|Volume 4, Number 8||19 April 2002|
Welcome to the 69th edition of the Imaging Resource Newsletter. We double our usual number of links (but for a good reason), discover a camera that can keep up with the action and relate two online shopping experiences.
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 over 44,500 readers, all with a passion for digital photography. For information on how you can reach them, contact us at [email protected].
Your scanner, printer, digicam, video card, CD-RW drive, DVD player, modem, monitor, keyboard, graphics tablet -- every device attached to your computer -- all have one thing in common.
They are useless without a tiny piece of software that makes them responsive to your operating system. And that little gem is called a driver.
If you've recently upgraded to Windows XP or Mac OS X, you've discovered you need a compatible driver to use your old stuff with your new operating system. Without it, you can't print to your printer, scan anything or use any particular device.
The new operating system sometimes includes a driver for your old stuff, but far too frequently, you have to find one and install it yourself.
At Imaging Resource, we've been getting a lot of email lately asking us if we know where to find a particular driver. So we thought we'd try to help.
Unfortunately, we don't write drivers. And what most of us need is a new driver to let our new operating system run our old device, not an old driver for an OS we no longer want to use (which is what you'll find on most of the driver-specific sites).
The only source for that is the manufacturer of your hardware -- and, double whammy, they have often decided not to bother. It's their way of getting back at you for doing business with them in the first place.
What we can do about all this is reward those firms who publish their drivers on the Web. We call this the Driver Project. We'll start it off with a hefty list of links to drivers but we need your help (we'll explain <g>).
WHAT A DRIVER DOES
So what does a driver actually do?
A driver translates your operating system's fairly generic command ("print 'who' in bold") into the specific code your device understands (zoom zoom zoom oya oya oya oya).
Sometimes the operating system comes with the driver you need already installed. Your keyboard driver, for example, is included or you wouldn't get very far. But buy a new keyboard with fancy new features (or a mouse with five buttons and a gear shift) and you'll need a new driver.
Drivers are tiny things hidden away in the dark corners of your hard drive's operating system folders. When you buy a scanner, you'll spend the bulk of your install time watching one application or another make a home for itself on your hard drive. But they will all typically tap into the little driver installed in a flash that requires a reboot.
Which is why you usually can't use third party scanning software without a driver from the scanner manufacturer.
WHY A DRIVER BREAKS
You can live happily ever after with your original driver, upgrading one application after another, as long as you do not change your operating system.
Minor upgrades to your operating system (say from Doorway 98 version 2.3c to Doorway 98 version 2.3d or 2.4a) shouldn't break a driver. But you should always check with the manufacturer for compatibility issues before installing.
Major upgrades to Doorway 99 or Escalator 2002 are where you can expect trouble. Those may be completely different operating systems requiring completely different drivers. The original driver only understands the original operating system's requests.
WHO DOES DRIVERS
This can be very, uh, inconvenient. Especially when you know your old scanner is just fine and should work with your pretty new operating system.
You may even feel the manufacturer of your scanner has made a blood oath to update the driver for all future operating systems during the life of the scanner hardware.
Or just that the company that revised your operating system owes you the courtesy of providing a compatible driver. This, actually, sometimes happens (as we noted earlier). But there's no guarantee.
The responsibility for writing a driver rests with the manufacturer of the device, not the people who wrote the operating system, not the people who built your computer, not the people who wrote the application software you use. Only the guys who built the device actually speak its language.
WHY THEY DON'T DO DRIVERS
There are lots of reasons drivers don't get updated -- and the reasons are increasing all the time.
Companies don't usually charge for drivers. But they sometimes don't write them, either. It's not uncommon to contract with small firms (which themselves come and go) to translate the operating system generic commands into the specific control codes the device requires to do anything. There may be no one at the company who actually understands the driver code.
But even when companies do understand their own code, the number of people still using the product may be too small to warrant the effort to write a new driver. You may not like it, but you've had your ride and the Ferris wheel is grinding to a halt. Your only option is to stay with the operating system that works with the driver you do have.
