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Discussion Starter #1
Greetings all,

Just wanted some advice on using my new digital camera. Wasn't planning on purchasing one right away but was in Staples and a customer returned a Sony DSC-S75 Digital Camera (never even oopened) and the manager was going to put it on clearance. I asked him how much and he gave it to me for $450 (regular was $699).

Have it now and just wanted some advice since this is my first nice digital camera, not sure how to really use it.

If anone has advice on this, please help.

Mush

ps - also picked up a Sony DCR-PC9 digital camcorder. Need to take video of the kids - any idea where to get inexpensive accessories for either of these?
 

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Mush,
would not know for sure which specific accessories to recommend (or even which ones are available), but was shopping recently and was very impressed with www.etronics.com

They have a huge Sony section, plus each item has a nice "Selected accessories" page. Their prices were surprisingly good.
 

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Mushman,

Congratulations on your dual purchase! I'm sure you'll enjoy both. I'm no expert at photography (Roadrunner is, though!), just a ham-handed dad trying to get pictures of his son and learning at the same time.

Most of it depends on what you intend to do with your digital camera. Especially when you also have a digital camcorder (e.g. when do you shoot video vs. photos).

E.g. in our case, our digicam purchase (a Sony S-70, which was updated by your S-75) was primarily to take photos of our first son. We bought it a couple of months before he was born, and it's been terrific for us.

Since indoor photography was very important to us, we bought the external flash unit that Sony makes (HVL-F1000). I think we paid about $89.95 for it at www.pcsound.com. Sure it's bulky but by bouncing the flash off of the ceiling or walls, we were able to take hundreds of great photographs with no redeye, and with nice lighting. Makes the result look a lot more professional. Obviously if you're not going to take a lot of indoor photos, this is pretty irrelevant and you're probably fine with the built-in redeye reduction flash and an image editor to clean up any redeye that does come through.

We bought two 64MB memory sticks from http://www.shabria.com/ (A&A Discount, which sells in Yahoo's store section). They're now up to 128MB memory sticks, however, for the same price we paid for 64MB sticks. A 64MB memory stick will hold approximately 36-48 photos in the highest resolution, depending on the complexity of the photo. I've found it more than enough when you have two sticks. We don't use the one that came with the camera because it can hardly hold anything (the same is true for most digicams that come with small memory cards).

We also bought an extra battery from A&A Discount; you may find that it's the same one your digicam uses. The extra battery is helpful since if your battery goes dead, the camera is kaput.

I went against my better instincts and bought the Sony camera pouch for it, and regret it. Hardly ever use it. A larger camera bag is always the better practical deal.

I used store.yahoo.com to find most of the accessories and the best price, usually going by a combination of price and customer ratings, and always using a credit (not debit) card for payment.

As far as using the camera goes, it's pretty simple. I've found better results by eschewing the automatic exposure mode and going for the semi-auto shutter priority mode, setting the shutter speed at 1/125 second. I found the automatic exposure mode to be a bit biased toward a wider aperture and thus sometimes a picture came out blurry because of hand shake or subject movement.

One thing that really takes getting used to for flash shots is how brightness in the LCD translates into actual photos. You'll have to do a trial-and-error to be sure, and be sure to try to adjust your PC monitor to realistic settings (most photo utilities have a tool to try to set your monitor settings to be more realistic -- I use PhotoShop and its tool is called Gamma). E.g. sometimes I take a flash photo and I think "it's bright enough" by looking at the LCD and then I look at it on the PC or in a print and realize it wasn't. Opposite is true as well. Again, trial-and-error with your own equipment will tell the tale. I overcome mistakes in this area by simply shooting two or three of the same shot. One of them is bound to be better, and you can always erase what you don't want.

I never found a need to buy the bolt-on wide angle lens. I usually just move back a bit, but if you find yourself needing them there are Sony and aftermarket wide-angle lenses. Because they bolt on rather than replacing the lens, you lose a small degree of sharpness.

I always shoot at 2048x1536. Makes for great 8x10's should I have the desire (though a 2 megapixel camera is often enough for an 8x10). 2048x1536 also allows me to later crop out what I don't want and still get a good quality print.

