Getting started with Digital Cameras
Dave Bradforth introduces the world of digital photography to RISC OS users
With good quality digital cameras now starting at a touch under £50, it's never been easier to get into digital photography with help from the computer. Even with a RISC OS computer, there's a good choice of software and hardware available to help you produce better photographs.
Based in part on an article on The Cybervillage, we've put together here a comprehensive get started guide to digital cameras for RISC OS. From buying batteries and memory cards through to finding the most appropriate software to achieve the desired effect, we've got a bit of everything here. If you have any further questions please direct them to us at the usual address and we'll update in a future issue.
When it comes to getting started with digital photography, there are a number of sites offering a starting point. Located on the Nikon website, 'Who's afraid of Digital Cameras' provides a jargon-free look at what it takes to get started with a digital camera. Exploring everything from the set up through to taking those first photographs, it takes mainly the focus of working with the camera; but does explore things you may wish to do with them.
Exploring the basics of photo imaging, the Epi-Centre website has 'The Art & Science of Digital Imaging'; a comprehensive introduction to the basics of Detail, Tone and Colour. With less on the technicalities (and in fact very little focus on a particular brand of camera) this does have the advantage of exploring the techniques, but lacks in some of the more specific details. It's a very useful guide for beginners to the subject though.
Digital Photography Review, edited by one-time Acorn User news editor Ian Burley, is one of the most comprehensive digital photography resource sites on the Internet. Featured within this is a section called simply 'Learn'. Located here are a number of articles exploring different aspects of digital photography, from techniques through to the terminology behind using a digital camera.
Unlike magazines for the RISC OS platform, of which only Qercus is still available through the UK newsstand (on occasion), there are a number of magazines regularly published in print form guiding you through different parts of the process involved in buying or using a digital camera.
Before you've actually bought the camera, Digital Camera Buyer from Highbury Entertainment (01202 200200) talks through the latest cameras on sale in each issue; with often over 60 reviews stuffed into a relatively small title. The layout is very arty, with a good selection of photographs illustrating the capabilities of each camera and cameras to suit the majority of budgets. It's a shame that some of the more capable lower-end cameras are left out; but on the whole the balance in Digital Camera Buyer is extremely useful.
From Future Publishing, Digital Camera Shopper has recently adopted Mark Sparrow (one-time technical editor on MacFormat) as its editor. With a similar focus to Digital Camera Buyer what's nice about Digital Camera Shopper is that the magazine often has tutorials relevant to the topic to back up the reviews and features of new products.
Technique magazines, such as Digital Photographer and Digital Photography Made Easy are useful for relevance, particularly when you can take the techniques described and adopt them in a RISC OS software package. It's just a shame that where the PC and Mac OS X platforms have Photoshop CS 2, RISC OS is limited to Photodesk as a leading example of bitmap graphics editing software. (We explore the different packages available later on).
When it comes to buying your digital camera, there are a number of suppliers you can turn to for useful help and advice.
If you're looking to buy a digital camera for use on RISC OS, it may be worth spending the extra money to guarantee RISC OS support by buying through your friendly RISC OS dealer. CJE Micros or Surftec may be in a position to offer the hardware and any support drivers you may need.
If you're not too fussed, then looking at the high street and Internet there are a number of locations you could be looking towards.
Jessops is one of the largest, and best-known, camera retailers on the high street. Offering pretty much anything for the photographer from film and film-based cameras to digital variants; including digital video cameras, one little known advantage of the company is its price-match policy. Their pricing is extremely competitive; in one case a digicam priced at £199 was located in a supplier 20 meters away for £279.
Internet Cameras Direct is one of the webs biggest suppliers. Again offering competitive pricing, the company used to advertise in every magazine under the sun - including Acorn User, but now is somewhat more selective with its promotion. They do have a good and growing range of product available though.
One of the first things you'll discover about using your digital camera is the amount and speed at which they consume battery power. Some models use dedicated rechargeables, while others will allow you to use standard off the shelf rechargeable AA cells. Unfortunately, standard Alkaline cells bought in the shops will last you about ten minutes; so the secret to ensure you don't end up spending your entire life changing batteries is to get special high capacity cells called Ni-MH.
