|Volume 3, Number 3||9 February 2001|
Welcome to the 39th edition of the Imaging Resource Newsletter. Sony and Nikon are revolutionizing the industry (again). And Dave stumbled out of the studio with just enough time to write this special report on their new digicams before winging off to PMA 2001. You can catch our daily PMA updates on the revamped News page at http://www.imaging-resource.com/NEWS.HTM.
This issue of The Imaging Resource News is sponsored in part by the following companies. Please tell them you saw their ad here. And now a word from our sponsors:
Are you in the digital photo business? This newsletter is read by nearly 40,000 U.S. readers, all with a passion for digital photography. For information on how you can reach them, contact us at [email protected].
By DAVE ETCHELLS
PMA 2000 was the first year digital imaging products clearly dominated the Photo Marketing Association's largest tradeshow event. All the major camera manufacturers had at least some digital presence in their booths and for many, it was the major focus of their marketing efforts. This year promises even more sweeping changes, with the number of camera models proliferating and off-shoot products populating new niches -- all fueled by the mass consumer photo market's steady advancement toward digital. We'll doubtless see the pace pick up in the years to come and expect PMA 2002 will herald the true mass merchandising of digital photography, but this year's show will nonetheless be a watershed event.
In this issue, we focus on the efforts of two companies, each redefining photography in a different market: one in consumer imaging, the other in professional. These new products are perhaps more evolutionary than revolutionary, but they reflect a maturing of both the markets and the technology. Viewed together, their impact is even more far-reaching.
SONY ROCKS THE DIGICAM WORLD
For many of its competitors, Sony Electronics has appeared as the proverbial 800-pound gorilla in the digicam marketplace. Its cameras have enjoyed enormous popularity, commanding both premium prices and huge marketshare, ever since the first floppy disk-based Mavica appeared several years ago. Sony technology, combined with the Sony marketing juggernaut, has resulted in the most popular line of digicams in the industry, bar none.
At last year's PMA, Sony stunned the competition (and a few journalists, as well) by announcing no fewer than six new digicam models. (Such fecundity of product development was previously unheard of in digital photography.) To our great surprise, they repeated the trick again this year, announcing six more new models, adding to both their Mavica and Cyber-shot product lines. Imaging Resource has had several of the new Sony cameras in our studios for early review, testing them under a nondisclosure agreement that conveniently expires Friday afternoon, neatly coinciding with the publication date of this newsletter. The fates must have smiled. ;-)
What we found in the new models was impressive from a features standpoint, but they also mark a new direction for Sony in product pricing. We think the combined effect is significant enough to warrant special attention. So we've already posted full reviews for two of the new cameras on our Web site and we've published a "first look" of two more. We'll highlight the most significant features here -- and let you draw your own conclusions!
NEW SONY DIGICAMS
First, a list of the newly-announced Sony models:
The brief specs above don't really reveal what Sony is doing with its digicam pricing and features. Prices have been cut anywhere from $100 to $200 per unit, while new features and capabilities have been added and specifications improved over the old lineup.
- Mavica FD75, VGA resolution (640x480), 10x zoom, floppy disk, $399 (the MVC-FD75 was actually announced in January and is already in stores)
- Mavica FD87, 1.3 megapixels, 3x zoom, floppy disk, $499
- Mavica FD97, 1.3 megapixels, 8x zoom, floppy and Memory Stick, $599
- Mavica FD95, 2.1 megapixels, 10x zoom, floppy and Memory Stick, $899
- Cyber-shot DSC-P30, 1.3 megapixels, 3x zoom, $399
- Cyber-shot DSC-P50, 2.1 megapixels, 3x zoom, $499
- Cyber-shot DSC-S75, 3.3 megapixels, 3x zoom, $699
Here's what this means for the Mavica line:
- FD75 replaces FD73. Similar features, but $100 (20 percent) price cut.
- FD87 replaces FD85. Similar features, MPEG movie removed, but $200 price cut.
- FD92 replaces FD90. Same lens and resolution, but now has a direct Memory Stick slot, USB host connection, low-compression JPEG and uncompressed TIFF file formats and $200 price cut.
- FD97 replaces FD95. Same lens and resolution, but now with a direct Memory Stick slot, USB host connection, low compression JPEG and uncompressed TIFF file options and $100 price cut.
FLOPPY + MEMORY STICK = NEW FLEXIBILITY
After the price cuts, the big news for the Mavica line is the addition of the "direct" Memory Stick slot to what were formerly floppy-only cameras.
