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Not tech savvy? Liberate your camera's pics

Have a bunch of photos sitting in your digital camera or cell phone but don't know how to get them out? TODAY Tech Editor Paul Hochman saves you from frustration.

One of the biggest technical challenges Americans face every day has nothing to do with megabytes or microchips. It's pictures; as in, how do we get the millions of pictures we take... out of our cameras and phones.

According to the NPD Group/Retail Tracking Service, in the week leading up to Mother's Day 2006, sales of point-and-shoot digital cameras were up 27% over the prior year. And of the 231 million wireless telephone subscribers in the United States, more than half of those users (120 million) have multimedia features on their phones which they don't know how to use. Manufacturers have made it easy to get the camera out of the box, but for some, it's still a mystery how to get the pictures out of the camera. 

TODAY Tech Editor and Men's Journal Contributor Paul Hochman offers three simple methods that will make liberating your pictures a snap:

Method #1: Use pictbridge-enabled cameras and printers
Most people don't realize that even with stiff competition in the digital camera marketplace, manufacturers realized they had to cooperate if they were going to make it easy for consumers to print out their pictures.

Enter PictBridge, the single printing format shared by a large consortium of the major camera and printer makers.  If your Canon camera and your HP printer speak PictBridge, they'll make beautiful music together.  And they'll also print pictures in a single step.

How to: All you have to do is plug a standard USB cable ("Universal Serial Bus," the most common type of peripheral cable) into your camera on one end, and into your printer on the other. Often, the camera will immediately recognize it's connected to a printer and will ask if you want to print. Then, just press the print button on your camera, and out come the pictures.

Canon alone makes over 90 printers that speak PictBridge.  HP, another big manufacturer, has over 30 PictBridge printers to choose from on its web site.  And the list goes on.  Virtually every major printer manufacturer makes a PictBridge printer.

(Note:  If the word PictBridge or Direct Print is on the box, your camera will speak directly to your printer, regardless of brand.)

Method #2: The card reader
Most cameras can store up to a few hundred high-resolution pictures in their memory. But if you just want to move the pictures directly onto your computer without using cables, consider a "card reader."

Virtually every mid-range point-and-shoot camera has a little slot inside for a memory card, often called an SD card (for "Secure Digital").  SD cards are about the size of a postage stamp, and they can store up to 8 gigabytes of information, or a few thousand low-resolution pictures.

Benefits: SD cards have no moving parts making them about 10 times more durable than traditional storage media, like hard drives.  SD cards can be dropped from about 10 feet without damaging them, while hard drives break if dropped from more than 1 foot.

Lots of companies make and sell SD cards.  They're inexpensive and available at many retail stores.  A 2GB card, which stores thousands of pictures and/or some video costs about $35.

How to: To get pictures out of your camera, just pop the SD card out of the camera and slide it into a card reader.  You save battery life because your camera is never on when you download photos using this method.

The card reader slides into the USB slot or "port" on your laptop, and the computer will "see" it immediately.  An 'icon' or image that looks like the card reader will appear on your desktop, whether it's a Mac or a PC.  Put your cursor over that icon and click on it.  You'll see the pictures. Then, just click on and drag the pictures you want onto your computer.

(Note: Many new printers are being made with built-in card readers and some PC manufacturers are adding the option of building a card reader right into the computer.)

Method #3: Cell phones
Most people take quick pictures on their cell phones and then have no idea how to get that picture to friends and family.

How to: A) The memory card.  Many mid-to-upper-end cell phones have a "MicroSD" card slot.  The MicroSD card looks identical to a standard SD card, only it's, well, smaller.  Slide that MicroSD card into a card reader (see above), and you're in business.

B) Email.  Some phones allow you to email the photos.  We'll cover that next time.