Monday, June 2, 2008

Dad tip #44: Babies move faster than crappy cameras

About three years ago, we bought a Nikon Coolpix 7900 point-and-shoot digital camera. It's proven to have been a brilliant purchase (if I do say so myself) and has more than made up its worth in memories captured in all their seven mega-pixel clarity and glory.

I recently praised the Nikon 7900 for its secondary ability to shoot continuous video with whatever space is available on the SD memory card. The camera is light-weight, rugged, and attractive. Generally there's been very little to complain about ...

... Until our son was born and we discovered that babies aren't inclined to hold still for pictures. We made due for about a month, but found ourselves using the flash more than we wanted to with a newborn (particularly in low-light situations) and ended up with somewhat washed-out ans/or blurry photos.

On the recommnedation of a co-worker, I looked into the Nikon D40 digital SLR camera. If you don't know what an SLR is, Google it; but for the sake of this post, think of it as a "traditional" big camera with a separate body and lens. After looking over the research, some sample photos, and the price, we decided to go for it and venture beyond the realm of the point-and-shoot.

We were not disappointed. We saw an immediate improvement to the quality of our photos. Better color, sharper images, -- and heck! -- even superior composition! The Nikon D40 has less delay between the time that you press the button and when the camera actually reacts, so you're more inclined to catch that "perfect shot" as it happens. Additionally, since the lens is bigger, you'll also get more light, making the use of a flash less necessary.

However, within a month, I discovered that the D40 wasn't the perfect solution by itself. There were still situations where we needed more light. So, I added two key items to the arsenal: a Nikon SB-400 AF Speedlight and a Sigma 30mm f/1.4 EX DC HSM Lens. The SB-400 Speedlight is great because you can angle the flash and bounce the light off of the ceiling for more "natural" lighting when you can't do without a flash. The Sigma 30mm lens maybe more muscle than most people want with less flexibility, but the hefty fixed lens really enables you to get some great lower-light shots without a flash and cool depth of field effects. I'd say the speedlight is a must whereas the Sigma lens is a nice-to-have if you're REALLY getting into photography.

Lastly, if you're feeling overly ambitious and spend-thrifty, you could also go for the Nikon D40x which gives you 10.2MP to play with instead of the 6.1MP of the Nikon D40. But keep in mind that you'll never be inclined to lug the SLR around with you all the time, so there's always still a use for a point-and-shoot like a Nikon Coolpix P60 (which appears to be the current equivalent of the Nikon Coolpix 7900 we have).

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Monday, May 5, 2008

Dad tip #16: Record the cooing

The cliché that we've found most true is that "babies grow up so fast". We're just five months into our journey as parents and our son is noticeably different every week in the way he looks, moves, and sounds.

One recommendation my sister gave me was to make sure that we video recorded our son's early cooing noises. Because babies develop so quickly, that ultra-cute, tentative, and quiet cooing rapidly turns into still-cute, but loud cooing with occasional shrieking tossed in for good measure. You still love every noise he makes, but the new noises aren't quite as melt-your-heart-y.

If you don't have a video recorder of some kind, I suspect your digital camera or even your phone have the ability to record limited video. I think the important thing is just to get some record of that cooing regardless of the quality, just so you can look back on it some day. We used our Nikon Coolpix 7900 digital camera. The camera is several years old now, but is a great point-and-shoot that allows us to take as much video as there is space left on the SD memory card.

I suspect we'll eventually upgrade to some HD digital video recorder at some point. But I figure upgrading can wait until our boy has a recital, performance, or sporting event of some kind that we'll want to record in its entirety.
Those hi-def camcorders are still pretty expensive, but I figure in four or five years, they'll be half the size and half the cost. As a random side note, I wonder if George Lucas went back and made Special Editions of his kids' early cooing videos.

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