Digital Photography (1)


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Digital cameras have become less expensive and more capable over the last few years. They can be as little as 50 or as much as several hundred see http://www.which.co.uk/technology/photography/reviews/digital-cameras/ . Suffice to say that an old film camera and the film are almost impossible to find and the cost of developing means that many people just keep photos on their computer or send them to friends with emails.

In my view Picasa (Google's own Photo organiser) is one of the best programs available and is free!  To see why I am so keen click Next Page, above...

Getting them printed. Although good results can be obtained with an inkjet printer and gloss paper, one must look into the cost of ink and paper. Aldi at http://www.aldiphotos.co.uk/  not only offers an on line print service and an online place to store photos but also downloadable photo editing software and album making software.  Print prices are reasonable.  Better for smaller numbers but with no discounts for large quantities. Boots charges are better for larger quantities. Snapfish has a reasonable service at 9p for 6 x 4 prints and sometimes has special offers, especially for new people. They also give 50 free prints a month to Virgin/NTL users on their M (60mb broadband) level.

One of the most rewarding aspects of computing is its ability to take, display, send and print photographs at very little cost. Taking a dozen shots and deleting the worst can make everyone seem a better photographer !

Close up conker photo

Close-ups are easy with digital

Digital Photography.  

A digital camera has no film and, if you wish to just display the pictures on your computer, there are no further costs apart from batteries. The pictures are stored temporarily in the memory of the camera.  They can then be transferred simply to a computer via a USB cable and then erased from the camera.  All but the cheapest cameras enable you to view the pictures on a small screen at the back of the camera and it is possible to delete ones that you don't like, there and then.

I know several people whose lives have been enriched by using a digital camera, whether it be to send pictures of children to loved ones far away or to record a flower or even an insect in the garden.  It is one of the simplest of peripherals to set up and use. You can be taking and viewing pictures in minutes. The ability to see your pictures full screen also enhances them compared with viewing prints in an album.  I would recommend anyone to get one of these wonderful devices for their own pleasure - and to impress/bore others!

Cameras

So, much depends upon what you expect from a camera. My little Sony (now superceded) had a mere 2 megapixels but its size made it so convenient and the quality of the lens made up for the lack of megapixels.  Its main drawback was not having a viewfinder and the tiny LCD screen at the back was not easy to view in bright sunlight.  

Tiny Sony Digital Camera photo

Personally, I feel the megapixel sales pitch has been quite unnecessary. We are now seeing 12  and 14 megapixel cameras with optical zoom for under 100. This results in large picture files that can quickly fill up  your camera card and hard disk and can be slow to send with email.

What to look for in a camera

It is possible to get a digital camera for as little as a few pounds but do try to compare results if you can. But even the most basic ones these days are likely to have  Date and Time, a bright LCD screen, a cable to connect to your TV or video, automatic focus,  red eye reduction (a brief additional flash reduces eye pupil size), a digital and optical zoom, self timer, a battery saver (in case you forget to turn it off), macro (close up - 6 inches),  video (movie).

You will find that all 'point and shoot' digital cameras focus automatically and have a wider depth of focus than older cameras. They are also much better in low light conditions, even without flash.

First picture taken with Olympus digital camera

Depth of focus (from front to back) is better than with a traditional camera

Cavendish, Suffolk Photo

Cavendish, Suffolk.

I compress pictures before uploading them to my website. This picture is a mere 15k. The effect of the massive compression can be seen in the sky, so it is better to keep an original if you expect to print them. One way to make and send a smaller compressed version (as well as keeping the original) is to go to My Pictures and right click a picture, click Send to and then click on Mail Recipient from the list that appears. Click to compress the file. Your e-mail program should show with the graphic attachment greatly reduced in size (kb) Alternatively, send them using Picasa (see next page) sending at various sizes. 