Then, too, operating systems don't just change for the fun of it. Sometimes they are responding to a whole new class of peripherals. USB devices, for example. These may offer new capabilities that make a new device more attractive than staying with the old one (price excluded). Resources may then be devoted to developing drivers for the new standard at the expense of the old one. The future, that is, rather than the past.
And finally, there are licensing agreements with the operating system vendor to which device manufacturers may or may not agree. In some cases, vendors have actually pursued legal action to get the information they need from the OS vender to write a compatible driver without subjecting themselves to the vendor's new requirements. We won't mention any names here.
All this can be pretty unnerving.
To protect yourself, do a little research. Visit the Web site of any manufacturer whose device you can't live without to make sure they have a compatible driver before you upgrade.
You won't get anywhere emailing the company or phoning them or asking a salesperson when a driver for your operating system will be available. You'll only get anywhere when the driver has been written and released either as a beta for testing or as a final product. And that will happen on the Web.
So you have very few options when you can't find a driver compatible with your new operating system.
One thing you must not do -- no matter how tempting -- is to install a driver written for a "similar" operating system to see if it works. It won't. And it may make others things unstable, too. Like your operating system itself.
On the other hand, there is one trick that often works.
The badge on your device is often not the actual manufacturer. If the company that badged your product doesn't offer a driver, see if the actual manufacturer does.
Take for example Lexar's USB dual media reader. Macintouch reader Robert Poore was distressed to find out Lexar didn't have an OS X driver for the its card reader. But he was able to identify the reader as a Carry Computer Inc. device in Classic (OS 9) mode. So he visited the Apple Mac OS X driver download page, found the Carry driver for OS X, installed it and lived happily every after.
Believe it or not, the silver lining here is that the price of most devices has plummeted since you bought your last one. Printers and scanners with drivers for the latest operating systems can be had for under $100. And everyone we've talked to who has given up the quest for a driver for their old device by purchasing a new one has been glad they did. It's smaller or faster or better in addition to cheaper.
And your time is worth something, too, don't forget.
THE IR DRIVER PROJECT
The Web is your friend in your search for a driver. But there are a couple of ways to use the Web.
The best thing to do is use Google (http://www.google.com). In the search field, just type your platform (Windows/Macintosh/Linux) and your product name (Wacom tablet). Don't be too cute, but as specific as possible.
The second best thing is the following list, which represents Stage I of our Driver Project. But, as we said, we need your help. If you have anything to add, just email it to us ([email protected]) and we'll add it to the list, which we'll publish on a permanent page on the site (check our New on the Site next issue). Meanwhile, tape this to your filing cabinet:
Some of these sites require registration, some actually store the drivers (not just link to them).
- Adobe: http://www.adobe.com/support/downloads
- Apple: http://www.apple.com
- Apple OS X: http://www.apple.com/downloads/macosx/drivers
- Driver Forum: http://www.driverforum.com
- Driver Guide: http://www.driverguide.com
- Driver Update: http://www.driverupdate.com
- Driver Zone: http://www.driverzone.com
- Drivers Planet: http://www.driversplanet.com
- DriversHQ: http://www.drivershq.com
- Help Drivers: http://www.helpdrivers.com
- Mac Driver Museum: http://www.macdrivermuseum.com
- Mister Driver: http://www.mrdriver.com
- PC Drivers: http://www.pcdrivers.com
- WinDrivers: http://www.windrivers.com
Watch out for links that have been broken into two lines. Some of them are just too long for newsletter living.
