Frequently Asked Photo Questions for August

Have a question about digital photography? Send it to me. I reply to as many as I can--though given the quantity of e-mails that I get, I can't promise a personal reply to each one. I round up the most interesting questions about once a month here in Digital Focus. For more frequently asked questions, read my newsletters from May, June, and July.

Palm Pre vs. Apple iPhone

So, which has the better camera?
--Gloria Askin, Denver

I assume you're asking which camera is better--the one in the Palm Pre or the one in the Apple iPhone. A few folks asked me that, surprised that I hadn't picked a winner in my recent look at smartphone cameras. It's a fair question, and I should tell you my opinion.

To start with, keep in mind that both the Palm Pre and iPhone cameras have very similar 3-megapixel sensors. On one hand, the Pre has a built in flash, which has let me get acceptable photos in conditions that the iPhone fails completely. On the other, the iPhone captures video (and even includes a simple video editor)--something the Pre lacks.

Check out this detail of a photo of my dog taken on the Pre. It's passable as smartphone photos go, but the grass is pale and there's virtually no detail even in the nearest blossoms. The color in my dog blurs like an Impressionist painting.

The iPhone has some of the same problems--especially the color tearing on my dog and the lack of definition in the flowers. But when you get right down to it, I think the iPhone has slightly better sharpness and dramatically better color.The grass actually looks green, for instance.

How Do You Use the Manual Switch?

In your article on using an image-stabilized lens, I noticed you included a photo of the same lens I own, a Nikon 18-200mm. Can you explain what the M/A and M settings do?
--Roxanne Worthington, San Francisco

Sure thing, Roxanne. On the lens in question there's a slider switch that lets you choose between the M/A and M positions. These refer to focus. In the M position, the focus is set on manual, and you need to set it by hand using the focusing ring on the lens itself. The camera won't be able to focus the lens for you. In the M/A position, the camera will automatically focus the lens, but you can override this by turning the focusing ring by hand--hence, it's a combination manual/automatic setting.

Inserting the Date in Prints

Have you written about a way to insert the date-taken onto the photo when it is printed?
--Richard C Furman, Portland, Oregon

Last September, I explained how to get the date printed on your photos using Photo Visual Time Stamp, which takes the date from your photo's metadata and stamps it on the image (which, of course, you can then print).

Of course, the opposite problem is that you might have photos with the date printed on them, and you'd like to get rid of it. There's no magic solution, but read "Get Rid of That Ugly Date Stamp" to see some strategies for eradicating the date from older photos.

Avoiding Blurry Close-Ups

I have a camera with a macro mode, but the instructions are not really clear. My macro photos come out quite blurry. Can you please explain how to take a photo using the macro setting?

--Kay Rains, Townsville, Australia

You can typically blame blurry macro photos on two different causes.

First, when taking a macro shot you need to be extra careful to keep the camera steady. I highly recommend using a tripod: If you hold the camera in your hands, odds are good that camera shake will blur your photo.

Second, your camera's macro mode works in a particular range of distances. You need to check your camera's user guide to know exactly what that range is. A typical macro range is 8-24 inches, so you can be no closer than 8 inches and no further than 24 inches, or else the camera will not be able to focus. Those numbers are just examples, though--be sure to find out what the real values are for your own camera.

Read "Taking Close-Up Photos" for more tips.

The Mystery of the Flashing Photos

When I review the photos on my Nikon D40, the white parts of the photo often flash white and black. I don't have any problems when I print the images, but I am wondering why my pictures flash at all.

--Lew Sherman, via e-mail

This is a feature that helps you identify exposure problems in your photos. You can turn it off; refer to the camera's user guide for instructions.

When a bright part of your picture flashes in the LCD display of your camera, it means that this region in the image is "blown out," or overexposed. Consider a photo that includes the sky, for example. You might expect the sky to be blue in the photo, but if it turns out white, that means it's overexposed. You've "lost" the color information that would have been in the photo if it was properly exposed. Your camera helpfully flashes to identify such areas. If you want to, you can retake the photo by intentionally underexposing the scene to get better color in your scene.

Hot Pic of the Week

Get published, get famous! Each week, we select our favorite reader-submitted photo based on creativity, originality, and technique.

Here's how to enter: Send us your photograph in JPEG format, at a resolution no higher than 640 by 480 pixels. Entries at higher resolutions will be immediately disqualified. If necessary, use an image editing program to reduce the file size of your image before e-mailing it to us. Include the title of your photo along with a short description and how you photographed it. Don't forget to send your name, e-mail address, and postal address. Before entering, please read the full description of the contest rules and regulations.

This Week's Hot Pic: "Serenity," by Neil Cavanaugh, Ossipee, New Hampshire

About this photo, Neil writes: "This was a very serene moment on Lake Ossipee. I took this with my Nikon D40x early in the morning."

This Week's Runner-Up: "Wings Up," by Arnold Dubin, Indialantic, Florida

Arnold writes: "I took this photo of the Roseate Spoonbill in Florida's Viera Wetlands. I used my Nikon D200 with a 500mm f4 manual focus lens."

To see last month's Hot Pics, visit our slide show. Visit our Flickr gallery to browse past winners.

Have a digital photo question? Send me[mailto:comments@davejoh.com] your comments, questions, and suggestions about the newsletter itself. And be sure to sign up to have Digital Focus e-mailed to you each week.

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