Computer Users’ Group
January 19, 2011
If you got a new digital camera for Christmas, Congratulations. But whether you just got one, already had one or are contemplating one, there are some things you can do to improve your experience. One thing that I can’t emphasize enough is “Read the Manual”. Don’t try to understand it all at once but take a function, read about it, try it and read again. When you’re comfortable, move on.
Digital cameras focus an image on a sensor that can be divided by software into elements called pixels; the higher the pixel count, the higher the resolution and the greater the image quality. There are one to three Bytes per pixel (8 to 24 bits) and they are stored in order in the memory.
The first thing you have to do is install batteries. Rechargeable Nickel Metal Hydride (NIMH) batteries will work and they can be re-charged hundreds of times. Take a charger and extra batteries with you when you travel so you’ll always be ready. The next thing to do is to set the time and date. Follow the instructions in your manual. Many cameras have a storage device that will keep the time when you change batteries but don’t leave the camera too long without batteries in it or you may have to reset the time and date.
Some cameras have more functions than others and not all of them express them in the same way but it should be possible to extrapolate everything that we say to your specific model. We’ll use as an example, the Canon Power Shot A1000 but yours may have some or all of these functions and perhaps more but they may be accessed in a different way. The Power Shot can go from a high resolution of 3648x2736 pixels to a low of 640x480 with several stops in between. The memory used varies from 30MegaBytes (MB) to 0.9MB. The higher the resolution, the more detail can be shown and the greater the image can be enlarged. At the highest resolution we can expect reasonable image quality in a 24x16 inch print. For the same image quality at the lowest resolution we can go no larger than 4x3 inches. Many suggest that an image should have no fewer than 300 Dots per Inch (DPI) but reasonable quality can be obtained at about half that (150 DPI) and that’s what the preceding sizes are based on. A Dot is another term for a Pixel.
Depending on the camera, the memory may be all built-in or, more likely, an external memory card is required. There may be limited internal memory, requiring a memory card for more than a few pictures. Once installed, a memory card has to be Formatted. Use the Users’ Manual to see how to do that. It only has to be done once. Once formatted, you can take pictures and store them on the card until you choose to do something with them.
Modes vary from camera to camera but some are Portrait, Kids and Pets, Nighttime, Landscape, Sports and more. There is usually an Auto function that relieves you from choosing a proper mode and lets you just shoot. It’s the easiest way to enjoy your camera and the results are good. Auto mode is a way to get used to the camera and you can gradually experiment and graduate to other modes as you see fit. Auto mode may be all that you ever need. Those seeking perfection will choose a mode appropriate to what is to be photographed, wait for the proper lighting, use a tripod and take multiple photos with varying exposures. But then they probably have something more exotic than one of today’s Point-and-Shoot cameras.
To take a picture, you turn the camera on, choose the mode and the resolution that you want to use, aim at your subject and either looking at the screen or through the viewfinder if your camera has one, center the subject and adjust the zoom until the image is the way you want it. Then, looking at the screen, press the exposure button down half way and make sure that the focus/exposure rectangle that shows up is centered on the subject. Then press the button all the way by squeezing it so as not to move the camera. The focus/exposure rectangle covers the area that the camera will use to determine both the focus and exposure. If taking a picture of several people, for instance, the rectangle should cover one of the faces or bodies and not the background between people. Note that it averages the lighting over the whole rectangle so that too much background getting in can modify the exposure. It costs nothing to take several pictures to insure getting a good one. The focus rectangle is normally in the center of the image but in many cameras it can be moved and adjusted in size. The default position is best to start with and adjust it only as you gain experience.
The resolution that you choose depends on how you intend to use the image. If only for email, choose a resolution that is on the order of 640x480 pixels. If you want use it for other purposes and also email it, use a program like Picasa to reduce the image to the appropriate size for emailing without affecting the original image. Don’t take a picture at the highest resolution and then email that. It’s much too large for a computer screen and takes much to long to receive by someone without high speed Internet.
