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Digital Camera Accessories
Your new digital camera kit usually comes
with everything you need to start taking
pictures right out of the box. In some cases,
you may need to purchase a set of rechargeable
batteries and a battery charger; and, in
most cases, you definitely need to purchase
a larger memory card to store those high
resolution images. There are also a few
items "missing" in the box. In
this article, we look at some of the accessories
that every photographer must have,
and a few others that are nice to have.
We'll do away with the suspense and list
the accessories right now, and then expand
on them in following sections:
- Rechargeable batteries
- Battery Charger / AC Adapter
- Larger memory card
- Soft camera case & Bag
- Lens Cleaning Kit
- External Flash
I have noted which ones I believe are must-have.
The rest are nice-to-have, depending on
cameras, like all electronic equipment,
use batteries up really fast. Some are better
than others at power consumption and your
batteries will last longer. Here are a few
things to consider:
Rechargeable batteries may cost a bit more
up front, but they quickly save you money.
Buy good ones.
Also, because you can recharge them everytime
you finish a photo shoot, you are guaranteed
to have fully recharged batteries the next
So as not to get caught with spent batteries
in the middle of a long shooting session,
many photographers have a spare set of fully
recharged batteries with them. If the camera
takes AA batteries, I also like to err on
the super cautious side and carry some ordinary
AA Alkaline batteries.
Do remember that "rechargeable"
does not mean "lasts forever."
Rechargeable batteries can usually be recharged
a couple of hundred times before they cannot
be used anymore. This means that you don't
want to recharge them too often, especially
when it is not necessary (say, you've just
taken a few pictures when you know your
batteries can take hundreds more). But if
you are not sure (some digital camera gives
an indication on the LCD monitor, but that
is not too reliable), and you are going
on an important photo shoot, recharge them
fully by all means.
Battery Charger / AC Adapter
If your digital camera did not come with
rechargeable batteries, you also probably
did not receive a battery charger. If your
camera came with rechargeable batteries,
it may also have included either an AC Adapter
or a battery charger.
The advantage of the AC Adapter is that
your rechargeable battery stays inside the
camera, and you just plug in the adapter
to recharge the battery inside the camera.
The adapter also allows you to transfer
images from your camera to your computer
without the risk of running out of power
and potentially losing some images.
The disadvantage is that when your battery
is flat out of power, you can only recharge
it inside the camera -- which means your
camera is out of action for an hour or two,
depending on how fast the adapter takes
to recharge the battery. If you believe
you will never shoot long enough to run
out of battery power and do not need to
use a second set of spare batteries, then
the AC adapter is a good thing.
With a battery charger, you must remove
the batteries from the camera, insert them
into the charger, plug in the charger (one
type plugs directly into a wall outlet,
another needs the use of a power cord),
then remember to put the batteries back
into the camera. The advantage is that you
can now insert a spare fully charged battery
in while the spent one recharges outside
When transferring images from your camera
to your computer, ensure that your batteries
are fully charged or have enough power to
complete the transfer without failing in
the middle of the transfer (and risk losing
The ideal situation is to have both a battery
charger and an AC Adapter, of course. And,
I would never base my digital camera purchase
decision on whether it comes with an AC
Adapter or a battery charger -- i.e. on
which accessory it comes standard with;
you can always purchase the accessory later,
Purchase a battery charger and you'll start
saving money on batteries.
Larger Memory Card (Must-Have)
digital cameras come with a starter memory
card, usually 16MB or 32MB, with just enough
space on it to allow you to record only
a handful of images at full resolution.
The starter card is to allow you to learn
your camera and get used to its various
features. When you are ready to take pictures,
you need to purchase a larger memory card,
the size of which depends on how many pictures
you expect to shoot during a photo session
and the megapixels resolution of the digital
The more megapixels resolution a digital
camera has, the larger the image it outputs,
and therefore the more space it needs on
the memory card. For example, a 3 megapixels
(MP) digital camera typically outputs images
that are anywhere from 1 to 2 megabytes
(MB) in size. A 7MP digital camera typically
outputs images that are 4 to 5 MB in size.
So, let's say you usually take no more than
100 images per shoot. With a 3MP digital
camera, you'd need at least a 256MB memory
card (100 * 2MB = 200MB); a 7MP digital
camera requires at least a 512MB memory
card (100 * 5MB = 500MB).