Mavicas are popular because of their convenience and ease of use. You simply pop in a floppy disk, record the image, pop the disk into any computer and read the image. It may not seem like a big deal to the well-equipped digital photographer, but when you combine the freedom from cables and driver software, rock-bottom media cost and the ability to share images with anyone who has a floppy drive on their computer (which was pretty much everyone, until Steve invented the iMac), it's a compelling case.
But the limitations of the floppy became increasingly evident. A 1.44-MB disk can hold a lot of text, but it's precious little space when you're handling 2-megapixel images. Last year's release of the MVC-FD95 made it clear Sony had taken floppy technology about as far as it could go. While the FD95 still had surprisingly good image quality (given the large amount of image compression needed to fit the images onto a floppy), it could only squeeze four full-resolution images on a disk. A day's shooting meant carrying around a stack of floppies.
So Sony introduced a floppy disk adapter for its diminutive Memory Sticks. Memory Sticks are available in capacities as large as 64-MB, so using one in a Mavica with the floppy adapter certainly addressed the storage space issue. But the Memory Stick/floppy adapter solution had some limitations. It was slower than writing to an ordinary floppy, it added a good bit to the bottom line (floppy adapters run about $90) and there was no provision for reducing image compression, the bane of many high-end digicam enthusiasts.
In this year's lineup, Sony has made the next logical move (although we confess it caught us by surprise), adding a Memory Stick "direct" slot to the two high-end Mavica models, along with a USB port, so you can download images directly from the Memory Stick to your computer. This is great news, especially in light of the accompanying price reductions. The obvious benefits: complete elimination of over-compressed image files to accommodate limited storage, markedly increased shot-to-shot speed and continued convenience of the floppy-based paradigm. Not only can you still shoot directly to floppies, you can also copy image files between the floppies and Memory Sticks (floppy-to-floppy, floppy-to/from-Memory Stick and Memory Stick-to-Memory Stick).
Voila! At its release, the new FD97 is the least expensive 10x zoom-lens-equipped, 2-megapixel or higher camera on the market.
Of course, we doubt that other manufacturers will let this latest shot across the bow go unanswered. We expect the usual round of price reductions among more conventional competing products. Still, Sony has a strong value proposition in the new Mavicas and is marching to claim new market territory. For a full review of the MVC-FD97, visit our site at http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/FD97/F97A.HTM.
THE LOW END P30/P50
At the low end of the Cyber-shot line, the new P30 and P50 models offer surprisingly full feature sets at very comfortable price points. These new cameras are quite compact, with an elongated case design reminiscent of the DSC-P1 introduced last summer. The P30 and P50 are larger than the P1, but the overall aesthetics are very similar. Neither camera is a runaway price leader, but they are not priced at the premium either.
At 1.3 and 2.1 megapixels respectively, the new models replace the boxier S30 and S50 models introduced last spring, with a few notable differences and prices about $100 lower. The best new feature is the optical viewfinder that supplements the LCD-only design of the earlier models. (We like optical viewfinders a lot, as they support a more stable shooting grip and a more natural "look & shoot" aiming method.)
Other improvements include a new MPEG-EX movie recording technology that supports continuous recording to the Memory Stick, limited only by the Stick's capacity. A particularly nice feature is the addition of an autofocus illuminator LED that (optionally) kicks in whenever the light is too dim for the autofocus system. So flash shots can still be properly focused, even in very dark surroundings. Sony has also overhauled its user interface, moving to a Mode Dial system for selecting major operating modes, with a "flattened" menu system that puts most settings only one level away from the main menu screen.
Overall, the new Cyber-shots seem focused on providing all of the must-have features for consumer digicams, at reasonable prices. We have a pair in-house currently for review and have posted a brief first look at http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/P50/P50A.HTM.
BARGAIN HIGH END
Our favorite new Sony camera is the 3.34-megapixel DSC-S75, which replaces the already-excellent S70. The new model features the same ultra-sharp Zeiss lens as its predecessor with a number of new features. Primary among these is a 14-bit digitizer, which yields greater tonal range and potentially reduced image noise. We noticed the S75 was very good at holding detail in strong highlights, a tough task for most digicams.
