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What your new digital camera doesn’t have in the box

Memory Card

While most cameras do include some type of starter card or  internal memory this usually only gets you a few dozen pictures. So before you leave the store go ahead and pick up a decent sized card. A 2-4GB card will work fine for picture only shooting and a 4GB or more card will serve you well if you’ll also be taking video clips on your camera. Cards are cheap, much cheaper in fact than film. Remember you’ll use a $20 card for the life of camera so do yourself a favor and pick one up.

Extra Battery

Do not leave yourself hanging with a dead camera because your battery’s used up. An extra battery may seem like an expensive add-on but I’m willing to bet that price pales in comparison to what you’d pay to recapture a missed memory. An extra battery will run you around $25-$50 dollars.

Camera Case

Believe it or not you will find no camera case in the box. You may find a protective sleeve but that’s about it. Cameras do not like sliding around in your glove compartment or fighting off purse clutter. Do your Camera a solid and get it a case. It should go with out saying, but a case will keep your extra battery, memory card and camera cable in a safe place as well.

Memory card reader

Yes, Cameras do include a some type of USB cable in the box and yes, most computers now do come with memory card readers built-in but hear me out…What if you lose your camera cable? What if your computer does not have a memory card reader? Memory card readers do a couple of things you may like. For one thing, a card reader is relatively cheap at around $10-$20 bucks. Not to mention they’re available just about anywhere you can buy cameras, making them a quick fix if you misplace your proprietary camera cable. This is the case for Point and Shoot Cameras like Panasonic, Olympus, Sony, Nikon and Samsung. Also, if your computer is for whatever reason not recognizing your camera, most all computers will recognize the card reader. To a computer they look like a thumb drive. Making it very easy to add or remove pictures from your card.

Are Consumer Camcorders Becoming Obsolete?

Now days you’d be hard pressed to find a point and shoot camera that doesn’t capture movies as well as pictures. A few years back, digital cameras started introducing the feature but only to a limited degree. Giving you a cool, but basically useless feature by not including sound, limiting the time you could record, and all had terrible video quality. Now, not only is video recording found on cell phones, point and shoot cameras, some high-end SLRs and even the iPod Nano, but all are even getting into the game of quality movie capture. Lets face it, products tend to not sell unless the “HD” logo is somewhere on it. Sure you could get a camcorder like the Flip Video Slide HD, which is a cool video camera by the way, but for about the same price you could get yourself into a nice point and shoot camera with arguably better video. Cameras like the Sony Cyber-shot WX1/B or Canon’s SD3500 IS, cameras that not only give you great video, but amazing picture quality as well considering the price. So I have to ask the questions. Are we seeing the era of consumer grade camcorders coming to its inevitable end? Or at the very least, is the line blurred between personal electronic devices, especially in the $200-500 price range? Or do camcorders still have a few advantages up their collective sleeves?

Camcorder Benefits (for now)

Record Time
When it comes to record time camcorders are still the undisputed champ but how much is actually needed? In the days of Beta, VHS, DV, mini DV and the ever frustrating mini CD format you were limited to only an hour or two of realistic record. However with the introduction of the Hard Disc Drives (HDD) and solid stat media like SD cards you can literally get dozens of hours of record time packed into a camcorder smaller than a 12oz soda can. Although, as digital storage becomes smaller and smaller camcorders will not always have the upper hand. For example 32GB SD cards are fairly common now and terabyte drives the size of quarters may be here sooner than you think. Then again, is all that space just a gimmick to get you to buy something you don’t realize you’ll never use? Let’s be honest, do you actually need 80GB of storage in one sitting? Maybe you will on your vacation trip but everyone in your family has to pretend to be interested in the 20 something hours of footage you’re trying to show them. I’m willing to bet most of us only record a few hours at a time, possibly only a few minutes. Maybe, in a way, record time is to camcorders what megapixels are to cameras.

Telephoto Lens
Next is the lens. At 10x, 20x, even 60x and up with image stabilization and fast auto focus there are strong arguments for using a dedicated camcorder. A typical point and shoot will just not cut it at your kids football game or recital. Furthermore, having a lens capable of doing that requires physical limitations to how small it can be made. So, for now, camcorders will still have a home. Last, I would give camcorders the edge in video quality especially in the $800 and up price points, but this is an advantage that is quickly diminishing as image sensors and storage are becoming smaller, more powerful and less expensive, leaving image quality largely up to the strength of the lens itself.

Finally, let’s not forget the role cell phones play in this, because ease of use and convenience are what win out in the end. Face it, you’re more often going to have your cell with you than your camcorder or camera, and as the image and audio quality keeps improving on these devices the cell phone will become the preferred device. Not only will cell phones have changed the way we communicate and do business, but they will change the way we document our lives as well by reaching and surpassing the “it’s good enough for what I do” threshold. Some would say that this has already happened.

