Sunday, August 31, 2008

TOTW #6: Windows Vista, Buying a Digital Camera

Computer Tip: Windows Vista

There is a lot of negative press out there about Windows Vista, some of which is deserved, but much of which is not.  In an attempt to quell some of the rumors, here's my take on it.

Myth: Windows Vista crashes more than Windows XP.
Reality: Hardware drivers (the software created by the manufacturers of the cards and peripherals to make them work with Windows) in the early days of Windows Vista were quite buggy, and some did in fact cause the computer to crash.  At this point in time, however, the problem seems to have been resolved, especially with the release of Service Pack 1 for Vista.  For most people Vista will be more stable than XP.

Myth: Windows Vista is slower than Windows XP.
Reality: If you attempt to run Windows Vista on a computer that doesn't meet (or barely meets) the minimum recommended requirements it can be painfully slow to run.  Because Vista has more features and more going on behind the scenes, it does require a faster computer with more memory than Windows XP, so it will feel slower.  Some features are faster, though, such as startup time.  But as long as a computer is relatively new and has sufficient memory and CPU power it will run Windows Vista just fine.  My recommendation: if you are buying a new computer and it will come with Windows Vista, make sure you have at least 2 GB of RAM, and a newer video card.

Myth: My old software won't run on Windows Vista.
Reality: There are some pieces of software that cannot be made to run properly on Windows Vista, especially things like anti-virus and anti-spyware utilities.  Fortunately, though, these are in the minority.  Some applications which appear to misbehave can be made to run perfectly fine by adjusting the Compatibility Mode for that application (right-click the program's shortcut, select Properties, then Compatibility Mode).  As an absolute last resort, running the programs with administrative rights (right-click, select Run as Administrator) goes a long away to making older software work as designed.

Myth: Vista will bug me with Cancel or Allow prompts all of the time. 
Reality: When you are setting up your computer for the first time you will be asked if you want to Cancel or Allow different operations quite a bit.  Once you've got everything setup the way you like it, though, you'll only be given this prompt when you install or update software on your computer.  The reason for this is that Vista is more secure, and programs aren't allowed to make changes that affect the way the computer operates without your explicit permission.  XP didn't require this because most people ran it so that permission wasn't required to make permanent changes.  If you're used to a Mac, the same situations where you're asked to enter your password are the times when you will receive a Cancel/Allow prompt on Vista.

Myth: Vista is harder to use than XP.
Reality: Not really.  For someone sitting down at a computer for the first time it is actually easier than Windows XP to learn.  Features tend to be placed where you would expect them to be for the most part.  It just seems harder because we're all used to the way that XP does things.

Myth: I shouldn't upgrade my computer to Windows Vista.
Reality:  You probably shouldn't.  Vista runs best on new computers.  Computers that came with Windows XP probably won't run Vista very well.  The same was true of XP when it first came out as well, though to a lesser extent.  This is normal for new operating systems.

As for me and my house, I am continuing to run Windows XP on the computers that have been running XP, and am running Vista on the computers that came with Vista.  I have only attempted to upgrade one of my computers, and it worked out okay, but only because it was a blazingly fast XP machine to start with.  Under Vista it is just okay.  I advise against upgrading unless your computer is quite new and has a lot of memory.

Multimedia Tip: Buying a Digital Camera

Some of this will be a repeat of an early post on my blog, but digital cameras are so common, and tend to have such short lives, that people end up buying them fairly frequently.  So here are a few tips.

Unimportant Numbers

Megapixels: Manufacturers throw around megapixel ratings like they are the most important specification on a camera.  My advice: ignore it completely.  Any camera with a 5 megapixel or higher resolution sensor will be more than enough for anything you're likely to do with any of your pictures.  On point and shoot cameras the picture quality actually suffers as the number of pixels on the sensor goes up if the sensor size is the same on two different models.  See my Megapixel Myth post for more info.

ISO Sensitivity: ISO is a measurement of the camera's sensitivity to light.  On some cameras you'll see numbers as high as 6400, and even higher on the newest models.  In truth, on point & shoot digital cameras any ISO setting higher than 400 is going to be totally unusable (even 400 on many models).  Like megapixels, ignore this number.   On digital SLRs, this number starts to take on some meaning, but no purchasing decision should be made on it alone.

Digital Zoom: Optical zoom indicates the zoom ratio of the image as it comes through the lens and is focused on the digital sensor.  Digital zoom, on the other hand, takes the captured image and zooms in, which results in a significant loss in picture detail.  Ignore any "digital zoom" numbers completely, and look for "optical zoom" numbers instead.  Digital zoom is totally worthless.

LCD Size: It doesn't really matter what the size of the LCD on the back of the camera is, it's the LCD's resolution that makes a difference in image quality.  If the screen gets bigger without adding any additional pixels it will look worse than its smaller equivalent resolution screen.

Important Numbers

Unfortunately for camera buyers the most important numbers usually aren't advertised by manufacturers.  If you can find them, though, you'll have a much better idea of just how good a camera really is.

Sensor Size: Usually measured in fractions of an inch. The larger, the better.  But pay close attention to the way the numbers are written, since they are fractions of an inch, so 1/2 is larger than 1/3, for example.  The larger the sensor, the sharper your images will be, and the more sensitive the camera will be in low-light conditions, both of which are very good things.

Lens Size and F-Stop: The f-stop is a measure of how large a lens's iris can be.  It is expressed as a fraction, so f2.8 is larger (and better) than f5.6.  But because it's a fraction based on the focal length of the lens, you also have to take the physical size of the lens into account, so two different size lenses can have the same f-stop range.  Bigger lenses (look at the glass, not the barrel!) let more light in and give a much better image.

Shutter Lag: How long it takes between the time you press the shutter button and when the camera actually takes a picture.  On low quality cameras you might wait a second or more.  On better cameras the picture is captured virtually immediately.  That difference might just be the determining factor between getting and not getting the picture you want.

Useful Features

Among the myriad of features advertised by camera manufacturers, the ones that will actually help you get better pictures are: Custom white balance, face detection, optical image stabilization, boutique brand lenses, predefined scenes, and low ISO (<100).  Most other features are gimmicky, just don't work as advertised, or don't do anything to help you get better pictures.

There you go... happy shopping!

No comments:

Google Search