BOOT CAMP 262 (11/02/03)




Having dealt with the basics of buying a digital still camera in part 1, this week we move on to some of the practicalities of transferring images from the camera to the PC, file handling and viewing.


Most current digital still cameras (DSCs) come with a USB high-speed serial data cable that connects the camera to the PC and for the most part this method works well but there is a much more convenient method and that’s to use a card reader. All you have to do is remove the memory card from the camera and pop it into the reader. The PC treats the card as an extra hard disc drive and you can simply copy and paste or drag and drop files from the card into a folder on the PC’s hard disc drive.


This has a number of advantages; firstly it reduces wear and tear on the camera’s USB socket, some of them can be quite delicate and the mechanical strain of repeated use can make them intermittent after a relatively short period. Secondly, it saves battery power because the camera has to be switched on when downloading images. Thirdly, it’s much quicker than the USB link, which can take several minutes on some models; copying files from a card directly only takes a second or two per image and lastly, it makes it easier to alternate between memory cards, keeping the camera available for use and reducing the chances of failure.


Readers are available for all types of card but it’s worth spending a little more on a multi-format card reader. These can handle two or three different types, since it is quite likely that one day you’ll replace or upgrade your DSC, it means you won’t be tied to a single format and it allows you to read files or download images from other cameras and devices that use memory cards. Card readers are fairly inexpensive, prices start at around £15 for single format models, multi-format readers cost around £30, but it’s money well spent. Most card readers are small stand-alone modules that plug into your PC’s USB port but you can also get PC-Card type readers for laptops.


Digital images take up a lot of room – reckon on between 500kb and 1Mb per picture – and they accumulate very quickly, so it pays to set up some form of filing system on your PC as early as possible. There are plenty of software packages for organising and archiving digital images, you may even get one bundled with your camera, but these can be quite constricting and may actually cause problems when you replace your PC so for that reason I suggest adopting a simple manual system, that will also make it easier to access your pictures over a home network.


Begin by creating a single master folder for all of your pictures, you could use the default ‘My Pictures’ folder that Windows creates but it’s buried inside ‘My Documents’, I prefer the Pictures folder to be easily accessible on the root of the C drive. Open Windows Explorer, make sure it’s showing the contents of the C: drive and the icon is highlighted then click New > Folder on the File menu; give it a name (‘rickspix’ in my case) and hit the Enter key.


Next double-click to open your new picture folder and create a new sub folder. Again it’s a personal preference but I find it easier to organise my photographs by years, then by subject matter. It might seem a bit odd if you are just starting out but believe me, after a couple of years it really starts to make sense when you want to find a particular image. Start by creating a new sub folder inside Pictures and call it simply 2003; if you‘ve already got some images on your PC you can create new ‘year’ sub folders for them as well. Now it’s ready to use and whenever you download images from a memory card or the camera simply create a new folder within the year sub folder to put them in, and don’t forget to give it a suitable name, i.e. ‘Devon Holiday’, ‘Zoo Visit’, ‘School Play’ and so on.


Most cameras assign a numeric file name to each image, which makes them hard to tell apart so you might want to give some of them more meaningful names, but be sure to leave the file extension unchanged (usually *jpg). However, in order to do this you need to be able to see what each picture is, so if you are using a later version of Windows (98SE/ME XP etc) enable ‘Thumbnail’ on the View menu.


Unfortunately thumbnail preview is not available in earlier versions of Windows, in which case it is worth downloading a viewer program, most of which have a ‘slideshow’ facility and some simple editing tools. There are plenty to choose from, including the venerable ACDsee (a trial copy can be downloaded from:, or have a look at my current favourite, ThumbsPlus (a highly functional evaluation version can be found at:, and both programs feature regularly on PC magazine cover mount discs. There’s also an excellent freeware viewer called Irfanview; it can be downloaded from:


Finally, if the only copies of your photographs are on your PC’s hard disc drive you are risking loosing the lot if your PC develops a fault. Because of the size of the files involved recordable CD is the only practical option, if you haven’t yet got a CD-Writer get one and copy your picture files to disc, and keep your backups up to date.


Next week – part 3, shooting tips




JPEG (.jpg)

Joint Photographic Experts Group -- part of the International Standards Organisations; ‘lossy’ file compression system used by most digital cameras to store images



Postage stamp sized images that allow you to quickly view many image files contained in a folder



Universal Serial Bus, high-speed industry standard connection system for peripherals, such as printers, scanners and cameras etc.




The image sensor in your digital camera is a fantastically complicated device and if just a couple of the picture elements (pixels) are faulty it can ruin your photographs. This simple little freeware utility checks for dead or ‘hot’ (over sensitive) pixels by analysing images taken on your camera. Simply leave the lens cap on, take a few photographs, download the files to your PC and run Deadpixeltest. In just a second or two it displays a detailed report on your camera’s image sensor performance. The zip file is only 191kb and it can be downloaded from:

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