So are camcorders becoming obsolete? In my opinion, for a growing number of us, the answer is yes. In the world of quick, YouTube clips and embedded Facebook videos, the simple one minute clip of the kids swinging or a toast at the club is easily captured with phone or camera. From there it can be quickly shared through text or uploaded with minimal hassle. Is the camcorder worth the extra effort? I think the important thing is to be honest with your true needs, before you end up with another expensive toy sitting on the closet shelf.

Although some SLRs are now starting to come with movie capture capabilities and with the right lenses, making even professional video gear blush, I excluded them in this post. The price points and skill sets needed are asking a bit much for most consumers.

Common, Easily Fixed Digital Camera Problems

Before you think you have a lame excuse for a digital camera, here are a few things to check before sending it off to be service or replacing it. The following is a short list of issues you may be dealing with on your Compact Point and Shoot or SLR that can be fixed with out much fuss.

Everything is blurry

Although blurry images can be caused by faulty cameras and camera lenses. One or a combination of the following can also cause your pictures to turn out blurry or appear blurry and should be looked at first.

  • Dirty lens

Even if the lens may look clean it never hurts to give your lens a good once over just to make sure. Lens cleaning kits are inexpensive and easy to come by. Some kits are made just for small cameras. Your local electronics/camera store should have them on hand.

  • Make sure your camera is not set to macro mode

This setting looks like a flower for most cameras and if this mode is engaged you will only have focus for the first 1-3 feet in front of your lens, blurring everything else.

  • Image resolution

This may be true if the image looks great on the camera but pixelated on the computer screen. Make sure your camera is set to the highest resolution then give it a try.

  • Motion or Movement

Motion or movement by ether the person taking the pictures or people or objects moving while the picture is being taken. To fix this we need to speed up the shutter. however doing that can lead to an under exposed picture. Flash, Aperture and ISO can help. Check out my ISO or Aperture post for more info. The Flash will be covered later on in this post.

  • Optical Zoom or Digital Zoom

Make sure digital zoom is turned off. This is, in my opinion, a worthless feature. It’s only cropping the image and not actually zooming anything. This can result in a very pixelated image. If you still need more zoom, it may be time to step up to an SLR with a telephoto lens or a super zoom point and shoot that has a 10x or more optical zoom. Legs are a forgotten feature in photography, so if you can, walk closer.

Memory Card Problems

Memory cards in general don’t go bad. If one does, it’s usually a DOA issue or some type of physical damage…..”usually”.

  • Format

Your digital camera is like a computer and the memory card is like the hard drive. Remember to format, not delete before you use the card for the first time. Always format the card in camera and never format it using your computer. Formatting before taking pictures is a good habit to get into. Remember formatting will erase all pictures, so make sure you save to your computer first. Formatting can fix things like loading speed, images not being stored, Error messages and other strange behavior.

  • Card Locked

Common to SD. SD cards have a small tab on the side of them that you can lock or accidentally lock. If your camera suddenly tells you it can’t record make sure the tab is in the unlocked position

Short Battery Life

Your camera dies after only a few pictures.

  • Check your camera’s user guide and make sure you’re using the right kind of batteries.

Many entry level point & shoot cameras will use AA’s, but not all AA’s are created equal. Rechargeable Nickel-cadmium battery (NiCd or NiCad) or one time use Lithium AA’s that have a 2000 mAh (Ampere hour) or higher rating will give you improved picture counts before needing to be replaced or recharged. Compare this to a typical AA that has only a few hundred mAh. If your camera came with it’s own proprietary rechargeable battery, remember most only have an average life of about 1-2 years. So it may be time to replace it.

Shutter lag

You’re taking pictures and you always miss the action.

  • Slow Cameras

Some cameras can take 2-3 seconds to actually take the shot once the shutter button is pressed. If this sounds like your camera, my condolences go out to you, this is simply unacceptable. What you can do is prep the camera before the shot by holding the shutter button down half way. This will give the camera time to set up and focus. then press the button all the way down when action is right. For SLR’s you may want to try manual focus to give you more speed.

Over Exposed or Washed Out Faces

You don’t like using the flash but everything blurs if it’s not used.

  • Exposure Compensation

Exposure compensation does just that. It lowers the exposure of your picture to compensate for lack of or too much light. Next time you need the flash try lowering the exposure value (EV) by -.5 to -1 but be carful not to under expose too much as this can add an unacceptable amount of grain/noise on lower end cameras.

  • White Balance

Sometimes the auto white balance is not all that precise. Turn your WB setting to flash.

My Camera just sucks, I want a new one!

Can’t fault you there. Some cameras just can’t cut it. When you’re shopping for a new one keep the above information in mind and remember the following.

“Good, Fast, Cheap, You can only pick two.”

iPhoto ’09 Review and What I’d Like to See Updated.

