Take the Perfect Picture
ARTICLE DATE: 05.31.06
By Terry Sullivan
It's summertime, and that means snapping a lot of pictures: graduations, vacations, barbecues, and just plain foolin' around. We want to help you take the best shots possible, and that starts with picking the right camera. Our experts also share some cool photo projects and show you some useful photo gadgets. We take a peek into the future, too. And to top it off, four world-renowned photographers bring you tips on how to take great photographs.—Pick the Right Camera >
Pick the Right Camera
ARTICLE DATE: 05.31.06
By Terry Sullivan
Invariably while I'm trying to watch my son play Little League, someone who knows what I do for a living will start 20 Questions—Digital Camera Edition with me. So I've come up with a list of tips on how to pick the right model.
First, figure out a budget. About $100 will buy you the most basic digital camera, with 4 megapixels at best and likely no optical zoom (just digital zoom). Cameras from $200 to $450 come in a huge variety of shapes and sizes (from compact to superzoom 35mm lookalikes), although the most popular are 5- or 6MP models with 3X optical zoom. The next price tier—$450 to $600—gets you much more in terms of optical zoom, megapixels, and features. Last but certainly not least, you can get a decent D-SLR (with lens) for about $600, but a pro-level model can cost up to $8,000 (with a variety of lenses).
Once you've figured out your budget, think about what kinds of photos you like to take—action shots, portraits, street photos, and so on. For action shots, you'll want a camera with quick response and features that let you snap multiple shots (often shooting in burst mode), with minimal shutter lag. A D-SLR with a telephoto zoom is good for sports, as are superzooms. For portrait-style shots, look for a camera that performs well in low light but still keeps the noise down.
Also, consider the form factor. If you want a model to fit in your pocket, go with an ultracompact or compact. But if you don't mind a heavier camera and like lots of extras, choose a superzoom or D-SLR.
Then take a look at features. Having a large, sharp LCD (2.5 to 3 inches) and big, well-marked buttons can make shooting more pleasant (especially if others in the family will be using the camera). Also check for on-camera help guides and tips if you're a novice, and manual controls (shutter speed, aperture, and so on) if you're more experienced. Another great feature is vibration reduction. Some cameras even have an eBay mode so that the photo can be formatted for eBay's size and format specs.
Knowing what you want to do with your images is also important. How large will you blow them up? A 5MP camera may be all you need if you'll mostly do 4-by-6 snapshots, with the occasional 8-by-10. But if you're into poster-size prints, you'll want a pro D-SLR, one that's at least 10MP and will let you shoot in uncompressed RAW format, in addition to JPEG format. Finally, if you already have memory cards, you can save money by picking a camera that accepts the type you own.
It pays to shop around, do your homework, and test models in the store. Then you won't have to ask me for advice when I'm in the bleachers, watching my son hit a homer.
See a comparison of Digital Camera Types
Cool New Products
Kodak EasyShare V610
By using two shorter zooms instead of one 10X lens, Kodak shrank this Bluetooh-enabled 6.1MP superzoom to near-ultracompact size.
Small and Stable
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ1
Slightly larger than the V610, this 5MP compact/superzoom hyprid has image stabilization, 10x optical zoom, and faster burst mode—all at a reasonable price.
ARTICLE DATE: 05.31.06
The Epson P-4000 Multimedia Storage Viewer is a good storage device with a built-in card reader for a photographer on the go. It has 80GB of space for photos, videos, and music and a beautiful 3.8-inch LCD for displaying images. You can even hook it up to a TV or display. The only drawbacks are that it's expensive and a bit bulky.
The Bogen/Manfrotto 785B Modo Maxi is a lightweight tripod for small digital (still or video) cameras that fits easily in a backpack. It has a ball head and four-level extendible legs. Though fine for light shooting, it has a tendency to flex a bit in wind, and it's not ideal for D-SLRs, superzooms, long exposures, or exacting work.
The Lensbaby 2.0 is a ticket to creative fun for D-SLR owners. Its lens is set in a flexible, compressible plastic tube that you move by hand to bring part of the field of view into focus while blurring or stretching other parts in funhouse fashion. This new Lensbaby is sharper and easier to use than the original. An optional screw-in macro lens kit is available for $29.
Love your little digital camera except that the flash is too weak? The Metz mecablitz 28 CS-2 digital is an auxiliary flash that's triggered by your camera's own flash and extends its range up to about 40 feet.