Sony has taken the new user interface design a step further than in the P30/50. In addition to the Mode dial for setting major camera operating modes, there are nine rear-panel controls, including a four-way rocker arrow pad, which scrolls through menus as well as sets specific functions; a small command wheel for adjusting aperture, shutter speed and exposure compensation; and a small monochrome data readout LCD on the back panel that displays current camera settings for exposure compensation, aperture, shutter speed, flash setting, shots remaining and battery level.
The main LCD menu system is greatly simplified, with most settings only one level away from the main menu. The S75 is consequently much faster and more intuitive to use than the earlier model. You can use the external controls and data readout LCD to use the camera with the main LCD screen turned off. This cuts power consumption 20-25 percent, making it feasible to leave the camera powered up for extended periods (ready to capture unexpected photo ops). We found the user interface a little tricky to navigate in this mode, but with practice, we became pretty sure-footed.
Like the P30 and P50, the DSC-S75 incorporates Sony's MPEG-EX movie technology, but thanks to a built-in microphone on top of the camera, the S75 movies include sound. You can record movies up to the capacity of the Memory Stick, at resolutions of 160x120 or 80x72 pixels. The 320HQ mode records at 320x240 pixels and more than doubles the audio sampling rate (to 10 KHz) for improved fidelity.
The S75 has exposure modes ranging from fully automatic to fully manual, with aperture- and shutter-priority in the middle. There's a Manual Focus mode (with a truly functional LCD-based focus scale), Auto Exposure Lock independent of focus adjustment, an LCD readable in full sun and flash exposure adjustment, to name a few. It also features the excellent Sony InfoLITHIUM rechargeable battery system, with the battery and AC adapter/charger included. As a basic photographic tool, the DSC-S75 competes strongly with any 3-megapixel "prosumer" camera currently on the market.
In our tests, the S75 turned in a really excellent performance in virtually every category. Resolution: Excellent. Color: Excellent. White Balance: Excellent. The "one-push" manual white balance option is unusually effective at eliminating the strong color cast from normal household incandescent lighting, a tough problem for many digicams. Low Light performance: Excellent. But the external flash connection is proprietary and no provision is made for third-party flash units.
You can see our full S75 review at http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/S75/S75A.HTM.
But what absolutely floored us about the S75 was the suggested list price of only $699. With some competing units selling for $999 list, this is a very aggressive price point, sure to raise the blood pressure of the competition. Given its features, capabilities and image quality, it would be well worth spending another $100 to upgrade from a competing 2-megapixel model.
Sony's announcements should have a significant impact on the digicam industry. Suddenly, the Sony marketing juggernaut has products that compete head-to-head (or better) in price with the competition and that offer "no excuses" capabilities and image quality. Other camera manufacturers will have to compete or be left behind. Price moves of 10-20 percent within a few months time frame are about par for the course in the digicam business. But the S75 challenge could be greater, as the needed cuts would be more on the order of 25-30 percent. Two things seem clear though. You and I will be paying less for our cameras and Sony is going to sell a lot of digicams.
HIGH END ACTION: NIKON
While Sony was mounting its attack on the consumer and prosumer markets, Nikon was girding for battle in the high end/professional business. It's been two years (that's like a decade in "digicam years") since Nikon announced its revolutionary D1 digital SLR. More than any camera before or since (at least since the original Nikon F1 long ago), the D1 upended an entire marketplace. Announced at a list price of $5,580, it boasted features not found on SLR digicams selling for more than twice its price. And while it was far from cheap, it was enough of a price break to put digital shooting into the hands of a whole new tier of photographers.
Sports shooters loved its fast 4.5-frames-per-second shooting speed, photojournalists loved its "built like a tank" ruggedness and Nikon shooters of every genre rejoiced in a digital SLR that felt and worked like a Nikon. This feature is not to be underestimated. With decades of experience in the film camera business, Nikon's engineers obviously thought long and hard about how a digital camera should operate, how it should feel in the hand, where the controls should be located and what they should do.
Good photographers get to a point where the operation of their equipment is instinctual. For a digital SLR to really succeed with a working pro, who may be switching back and forth between it and his film cameras, it needs to have the same "camera-ness" as cameras in the rest of his kit. This was what Nikon strove to achieve with the D1 -- and what they succeeded in doing.
Since then other manufacturers (notably Fuji and Canon) have introduced their own Digital SLRs. But the D1 has held onto a huge share of the professional digital market, thanks to its performance, ruggedness and "camera-ness."
