Digital Camera Home > First Questions
First Questions!
By Mike Pasini, Editor
Imaging Resource Newsletter

Our holiday greetings (like some of yours, no doubt) extend well past Christmas morning, the phone ringing with calls from long-lost friends, distant relatives, acquaintances from previous lifetimes. All of them with need-to-know-now questions about their new digicams. Scanner and printer owners seem less prone to panic, fortunately.

We've found expertise is more in knowing which question to ask than in knowing how to beat to death an irrelevant subject. Which is why there are no dumb questions, just varying levels of expertise.

So we thought we'd put together a First Questions FAQ for everyone to use (whether you want to ask them or have to answer them). If your question isn't on it, just email it to [email protected] We enjoy making stuff up.

We've covered a lot of this before (just search the accompanying "Getting Started" articles for more information on these subjects), but there's nothing like a stitch in time.

Frequently Asked (First) Questions

"We've found expertise is more in knowing which question to ask than in knowing how to beat to death an irrelevant subject."

Q. How do I attach the lens cap to my new digicam?
A. However you like. This goes for any other camera, too. The important thing is to make sure it does not get in the way when it's off and that it's around when you need it.

On the 990, which does not have a telescoping lens, some folks like to wrap the cord around the swivel joint. But my vote goes to attaching it to the shoulder strap (which we always have to yank out of the way anyway). It just barely makes it that far, but it does.

On cameras with telescoping lenses (with their auto lens eject function <g>), we really recommend the same thing.

Q. What kind of batteries did you say to buy?
A. There are two kinds of digicams: ones with proprietary lithium batteries and ones that take off-the-shelf AAs. This question involves the second. And only because manufacturers of AA digicams invariably toss in four wave-goodbye alkaline AA batteries to drain your initial excitement as quickly as possible.

AA digicams actually need Nickel-Metal Hydride rechargeables. You can find these NiMH batteries everywhere these days (Target, Radio Shack, Thomas Distributing at, Fry's, you name it). As long as they are at least 1.2 volts and 1200 mAh, you're going to love them. For years. Recharge before each session and carry a spare set. These days, you're probably going to find 1600 mAh batteries, which means they'll last even longer.

Of course they have to be charged before you can use them and that takes a long time the first time (did you say 13 hours, Bill?). So we recommend buying a set of lithium AAs (any drug store equivalent will have them). They hold their charge (unlike the NiMH) and they last longer than any other battery (which is why they're a favorite at the trade show booths). Unfortunately, they aren't rechargeable. But they're the ideal backup.

Forget alkalines, rechargeable alkalines and Nickel Cadmium (NiCds) batteries. Life is short but theirs are even shorter.

And get a one-hour charger ( for your NiMHs that monitors the battery charge, so it can cut back to a trickle when near a full charge, and you can leave a set in without worrying about overcharging.


Q. How do I connect my USB camera to the serial port on my computer?
A. There's nothing funny about snapping your first shots only to realize you need a USB port on your serial-based system to see them. Serial port support seems to have vanished in favor of USB capability (though parallel port support is still widespread). So Mac users may find themselves without life support.

Fear not. Your computer has lots of ways in: SCSI, ADB and probably a floppy drive.

If your digicam uses SmartMedia, you can work around the problem with a floppy disk adapter ( for about $80. Install the drivers, drop the SmartMedia into the floppy adapter (after installing its batteries) and slip the floppy into your computer. Slow but sure.

You can also look for a SCSI card reader. Microtech at makes SCSI-based readers for about $300-$500 list. But that's a lot of money to throw at the problem.

Adding USB ports to a pre-Jobian Mac requires more serious engineering: a PCI card with USB ports (like the Keyspan at if you have a PCI bus) and Apple's USB drivers, which usually means an upgrade to Mac OS 8.5 or so (which may mean more RAM). Still, the right card reader will let you cable directly to the camera or attach a USB card reader (much preferred) to mount CompactFlash or SmartMedia on your desktop.

You might think about adding FireWire at the same time. We found an interesting combo card comparison at

CompactFlash users fortunate enough to have a PCMCIA port (or reader) can just buy a $20 adapter to slip their cards into the PCMCIA port. SmartMedia users can too, but those PCMCIA adapters costs around $50.

Our advice is to set something up that does not rely on cable connections. They're slow and a nuisance to plug in every time you want to upload images. And they require special software and drivers to wake up the camera and control the transmission. And if that isn't enough, they drain your digicam batteries (unless you also plug in an adapter). The alternatives simply and quickly mount the storage device on your desktop like a hard drive.

Q. Why don't my prints look like my screen?
A. Because. Never mind the different gamuts of transmitted and reflected color or phosphors and pigments. They just don't and never will. But that isn't quite the problem you're having, we'll bet.

It may be very hard to get a good match, but a believable inkjet equivalent is easily achieved. But only with the right printer settings. You'll have to spend a minute or two in the Page Setup and Print dialog boxes to make sure your printer knows what kind of paper is in it (it makes a big difference) and what kind of data you are sending it (photo quality isn't the same as draft text).

And, yes, try some photo quality paper. It's worth it.

Q. Is the extended warranty worth it?
A. Never. That's why they sell them. Use a credit card that doubles the manufacturer's warranty if you're worried about it.

Q. Why does it take so long to email someone a picture?
A. It shouldn't. Because it takes as long to receive one as to send one. So don't email a full resolution JPEG fresh from your camera. Be a good netizen and resize it for screen viewing.

Open your megapixel-plus image in an image editor and resample it down to 640 pixels in the long dimension (which will, with proportions constrained, bring the short side to around 480). That will make a nice small file suitable for emailing. Your recipient is just going to look at it on the screen and 640x480 pixels will fill small ones and cover large ones just fine. Save the smaller file with a new name. And for extra credit use unsharp masking to sharpen it up a bit first.

A number of programs can do this in batch mode for you. But if you're doing a lot of them, you're ready for online photo sharing. Just upload everything once to an online album and send an email to anyone you like, inviting them to see your pictures online.