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Digital Camera Extras You Might Want

No one gets a pizza with just sauce, and the extras are important in digital photography, too. If you take a large number of photographs or you’re interested in producing the best results from your camera, consider adding these extras to your camera bag.

External card readers

Virtually all modern digital cameras connect to your computer via a USB 2.0 cable to transfer pictures. The downside is that you can’t take more shots until the downloading process is complete. If you’re in a hurry or if convenience is important, buy an external card reader that takes care of the downloading chores for you.

Simply pop the card into the reader (which in turn connects to your PC’s USB port) and load a backup memory card into your camera, and you’re ready to return to the action.

External card readers are also the best solution if you have an older digital camera that connects to a USB 1.x port. Because an older USB 1.x connection is as slow as watching paint dry, you can speed things up considerably by ejecting the memory card from your camera and pushing those pictures to your PC through a much faster USB 2.0 connection. An external reader is cheap, too, usually running less than $30.

Rechargeable batteries

You’ll literally end up declaring bankruptcy if you use your digital camera often with single-use batteries. For example, older 3MP cameras can totally exhaust four AA alkaline batteries after one session of 20 photographs.

Here are the three major types of rechargeable batteries to choose among:

  • Nickel-cadmium (NiCad): NiCad batteries are the cheapest type and are available in standard sizes, but they drain quickly and take longer to recharge.

  • Nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH): NiMH rechargeable batteries provide the middle of the road between higher cost and longer life; they take less time to recharge than NiCad batteries, and they last longer, but they’re not as expensive as Li-Ion batteries.

  • Lithium-ion (Li-Ion): These batteries are the best available. They provide more sustained power over a longer period than either of the other types, but they’re the most expensive.

Carry a spare set of charged batteries in your camera bag. The Boy Scouts are right on this one: Be prepared.

Lenses

Like their film brethren, most medium-price and higher-end digital cameras can use external (add-on) lenses. Although your digital camera is likely to have several zoom levels (both digital and optical), photographers use a number of specialized lenses in specific situations. For example, consider these common extra lenses:

  • Telephoto: Using a telephoto lens provides you tremendous long-distance magnification, but you don’t have to be James Bond or a tabloid paparazzo to use one. For example, wildlife and sports photographers use telephoto lenses to capture subjects from a distance. (Referees tend to get surly when you stray on the field just to photograph the quarterback.)

  • Macro: These lenses are specially designed for extreme close-up work; with a macro lens, you can capture images at a distance of a few inches. (They’re great for making your fiancée’s engagement ring look much, much bigger.)

  • Wide angle: A wide angle lens can capture a larger area — what photographers call the field of view — at the expense of detail and the possibility of adding linear distortion. These lenses are often used for scenic or architectural photographs.

Don’t forget a decent lens cap and a photographer’s lens-cleaning cloth to help prevent scratches on those expensive lenses!

Tripods

When most people think of tripods, they think of unwieldy, 5-foot-tall gantries suitable for launching the Saturn V. Yes, some tripods meet those requirements, but they’re absolutely required for low-light, time-lapse, and professional portrait photography.

My camera bag also stows two other platforms that are much smaller:

  • Mini-tripod: An Ambico mini-tripod can hold cameras anywhere from 2 to 4 inches above the table. You can use it in concert with a macro lens for shooting my scale models from a realistic perspective. The GorillaPod is another popular mini-tripod.

  • Monopod: A collapsible monopod (which looks just like a walking stick) can hold a camera steady for quick shots on just about any surface. It also works great when you trip over exposed roots in the forest. Many museums (and government buildings and churches) do not allow monopods because of security considerations.

Although a tripod isn’t a requirement for the casual photographer, you’ll find yourself wishing for one quickly if you move to more serious amateur photography. They sell tripods at your local megamart for a reason.

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