TIME FOR AN UPDATE
After two years, however, it was high time for Nikon to update the D1. So this week the company announced the D1H and D1X, both logical extensions of the basic D1 design. The D1X is a 5.47-megapixel (!) camera that Nikon bills as "optimized for color reproduction and exposure management." It will ship, in the next month or two, at a projected street price of $5,500 (! again). The D1H is a high-speed model with the same 2.74-megapixel CCD as the original D1, but with improvements all around including a maximum shooting speed of five frames per second and a memory buffer large enough to hold 40 picture bursts at a time. The D1H will ship sometime this summer, at a projected street price of $4,500.
Both units are still more expensive than the competition -- Fuji's $4,000 S1 Pro and Canon's $3,500 EOS D30 -- but the combination of speed and ruggedness on the one hand (D1H) and resolution and ruggedness on the other (D1X) will see both models compete very well in the pro digital SLR market. (Unless of course, the competition decides to drop their prices another $500-$1,000 or so, which we believe they're both capable of doing.)
At the high-end, the D1X looks very interesting for studio and commercial photographers, for whom color, tonal range and resolution are more critical than high frame rates. The D1X can capture up to three pictures per second, in bursts of up to nine images, which is either faster (S1) or almost as fast (D30) as its lower-resolution competition. High resolution is critical for a lot of commercial work intended for print publication and the D1X seems well prepared to deliver it.
The D1X's resolution is interesting in itself. Rather than using the square pixels common in most digicams, the D1X uses rectangular ones. So its CCD has more than three times as many pixels in the horizontal direction as in the vertical (4024x1324) and interpolates to build a final file size of 3009x1960 pixels. It will be interesting to see how this plays out with real-world subjects and whether the asymmetry in the CCD's resolution will produce any visible effect in the final images. It certainly seems that it should appear sharper in the horizontal direction than the vertical, but this may not really be visible in the final images. (Testing will tell!) The D1X's CCD is apparently the same size as the D1 and D1H CCDs, so the focal length multiplier remains 1.5x.
We're also very intrigued by the new cameras' ability to produce output files in 16-bit color space. This could permit much greater control over image tonality than in current cameras, possibly permitting significant post-exposure tonal correction when working from the raw CCD data files (Nikon's NEF file format). A new version of the Nikon Capture software application will support the greater bit depth.
Sports photographers and photojournalists are sure to welcome the D1H. For these pros, 2.74 megapixels is usually more than enough resolution. More importantly, they want to see "motor-drive" frame rates as high as possible, since the difference between the perfect shot and one that just misses the mark can often be a tenth of a second or less. Five frames per second is still a fair distance from the professional film SLRs, but enough to keep the speed addicts content. The good news here is the huge 40-frame buffer and Nikon's long-proven, incredibly intelligent autofocus technology. The D1's 21-frame buffer only represents about four seconds of action. In sports or photojournalism important shots often happen all at once. The ability to shoot one burst, followed by another and yet another -- all within the space of a few seconds -- is critical. Boosting the buffer memory to 40 frames will be a significant advantage for action shooters.
Nikon's superb autofocus technology is also key. Nikon's most advanced autofocus systems (as in the F100, F5 and now the D1X/H) are both predictive and tracking. They can both follow a subject's progressive change in distance and also predict what the next focus setting is likely to be. If another object cuts into the scene, the Nikons are smart enough to ignore it and leave the focus locked on the original subject. This is of tremendous practical help.
NEW & IMPROVED
The most important enhancements and features in these new models follow. Readers interested in the details are encouraged to tap into our camera database to view the cameras' specifications side by side with those of the original D1.
Just visit http://www.imaging-resource.com/IRNEWS/archive/v03/n03link.htm for our shortcut to the comparisons (whose url is a bit long to email in the newsletter).
Among the myriad small, but significant, improvements in camera features and functions, are:
- New color space enhancements: This is huge, IOHO. The original D1 output files in NTSC color space, a choice that perplexed many users, but one that was based on the greater color gamut of the NTSC space (compared to some other RGB spaces). In the new D1H and D1X models, the camera's electronics have been tweaked to result in two color modes, one optimized for sRGB, the other for Adobe RGB. What other reporters seem to have missed about these options is that they aren't just choices made as the output file is being generated; they involve changes in the camera's capture electronics to optimize the raw data and maximize image quality in whatever color space is chosen. Color fidelity and the quality of color data collected by the camera are critical for commercial applications.