Computer Based Photo Albums - With digital photography being so easy and inexpensive it is not long before you realise that printing every photograph is, perhaps, unrealistic. And when you see your pictures 15, 17 or more inches across on your screen one can see why software writers have developed such good programs for viewing them on your monitor or TV. Windows XP and later has great slideshow facilities as do most other graphics programs these days. So you may be tempted to spend some time on creating an on-screen album of your holiday. The impact of seeing your pictures so bright and so LARGE can make looking at enprints in a book seem even more boring than ever for your friends and relatives ! Program such as Roxio Creator, Picasa or DVD Maker will enable you to produce a masterpiece, with fancy 'transitions', which can be saved to CD or DVD and thus played on any PC or on a TV, using a DVD player in the latter case. Windows Picture Viewer is also an very simple way to show your pictures and its printing facility is excellent Lastly I really recommend the free program Picasa from www.picasa.com. It has great (and simple) photo editing facilities (see next page). It will allow you to email pictures in a compressed format - which should please people on dialup connections. Tip: If you want an easy way to shrink picture sizes just use Picasa to email them to yourself after adjusting the quality setting. And, if you want to show your pictures to all your friends it allows free on line space on Google+ web albums. Another site where you can keep photos (and even video) safely on line is Flickr

Printing your photos. Computer Active did a comparison of costs and qualities of various printing methods. They dismiss colour laser printing for home use, although I have a Canon Laser which does a good job, especially on plain paper. But what about cost for inkjet printing? These varied from 25p to 78p just to print one photograph on individual 6 x 4" glossy paper. Apart from the work involved, and the possibility of poor results, this makes the hobby pretty expensive. It is much cheaper to get photos processed at somewhere like Photobox from 5p each if you order 500 or more (12p for one) and they give 40 free for the first order. And you will get excellent prints on bright-white heavy-duty paper, unlike the flimsy, expensive 180gsm stuff you get in the computer shops These days you just take the memory card in and it will be downloaded to their machine in a minute. So you can get your precious memory card back and carry on shooting. Another company that came out well is Bonusprint. Kiosk printing, where you do it yourself, was much more expensive. Incidentally, Virgin Media people (on the M level Broadband) can register with them and get 50 free prints a month.

If you do resort to printing at home you will find a tremendous improvement in the results if you print on heavy quality glossy paper. Try high quality 220gsm gloss paper, 5 for 50 from some shops.

Photo manipulation Another advantage of digital photography is that it gives the opportunity to enhance your photos. It is important to have some software that will enable you to do this.  If you ask the photographic processing company to put your pictures on a CD they often include some software free. I have mentioned 'cropping' a picture to cut out the spare sky and grass or unwanted parts of a picture. No-one is really interested in loads of space, especially on photos of people.  In fact no-one is really interested in knees and feet! What they want is a close up of Aunty Mae or the happy couple, preferably head and shoulders! You can experiment and save the bits of the photo to another picture file. In fact there is only one thing you must never cut out in portraiture and that is the person's eyes.  Blinking eye So crop away. Talking of eyes there is the frequent red-eye problem of flash photography, though most cameras can be made to prevent this by double flashing. A photo manipulation program will also let you correct this. A bad one will make it difficult.  My favourite for this is Microsoft's Picture It Publishing but I gather that Hewlett Packard photo software does a very good job on this. Another feature of such programs is the ability to alter the brightness and contrast of the image.  Many a dull picture has been brought back to life by changing these aspects. Get Picasa and go through your dull old pictures and click "I'm feeling lucky". You will be amazed how they improve. But remember to save a copy or you will lose that effect. For more information on Picasa click here.

Other recommended packages for organising and editing photographs are The Gimp and Irfanview (free) or the paid for programs such as Corel Paintshop Pro, Microsoft's Digital Image Suite and Adobe Photoshop Elements. The last one was given a five star rating by Computer Active.