If you want to share your photos with others and don't have a web site with enough space, I recommend www.imagestation.com. It's owned by Sony, is free, and will accept your 3 megapixel uploads (they have a 3 MB file size limit). They're supposed to support videos but it's down. Problem is that they use Zing's old front end and Zing went dot-gone. They use Ofoto for prints, and I think Ofoto (ofoto.com) has the best print quality for digital images (better than Shutterfly and PhotoWorks). My second choice is nikonnet.com.

Enjoy!
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Thanks so very much

WOW,

Thanks for the excellent advice. I plan on taking a lot of pics of the kids (2.5 and 1 year old). I also just got a software which allows you to make a photo album on your PC and then burn it to a regular CD and view it back on any DVD player (home, portablem, or PC). Haven't used it yet, but will soon.

Definitely will probably go with a 12 MB card (is there any memory stick which is bigger). Will eventually get the flash since many pics are indoors. Is that an intelligent flash or just shoots with the pics.

Once again, thanks and please provide any more info you may come across.

Mush
 

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Wiliam's advice is great. I have a Kodak so can't help w/any additional info on the Sony gear. More memory is a must-have - I can fit ~100 high rez pics on a 64Mb card in my cam. Best thing I did (aside from extra batteries). Just be sure to take all pics in highest rez - you can always downsample :)

I've been using Ofoto for a couple of years now. They use Kodak paper and the service and quality have been outstanding. I can't tell the difference between "real" and digital up to 5x7. I haven't tried an 8x10 (I have a 2megapixel btw).

A couple of months ago I uploaded about 4 dozen pics for developing. It was around 4pm on a Friday afternoon. At 6pm I rec'd an email that they were done and shipped. If thought "no way". Saturday mail - there they were (they're only about 10 miles from me in Emeryville, so USPS is fast from there). Highly recommended.

Only caution on Ofoto: HP allows you to sign up w/them via their site, called Cartogra. If they're offering a special deal like 25 free prints, go ahead -- otherwise, go direct to Ofoto. I don't know why, but Ofoto-through-HP has fewer print options (like posters, postcards, calendars, etc) than Ofoto directly.

Cool thing on Cartgora is you can also share pics for free -- and allow people (i.e. relatives) to order and pay for their own prints :). I don't know if Ofoto does the same...worth checking.
 

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For taking pictures, one piece of advice, is to practice the pre-focusing technique of half-pressing the shutter release while composing your shot. Consumer digitals are notorious for their shutter lag - the "half press" pre-focus technique will reduce the number of missed shots.

If you have any experience with 35mm photography there are other adjustments. A limitation with consumer digital's is the control of the depth of field (because the CCD is so small vs 35 mm film). Thus, for portraits it's hard to have the background in soft focus - but you can fudge this with your editing program. Finally, the dynamic range of digital is much narrower than film, so if you're taking pictures with a lot of highlights and shadows, you will lose details on both ends.

I second the recommendation to take shots at full resolution and the lowest compression (i.e. raw, fine or superfine setting) - this gives you more options when editing the picture. Also - would recommend that you leave the original image file "as is" for your "digital negative". When you edit, rename the file when you save it, so that the "digital negative" remains intact. If you're saving files as a JPEG, keep in mind that it is a "lossy" compression scheme and the losses are cumulative. In other words, every time you edit and save a JPEG file, it compresses and loses some file information. So if you edit a photo over several sessions, save it as a TIFF file between edits, which is not a "lossy" compression. I burn a CD with the original image files on a regular basis.

For editing pictures, I would recommend Photoshop Elements, which contains a good subset of Photoshop - as you gain more experience you could always opt for the full blown version. For printing I would highly recommend a program called Qimage - which is an excellent program for re-sizing your prints, multiple prints/sheet, contact sheets, etc.

Two good photosharing sites are pbase.com and photoisland.com

Have fun!
 

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Agreed on Worm's and Golfski's points.

