LEARN: How To: How to Use a Digital Camera

As digital photography becomes more advanced, it becomes easier and easier to take great pictures. Improved technology has made it affordable for consumers to own high-quality digital cameras, to make excellent prints using ink jet printers, and to post and send pictures over the Internet. Just a few years ago, it was an intricate process just to connect a digital camera to a computer, let alone learn how to operate one. This lesson is designed to illustrate the simplicity of capturing images with a digital camera, saving or deleting them on the camera, and copying the image files to a computer.

(Click on any image below for an enlarged view.)

 

Topics Covered

  • How digital media works
  • Setting the digital ISO
  • Setting capture resolution
  • How to adjust the color balance
  • Reviewing camera functions
  • Zooming in on an image during playback
  • Transferring images to your computer
  • Adjusting the size of an image
  • Guidelines for optimal sharpening
  • How and why to compress an image's file size

EQUIPMENT USED

  • Olympus 3040 digital camera
  • Lexar 16MB SmartMedia card
  • Lexar USB SmartMedia reader
  • USB enabled computer
  • Photoflex 12" Translucent Litedisc
  • Photoflex 12" Soft Gold White Litedisc

Digital Media

In this lesson, we used the Olympus C-3040 digital camera (3.3 Megapixel), a 16MB SmartMedia card (included with the camera) and rechargeable Ni-MH batteries. The camera comes with a set of disposable lithium batteries, but we recommend you invest in at least two sets of rechargeable batteries for the long run (figure 1).

Figure 1

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 2

The SmartMedia card is used to store and transfer images to a computer, and can be used over and over again. No more film and processing costs! The maximum card size to date is 128 MB, but that could increase in the near future. Although they are quite small, each one can hold a large number of high-resolution images on it (figure 2).

Different cameras require SmartMedia cards to be inserted a particular way, so refer to the manual to make sure it is oriented correctly (figure 3).

Figure 3

Figure 3

Before You Start....

Once the power is turned on, it is then possible to adjust the settings on the camera. When you purchase a digital camera, the factory settings will most likely be designated to the most basic, or Automatic modes. Although this allows you to start taking pictures right away, you may eventually want to customize these settings to optimize your image results.

White Balance

Since different sources of light vary in color temperature, it is necessary for a digital camera to have variable color capture settings. In a traditional camera the type of film (daylight, tungsten), as well as filters for the lens, determine how the colors of a shot will turn out.

In a digital camera, you can either choose specific Kelvin temperature ratings (the Sun symbol represents a color temperature of 5500° Kelvin for bright sunny days, the Light Bulb symbol represents a color temperature of 3200° Kelvin for incandescent, or tungsten lighting, etc.) or you can leave it on the AUTO setting (figures 4 & 5). (AUTO enables the camera to make its own interpreted setting.)

ISO

The term ISO (or ASA) is used to measure the speed of photographic film. The higher the ISO rating the faster the film is, and fast film affords better exposures in low light situations. The offshoot is that the faster the film gets, the more the grain size increases. I have found that higher ISO numbers in digital cameras result in increased noise rather than larger "grain".

For the most part, I keep the ISO set to 100 (its lowest) as this renders the best image quality. In order to modify the ISO setting, you must first activate the Menu on the LCD screen. Scrolling with the arrow keys allows you to choose an ISO setting of 100, 200, 400 or AUTO (figure 6).

Figure 6

Figure 6

Resolution

Resolution is directly proportional to image quality. For the highest quality image, I choose the TIFF format because it does not compress an image file as much as the JPEG format does. However, keep in mind that the higher the resolution, the fewer number of images you can capture on one card.

There are three things that go into factoring how many images you can capture on a card: the size of the card, the size of the chip on the camera (how many Megapixels it is), and what the capture resolution is set to. The chart below shows you how many images you can expect to capture with different combinations of these variables.

Figure 7

Figure 7

Since shooting in TIFF mode will only allow you one image on an empty 16MB card, one alternative is to shoot in the SHQ (Super High Quality) JPEG format. This allows six frames per 16MB card and the image quality is almost as good as the TIFF format. The other alternative is to buy larger SmartMedia cards.

To select the resolution, use the arrows to scroll down further on the Menu list (figure 7).

Shooting Outdoors

Taking good portraits outdoors can be easy if you have some basic light modifiers on hand. A bright sunny day can render beautiful, vibrant colors but can also present a high degree of contrast: a primary ingredient for unflattering portraits.

To demonstrate, we brought our model, Maile, outside to a spot with green bushes in the background. As Meile faced the camera, she had to squint as she was also facing the afternoon sun. I set the camera to Program mode for automatic exposure, set the focus mode to spot to better control exposure and focus, and took a shot (figures 8 & 9).

Figure 10

Figure 10

In addition to Maile's squint, notice how dark the shadows from her nose and chin fall off her face in the result shot (figure 10).

To reduce the contrast, Glenn (our makeup artist) held a Photoflex 12" White Translucent Litedisc up to diffuse the sunlight falling on Maile's head and shoulders. This eliminated the harsh shadows, but also changed the exposure. Had I been shooting in the Manual mode, I would have opened the aperture a stop from its original setting. However since I was in Program mode, I simply aimed the camera so that the center spot was lined up with her face, pressed the shutter halfway down to lock exposure and focus, composed the shot, and then pressed the shutter the rest of the way down. Notice how we can now see her eyes, and that the shadows have diminished drastically (figures 11 & 12).

For a final touch, we had Meile hold a 12" White Litedisc just under her face to bounce sunlight up into the shadow areas. I took another shot and viewed it on the playback mode of the camera. The shadows under the eyes and nose have been eliminated, and both Litediscs have created a nice "sparkle" in Maile's eyes (fig 13 & 14).

For a full body shot using this technique, you would simply use larger Litediscs.

Downloading

When you want to import the images onto your computer, there are a couple of ways to do it. You can either connect a PC serial cable from the camera directly to the serial port of the computer, or you can connect a USB card reader/writer to any of the computer's USB ports.

The USB reader/writer is a very simple device to use. Once the software is loaded onto the computer, the unit can be connected even while the computer is on. Here, we plugged the reader/writer into the computer's keyboard (figure 15).

The card can then be inserted into the reader/writer (figure 16).

EQUIPMENT USED

  • Olympus 3040 digital camera
  • Lexar 16MB SmartMedia card
  • Lexar USB SmartMedia reader
  • USB enabled computer
  • Photoflex 12" Translucent Litedisc
  • Photoflex 12" Soft Gold White Litedisc

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