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Digital Photo FAQ's & Tips: Miscellaneous

This section of the web site is a collection of digital photo Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's) and Tips.

How many photos fit on a memory card?

The answer depends on the following camera factors: resolution (megapixels), image quality setting, recording mode (JPEG, raw), and the amount of image compression. Instead of providing an enormous chart covering the above factors, let me give you an easy method for determining this answer for a specific camera:

  1. Insert a blank memory card of any size into the camera.
  2. Set the camera to the mode you are most likely to use. If not sure, then use Auto or Easy.
  3. Turn on the camera and look for a number on the preview screen—this number indicates how many photos fit on that memory card.

    If the display does not show the number of photos, then take photos until the card is full and keep count. (This will go quicker with a smaller memory card, such as a 64 MB.)
  4. Then, divide the number of photos into the size of the memory card.
  5. For example, if a 64 MB memory card held 25 photos, then the formula is the following: 64 / 25 = 2.5 MB per photo.
  6. Now that you know the size of one photo, you can answer the original question with this formula:

    [memory card size in MB's] / [photo size in MB's] = # of photos

    Note that 1 GB (gigabyte, or billion bytes) is approximately equal to 1,000 MB's (megabytes, or million bytes).

Let's use my 3.2 megapixel camera as an example. In Auto (JPEG) mode the image sizes are 1.7 MB and in P (raw) mode they are 2.5 MB per photo. Here are three memory card sizes and the number of photos they hold:

  • 128 MB card: 75 JPEG photos | 51 raw photos
  • 256 MB card: 150 JPEG photos | 102 raw photos
  • 1,000 MB card: 588 JPEG photos | 400 raw photos

One large memory card or several smaller ones?

Generally speaking, a larger memory card will be less expensive per megabyte, making it seem like the best choice. If you are buying your first memory card, consider buying two or three smaller ones instead of a single large one. Why? What if, after a long day of taking pictures, your camera is lost, or you step on your memory card, or the memory card malfunctions, or insert your own unfortunate event here. If that was your only memory card, you just lost all of your photos for the day. With more than one memory card, your day may not be a complete loss.

What is the best digital photo organizing software?

Numerous free and inexpensive software packages are available to help organize digital photo collections. While we recognize that the title of best software can be hotly contested, we nevertheless make the following recommendations:

  • Basic needs: For those just getting into digital photography or having very basic needs, we recommend a free software package. This may be the software that came with your camera or Picasa offered by Google.
  • Better categorization: For those who need more control over categories and don't mind spending a little time learning a new software package, we recommend the Organizer that comes with Adobe Photoshop Elements 4.0.
  • Advanced users: For computer-savvy photographers with a large photo collection, we recommend IMatch.

Please see Organizing Digital Photos for more on this topic.

Should I buy a digital camera without a viewfinder?

To reduce the cost of low-end cameras, some models are available without an optical viewfinder. On these cameras you must use the LCD preview screen to frame your shot. Buyers considering their first digital camera often wonder if the reduced price justifies giving up the viewfinder.

We feel that in most cases a viewfinder is a necessary camera feature for the following reasons:

  • Some LCD screens are difficult to see in bright daylight. Under these conditions, the shot can be framed with the viewfinder.
  • Battery power can be extended by turning off the LCD preview screen and using the viewfinder instead.
  • The viewfinder isolates the image to be photographed and can result in better pictures. For more on this topic, read Use Your Viewfinder For A Better Picture.

There is one down-side to viewfinders (except on SLR cameras): the image you see in the optical viewfinder is slightly different than what the lens will capture. Become familiar with this difference by viewing the same scene on the preview screen and the viewfinder. Once you know how they differ, you can compensate when taking photos through the viewfinder.

Digital camera as scanner

When a scanner is not available, a digital camera can do the job. Though not an ideal replacement for a quality photo scanner, the camera can be used to capture documents and other printed material.

The best way I found to photograph a flat document is to lay it on a table, point the camera straight down on the document, raise the camera as high as possible, zoom in if necessary, and take the picture with the flash.

I suggest raising the camera as high above the document as possible so that the flash is not so close that it overwhelms the image being photographed.