Flash Photography:

Unfortunately the Sony external flash doesn't seem to be as well-integrated as some of the high-quality flash units I've seen on SLR's (e.g. some units measure light bouncing off the film and can thus better control the exposure). Sometimes with the Sony external flash unit, I have a badly overexposed shot or a badly underexposed one. Some of it is the limitations of the system, some of it is the fact that I'm shooting indoors and the bounce flash working in tight quarters requires absolute perfection in the angle.

I overcome this by looking at the LCD to see how well the last shot looks (the Sony's LCD shows the image taken briefly before going back to "viewfinder mode"). I can take another shot fairly quickly, the flash recycle time is good enough for casual photography though not action photography (and, frankly, consumer digicams in general are not quick at recycling because of various lag times).

Despite the limitations, I wouldn't buy another camera without some bounce flash capability, I just hate red-eye and photos with too much front glare on the subject. Unfortunately, most mid-range consumer digicams don't have an interface for an external flash and you'd have to go to a more complicated, more expensive slave unit.

Focusing:

Along with flash-under/overexposed shots, bad focus is the main culprit to failed photos that I've taken. Sometimes the misfocus is subtle enough that it's not immediately apparent on the LCD unless you zoom in on the image playback, which usually isn't convenient. Golfski's suggestion to pre-focus is definitely a must.

I also suggest looking into how one can change the focus mode on their camera (if the camera suggests such a feature). E.g. the general setting tries to determine focus based on a certain area. Some cameras let you change this to focus on a narrower or a wider area. And manually focusing sometimes is the only way to save a shot where the subject is relatively small and/or solid-colored and the background deeper and/or has more contrast.

Saving Photos:

Wholeheartedly agreed with saving the original images. I copy all the shot photos into an "Originals" directory structure, and eventually back those up to CD ROM. Anything I adjust with PhotoShop goes into a different directory. One big reason for doing this is that I'm still learning PhotoShop even after a year and a half of using it, and there's always a technique that I'm picking up that results in a better print than what I had done before.

Obviously I don't have time to re-edit all my old photos, but I might want to dig out the original for a treasured print and try my new-found experience on it.

The originals are taken as JPG's because, unfortunately, making the Sony digicam save TIF's takes up too much space on the memory card and takes too long to save. This is true for many cameras. When I edit the JPG, however, I save with the maximum level of non-compression.

Prints:

I take all my photos with a 4:3 aspect. However, the aspect ratio varies for different sized prints -- e.g. 8x10, 5x7, 4x6. The photo print services on the Internet can apply a cropping tool, and sometimes slightly stretch the image in one dimension. Sometimes you end up loosing the wrong edge in an image. I never take a chance on this and usually just upload an image I've cropped myself to fit the 8x10 or 5x7 or 4x6 ratio, or use their cropping tool if they have one.

From what I've seen in magazine and on-line reviews, and my own experience with testing Ofoto, Shutterfly, the defunct PhotoPoint, and Photoworks, that Ofoto has the best quality prints (ImageStation.com uses Ofoto for the prints). As TheWorm pointed out, turnaround is quite fast, I guess everything is well-automated.

I also print photos at home. While the quality of the prints coming from my HP PhotoSmart is excellent, I still will get prints from Ofoto because the inkjet prints are still more vulnerable to moisture (fingers, saliva ... don't ask). That said, you have to look up close sometimes to tell the difference (especially with the excellent Epson photo prints, which sometimes I regret not getting -- I had been scared off by the orange shift possibility, where SOME users have reported strange fading of certain colors in certain circumstances).

Printing at home is not necessary that much cheaper, either. There is the well-documented consumables cost (ink, photo paper) but there is also some degree of wastage from printing something, reprinting it, an inadvertant smear, etc.

Photo Sharing:

I was one of those people burned when PhotoPoint went out of business. Fortunately, I still had copies of everything (NEVER trust a photo sharing site to hold your only copy of the photo; maintain your own copy). At that point, I vowed to find a site that would probably live for some time. That's why my two final choices were ImageStation.com (backed by Sony) and NikonNet.com. Though I'm wondering what Sony will do now that Zing.com (which provides the front-end for ImageStation) is out of business and Ofoto (which provides the back-end printing for ImageStation) is owned by Kodak. Still, I think Sony is committed to a sharing site.

