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Beginner Questions
by Chuck McKern

With over 12 years of retail and professional experience Chuck thought he'd heard it all - until he took this job.

Send us your questions for either the Beginner or Advanced columns by clicking HERE.  Please include as much detail about the technique, camera, lens, or film as you can so Chuck can answer your questions.

I have following two questions

1. I am looking for quality Neutral Density filter in one and two stops which will fit Cokin P filter holder. Please suggest some manufacturers. By putting these two filters together can I have the impact of 3 stop ND? Why do some sites say they have ND filters but when I check they talk/describe about GRADUATED neutral density filters?

2. Is there a manufacturer who makes circular polarizing filter but rectangular in shape to be used with a rectangular filter holder that rotates?

Thank you in advance. 
Santosh K. Patra

There are four companies that make filters that will fit the Cokin P series holders. They are Cokin, Tiffen, Hitech, and Singh Ray. All four of these guys make good filters. Cokin, Tiffen, and Hitech have the neutral density filters that you are looking for. Hitech has the widest variety of ranges from 1/3 stop to 4 stops. All four companies make graduated neutral density filters which are sometimes referred to as ND Grads. They are great for reducing light intensity in part of a scene to reduce the difference in light intensity across a scene. They are useful when shooting scenics to help bring the exposure value of the sky down to more closely match the exposure value of the foreground. These filters can be combined if needed, so yes a 2 stop ND filter combined with a 1 stop ND filter would give you the equivalent of a 3 stop ND filter.

I do not know of a company who makes a square circular polarizer. The circular polarizers I know of for this type of holder are all round and can be rotated in their mounts.

How do I size a photograph for emailing-resolution and/or dimensions? The recipients say the picture I sent is huge. They have to use the scroll bars to move the picture and only see parts at a time. 

Thank you for your assistance. 
Buddy Gaines

Here are a couple of quick "rules of thumb" for sizing images. Remember to swap the numbers depending of whether you've got a horizontal or vertical image.

For an image that will download quickly use 300x200 and set the colors to 256. This is fine for things like little Joey on the swing but they won't be able to print it out or at least they won't get a very good quality print.

If you want more detail size the image to 600x400 and full color (16 million colors). The email will take a little longer to download if they're using a modem (as opposed to a cable or DSL Internet connection) and the image will take up a good portion of their screen (depending on the resolution set on their computer). This size is good for viewing and won't require them to scroll around the screen to view the image.

Finally, if you want them to be able to print a nice 4x6 inch print on their photo quality color printer, send them a 1,200x1,800 image. Photos look best when they are printed on inkjet printers at 300 dots per inch. An 1,200x1,800 image will allow them to print a nice sharp 4x6 print with no scaling. The only downside is that it will take a little longer to download.

I have a Minolta HTSI plus camera and my built in flash will pop up but will not fire. There is a lightning arrow on the display and it is fully charged and does not have the circle with a line around it (meaning the flash is on). I have replaced the batteries and the flash still does not work. I put on my new removable flash unit and that does not fire either. I am at a loss. PLEASE HELP. 


I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it sounds like there is a problem in the flash circuitry. I would have the camera checked out by an authorized service center.

Is the IS feature of the Canon 100-400mm lens worth the 3 times higher cost of the equivalent Tokina AT-X 80-400mm?

Optically (real world results, not MTF theory) how do the two lenses compare?

Neil Mitchell

It Depends. If you do quite a bit of handheld shooting in low light situations the IS technology will be a definite help. The reviews you've read on IS don't overstate its usefulness. It's something of a revelation and you'll find yourself taking shots that you wouldn't even consider taking handheld without it. (see our review on the 100-400 IS and on the 80-400 VR which has very similar characteristics).

If you are not shooting in situations where you would be using longer shutter speeds handheld or if you do most of your shooting from a tripod then there will be no real advantage.

I have not had the opportunity to shoot with the Tokina but my experience with Tokina optics has been good. I feel the optical quality of these two lenses should be similar. It really comes down to how often you'll use the IS function.

I just purchased a new camera and lens. The salesman suggested that I buy something called a 1A filter to protect the front of my lens. Do I really need this or is he just trying to get a couple of more bucks out of me? I'm just getting into photography so I'm still learning.

Thanks, Karen

He's giving you good advice. A 1A filter is a clear filter that screws onto the front of your lens. If it gets scratched or chipped it's a lot cheaper to replace the 1A filter than to replace or repair your lens.

Is film from Fuji and Kodak really better than store brand film?

Billy B.

Fuji, Kodak, and Agfa all make basic films, better quality films and professional films and store brand films are usually made by one of these three. Store brand films will be the same as their basic consumer film or in some cases the previous generation of one of their consumer films.

If you're looking for quality go with one of the better quality films from one of these manufacturers.

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