Some notes on digital still cameras for bird photography: Part 6

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Subject: Some notes on digital still cameras for bird photography: Part 6
From: "Robert Inglis" <>
Date: Sun, 28 Jul 2002 08:40:51 +1000
Hello again,
This is Part 6 of my notes and comments on digital cameras for bird photography.

In this part I will discuss:
- Storage media:

Note: Please read the disclaimer at the end of this message and remember that
these notes are only my personal musings.

I don't need to tell the 'viewers' that film cameras store images on strips of
chemical coated plastic so I won't.
On the other hand, I will mention the fact that most digital cameras store the
images, in data, on high-tech 'floppy disk' type removable cards.
Some early digital cameras, and even some recent 'cheap' models, only store the
images on internal memory which puts severe limitations on how many pictures can
be taken in a session.

These removable cards are referred to in a number of ways:
- Storage Cards
- Digital Film
- Memory Card
- MultiMedia Card (I really hate words with capitals in the middle!!)
- Flash Memory
and possibly a few other terms.
Sometimes they are referred to by the format name that the particular
manufacturer gives them.
The various format names include:
- SmartMedia *
- Compact Flash Types I & II (CF) *
- Secure Data (SD) [sometimes called Secure Digital]
- Sony's Memory Stick *
- Tri-Flash
- Sanyo's iD Photo
- IBM's MicroDrive 1GB or 2GB (which is effectively a
very tiny hard-drive with a capacity of 1 Gigabyte or more.)
A couple of cameras even use 156MB 8cm Compact Discs in lieu of the normal card.
(A bit [from binary digit] is the basic unit of digital information, i.e.,
either a 0/nothing or a1/something]; a byte is a number of bits or a 'word'; a
kilobyte [KB] is 1000 bytes; a megabyte [MB] is a million bytes; a Gigabyte [GB]
is a 1000 Megabytes.)

The formats above marked with a * are probably the most common in use.
The MicroDrive is designed for use in lieu of the Compact Flash cards and
Sanyo's iD Photo is a magneto-optical disc which can hold 750MB of data
(currently, but more in the future) and is probably only used in one or two
cameras at this stage.

The big features of these media cards, apart from the Sanyo iD Photo disc and
the CDs, is the small size, a fraction of the size of a normal floppy disk, and
the increasingly larger storage 'space' on them.
Storage sizes range from 4MB to over 512MB.
Try fitting a 1000-shot roll of film in your 'Oh-so-superior' 35mm SLR film
Bet you can't :-)!!!!!!

Also, several media cards together take up a lot less room in your luggage or
pocket than the equivalent in rolls of film.
Media cards and the data stored on them are said to be safe from damage by
airport x-ray machines but the cards are still somewhat fragile.
Because they are electronic devices they need to be handled carefully (beware
where you put your fingers) and keep them away from strong magnetic influences.
They should be kept in their anti-static container if not actually in the
One thing to remember is that the bigger the camera's CCD pixel count the bigger
the image file size and therefore the bigger the storage capacity needed on your
media cards.
But remember, media cards are like DR Who's time machine: no matter how big they
are on the inside they are always the same size on the outside.

Most cameras can only use one type of card.
(Except that the MicroDrive can sometimes be used in cameras designed for
Compact Flash cards.)
The type of card a particular camera uses is usually dependant on the brand of
the camera, however, there are cameras on the market that have slots for at
least two different types of card.
It probably doesn't really matter which type of card is used; the most important
feature is their capacity.
Anyway, if you choose a camera for features such as the power of the lens you
will have to take the card format used by that camera.
There is no option for choosing the storage card format for the particular
camera you want.
Which can be a bit of a pain if you already have another device, e.g., video
camera, MP3 player, etc, that uses removable storage card media.