2016: There are also a number of on-line photo manipulation programs mention here http://askbobrankin.com/10_free_online_photo_editors.html?awt_l=Orks6&awt_m=J3dm0mY7XeP6SL

And don't forget that, if you want to send pictures to anyone who is on a dialup account (and there are still some about), you are more likely to stay friends if you compress the file down to something that will only take a little while to send or receive. Files should finish up in the popular JPG format (never Tif or BMP) and they can be compressed to various degrees and also reduced in physical (inches) and Megabyte size. Many graphics programs can be used to compress photos before emailing and some such as Picasa will do it 'on the fly' when you opt to attach a photo to an email.  Make sure that you do not accidentally wipe out the better version when you save a compressed version.  Save it as another name - but still in the JPG format.  A program like Corel PaintshopPro will 'Batch compress' dozens of photos and stick the compressed version in a different folder.  If you have it, see under File, Batch compression. You can just opt to Select All the photos in one folder, set the Option to compress them 85%, choose to send the results to a different folder, then hit Ok. Within seconds 50 photos were compressed from 2Mb to 250k. Unfortunately PSP  costs money at 60 (downloaded)  

MEMORY One confusing aspect of digital cameras is the great variety of memory various ones use.  For a good explanation please take a look at http://www.steves-digicams.com/high-capacity_storage.html. Although this deals mainly with the very high capacity offers it also applies to all memory from 8Mb upwards. There are about a dozen different memory card types and they vary quite a lot in price, physical size and even speed but all have become much cheaper lately, have higher capacities and faster transfers frrom camera to memory.

Batteries. Some digital cameras contain rechargeable batteries, usually recharged by connecting them to a USB socket on a PC. If you expect to go on a long trip it may be advisable to invest in a second battery. Some cameras seem to run through batteries quickly. I have read an article in Computer Active about someone complaining that he has sent his camera back and had replacements three times as it would only take about 50 pictures before the batteries needed recharging.  I wonder if the camera actually had a problem. The things that use the most juice are the LCD screen, the flash and the use of any video facility. If possible they should be used without any of these. I have seen people using the flash all the time, when really it is BETTER to use flash for  'in filling' to expose shadows on faces etc. Next, I have seen people who cannot resist showing everyone what they have taken, so they pass the camera around a large group of people who look at all the pictures. Then they wonder why the battery is flat. Leaving the camera connected to a PC after transferring the pictures can take power, too.

Many cameras have their own dedicated rechargeable battery.  Again it is worth getting a spare.

Lastly, people are not aware that AA and AAA rechargeable batteries are not quite as powerful as standard batteries and may fail even when part discharged. Some cameras require them to be in tip top condition, whereas batteries used in torches and toys carry on for much longer.  Please bear these points in mind before you return your camera to the supplier.  If you buy rechargeable batteries, get the biggest capacity you can find e.g. AA can be up to 2,400 mAh. And do carry at least one extra set - and still be prepared to have to nip in a shop and buy extra Duracells.  Do check that BOTH the batteries are down. One may run down more than the other !  Get a battery checker.

One strange thing I discovered when getting a new camera was that if it was set at the maximum definition (as the camera was delivered) the pictures looked fine on the PC but when burnt onto DVD they appeared small on the TV, covering about a quarter of the screen (in the centre).  This does not show off the pictures as I would want. I found that, as with most cameras, one can change the definition and it will stay the same when you use it again. This is particularly important for people who do not have a lot of hard disk space. A recent camera has 12.1 Megapixels.  If set to the maximum definition, even with the massive compression afforded by the JPG format every picture will take many megabytes of space on the camera card and on the hard disk. Moreover, if no action is taken to reduce the size of the pictures you will be quite unpopular with email recipients, especially if they are still on dialup (admittedly unusual these days).

The results I got by experimenting with a Canon camera were in no way logical and I set them out for your interest. Surprisingly even the lowest definition pictures looked good on screen

Camera Setting
L
3072 x 2304 1.56Mb Small on screen
NormalThis is not suitable for TV showing
M1 2590 x 1944 987 kb Full Normal This is the best compromise for both PC and TV
M2 2048 x 1536 686 kb Average Normal Not suitable for TV
M3 1600 x 1200 456 kb Small Normal Not suitable for TV
S 640 x 480 71 kb Full Small Suitable for TV but not PC
Postcard 1600 x 1200 456 kb Very small Normal Not suitable for TV
Widescreen 3072 x 1725 1,15 Mb V. small and long Full widescreen Not suitable for TV. Good for widescreen PC

If you don't even want to install a graphic manipulation program it is possible to change pictures using the on line facilities provided at http://effects.japplis.com/ 

Digital Photo Frames

These are popular nowadays and are a favourite present for people to receive on an anniversary.  Here are a few clues as to what to do with the.