The Delkin eFilm Pop-Up Shade prevents your camera's LCD screen from being overwhelmed by glare from bright sunlight. The camera must be held at eye level or above so the shade (which is removable) won't restrict viewing.
Point-and-shoot, $25 direct;
The Tenba Metro Vest is an all-cotton vest designed for photographers. It includes two dozen pockets and other spaces to stash gear in.
A Look Ahead
ARTICLE DATE: 05.31.06
By Tony Hoffman
• Within three years, Kodak will make sharing digital images as smooth as IM with its Konga software, which will let you add pictures to a "conga line" of images going across the screen. They also want to include face recognition and GPS info into metadata for easier organizing.
• Canon is developing a hydrogen fuel cell battery (most companies are using methanol for small batteries) with three to five times the power of conventional lithium ion batteries. The company has not given a time frame for release; Olympus is developing a similar battery, due to hit the market in 2008.
• Planet82, a Korean company, is developing an image sensor that it claims is 2,000 times as sensitive to light as traditional camera sensors, enabling photographers to capture clear images in near darkness without a flash. Expected in mid-2006. Some insiders, however, are skeptical of the technology.
• The French optics maker Varioptics is developing a liquid lens (a water drop on a metal substrate) that the company claims will focus faster, as well as be more rugged (because it has no moving parts) and cheaper to manufacture.
ARTICLE DATE: 05.31.06
By Cade Metz
Don't let the opportunity pass you by
If you see someone you'd like to shoot, shoot first, then go over and thank them. If you're nice—and you flatter them a little bit—they won't have a problem. If you're traveling in a foreign country, however, you may want to ask first (see the sidebar "Travel Tips for the Global Shutterbug").
Shoot and shoot and shoot
Digital shots don't cost you anything. And not every shot has to be perfect. Take as many shots as you can. It doesn't matter if most of them don't work. Odds are, one of them will.
Let things play out before you review
With a digital camera you'll often be tempted to review each shot as soon as you take it. But while you're reviewing, you might be missing the next shot. Take all your shots while you can get them—and review later.
Think like Michelangelo
There's an old joke about Michelangelo: When asked how he managed to produce a statue like David, he says he merely got rid of all the superfluous stone. Do whatever you have to do to get all the extraneous stuff out of the frame. Climb on a chair or lie down on the ground or even throw the background out of focus.
Turn off your flash
With most digital cameras, the flash is turned on by default. Turn it off. Photos look much better when taken in soft, natural light.
If you can't avoid a flash, muffle it
If it's too dark and you have to use your flash, point it up and angle your hand at 45 degrees over the flash head, bouncing the light onto your subjects and getting a much softer look. Open your fingers slightly, so some of the light bounces off the ceiling. The light will appear to be coming from different angles, looking more like natural light.
Rick Smolan, cocreator of America 24/7
After years of shooting photos for Time, Life, and National Geographic, Smolan created the best-selling Day in the Life book series. For his latest project, America 24/7, he and business partner David Cohen gave Olympus digital cameras to over 1,000 photographers—including 36 Pulitzer Prize winners as well as everyday citizens—inviting them to document a week of American life. "In some cases the soccer moms outshot the professionals," he says. Nowadays he shoots nothing but digital, enamored with how easy it is to review his work—and edit it—on his beloved Macintosh.
Camera he shoots with professionally: Canon EOS 5D.
Camera he grabs when he's hanging out with friends: The same.
Web sites: www.America24-7.com; www.AgainstAllOdds.com.
Find open shade
The best photographs are shot in soft, even, natural light. If you're indoors, do your best to use sunlight spilling in through the windows, or candlelight. If you're outdoors, avoid bright sunlight; it will make people squint, and dark shadows will show up over their eyes.
Set up on the edge of the sunlight
Let the sunlight hit just in front of the people you're shooting. It'll serve as a natural reflector, putting a soft light onto their faces without changing their colors.
Get as close as possible
You want sunlight reflecting up into your faces, but you don't want glare on your lens. Use a lens that gets you out of the light but keeps it at their feet.
Use a flash when it's too dark—or too bright
Sometimes you need a bit more than natural light. If it's overcast, you'll need a flash to put a bit more detail in the faces. But you'll also need a flash when the sun is bearing down. That'll eliminate the shadows in their eye sockets.