- Agfa: http://support.agfa.com
- Canon: http://www.usa.canon.com/support/files/index.html
- Canon Powershot: http://www.powershot.com/powershot2/customer/driverdown.html
- Casio: http://www.casio.com/support/index.cfm?page=/support/Software/DigImgSoftware.htm
- Epson: http://support.epson.com/cgi/find_product.pl?product=Camera&tab=index.html
- Fuji: http://www.fujifilm.com
- Hewlett-Packard: http://www.hp.com/cposupport/nonjsnav/hpphotosma10712.html
- JVC: http://www.jvc.com
- Kodak: http://www.kodak.com/global/en/service/nav/index.jhtml
- Konica: http://www.konica.com/products/digital/cameras/index.htm
- Minolta: http://www.minoltausa.com/eprise/main/MinoltaUSA/MUSAContent/CPG/CPG_SupportCenter/CPGSupport_Software
- Nikon: http://www.nikontechusa.com
- Olympus: http://www.olympusamerica.com/cpg_section/cpg_downloads.asp?Category=Digital+Camera
- Panasonic: http://www.panasonic.com/support/software/capture.html
- Polaroid: http://www.polaroid.com/service/software/index.html
- Vivitar: http://www.vivitar.com/CustService/driverindex.html
- Ricoh: http://www.ricohzone.com/support/support_software_digital.html
- Samsung: http://www.samsungcamerausa.com/customer/download/download.asp
- Sony: http://www.sel.sony.com/SEL/consumer/ss5/custserv.shtml#updates
- Sony CyberShots: http://www.ita.sel.sony.com/support/dvimag/cybershot/softupdates/
- Sony CyberShot manuals: http://www.ita.sel.sony.com/support/dvimag/cybershot/Cybershot_1.html
- Sony CD Mavicas: http://www.ita.sel.sony.com/support/dvimag/mavica/softupdates/
- Sony Mavica manuals: http://www.ita.sel.sony.com/support/dvimag/mavica/Mavica%20Query_1.html
- Sony Mac OS compatibility: http://www.ita.sel.sony.com/support/dvimag/compatibility/mac_dsc.htm
- Sony Windows compatibility: http://www.ita.sel.sony.com/support/dvimag/compatibility/windows_dsc-mvc.htm
- Toshiba: http://www.toshiba.com/taisisd/isd_svc/svcdsc/drivers.htm
- Umax: http://umax.com/support/dcameras.jsp
- Brother: http://www.brother.com/E-ftp/softwin.html
- Canon: http://www.ccsi.canon.com/care/downloads/disclaimer.html
- Epson: http://support.epson.com
- Fujitsu: http://www.fcpa.com/download/printers
- Hewlett-Packard: http://www.hp.com/cposupport/software.html
- IBM: http://www.printers.ibm.com/R5PSC.NSF/Web/driver
- Lexmark: http://search.lexmark.com/us_search.html
- Okidata: http://www.okidata.com/mkt/html/nf/driver.cgi
- Panasonic: http://www.panasonic.com/host/support/core-softwaresupport.html
- QMS: http://www.qms.com
- Sony: http://www.sel.sony.com/SEL/consumer/ss5/custserv.shtml
- Tektronix: http://www.officeprinting.xerox.com/cgi-bin/DriverD.pl
- Xerox: http://www.officeprinting.xerox.com/cgi-bin/DriverD.pl
- Acer: http://www.acercm.com/drivers/imaging_drivers.html
- Canon: http://www.usa.canon.com/support/files/scanners.html
- Epson: http://support.epson.com
- Fujitsu: http://www.fcpa.com/download/scanners
- Hewlett-Packard: http://www.hp.com/cposupport/software.html
- Kodak: http://www.kodak.com/global/en/service/software/scannerDrivers.shtml
- Umax: http://www.umax.com/support/download.html
By DAVE ETCHELLS(Excerpted from the full review posted at http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/F602/F62A.HTM on the Web site.)
Fujifilm's strengths have been in "stylish sub-compact" and "entry-level zoom" cameras, their very popular FinePix 6800 and FinePix 2600 models in particular. They gained ground in the "enthusiast" category as well, though, with their highly popular FinePix 6900, which sold far beyond Fuji's expectations.
The new FinePix S602 Zoom builds on many of the popular features of the 6900, but offers better color fidelity and reduced image noise as well as enhanced shooting speed. They've also listened to the market, switching to AA-cell battery power for greatly increased run times, improved the electronic viewfinder, added support for both SmartMedia and CompactFlash memory cards (including IBM Microdrives) and significantly improved the camera's white balance for incandescent light.
