Monday, August 27, 2007

Digital Superzooms Make True All-In-One Cameras

One of the greatest shifts in technology has been the advent of digital photography replacing film over the past five years.

Conventional film usage has done nothing short of plummet, while the rise of digital photography has seen a huge upswing.

Digital photography's rise has generally been keyed by multiple factors – the reusability of digital media, increases in the number of camera megapixels (MP) offered at lower costs, and the rapid increase in the size of digital flash cards allowing more pictures to be taken at higher resolutions.

And now a further digital development is likely to add the Single-Lens-Reflex (SLR) camera with interchangeable lenses to the endangered species list.

The latest generation of “superzoom” cameras is here, and the cost of these cameras has now come down to where most photographers will gladly shelve their bulky camera bags in favor of a single do-it-all camera that will fit handily in a purse or pouch.

These cameras offer huge zoom ranges in compact packages for little more than the cost of a good SLR zoom lens alone. And while professional photographers may still prefer individual lenses for specific uses, the vast majority of amateur photographers will see digital superzoom cameras as being little short of a panacea for most imaging needs.

I recently had the opportunity to test, courtesy of Kodak, the Z712-IS superzoom camera.

It features a 12x optical all-glass zoom lens with a 35mm equivalency focal range of 36-432mm, licensed from respected German lens designer Schneider-Kreuznach. The lens also features a reasonably fast focal range of f/2.8–f/4.8.

Other Z712-IS features include 7.1MP resolution, allowing for high-qualty 8x10 and even larger enlargements, ISO's up to 3200 for shooting in low-light conditions, optical image stabilization, and a 2.5” color display.

The camera also takes 640x480 MPEG-4 movies with sound at a full 30 frames per second, allowing users to record well over 30 minutes of video with a 2GB SD memory card (about $30).

Using the zoom is also possible in movie mode, a newer and much-needed feature on digital cameras.

All of this and more come in a camera retailing for $250 that's easy enough for most amateur photographers to start using in a few minutes, allowing users to shoot both images and movies through a single camera and on the same memory card.

Comparable models are now available from most manufacturers including Sony, Olympus, Canon, Fuji, Casio and Panasonic.

As examples, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 adds a lens as wide as 28mm in a thinner body some may (or may not) prefer. The Canon S5 IS offers 8MP's and stereo sound recording.

Sony and Olympus have increased zoom ranges in their most recent offering, with the Sony DSC-H7 checking in with 15x and the Olympus SP-550 UZ offering a huge 28-504mm (18x).

All of these cameras are available for under $500 at the retail level, and offer a range of features that will take most users months to fully explore.

Be sure to check what type of memory any camera uses. Many newer computers come with built-in memory card slots, while an adapter may be needed for others.

Tom Meek is a computer and media consultant working with businesses and individuals on high-tech needs. Another Day In Cyberville is published weekly in print and online via The Gainesville Voice, a weekly publication of The New York Times Regional Newspaper Group. You can reach Tom Meek at

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Back To School Computing Tips

It's time for millions of Florida students to head back to their classrooms. With computers being a near-necessity for most schools, now is a good time to prepare for another year of successful computing.

Here are some of my favorite suggestions for an annual school time tune-up.

Update Anti-Virus, Spyware and Adware Programs – Nearly every new computer comes pre-installed with some kind of anti-virus software. Most are time-limited trials that require a subscription service to keep them updated.

Any anti-virus solution is only as good as its most recent update. If you haven't kept up with your subscription, now's the time to renew and get your PC properly protected.

If you don't want to pay for an anti-virus subscription, uninstall your old dog and get a fresh download of a free anti-virus program from AVG, ( or Avast! ( Both programs offer anti-virus protection equivalent to better known paid programs, and are free for personal use.

Good freeware solutions are also available to combat the ever-increasing glut of spyware and adware slowing down nearly every computer connected to the Internet. They include Spybot and Ad Aware Special Edition.

Both require manual updates, and you'll have to remember to run them at least once per week. Doing so can dramatically cut down on the number of programs tracking your computer usage and wasting PC resources. A quick Web search will lead you to a variety of download sources.

