NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article
Digital Photography

At the June, 2000 user group meeting, Hewlett-Packard talked about digital cameras. Pasadena IBM User Group member David A. Berkowitz supplied valuable URLs as well as a terrific tutorial that covers both digital cameras as well as scanners - Steve Bass - President, Pasadena IBM Users Group

by David Berkowitz, Pasadena IBM Users Group, October 2001
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I have a couple of URLs--and a series of tip--that I can recommend to the other members. Anyone who is going shopping for a camera should learn a lot more about them before going near a store.

One more thing: Before I bought my HP Photosmart P1100, I took a compact flash card to the store, inserted it into the display model at Staples, then printed "my own" photos to judge the quality. When I saw what this printer could do on plain paper, I was sold. It was really nice to be able to use photos that I took -- instead of a canned, optimized photo that was purposely created as a demo by the manufacturer.

You can't do that with many printers, but for those who are considering the 900 or Photosmart series from HP, I highly recommend it. The P1000 and P1100 have both Smartmedia and Compact flash support, so anyone that already owns a camera, or can borrow a memory card with some personal photos on it, should give it a try.

Some cameras ship with two types of batteries: Alkaline and Nickel Metal Hydride.

The alkaline batteries are intended for temporary use while the Nickel Metal Hydride batteries are charging. They have to be conditioned before first use, which takes several hours.

The alkaline batteries go fast and that type of battery should only be used if nothing else is available. On the other hand, the Nickel Metal Hydride batteries are excellent.

I can usually get over one hundred photos per charge with my Epson 850z-- and that includes use of the flash and LCD. I bought a spare set of four at Radio Shack for less than $20 and I always have a spare set ready if I expect to take lots of pictures.

AC Adapter
Nice to have, but not necessary if you do what I do. For less than $8.00 I bought a compact flash-to-PC Card adapter and I use that to transfer the images to my notebook.

For those who need to transfer images to their desktops, there are CF-to- USB readers that sell for around $30. Either solution makes transfers directly from the camera unnecessary.

Compact Flash memory is a good buy these days and will get even better. My camera shipped with a scrawny 8MB card, so I bought a 64MB card. With that card, I can take 91 photos at 1600 x 1200 (with moderate compression) or over 940 images at 640 x 480.

If you are going to take the camera outdoors, an AC adapter will not do you much good. Anyone who buys a digital camera will have to buy more memory or be very selective about which photos he/she keeps.

Some cameras come with Smart media memory and Sony is trying to make their memory sticks the memory of choice. Most people go for CF these days, for its higher capacity and for its compatibility with the PC card standard.

It's important to look for type II support. Nikon has been criticized because their otherwise great cameras only support type I. Luckily, there are fairly large capacity type I cards on the market.

Some cameras that support CF type II also support the IBM microdrives, which follow the CF type II standard. How about 340MB of storage for about $450? Expensive, but much less expensive per megabyte than CF memory.

User Interface and Operational Features
Some very good cameras have controls that are a pain in the elbow to use. Some others take almost all control away from the user. My Epson has a very good interface and lots of nice features, but much of the interface requires use of the LCD. The LCD is almost impossible to see well in bright sunlight, so some of the options are hard to use outdoors. Luckily, this camera can be used as a point-and-shoot model -- and the results are pretty good in fully automatic mode.

One reason why I bought it was because it can also be used in a virtually manual mode. Though I do not have much experience with photography, I felt I might miss the ability to select the settings I want.

Having more control makes taking pictures more fun. It also provides a learning experience. I don't like products that take control away from the user, but that's my choice. Others may seek out that type of product.

LCD vs Viewfinder
You expressed your preference for using the viewfinder over the LCD. That only works well if you are taking pictures at some distance from your subject. Almost all digital cameras are rangefinder cameras: The viewfinder is a separate element and it is positioned away from the camera lens assembly.

When you compose a picture, you are seeing a different view of the subject than the one the CCD sees. Because of that you have to deal with parallax error. If you don't know how to deal with it, you will not get the shot you intended, and you will probably cut off someone's head in the process!

Another problem with almost all cameras is that the image area seen in the viewfinder/LCD is different from the area captured by the CCD. Because the manufacturers are conservative (want to help the user), the image captured is usually larger than the one you saw in the viewfinder/LCD. It varies from one model to another, but it means that you may have to crop the final image to remove an unwanted part of the picture. That removes valuable pixels and reduces the effective resolution of the final product.

A Few Terrific URLs
Steve's Digi-Cam is one of the best sites on the web for reviews and general information about digital cameras. His product reviews are more thorough than what you will find in any magazine. (The reviews contain so much detail they can be used as an owner's manual.) Check it out and you will that some people just like to vent and/or trash the products or companies they don't like. (http://www.steves-digicams.com/)

Scantips is a great site for information on scanners and how to use them. Wayne Fulton does an excellent job of explaining why you scan for your target device -- not for the maximum resolution. The user group presenter was trying to make that point, but she got drowned out by all of the noise surrounding her. (http://www.scantips.com/)

Digital Camera Resource Page One user group member used this extensively when he was shopping for a digital camera about 18 months ago. (http://www.dcresource.com/)

As usual, I've been at this for longer than I intended, but I think the information will be of use to others. Everything I said above (and much more) can be found on the web sites that "focus" on photography. David Berkowitz can be reached at daberk@mindspring.com

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