The 602 also sports some genuinely unusual features, including an amazing 640x480, 30 frames/second motion capture mode, special high-ISO modes (to ISO 1600) that cleverly trade resolution for lower image noise and a couple of exceptionally handy motor-drive modes that really help you capture fleeting moments.
This looks like a real winner, a camera that will find a broad following among those looking for a bargain in a high-end prosumer camera with rich features and great picture quality.
The Fuji FinePix S602 Zoom has a bulkier, more traditional 35mm shape than the rest of the FinePix line. If you're an enthusiast photographer though, the wide range of enhanced features is more than worth the added size. Despite its size, the S602 Zoom isn't nearly as big as it appears to be in photographs. In fact, it's surprisingly compact. The body appears to be almost entirely composed of structural plastic, but nevertheless has a very solid feel to it.
The S602 Zoom sports a third-generation Super CCD, producing high-quality, interpolated images as large as 2832x2128 pixels. This latest generation of Fuji's Super CCD technology finally seems to be realizing the promise the technology has held for lower image noise, as well as for high-speed data readout for movie-mode capture. The new Pixel-Mixing Technology produces high-quality VGA-resolution movies at an astonishing 30 fps, while Fuji's new Pixel Data Coupling Technology enables light sensitivity of ISO 800 and 1600 with lower noise, trading off resolution for better noise performance. (The 800 and 1600 ISO options are only available in the camera's one-megapixel resolution mode.)
The S602 Zoom has a true 3.1-megapixel CCD, but the interpolation Super CCD technology uses to extract the maximum information from the image results in final file sizes of 6.0-megapixels. Fuji's taken some heat for their routine use of image interpolation, but comparison images pitting 3.1 megapixel Super CCD chips against 3.1-3.4 megapixel CCDs of conventional design consistently show that the Super CCD technology has a slight edge in the amount of detail.
The S602 Zoom features a well designed, retractable lens with a removable, plastic lens cap that attaches to the camera body and protects the lens surface. The same threads that hold the lens cap in place also accept an accessory lens adapter, allowing a variety of front-element add-on lenses. Most camera control is via external controls, so there's less reliance on the LCD than would be the case otherwise. Because the 602 uses an electronic viewfinder system though, you can't conserve battery power by turning off the LCD screen. Though the control layout may seem daunting, I actually found it quite intuitive after a while.
The electronic optical viewfinder is actually a miniaturized (0.44 inch) version of the larger LCD and shows the same information displays. An EVF/LCD button switches the viewfinder display between the two monitors, so only one is active. As an eyeglass wearer, I appreciated both the inclusion of a dioptric adjustment on the EVF and its relatively high eyepoint, which made it easy to use with my glasses on. With 180K pixels, the EVF on the 602 Zoom is also much higher resolution than that on the earlier 6900, a feature that the Fuji engineers told me was at least partly the result of suggestions I'd made. (I'm flattered that Fuji's engineering staff reads and pays as much attention to these reviews as they seem to. :-) The 1.8-inch color LCD monitor also has a very sharp display, with some useful focus enlargement options in record mode and a histogram display in Playback mode.
The Super EBC Fujinon 6x zoom lens (35-210mm equivalent) offers an aperture range from f2.8-f11, manually and automatically adjustable in 13 steps. Focus ranges from 1.6 feet to infinity in normal AF mode and from 3.9 inches to 2.6 feet in Macro mode. A Super Macro mode focuses from 0.4 to 7.9 inches or 1 to 20 centimeters, about the closest macro range I've seen on a digicam, matched by only a small handful of models. The camera's autofocus system operates in either AF or AF Area mode, the latter of which offers a very slick adjustable AF area. A One-Touch AF button quickly snaps the image into focus, regardless of the focus mode, while a Focus Check button enlarges the center of the frame to help with manual focusing. A focus switch on the left side of the camera goes between auto and manual focus modes and the focus ring around the end of the lens barrel adjusts the manual focus. In addition to the impressive 6x optical zoom, the S602 Zoom also offers as much as 4.4x digital zoom.
