A generation ago, photo fiends got instant gratification with Polaroid cameras. Point and shoot and a minute later, you’re holding the photo in your hand.

Today, more consumers want the clarity, detail and ease of a digital camera, but researching and buying one is overwhelming for those still looking for that instant photo gratification.

The good news is for less than $20, you can quickly walk into any local drugstore and walk out with a “disposable” digital camera.

Costing little more than their manual throwaway counterparts, these one-time use cameras work like rentals. After you use them, you just take the camera back to the store where you got it for processing. There, you get your prints and a CD with the original images on it so that you can use it to make more prints at home. The store keeps the camera.

Aamir Jariwala, 22-years-old, bought a disposable digital camera after his family, who was visiting from India, forgot their digital camera at home in Mumbai. Jariwala opted to buy a disposable to commemorate their visit and his college graduation.

“They are cheap,” says Jariwala. “It works just as easily as a normal digital camera and it served its purpose at graduation.”

Most stores carry two models of these cameras: a $10 plain version and a $20 version that features a small color display. Both cameras store 25 pictures and have 2.1 million pixels of resolution which is good for 4-by-6 prints although not much more.

The display works well on the more expensive camera if you want to keep or delete a photo, but it only displays the last picture you snapped. You can not go back and delete earlier photos or compare the quality of two or more thumbnail images. For Viviane Sabat, a 20-year-old journalism student and photo aficionado, this defeats the purpose.

“This is for people that are new to digital cameras or that do not have a multi-purpose use for their equipment,” says Sabat. “I think the whole point of buying a digital camera is the functionality of being able to look back, pick and choose, and ultimately take and create better images. This camera does not let you do that.”

But these cameras do serve a purpose for travelers who do not want to risk losing expensive equipment. Beach travelers, for example, would not want to lose their high-end digicam to a splash of seawater. Johanna Factor, a 20-year-old Bahamian says disposable digital cameras are a safe way of taking pictures on boating trips.

“It’s really easy to get your camera wet or maybe even drop it overboard,” says Factor.”I want to be able to take pictures with my friends but I would hate to ruin my $200 digital camera.”

Getting disposable digital cameras developed costs about $10 as opposed to your usual $5, which ups your total costs to $20-$30 per camera. That is why Javier Uria, a cameraman for WLTV in Miami and an independent photographer, says that if you aim to take more than 100 photos, buying a non-disposable digital camera would probably be more sensible, because the expense would cover the cost of having to buy four, one-use digicams.

“I think you have to weigh your options,” says Uria. “I would rather get better quality and resolution for around the same price, especially on a trip where I am going to take a lot of pictures.”

July 11, 2005.