Photo Solutions

By Brad Tuttle
June 7, 2006
0607_how_photosol

While some digital cameras are loaded with gimmicks you'll never use, a few new ones have genuinely practical tools. We're listing retail prices; you can probably do better by using a comparison-shopping site like PriceGrabber or DealTime.

Flash control

If you're taking a picture indoors, or even outdoors in soft light, chances are the flash will go off automatically. Too often, the results are faded backgrounds and washed-out faces. Fujifilm's FinePix V10 ($350) can capture two images in succession: one without the flash, one with. Decide which turned out better, and delete the other.

Wireless connectivity

Equipped with Wi-Fi, the Nikon Coolpix P2 ($400) and Canon's PowerShot SD430 ($500) let you transfer images to a computer or printer without fiddling with wires. With Kodak's EasyShare-One ($400), you can upload and e-mail photos in seconds, assuming you're in a hotspot.

Split-second response

Most digital-camera users know the frustration: You push the button, and a few moments later, after the deer hops behind a tree, the camera finally records the image. Until recently, digital SLR cameras (single-lens reflex, with the benefit that images are captured at almost the exact moment you click) cost too much for amateurs. But models as responsive as what the pros use, such as Nikon's D50 ($760) and the Olympus Evolt E-330 ($1,100), are now within reach.

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Keep Your Dog's Tail Wagging

To most pets, traveling ranks somewhere beneath a bath and the vet. Few people know more about taking their dogs on flights and into hotels than American Kennel Club staffers (akc.org). We hit them up for tips on making the experience easier for both pooches and owners. Be sure your pet's crate has extra hooks or latches so the door doesn't jostle open if it gets bounced around in transit. --Ray Scott, field representative, owner of Digby, a beagle Request to be on the hotel's first floor so you can be closer to the outdoors and avoid disturbing other guests. Ask where the correct exercise area is. And always bag it! --Laura C. Bollock, senior internal auditor, owner of Australian shepherds Tucker and Gulliver Most airlines accept reservations for carry-on pets ahead of time, but some companies may have a limit of three pets per flight: two that are reserved early, with the third on a first-come, first-served basis. Confirm the policy and book as early as possible. --Michelle Barlak, public relations coordinator, owner of toy Manchester terriers William and Daisy, and Alydar, an Ibizan hound Traveling with a big bag of dog food is inconvenient. Order food online before you leave, and have it delivered to the hotel. --Niki Marshall Friedman, public relations director, owner of Boston terriers Rocky and Buster Bring your dog's rabies certificate. It's the only vaccination required by law in all 50 states. Also, get a certificate from your vet 15 days before you travel that lists up-to-date inoculations, and search online for area animal hospitals. --Lisa Peterson, director of club communications, owner of Norwegian elkhounds Obie and Jinx Always have a photo of your pet in case he gets lost or stolen. That way you can make signs quickly. --Stacy Mason, field representative, owner of Cujo, a Brussels griffon I opt for Red Roof Inns or Baymont Inns because most locations don't charge pet fees. --Gail Storm, field representative, owner of border collies Lyn, Bea, Rip, and Tag Tip baggage handlers well, as they're the ones who are mainly responsible for your pet. --Michael Canalizo, field representative, owner of Silver,a German shepherd Research local dog parks or good walking spots near your hotel. --Bronwyn Taggart, AKC Gazette editor, owner of Henne's Baxter Beans ("Baxter"), a Boston terrier Get the hotel to confirm that it allows pets and to specify rules about sizes and surcharges. Don't rely on what's on the website. And if you leave the hotel, confine your pet to the carry crate so there's no chance he'll destroy the room. That can cost you a fortune. --Daphna Straus, director of business development, owner of Zabar, a Pembroke Welsh corgi