The S602 Zoom offers a wide range of exposure control, from full Auto to full Manual modes. A Power/Mode dial sets the camera to either Record or Playback modes, while the Exposure Mode dial on top of the camera features Manual, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Program AE, Auto, Scene Program and Movie exposure modes. Scene Program offers a handful of preset shooting modes, including Portrait, Landscape, Sports, Night Scene and Black and White Monochrome. Shutter speeds range from 1/10,000 to 15 seconds in full Manual mode, but the range decreases to 1/2,000 to three seconds in Auto and Scene Program modes and 1/1,000 to three seconds in Shutter Priority mode.
In all exposure modes except for Auto, Scene Program and Manual, Exposure Compensation is adjustable from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents in one-third-step increments. By default, the S602 Zoom uses a 64-zone, multi-segment metering system, but Average and Spot metering modes are available through the settings menu. An AE Lock button locks the exposure reading independently of focus. Through the Drive menu, an Auto Exposure Bracketing function snaps a series of three images at different exposure settings, which can vary by 1/3, 1/2 or one full EV step. In any of the manual exposure modes, the camera's ISO sensitivity setting offers 160, 200, 400, 800 and 1,600 ISO equivalents (though the 800 and 1,600 settings automatically limit the resolution to one megapixel). White Balance choices include Auto, Daylight, Shade, Daylight Fluorescent, Warm White Fluorescent, Cool White Fluorescent, Incandescent and two Custom (manual) settings. You can also adjust image sharpness and a Self-Timer mode offers two- and 10-second countdowns. The camera's built-in, pop-up flash operates in Auto, Forced On, Forced Off, Red-Eye Reduction, Slow-Synchro and Red-Eye Reduction Slow-Synchro modes. An external flash hot shoe with a single contact accommodates a more powerful flash unit, but the S602 Zoom also features an adjustment to increase the flexibility of its onboard flash.
Three Continuous Shooting modes are available: Top-5 Frame, Final-5 Frame and Long-Period Continuous Shooting. The Long-Period Continuous Shooting mode is only available in Auto exposure mode and forces the resolution to 1.0-megapixel, but allows very long sequences of images to be captured. Up to 40 images, at about 1.8 fps. The Final-5 frame continuous mode is unusual, in that the camera begins acquiring images continuously when you press the shutter button and then saves the last five it shot before you released the shutter. This is great for capturing fleeting moments in sports and other fast-moving situations.
In Auto and Scene Program modes (also in Playback mode), a Voice Memo option records up to 30 seconds of sound to accompany still images. The S602 Zoom's Movie mode offers 640x480- and 320x240-pixel resolutions and records for as long as the memory card has available space, at a full 30 fps. For more creative shooting, the S602 Zoom's Multi-Exposure mode overlaps as many exposures as you like, producing a double-exposure effect.
Images are stored on either SmartMedia or CompactFlash type I or II memory cards (a 16-MB SmartMedia card comes with the camera). The camera also accommodates the IBM Microdrive, currently available in capacities as high as 1-GB. Quality choices include three JPEG compression levels and an uncompressed TIFF option.
An included A/V cable connects to a television set for image playback and composition and a USB cable provides high speed connection to a computer. Fuji's FinePix Viewer software comes on CD with VideoImpression, for viewing and editing movies, Adobe PhotoDeluxe HE and ActiveShare, most of which are compatible with both Windows and Macintosh operating systems.
Power for the S602 Zoom is provided by four AA-type alkaline or NiMH batteries and a set of alkaline batteries comes with the camera. As always, I strongly recommend picking up a couple of sets of high-capacity rechargeable batteries and charger.
When it was first announced, the movie resolution and frame rate were two specs that really raised eyebrows in the digicam community. The S602 Zoom's Movie mode captures moving images with sound at either VGA (640x480 pixels) or QVGA (320x240 pixels) resolutions. Full VGA resolution movies are big news in and of themselves, but when you add the fact that the 602 will acquire them at 30 fps it's even more remarkable. It'll also grab VGA-resolution movies at 30 fps without a gap, up to the full capacity of the memory card! No buffer limitations, but you do have to have a very fast memory card to keep up with the high data rate.