- All-new Advanced Image Processing System, with a new algorithm for 3-D Digital Matrix Image Control (Nikon's nonpareil matrix metering system). Changes include improvements to the 3-D color matrix metering, TTL white balance, tone compensation and unsharp masking. In our conversations with Nikon, they have been keen to point out their focus on "Total Image Quality," which eschews the usual approach of focusing on piecemeal image characteristics (eg., resolution, color balance, etc.) and adopts a more holistic approach. Again, all this is theoretical until we actually see test images shot under controlled conditions, but we're very upbeat about the possibilities.
- Advanced noise reduction system. Nikon has apparently made a major effort in this area, including a brand new, ground-up redesign of the basic camera electronics. A picture here is obviously worth more than a thousand words, but in our conversations with Nikon, they described their approach as "very aggressive." We view this as particularly important for the D1X, as its pixels will definitely be smaller than in the D1, making it all the more susceptible to noise issues. At the same time, the pro/commercial photographer market is particularly sensitive to image noise. The D1X will have an ISO range from 125 to 800, while the D1H's will extend from ISO 200 to 1600.
- MicroDrive support! Based on published reports (see Rob Galbraith's Web site at http://www.robgalbraith.com), the D1 was a bit of an unhappy match for the original 340-MB IBM MicroDrive. The D1X and D1H will officially support the newer 1-GB MicroDrives, although still not the original 340-MB units. (The newer MicroDrives have lower peak power consumption and apparently different timing characteristics as well.) This is great news for pro photographers, particularly in light of the D1X's file size and the D1H's speed and huge buffer.
- New TTL flash approach. We don't know the details of this, but both new cameras apparently have entirely new internal hardware for TTL (through the lens) flash control. We had good results in our own testing of the D1 with the SB-28DX flash designed for it, but there were a number of reports on the 'net of TTL exposure problems. More on this as additional details become available, but it sounds like Nikon has made a proactive move to address the problems some users have encountered.
- New 130,000-pixel TFT color LCD monitor with white-light LED backlight for improved visibility.
- 100 percent area-accurate playback coverage on the TFT LCD monitor.
- One-touch playback for quick review and instant return to shooting mode.
- Text labels on the "custom function" menu options (!!).
The new Nikon SLRs have again set the mark at the high end of the digicam marketplace. While they won't turn pricing topsy-turvy the way the original D1 did, they'll prove strong competition to others vying for the pro photographer's business. Stay tuned for our full review of these interesting products, as soon as test samples are available. It looks like an interesting year for Nikon shooters!
Controlling depth of field has, traditionally, been a camera technique. Stopping down the lens provides more depth of field and opening up the lens less. Isolating focus to a narrow plane of a scene can have a dramatic effect. And it's a popular enough one to have a name: selective focus.
But digital photography is a funny thing. Some things, like double exposure, that have been camera techniques, become image editing tricks. And others, like selective focus, can be either.
But there is a very fine line any image editor must learn to observe. It's the line beyond which believability dissolves. Image editors make it very easy to composite images, moving a gorilla shot at the local zoo to your living room couch, say. But it isn't believable (generally speaking) because you are mixing outdoor light and indoor with completely different shadow effects to boot.
So when we say you can do selective focus in your image editor, we aren't talking about your everyday Guassian blur. We're talking about using a sophisticated Photoshop-compatible plug-in like Andromeda's VariFocus. This tool applies a believable gradient to a focus mask. A demo is available at http://www.andromeda.com. And check Dave's Deals below for a special offer.
KEEP IT SIMPLE, SPORT
But let's start simple.
We have a number of images of the nationally-ranked Pasini Academy football team (no relation). One of our favorites is taken from the sidelines as the Pasini Eagles, on defense, threaten to thwart the plans of the El Cajon Braves. Nothing is actually happening at the moment the shutter is snapped. Which is the whole point of defense.
What the high school year book art director would like us to do (hey, it always helps to imagine yourself employed) is to keep the one unobscured P on a lineman's helmet in focus and gradually blur the rest of offense and defense. This, he tells us, indicates our man is thinking. Not speculating, not day dreaming, but thinking.
Piece of cake.
Open the image in your image editor and select the VariFocus filter from the Andromeda option in the Filters menu. You have a moveable dialog box with a preview of your image on the left and Andromeda's (less-than-intuitive) icons for About/Cancel/OK buttons. That much is (fairly) clear.
The About button, by the way, sports a Preferences button. Its No Change and OK buttons let you set the filter's Photoshop support level.
Below the preview is a Help pane which reveals in plain English what the (odd looking) icons actually do whenever you roll your mouse over them. There are a lot of them, so this isn't just handy, it's a lifesaver.