Discount Airlines in Mexico

For years, traveling within Mexico has meant choosing between long bus rides on awful roads, navigating those same roads on your own in a rental car, and expensive and often inconvenient flights. No mas. A discount airline boom is underway south of the border. Five new carriers are either already flying or in the works, and all have business models that mimic global trendsetters Southwest Airlines, JetBlue, and EasyJet. Fares connecting major cities, like Guadalajara, Mexico City, and Monterrey, and beach resorts, such as Cancun, Zihuatanejo, and Acapulco, have plunged in a few instances. During one airfare promotion, a round trip from Mexico City to Veracruz on Click, launched last summer by former national carrier Mexicana Airlines, cost $180. Click's parent company was charging $350 for the same trip. The growth of Mexico's low-fare airlines comes on the heels of the government's decision to privatize Mexicana; it's expected that private investors will buy Aeromexico, the other state-run airline, by the end of the year. The more-open marketplace has attracted some of the biggest names in Mexican business. Carlos Slim Helu, one of the wealthiest men in the world, and Grupo Televisa, Mexico's largest media company, are jointly bankrolling Volaris, whose name comes from the verb volar, meaning "to fly" in Spanish. Volaris took to the skies in March of this year. Another carrier, Interjet, was launched in December by the grandson of a former Mexican president. It was an Irishman, however, who made the biggest news splash. Tony Ryan, whose Ryanair helped change the airline business in Europe with occasional $2 flights, announced that his new venture, tentatively named Viva AeroBus, will connect Mexican airports to a handful of U.S. cities starting in September. Of the airlines flying already, Click serves the most cities (19 in Mexico, plus Havana, Cuba, and soon, Miami), followed by Avolar (17), Interjet (7), and Volaris (5). For the most part, passengers are expected to be Mexican nationals attracted by cheaper fares and better connections than those offered on the older carriers. Many routes make sense for American travelers as well, especially people interested in hopping around or tacking on an extra city or beach to their getaway. As with low-cost carriers elsewhere, Mexican airline fares aren't always rock-bottom cheap. We found a round-trip Avolar flight from Oaxaca to Zihuatanejo for $290, which seemed mediocre considering the flight's only about an hour each way, as well as a $220 Cancun-Guadalajara Volaris round-trip (via Toluca) that's arguably a much better deal because it's a journey of 1,000 miles. Thus far, booking can be a challenge. Most websites are in Spanish only. You may have trouble figuring out which routes are offered, whether they have nonstop or connecting flights, and how many times a week a route is flown (daily is rare). It's harder than it should be to locate airline phone numbers and sometimes difficult to find an English-speaking agent. Also, prices are generally given only in pesos. Travelers accustomed to getting around on bumpy, crowded Mexican buses, however, may prefer the new headaches to the old ones. Mexico's new airlines Avolar 866/370-4065, avolar.com.mx Click 011-52/55-5322-6262, clickmx.com Interjet 011-52/55-1102-5555, interjet.com.mx Viva AeroBus vivaaerobus.com Volaris 011-52/55-1102-8000, volaris.com.mx

Los Angeles in a Snap!

1. It's hard to believe now, but there was a time when L.A. wasn't all concrete jungle. A small museum at the La Brea Tar Pits explains how the area's historic tar pits preserved fossils of saber-toothed tigers and other creatures from the Ice Age. The surrounding park makes for a perfect picnic spot. 5801 Wilshire Blvd., 323/934-7243, tarpits.org, $7 2. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, on a stretch of Wilshire Boulevard known as Miracle Mile, has the largest permanent collection west of Chicago. There are over 100,000 pieces of art, from the ancient (a 7,000-year-old Mesopo-tamian cylinder seal) to the modern (a 2005 steel-and-silk sculpture by Do-Ho Suh). On Friday evenings April through December, free jazz concerts are held in the Central Court. 5905 Wilshire Blvd., 323/857-6000, lacma.org, $9 3. Very little in L.A. qualifies as understated. But the upscale Italian restaurant Locanda Veneta blessedly doesn't make too much of itself. Close-quarter seating allows for literal elbow-rubbing with the celebrity clientele. The daily specials (grilled langoustine or spinach-and-ricotta gnocchi, for example) are the way to go. And anything made with the sage butter sauce is a must. 8638 W. 3rd St., 310/274-1893, locandaveneta.com 4. The ultranice employees at Farmer's Daughter Hotel take pride in their work, and it shows. Country charm fuses with a playful decor that gives a nod to the neighborhood farmer's market. Murals of waving wheat line the walls, and vintage lattice furniture is upholstered in gingham and denim. The hotel used to be a cheap spot for Hollywood hopefuls to get their footing (including Charlize Theron when she first moved to L.A.). 115 S. Fairfax Ave., 323/937-3930, farmersdaughterhotel.com, from $159 5. Flora Kitchen at Rita Flora, a flower shop-meets-organic restaurant, is a favorite of the health-conscious, gourmets, and gardeners alike. Hearty sandwiches and salads are the main draw. It's best to start with the Flora Italia (mozzarella on a baguette or olive bread slathered with olive tapenade), and then finish things off with an utterly health-unconscious, decadent chocolate chip cookie. 468 S. La Brea Ave., 323/931-9900, florakitchen.com 6. In L.A., shopping and tanning are equally important--hence The Grove, a grand outdoor mall that doubles as a people-watching promenade. There's also a movie theater, a handful of restaurants, and a 1950s trolley that goes approximately a quarter mile from one end to the other before turning around. 189 The Grove Dr., 323/900-8080, thegrovela.com 7. Hipsters and fashion mavens agree that The Way We Wore has the best vintage collection in L.A. The couture shop upstairs is the place to pick up a red carpet--appropriate ensemble: shoes, antique costume jewelry, and all. 334 S. La Brea Ave., 323/937-0878, thewaywewore.com 8. At Mäni's Bakery Café, a casual spot with outdoor seating, the fresh breads and homemade desserts are all baked with organic whole grains, tofu can be substituted for meat in most dishes, and there are vegan and sugar-free desserts. 519 S. Fairfax Ave., 323/938-8800, manisbakery.com 9. The decor-challenged can learn how to incorporate a touch of cool at Room Service, a housewares dreamland. Large paintings of pop figures adorn the walls, and the groovy cups and plates are perfect for parties. The staff stays out of the way and lets customers test the repro-Eames furniture. 5901 W. 3rd St., 323/692-9221, roomservice-la.com 10. A 1936 art deco performance space, the El Rey Theatre is one of the most interesting places around town to catch a favorite musical act or learn about a new one. The lobby alone deserves center stage, with grand staircases and velvet decor. 5515 Wilshire Blvd., 323/936-6400, theelrey.com, from $10