SHOW COVERAGE WRAP-UP
PMA 2007 HighlightsBy MIKE PASINI
The Imaging Resource Digital Photography Newsletter
Imaging Resource did more than wander in the desert, sending two video crews and two still photographers. The Etchells-Deuel and Barnett-Smith video teams, shooting with Canon XL and GL2 camcorders, were matched by News Editor Michael Tomkins shooting with a new Nikon D40 and your newsletter editor shooting with a Nikon Coolpix 990 from the last century.
We put up 45 videos with knowledgeable spokespeople showing off their products, 17 booth reports with 457 images and 2,490 words hosted by Phanfare, 14 daily show reports (nearly 24,000 words) with over 272 shots arranged as both Flash slide shows and HTML galleries, plus 173 news items, many posted by Zig Weidelich, who manned the home front while the rest of the crew was at the show.
Having enjoyed a few days to reflect on the frenzy (and nap), we've assembled a digest of some of the show highlights before passing out our new Envy Awards to the most impressive products we saw.http://www.nikon.com) we tried out the new D40x, the just-announced 10.2-megapixel sibling of the popular D40. But the big news was the new 55-200mm VR f4-5.6 stabilized lens that will only set Nikonians back $250. It's VR I not VR II but it's $250, not $700. The D40x won't sell in a kit version with it for a while, but you can get the body only for $729 and tack on the new 55-200mm lens for $979. You can also get it kitted with an 18-55mm zoom for $799 or the 18-135mm for $1,029. We also got a peek at the Nikon Coolpix 5000, the one with a hot shoe. This one had a Nikon SB-400 flash attached. Very cool.
Bags. The Teton holster we saw at the M-Rock (http://www.m-rock.com) table has a large enough mouth to accommodate a vertical grip. It also came with a weather jacket and a bungie strap on the bottom to grab a jacket or a light tripod. And two straps so you can wear it over your shoulder or attached to a backpack or on your chest. It even includes a lens cloth for just $60. We also liked their $100 Everglade dSLR bag with configurable compartments, a U-shaped lens cradle and all the extras of the Teton.
Dfine With U Point. Nik Software (http://www.niksoftware.com) was showing the first application of its U Point technology outside Nikon's Capture NX. It has revamped Dfine, its noise reduction software, using the revolutionary masking interface.
Wireless USB. It's coming. In the next generation of cameras that support USB. In the next generation of laptops. In the next generation of any device with USB support, that USB will be Wireless USB. Artimi (http://www.artimi.com) develops wireless semiconductors for USB electronics. At their table, they had a digicam retrofitted with Wireless USB and a USB dongle plugged into a laptop. They took some shots and wirelessly transmitted them to the laptop and then printed them on a printer with Wireless USB.
Image Trends. Image Trends (http://www.imagetrendsinc.com) announced two new applications (of a slew about to be released) priced at $49.95 each. DustKleen is an automatic dust removal program with manual touch up controls for scanned images from both film and prints. SensorKleen a semi-automatic SmartBrush that removes artifacts created by dust and debris on the dSLR sensor cover. They're also planning face sheen, teeth/eye whitening and other edits too processor intensive for in-camera application. And a standalone app to run them in.
Jobo photoGPS. Jobo (http://www.jobo.com) had its Spectator storage and display device, the new Giga Vu Pro storage and display device and the photoGPS device, which attaches to your dSLR's hot shoe to record GPS data as metadata for each shot with no extra cables (which can run $100 for conventional GPS systems). The photoGPS is triggered by the flash signal in the hot shoe and stores the data (latitude, longitude, altitude, etc.) for each shot in its internal memory. With the included NXP swGPS software, the GPS data downloaded via USB is merged with the image data.
Flash Diffusion System. Ultimate Light Box (http://www.ultimatelightbox.com) is a system that starts with a custom plastic mount available for about 20 different external flash units. To that you can add a simple $19.95 domed diffuser (mount included), a $24.95 light box (which functions like a soft box), a $6.95 mini reflector (the light box without a diffuser in front), a $19.95 black box (a black rather than diffused light box), sensor shields (to block light on one or another side of a light box) and colored gels.
