  • The short video capture feature is valuable for establishing an orientation for still photos and capturing narratives of existing or proposed mechanical and plumbing routes.
    One model that meets each of these criteria is the Powershot A85 model from Canon, at a list price of around $279. More affordable models start around $150.
  • You'll need a PC running Windows 2000 or XP or a Macintosh running OS X. A few gigabytes of disk space on the hard drive will allow you to download, manage and store photos.
  • Invest in a couple of high-capacity cards to provide portable, temporary image storage until you can download the images on your computer. A 512 MB card can store around 260 high-resolution images and costs $50–$75.
  • Stay away from proprietary docking stations. They often are quite expensive, and as manufacturers change their camera models the usefulness may be shortlived. Opt instead for standard chargers and included USB cables (or external card readers).
  • Protect your camera and other peripherals by adding a well-padded carrying case for about $35.

Other optional equipment to consider: A photo/color printer to print your own photos. Reasonably good ones are available for around $100. A CD writer is nice for burning project photos for long-term storage. The starting cost for an internal CD writer is about $35; external drives start around $50. Media card readers are easy to use and convenient for downloading photos. They can be added for around $25–$49. Most digital cameras come with basic image editing software. You may want to invest in one of the higher-end packages, which start at $100.

For an investment of around $500, you can get started. Being able to avoid one client's claim of damage to a project site could pay for your investment right off with one photo.

Before construction begins, thoroughly capture the as-is state of a project site, including all items that are critical to estimating and planning. Sharing digital photos with subs and associates communicates existing conditions and keeps the team on the same page.

Work-in-progress photos can aid in inspections, communicating progress to out-of-town clients and clarifying design modifications. These images may also capture unforeseen circumstances, proving the need to charge additional money.

After images help in evaluating service and warranty work and in inventorying warrantable items and warranty exceptions. PR


Author Information
David W. Taraboletti is president of Mooria LLC, a Chicago-based management consulting firm specializing in residential construction.


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