Lesson 2: Media Cards

I promise this course is not going to just be just a bunch of me talking. We’re going to go do some shooting and we’re going to get started on that very soon. But before we do, you need to have your camera configured a particular way so that you can follow along with all of these lessons. If there are some odd settings on your camera that can make some of the lessons more difficult. A digital image is composed of a grid of pixels, picture elements. Another word for colored dots. If you have an 18 megapixel camera then with each shot, your camera captures a grid that contains 18 million pixels. The more pixels you have, the bigger you can print. However, you can probably configure your camera to capture fewer pixels. This allows you to fit more images onto the camera’s storage card. Smaller images will also take less time to transfer to your computer. However, with a small image you’ll be capturing less detail and you won’t be able to crop your images as much and still maintain a result that’s big enough for quality printing. People often think, “Oh it’s okay, I’m know I’m not going to print this. “I just need something to post on a webpage.” And that may be true, right now. If the image is particularly nice though you might find other uses for it later, and then be disappointed that you don’t have enough pixels for the job. So I always recommend shooting at the highest pixel count that your camera provides. Yes, it takes up more storage, but storage is very inexpensive. By default, cameras shoot images in a format called JPEG. JPEG is simply a specification for compression of an image. By using a bunch of math, the data that represents that grid of pixels can be greatly compressed, so that it doesn’t take up as much space. However, the process of compression will degrade the quality of your image. Again, storage is cheap, so rather than trying to cram more images onto your card through compression, it’s better to use the lowest amount of compression that you can. This will keep image quality high. In addition to JPEG your camera might be able to shoot in something called RAW format. RAW is beyond the scope and concern of this course so you just don’t need to worry about it right now. Because changing the image size and compression is not a feature that you need to use everyday, most camera vendors bury those controls somewhere in the camera’s menu system. There’s probably a button somewhere on your camera called menu, that takes you into a bunch of pages with different controls and options. If you’ve never ventured into the menu system before, now’s a great time to practice. Check your camera’s manual if you get stuck. What you’re looking for is something called image size, or size. Some cameras group image size and quality together into a single menu page. For example, on this Canon 7D, which is pretty typical of a Canon interface, I press the menu button and then I get this big mess of menus here. And across the top I have all these different menus. I can move between each one, it has a bunch of options. In the very first option, the very first item is quality. This is where I can select the size and level of compression for the images. And you see that there is an L with what looks like a little piece of pie there. L means large, full pixel count. And that little piece of pie is meant to indicate that I’m at best quality. I’m going to open up that item and here I see a quality menu. Up at the top it’s showing me the current settings. 18 megapixels and it’s showing me the pixel dimesions. And then there’s a section for RAW and a section for JPEG. I can turn this wheel to move around my JPEG options. So you see there are two different L’s. One has a smooth piece of pie and the other has a chunkier piece of pie. That’s simply indicating the level of compression. The smooth piece of pie is going to be better quality than the chunkier piece of pie. I can go over here to medium, and you can see up at the top now that it’s saying I’m at an eight megapixel image, as opposed to the 18 megapixel image that I was at before. And for medium I have two settings. One for full quality and one for lesser quality. And again this is just the level of JPEG compression. The more JPEG compression you apply to an image, the more you degrade the quality. And then I have a small size with two levels of quality. Again, I really recommend just keeping it on the highest pixel count, best level of JPEG compression that you can get. That’s going to ensure that you’ve got enough pixels to do stuff with later, and you haven’t degraded your image with too much compression. I said that RAW is something you’re going to need to know about later, or want to know about later, and we’re not going to cover it in this course, but note that I can also set a RAW setting in here, so that can be confusing sometimes. I can actually set both, and that means the camera will shoot both at the same time. For what we’re doing, just turn RAW off, so that the camera is only capturing a JPEG image. Your camera might offer a different interface. Again, just check the manual to figure out more. Finally, I’m going to ask you to erase your camera’s media card. That will ensure you have plenty of space to work with and it gives me a couple of chances to say some things about media cards. In workshops I sometimes encounter students who buy a big media card, and use that as the permanent storage for their images. They think of it just as a nice big image repository. That’s a very bad idea. The flash memory cards that your camera uses are fragile. Physically and logically. What’s more is you take them out into the world and carry them around. If you lose your camera or your card and you’re keeping all of your images on it, you’re going to lose all of of your images. Media cards can be sensitive to static electricity so you could lose images just from wool socks on a shag carpet in the wintertime. Work flow and photo management is a big topic and we’ll have more to say about it later, but for right now start developing the habit of regularly clearing off your card. Dumping the images into the computer and then erasing the card. Your camera probably provides two ways to delete the contents of it’s media card. One will be called something like “erase all” and the other will be called “format” or maybe “initialize”. You always want to use the “format” option. Regularly using “erase all” can mess up the directory structure of the card and that can one day lead to images being unreadable. Fortunately you can fix that at any time with a format. Right now, make sure the card contains no images you want to save, and then do a format. Now we’re ready to move on to a couple of other configuration things.

