Digital cameras are the Polaroids of the computer generation, allowing snap happy photographers to see their prints instantly. At first glance, they also seem to offer extra environmental value, removing the need for extensive chemical processing, and meaning that only a select few pictures actually make it onto paper. However, from the perspective of ethical tech and responsible consumerism, there are inescapable problems associated with the disposal of digital cameras, and they are one of the most battery-hungry devices available.
Most digital cameras come with standard non-rechargeable batteries, so it is up to the buyer to make the switch to rechargeable. Although rechargeable batteries are more expensive, they will soon pay for themselves. The most environmentally friendly option are nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries. Unlike the more widespread nickel cadmium (NiCad) variety, they do not contain toxic metals and will usually last for longer.
Alkaline batteries (such as ordinary AAs) will run down remarkably quickly if used in digital cameras. This is because they can’t supply energy quickly enough to satisfy the vast demands of the camera. Even when an alkaline battery fails in a digital camera the chances are it will still have plenty of energy left – try it in a device that needs less power before disposing of it. The best choice, as ever, is to buy rechargeables.
To reduce the camera’s battery use, switch it off between photographs and avoid looking at the LCD display for too long each time, as this will drain the power. Some models will automatically switch off if left unattended.
Ethical tech and raising awareness – Manufacture and disposal
Digital cameras are included in the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive 2003, which requires producers and retailers of electrical equipment to establish a scheme whereby they can be collected after use to be recycled or recovered. Local authorities will have details of such schemes, or the manufacturer can be contacted directly.
Like all electrical goods, digital cameras are made of dozens of different materials, which can make them difficult to recycle. The LCD display, which allows photos to be viewed, contains toxic components and should not be disposed of in landfill.
Wasteonline (www.wasteonline.org.uk) lists four ways in which the materials used to make a device such as a digital camera can be recycled. Most obviously, the equipment can be manually dismantled and its recyclable components separated out. This can also be done mechanically, with the item being shredded so that recyclable raw materials can be removed. Raw materials can also be isolated through incineration, which burns off combustible matter and leaves metals behind. Finally, chemical processes can be used to recover precious metals from complicated circuit boards and components.
All of these processes reduce the need for new raw materials to be sourced, which helps to protect the environment from the damage caused by mining and processing.
It is now possible get print-outs of digital pictures at most high-street chemists, but some amateur photographers instead choose to develop their pictures at home. Many manufacturers have realised this and begun marketing specially designed equipment for digital cameras, but for most needs a good quality inkjet printer will suffice.
Pictures from cheaper cameras tend not to print as well as more expensive ones. This is because they store the image using fewer pixels, so the picture appears less crisp on paper. As a general rule, the higher the number of megapixels, the better the camera.
The three main types of paper available for printing photos are gloss, semi-gloss and matt, all of which give a slightly different finish to the picture. Choose acid-free brands and use sparingly, as recycled versions of these high quality papers are difficult to find.
Ethical Comparison – Digital Cameras Rankings Detailed Table
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We have created ethical comparison rankings for the following tech brands, based on the activities of the company group (see above tables): Fuji, Benq, Casio, Ricoh, Nikon, Oregon, Pentax, Vivitar, Yakumo, Canon, Kyocera, Olympus, Samsung, Sanyo, Kodak, Hewlett Packard, Panasonic, Sony
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