Burst Mode for Rapid Fire Shooting

When you press the shutter button on a typical digital camera, the image begins a long tour through the camera's guts. First, the lens projects the image onto an electronic sensora CCD (Charge-Coupled Device) or CMOS (Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor). Second, the sensor dumps the image temporarily into the camera's built-in memory (a memory buffer). Finally, the camera's circuitry feeds the image from its memory buffer onto the memory card.

You may be wondering about that second step. Why don't digital cameras record the image directly to the memory card?

The answer is simple: Unless your camera has state-of-the-art electronics, it would take forever. You'd only be able to take a new picture every few seconds or so. By stashing shots into a memory buffer as a temporary holding tank (a very fast process) before recording the image on the memory card (a much slower process), the camera frees up its attention so that you can take another photo quickly. The camera catches up later, when you've released the shutter button. (This is one reason why digital cameras aren't as responsive as film cameras, which transfer images directly from lens to film.)

The size of your camera's memory buffer affects your life in a couple of different ways. First, it permits certain cameras to have a burst mode, which lets you fire off several shots per second. That's a great feature when you're trying to capture an extremely fleeting scene, such as a great soccer goal, a three-year-old's smile, or Microsoft being humble. Second, a big memory buffer permits movie mode, described later. It can even help fight shutter lag, because the ability to fire off a burst of five or six frames improves your odds of capturing that perfect moment. Your camera's documentation probably doesn't specify how much RAM it has, but you can check out how many frames per second it can capture in burst mode. The more frames, the bigger the buffer.

Note: A few expensive cameras can bypass the buffer and save photos directly on the memory card, so that you can keep shooting until the card fills up. This trick usually requires a special high-speed memory cardpreferably a big one.

IN THE FIELD Cool Camera Accessories

Ready to soup up your camera? Some accessories are necessities (tripods for nighttime shooters, for example) and some are just plain cool:

Mini tripods. How many good photos have gone bad because of the shakes? On the other hand, it's a pain to go everywhere with a big tripod. Mini tripods, a foot or less in length, can fit in a briefcase, backpack, or large purse. They sit on a table-top or some other surface to steady your camera, which is great for low light situations or when you want to set the timer and run around in front of the lens to be part of the picture. One of the most interesting entries in the mini tripod category is the $25 Gorilla Pod (www.joby.com), which has super flexible legs that can wrap around a fence post or tree limb, giving you many more situations where you can steady your shot. Average mini tripod prices range between $20 and $30.

Wireless remote control. Remote controls let you click the shutter without having your hand on the camera, so they're great for those group shots you want to be part of. In low light situations, you can avoid the blurry-photo syndrome by combining a mini tripod and a remote. Most wireless remotes are smaller than a deck of cards and cost around $25.

Memory card cases. It hardly needs to be said that a camera case protects your camera from weather and accidental drops; but what about your memory cards? They're even more sensitive. If you're backpacking in the Himalayas and decided not to bring your laptop to store your photos, consider getting a weatherproof case to hold all your extra memory cards. Cases are usually designed for a specific type of memory card. You'll find good weather proof cases that holds four to eight cards for under $10.

Underwater housings. If you think some of the most beautiful scenes on earth are under the sea, you'll be interested in an underwater housing for your camera. A good housing is designed specifically for your camera model; it keeps the water out, but lets you click the shutter. For point-and-shoot cameras and advanced digital cameras, prices start at about $100. Housings for digital SLRs begin at about $250. Web sites like www.ikelite.com or www.uwimaging.com are a good place to start your search.

Travel drives. If you fill your camera's memory card and you're not near your computer, how do you free space up so you can take more shots? The answer is a travel drive, sometimes referred to as standalone storage. You plug your memory card into the drive and it sucks down the photos; then, you're free to erase the card and continue shooting. Some travel drives use mini hard drives, which store 20 gigabytes or more; these cost $200 and up. Other travel drives are CD or DVD burners and look like a CD walkman. These drives are a little less expensive; prices start at about $150.

Multimedia viewers. A variation on the travel drive, multimedia viewers not only store your photos on a hard drive, they let you view them on an LCD screen. The color screen iPods are the most famous of the multimedia viewers. You can buy a $30 Camera Connector (http://store.apple.com) to transfer photos directly from your camera to your Pod. VoilĂ ! You have travel storage and a viewer. Epson also offers a viewer, the $500 Epson P- 2000 (www.epson.com), that reads memory cards directly and has a generous 3.8-inch screen.

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