Some of the frames (more expensive) have an internal memory.  So you can add photos to them (via a connection to a USB socket on a computer).  It is likely that the computer will recognise the memory as an additional 'drive' and you can see it if you click on 'My Computer'.  If you have a bunch of photos you could copy them to the memory and, as soon as the frame is powered up you will see them displayed as a slideshow. However, more commonly the pictures have to be put on a small memory card which is then slotted into the frame.  Most frames will take a wide variety of cards, which are used in cameras.  You might even take the card out of the camera after a photo shoot and be able to show everyone the results immediately.  As the frames are normally position in 'Landscape' mode (wider than taller) some of the photos ('portrait orientation) may not be so suitable to display on a digital frame, though one could dedicate a frame to this type, turning it on its side.

One point to watch is that the size of the pictures suit the frame.  The manual will not doubt tell you the best sizes.  But what if your camera takes pictures of a different size ?  Well, all is not lost. For Windows X it is possible to download a Microsoft Picture Resizer. This is part of the 'Power Tools' that Microsoft passes on to people. But they are not part of the original Windows package, so you wont find it on your disk. Unfortunately there is no similar program for Vista.

Panoramas.  I have been fascinated to see the magnificent panoramas which are being emailed to me by 360cities.net and wondered how difficult they were to make.. Their site indicates that it is not beyond the ability of the average photographer and computer buff, so was keen to have a go. In addition to taking still photos all around you from a certain spot, you will need to stitch them together with something like Hugin, a free program downloaded from Sourceforge, then send the result to 360cities to finalise the result. With a basic camera it is much more difficult and you will obviously need to take more pictures which overlap. It is obviously much easier if you have 'fisheye' or wide angle lenses (as in the video). Best of luck with your panoramas.  Maybe one day you will make on like this !  Http://www.360cities.net/image/stone-sculptures-tirtagangga    And just click on http://www.360cities.net/gigapixel/strahov-library.html  Click 'Start Tour'and let it give you an amazing tour of the Strahov Library, Prague

Which camera ? This subject is too vast to tackle here. But to give an example of one 'snapper', the Samsung ST150F. Around 65. It is about the size and thickness of a mobile phone; 10 x optical zoom 16Mpixel, 3" screen, HD quality video at 30fps (PAL and NTSC); Wireless connection to a PC or mobile phone, picture crop, panorama scan. It automatically focuses down to 5 Cms

Publishing your photos

You can upload photos to Youtube or Google,  free of charge.  One can create a slideshow with a program such as Movie Maker and upload that.

If you really want to impress you can create a photo book e.g. of a wedding. A company such as Jessops will let you download a suitable program to create the book the way you want.  Then you can order it from them.  They come in various qualities and sizes (dimensions, layouts, number of photos and pages) from 6 to 80 (e.g. linen or faux leather bound).  The download is very large (over 100Mb) and takes a while even on a fast broadband.  After this they suggest :

1. Choosing your Product: On opening our software you will find several tabs on the left hand side of the window. Clicking on each of these tabs will change the main page to display the options available for each respective product.

2. Adding your Photos: Inside the Editor for each product you will find a light grey 'Images' tab on the left hand side. Clicking on this tab will bring up a file tree of your computer. Simply navigate this tree to select your desired image folder and its contents will be shown in the white area below. From here you can drag and drop your chosen images into place and onto the Editor screen.

3. Placing an Order: When you are happy with your personal creation and want to send it to be printed simply click on the "To Order" button on the bottom right of the window. This will then take you through the short few steps needed to process your order and payment details.

Do you get Powerpoint Presentations emailed to you ? To know how to see them and learn how to make them click my page at Powerpoint.htm.

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