The capacity of batteries is rated in milliAmperes per hour (mAh), and the bigger the number the more power stored within the battery. Standard AA cells are not designed for the current drain demanded by digital cameras, and as such they lost only a few minutes. The free batteries supplied with a new camera, are often low capacity - rated at under 1500mAh whereas many cameras these days demand over 2300mAh Ni-MH cells and as such last longer.
This is where Hahnel Batteries come in; they make some of the most powerful batteries available to buy. Sherwoods Photo Ltd is one of the more typical UK online dealers supplying them.
One tip - Ensure you buy a recharger that can recharge four cells at once in much less than 8 hours. This ensures they're ready for the use the next day when you charge them overnight. Be wary of 'free' rechargers as they can often take between twelve and fifteen hours to recharge a set of batteries.
Digital Cameras need lots of portable storage if you don't want to run out of space taking pictures whilst out and about. Needless to say, most manufacturers seem to only supply the smallest memory cards when you buy. You may find that one way for a shop to offer better value for money is by bundling a card with the camera - indeed it can become a useful bargaining point when buying over a counter.
No matter which size you end up with, chances are you'll want a bigger one - so why not look out for the new age of cameras that will not only allow for the use of memory cards but also floppy disks, CD RWs or even DVD RWs; increasing by an exponential amount the number of photographs you can store on a single item of media.
Be aware that unless your RISC OS computer has RISC OS Adjust, or a recent version of RISC OS 5, you'll not be able to access a DVD RW on your computer.
RISC OS Issues
Just a few years ago, RISC OS was blessed with a number of suppliers offering driver software and cameras for RISC OS. Interconnex, Spactech/Photodesk and Computer Concepts all offered a digital camera at some point; of which only the Photodesk software is still available through CJE Micros.
Whereas it used to be a case of serial or USB, the only cameras you'll be able to buy now are USB - all serial cameras were discontinued a couple of years ago. At the moment, USB is an option for those with an Iyonix or older machine fitted with USB card.
There are two conflicting USB standards for RISC OS - one designed by Simtec, which seems to have been adopted by the majority of developers supplying camera kit for the RISC OS platform; and the other by Castle Technology which seems to have attracted limited support driven mainly by Castle itself.
Card readers can be separate devices that can be plugged into a USB port, or placed into an empty floppy bay in the machine. For Risc PC owners, this is a viable choice; but may require a cable located outside the machine that is fed back into it in order to access the USB ports.
Viewing and Manipulating Images
There are a number of free or shareware options are available, including Thump, Variations, PicIndex and others. Some will allow for the printing of proof sheets on A4 pages (such as Variations).
Commercially, Studio 24 Pro (originally designed by Pineapple Software) has one of the widest tool sets available in any commercial package. There is a plug-in interface which was designed for the application, unfortunately when the new publishers tried to find out details on how to develop through it the details had long since been lost.
ProArtisan 24, originally from Clares Micro Supplies, is one of the few 32-bit capable graphics packages for RISC OS. Like its sister product Compo, ProArtisan is available from APDL and allows the absolute beginner to get into the basics of digital image manipulation with little or no fuss.
You can archive images on CD or DVD if you have a CD/DVD burner fitted to the machine. With a little effort, you can produce a set of resized images from your originals (using Paint, ChangeFSI or ProArt) and perhaps a cover sheet as a PDF (constructed using Ovation Pro with help from RiScript) and you'll be able to easily share your files with others.
To go one step further, you could perhaps use software to build web pages from your images - this can then easily be incorporated onto the CD. PC and Mac users running PowerPoint have a template available to produce a CD catalogue; as do users of Macromedia Flash MX.
You can now do pretty much anything with digital images on a modern RISC OS computer. So long as you have a RISC OS 4 or later machine; with a CD or DVD drive. You should be in a position to take your images, create directories of different sized images, produce printed sheets of thumbnails for easy references, create web pages of them, burn them to a disc and place them into a display folder.
If you get really involved you can archive your images in a lever arch file - a different and cheap holiday album. For a better look at your snaps, insert the disc into a computer and view.
So there we have it - a complete introduction to getting started with a digital camera. It's based on an article, but ended up different ... thanks go to Ross McGuiness for help with this piece.