Mobile Computing: Digital Camera Tips

Feature: Get More Out of Your Camera

The typical mobile professional's bag bulges with a notebook, a PDA, and a mobile phone (or smart phone), not to mention business cards, folders stuffed with papers, and the occasional half-eaten ham sandwich. And there's probably an MP3 player in there somewhere, too.

So I'm loath to suggest adding yet one more thing to an already overstuffed bag. But suggest I will: On your next business trip, consider packing a digital camera.

Yes, you can take pictures with many cell phones today. But most offer image resolution no greater than 640 by 480 pixels, which simply isn't enough to capture fine details.

A digital camera can be an extremely useful tool for capturing information as well as images. I'll give you a few examples, plus provide tips on backing up your image files on the go and shopping resources.

Digicam as Business Tool

Show and Tell: Are you meeting with prospective customers to discuss your new product line? If so, showing them pictures can help you get your point across effectively. You could put together a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation or show pictures with your notebook, of course. But if the meeting room has a TV set, you can easily present a slide show by hooking up your digital camera (on which you've already stored your product photos) to the TV. Most current digital cameras come with video-out cables that connect to a TV monitor's video input jack.

Get Details: When you're at a trade show, you may see dozens of products on display in booths, the details of which you'll need to recall later. With a digital camera (and permission from the booth attendant), you can snap pictures of products for your own use later, or to e-mail to colleagues. Of course, product literature containing photos is often available in trade-show booths. But with your own camera, you can zero in on the details that interest you the most.

Record Information: I've used my Minolta Dimage Xi to capture information that would have been cumbersome or difficult to write down. For example, when I was testing the NeverLost GPS system in a Hertz rental car, there were several times when I needed to make notes about what was displayed on the GPS screen. Rather than trying to describe it in written notes, I simply snapped pictures of the screen. (Note to highway patrol officers who may be reading this: I was parked at the time.)

Copy Notes: If you're in a meeting where someone is writing on a whiteboard or flip chart, you can record those notes easily with a digital camera. If you're the one making those notes, take pictures of them afterwards and e-mail them to attendees. You could even import the images into a Microsoft Word file and add additional notes. (This tip from Gary Kustis of Lakewood, Ohio appeared in a recent newsletter and is well worth repeating.)

Backing Up Your Image Files

Now that you have all this valuable information stored on your digital camera, you need to back it up.

Most current digital cameras store images on flash memory cards, such as Secure Digital cards or Sony Memory Sticks. If you're traveling with a notebook and it happens to contain the appropriate flash memory card slot, you can just copy the image files to your hard drive.

If your notebook doesn't have built-in flash memory slots--and many don't--you'll need an external card reader. They're inexpensive, small, and lightweight. For example, SanDisk's $20 ImageMate USB 2.0 Reader/Writer connects to your notebook's USB 2.0 or 1.1 slot and comes in versions for four different types of flash memory cards: SD/MultiMediaCard, CompactFlash, XD-Picture Card, and Memory Stick/Memory Stick Pro.

You don't have to carry your notebook just to back up your digital camera files, either. For example, Kanguru's new Slim FC-RW ($250) is an external CD-RW/DVD-ROM drive with slots for flash memory cards. You can insert your camera's flash memory card into a slot on the drive and burn a backup CD of the images without needing a computer. You can also connect the drive to a TV and watch DVDs, the company says.

Delkin's USB Bridge ($70) is another option. The palm-sized device lets you connect two USB devices without a computer. Using the USB Bridge, you could connect your digital camera (as long as it has a USB port) to an external hard drive or other USB device to copy files, according to the company.

For more digital camera backup tips, see PC World columnist Dave Johnson's newsletter on the topic, "Photo Backup Tips and Tricks." Dave's tip-filled Digital Focus newsletters on digital photography are archived online.

Buyer's Resources

What if you don't have a digital camera and are now convinced you need one? Check out "How to Buy a Digital Camera" for an explanation of specs, shopping tips, and more. In "Top 10 Digital Cameras" our editors rank the best-performing models and provide pricing, specs, and test report results.

Your Digital Camera Tips

Do you use a digital camera on your business trips? If so, I'd like to hear about it. Send me e-mail.

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