WRAPPING IT UP
Tilting at CES WindmillsBy MIKE PASINI
The Imaging Resource Digital Photography Newsletter
Catching a glimpse of Dave and Mike dashing down a side aisle of South Hall, you might wonder if you weren't seeing Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Ludicrous as that may seem, there's some truth in it.
The true object of their quest is as unanswerable a query as that of those two fictional heroes. Only a sense of duty kept them at the task of telling giants from windmills, real breakthroughs from pablum.
It wasn't easy. But in the lull between the Consumer Electronics Show and Macworld, we sat down to summarize in Cliff Notes style, just what we both saw at the show that made us stop and think.
With PMA just a few weeks away at the end of January, most camera manufacturers were holding their cards. Sony, Kodak and Panasonic, however, each had an interesting announcement or two.
Sony's big splash was the introduction of its $699 Alpha A200 dSLR, the A100's successor. We got our hands on one, popped a CompactFlash card in it and published some A200 shots in our Monday report (http://www.imaging-resource.com/EVENTS/ICES08/ces-reports/ces-mon.htm).
Designed for the point-and-shooter who wants the performance advantages of a dSLR, the A200 is something of a hybrid with Scene modes and a function guide. We tested the slide show function at the booth, but weren't very impressed. It's a bit like a filmstrip, with a row of thumbnails on top and the image below. Where's the fancy effects, we asked. Oh, it works better through the video out port, we were told.
While the A200 has some nice high-end features like Super SteadyShot built into the camera body, anti-dust technology and Creative Styles to go along with its 10.2-Mp CCD and nine-point autofocus system, it has some tough competition from Canon's Rebels and Nikon's D40 series. That's going to take more than Scene modes.
Kodak has taken a completely different approach with its SmartCapture feature. The V1073 and Z1085 IS are the first Kodak cameras to feature this innovation and it, we think, is really a sign of the times, mirrored on the dSLR end in the advanced image processing of Nikon's EXPEED system. The game is to stuff a powerful CPU in the camera and give it a lot of work to do.
"You press the button, we do the rest," is how Kodak put it when we saw it in Rochester. And in our Pepcom report (http://www.imaging-resource.com/EVENTS/ICES08/ces-reports/ces-pep.htm) we saw it in action.
It's a special shooting mode that includes smarts like automatic setting of scene mode, macro, white balance, ISO and adds intelligent processing like edge enhancement, noise reduction and color correction. You get more detail in the shadows without blowing out the highlights because it underexposes an internal 12-bit Raw image and uses the processor to massage the data.
The result is that you just get better pictures instead of the occasional disappointment (which is usually a scene that's difficult to capture).
Kodak also revived its touch screen technology from the EasyShare One. The V1073 is the first model to enjoy what is quickly becoming a trend with models from Sony and Pentax offering similar ability.
Kodak's new models all capture HD video -- an uncommon feature -- and the new HD dock makes it a snap to see your stills and video on an HDTV.
Panasonic made a little noise at the show with a prototype of WiFi digicam that uses the T-Mobile network to talk to Google Picasa for sharing and emailing images.
If that sounds familiar to you, it should. Nikon has been doing it for a while now, most recently with its Coolpix S51c. And then again, Kodak's One pioneered this with what's still our preferred implementation. The One could actually send images wirelessly to your computer. None of the others can.
One cell phone caught our eye, the LG KU990 Viewty (http://viewty.lgmobile.com). The big lens (well, for a camphone) tipped us off that there was something going on here. And there is. A 5-Mp sensor with image stabilization for the Schneider Kreuznach lens and a flash. And the interface is a 3-inch, 240x400-pixel touch screen. With Bluetooth, USB and EDGE technology, its 100-MB internal memory can be expanded to 2-GB with a microSD card.
While everyone was talking about Panasonic's 150-inch plasma TV (nearly large enough to be a garage door), backlit LEDs were the real news, promising a much larger color gamut for you to work in.
ViewSonic introduced a 22-inch widescreen VLED221wm desktop monitor that features the world's first 12,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio in a LED desktop display.
It can display 118 percent of the color gamut based on the National Television System Committee guidelines. In comparison, ViewSonic said, most CRT and LCD monitors on the market today only display 70 to 80 percent of NTSC's range of colors.
And it supports a native 1680x1050 resolution with a 5ms response time. The display is equipped with dual analog and digital inputs and integrated stereo speakers with a power consumption of just 38 watts. And you can afford it at $799.
If 12,000 to one isn't enough for you, think what you can see with Sony's 11-inch OLED TVs. They have a contrast ratio of a million to one. But that 11-inch model will set you back $2,500. Still, it's a procrastinator's dream.
With all the hoopla around large HD TVs and incredible sound systems, color printers were a neglected technology. But we saw two worth noting.
The HP C8180 is an all-in-one printer that features a rich inkset with light cyan and light magenta added to the basic four and a touch screen that makes using the device a breeze. Nothing to learn, nothing to remember.
You may have to unlearn a thing or two (there's no index printing since you can scroll through the images on the LCD), but we really liked the touch screen way of making the C8180 get busy.
There's a lot more the C8180, though, including Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity and a built-in CD/DVD burner to complement the built-in card reader. All that for just $399.
If that's too rich for your blood, Kodak has repackaged its revolutionary pigment inks and printhead technology in the compact all-in-one EasyShare ESP-3. Our reviews of the 5000 series (http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRINT/K5300/K5300.HTM) complained about a number of firmware issues. But the ESP-3 is a simpler device, moving much of the functionality off to the printer to Kodak's AiO Home Center software. That includes a new Face Retouch feature that can automatically minimize blemishes. And the price is right at $130.