Another consideration is what format to save the picture in if your camera provides an option. Most will save in JPG (JPEG: Joint Photographic Experts Group) format. That format compresses the image to save storage spage but the compression is not “lossless”. The more you compress it, the more image quality that you lose. In most cases, the loss is not noticeable but for detail work, it could be a consideration. When correcting images in an image processing program, it can be a real factor if you open an image, work on it and save it multiple times as a JPG image. Each save reduces quality so if you plan on considerable editing, save it as a non-lossless image in a format such as TIF (TIFF). When done editing, you can then save space by saving as a JPG
Be conscious of the lighting in the situation. Having the sun shining on your subjects may cause them to squint and look unnatural where as having the sun behind may decrease the exposure if it is included in the exposure setting. Finding a shady spot without too much background lighting may be best. In shooting scenes such as animals, flowers or landscapes, choose a location that maximizes your lighting advantage; focusing on bright spots will dim the shadows and focusing on the shadows will increase the brightness, Focusing on an area of both sunlight and shadow may modify the effect but brightness and contrast can be corrected in image processing software after the fact.
Most cameras come with software that you can install on your computer and a USB cable to connect the camera to the computer. Then you can choose a folder on your computer in which to download the images. Pictures or My Pictures are appropriate folders and you should create a new folder in one whose name matches the subject in the photos. More than one folder may be necessary. While that procedure gets the job done, it is somewhat cumbersome, slow and uses up the batteries that you have in the camera. A better strategy is to remove the card from the camera and use a Card Reader to read the contents of the card into you computer. Your computer may already have a built-in card reader; most new laptops do. Then you select the files on the card that you want to go to a given folder and drag them or send them there. Repeat for more than one folder. Select a sequence of files on a card by clicking on the first, holding the shift key down and clicking on the last. Right click on a selected file and drag and drag it to the appropriate folder and all of the rest will come. Choose Copy or Move depending on what you want to do. In Windows 7 or with the program Send To (See Pastfinders Flash Drive) installed, you can select the files you want, right click on them and then click on Send To in the resulting dialog box and then select where from the list and then Move or Copy.
Most images you take may be satisfactory for your needs but there are times when you’d like to improve on what you have. Software is available, some at no cost, that will enable you to enhance or correct defects in images. You may have gotten a basic program with your computer. Two free ones that you can get are Picasa and Irfanview, both on the Pastfinders’ flash drive. But you can download Picasa here http://picasa.google.com/intl/en/ and Irfanview here http://www.irfanview.com/ We don’t have time to go through them today but we discussed Irfanview here http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~flpslc/cug61604.htm and we’ll talk a little about it later. In Picasa, you open the image that you want to correct and choose an appropriate process from the Toolbar on the let. The I’m Feeling Lucky function corrects many things at once and usually does a good job. You can back out of anything you do; the saved image is never changed unless you save the changes.
Printing Your Pictures: There are several ways to get a hard copy of your work. One is to send them online to a service such as Shutterfly. http://www.shutterfly.com/ There, you can post your pictures for others to enjoy and have prints made and sent to you by mail. You can take your memory card to a store such as Walgreens where you can print the images that you want or have them do it. Or you can print them yourself at home. A photo printer and Glossy Photo Paper are what it takes to rival a commercially printed photograph. In some printers and cameras, you can connect the camera directly to the printer and bypass the computer. Imaging software will allow you to choose the size that you want to print or you can print using Windows Picture and Fax Viewer, (Windows Photo Viewer in Win 7) keeping in mind the resolution limits that we discussed above. Remember that ink in printers tends to dry out unless the printer is used and may need Printhead Cleaning which is usually found under a maintenance tab on your printer’s software. (Control Panel/Printers and faxes in Win XP, Devices and Printers in Win 7).
When you take a photograph, all of the setting and camera data are saved in a file called the Exchangeable Image File Format (EXIF). A search for EXIF will turn up many viewers that will show the information. One is part of Irfanview that can be obtained as noted above. Another is a simple add-on to the Thunderbird browser that is a free download that you can get here:
https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/3905/ . You’d be amazed at the amount if data collected for each picture.