Media cards are what you would call 'expensive'.
The mitigating factor to this, of course, is that they can be reused time and
time again after the stored images have been downloaded to a computer or simply
(Try that with your used roll of film full of unwanted pictures.)
This is supposed to be where the real 'savings' come about in using digital
cameras as opposed to film cameras.
'Genuine' brand storage cards are, as is always the way, dearer than
'non-genuine' types.
There is a variety of 'after-market' brands of cards available and generally
they provide a good saving in cost.
It is worth noting, however, that some non-genuine cards may not allow some of
the more 'fancy' features of the camera to work.
For example, the 'Panorama' feature is disabled if a non-Olympus brand card is
used in my Olympus C-700 Ultra Zoom.
Read the user manual for 'your' camera to check features like this.
On a more serious note, I have heard of a case where a non-genuine storage card
was used in a Minolta Di'mage 5 camera and, although the camera appeared to work
ok and the images appeared to be storing on the card, when the camera was turned
off the images were erased.
This did not happen when another brand of card was used.
Perhaps it was a faulty card but there is a lesson there: check that your camera
works satisfactorily with the brand of storage card you choose.
So far I have had no troubles with the cards I have used.

In practice, there can be a tendency to 'snap' away madly thus filling up the
card fairly quickly.
If the plan is to keep all shots taken until reviewed on a computer it will
usually be necessary to have several spare cards on hand.

The number of shots that can be stored on a given capacity card is
dependant on the quality setting on the camera.
Most cameras are capable of taking 'uncompressed' (or nearly so) and
'compressed' images.
The uncompressed image contains all or most of the information processed by the
sensor whereas the compressed image has a lot of 'redundant' or unnecessary
information removed.
This process is a bit too technical to go into here but it should be easily
realized that an uncompressed image should look better than a compressed image.
In fact, however, depending on the degree of compression the difference is often
hard to pick.
Most cameras will have one uncompressed setting (naturally) but may have several
compressed settings.
Some of these settings may also produce images of different physical sizes which
also changes the file size.
An uncompressed image will be a much bigger file than a compressed image and a
small picture will produce a smaller file than a large picture.

Examples for my 2 Mega-pixel C-700 are:
Uncompressed (almost): (in TIFF file format) 5640 KB (kilobytes)
Compressed, Super High Quality [SQH], (JPEG file format) 1063 KB;
Compressed, High Quality [HQ], (JPEG file format) 445 KB;
Compressed, Standard Quality [SQ], (JPEG file format) 75KB.
(All settings except SQ set to produce images 1600 x 1200 pixels; SQ set to
produce images 640 x 480 pixels.)
Actually, there are other pixel size settings for TIFF and SQ but it gets
The options on digital cameras can be a bit bewildering!!
The file formats TIFF and JPEG are formats that are readable by both Macintosh
and Windows software applications..
Most Digital cameras will store images in these formats.

If you want the best images to work with and to print then go for uncompressed
settings; if you only intend viewing the pictures on a computer or TV screen
compressed images will be perfect.
If you intend sending images over the internet you probably will need to
compress the file even further with an image software application.
A 64MB card will hold about 140 HQ images taken with my Olympus C-700.
Generally, this level of quality is quite acceptable to me.
If you always take the best quality pictures you will need to have plenty of
high-capacity cards on hand which is not a bad idea anyway.

In the next part to this epic I will discuss what you can, should and must do
with the pictures you have stored on the storage media card.
And I will mention 'Meta-data'.

In later parts there will be notes on:
- Flash:
- Accessories:
.....2/ Wide-angle converters:
.....3/ Close-up filters:
.....4/ Lens filters:
- Digiscoping:

Happy snapping

Bob Inglis
Woody Point

Please note that these are my personal opinions gained from personal experience
and observation; other people may have other opinions and different experiences.
What I have written below is not intended to be absolute.
Anyone contemplating purchasing a digital camera for any reason or purpose would
be advised to seek advice from other sources as well.
Note that, except where a particular model of digital camera is mentioned, these
comments and notes are meant to be general by nature.
These comments and notes are not intended to be an endorsement for or a
statement against any particular brand or model of digital camera; they are
intended only to be a point of discussion for those people who may be
considering purchasing and/or using digital cameras for bird photography.
It should be realized that changes are occurring seemingly daily in this field
and therefore features and usability of digital cameras are changing also.
The types of digital cameras will change regularly as will the quality of image

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