We recommend you purchase the largest memory
card you can afford. This is because, as
the megapixels resolution of digital cameras
increases, you will need the larger sized
memory card to store at least 100 shots
(believe me, you'll easily take more than
that in one photo session). It's a one-time
purchase (you won't need to keep buying
more and carrying a number of easily misplaced
small memory cards). Don't forget, if it's
large enough, you'll usually only need one
memory card, erasing the pictures after
you have transferred them to your PC, and
reusing the memory card.
Compare prices and buy only brand names.
There's nothing worse than to get a defective
memory card and lose all your precious images.
Some photographers prefer a number of smaller
memory cards than one large one in the event
one proves to be defective or gets damaged
The largest memory card may cost more than
twice the cost of two smaller memory cards,
e.g. a 1GB memory card may cost more than
two 512MB memory cards. So shop wisely.
Of course, if you absolutely must have the
1GB memory card and money is not a problem,
go for it.
Soft Camera Case & Bag (Must-Have)
digital camera is a fragile piece of sophisticated
electronic and optical equipment. If you
have ever dropped a digital camera from
only a few feet above the ground, knocked
it against something hard, scratched the
body, LCD monitor or lens -- you know that
a camera case is simply a must.
I don't know why camera manufacturers
do not provide a soft camera case as standard
(oh well, I do know: $$$) like they do for
35mm cameras, but this is one purchase you
must not put off. I usually try to haggle
with the salesman to include it as a perk,
but you can purchase one for only $10 -
A camera bag is also nice to have if you
travel a lot with your camera, but I find
that a regular backpack is sufficient for
my purpose. I do line my backpack with bubble
wrap and even a thick towel to act as a
cushion against accidental falls and bumps.
Lens Cleaning Kit (Must-Have)
I am totally floored when I look at some
of my friends' digital cameras: I can clearly
see smudges and oily fingerprints on the
LCD monitor (where it is just a nuisance
at most) and on the lens (where it will
affect image quality). If the AF optics
are dirty, the camera won't focus properly.
Do NOT clean any of the optics of your
digital camera using your shirt, your fingers,
your breath, or water. Chances are that
you will scratch and damage the lens, and
leave oily residue made up of whatever last
you had for lunch ;o).
Instead, purchase a lens cleaning kit for
a couple of dollars at a reputable camera
dealer. The kit usually includes a small
blower brush (use it to blow and brush dust
off); a soft cloth (use it to wipe the camera
body); a small plastic bottle of lens cleaner
solution and a number of sheets of lens
tissue (use them to clean the lens and other
optics). Follow the simple instructions
on how to clean your lens (only one or two
drops of lens cleaning solution on the lens
tissue is needed). Remove dust first with
the blower, then clean with the cleaning
solution (if needed). Be gentle, never rub.
are a necessary evil. Today's digital cameras,
in their compact and ultra compact forms,
positively look ridiculous perched atop
a huge tripod. But anytime your shutter
speed drops to below 1/60 sec. at wide-angle,
you should probably be using a tripod to
prevent camera shake.
The rule of thumb is that we can generally
hand hold a camera at a shutter speed reciprocal
to the focal length used. It simply means
this: if your digital camera has a zoom
that goes from 35mm to 105 mm (3x optical
zoom, 35mm equivalent), then the shutter
speeds you can safely handhold your camera
is between 1/35 sec. to 1/105 sec. That's
all "reciprocal" means ("1
But since you do not usually know the focal
length being used (in 35mm SLR cameras,
this is marked on the lens), you have to
make an intelligent guess. I usually remind
myself that any shutter speed below 1/60
sec. will probably introduce camera shake,
and hence a blurred picture. If I zoom fully,
I know I need a shutter speed of 1/125 sec.
Some digital cameras will warn you that
you are using a shutter speed that will
introduce camera shake, usually via a blinking
flash symbol (the "lightning"
symbol) on the LCD monitor. This is your
cue that there is not enough light, and
you need to move your subject to a brighter
venue, or use the flash (if your subject
is within flash range), or use a tripod
(usually for static scenes, such as landscapes,
buildings, street night scenes).