Tripod Heads. Acratech (http://www.acratechusa.com) showed its Ultimate Ballhead, which weighs less than a pound and the Long Lens Head, which can support a 600mm f4.0 lens with perfect balance.
PanDigital Frames. PanDigital (http://www.pandigital.net) distinguishes itself from its many digital frame competitors by being the first to use an MP3 player chipset rather than a DVD player chipset in its frames. This makes image transfers to its large internal flash memory fast, for one, but generally improves performance and connectivity. PanDigital President Dean Finnegan told us the company sold 520,000 frames in the last quarter of 2006, 70 percent of the buyers female and they bought 1.8 frames, coming back for a second frame after the delight of experiencing the first. The company is looking forward to updating the chipset in June with some exciting new options like Wireless B/G connectivity, a lithium-ion battery, a timer for turning the frame on and off at regular intervals and support for more document formats so you can store recipes in the internal memory, bring it into the kitchen and cook with it.
PhotoLab. Noromis (http://www.noromis.com) recently introduced its $49.95 PhotoLab Windows application to import, enhance and print digital photos, which can "intelligently and automatically adjust for exposure, contrast, color balance, saturation, sharpness, red-eye and digital noise." The company spent a lot of time developing the program's image analysis capability but it also spent a lot of time on usability and the user interface. It actually rigged up a test room with video cameras to record user's faces and the screens they were looking at.
Muvee. Another piece of software that caught our attention was muveeNow (http://www.muvee.com). The Singapore-based company's earlier muvee offering is embedded in some Nikon Coolpix models and in some kiosks as well. The new version is a standalone Windows application that, they company said, makes it a three-step process to create a video presentation from stills or video. Step One is to select the images or video clips you want to use. Step Two is to pick the MP3 music file you want to use and the template for the production. A number of templates ship with the product and more are available online at an additional charge. Step Three is to play the production.
Microtek. We had a chance to meet with Microtek's Parker Plaisted to discuss the whereabouts of the long-awaited M1 scanner (http://www.microtek.com). They've actually wrapped up the hardware side of it but are still working with another firm on the software. We asked him about the i900 large film scanning issue where some unevenness was reported in our forums. He thought it was most likely a flatness issue with the film but confessed he wasn't familiar with it. He was familiar with LaserSoft's new SilverFast 6.5, which, he confirmed, dramatically improves the dynamic range of scanners it runs on. LaserSoft tests indicated two exposures were sufficient to capture highlight and shadow detail independently, merging the two like Photoshop's HDR format to enhance dynamic range.
Last year, he said, sales of camphones topped 508 million units while digital cameras hit 105 and digital camcorders fell just short of 13. The numbers will increase this year, he predicted, with multimedia handsets responding to the increasing desire to upload video. Those sets will feature two to 5-Mp sensors with DVD quality video and be able to directly upload stills and video with rich-media browsing and geo-tagging thrown in. They're particularly attractive because they're the "king of connectivity," providing seamless connections while hiding the complexity of it all from the user. Something digicams have yet to do.
While about half of all digicam and camphone users both take video with their devices, camphone users capture 5.0 clips a month compared to digicam users at just 2.7. But that's where the good news stops for handsets. They're still largely just one or 2-Mp units with significant shutter lag and no flash.
DxO, we note, has a solution for some of those problems with software autofocus that can focus as close as six inches, uses no power and is instant. The threat to digicams is video capture. It's the next big thing, he said. He also noted that 85 percent of U.S. shipments are going to repeat customers as dSLRs begin to cannibalize the high-end segment.
So the question is whether digicams can be competitive with camphone connectivity while maintaining their edge in image quality.
Home Printing. Ron Glaz took a look at digital photofinishing in the home. Today 56 percent of prints are made at home with 39 percent made by retail outlets and 5 percent online. He expects retail to do about 54 percent by 2010 at the expense of home printing, he said, even though home printing continues to attract new vendors.
