Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Digital Photography 101

Wouldn't it be great if you could take all the pictures you want for FREE? Well, now you can. For an initial investment of under $300, including accessories, you can learn to be a photographer by trial and error. You'll also need a Windows ME/2000/XP or Linux 2.2 kernel or later PC with a USB connector to store and view your photo collection.

My camera is a Canon A60, one of the early 2nd generation digitals but now quite out of date. I started with a $30 650x480 Chinese JamCam 3.0 while waiting for average prices to drop from $300 to around $120 (on sale). Within a year they had. Now prices are stable around $195 but the features continue to increase with 4 or 5 megapixel cameras and true optical zooms near that price.

My camera is a 2 megapixel which means you can print out only a 4x6 in normal photo quality (with the original 1200x1400, 1MB file), but that's enough for most people. I bought it 18 months ago online from Ofc Depot and got over $120 off (final price $96) when the going price was over $200 [one of my best online bargains]. Like computers, digital camera prices drop dramatically every year.

It has many features not found on similar consumer oriented cameras which is why I recommend Canon. I never mastered some of the finer points in the 86-page manual like changing ISO, lighting adjustments, and panorama shots. In full-auto mode you just point and shoot, which always works out OK. It does movie clips with sound too. Originally this camera sold for $345, but is already out of production. Check J&R Music & Photo online for the best prices.

You can probably still get an A80, it's 3 MP cousin for about $130 these days. It has the same 3x optical glass lens. That's enough camera for just about anyone. There is no reason to pay more. Don't settle for cheaper versions without a true 3x optical zoom like the A310 which goes for under $100. The semi-pro Canon S series has even more features for a lot more money.

As a former camera buff who used to develop and print his own film I really appreciate digitals. There is lot you can do to enhance digital shots if you have the right software, especially the expensive stuff. I often adjust colors, soften shadows, or brighten photos with the free Arcsoft Camera Suite that came with the camera or an old shareware version of Paint Shop Pro.

Other accessories you'll want for your digital camera include two sets of NiMh (Nickel metal Hydride) batteries which can be recharged 1,000 times and a good quality charger that doesn't overheat the batteries. Cheap $20 chargers wear out the batteries quickly. Check photography forums online for the model number of a good charger. I don't yet have one. You'll also need a big memory card and maybe a spare PC connector or card reader. With these extras you can capture all your vacation pictures. I don't often print my pics, but when I do I go to Wal-Mart and get them for 29 cents each (not the Kodak machine, the other one). The machine even lets you crop and enhance them. You've now completed digital photography 101. Have fun.

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