On the right side of the dialog box is where we'll actually be working.
The upper pane contains a representation of the active mask. What, in gray, the blurring will look like. Below that is a group of 16 possible masks. All sorts of shapes. For our job, we need Number 3. It's a small dark circle that grays gradually out to a white background. Just the ticket.
So we click on it to make it active.
This is where the work starts. The first problem is to align the center of the mask to the helmet with the visible P in the image. VariFocus makes this easy. You can either click in the preview or the active mask pane to position the center of the mask. A small progress bar pops up on the preview while it is being redrawn.
Once the mask is aligned, we have to adjust the rate at which the image blurs. We want to be able to tell, for example, that beyond the helmet there is a body and beyond that a team. But we don't want to be able to recognize any of the truants. Might not graduate.
This refinement isn't too laborious either. But a bit tricky. We can change the size of the mask with a little slider just under the active mask pane. That's probably all we have to do. But we can also change the degree of defocusing with another slide just under the preview. These are not quite the same thing. But working first with the scale and then with the degree we can precisely control the effect.
Don't blink, we're done!
VARIATIONS ON A THEME
There are 19 user interface elements in the dialog box. We didn't need them all for this project.
We defocused but we might have sharpened instead by clicking on the Sharpen button (which unclicks the Defocus button). Another example of the non-intuitive interface design.
We might also not have moved the center of the mask to the center of the helmet by clicking on either the preview or the active mask. We might, instead, have stretched the mask in the direction we were dragging, turning our circular mask into an ellipse.
We could also have reversed, flipped (along either the horizontal or vertical axis) or rotated the mask. With our circular mask these options weren't particularly tempting, but it's nice to know they'll be there when we need them.
Finally a bar icon at the top right lets us move the whole dialog box around.
THE KEY TO THE THING
The trick to getting the effect you want is having the right mask. Our simple example, spotlighting a helmet, used a circular mask. The other 15 options are various graduated patterns ranging from linear wipes to radial blurs (including an option to apply the effect uniformly). You can exclude any part of your original image from their powers simply by selecting it (usually using the lasso) and inversing the selection. VariFocus will tamper only with the selection.
Chapter Three of the PDF manual gives several real world examples of the filter in use. Defocusing with a selection or a mask and creating a glow and a halo illustrate the use of the Defocus/Sharpen modes and their Amount/Radius sliders.
It even shows how to build your own blur/sharpen masks. Which is nice to have but not something you'll often need.
But the beauty of VariFocus is having at your disposal a variable blur mask. The blur (or sharpen) can be applied in a number of graduated patterns. Focus is the obvious application, but we couldn't help but wonder why not apply any other filter (besides blur/sharpen) to the variable mask engine in this filter.
Thumbs down on the interface. Clearly labeled buttons would be a big improvement (imagine what the world would be like if every filter had a unique user interface). We liked the separate (rather than stacked, like layers) preview and active mask planes, but the progress bar should draw itself somewhere else rather than on top of the preview. It's annoying there.
But those are quibbles. VariFocus does indeed provide an easy-to-use graduated blur with a comprehensive set of masks. And it's fun, too!
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RE: Zooming in on Teleconverters
I want to see more of the article on telephoto lenses! Hopefully the article continues somewhere there on your site or is a two part thing. I am dying to know how the test shots came out. I have been looking for this info!!!! Please let me know where I can find the outcome of the test shots. And thanks for the great article. Very good info.
I appreciated the "Expose on teleconverters" in your last issue. I was intrigued by your case study of the rock cairns and wondered if you might have some of those images online somewhere visible to the public. Thanks for a great newsletter, which is the first thing I read when it arrives!
-- Clayton Curtis(We're in the midst of folding our personal field trip into Dave's test shots of all the Nikon converters. We'll complement Dave's long distance shots with one of our close-focus rock shots and add an interesting wide angle close-focus shot of some rusting iron and the distant Golden Gate Bridge. When it's ready we'll post the link at http://www.imaging-resource.com/NEW1.HTM. -- Editor)
RE: Free Image Browser
John Evans mentioned a couple digital photo management programs he uses to good effect, including QPict. I tried this program and while good, I didn't find it suited my style. In fact, it's been a quest of mine to find the best "lightbox" program for the Mac. I found one piece of freeware I'd like to share with your readers.