It’s easy to be intimidated by the huge number of controls and options on your camera. But as you learn more, I expect you’ll find that most of these controls and options are for features that you don’t even need or want. For example, my camera has a lot of image management features built in. I do all of my image management using my computer because I like having a bigger screen and because the interface is easier. That means I can simply ignore all of those menu items on my camera. Similarly, my camera can perform some image editing and special effects, but again, I prefer to do that on my computer. So, there’re a lot of things on your camera that you may not even need to bother learning. As you explore the basis with exposure, you’re going to see that there are really only three settings that matter when you’re actually taking a picture. Your camera, though, might provide many different ways to alter those same three settings. And which method you choose, will vary depending on your shooting conditions. Once you’ve learned about those three settings, all of the various options for controlling them will make a lot of sense. Finally, on a well-designed camera, there is thought behind the organization of the controls. As you use your camera more, you’ll begin to understand the logic that the engineers were following when they laid out the controls the way they did. With that understanding, finding your way around your camera will become much easier. If you’ve already been working with your camera, then you might have altered some settings, either intentionally or accidentally. I’d like you to undo those changes so that we can be certain that you’re working with a good default configuration. Most cameras have a reset function buried somewhere in the menus and that will restore the camera to its factory defaults. For example, on this Cannon 7D, if I go into the menus. If I go over to this tools section, like most cameras, the 70s menus are divided into different categories. First, I have these menus that have a camera on them. Those alter different shooting functions. Then I have these playback options and then I get over here to this wrench. These have all sorts of different things that I can alter in terms of just basic functionality and configuration of the camera. I’m looking around here for something called, I don’t even remember what it’s called actually. Restore or factory defaults or something and I’m not seeing it. And that could be because of the mode that I’m in. If I’m in a really basic mode, it’s not going to show me everything. So, I’m going to switch my mode dial here over to P, that stands for program, and we’ll talk more about this mode dial in just a minute. With it there, I’m going to go back into my menu and now look around. And here I see something called Clear all camera settings. If I select that, it just asks me to verify, I say OK, and then it does its thing. Your camera may be different, again, check the manual to learn more about how to reset to factory default. Finally, for our first shooting exercise, I want your camera in auto mode. You should already know where the camera’s mode control is, it’s what we were just looking at. It’s either a dial or a menu setting. If it’s a dial, then you’ll probably see a green box icon of some kind. This is the universal symbol for auto mode. Alright, it’s the planet Earth symbol for auto mode, we don’t really know what cameras are like elsewhere in the universe. Anyway, dial that in now and you’ll be ready for all of the exercises that we’re going to begin later. I’d like to show one other option for auto mode. Some cameras, like this Fuji X-T1, don’t have a mode setting. So to get it into auto mode, I actually have to make a few different changes to get the camera fully configured for auto. This is the dial that let’s me select shutter speed. It’s got an A on it. I want to be sure that I’m set to A here. Over here on the lens, I have an option for switching from manual iris to auto iris. And then finally for ISO, I have an option for auto mode. I need to make sure all of those are set to A to get my camera in full automatic functionality. Again, your manual’s going to explain how to do that. We’re going to be staying in auto mode for the rest of this course. And I think as we go on, you’ll see that there’s still plenty to learn even when the camera is configured for full auto.

We’ve already talked a little bit about storage, and you’ve heard me say that your image size and compression settings will impact how many images you can fit on a card. You’ve also heard me yell at you about formatting your card. As I said earlier, storage is cheap so there’s no reason not to shoot at the best quality you can and simply carry a bunch of cards. Cards come in different physical formats. Most cameras these days use either compact flash, sometimes referred to as CF cards, or secure digital, which are usually known as SD cards. SD cards come in a micro-format also, which tiny cameras and cell phones often use. Your main concerns when choosing a card are capacity and speed. Buy the largest capacity you can afford and then you won’t likely have to worry about cards anymore. As for speed, you don’t necessarily have to buy the fastest card available. Remember, media cards like these are not only used for still shooting, they’re also used for video recording, audio recording, and many other functions. A super fast card may not get you any advantage because your camera may not be able to write fast enough to take advantage of it. Also, if you don’t intend to shoot video, or if you only intend to shoot HD video, then you may not need the fastest card out there. Faster cards are more expensive, so if you don’t need the speed, it would be better to save your money or put it into more capacity. If, however, you plan on shooting sports or performances and so will be shooting bursts of images, then card speed will become important, but again, your camera won’t necessarily be able to take advantage of the fastest cards available so you’ll want to do some experimentation and research to figure out what the best option is for your specific camera. Card speed also impacts transfer time when you’re dumping images to your computer, but only if you have a computer and reader that are fast enough to support it. If you’d like to know more about card speed, check out this installment of my Practicing Photographer series. In the meantime, any card that works with your camera will be fine for the exercises we’re going to perform in this course. Your camera needs power, of course, and that comes from rechargeable batteries. For the most part, this is something you won’t have to worry about too much because camera batteries typically last a very long time. That said, it’s still important to check your camera’s remaining charge before you head out on a shoot. If you plan on being out for many days of shooting and you won’t have access to power, then you’ll want to carry multiple batteries. Now, vendors will tell you that third-party batteries might damage your camera, but, I’ve never found that to be the case. Third-party batteries don’t necessarily last as long as the camera vendor’s batteries, but they’re significantly cheaper, so, it’s easy to buy enough to make up for the difference in capacity. The camera’s LCD screen is one of the biggest power hogs, built in WiFi, if your camera has it is another. As your battery gets close to dying, or if you want to be sure it will last as long as possible, then use those features as little as possible. From your camera’s menu, you can probably turn down the brightness of the camera’s LCD screen, and that will use less power. As you use your camera more, you’re going to get a feel for how many shots you can expect to get from a single battery charge.

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