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GOING DIGITAL - Week 2: Anticipation & More Homework
by Rob Brainard (editorial)
Well, this week's just dragging by...with the holidays and all...and I'm just sitting here waiting for the camera to arrive. While I was waiting, Phil Askey was kind enough to steer me towards some information which could substantially enlighten me regarding apertures (I can't even spell the word!), f-stops, digital zooms, etc. Have a look at Phil Askey's Glossary. The glossary is very well done; not sure though if I'll remember much of it though...but that's just me. The Digital Zoom information in the glossary was particularly useful, and that I'll be sure to remember. No use pixelating my images needlessly!
Well. It turns out that I won't get the camera until next week...Bummer. Ok, we'll still make some good progress here. Many thanks to all of you who e-mailed me tips and information also. I'll try to put some of it to good use here while we're waiting for the camera.
MEMORY CARDS
Digital Cameras store their pics on memory cards, so I've started to do some research on memory cards, figuring I'd need one of them (or two, three?). And I prefer the BIG cards, the ones with lots of Megabytes! Being an ex-computer geek, I KNOW that you can never have enough memory, and it runs out LONG before you ever think it would. So, lesson learned...go for the biggest cards you can buy. I'll be using two cards, a 32MB CompactFlash card, and an 80MB CompactFlash card from Lexar Media (Digital Film).
There are two types of cards, ATA, and CompactFlash. The CompactFlash is the most common type for Digital Cameras, and will be most likely what you need. Double-check this for your camera by checking the manual that comes with the camera, or by checking our site where we list the memory card accessories by make/model of camera. In the case of the Coolpix 950, we list the CF cards that work with the 950. This way, you can also find the best prices on the cards at the same time! Neat, eh!
The Coolpix 950 takes CompactFlash (CF). CF is generally available now in 2MB to 64 MB sizes. Larger sizes (128MB, 320MB, etc) may be coming very soon. It takes a little math to figure out what these numbers mean in terms of "how many pictures can I store on a card?" The Coolpix 950 at max picture resolution is 2.11 Megapixels (1600x1200). I'm not sure how they do the math, as this works out to 1.83 MegaPixels, but whatever. This seemed odd, so I asked Dave Etchells to clear this up. Here's some additional explanation from Dave:
The 2.11 megapixels is the number of sensor elements actually in the CCD. These are "striped" with RGB filters, theoretically only giving you 1/3 as many "real" pixels in the final image. All the mfrs have clever ways of interpolating back up to get their final file sizes, which in the case of the 950 is 1.83 MP. Images are 24-bit AFAIK. (To my knowledge, only Canon uses 10 bits/channel, but all end up 24 bit by the time they're on the desktop). Compression is JPEG. Figure the ratios by calculating final file size (from the supplied table), and dividing it into the original file size, as determined by multiplying pixels x pixels x 3 (for RGB) to get starting file size in bytes. Hope this helps.  - Thanks Dave.
I've also been told that picture sizes vary a lot, depending on the scene content - lots of detail means larger files. You can also check Imaging Resource for some sample pics taken across the full range of resolution and compression settings. Apparently, I will need lots of practice to "learn" this. The guidelines from the 950 manual are shown in the chart below.
OTHER THAN NIKON?

Another perspective on "choosing a camera",  to balance my apparent preference for Nikon :)


 

"Well, I've shot various 35, tuna quarter, and itsy bitsy Minoxes in my day, but digital, hey, that's cool.

 

So I tried the local store, the web, etc. The web looked cheap, but they have a real slow return path if you change your mind. I got the feeling, since I bought so many film cameras in search of the right one, that there might be a reason to return one or two digitals as well. Read on, I was right.

 

So finally the Fuji Finepix 2700 comes out, with 1800x1200. Bought one. Tiny, neat. No zoom, Ok, so I bought a 1.5x converter and some Velcro from the local secondhand camera place. Trouble, the camera is so small it's hard to use, tiny buttons, hey, took it back.

 

Nikon 950. Wonderfully fast, but wait, where's the lush color like the Fuji? The pastels and rich oil paints palette? I'm used to Leica. Another thing. Two hours in the sun, couldn't see a picture in either 950 viewfinder. The screen washes out totally, the PLASTIC view window smears with eyelash sweat, since it isn't recessed. My gawd, in bright sunlight this great camera behaves like a bad version of the INSTAMATIC!

 

Back to pick up another Fuji 2700, returned the 950. Then looked at the Olympus c2000. Nice lens, but barrels a lot at wide angle, bigger body. I'm now being spoiled little by little by the little little Fuji, which I forget that I have with me sometimes in my hip pocket, and miss pictures that way, too.