Add System Memory – The biggest hardware reason for poor PC performance is a lack of system memory, or RAM.

Early PC's weren't optimized to use memory efficiently, but modern computers running Windows XP and Vista, and Apple's OS X, are able to use and depend on a large amount of system memory.

If you are running Windows XP, try and install 1GB of RAM, for Vista, 2GB is strongly recommended, as is a frequent recommendation for Apple's OS X.

The more memory your system can use, the better you'll be able to perform multiple tasks, work with pictures and multimedia, and speed your Web browsing experience.

Install A Home Network – For years I've recommended children have their own computer in a household. Following that rule means parents have to closely monitor children's Internet usage, and limit time online as needed to insure other activities have enough.

Sharing a broadband connection allows all the PC's in a home to connect to the Web at the same time and still maintain good performance.

Today's home networking hardware is easier and safer to use than ever. If you're not sure you can handle a network installation, invite a knowledgeable friend or computer professional to set one up for you. You'll be glad you did.

I's also like to alert Cyberville readers that after today, you can find my column online at

For nearly seven years I've had the pleasure of joining you in your homes, offices, schools and coffee shops.

I've also had the pleasure of meeting thousands of you through e-mail, civic and technical presentations, on the radio, and in person in stores and on the street.

I thank each and every Cyberville reader for their many kind words and time, and hope to see more of you in the new Cyberville online in the days to come.

You're also always welcome to reach me via e-mail at

Best wishes, and my sincere gratitude, to all.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Welcome To Another Day In Cyberville

For nearly seven years I have had the pleasure of joining thousands of you in your homes, offices, coffee shops and restaurants.

When I was first asked to do this column, the Sun and I agreed that the key need was to try and make technology understandable for the average person.

At that point I'd already been involved in computers in an office setting for more than fifteen years.

I'd had the opportunity to help design computer installations for a Fortune 500 company, and it had become very clear to me that spending millions of dollars on hardware meant next to nothing if the people being asked to use it didn't understand how.

By the year 2000 I'd also sat through hundreds of computer seminars aimed at both tech professionals and small businesses. It was also clear from those seminars that the thing most often needed by computer users wasn't new hardware, but a better understanding of how to use what they already had.

I've also very much enjoyed the fact that so many of you have written to me with questions, stopped me in stores or on the street, and invited me into your homes and offices.

I've also had the chance to meet many more of you at presentations throughout the area including Lake City, Lake Butler, Gainesville and numerous others.

Perhaps the most gratifying experience from meeting so many of you online or in person is that so many readers have told me they have saved many of my columns for years.

I've even had readers bring out folders full of “Cyberville” where they've kept their favorites for future reference. From my experience it's rare that people clip and save something on a regular basis, and I hope Cyberville continues to be so.

I'd like to thank several people for their assistance to me over the past seven years – first to Jackie Levine, Managing Editor, for giving me the opportunity to begin writing “Another Day In Cyberville”. It was her impetus from reading a similar column in Syracuse that brought “Cyberville” to life.

The second would be Doris Chandler, long-time Business Editor of the Sun, who provided much of the feedback I received from an editorial side, and for her invaluable input for many years.

And the third would be Jeff Tudeen, now the Sun's Weekend and Readership Editor, who also provided encouragement and the opportunity to appear elsewhere in the Sun from time to time.

I'd also like to thank Hank Conner of WUFT-FM's “Conner Calling” for having me as a semi-regular guest on his Friday program.

Over the years we've taken calls, e-mail and instant messages from readers and listeners as far away as New England and from trucks driving through Gainesvile on I-75. With Hank's good graces, you'll continue to hear a radio version of “Cyberville” as time permits.

The majority of the many readers I've met online or in person have told me they read Cyberville every Monday and look forward to it.

As such, it's my intention online to have a new column available for readers each Monday as well. You're also welcome to contact me either through the blog, or at

Again, it's truly been a pleasure to know so many readers have joined me along the way in exploring Another Day In Cyberville. And I hope to see many of you in the future.

Thank you.