Sending sound from computer to sound system, external flash units (highly recommended!)

Q: I would like to send the audio from computer to my receiver so the computer audio will come from my sound system. What do I need to buy and how to connect it?
-Kim Gilbert, Wichita, KS

A: You need a miniplug to RCA adapter. It is a simple cord with a miniplug jack on one end and RCA plugs on the other. The miniplug end is connected to your computer, placed in the same plug now used for your computer speakers. The RCA end is then connected to an available input on your receiver. (Any input but Phono, that is.) Simply select the input on your receiver and the computer audio will be sent from the computer to the receiver for playback.

You can purchase the adapter cord for less than $10 at places like Radio Shack. Most camcorders use a miniplug audio/.video connection at the camera end, so if you have a camcorder that uses a cord with red, white, and yellow plugs to connect it to your televisions, it will work as well. Just use the red and white connections.

Some computers, such as Apple PowerMac models, have digital audio outputs. If your computer has digital audio outputs and your receiver has a matching input, the digital connection is your best choice.

Q: I read your article on the problems of taking flash pictures with digital cameras. I own the Panasonic DMC-FZ20 camera you have strongly recommended in past columns. The camera has an accessory shoe that will accept an external flash. Does the DMC-FZ20 require an additional flash unit in order to take good flash pictures? Do you think I should buy a flash for my camera?

-Edmund Yaroch, Minneapolis, MN

A: The DMC-FZ20 will take middling flash pictures with the built-in flash, and much better ones with an external flash.

I cannot stress strongly enough the difference an external flash will make in the quality of anyone’s flash pictures. The flash units built-in to cameras are small and underpowered, and often do not provide very good coverage of open areas. The proximity of the flash to the lens practically guarantees redeye in almost every picture, and using the flash will drain your batteries quickly- much more quickly than if it is not used.

An external flash saves battery power by using its own set of batteries to power it. By moving the flash away from the lens, redeye is eliminated, and the larger optical surface of the flash produces a softer light (the smaller the light source, the harder-looking the light) that is much more pleasing to the eye.

Look at the flash photographs taken by professional photographers and compare them to the ones taken by your small camera- no comparison. It is true that the professional has more training, experience, and better equipment, but using an external flash will help close that gap a bit.

Most people think of an external flash as going with an SLR camera, but that is not the case at all. Many consumer-level cameras, particularly from Canon and Olympus have a shoe for an external flash unit. If you buy the flash that is designed for your camera, you can just attach it, turn it on and go. It is my opinion that if your camera has an accessory shoe for an external flash, the flash is a mandatory accessory. The difference between flash pictures taken with and without it is night and day! (No pun intended.)

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