This is the one Fuji distributes free called Exif Viewer [MW] (http://www.fujifilmsupport.com/driver/cam_idx.htm). I have it aliased on my desktop and it has helped me scan through hundreds of images. In fact, the only thing that it does poorly is rotate thumbnails. It will let you open a hi-res version of the image and rotate the whole thing, but this takes up a lot of memory and having to save over the old file is clumsy (with no sense of what JPEG quality you are getting).
-- Dan(Thanks for the recommendation, Dan! A free slideshow program for Windows and the Mac, imagine that! Rotation can be lossless, so I suspect Exif Viewer is not compressing. You might investigate Cameraid [M] at http://www.cameraid.com, too. Both automate renaming, BTW. -- Editor)
RE: ME ME ME
I have Windows ME and the software that came with my camera is not compatible with the camera. Is there an estimate when software will be available for the Windows ME version for the Mavica MCV-CD1000 so I can use the USB cable to connect the camera to the computer?
-- Willie(How about "right now" for an estimate? Try http://www.css.ap.sony.com/downloads/ under Digital Still Camera. And for you Kodak owners, try http://www.kodak.com/global/en/service/software/dcDsu/winMillennium.shtml). Kodak also provides a utility for switching between the new Microsoft USB drivers and their own. -- Editor)
RE: Resource Forks
In response to Bob's email regarding files/folders written to SmartMedia that were only visible in the DOS environment, my experience tells me that the same folders will be written to any removable media formatted in the MS-DOS file system that is even inserted, not necessarily even written to, a Mac. Without knowing the specifics of the Mac file system, I can't explain why, but I've had the same thing show up on floppies, zips, etc. If anyone knows enough to answer the question why, I'd be most appreciative.
-- Jeremy Albright(You're right. Just inserting the media (whatever it is) will invite the Mac OS to write invisible files to it. Different versions of the OS use different extensions for this but in general the data is resource fork information (icons, for example) that the Mac OS uses and DOS files do not contain. This will always happen if you mount the media while in the Finder. But I vaguely recall this isn't always the case under application control. -- Editor)
RE: How Many Pixels in a Megapixel?
I have a Canon Powershot S100, advertised as having 2.11 megapixels. Yet the largest images are exactly 1600x1200 pixels. This is easily shown to be 1,920,000 pixels, which I understand to be exactly 1.92 megapixels and exactly 190,000 pixels short of the advertised value. The problem is slightly worse with my Nikon Coolpix 990, advertised at 3.34 megapixels, but falling short by 194,272 pixels.
Help me out here! Where are these advertised pixels leaking away? Does this problem need to go to the National Institute of Standards and Technology or to the Federal Trade Commission, Fraud Division?
-- Gene Widenhofer(Hah! You may be right, maybe we need an NIST standard! The issue has to do with "sensor pixels" vs. "effective pixels." A surprisingly large number of pixels around the edges of the array are (1) used for dark current calibration and (2) lost to the interpolation algorithm used to convert R, G and B photosites to pixels having RGB values all represented for every cell. Typically, a full row/column of pixels are lost due to interpolation overhead all around the edges of the array and some additional ones are lost to dark-current calibration. The net is that, while the sensor itself may in fact have 2.11 million pixels on it, the final images have something less. (1.92 is real typical for "2.11-megapixel" sensors.) -- Dave)
RE: Trigger Voltage Clarification
The voltage in trigger circuits is usually derived from the voltage across the "flash" capacitor, which provides current to the flash tube for the light output. However, the trigger circuit is a separate circuit and has a much smaller capacitor for triggering, as well as lower voltage than the "flash" cap voltage. The voltage across the trigger cap can range from a few volts (solid state trigger circuit) to hundreds of volts (non-solid state trigger circuit). The light output (watt-seconds) of the flash unit has nothing to do with the trigger voltage at the shutter contacts. High voltage trigger circuits can degrade shutter contacts over a long period of time, but can instantly ruin the low voltage components in modern cameras. Anyone familiar with a voltmeter can measure the trigger voltage of a flash unit easily.
-- Ramon Eller(Thanks for the clarification. And another chance to warn people to measure the volts on the flash foot before using your old 35mm flash with your digicam. We watched our brother the electrician set his voltmeter to display hundreds of volts, turn on the flash, point it away from his eyes, touch the two contacts on the flash foot with the voltmeter probes and observe the voltage when the contact caused the flash to fire. He advised us to stop using carbon arcs. -- Editor)
RE: We Fix Mondays, Too
I just wanted to drop you guys a note of thanks for the effort you put into your newsletter. Like many others, I'm sure, Monday mornings can be a nightmare as the new week's responsibilities appear unsurmountable. However, since becoming one of your subscribers, I've had the pleasure of opening the weekend's email and found your thoughts and news waiting there to improve my mood and stimulate my mind. Monday mornings don't quite suck just as much any more.