Apple’s well known photo editing and management application called iPhoto has been around for some time now and it’s part of Apple’s iLife software suite. Along with its intuitively laid out management and edit tools iPhoto has a integrated feature that makes it convenient to order Prints, Cards, Books and Calendars. You can even have your orders sent to different addresses, which actually came in handy this year while we were traveling.
Because of its integration with iPhoto’s well laid out themes and templates this system works out great especially for the books which are hardback and can include up to 100 pages. The books are our favorite thing to order and kid-you-not they really do look professional with the new iPhoto ’09 layout. All services have worked out great for us during the Christmas holidays except for the prints. This was the first year we chose to do prints with Apple and it’s not that the prints turned out bad because they didn’t. My trouble with this part of Apple’s ordering service is that you cannot select what type of paper the prints will be on. I suppose in an effort to simplify the process the type of paper is selected for you. You get Basic Glossy for all print except 16×20 and 20×30 which are done with a matte paper. I don’t mind the basic glossy for the 4×6 prints especially at $0.12 Each, however I would like to have the option to pay extra for better paper. A small complaint in the eyes of many I suppose, but never-the-less I’d like the option to choose the type of paper my prints will be on.

Here is a link for the up to date pricing from Apple print products.

As for everything else, iPhoto stands out in the iLife line up. You get all your standard editing adjustments as well as straighten and touch-up.

iPhoto Adjust

iPhoto Adjust

The touch-up tool works surpassingly well and having the level adjustment for tightening up the color casts is also nice to have. Also if you shot in RAW ( Yes, iPhoto ’09 does indeed edit RAW ), the RAW format is automatically recognized and you are able to edit in RAW as if you were using JPG, just plug in your camera. The only difference you see will be in the lower corner of the edit window were RAW will be indicated. After importing into iPhoto, If you need to use the RAW file for other programs go to the “originals” folder of your iPhoto’s Library or use the “export command” to pull the RAW file. I’d like to be able to do this inside iPhoto by just dragging the file to the desktop. iPhoto gives you the drag and drop option for tiff and jpeg but RAW is left out. I imagine this is because RAW is not a printable file format so iPhoto simplifies things by just converting the RAW to jpeg for you if dragged it to the desktop. On the other hand, if your going to be using RAW a lot you may want to consider Aperture (in a way, the pro work flow version of iPhoto) or Photoshop Lightroom. Each have free, full-featured 30 day demo option you can download. However, for simple edits and touch-ups iPhoto, 09 will get the job done with surprisingly good results.

Face Book and Flickr
One of my favorite features is iPhoto will link to your Facebook or Flickr account. You can set up a folder to one or both of those accounts and simply drag and drop the photos you want to into them, iPhoto will do the rest. Seriously, this makes it so easy to add photos to Facebook it’s not even funny.

There are a few somewhat questionable features in iPhoto that I’d to see changed. The first is “Faces”. Faces is a built in face detection software that automatically goes through your entire photo library and will “attempt” to assign names with faces. Sounds cool and in a way it is. However in practice it’s a different story. The problem is family, families have this crazy thing going on called DNA that makes us look similar, go figure. Faces has a difficult time with this. Namely Babies, kids and siblings. Friends, cousins, aunts and uncles do however work well in faces. Parents can be hit or miss especially if you look a lot like mom or dad. This feature is definitely something of value, but unless you have spent a lot of time cleaning up the preliminary sort of Faces, then the feature can seem somewhat impractical.

Next is “Places”
Places takes GEO tagging to the next level by incorporating a GPS tagging feature more and more cameras will start having. Cameras that have this feature will imbed GPS data along with the rest of the meta information hidden within your image. Places in iPhoto works one of two ways. It will automatically read the GPS coordinates for you or you can manually tell iPhoto where the photo was taken.
Now someone like wild life photographers and land developers this could easily be a must have feature. I personally have just not found a use for it. Don’t get me wrong this is COOL tech but for me this is a novelty feature. I guess you could say, “have it and not need it than need it and not have it”. I would on the other hand defiantly use this feature more if I had a camera that imbedded GPS information, as I don’t, I have the task of tagging all of the information manually. So for now I’ll pass.

As for the new iPhoto here are a few things I’d like to see added:

1) Ability to add text to you pictures.
2)A basic clone tool.
3)Expanded RAW editing

Wishful thinking would be for…
Layers and HDR

As for what I’d like to see changed:

1) Improved Faces.
2) Ability to select the type of paper to use for ordering prints.

Over all iPhoto is a solid peace of software and one Im very happy to keep using.

One more thing. Other than iTunes I think Apple should make iPhoto available for purchase separately from the other iLife products. I mean why not give the option? For example you could have each for $25 or all 4 for $80. Anyway, just a thought.