What to do With all Those Digital Vacation Pictures
Okay, so you've mastered your digital camera. Suddenly you have hundreds of pics socked away on your hard drive: the kids canoeing, seeing the Washington Monument, straddling the International Date Line. Now what?A number of Web sites provide a place where you can stash those shots (many offer unlimited free storage); make prints from regular film or digital files that they will then mail anywhere for you (average price for a 5-by-7 is about 99 cents; less if you pay an annual fee); and create photo albums that can be viewed by anyone you've tipped off to your password.
Members who sign up with ShutterFly (www.shutterfly.com) can customize their photos by cropping them and adding borders. A nice feature lets you remove the dreaded "red eye" (although we'd prefer a way to get rid of those teenagers' nose rings).
At Snapfish (www.snapfish.com) you can add captions to your stored images, and turn pictures into greeting cards, choosing from a variety of borders. Snapfish makes some of the best prints around, which is hardly surprising, since the site recently partnered with a little company called Kodak.
If you think your two-year-old is too cute to be confined to a wallet-sized photo, visit Club Photo. The prints might not be as good as those from the other two sites, but here you can plaster your rugrat on a mug, jigsaw puzzle, calendar, even a layer cake.
FRAMES OF THE FUTURE
The newest way to show off your digital pictures? Upload them into an electronic frame. Because they use color LCD technology and large memory devices, these digital displays aren't cheap, but they do present up to 36 images that can be changed or made to slowly dissolve in an automatic slide show. Many companies now offer them, including Kodak (the Smart Picture Frame, $349; www.kodak.com/go/smartframe), Ceiva (Internet-Connected Digital Picture Frame, $199; www.ceiva.com), and Polaroid (the PhotoMAX Digital Picture Frame, $199; www.polaroiddigital.com).
If you're looking for a lower-tech (and more affordable) way to share that great shot of the kids covered in mud on Cape Cod, check out e-frames (www.eframes.com). Once you've uploaded your digital images, the site will make prints (up to 11-by-14), put them in frames (from beveled mahogany to filigreed silver—your choice), and send them anywhere in the world, for $20 to $40 total. And speaking of affordable, how about free?Now you can store digital images on your color Palm-compatible personal digital assistant: just download Album to Go software at Palm's Web site, www.palm.com.
Surprise: a really good color printer no longer requires a second mortgage. Prices have steadily decreased, and even some of the cheaper models are capable of generating images as sharp as the prints from a film lab. But don't expect these printers to churn out pics in a hurry: smaller, less-expensive machines can take three minutes to print a 4-by-6 image.
The quality of reproduction is measured in dots per inch (DPI): the more dots, the sharper the image. For prints that look good even blown up to 8-by-10, get a printer with at least 1,440-by-720 DPI. Another factor is paper quality. Glossier, heavier stock makes for the best images but can cost as much as a dollar a page. Lighter paper (as low as 10 to 20 cents a sheet) should work just fine—when you really must share that shot of the crab biting Dad's toe with everyone you know.
CHEAP Super-sharp prints are a snap for the 2,880-by-720 DPI Epson Stylus Photo 785EPX ($249; www.epson.com): a crisp4-by-6 image takes less than a minute. Notonly that, butdigital memory cards can be inserteddirectly into this sturdy machine—no cables, no hassle.
CHEAPER The Canon S300 ColorBubble Jet printer (www.usa.canon.com) won't accept memory cards and maytake its sweet time (about 21/2 minutes fora clear 4-by-6 image), but at roughly$100 for a compact 2,400-by-1,200 DPI printer, who can complain?
Those who prefer to keep their digital images in the privacy of their own computers should check out software designed to help organize pictures and create digital albums.
FlipAlbum ($49.95; www.flipalbum.com), which recently won an award from the editors at American Photo magazine, is recommended for fastidious types who want a smart-looking presentation: animated pages "flip over" to reveal a sequence of photos. The software is easy to use—in minutes, you can orchestrate a slide show of your last vacation and turn it into a personalized screen saver.
It's not as easy to navigate, but CompuPic ($39.95; www.photodex.com) lets you view pictures as thumbnail images and, more important, organize them in a number of ways, such as by place or date taken. Think of it as a tool to maintain order in the digital shoe box you call your hard drive.