-- Brad Kule(Thanks, Brad, very much appreciated. Our Mondays look pretty good to us, too, when we get email like yours <g>. -- Editor)
Gateway will send the creator of the Most Romantic Video Valentine to Paris (compliments of Travelocity). Through Feb. 14, you can visit any Gateway Country store to record a free Video Valentine and email it to your special someone (who, we assume, gets to go to Paris, too). A selection of videos can be seen at http://www.gateway.com where you can also vote for your favorite.
Ulead (http://www.ulead.com) has announced the release of Photo Express 4.0, the latest version of their consumer image editor. The new version will be distributed in three editions: the $49.95 Digital Studio edition (editing engine with plug-ins), My Custom edition (engine but you pick plug-ins) and the 29.95 My Scrapbook edition (engine with scrapbook tools). The My Custom edition will be available directly from Ulead's Web site for $2.95 for the main engine and $9.95 to $14.95 for My Plugins. Plug-ins include: Printing, Special F/X, Animation, Template, Photo Decoration, Text F/X, Calendar, Web Studio and Painting.
Imerge Consulting has reported U.S. consumer digital camera sales cooled from 79.3 percent unit growth in 1999 to 51.4 percent in 2000 with 3.8 million in units sold, generating over $1.8 billion in revenue. Imerge's report "The Worldwide Digital Camera Forecast and Market Overview, 2000-2005" is available at http://www.imergeconsulting.com.
The Lebrecht Music Collection at http://www.lebrecht.co.uk is the world's largest specialist archive of classical music images. They cover "every aspect of the lives and work of leading composers and performers, together with their creative associates and great opera houses and concert halls in which they flourished."
Seattle-based PhotoWorks has announced an agreement to acquire the Web Site http://www.ememories.com from ememories, Inc. The transaction is expected to close within 60 days.
FlashPoint (http://www.flashpoint.com) has released the Digita Desktop SDK for Windows. The software development kit allows communication with DigitaOS cameras via serial, USB or IrDA protocols. It also can enumerate multiple cameras over USB and synchronize capture sequences. ACD Systems used a pre-release to integrate communication with Digita-enabled digital cameras, building on the ACDSee plug-in architecture.
Hamrick Software (http://www.hamrick.com) has released version 6.5 of VueScan. Among the changes: a restore color option has been added for faded film; auto exposure has been fixed; and generic negative film correction has been improved.
Kodak Professional has opened the doors to the Kodak Professional Academy, an educational center in Rochester, N.Y., offering seminars and hands-on workshops for imaging professionals. Course topics range from innovative imaging techniques and applications to developing new target markets and marketing programs to reach them. For more information, call the Academy at (800) 854-5340 or visit the Academy Web site at http://www.kodak.com/go/KProAcademy.
Kodak Professional also announced the coming addition of Better Light scanning camera backs to its product line. Equipped with Kodak's highly acclaimed CCD sensors, the backs will be available worldwide from authorized dealers of Kodak Professional digital cameras in March. Better Light offers four models, all of which use Kodak's tri-linear color CCD image sensor technology to provide high resolution without color aliasing.
And Kodak Professional has signed a non-exclusive license with Durst Dice America LLC to market the Kodak Photo CD system, as well as develop and support a Windows NT-based Photo CD scanning system for delivery before the end of June. The new system will include a Kodak Professional RFS 3570 Plus scanner, a PC with a 19-inch monitor and writer, a Windows operating system license, a Photo CD application and an optional Auto Film Advance accessory.
Hewlett-Packard and Apple have joined a $41 million investment in Ofoto Inc. (http://www.ofoto.com), the online photofinisher. The funding round, the second for privately-held Ofoto, brought the total raised by the year-old company to $57.5 million, the most yet for an online photography start-up. Ofoto said the funds will be used to continue the company's current services and to expand into new lines, including wallet-sized prints.
If your equipment disappears without explanation it may end up at http://www.stealitback.com. These guys take recovered property off the hands of U.S. police departments and will return what you claim and auction what's left.
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Mike Pasini, Editor
Dave Etchells, Publisher