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 January.
Backing Up Your Photos
In your recent article on backing up photos, why do you recommend an external drive or Home Server when they both rely upon using a magnetic hard drive as the storage medium? This was the device you panned in the beginning of the article.
--Jordan Freedman, West Perth, Washington
I didn't "pan" hard drives, Jordan--I simply pointed out the fact that all drives eventually fail. It's a fact of life.
Nonetheless, hard drives are still your best overall value. CD and DVD are options, but backing up to them is clumsy and slow. Any backup solution that isn't fast and effortless probably will be neglected. And keep in mind that while hard drives fail, so do CDs and DVDs. The big difference is that when your backup drive fails, you know immediately, giving you an opportunity to replace it before it costs you any data. If a DVD in your backup collection fails, you have absolutely no way to know that until you try to retrieve data from it. By then it's probably too late; whatever was on it is gone forever.
There's one other popular backup solution I didn't mention: Online backup services like Mozy and Carbonite back up all your data (including photos) to the cloud for around $50/year. I wouldn't depend upon an online service as my only backup, though. What if the company goes out of business right when you need access to your files? Personally, I rely on Carbonite as a secondary backup in addition to a hard drive-based backup solution in my home office.
Mysteriously Vanishing Aperture Mode
When I am in my camera's aperture mode, I generally take a few photos, but when I set the camera down and pick it up again to shoot another photo I cannot get my aperture control to work. All I get in the view finder is flashing F---. Any ideas?
--Allen Chytracek, Lake Placid, New York
Thanks, Allen. I think that there are two possible culprits. Either you have a bad connection between the camera and lens, or you need to lock the aperture in the lowest position to enable computer control of the aperture.
You can fix the first problem by gently and carefully cleaning the lens connections on the lens and camera body. You can use a lens cleaning cloth to ensure that the electrical contacts should be clear of any debris.
The second issue is easy to troubleshoot as well. Check to see if your lens has an aperture ring near the base of the lens. If it does, you should spin it all the way to its minimum setting and engage the lock--this readies the electronics in the lens to communicate with the camera in Aperture Priority mode.
How can I enlarge a photo without losing quality?
--Andre Monette, Montreal
As a general rule, Andre, when you enlarge a photo, you will definitely lose quality. The exceptions tend to happen in spy movies and television shows, where photo analysts seem capable of zooming in to see minute details in low-resolution photos with infinite clarity. This is generally referred to as "science fiction."
Thankfully, though, science fact is catching up to fiction. There are programs available that use fiendishly complex mathematics to enlarge photos without losing much apparent detail. I highly recommend SmillaEnlarger[http://www.pcworld.com/downloads/file/fid,80366-order,4/description.html], a free program that does an impressive job of making high-quality enlargements from smaller photos. The results won't be perfect, but they will seem almost magical nonetheless.
Resetting the Counter
Is there a way to reset the photo counter on my digital cameras?
--Michael Phillips, Bolingbrook, Illinois
The easiest way to reset the counter that determines how your photos are numbered is to format the memory card. In most digital cameras, when you reformat the memory card, the numbering system used in the photo file names resets to 1. In addition, some cameras have a menu option that lets you choose how to name your photos, so you might want to explore the camera menu or refer to the user guide.
I'd like to be able to carry around one camera for both video and stills, so I'm thinking about getting a digital SLR that can shoot HD video. But I'm confused about whether these cameras can autofocus when shooting video.
--Tom McConnell, Summerville, South Carolina
It depends upon the camera, Tom, so you'll want to read the reviews or specifications for details. The first generation of HD video-compatible digital SLRs were not capable of autofocusing at all when shooting video--you'd need to focus before starting to record, and then manually focus during the shoot or just keep the same distance from the subject and hope for the best.
More recently, digital SLRs have added autofocusing while shooting video to their bag of tricks. Because video-mode auto-focus relies on a different technology than is used when you take still photos, it is actually a bit slower and less accurate, but a dramatic improvement over, well, no auto-focus at all.
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: "Touchdown!," by Tim Marshall, Bayonne, New Jersey
Tim says that he got up close to the action to capture this photo with his Canon EOS Dgital Rebel XTi and a 55mm lens.
This week's runner-up: "Set Down," by Isabella Grass, Parksville, British Columbia
Isabella says that she captured this photo with a Canon EOS 1000D.
This story, "Frequently Asked Photo Questions for February " was originally published by PCWorld.