Kodak, for example, has just introduced its multi-function inkjet line featuring high quality, ease of use and lower ink costs. But he suspects the company won't be able to modify buying behavior. At the point of purchase the customer will find it hard to justify spending $50 more for a Kodak when ink is just $10 less a cartridge and they use just one a year -- a five year stretch to return the initial investment. By which time, he observed, the unit will no doubt be overshadowed by new technology.
Zink, too, has been bitten by the home printer bug. The company bought the rights to Polaroid thermal color paper technology that can produce a 2x3 inch print for 20 cents. A price that is not quite competitive yet.
The 4x6 printer is attractive because of its print quality and direct-connect convenience. It's usually bought as a bundle or gift (particularly for Christmas, graduation and Mother's/Father's Day). And the mean price is $149. Price, however, is not the most important factor influencing purchase. That award goes to quality (4.43 on a scale of 1 to 5), followed by a direct camera connection (3.96), then price (3.59) and memory slot (3.39).
The real bottleneck to home photo printing growth, he suggested, was that photos are imprisoned in the personal computer. The industry needs a black box to release them, an eShoebox, that anybody can set up and access at any time, which also backs itself up. Windows Home Server has the right idea, but is too restrictive. After all, he observed, the more images are seen, the more prints will be made.
Q&A. In the question and answer period following, a couple of interesting observations were added to the presentation:
- They expect to see the megapixel race continue into the 12-Mp range and higher if noise can be managed. It's really a question of deploying all those Japanese engineers, they said.
- Consumers have 2.2 cards per camera and bite when they see more capacity for around $50. It's a good business to be in with solid-state camcorders just around the bend.
Zigview S2 & Twin1. Argraph (http://www.argraph.com) demoed the $499.95 Zigview S2, a miniature video camera that slides onto your dSLR's eyepiece to provide a 2.5-inch articulated LCD monitor (with 230K pixels) with a live view of your subject. The company also sells an infrared wireless shutter release called the Twin1 sold in two configurations. If your camera has a built-in sensor, you can just buy the $34.95 transmitter. Otherwise, you can buy the transmitter with a receiver as an $89.95 set. Because it has two sensors in the front of its large disc and one in the rear, you can trigger the shutter from any angle. Range is up to 60 feet and a cable is included to use it as a wired shutter release.
Hall of Fame. But for completely unattended remote operation, you can't beat the International Photography Hall of Fame booth (http://www.iphf.org) where no one was in attendance. Operated by the Photographic Art and Science Foundation in the Oklahoma City, it's "dedicated to education and preservation of photographic prints and equipment" with a mission statement "to promote awareness and education of the history of photography." Its attractively illustrated Fall 16-page quarterly included articles on Adolf Fassbender (the Dean of Pictorialism), Earnest Haas, D.A. Black, a history of the CCD and digital cameras and a piece on stereographs, among other items. Membership in organization starting at $20 for students and $35 for mere mortals.
SeeFile. SeeFile (http://www.seefile.com) showed the third generation of its $499 Web-based file sharing software for OS X that allows instant sharing, annotation and sales without transferring files or maintaining services with a hosted service. The product is particularly suited to pro photographers who want to have complete control of their online sales. Unlike hosted providers, SeeFile runs locally so you can just copy your large image files to a local hard disk. Thumbnails and watermarked previews, plus HTML display that makes them accessible via a Web browser to anyone, are automatically generated. SeeFile provides side-by-side comparisons, onscreen annotations and color-coded collections for each user. Athentech's Perfectly Clear (http://athentech.com) technology is also included to automatically and instantly optimizes the lighting for each and every pixel while maintaining accurate color and zero clipping. At the same time, it automatically corrects white balance and restores faded colors. For a final touch, Perfectly Clear uses patented medical imaging technology to provide photographs with optimal contrast and sharpening.
