NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, March 2004
Accessories for that New Digital Camera
by Ira Wilsker, APCUG
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Last month I wrote about the features to look for in a new digital camera. That column was most timely as many in the national media are predicting that digital camera sales will soar this holiday season. It is also common that many of us “accessorize” our gifts to others to enhance the enjoyment of the recipient. Appropriate accessories would include cases, memory, photo editing software, photo printers and paper, rechargeable batteries, and other useful items.

Cases for digital cameras are usually available from the camera makers as well as a broad assortment of third parties. The primary function of a case is to provide protection for the sensitive instrument. Other functions include a means of conveniently carrying the camera, and a place to store accessories. In shopping for a case, look for proper fit and good protection from harm, as this is the function of a case. This protection may be in the form of padding, water resistance, and a variety of other factors. Do not practice the fine art of “buying cheap” and trusting a several-hundred dollar camera to a five dollar case, unless that case can provide adequate protection and convenience, which will not be likely.

Additional camera memory may be one of the most valuable adjuncts to a new (or already owned) camera. Almost all new cameras come with integral memory which can only store a very limited number of images before it must be downloaded to a computer, or the images in memory must be deleted to make room for more. While some cameras, such as several of the Sony models, use a floppy disk or mini-CD-R disc to store images directly to a universal media, almost all other digital cameras use some type of nonvolatile memory card or stick to store images. These cards or sticks are inserted directly into the camera, and provide additional storage for images. In shopping for camera memory be absolutely sure that the proper type is selected for the camera, as there is often little interchangeability between the types. Common types of memory are “CF” compact flash, smart memory, multimedia cards (MMC), “SD” secure digital cards (sometimes interchangeable with MMC), tiny “xD” cards, memory sticks, and several other formats. Normally, “more is better” applies to memory capacity, but price must also be balanced with capacity. If photos are taken at full resolution (not normally a best practice), a 2 megapixel camera uses about 900k for a single JPEG format image, so a 32meg memory card will hold about 35 images, while a 128meg card will hold about 142 images. Other resolutions and amounts of memory will be somewhat proportional. A 4 megapixel camera uses about 2 megs of memory for each image at maximum resolution. Another factor which varies among different models of memory is the speed (faster is better) and power consumption (less is better). Along with a new memory card, an external reader, typically with a USB connector, is a great convenience which enables photos to be transferred without the camera.

Almost all digital cameras come with a “lite” or limited functionality photo editing software. The included software may be adequate for normal snapshots, but often we want to do more to enhance or improve our photos. Near the top of the price range of popular photo editing software is the Adobe PhotoShop at around $600, and its lesser brothers from Adobe including PhotoShop Elements (about $90). One of the other powerful photo editing and enhancement utilities is JASC’s PaintShop Pro 8, available locally for around $60. I especially like PaintShop’s “One Step Photo Fix” that can automatically perfect almost any reasonable digital image. For the bargain hunters who want a powerful editing and enhancement utility, without paying big bucks is the very popular Irfan Viewer, which is available for free download from http://www.irfanview.com. Personally, I use both Irfan and Paint Shop Pro about equally. Other editing software is available from other publishers.

Most color printers on the market today can print plausible color images using stock inks and decent quality paper. Some printers offer enhanced photo printing capability for a moderate price, while there are also dedicated photo printers on the market. Good photo grade paper is a necessity to produce quality prints. Some printers on the market print directly to Polaroid film, giving real photos from a digital camera. Many users prefer both the quality and economy of having their local photo finisher print digital prints, a service which most now provide, often at prices less than “do it yourself”.

My digital camera eats batteries. Using AA alkaline batteries would be a major expense, if it were not for the now common NiMh or Lithium rechargeable batteries. Many cameras utilize the common AA size, and as an added advantage, the better NiMh rechargeable batteries typically offer many times the photos of disposable alkalines, at a far lower cost per picture. Spare batteries, especially if fully charged, can be a godsend.

Other popular accessories for digital cameras may appeal more to the advanced user than the amateur. These include tripods, accessory lenses, external flash devices, and other items. Just be sure that the accessories are compatible with the user’s camera.

Ira Wilsker is the Advisor for Region 8, APCUG Representative & Bylaws Chair for the Golden Triangle PC Club, a columnist for The Examiner in Beaumont, Texas, and has two radio shows. He also graciously shares his articles with the APCUG editors.

There is no restriction against any non-profit group using this article as long as it is kept in context with proper credit given the author. The Editorial Committee of the Association of Personal Computer User Groups (APCUG), an international organization of which this group is a member, brings this article to you.

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