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Digital Photography II
July 2005

To judge from my emails, Oldie readers are keen on digital photography. So let's tackle cameras; it's about time, as they are getting much cheaper and easier to operate.

First, and most important, please understand that a digital camera is designed to be an extra arm of your computer, not a standalone gadget. If you don't have a computer, digital photography is not for you. You need a computer to store the pictures, to edit and improve them, to make prints, to email them or to publish them online.

Now some camera buying essentials. Firstly, size does matter. My advice is to start with a cheaper, but fairly powerful, compact digital camera that is easy to hold, and fits into your pocket. In due course you might seek to spend more on an elaborate model, but you may never want or need to.

Next, you have to consider "resolution". This is measured in "pixels", which are the tiny dots of light that combine to create a digital picture. The higher the resolution (more pixels) the more the picture can be enlarged with clarity. If you plan to edit your pictures a lot or enlarge small portions of a picture, you need an original with enough pixels so that the bit you want to blow up has the detail to make a decent print. Most cameras range from two to six megapixels, but you don't need more than three megapixels unless you want prints bigger than eight by ten inches.

Now ask yourself what features you need. My own view is that provided I can set the thing to make all the decisions for me, that's fine, but others may want to take more care, or achieve particular effects. As a minimum I think you should pick one that has a built in flash, allows you to take close ups (called "macro" photography, in the jargon), and delayed picture taking (so you can run round and be in the shot).

Make sure it has a built in rechargeable battery that you plug straight into the mains. Digital cameras use a surprising amount of power, and we all know how grotesquely overpriced batteries are.

You should also get a spare memory card. This is like changing a film - once the camera is full, you whip out the memory card and put in a blank one. This is very easy, only takes a moment and they can be reused many times.

You will also need a lead to connect your camera to the computer; these are often sold as an extra, irritating though that is.

Now the most infuriating bit - making your camera talk to your computer. This will drive you mad, and make you yearn for the days of the box brownie. There's no escaping it, but they don't make it easy.

Your camera should be supplied with a disc on which there will probably be at least two sorts of software. One is what's called a driver, which teaches your computer to understand what your specific camera is saying.

Then there will be some sort of picture editing programme. There are hundreds of these, and the one supplied with your camera may be excellent, or it may be rubbish. Most are far too complicated, but we are we are stuck with them. My advice is to use one and one alone, good or bad, and get to know it well. Muck about with it and be brave. It's only a computer, after all.

Next month, if you can stand it, we'll deal with actually taking pictures, editing them and printing them out. In the mean time, I would love to hear from any readers with their digital camera experiences, and especially the software they recommend.