Unibind. Ah, the bound photo book. And at the show, there are a few companies with one or another way to bind your images into real books at home. One we liked is the $119.99 PhotoBook Creator (http://www.myphotobookcreator.com) manufactured by Unibind (http://www.unibind.com), which includes the binding machine, two covers and Windows software. We had a short demonstration -- 90 seconds is all it takes. You drop one of the empty hardback book covers into a magnetic warming bar with two panels to hold the book's spine against the warm metal bar. Inside the spine is another steel strip, which accounts for the attraction. The heat is necessary to melt a resin coated on the inside of the spine. When the resin has melted, you can insert a stack of papers (your book, that is) and the resin will harden, holding them in the cover. Presto! You've made a book at home. You can also drop the finished book back in the heater to loosen the resin and remove the pages a few times. After that, you lose enough resin that the pages won't adhere to the cover any more.
HP. Encouraged by the success of their in-camera slimming effect, HP has added a couple more tricks. Pets don't reflect the light from your flash off the back of their iris quite the same way we do. They have green-eye, not red-eye. HP figured it was just as easy to do for green what they do for red. Just navigate to the pupil, click and its gone. And what you can do for pets you can do for blemishes. A new feature called Touch Up lets you spot away pimples, moles and scars the same way you remove red-eye. HP also introduced Vista-compatible tagging with these models. You can set a tag to be used on all the images you'll be taking or just assign a tag to images you've taken and Vista will recognize them when you copy the images to your computer. The company has also redesigned its free Photosmart Essentials software package.
Panasonic. Panasonic is launching its Digital Photo Academy (http://www.DigitalPhotoAcademy.com) this May in 20 different cities. Courses offered at three different levels of expertise (beginner, intermediate and advanced) will be taught by a local professional photographer, giving students on-going access to photo experts and resources in their own community. Cities include Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, New York, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Francisco, Seattle, Tampa and Washington, D.C.
Fotomagico. We're great fans of Boinx Software's Fotomagico (http://www.boinx.com) for Mac OS X. It's fun to work with and the results are always first class. There is an issue with computers that use the ATI Radeon 7500 graphics card, which export an all-black video. But otherwise, we've recommended it without hesitation. The company has just released version 2.0 and made it a free upgrade to anyone with a version 1.x license. Version 2.0 is being released in two versions, the $49 FotoMagico 2 Express and the $129 FotoMagico 2 Pro. The free upgrade is to the Express version but upgrading to Pro is just $50 until May 31. There's also a 15 percent discount if you use "PMA07" as the coupon code when ordering on the Web. Which might come in handy if you're interested in the new family license that lets you use the software simultaneously on up to five computers "in a private household" at the same time. The new version can create standalone players and screensavers (Mac only at the moment) with the same playback quality as the full version of FotoMagico. Since the show is rendered in real time, the file sizes remain small compared to HD video. Standalone players and screensavers start the show as soon as they are opened and can be made to time out or after quit after having been played a set number of times. Another new feature, only available in the Pro edition, allows you to add a watermark to your presentation. Any JPEG can be used, resized and repositioned using the usual Fotomagico methods. The ghosted images appears throughout the entire show. The Pro edition also supports Aperture libraries, HD movie export and custom export options.
Piezography. Another product that made us drool is Piezography's Neutral K7 archival inkset (http://www.piezography.com). It's the world's first neutral tone, archival inkset for black and white printing. Using seven shades of monochrome ink composed of carbon pigment, each perfectly neutral, color tone is cast strictly by the paper you're printing on. But how do you tell your printer it has gray ink in it instead of color? You use QuadToneRIP, a shareware program that knows what's in each cartridge and what to do with it. Like use the very light gray rather than small dark dots in the highlights and mix a couple of the darker grays in the shadows to build detail. To print with these inks, you just install the cartridges in your printer, install QuadToneRIP on your OS X or Windows computer, open your grayscale image, pick your paper from the list in the QuadToneRIP window and print.