Ofoto.com is an even safer bet to stay in business but their photosharing capabilities are more limited compared to the other services.

Photo Editing:

I just bought the book "Photoshop Restoration and Retouching" by Katrin Eismann. It is an excellent book on using PhotoShop to touch up your photos, and even amateurs like me can use some of the techniques in it. I haven't gone through the whole book yet, though. I'm planning on going through it twice and then giving some old, scanned wedding photos a try.

The problem with many PhotoShop book is that they're too general, having to cover everything that PhotoShop can do, such as creating all sorts of graphics art. This book is excellent because it covers what I need PhotoShop for.

I really don't have a good artistic sense and a good eye for color, unfortunately. I worry that I'm adjusting color incorrectly, I think it does take some natural talent. Some of it is probably my eyes, the rest maybe how my brain works with colors.

Giving Friends and Family Images:

Mushman, could you give me the name of that photo software that lets you make CD's viewable on a DVD player? I'd imagine it's creating something like a Video CD. Even though Video CD's don't have a lot of resolution (neither do televisions!), that's a nice idea.

Most of my friends and relatives have PC's now, so we sent them a first-year photo album of my son with hundreds of images on them. I set up an autorun file for a viewer and they can look at the photos by just popping in the CD. Grandparents seem to like it. We did the cutesy thing by taking a baby photo and using it as the background for the CD label (SureThing CD Labeler is nice).

I had lots of problems finding a good viewer to put on the CD's. ACDSee is one of the best viewers around (speed and features) but it is NOT designed to be bundled on CD's (and there's no runtime distribution licenses). Windows XP does add some built-in tools but most of my family and friends haven't upgraded to it yet (heh). For the CD I used IrfanView, which is freeware and fairly fast and can be distributed on the CD and automatically run.

To me, the ideal distribution software would be able to cache a file of pre-prepared thumbnail pages as the index. IrfanView will construct pages of thumbnails for viewing the CD, but it creates the index on the fly and it takes time for lots of images. ACDSee has a cool feature where it will create a file that has the prepared thumbnails on it so display of the index is instantaneous, but it's not a distributable program.

If anyone knows of a product, commercial or otherwise, that would let me distribute CD's with a viewer on it that has pre-prepared index pages, please let me know!
 

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Thanks

Thanks for bringing this up. This thread prompted me to get out the manual for my Sony DCR-TRV730 Digital8 Handycam and learn how to use the digital stills to memory card feature on the camera. We had only used the camera to take videos up to now.

:D
 

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William - excellent post, as always.

For your bounce flash, you may want to try different exposure settings - if your camera allows for spot metering during the flash, try that - it will help to keep the central subject properly exposed. If the camera's set for average metering, and there's a close subject matter, usually the subject will be overexposed. If you don't want to worry about the angle of the bounce as much, try using a bounce diffuser, like a Stofen Omnibounce (inexpensive and compact). Alternatively, you could use a piece of kleenex held over your flash head with an elastic - this will diffuse the light slightly. Another trick is to use a white index card attached to your flash head with an elastic. This will bounce some of the flash directly at your subject, giving you a combination of direct and diffused bounce flash. It's also important to remember that the height, as well as the colour of the ceiling and surrounding walls, will effect your results using bounce flash. If the ceiling's too high, bounce won't work well, unless you have a really powerful flash. Any colour on the bounce surface (as well as walls and even floors) will add a colour cast to your picture.

JPEG's - I also have the camera saving in JPEG format at the finest setting (my camera can save in RAW format, but I don't use it that much). However, when you edit in Photoshop (or other programs) - I would recommend that you convert to TIFF when you save. This prevents any further degradation from repeatedly saving in JPEG. You can alway's convert the final edited TIFF version back to JPEG if you need a compact file.

For printing at home, again I would strongly recommend Qimage - you can free-trial before you buy - the only limitation on the free version is that you can only print 5 images at one time. Excellent for re-sizing prints, with a real difference in re-sized print image quality versus some cheaper editing programs.
The website is - http://www.ddisoftware.com/qimage/
(I don't have anything to do with this company - but I've tried so many different editing and printing programs and this is by far the best for printing that I've found).
 
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