Digital cameras have become standard companions on my frequent travels. I take at least one with me wherever I go. As a journalist, a good camera is not only a tool of my trade, it is an absolute necessity. And since we review a lot of cameras, taking one on a trip is a great way to give it a good workout. Some cameras that seem rather nondescript in the lab turn out to be great on the road (and vice versa). In general, I don't take chances because I can't risk having a camera flake on me when I need it most. That's one of the reasons why my trusted old Nikon Coolpix 990 has traveled all over the world with me. In this column I want to tell you how I manage my pictures while I'm on the road.
Photographers and journalists used to return from trips laden with roll upon roll of undeveloped film. In the olden days of digital photography, I returned with many precious 4MB and 8MB cards chock full of images. I remember a trip to Japan where I ended up deleting pictures from one of my cards and replacing them with some must-have shots recorded at lower resolution just so that I could fit a few more images on the card.
Fortunately, the price of memory cards has come way down since then. I now travel with a couple of Kingston 128MB CompactFlash cards that don't fill up quickly in my Coolpix, and even when I use them in a new 4- or 5-megapixel camera. But just as is so often the case, one problem goes away and another one pops up. And what popped up was this: while memory card capacities keep growing, the memory cards themselves keep getting smaller and smaller. I used to be afraid I might misplace a CompactFlash card because it was so tiny compared to the old PC Cards. Now, CompactFlash cards look huge compared to the SecureDigital (SD) cards that are becoming increasingly popular in digital cameras. As a result, I find myself afraid of losing or misplacing those tiny cards. I could, of course, just leave the card in the camera, but the cameras are getting smaller and smaller also, and I might lose the camera. And with security being what it is these days, no matter what the experts say, I always feel a bit uneasy when my digital camera with 130 irreplaceable images on its memory card has to go on numerous trips through security scanners and x-ray devices.
So here's what I do: I upload my pictures into my notebook computer that also accompanies me on all of my trips. That arrangement has many advantages.
First, after uploading the images from the memory card into the notebook, I can delete them from the card and start filling it up again. No more worrying about running out of memory card space.
Second, I can examine the pictures I took on the notebook computer's large color display. The LCDs on most digital cameras are simply too small to get an idea if a picture is good or not. It has often happened to me that a picture that looked perfect on a 1.5-inch LCD even when magnified turned out to be unacceptably soft when viewed on a large screen. By examining my pictures on a notebook LCD, I can delete the bad ones right away (and perhaps re-shoot them while I am still on location).
Third, I can crop and color-correct images on the notebook before I even get home. Why watch a bad movie on Spectravision when I can work?
Fourth, I can show my pictures to friends and colleagues while still on location. That's always fun, and they appreciate it.
Fifth, I can send the pics to my server, email them to colleagues back in the office, or even create and upload web pages of them.
Sixth, you can leave the pics on the card and use the computer as a backup.
How do I get the images from the camera into the computer?My least favorite way is using the cable and software that came with the camera. That arrangement may work for people who only use one computer and one camera. Me, I don't want to carry around an additional cable that I might lose, and I most definitely do not need the 200MB of underpowered shovelware that the installers most digicams ship with deposit on my computer. Sometimes I wonder why digital camera manufacturers think that I want the "lite" version of some el-cheapo imaging software product plus trial versions of six others, or why I'd want some proprietary (and usually also underpowered) image reader software that only works with that one camera. None of that for me, thanks.
Instead, since almost all notebooks have at least one PC Card slot, I use a CF Card adapter to transfer images from my digital camera to my notebook. I have a number of them, including some that can accommodate the thicker Type II CF cards. And with MMC and SD cards becoming more popular and almost all notebooks having at least one USB port, I also use a USB multicard reader. My favorite is the Dazzle 6-in-1 Reader, a mouse-sized little wonder than can handle PC Card, CF Card, SD, MMC, SmartMedia and the IBM Microdrive. The Dazzle works with both PCs and Macs, costs just US$49.95 and is so good that at Digital Camera Magazine we have standardized on it. The Dazzle also comes with software to make slideshows that run on DVD players. And unlike camera-to-PC cables and their often confusing image capturing software, the Dazzle simply shows up as an additional disk drive (two, actually) on your desktop.
For software, I use my two favorite image viewers: ACDSee 4.0 (www.acdsystems.com) and Ulead Photo Explorer 7.0 Pro (www.ulead.com) to organize my pics, and the full version of Adobe Photoshop for serious photo editing.
This arrangement works great for me. When I was in Taiwan a few months ago, I arrived at 7AM, took a bunch of pictures of downtown Taipei by 11AM, copied them to my notebook, used Photo Explorer to create webpages, and uploaded them from my hotel room for my family and friends to view by noon. Amazing!