We're in a very lonely club of reviewers who have actually written about digital photo frame technology (http://www.imaging-resource.com/ACCS/PDGTL/PD8.HTM).
One the one hand, there's little say. Get an LCD and find a chip supplier and you're in business. They are almost all the same. On the other hand, they aren't all the same. A few companies distinguish themselves with interesting connectivity options like WiFi or additional services that allow the frames to communicate with other people.
Three caught our attention, however.
A prototype from Parrot (http://www.parrot.com) implements a new protocol called Near Field Communication that resembles Bluetooth without the pairing (incidentally, Sony tapped into this same protocol to deliver streaming media from a server to HDTVs in the same room). Just wave your NFC device in front of the Parrot frame and they're paired. If that device is a cellphone, you can upload your images to the frame.
Just one catch. There aren't many NFC devices yet, we were told, and certainly no digicams (which rarely feature WiFi and even more rarely Bluetooth).
The Alrity frame (http://www.alitypc.com) has WiFi so it can get on the Internet via your router and tap into the company's online service. But it also has a custom-built user interface accessible either with the remote control or by touching the frame itself (which is also a touchscreen like the ones we used on Virgin America). Using Instant Messenger protocol, you can sync with Google calendar and instantly send an image from the service to the frame or vice versa.
Kodak showed a digital photo frame with WiFi too. Coupled with a new Picture Mail application (which will be a free download for all Kodak picture frame owners), it can transmit images from the frame to your EasyShare gallery. It will be available in 7, 8 and 10 inch models.
The SD memory card format has been evolving for a while now. With the SDA 2.00 specification from the SD Card Association, SD cards can reach capacities as high as 32-GB. These SD High Capacity cards aren't backwards compatible with standard SD, miniSD and microSD cards, all of which use FAT 16 files systems. The HC cards use a FAT 32 file system, so if your device can't navigate FAT 32, the cards won't work.
SanDisk announced a 12-GB microSDHC card at the show. The card itself is so small that, with an SD adapter (often included), you can use it in a number of devices.
On the tripod front, we caught up with a couple of great products from Manfrotto (http://www.manfrotto.com), both under $100, too. The $79 modo is a hybrid video/still tripod available in two sizes. A dial at the base of the ball head makes the switch. In photo mode, the head can be moved quickly in any direction. In video mode, it behaves like a traditional video head with a pan handle for tilt and pan movements. To lock position, you just push the button down. To unlock, push it back up from under the handle. There's also a compact quick release plate and an anti-twist alignment pin for video use.
Its multi-segment legs with flip locks folds down into a compact 14 or 17.1 inches, depending on the model. The oval legs guarantee they won't turn on you and add to rigidity where they connect to the tripod. There's a leg angle selector at that point which can flatten the legs (as if your tripod is doing the splits), set them to a normal 25 degree angle, medium 45 degree angle or low 80 degree angle.
The two models reach as high as 45 inches and 59.2 inches but can also squat as low as 6.1 and 6.9 inches.
Dave managed to snag a $30 Manfrotto modopocket. It's three pieces of heavy-gauge stamped sheet metal that fold closed under your camera, revealing a tripod socket of its own. To use it, you fold out the front and back supports, which are held in position by a pair of strong springed hinges and attach a small wire thread that prevents the two supports from doing the splits.
Camera Armor (http://www.cameraarmor.us), famed for their dSLR protective skins, has recently added an Always-On model line for digicams. The Always-On Millipod cover is a one-size-fits-all (up to one inch thick, anyway) design that attaches to the digicam's tripod socket. A long slot in metal bracket lets you slide the attaching screw to whatever position your camera's socket happens to be. The bracket holds one end of a soft, stretchy neoprene cover that you simply wrap over the camera and hold with its Velcro catch. When you're ready to shoot, pull the Velcro, unwrap and shoot. You can leave the $34.95 wrap on all the time. It's like having your case and freedom, too.
Plus, you can accessorize it with the $24.95 Millipod Micro Tripod folding metal tripod. That too can stay on your digicam and you probably won't even notice because it's only 5mm thick. The front leg is adjustable so you can change the angle of your shot.
If you avoid using the popup flash on your dSLR, Gary Fong might just have what you need to put that troublesome thing to use. He calls it the Puffer, a plastic diffuser that wraps around the popup flash and mounts to the camera's hotshoe. One size fits all, using a set of mounting holes for the diffuser screen. It's a $20 solution to diffusing your built-in flash.
Confusing, overwhelming, inconvenient. Backing up your data, that is. According to Harris Research that's why 96 percent of us don't.
But one day that hard disk is going to sound funny and all that data will be irretrievably lost. Unless you back it up. And to make that a little less confusing, overwhelming and inconvenient, Imation (http://www.imation.com) had the bright idea of selling DVDs with specialized backup software all set to go.
They call them TDK SimpleSave discs and sell three variations. Photo discs ($12.99 for three) find and save image files (based on their file type), Music discs ($9.99 for three) find and save audio files and Docs discs ($7.99 for three) find and save text documents, presentations, spreadsheets and more.
The software automatically prompts for a blank disc when the current one has been filled. And you can exclude or include specific file extensions in the advanced options.
Like most heroic skirmishes, this one was over far too quickly for our heroes, who mounted their untrusty steeds at McCarran airport to fly on to other adventures. Sancho, in fact, is saddling up for Macworld Expo at the moment. Stay tuned to see what kind of trouble he gets into this time.
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