Never tell your subjects how to pose
Let people stand where they like and hold themselves how they like. The shot will look more natural, and your subjects will look like themselves.
Make sure everyone in the shot can see the camera
Your only instruction should be for them to make sure they can see the camera. If they can see the camera, you can see them.
Joe Buissink, wedding photographer to the stars
How talented is Joe Buissink? Annie Leibowitz hired him to shoot her sister's wedding. And then her cousin's. For the most part, Buissink still shoots on film, but when it's time for formal portraits, he always goes digital. "If someone wants me to blow up what I call a wall portrait—one of those huge 30-by-40 family portraits that hang above the fireplace—you can't do that with 35mm film," he explains. "But with 35mm digital, it's not a problem. Digital is that good. The RAW files give me 30-by-40s that are tack-sharp."
Camera he shoots with professionally: Nikon D2X.
Camera he grabs when he's hanging out with friends: Nikon D200.
Web site: www.joebuissink.com
Get near the goal or end zone
That's where the action is—and where you need to be.
Keep the shutter speed at 1/500 or 1/1000 of a second
Your shutter speed should be at least as high as the millimeter moniker on your lens. And you want a small aperture—5.6 for a day game, 2.8 at night.
Keep the ISO as low as possible for greater detail
Set it at about 800 for nighttime or indoors and 200 for daytime.
If you're in the back of the end zone, switch to a focal length of 600mm
When you're on the sidelines, 400mm is plenty. But if you're in the end zone, you can shoot to the 50-yard line with 600mm.
For closer shots—especially indoors—downgrade your lens
When the action is close, switch to a 70mm-to-200mm zoom lens. This lets you capture wide shots, but also zoom in on faces and other points of interest. If you're indoors, you can also use a 300mm lens for shots at the other end of the court.
Wanna get artsy? Pan with the runner
You can blur a runner's churning arms and legs with a slow shutter speed—say, 1/30 second—and panning the camera in sync with the runner's head and torso.
Lay on that shutter
You're not paying for film, so go ahead, turn on the burst mode setting and take shot after shot. You're more likely to capture that key moment.
Albert Dickson, chief photographer, The Sporting News
After 12 years shooting for daily newspapers, Albert Dickson took over as chief photographer for The Sporting News. When he first got his hands on the Canon EOS 1D—the camera that he used for the photo of Jim Edmonds—The Sporting News immediately switched to digital. "The 1D set the standard for digital sporting photography," he says. Albert uses big, expensive lenses for work, but the magnification factor on most D-SLRs lets you get similarly close: A 70mm-to-300mm lens on a Canon Digital Rebel XT is equivalent to a 112mm-to-480mm lens on a full-frame EOS.
Camera he shoots with professionally: Canon EOS 1D Mark II N.
Camera he grabs when he's hanging out with friends: Canon PowerShot A610.
Web sites: www.sportingnews.com; www.sportsshooter.com/members.html?id=310
Never shoot at high noon
The best light for shooting outdoors arrives at dusk—and your best alternative is early morning.
If Grandma's in the foreground, don't make her look minuscule. When composing your background, get as close to Grandma as you can.
Symmetrical images aren't pleasing. Whether you're indoors or out, frame your shots asymmetrically. This is especially important when you've got people standing in the foreground. Keep them slightly to one side of the shot or the other.
Bend those arms
With digital cameras, people often shoot with arms out, leaning back to frame shots in the LCD. Even if you don't have a viewfinder, keep the camera close to your face, so you can really see the shot.
Say no to auto mode
If your camera's on automatic, that end-of-day natural light may not look natural. Switch to "program mode," and set white balance and ISO. Put white balance one step higher—if it's bright outside, use the cloudy setting—and keep ISO as low as possible.
Pull out the polarizer
For serious outdoor shots, fit your lens with a warming polarizer. This will increase contrast and color saturation. Just be sure to shoot at a right angle to the sun.
Jay Dickman, freelance photographer and Pulitzer Prize winner
In 1983, on staff at the Dallas Times Herald, Jay Dickman won the Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the war in El Salvador. Since then, his work has appeared in Time, Life, Fortune, Forbes, and National Geographic. Four years after switching from film to digital, he coauthored the popular how-to book Perfect Digital Photography, and his FirstLight workshops take budding photographers around the world.
