Getting the digital camera is really only your starting point. You’ll quickly find that there are essential accessories that you’ll want to make your digital photographer experience much more enjoyable.Here’s a list of the 10 most important items.
The one accessory for your digital camera that is critical is memory.It’s the equivalent of film.With enough memory, you can shoot to the limit of your camera’s batteries.Happily, most digital cameras today use removable memory, so it’s only a question of removing one memory module when it’s full, and replacing it with a fresh one to continue shooting.
In general, it’s a good idea to have at least on additional memory module available, so you won’t have to make some hard decisions about deleting images to make room for more picture taking.The size of your memory module determines the number of pictures it can hold.The memory that comes with your digital camera is minimal—usually only up to 8MB.This may be OK for casual shooting, but you will find that a memory module of 16MB or greater is even better.My recommendation is to buy an additional memory module that is at LEAST twice the capacity of your original one, and larger if you can afford it.
There are currently two popular memory formats—CompactFlash and SmartMedia.Your digital camera will use one or the other, but not both.The exception to this is if you have a Sony Digital Mavica, which uses HD floppy disks.
A new memory module that is just now becoming available is Sony’s MemoryStick.It works directly with the new Sony CyberCam 55, and other high end digital cameras that use PC card memory (such as the Sony D700 CyberCam Pro).A PC Card adapter accepts the tiny MemoryStick module for use in such cameras.
2. Rechargable Batteries
On my own Top 10 accessory list for digital cameras, rechargeable batteries rank second.Most of the better digital still cameras use color liquid crystal displays, which are real battery power hogs.An extended shooting time to way under an LCD panel usage will reduce shooting time to way under an hour.But what types of rechargeable batteries should you use?
There are several choices – Nickel Cadmium (NiCd), Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) and Alkaline. Digital cameras that use AA batteries may require one type or another. While logically one would think the types should be interchangeable, be sure to check with the manufacturer’s specs to see if only one type is recommended for your camera. (Using the wrong kind could damage your unit or invalidate the warranty.)
In general, NiCd rechargeables have been around for many years, and are fairly affordable. NiMH are the new kids on the block. They are more expensive, but are worth it because of their higher energy capacity and lack of memory effect.
A NiMH battery will outlast an equivalent NiCd battery, but more importantly, NiMH batteries don’t exhibit the memory effect that NiCd batteries do. The NiCd memory effect is a phenomenon of NiCd battery design that can reduce the effective capacity due to frequent “under-use” and recharging of the batteries. Some digital cameras now include a 4 AA battery set of NiMH batteries and charger. Keep this feature high on your list.
3. Protective Carrying
Remember, back in the age of film photography, when a protective camera case came with each camera? Its main job was to protect the camera and lens from accidental damage or otherwise to keep it in a safe, protective environment. It makes sense that you should want to protect your digital camera as well. After all, it’s probably several times the cost of your 35mm camera!
Some digital cameras come with a lightweight protective case. This is OK for casual use, but for real protection, you should consider a case made from a third-party company. These protective cases are generic in style, and fit many different digital camera models.
Case Logic, one of several companies, has recently expanded its protective case line to include digital cameras. Two generic models are offered, one for single small digital cameras, and the other for larger digital cameras and their accessories. They are very affordable – under $100 and do a great job of protecting your digital investment.
4. Memory Readers
Every digital camera today (except the Sony Digital Mavica series) comes with cables and software for downloading images into your computer. This process uses your computer’s serial port, and runs at its generally slow serial transfer speed. As a result, transferring images into your computer is usually a lengthy process, typically over a minute for each image, especially if they were shot in high resolution. The way around this tedious process is to use Memory Readers.
Memory readers come in many flavors, and generally cost under $100. PC-version readers usually work with the parallel port. Those for the Macintosh usually work with the SCSI port. Some memory readers accept the CompactFlash or SmartMedia modules directly, while others require the use of a PCcard adapter. The newest memory readers work with the latest serial standard – USB, or Universal Serial Bus.
These USB readers work on USB-equipped PCs or Macs. USB is the hottest serial standard now because it’s many times faster than the fastest previous PC or Mac serial bus. Microtech International has just released a USB memory reader that accepts both CompactFlash and SmartMedia modules directly for fast downloading.
5. Photo-Quality Printers
The Epson 1200 is a photo-quality printer capable of using 3rd party archival papers and inks.
As with conventional photos, you’ll want digital copies of your captured images. This is easily done with the latest generation of photo-quality printers. You’ve got two different technologies to chose from – either inkjet full-size printers or dye sublimation snapshot-sized photo printers. There are pros and cons with each type.
With photo-quality inkjet printers, you can make photo quality prints up to about 7.5 inches by 10 inches. The photo quality is very high, and large-sized prints can take several minutes to print. The cost of an inkjet print depends on the photo paper. It can cost as little as 50 cents a sheet or as much as $1.00 a sheet, depending on the type of media, finish, and those other criteria considered when purchasing printing paper.
With snapshot-sized photo printers, only 4-inch by 6-inch snapshot-sized prints are possible (actually they are slightly smaller). But they are made using the dye-sublimation process. So, the prints have the best photo-quality tone gradation. The cost of a photo-quality snapshot-sized print is about $1.00. As the digital market heats up, expect the cost to make a photo quality print to drop.