For macro photography, because you are
so close to your subject and even a slight
movement will magnify the blur effect, you
definitely need a tripod. I also usually
use the self-timer (2 sec. delay is perfect)
or the remote controller (if available).
I avoid using flash since it's too close,
but if your camera accepts a ring flash,
that will help. If you must use flash, then
see if you can squelch its output in the
menu; then, move back and zoom in to increase
the distance from the subject. This allows
the light of the flash to reach and evenly
cover your subject, avoiding harsh shadows.
If you are into landscapes and you frequent
windy regions, you need a very sturdy tripod
that won't get buffetted by the wind. There
are also tiny table top tripods that you
can use on the roof of your car (turn the
engine off to eliminate vibrations). I use
a rather light and collapsible tripod that
fits into my backpack. It's nothing fancy,
but a life saver when I need to use long
shutter speeds, especially for night photography.
Of course, if you should be caught without
a tripod and need ti use a slow shutter
speed, brace yourself against a wall or
use a table, a chair, a railing, ... as
a makeshift tripod.
The flash on your digital camera has a
limited range, usually up to what I call
"portrait" distance. That's where
you can frame a person in your LCD monitor
from head to hips. Anything further than
that, and your onboard flash might just
be too weak to illuminate the scene properly
with. Now you know why your group shots
in the restaurant come out too dark.
Some onboard flash can automatically adjust
its light output depending on the focal
length you are using. At least one digital
camera has twin flash bulbs to handle the
wide-angle and the telephoto focal lengths.
The best kept secret is this (and I wish
someone had told me that long time ago when
I first took up photography): if you want
to have properly lighted indoors pictures,
you need to use an external flash. The external
flash is mounted on a hot-shoe on the top
of your digital camera.
What is that? You do not see a hot-shoe
on the top of your digital camera, you say?
Ah, yes. Currently, only the advanced models
seem to feature a hot-shoe. Most consumer
models are stuck with the onboard flash.
After all, your digital camera is so compact
that a (usually) huge external flash will
just look silly. You'll have to hold the
flash, not the camera to balance the whole
lot. It's just not practical. So, if you
have a compact digital camera, I wouldn't
worry about the lack of a hot-shoe and live
within the onboard flash range. If you take
indoors pictures a lot, then you probably
need a digital camera with a hot-shoe so
you can use an external flash.
If you have purchased a digital camera
with a hot-shoe, and decide to purchase
an external flash, make sure you get one
with a head that rotates up and down so
that you don't shine the light directly
at your subject but bounces it off the ceiling.
Some provide you a rectangular plastic attachment
that you clip on top of the flash to redirect
the light, but "bouncing off the ceiling"
technique is one that works quite well to
provide a natural looking and even lighting.
Consumer digital cameras usually do not
accept filters. Some allow you to attach
an adapter to the camera body (around the
lens) which will then allow you to screw
filters onto the adapter.
Filters are used for special effects, so
it's not something you need on a regular
basis. On 35mm lenses, we usually screw
on a Neutral Density (ND) filter to protect
the lens from scratch and dust, but you
won't need to do that on your consumer digital
Any special effect that previously required
the use of a filter now can more or less
be accomplished in post-processing in your
image editing software: sepia tone, star
effects, coloured effects, etc.
The one filter you may need is a polarizer,
which works by cutting reflections off water
and shiny objects. The result is that glare
is effectively eliminated. Ever wondered
about those beautiful tropical waters pictures
where you can seemingly see right through
all the way down to the sand floor? Polarizer
used. Pictures that show the bottom of a
pond? Polarizer used. No flash glare on
the shiny hood of a car? Polarizer used.
Skies that seem rich in colours. Polarizer
probably used. Just be careful how you use
the polarizer. It's not a filter that you
leave on the camera for regular shooting.
Depending on the type of polarizer youpurchase,
you may need to rotate it until it cuts
through the amount of glare you desire.
Unless your LCD monitor is high resolution
enough, you may not be able to gauge its
effect properly on a non-SLR camera. Experimentation
Well, these are some of the accessories
I can think of. There are, of course, more
and we have listed some at the bottom of
the page, with links so you can research
them more. Don't go gung-ho and purchase
all of them, especially the nice-to-have
ones. Learn your digital camera first, then
learn all you can about an accessory, before
going out and purchasing one. Have fun!
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