Q I have an Olympus E-PL1 camera and am pleased with it, except for flash pictures. If I am more than 6 or 7 feet away from the subject, the pictures are too dark. Would an external flash make a difference?

A It would definitely make a difference. Any shoe-mount flash dedicated to Olympus or Panasonic Micro Four-Thirds cameras will work automatically with your E-PL1. Don't use any other flash, because it could short out your camera.

I strongly recommend separate flash units for the best results, but they aren't always necessary, and sometimes you have to make do with what is built into the camera.

Here are simple tips to improve your flash pictures, no matter what camera or flash you are using:

Change the ISO setting. This will improve the range of your flash and capture more of the ambient light surrounding your subjects. The base setting for the E-PL1 is ISO 200. Try ISO 800, take flash pictures at different distances and compare the images with ones taken at ISO 200. You will see a noticeable improvement.

Lower the shutter speed. Using a setting such as 1/30 or 1/15 of a second will "burn in" the background. You must hold the camera steadily and have stationary subjects for this to work well.

Turn on all the room lights. The additional ambient light will be captured by the sensor, filling in the background for a more natural look.

Each step will yield an improvement, and you can try any combination to get the effect you want.

Replace turntable belt

Q I have an old Zenith IS-4040 stereo with a tape deck, radio and 8-track player. It has a spindle that holds six or seven records. The turntable is beginning to slow down slightly, and the records sound out of tune. It's time to send it to record player heaven. Are there any record players out there that can stack more than one LP?

A Record changers are a lot more complicated than a regular turntable, and the sound quality is not as good. You don't see decent ones offered any longer, because vinyl isn't the dominant format.

If you want a changer, you'd have to find a nice used one somewhere such as Craigslist.

Don't be so quick to give up on the Zenith, though. It probably just needs a belt, which sells for only $4.95 at Turntable Needles (www.turntableneedles.com).

Good speaker deal

The Swan MH200 Mk. II (www. theaudioinsider.com) is one of the best values in powered speakers. A set combines beautiful cabinets with beautiful sound and works well with anything from an iPod to a computer to a television. They're being offered in a combo deal with a pair of Swan H2 micro personal speakers for $299. The MH200 Mk. II was a good buy at $299; throwing in the H2s at the same price makes it even better.

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