Camera he shoots with professionally: Olympus E-1, Evolt E-500, E-330
Camera he grabs when he's hanging out with friends: Olympus C-5050 Zoom, C-5060 Wide Zoom
Web sites: www.jaydickman.net; www.firstlightworkshops.com
Travel Tips For The Global Shutterbug
When wildlife photographer David Cardinal isn't writing articles on digital photography for PC Magazine, he's leading photo safaris to all corners of the world. An expert on being prepared when away from home, he shared his top tips with us.
Preparation starts with having the right gear. If you're not bringing a laptop along, you'll want to have a photo viewer, such as the excellent Epson P-4000, which will also store photos. If you don't go this route (or bring a storage drive), bring plenty of cards so you don't run out of storage space. And if you have a brand-new camera, test it out and get used to its settings and menus before you leave.
You may want some specialized accessories like an under¬water housing, but the only other items you truly need are world-ready chargers (or spare batteries) and a sturdy bag. Lowepro makes a great line of camera bags for just about any gear. Though buying online is usually faster and cheaper, you can't beat going into a camera store and making sure that a bag is comfortable and holds all your gear.
Once you've reached your destination, prevent your camera from getting stolen or damaged by keeping it (and lenses) in a bag small enough to carry with you—don't check it at the airport. Ideally you want a camera bag that doesn't scream "camera" and has a secure shoulder strap. If you can't watch your gear, consider getting a Pacsafe bag protector to lock your bag to something secure.
If you want to take pictures of the locals, ask first. If you don't speak the language, pointing to the camera and smiling is usually enough (and don't forget to show them the picture on your LCD). Be careful of children requesting money for posing. Often parents send them out to beg, and your giving them money may mean they won't go back to school.
Cool Photo Projects
ARTICLE DATE: 05.31.06
By Tony Hoffman
Astrophotography Without a Telescope
You don't need a telescope to take decent photos of the night sky. All you need is a digital camera and a tripod. A D-SLR—especially one with a telephoto lens—can produce impressive images of the Moon, star clusters, nebulae, and comets. Although it's a challenge for a point-and-shoot's tiny lens to gather the necessary photons to produce a sharp image, it still can create nice constellation shots and capture lunar features.
First, you'll need a target. The Moon is good, or star groupings such as Orion and the Big Dipper.
Start with a steady tripod, and turn off your flash. Longer exposures are preferable (except with the Moon), but they may add a rainbow graininess. At long exposures with higher zooms, the stars look like streaks because of their motion across the sky. Many lenses suffer from soft focus at higher zooms, so start at the shortest focal length and work upward to see where the stars begin to lose their sharpness.
Merge Digital Images with HDR
If you spend a lot of time on Flickr, you've no doubt seen richly colored, almost 3D-looking, images tagged as "HDR." HDR (high dynamic range) images are created by shooting several photos (usually two to six) of the same scene at different exposures and combining them using software—such as Photoshop CS2 ($649 direct), Ulead PhotoImpact 11 ($89), or Photomatix ($99 direct, free trial version www.hdrsoft.com)—to form an image that incorporates the range of light levels revealing detail that otherwise would be overexposed or underexposed.
To produce a range of images from dark to bright, try doubling the exposure time for successive shots (say, shooting at intervals of 1/400, 1/200, and 1/100 second). For point-and-shoots, you can vary the exposure compensation in manual mode. Compensation values typically range from -2 to +2; moving to the next highest number—say, from 0 to 1—has the same effect as doubling the exposure time. HDR shots are most effective where there is a wide range of light levels, as in scenes shot shortly before sunset or interior shots with a brighter landscape visible through a window.
Most HDR software can align the shots automatically if they're nearly identical, but use a tripod. If a person or object moves through the shots, it may create ghost images. For more photo projects, visit go.pcmag.com/photoprojects.—Tony Hoffman
Shooting Video with Your Digital Camera
ARTICLE DATE: 05.30.06
By Terry Sullivan
It's time to stop thinking that your digital camera is just for taking photos. Nearly every camera, aside from D-SLRs, can shoot videos, and it's a lot more convenient not to have to take out your camcorder too. But though some cameras now rival camcorders in video quality, none has all of a camcorder's flexibility. Keep in mind the limitations and adjust your shooting accordingly.
If possible, shoot in bright, natural light Although some cameras now include a night mode, most don't shine in low light.
