Frequently Asked Photo Questions for January

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 October, November, and December.

Converting Hi8 to DVD

I have an old camcorder that uses Hi8 tape. Is there a way to transfer that video to my computer or DVD? I have had this for quite a few years and have some very precious memories of my grandkids on these tapes.
--C. Kessler, via e-mail

Modern camcorders can easily transfer video to a PC digitally, using USB or FireWire cables. Older camcorders, though, are more problematic because their analog signal doesn't speak the same language as your computer.

There's hope, though. You can plug the analog audio and video cables from your camcorder into any number of devices designed just for that purpose. Check out the video capture devices at PC World's Shop & Compare and you'll find several gadgets that plug into your computer's USB port and act as an intermediary for your old analog camcorder. Once your video is in digital form on your PC, it's easy to use video editing software to turn those movies into DVDs. You can edit video for free using Windows Live Movie Maker. Or, you might try muveeautoProducer ($40) or Adobe Premiere Elements (which you can get with Photoshop Elements for about $120).

Using an Old Flash

I have some flash units from my old film cameras. Can they be used on a digital camera? I've never had a digital camera with a hot shoe before so I'm not sure if it's safe to use them.
--Dennis Kochan, Pueblo, Colorado

In general, Dennis, I advise against it. Since older flash units were often made to generate very high voltages, it's easy to connect the wrong flash to your digital camera and damage the camera. I discussed this problem in the October Digital Focus FAQ--check it out for more details.

Panorama Problems

My hobby is model railroading and I have a large layout on a 16-foot table. I would like to take a panoramic photo of it, but I have tried almost all of the programs that you have mentioned and spent hour after hour with no success. I stood atop a ladder, took one picture, then move the ladder just a foot or two to the right and take another picture with some overlap from the picture before. I have had to do these steps many times to get the whole layout and to stitch them together. I never get good results.
--Mo Ashkanani, Nayak, New Jersey

I see your problem, Mo. When you make a panorama, it's absolutely critical that the camera stays in exactly the same position for each and every photo. You need to turn your body--pivot at the waist or rotate the camera on a tripod--to take each overlapping photo. If you move the camera's physical location, you'll never get a good panorama. Read "Shooting Photos for Panoramas" for tips.

Text Editing

Can you recommend a photo editor that lets you combine text with photos?
--Victor Rakoch, Salt Lake City

Yes, Victor, you'll find that virtually all modern photo editing programs let you add text on top of your images. You can go the "free" route and use a program like GIMP or try one of the popular commercial programs like Adobe Photoshop Elements or Corel Paint Shop Pro.

More Confusion About Photo Size

I am confused about the resolution and file size. Can you explain the difference between these two photos? [Duane attached two images to the e-mail.] One photo has a resolution of 2700 dpi and the other is 72dpi. Oddly, they appear to be about the same size, but there is a big difference in document size. I am really confused.
--Duane Weichmann, Orlando, Florida

This is perhaps the most common question I get, Duane--many readers are confused by conversations about the "size" of digital photos. Let me try to break it down for you.

Cameras are often characterized by "megapixels," or how many millions of pixels they can pack into a photo. A 10-megapixel camera takes pictures with 10 million pixels--and if you inspect the photo in Windows or in a photo editing program, you'll see that's some number of pixels width by height, such as 5000 by 2000 (5000 times 2000 equals 10 million).

You can also measure a photo by its file size--the number of megabytes it takes up on your memory card or hard disk.

These two numbers (megapixels and file size) have absolutely nothing to do with each other. A 10-megapixel photo might "weigh" about a megabyte on your hard drive, or it might be a 4-megabyte file. The file size depends on several factors, including the pixel size (megapixels), the file format (such as JPEG or RAW), and the amount of file compression used to save the photo (something your camera might describe as the quality setting).

Finally, there's the dots per inch (dpi) value, such as the 2700 and 72 numbers you referred to. These are red herrings, utterly meaningless most of the time. It might be useful to calculate the dpi of your photo when you plan to print it, but in general, I think that the dpi values presented by photo editing programs are misleading and should be ignored.

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: "Day Gecko," by George Brims, Newbury Park, California

George writes: "This is a Gold Dust Day Gecko, which I photographed in Kona, Hawaii, using an HP 945 in macro mode."

This Week's Runner-Up: "Stairway to Heaven," by Clint Simmons, Silverton, Oregon

Clint writes: "I was on a road trip to Seattle, and this was the very first image I snapped when I arrived. The sun came through the clouds at just that moment, and I took what I thought was the most striking picture of the day. My camera is an Olympus SP570UZ."

To see all of the January winners, visit the Hot Pics slide show. Visit the Hot Pics Flickr gallery to browse past winners.

Have a digital photo question? E-mail me 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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