 

But the Oly has a lot of dark tones, saturated dense values that go lowkey right away, even though they are punchy and strong, hey, the Fuji has colors like no other, in fact the dc260-265 colors don't quite hit the fine pastel finishes I'm getting with flesh, not quite. Another thing, no image like the Fuji for conversion to Black and White. Really salon-like look to the converted images, silvery, silky grey tones in sky, especially. Oly has a pebbled look to sky, not appealing in Black and White. This may be due to the high contrast capture picking up and accentuating the subtle shades in the sky and making a bumpy effect, with wider range of tones between pixel values. The Fuji has them real subtle, real close in value over smooth areas where you definitely don't want contrast to bring out irregularities. No, the bumpiness does not resolve by reducing overall contrast, it stays bumpy.

 

So, though Oly has a trifle more sharpness and snap, it hurts the image when an expanse of smoothness is attempted, as in landscapes. Both have good fleshtones, flesh is somewhat orange-peeled anyway on most people, but again, Fuji tends to limit this in a real, but flattering way. Think I'll stick with the Fuji, but then there's the Canon Pro 70 ?? :) hey" - Bob Luhrs

So, the bottom line...it takes a Ph.D. in Relativistic Physics to figure this all out! Stay tuned.
Additionally, I'll also need to get a parallel port or USB CF card reader for my PC so I don't have to transfer the images from the camera using the serial cable that comes with the camera. I've heard that the serial cable TAKES FOREVER. Ok. Ok. I'll be getting a CompactFlash PhotoReader from Simple Technology, again from Alix Sales. I wanted a USB version, but they're on back order for about 2 months! Guess I'll get the parallel port version for now.
Lesson: It takes a genius to figure out how many pictures you can store on a card. Buy the largest capacity cards as you can afford, and get two of them! Also, get a CF Card reader.
BATTERIES
Well, you need batteries to power the camera, so some review of these seems in order. If it's like other consumer electronic products I've had the privilege to use, this area is going to be a BIG disappointment. I've yet to find batteries that really do what you need them to (for laptops, PDAs, electric toothbrushes, etc...). The first company that makes decent batteries that last a month or two under normal product use will really clean up in the market.
Ok. After some research, and input from all of you (many thanks!), it seems like the consensus is that digital cameras are power hogs. And that typical alkaline AA batteries are woefully insufficient, lasting maybe 15-30 minutes, depending on various factors. Needless to say, I'm not looking forward to lugging around 10 lbs of batteries, not to mention the cost of replacing them all the time.   Also, if the batteries die when you're out in the field, you're toast. It seems like the recommendations is to go with rechargeable batteries.
For the 950, its' been recommend that I will need rechargeable nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries. With a fully charged set of NiMH batteries, it's estimated that I'll get roughly an hour of operation...but it could be more or less depending on usage patterns. They should cost about $2.25 per cell, and I think I'll need to get two sets (four batteries per set), so I can be using one set, while the other set is charging. I've ordered the Combo 15 with 12 cells and a charger from Alix Sales.
I've also been warned that the camera can do screwy things (like "freeze up") and may even corrupt the stored images if I let the batteries get too low while using it. I suppose I will carry spares, and change batteries as soon as the indicator shows that the voltage is dropping. For a great resource and overview of the batteries, and chargers/adapters, have a look at Andy Baird's pages:
Andy Baird's Battery Page
Andy Baird's AC Adapter Page
Lesson: Someone, please make some better batteries. Yuk! I'm expecting this to be just like every other consumer product I've used that uses batteries...a pain in the...oops! Buy two sets of rechargeables, and a charger, when you buy the camera.
A side note on "Floppy Adapters": It turns out that "Floppy Adapters" are not required for the Nikon. These are used for SmartMedia memory cards (like Olympus owners), but won't work with CompactFlash cards. Apparently, the CompactFlash card readers are much faster and more convenient anyway.
On another note: A great source for advice and help on the 950 is the Digital Camera Resource Page. Their Nikon message board helps put you in touch with others who can offer advice and assistance.
Ok…so far so good. Each week, I'll also summarize the expenses to date (yikes!)... See you next week.
Item Quantity Cost
Nikon Coolpix 950 1 $761.95
CF Digital Film Cards (32MB and 80MB) 2 $82, and $260
Batteries (12 cells & Charger) 1 $64.95
CompactFlash PhotoReader 1 $55.00
Total To Date $1223.90

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