Avoid turning your camera vertically Shoot at a 90 degree angle, and you'll be craning your head to the side when you watch the video. You can always fix this with editing, but it can be time-consuming.
Use the LCD for a viewfinder Looking through the viewfinder while shooting video is like having horse blinders on. Use the LCD so you don't get run over or fall in the lake.
You may not be able to zoom Some superzooms with manual zoom and a few other cameras let you go from wide to tele while filming. But more likely than not, you'll need to use your feet to get in close.
Don't expect great sound On almost any digital camera (even an SLR) the embedded mic is going to deliver muffled, tinny sound.
Set your camera to best video mode Choose the highest resolution (640-by-480 or better) and highest quality mode that you can. Oh, and get a really big storage card.
Go steady If your camera has image stabilization, turn it on. If not, try to steady yourself or the camera on a flat surface.
Pixels for Pennies: Buying a Cheap Digital Camera
ARTICLE DATE: 05.30.06
By Terry Sullivan
As summer approaches, everyone wants to remember the good times: graduations, parties, Father's Day, Independence Day, and trips both near and far. And there's no better way to capture your memories than with a digital camera. But what if you don't have a lot of cash? With the help of pcmag.com Web producer Molly McLaughlin and PC Magazine staff photographer Scott Schedivy, I trekked to nearby stores in Manhattan to buy some cheap (under $150) digital cameras.
All three stores we visited—Best Buy, Circuit City, and Adorama—have a counter featuring a lineup of cameras, each locked to a tiny platform, along with an attached power supply. You're encouraged to pick up the cameras and try them out. You'll generally find the price, along with some key features, listed with the camera. The advantage of a self-help counter layout is that you are more apt to get a hands-on feel for the products. The downside is that cameras that have been displayed for some time can get worn or even damaged. Also, if there's no salesperson on hand to help you out, you may find yourself lost.
All three stores had a mix of many different models, from the latest-greatest to the slightly older. It wasn't always clear which cameras were on sale or offered rebates. (On the Web, this is much clearer.) All the stores offered price matching, though, meaning that if we found a better price at another store, they would match it, provided we had the documentation (an advertisement printed in a magazine or newspaper, for example). Stores generally won't match "after rebate" prices, however.
Shop 'Til You Can Crop
Our first stop was Best Buy, on the corner of Sixth Avenue and 23rd Street. We weren't sure what to expect at the big box stores, where they hawk everything from tiny MP3 players to huge side-by-side refrigerators. But overall, the Best Buy experience wasn't bad. Our young salesperson wasn't especially enthusiastic, but she did know a thing or two about digital cameras. After hearing how much we wanted to spend, she showed us her only two cameras under $150, an HP Photosmart M425 and a Kodak EasyShare C330. She noted that they were "not very difficult at all to use," which is the case, and that they used SD cards, though she didn't offer any insights such as why we might want SD versus xD or Sony's Memory Stick. (SD is generally cheaper and more readily available. And when you're shopping on a budget, you need to factor in the cost of the memory. We think you're better off investing in the camera itself.) She also accurately pointed out that you should pay attention only to optical zoom and disregard digital zoom. She then briefly demonstrated how to use the camera.
Molly chose the $149.95 HP Photosmart M425, which is a 5MP camera with 3X optical zoom, over the identically priced Kodak EasyShare C330, a 4MP camera, because of the higher megapixel count, the slightly larger LCD screen (the M425 had a 1.7-inch and the C330 had a 1.5-inch), and nicer user interface. We also liked how HP includes helpful tips in its menus. The M425 had all the manuals and cords in the package.
At Circuit City, at 14th St. adjacent to Union Square, we found five cameras, ranging from $129 to $149. We met a very good salesperson who gave honest, up-front answers. For example, when I asked him about digital zoom, he said, "Digital zoom just makes the picture worse. Every time you get closer the amount of pixels get less and less. Optical is all that really matters." Or when we asked him about memory cards, he said that xD cards are "the most expensive because they're used only in Olympus and Fuji cameras."
He also pointed out which cameras did or didn't offer video with sound, an important point if video clips matter to you. And when we asked him if there were significant differences between the inexpensive cameras, he said "all these cameras were meant for five-year-olds." (We're pretty sure he meant that they're easy enough to be used by a five-year-old, not that they're juvenile playthings.) He singled out the Nikon Coolpix L4, saying he felt it has a "better lens and also takes SD cards, which are cheaper [than xD cards]."