Macro Mode: Often overlooked is the Macro Mode for shooting objects close up. In my camera the macro mode covers a range from 1.2 inches to 1.6 feet. It is usually represented by a symbol of a flower and that’s where it is very useful; taking photographs of flowers close up. There’s another use that is more appropriate to a genealogist and that is copying pages in a book. If you are in a library and need to copy pages in book, check with the library to see if copying with a camera is permitted; in some libraries, it is encouraged as it is easier on books.
In copying a book, the first order of business is to get the page you want to copy to lie as flat as possible. That can often be accomplished by opening the book only 90 Deg (the part you want to copy lying flat and the other half vertical. Having a helper to hold the book helps. It’s fastest if you leave the book I that position and turn the pages, copying every other page. Then reverse the process making the vertical section flat and returning to your starting point, copy the alternate pages. When you save them to your computer you can sort them out by subject moving those of a like subject into an appropriately named folder. You can rename them if you want and can use a Batch Rename feature as in Irfanview to create numbered files of a given name.
Set the camera to Macro Mode (or Book Mode) if your camera has one and if it has a Black and WhiteMode, use that as well. Hold the camera steady over the book and make sure you hold it flat and not at an angle. Move up and down until the entire page fills the screen, press rhe button half way to focus and adjust the exposure and then all the way to take the picture. Think Squeeze and not Press to insure the camera remains steady.
If you do a lot of copying, using a small tripod can insure that once properly adjusted, the rest of the pages will be the same as the first. A fixture to hold the books and pages in place can be useful as well and a simple one can be made from a cardboard box. Get a small bungee cord or a large rubber band to hold the pages in place and then cut the side and bottom out of a corrugated cardboard box.and cut the length to be slightly longer than the bungee or rubber band and steup so the side rises at a right angle. Place a book open to the page that you want and place it in the holder and use the bungee or rubber band to hold the pages on the vertical section in place. Flatten the horizontal pages as much as possible, position under a good light, place the camera in macro (or book) mode, adjust the zoom and distance from the book for the best size and shoot, being careful to hold the button down half way to adjust the focus and exposure.
Many of us over the years have created notebooks full of data cleaned from libraries and other sources. You might consider copying the pages in those books using your camera and then saving all those of a given subject together instead of having to go through a dozen notebooks to sort out what information you have on a given family. It saves a lot of space
Another use of a digital camera is copying slides. You can project a slide with a slide projector and photograph it to turn it into a digital image. Then you can create a CD to give to friends and relatives, You can connect your computer to your TV if it has a computer input or if your computer has a TV output. And then you can present a slide show for others to see. You can do the same with a digital projector. If you have slides of interest to Pastfinders or other groups, you can use the library facilities to present them.
Best results are with the camera just above or just below the projector and aimed at a screen that is not too far away. But if it’s too close, the image may be slightly wider at the top or bottom depending upon whether the camera is above or below the projector. Moving the screen back reduces that effect.
Another use of the camera is taking an inventory of household goods for insurance purposes in case of fire, hurricane or other damage and photograph any damage that should occur to your home or auto.
Free Programs and Links
Fences: Fences is a program that can arrange the icons on your desktop in logical locations and fence them in and name the location. Download the program from here or the Pastfinders flash drive http://www.stardock.com/products/fences/ . Install it and let it sort out your icons by category and if you want to modify them you can resize the fenced in areas and create new ones.
Microsoft Security Essentials: If you don’t have an anti virus program then you should get this free anti virus, anti spyware program. It will be updated to protect against the latest threats. If you have a program and are satisfied with it you can replace it with MSE when your current subscription expires if you want; if you’re not satisfied with what you’ve got you can up switch over now. Remove the old program before installing the new and for safety purposes, disconnect from the internet after downloading MSE. You can go here to read about it and download it if you are interested..http://www.microsoft.com/security_essentials/?mkt=en-us
Wolframalpha: If you need an answer to a complicated question in math, physics or almost any subject, you can ask it at wolframalpha which you can get here: http://www.wolframalpha.com/
And if you want to see what a ride on a trolley in San Francisco in 1906 was like, you can go here