6. Photo-Quality Print Paper
Photo-quality prints require photo-quality paper. With inkjet paper, even the brightest, whitest of surface finishes can’t deliver photo quality. True photo-quality inkjet paper has a special finish designed to absorb the inkjet dyes so that a photo quality print will result. On the low end of the scale there is a matte surface without gloss. At the higher end of the scale, there are glossy finish papers which can yield prints that resemble true photographs. The cost difference between a matte finish, photo-quality inkjet paper and photo-glossy inkjet paper can be as much as $1.00 a sheet. With photo-quality snapshot-sized paper, the paper and dye-sublimation cartridge come as a kit. The combined cost works out to about $1.00 per sheet.
7. Removable Media
Working with digital images is very memory intensive. Your hard drive will quickly fill up with imagery in no time flat. The best solution to keep your hard drive from being overtaken with images is to transfer the images to removable media. The most popular removable media formats today are the ZIP and JAZZ drives from Iomega, and the super high-density floppy drives from Imation and Sony.
The ZIP drive cartridge, originally available in the 100MB |size, is now available in the larger 250MB capacity. The new 250MB ZIP drive can also read the older ZIP 100MB cartridges. Similarly, the JAZZ drive has evolved into a 2GB cartridge, with downward reading compatibility to the original 1GB JAZZ cartridges.
The Super Floppy Disk from Imation stores 120MB on a disk that physically is the same size as a floppy disk, but thanks to laser recording techniques, and special media, much denser recording is possible. Sony has a 200MB version.
The PlexWriter 12/10/32A E-IDE (ATAPI-4) can rewrite an entire 650 MB CD-RW in just over seven minutes.
8. Archiving CD-ROM Media
Transferring your camera’s images to your hard drive or even ZIP or JAZZ drives is a temporary storage solution. Eventually, you are going to want to archive the images for long-term storage on media other than the type mentioned above. The reasons for this are two-fold: It’s cheaper, and its safer. Even now, a CD-ROM writer is only a few hundred dollars, and the CDs themselves are about $1.00 per disk. Each CD-ROM can store up to 650MB of picture data. And that’s just with today’s popular archiving method. Just around the technological corner are recordable DVDs. These technology successors to CD-ROM can store gigabytes of images per disk and will eventually replace CDs. Once the images are stored on optical CD or DVD media, there is very little that can harm them, unlike magnetic-based media.
Many digital cameras have an internal electronic flash that adds light when shooting under sub-standard conditions. An electronic flash unit usually gives a very direct exposure with deep shadows. This may give an acceptable exposure for some subjects, but it is usually unflattering for human subjects.
The solution around the electronic flash is to use an external lighting kit. These can be either rechargeable, battery powered, or AC-powered units. A battery-powered light won’t have the same wattage as an AC-powered one, but you may not need that powerful a unit. And a higher-wattage light will run down the battery faster. A good pair of 20-watt portable lights strategically placed off the camera can help create a much better picture than a single camera-mounted light. The ideal scenario is to use three off-camera lights one for a key, the second for a fill, and a third for a backlight. In a pinch, two can suffice – one for a key, and one for fill. If you do choose an AC-powered version, limit the wattage to 650 watts per fixture or less. With three 650-watt lamps running on the same circuit, it’s easy to trip the circuits on most residential outlets.
Whether you’re using either battery- or AC-powered external lighting, consider the use of diffusion filters over the lights to soften them. Diffused lighting creates a smooth, shadowless effect, which makes people look more natural. And they don’t have to squint into lighting that is harsh and glaring, so they are more at ease on camera.
10. Image Organizing And Management Software
Digital photography has the same potential for creating burgeoning electronic files of digital pictures just as prints grow in the world of conventional film photography. In a very short time, you will have so many images on your hard drive, removable, or archival media, that managing them will start to become a problem. That’s equivalent to the photographic shoebox of snapshot prints that are unmarked and uncatalogued. Some order must be put to this disarray of images.
Many software manufacturers recognized this problem, and have introduced image organizing and management software. The purpose of such software is to make it easy for you to review picture content, organize it, and manage it for faster, more efficient usage. Without getting into the specifics of the various image management software packages available, here are some of their basic features:
After selecting a folder of images, a thumbnail view of the folder is presented. These thumbnails are visual representations of each image, but reduced in size so several can be displayed on a single page. If any single thumbnail is double clicked, its image is brought up full-screen for viewing. From there it’s possible to perform basic functions such as zooming in/out to see a closer/farther view; or rotation, to view a vertical-oriented image in its proper position. But no serious image manipulation is generally present in this type of particular software. That is reserved for image processing software.
Image Movement, Cataloging And Data Base
Once a particular image has been identified with its thumbnail, it can be moved to a more appropriate location called a catalog. The best software packages use the drag-and-drop approach of moving thumbnails from their source to their destination catalogs. When the drag-and-drop process is finished, the actual image is moved into its new catalog folder.
The most sophisticated image management software creates a data base of stored images. You define key words when you describe the images in the cataloging phase. Later, you can use those key words to search for those images.
Suppose you had an archive of many different colored flowers, but you only wanted to view the red ones. By searching on the key words “red” and “flowers,” only images with those descriptions would be found and displayed. To use this key-word search feature effectively, you’ve got to be clear with your descriptions. But it can save you many hours of searching to have your computer do it for you.
So there’s my Top 10 accessory list. Even if you can’t get every one of them, any one will help make your digital photography experience more fun and enjoyable. And that’s the way it should be!
(Reprinted with permission from DIGITAL Photographer, a bimonthly print magazine.)
by Rick Martinez