But since we concurred with his advice that most of the inexpensive cameras available there were more or less the same, we decided to go with the cheaper Olympus FE100, a 4MP camera with 2.8X optical zoom, for $129.
After we bought the Olympus FE100, the salesperson offered some good, practical advice on accessories, including a camera bag ("If you don't get a camera bag, you can break the LCD screen and you can't use the camera.") and rechargeable batteries ("This camera uses AA batteries. If you don't get rechargeable batteries, you'll make the battery companies very rich.") Because the camera was so inexpensive, we took his advice on the case and bought a small $10 one, but we passed on the batteries, though we agree with his stance.
Our last stop was Adorama, a reputable photo specialty store on 18th St. between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. First we encountered the same sort of self-help counter we had seen in the retail chains, with perhaps a few more cameras on view (although they weren't well labeled or clearly priced). Behind the counter, however, the store had many more digital camera models. At Adorama, you stand a better chance of finding a specific model than at the retail chains, and because there was less clamor in this store, we were better able to concentrate on what the salesperson was saying.
We waited briefly on line to meet with a salesperson, who was quite friendly and knowledgeable about things such as digital cards. "Most digital cameras take SD cards," he said. "Even D-SLRs are changing over to SD cards. So you can keep this card when you want to upgrade." I concur.
We went into the store with our heart set on buying a 4MP Canon PowerShot A430, it being the bargain camera we've seen advertised most often but hadn't yet gotten. Unfortunately the A430 was out of stock, but the salesperson, knowing that our goal was to keep the price down, suggested a $99.95 Canon Powershot A410 instead. The A410 is a 3.2MP camera with 3.2X optical zoom, and we had wanted 4MP minimum. Moreover, after hearing the salesperson's description, it struck me that he actually was offering us a refurbished camera: "It's basically brand new. The customer never used it. It's not something that someone returned." He explained, however, that Canon had probably brought the camera to a trade show, where it had taken it out of its box., After even such minimal handling, the manufacturer is not allowed to restore the camera to its original box and must label the product refurbished.
We don't dispute the Adorama salesperson's explanation, but we also believe that the term refurbished, as defined on a Massachusetts state government site (www.mass.gov/epp/enviro.htm), covers a wider range of possibilities: "Refurbished: The process of restoring a product by cleaning, repairing, recovering, and reusing the item for its original intended use." In other words, it's difficult if not impossible to verify exactly how "used" any refurbished or reconditioned camera is. On the other hand, you might be able to get a great camera at a tremendous discount. But check that it has at least as good a warranty as a brand-new version of the same model.
Like the Circuit City salesperson, the Adorama salesperson suggested that we get rechargeable double-A batteries. He also recommended avoiding digital zoom. "The main thing is to look for optical zoom," he said. We passed on the A410 and, since he didn't have the A430, we walked out empty-handed.
In addition to these cameras, Ben Gottesman, our editor for technology, picked up a supposedly 5MP Polaroid PDC 5080 at Target for just $88. Instead of being tucked away behind the counter with all the other digital cameras, it was just dangling from a customer-accessible store shelf hermetically sealed in a blister-pack. The packaging should have been a sign to us to stay away, but we sallied forth.
Getting What You Paid For
As they say, you get what you pay for. But for cameras less than $150, what you get can vary widely. For example, a Nikon Coolpix L4 might give you pretty decent results, but a Polaroid PDC 5080 doesn't allow you any optical zoom and produces lousy pictures. On the model we purchased, it actually lost some of our pictures.
Even from name brands such as Canon, Kodak, and Fuji, you may not get very large LCDs. Most average around 1.7 inches—small for composing and reviewing shots or making selections from various menu settings. You'll generally get average quality from your autoexposure shots, but indoors, the flash shots won't be as good. None of the cameras we checked out have manual controls but instead give you exposure compensation controls. At 4 or 5 megapixels and good resolution, you'll typically be able to blow your prints up to about 8-by-10 or crop your photos.
Click here to read our reviews of three wicked cheap cameras, the Canon PowerShot A430, the Nikon Coolpix L4, and the Polaroid PDC 5080.
