BOOT CAMP 396 (01/11/05)

Pictures on your PC, part 2


This week’s topic is memory cards and getting images from your digital camera into your PC. This whole area confuses a lot of newcomers to digital photography, mostly because there are so many different types of memory cards but it’s not as complicated as it seems and it helps break the process down into bite sized chunks.


It begins with the camera and when you press the shutter button the image captured by the sensor chip behind the lens is converted into digital data, compressed into a JPEG picture file and stored on a removable memory card or storage device inside the camera. (A few cameras use other file formats but JPEG is far and away the most common).


Although there are half a dozen different types of memory card, with more in the pipeline, they all do the same basic job, which is to act as a portable storage medium for digital image files. The differences, such as they are, are mostly concerned with the size, shape and electrical connections and to a lesser extent how the data is managed by the card and camera. Until recently there were some marked differences in the cost and maximum storage capacities of the different types of card, but for most digital camera users the price and availability of cards larger than 1 gigabyte is irrelevant. Cards with 256Mb and 512Mb capacities provide more than enough room for over a hundred high quality pictures and they are plentiful and relatively inexpensive in all the most popular formats. In any case it’s inadvisable to keep all of your images on one large capacity card, especially when going on holiday or travelling as this greatly increases the chances of them all being lost if the card fails or the camera is stolen or damaged.


Other storage devices, such as miniature hard disc drives can hold even more images but again this kind of storage capacity is way over the top for most users. The one exception is cameras with a video recording facility and this can gobble up memory. However, the video recording quality of most digital still cameras is quite poor. It’s fine for making short ‘clips’ to send over the internet but if you want to make watchable video movies lasting more than a few minutes you really are better off buying a proper camcorder, for the moment at any rate.


Having recorded your images on a memory card it’s time to look at the various ways to get them from the camera into your PC. There are essentially three transfer methods, by cable, physically move them and via a wireless connection.


Most digital camera owner’s use the USB transfer cable and software provided by the camera manufacturer. The cable plugs into a tiny socket on the camera and the other end into a spare USB socket on the PC, Once all of the software has been loaded the camera should be recognised by the PC and this launches the camera’s image transfer or photo manager program. Pictures on the card will then be copied to designated folders on the PC’s hard drive from where they can be viewed and edited using the other supplied programs.


It works well enough but I have two concerns. The first is the software supplied with some cameras can be inflexible not to mention flaky and occasionally downright intrusive. Reliability is another concern and the miniature USB sockets on some cheaper cameras can be fragile and may become intermittent. 


The second and in my opinion the easiest way to transfer images is to remove the card from the camera and insert it into a card reader connected to the PC. This can be an external device or a built-in card reader. The latter fits into a spare 3.5-in drive bay and like an external card reader it is best to get a multi-format type that can read all of the different types of memory card.


Once the hard has been loaded into the reader the files it contains can be copied and pasted into folders on the hard drive and then opened and viewed directly in your chosen image viewer or editing program -- or the ones supplied with the camera if you so wish. The point about this method is that it puts you back in control and it also allows you do use the memory card for other purposes such as storing and transporting data and documents and other types of files, like MP3 tracks for example. Repeatedly removing and reinserting a memory card is probably not a good idea but in most cases the marginal extra use this method entails shouldn’t unduly affect the reliability of the card or the camera’s card reader.


The last and most recent method is wireless transfer. It’s only available on a handful of cameras at the moment but it points the way forward. Cameras with this facility have a built-in Wi-Fi or Bluetooth module. This communicates directly with a suitably equipped PC or laptop by creating a small point-to-point network connection, allowing files to be moved from the camera to the PC quickly and efficiently. The option adds to the cost of a camera but that should come down quickly. It remains to be seen how well non-teccy users take to it but it does solve a lot of problems and so far the signs look good.


NEXT WEEK -- Pictures on your PC, part 3





One thousand megabytes though purists will insist that it’s actually 230  (2 to the power of 30) bytes, which translates as 1,073,741,824 bytes or 1024 megabytes



Joint Photographic Experts Group (part of the International Standards Organisation). File compression systems used to reduce the amount of data in still and video image files, used by devices like digital cameras and DVD players



Motion Picture Experts Group audio layer 3 -- digital audio compression system commonly used to send files containing audio and music over the Internet and for storing musical files in personal audio players




In addition to budgeting for an extra memory card or two you should also buy at least one spare battery pack for your camera. The operating times quoted by manufacturers are often wildly optimistic and usually take no account of ambient temperature (batteries discharge much faster in the cold). It is also worth knowing that Lithium Ion (Li-ion) type rechargeable batteries -- the type used in most digital cameras -- deteriorate from the day they are made and have a limited life of between 3 to 5 years. This is irrespective of how often they are used so always check the ‘Use by’ date on the pack when buying this type of battery. 




© R. Maybury 2005, 2610

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