Kodak. At Kodak's booth we finally got a glimpse of Goldeneye (and even learned how to spell it). Bring your Bluetooth mobile phone within range of the Goldeneye Bluetooth dongle in a Windows computer's USB port and your phone will ask you if it's OK to transfer its images to the computer. The computer has to have paired with your phone first, so not any camphone will get that generous offer. But once paired, any time you walk by, you can automatically transfer images off your cell to your computer. They can even be sent automatically to the great gallery in the sky, EasyShare Gallery. Freeing them from that cell phone forever. Kodak hasn't figured out how to market it yet, but it could just be one more Bluetooth accessory for your cell phone, like a headset. And we finally got a chance to get some pictures of Kodak's new all-in-one inkjet line. The 5300 mid-range model (with the LCD that functions like a mini-kiosk) was on display with its inexpensive replacement ink cartridges. The company won't disclose printing or scanning resolution, but apparently scanning resolution is 1200 (that's what comes up in the dialog box anyway, we were told). We also learned the exclusive distribution deal with Best Buy is only for three months. After that, other distribution chains will open, although Kodak wasn't naming names.
Wilhelm. We stopped at the press room to get copies of the DIMA press releases and ran into Henry Wilhelm of Wilhelm Imaging Research (http://www.wilhelm-research.com). He gave us a copy of his latest report on the permanence of all types of 4x6 prints (http://www.wilhelm-research.com/ist/WIR_IS&T_2007_03_HW.pdf), which he just presented this week at the show.
Wilhelm took a look at how long 4x6 prints last when you display them (as a framed print or just on your refrigerator) and when your store them (say, in an album). He found that your choice of ink and paper can affect the longevity of your print by a factor of 200 times.
One of the most pernicious factors in shortening print life is what he calls "ambient ozone exposure." Also known as gas-fading (from ozone in polluted air), it does its worst damage on prints made with dye-based inks on instant-dry (porous) paper. Kodak's new all-in-ones do use instant-dry paper but with pigment-based inks. But if you buy instant-dry paper (instead of the usual swellable sheets) for your dye-based printer, you risk short print life.
Roughly speaking, framing a print behind glass doubles its life, partly by protecting it from ozone. That isn't always the case, as you can see by comparing the framed and bare bulb columns of the report, but generally true.
An even more surprising factor in print longevity is the brand of ink and paper you buy. We have argued with readers for years about the importance of buying the stuff the printer manufacturer sells. There's a superstition that this is just a way to squeeze more pennies out of your purse and that any ink and paper is about the same as any other. But Wilhelm proves dramatically the difference is significant.
Take the HP Photosmart 145 and 245 printers. He made prints on them using the highest quality, branded materials -- both ink and paper -- he could buy in January from Office Depot, Staples and HP. If you tack them up on your fridge, the Office Depot print will go two months before fading, the Staples print three months and the HP print 32 years. Frame them behind glass and you get four months from the Office Depot print, three years from the Staples print (less than a drugstore print still) and 68 years from the HP print.
Just making a print at a Photosmart Express retail kiosk will last 200 times longer than that Office Depot print made with store-brand ink in a refilled HP 57 cartridge on Office Depot Professional Photo Paper.
Wilhelm notes, "Epson, Hewlett-Packard and Lexmark now manufacture inkjet prints, inks and photo papers for home printing that have higher WIR Display Permanence Ratings than traditional silver-halide color prints." Kodak's dye sub prints (what comes out of those docks) survive the longest at 10 years unprotected and 26 years framed.
Back at the bunker, we finally got a good night's sleep. Only to have a horrific dream of cables twisting in the grass (we don't have a lawn) and devices in the bushes (we haven't landscaped yet, those are really weeds). In the dream, every night this collection would escalate into more and more boxes and wires. Had the tables been turned? Were we now being reviewed by the devices?
Turns out, according to the dream anyway, it was just a sloppy cable installer with the wrong address. But we think we got a few review units out of the thing. And that's nothing to snore about.