How Important Is…
…registering your camera? Many camera companies include info on registering your product via the Web or through snail mail. But unlike some products with activation software, you are not required to register a digital camera with a particular company. Many companies, however, add incentives, such as sweepstakes, extending warranties, free software, and more to urge you to register so they can send you more product marketing information. Even if you don't register, make sure to hold on to your receipt and other paperwork that came with your camera so you have proof of the camera's purchase date.
…a warranty? The two types of warranties we generally saw were the camera manufacturer warranties and the store warranties. The camera manufacturer warranty comes with the purchase of the camera. The customer can often get a store warranty at that time as well, for an additional fee. In either case, you should read the fine print on these warranties carefully to know what you're entitled to.
…gray market? When buying a digital camera, especially online, make sure you know whether you're being sold what's called a "gray market" camera. These might be imported into the U.S. from Europe or elsewhere. A reputable dealer that sells also gray market will clearly label them. Gray market products tend to be more affordable but won't be covered by the manufacturer's warranty; you'll have to get warranty service through the dealer or dealer's agent. These products also aren't eligible for manufacturer rebates, which, if available, often offset the domestic version's price premium.
…what's inside? If you see a price that seems too good to be true, it probably is, especially if you're not familiar with the store. One area in which stores will try to get you is removing items that were supposed to be included with the camera, such as the battery and charger, and selling them to you separately.
ONLINE EXTRA: Michael Pimentel, Sports photographer >
Michael Pimentel, Sports photographer
ARTICLE DATE: 05.31.06
In 2004, when he shot the US Women's national soccer team on its way to yet another gold medal, Michael Pimentel became the first deaf photographer to cover the Olympic Games. And that was just two years after his first professional photo. Completely self-taught, he's proof that a can-do attitude goes long way, but he's also a wonderful advertisement for the power of the digital camera, which has significantly shortened the path from weekend amateur to big-time photographer.
Not too long ago, Pimentel sold his most-coveted possessions—including a boat-load of Star Wars collectibles and GI Joe figures—and used the proceeds to buy his first digital camera: a Canon D-30 with 100-400mm lens. Initially, he shot some high school and little league sports just to build up his portfolio, and before he knew it, sports shooter John Todd hired him cover the San Jose CyberRays, part of the now defunct Women's United Soccer Association.
Soon, he was covering the San Jose Earthquakes and other Major League Soccer teams around the country, before graduating to professional football, baseball, and basketball. To date, his photos have appeared in everything from Sports Illustrated and ESPN The Magazine to The San Francisco Chronicle, The Sacramento Bee, and The Boston Globe.
He's never shot anything other than a digital photograph. Today, he says, most magazines and newspapers prefer digital photography, simply because, once the game's over, images arrive all the quicker. But, crucially for an up-and-comer like Pimentel, digital technology makes things so much cheaper and easier. He needn't pay for film—not to mention film processing. He can review his photos moments after taking them. And, thanks to tools like PhotoShop, he can instantly edit his images on an ordinary PC.
You wanna be a sports photographer too? Take a few tips from Michael Pimentel. He knows what he's talking about.
Sit down When shooting sporting events, stay off your feet. A low angle makes for a better photograph—you see more of an athlete's face. Sitting or kneeling also saves energy. You'll need it for the end of the game—when all the best shots are taken.
Get in tight With a sports photograph, you want as little background as possible. The foreground is the point of interest. Get as tight as you can on the athletes themselves.
Blur the background Of course, you can't eliminate all the background. But you can always blur what's left. Use a large lens (400mm, say) with a small aperture setting (4 in bright daylight) to keep foreground focus sharp, while blurring the background.
Let the action come to you If you use zoom lenses or lens extenders at great distance, it's much harder to sharpen focus. Wait until the action is close, and you'll end up with a much better shot.
Use a low ISO The best shots are taken during the daytime with a low ISO rating (400 or lower) and a high shutter speed. With sports, you have to capture the image as quickly as possible. At night, when there's less light, you'll need a higher ISO (1,250 or 1,600). That'll give your photos a grainer quality, and it's harder to avoid ghosting.
In the gym, downgrade your lens When shooting basketball or volleyball in a gym, in ambient light, close to the action, use a 70 to 200mm lens. This allows you to shoot players from head to toe, but you can also zoom in and get a close head shot. If you want action at the other end of the court, switch to a 300mm. And shoot with a shutter speed of at least 1/500—to avoid motion blurs.
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