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? CompactFlash (CF): CompactFlash is the second-most-favored format in the United States. Although physically larger than SD, CompactFlash cards are still very small and convenient to carry and use. As larger capacities are introduced, they usually appear in CF format first. As a bonus, the CompactFlash slot can also be used for mini hard drives, such as those from IBM, with capacities of a gigabyte or more. They are the most popular memory card format for digital SLRs.
? xD and mini-xD: The xD and mini-xD formats are new, smaller than Secure Digital, and supported by fewer vendors (currently only Olympus and Fuji). Although it’s wise to avoid getting stuck using a Betamax format when everyone else has converted to VHS, you’re safe in choosing a camera using an xD variant. The vendors are important enough that even if the format eventually fails, you should be able to purchase memory cards for as long as your camera works. Indeed, because memory cards are typically used over and over forever, the cards you purchase with your camera or shortly thereafter are likely to serve you throughout your camera’s useful life.
? Sony Memory Stick: About the size of a stick of gum, Sony’s Memory Sticks are useful because you can also use them with other devices, such as MP3 players. They’re not going to replace CompactFlash, though. Sony has had an unfortunate tendency to flip around among memory choices for its digital camera, and didn’t stop when the Memory Stick was introduced. It’s now available in Memory Stick (up to 128MB sizes), Memory Stick Pro (larger capacities), Memory Stick Duo (a smaller version that
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108 No Flash in the Pan: Determining Your Lighting Needs
needs an adapter to fit memory card readers outfitted for Memory Sticks), and, most recently, Memory Stick Pro Duo (in capacities up to 4GB). Whew!
? Mini hard drives: For a long time, mini hard drives were your only option when you needed more than a gigabyte of storage. If you’re using a 6-megapixel or better camera and like to save your images as TIFF files or in another lossless format, you need more than a gigabyte of storage. However, with CompactFlash cards now available in 4-8GB sizes, the mini hard drive is losing its capacity edge, and it has always cost more than the equivalent silicon memory card. Although not excessively prone to failure, mini hard drives do have moving parts and must be handled with more care than memory cards.
? CD-R/RW: Sony, in its never-ending quest to change its digital camera media options annually, actually tried out both floppy disks and mini CD-R and CD-RW discs for its digital cameras. Although not really a bad idea, because the media is relatively inexpensive (a 240MB mini CD-R is a lot cheaper than a 256MB CompactFlash card), this option never caught on because digital camera memory requirements eventually exceeded the capacity of mini CDs. Sony seems to have settled into an ever-changing Memory Stick groove now.
Digital memory cards might be offered in various speeds, such as standard, high-speed, 40X, Ultra, and Extreme, depending on the nomenclature used by the vendor. The faster, more expensive media are able to store images more quickly. Unless you’re shooting sequences and don’t want to wait even a short time between pictures, standard media will probably do the job for you. Some newer digital cameras that provide a high-speed burst-photo mode require these higher-performance digital cards to function as advertised, however. With memory cards now being offered in 133X and 150X speeds, there’s no telling where the speed race will end.
No Flash in the Pan: Determining Your Lighting Needs
Your digital dream camera’s electronic flash capabilities (or lack of them) should be on your list of things to evaluate before you make a purchase decision. Not every photo is possible using existing light. Even if there is plenty of light, you might still want to fill in those inky shadows with an electronic flash. Your camera’s built-in flash features are definitely something to consider.
Most digital cameras have a built-in flash unit that can be turned on or flipped up or swung out or otherwise activated when you want to use a flash — or when the camera decides for you that the flash is required. (Usually, a tip-off is a flashing red light in your viewfinder or next to it. Time to flip up that flash!)
No Flash in the Pan: Determining Your Lighting Needs 109
You should be aware that most flash units are good only over a particular range. If you’ve ever seen a fan stand up in the balcony at a Bruce Springsteen concert and take a flash picture of the Boss from 100 feet away, you’ll understand just how limited flash is at long distances. Some units are so feeble that they can only illuminate subjects 2 to 12 feet away. Others have special settings to spread the flash illumination for wide-angle shots or tighten it up for telephoto pictures.
Here are some features to look for in an electronic flash: