You Got the Picture. Now What?
With all this talk about taking pictures, it’s easy to miss the real point—
your pictures. In the days of film, you dropped off your film at the local drugstore or photo developer and picked up prints a few hours or days later. You can still do this with your digital prints—many drugstores and camera outlets let you drop off your memory card or use a self-serve photo-printing kiosk. However, you have many additional options.
Do It Yourself
Today, even the most-economical printers do a reasonably good job of producing photo-quality prints. This option also gives you the greatest amount of control over your prints. The downside is that you’ll probably end up spending a lot more time working with your photos—correcting color, cropping, sharpening, checking print settings, and so on. Some people enjoy touching up small details until they have a perfect print. Others think it’s extremely tedious.
Of course, how much energy you put into this process is entirely up to you. Many printers let you attach your camera right to a port on the front and start printing—forgoing the computer entirely. Some companies even offer portable printers, such as the
HP Photosmart 375
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), that print only 4-by-6-inch photos. It has a color LCD, media-card slots, and an optional internal battery so you don’t need to be near an outlet. This is a great option if you want to print photos at a birthday party or a family reunion. But be aware of the hidden costs in printing. A sheet of 4-by-6 photo paper typically costs about 20 cents. Ink will run you another 5 to 10 cents per print. And be honest—how many times do you get the print right the first time?
If you can wait a few days for your prints, you may prefer to have an online printing service handle the details. You simply upload your images to the company’s Web site, and they print your pictures on real photo paper and send them back to you in the mail. Typically, you’ll pay about 23 cents to 29 cents per print for this service, plus a couple dollars for postage. Two of my favorite services are
Ofoto. In addition to ordering prints, you can buy books and gifts featuring your images. If you use iPhoto, you can even order prints right from the program’s interface.
In case you like the convenience of ordering prints from your Mac but don’t want to bother with postage, some companies offer an additional option. In 2004, the CVS drugstore chain rolled out a service that lets you order prints online and then pick them up at a local retailer by 5 p.m. the next day. Prices range from 25 cents to 29 cents per print. Costco now offers a similar option.
Save the Trees
But don’t limit yourself to making prints if your ultimate goal is to share images with friends and family—especially if they own computers. Several wonderful online communities, such as
Flickr, make it easy for you to upload pictures from your digital camera or camera phone and then publish them for others to view on the Web. If you have a .Mac account, you can upload Web galleries of your photos directly from iPhoto and send notifications to friends and family.
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JPEG Versus RAW
One of the ongoing debates among advanced digital photographers is which format—JPEG or RAW—to use for recording images. Both formats can produce high-quality images. But when you shoot in JPEG mode, the camera processes the image for you—adjusting for white balance, applying sharpening, and so on.
When you shoot in RAW mode, the camera records only the raw image data—leaving you to make the proper adjustments when you’re at your computer. This process is more like taking a negative into a darkroom and adjusting white balance and exposure until you get the perfect image. Sure, you can make the same adjustments in postproduction with JPEGs, but you’re then fixing incorrectly applied effects. With RAW files, you’re actually mapping the original bits of information.
For example, finding the right white balance can be difficult at the moment of exposure—especially under fluorescent or mixed lighting. When you shoot in JPEG mode, you have to make an immediate decision, and if you’re wrong, you have to figure out how to correct it later. In RAW mode, it doesn’t matter which white-balance setting you have when you shoot the picture. The camera records the raw data and lets you fill in the blanks later.
One downside to RAW files is their size. They’re usually several times larger than a camera’s best-quality JPEG files. And RAW mode often limits the speed at which you can take photos.
You’ll need software that can interpret RAW data from your camera. Apple’s iPhoto 4 can’t upload RAW files. But most cameras that support RAW files include the appropriate software. Photoshop CS also lets you work with RAW files.
5 Things to Consider When You’re In the Store
1. Size Matters
If your camera is too heavy or bulky, you’ll be less likely to carry it with you. Make sure that the camera is comfortable when hanging from your shoulder or neck—with the battery installed (this can make a big difference).
2. Check Ease of Use
You should be able to navigate to any option in your camera’s menu within a few seconds. Check that menus are arranged intuitively and that you understand the terminology used. You may be instantly pleased with some menus and hate others.
3. Look for Quick Access
You’re likelier to use key features—such as flash controls, shooting modes, and ISO settings—if they’re within reach during the heat of shooting. These features should be quickly accessible from a button or a dial on the camera body or from a top-level menu item.
4. Get the Right Picture
If you enjoy fine-tuning photos in Photoshop, look for a camera that lets you capture images in RAW mode. You can spend less time worrying about details such as white balance and ISO while taking the photos and make all of your processing decisions later at the computer.
5. Avoid Unexpected Costs
When buying a digital camera, you’ll need more than what’s in the box. You should also invest in an extra battery and an upgraded memory card. Make sure your budget accounts for these additional costs.
Megapixels determine only how large your image is—they don’t guarantee its
Some cameras take beautiful, well-exposed pictures in almost any light. Others produce unsightly noise in low-light situations. Of course, you won’t see these details on the box. Once you’ve decided on a couple of contenders, read reviews of each one to see how their images stack up. Here are some good online resources:
You can read
all of our digital-camera reviews from the past year
and find the best deals on the Web.
In addition to offering news and reviews of digital cameras,
lets you compare images from several different cameras.
Digital Photography Review
offers a comprehensive look at the world of digital photography. You’ll find in-depth reviews of many of the latest digital cameras, as well as how-to information, side-by-side comparisons, news, a glossary, and discussion forums.
offers in-depth reviews of hundreds of cameras. Cameras are broken down into categories according to their megapixel ratings.