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GOING DIGITAL - Week 3: The Arrival
by Rob Brainard (editorial)

Well, my Nikon Coolpix 950 camera, Lexar Media flash cards, Simple Technology PhotoReader, and Alix Sales batteries & charger all arrived. Hurray! Kind of like a cactus Christmas in the summer heat of Arizona. Anyway, the first thing I did is rip everything open, and discard the manuals (isn't that what we all do?). I could look at them later if I needed to anyway, if I remember where I discarded them :)

The PhotoReader was first, and pretty simple to install. I was worried about the "parallel port chaining thing", but it seems to work, and more importantly, my printer still works! :) I did have to get the PhotoReader manual back out, to figure out the strange keyboard power connection scheme, but hey, it worked. I could have done with a bit longer cable on the PhotoReader, but that's a minor point. Ergonomics come last in this business, I suppose.

Ok, next, had to install the PhotoReader software...from a floppy. I thought floppies were extinct? This process installed some software called "FilmDock" by Greystone Peripherals. It wanted to installed to "c:\filmdock", which I accepted. I thought software these days always installed into "c:\program files". Whatever. At least I didn't have to reboot at the end of the install. For that I'm grateful. You MAC users have no clue what I'm referring to, and you're lucky for it!

Next, I plugged the battery charger in as I wanted to get the batteries a-chargin'. One small detail, the battery charger asked me to select "Ni-CD" or "Ni-MH". The batteries weren't marked, so I had to call Alix Sales to ask them. The turned out to be "Ni-MH". Alix Sales told me that they would now start to place a sticker in the package so people would know what to do.

Ok, so far, so good. At least my computer is still working!!!

Next, let's unpack the little CompactFlash cards. It's amazing how small 80MB is these days! Pretty incredible stuff. The miniature cards still came in a giant product box, but maybe they learned that from the Potato Chip makers. :) The CF cards came with a PCMCIA PC Card Adapter. I don't think I'll be needing that, but it's there. The CF cards also came with a little FAQ guide, which I did read. Pretty helpful stuff. Seems like Lexar also offers "Film Packs" and "Starter Kits with Digital Photography Guides". Might be worth checking out.

Now, time to open the main course...the Nikon...back in a few minutes. Well, as expected, the first thing I was guided to read was how to conserve the stupid batteries. When will the battery makers learn! They actually said... "Your Nikon Coolpix Digital Camera came with four AA alkaline batteries to get you started...and will work fine in your can not expect them to last for more than a few hours". Give me a break! Ship Ni-CD's or Ni-MH batteries with the camera please and stop wasting our time. Ok, my blood pressure is back to normal...on with the fun... Now, try to set the date & time. Well, as usual, that was a nearly impossible task (like a VCR) at first, but the quick-start card was very helpful. I just hope I haven't used half the battery life just in setting the date & time, since it took about 5 minutes!

Ok, I'm set...Now, I guess I'll snap pictures of everything in sight...cats, dogs, girlfriend (singular), house, and anything else that least for a while. I'll start posting them in Gallery 3. Excuse me while I learn how to take pics, store them, delete them, review them, etc...They do fill up the CF cards VERY quickly...I was right to get one of the 80MB cards!

Lesson: You can never have too-much CompactFlash memory cards.

Ok, the camera seems to be put together and works very nicely, and I've found the auto-focus, auto-everything mode. Just my speed! I don't know how to set the image size or quality yet, but it does indeed take pictures. This is pretty cool so far. I'm used to waiting weeks to see my slides developed. I can see why Digital Pics are pretty useful and interactive.

Now, time to install the NikonView software, presumably to be able to download & view the pics. Well, it did install into "c:\program files", but DID require me to reboot...Ok, back in a few...

Ok, I learned how to set the image quality, and size. Pretty easy, although it helps to have a computer background to know what VGA, XGA, etc mean. VGA is pictures 640x480 in pixels size. XGA is 1024x768 in pixels size, and "normal" mode is 1600x1200 pixels. I'll start with Normal mode, just to experiment. VGA is pretty small, basing on my computer experience. Normal is nice, and since I've got the 80MB CF card in, It says I can store about 30 pics at "Normal" res, "Fine" quality. I'd get about 60 pics at XGA res, and Fine quality.

Well, I have about 10 pics (of my cats & dog) in, so I popped the little CF card out, put it in the PhotoReader, loaded the NikonView software, and wow, there they were! This is pretty cool. The NikonView software maps the PhotoReader as a device, much like your C: hard drive, so I just fired up Photoshop, and opened some of the pictures! I can see why Digital Photography is totally rad! One of my first pics with no practice and no correction (ok, to be very honest, there's a little color correction...the picture was way to green by default, so I auto-leveled it in Photoshop) is now posted in my Gallery 3. That's Sydney...though she does kind of look like a deer caught in the headlights! :)

Well, one other thing. I'm going to need to get a new camera case. The one that comes with the camera isn't even big enough to hold the flash cards, or quick reference camera manuals, or batteries, etc. I'll shop for that next week. I will be needing another PhotoReader for my work computer, so I don't have to drag one back and forth, so I've added this cost into my totals for this week.

Lesson: Don't forget a good camera case, to hold the batteries, manual, CF cards, etc. The one that comes with the camera is pretty insufficient.

Lesson: If you're going to be using your camera at home and at work, get two PhotoReaders.

That's enough progress for one week. This is fun, as I like getting instant feedback on the picture and the ability to put it to use on the computer almost instantly, but I do think I'm going to keep my Nikon N50 around for quite a while. It seems that the digital route is very convenient, and flexible, but I think I'll still be shooting some good old slides and negatives for at least a few more years. One other thing I noticed is that the Nikon is a bit sluggish when you press the shutter button to snap the pic. It thinks a second or two, and then wham, takes the picture. I'm used to my N50 which takes the picture right when you say to. Little things I know, but they all seem to be issues that I'll have to adapt to.

Some things I'm doing research on for next weeks column... How best to store the pictures. What happens to a CF card if I leave it alone for a year, 5 years, 10 years, 100 years? Will I still have pictures on it? How about using a Zip or Jaz disk? How can I get the digital pictures made into prints? What kind of printer should I get (dye-sublimation or ink-jet)? What kind of paper can I use? How can I set up an Internet based photo album? Can I go to the mall and get pictures made? How big can you blow the pictures up? How much does all that cost? etc... If you've got some tips and experience, drop me a note with some suggestions!

Thanks, and 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 2 $110.00
Total To Date $1278.90
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