Frequently Asked Photo Questions for July

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 April, May, and June.

Using Old Lenses on a Digital SLR

I have a wide range of lenses that fit my old film SLR, many of which are 35 to 40 years old. Can I use these lenses on a new digital SLR?
--Michael A. Stewart, Houston

While you might want to keep your old lenses for nostalgic reasons, I think you'll generally find that most won't give you a satisfactory experience with modern digital SLRs.

Depending upon which lenses you have and camera you're planning to get, you can probably make the mechanical connection between camera and lens--Canon still uses its traditional screw-on mount, for example, and Nikon digital SLRs accept the same lenses that Nikon has sold for many decades. So in many cases you will indeed be able to take pictures with the old lens.

That's usually the end of the good news, though: Old lenses will typically be electronically incompatible with modern cameras, so you won't be able to take advantage of autofocus or electronic aperture control. That means your brand-new digital camera will behave like a manual-focus, manual-exposure camera, no different from my 1960s vintage Minolta SRT-101.

For the definitive word on your specific collection of glass, I suggest taking a list of the lenses you own to a local camera store and asking a knowledgeable sales rep if they're compatible with a modern digital SLR.

Making Poster-Sized Prints

Is it possible to enlarge a photo from my camera's memory card to poster size without losing quality? We'd like to make a framed poster to hang in our house.
--Shane Bertagnolli, Chicago

Absolutely, Shane--you can get excellent poster-sized prints from online printing sites like Shutterfly or Snapfish.

For optimal results, it's best to use a photo that is large enough to make a 200-dpi print. If you're talking about a 20 by 30-inch poster, though, that adds up to an insanely large 4000 by 6000 pixel (24 megapixel) photo. In reality, since we hang posters on the wall and stand back several feet from them, you can get away with a significantly lower resolution and still achieve a nice-looking print. I've gotten excellent results with 6-megapixel photos, for example.

Replacing the Background in a Photo

I shoot a lot of snapshots of my grandkids and get some great poses. However, the backgrounds are often full of junk. I want to replace that mess with something bland, such as a background from another photo, using Photoshop Elements 8. How do I do that?
--Joe Kistner, Pekin, North Dakota

Essentially, Joe, you're looking for a way to "punch out" the foreground--your grandkids--and paste it onto another photo. This isn't always easy to do, especially if the background is busy and the subject has hair. Nonetheless, it's one of the most common tricks in digital photography.

Since you're using Photoshop Elements, I suggest that you use the Magic Extractor tool to separate the foreground and background. I wrote about how to do this in "Two Ways to Remove the Background From a Photo."

Copying Photos to a Camera's Memory Card

Not long ago, you wrote an article about memory cards. I have another question about them. I would like to copy selected photos from my PC to a memory card and carry it around in the camera, so I can show people my photos using the camera's LCD display. The problem is that when I do that, the photos are not visible using the camera, even though that camera was used to take the photos in the first place.
--Joe Trubic, Glendale, California

This is a common problem, Joe, and it's unfortunate that camera manufacturers don't recognize that so many people want to do this and just make it easier to do.

As a general rule, cameras expect to find photos on memory cards meeting three criteria: In a file format supported by the camera, such as JPEG or the camera's RAW format; using the camera's file naming convention, such as DSC_0021; and in whatever folder organization the camera typically creates. If any of those criteria are different, the camera will ignore the photo as if it doesn't exist.

You should be able to see your photos if you don't mess with the file name and you copy them back to the same folder that the camera typically uses to store photos. I've also heard from some readers that some cameras will not see photos that have been modified by a photo editing program--so you might need to experiment it a bit, and depending upon what camera you own, your mileage may vary.

Replacing an Old Photo Editor

I have been using Microsoft Picture It Publishing for many years. I like the ability to make folded cards and posters. I tried this software on Windows 7, but it doesn't work. Is there another program with the same variety of capabilities that is compatible with Windows 7?
--Murray Allen, Vancouver

Don't give up on Picture It quite yet, Murray. You should try Windows 7's compatibility mode or even XP Mode to try to get the program to run--check out Microsoft's help video on this subject for details.

If those options don't work for you, download a trial copy of Adobe Photoshop Elements. It doesn't have the same depth of photo publishing options as good old Picture It, but you can definitely make projects like greeting cards.

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: "Soaking," by Nichole Bengtson, Markesan, Wisconsin

Nichole says: "This Gerber Daisy is potted in my front yard. After watering it one afternoon and seeing the way the sun hit the water drops, I had to grab the shot with my Nikon D40."

This week's runner-up: "The Songs of Hiawatha," by Robert Jones, New Zealand

Robert writes: "I took this photo while doing an assessment for a digital photograph class. The assignment was to show "form." I used a Canon EOS 400D, and made some minor edits to the photo by changing the Levels, Curves, and Clarity.

To see last month's winners, visit the June 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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