When Fuji first announced Super CCD technology, they spoke of possible future capabilities in motion recording. We're now seeing that promise bear fruit, in the high resolution/high speed motion capture of the S602. The key is what Fuji calls "Pixel-Mixing Technology," in which signals from the higher-resolution Super CCD sensor are mixed on-chip while still in analog form. This mixing happens not only vertically on the CCD array itself, but horizontally in the data-readout shift registers at the bottom of the array. So the 3+ megapixel chip can be clocked as if it were a VGA-resolution video sensor, greatly speeding the process of getting the data off the chip and into memory.
SHUTTER LAG/CYCLE TIMES
Boy, I thought I'd never get done testing all the permutations and combinations for this camera's timing! The reason it was so complicated was that it accepts a wide range of cards (SmartMedia, CompactFlash and Microdrives) and its performance seems to depend fairly heavily on the particular card being used. This is one camera that can really take advantage of faster memory cards! And I was surprised to find that SmartMedia cards outperformed even fast CF cards in most situations.
The basic shutter lag and cycle time performance of the S602 Zoom is really excellent. The 6900 had a fairly fast autofocus system and it looks like the addition of the passive IR "coarse" focusing on the 602 has made it faster still. The S602 Zoom has one of the best shutter lag performances I've yet found in a camera costing less than about $2,000 and beats most on cycle time as well. The Olympus E-10 and E-20 beat it on shutter lag, but not by a lot and the S602 Zoom beats them both with a big stick when it comes to cycle times.
I really think Fuji's hit a home run in the enthusiast category with this one. The S602 Zoom will meet the needs of many enthusiast photographers and its long 6x zoom, faster than average shutter lag and shot to shot cycle time and unusual "Final 5 Frame" capture mode make it a particularly good choice for amateur sports shooters. And of course, there's the amazing 640x480, 30 fps movie mode too.
While talking about all the other cool features though, it's important not to miss image quality. The S602 delivers great-looking images, with excellent color and resolution and low image noise.
Finally, despite all its advanced features, it's as easy to operate in full "auto" mode as any point & shoot on the market. A great camera to start with and gradually grow into. Long the Rodney Dangerfield of the digicam marketplace, with the S602 Zoom, Fuji may finally get some respect. Highly recommended!
At http://www.imaging-resource.com/NEW1.HTM you can keep track of what's new on our main site. Among the highlights since the last issue:
- First Look: Minolta Dimage F100 (http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/F100/F100A.HTM).
- Reviewed: Kodak DX3900 (http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/DX3900/DX39A.HTM).
- Reviewed: Kodak DX4900 (http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/DX4900/DX49A.HTM).
Sometimes we're so intent on capturing the moment we miss the story.
Recently we had to edit a sequence of 400 event shots down to 150. Naturally, we'd taken lots of "insurance" shots, at nearly a 3:1 ratio. So we had three shots of each important scene. We thought the trick would be to pick the best of each sequence.
No, no, no. We had one devil of a time eliminating any.
The trouble was that the sequence itself told a story. The story had a beginning, a middle and an end. And cutting any one ruined the story.
One in particular stands out because none of the pictures were in themselves beauties.
Shot One. Brother Bill was over at the dessert table across the lawn, barely recognizable behind the uncomprehending glare of a stranger seated at a table between us. It looks like a lousy picture of some guy's head and nose except Bill, slightly out of focus, is in the center of the frame.
Shot Two. Bill comes into focus now, coming back from the dessert table but in the righthand third of the frame (suggesting more movement than he usually displays at dessert tables). He's carrying something. A dessert, but something's funny about it.
Shot Three. Bill is standing behind Mom at our table, holding the dessert. She's absorbed with what's already on her plate. Innocently, one might say. The tension builds.
Shot Four. Bill delivers his joke dessert. A little square of cake with a small plastic figurine perched on top. And Mom laughs. We'll leave the figurine to your imagination (it involved a black veil).
Shot Five. A close-up of the joke dessert. So everybody gets it.
We could have lived with just shots four and five. But the sequence suffered. Bill's imitation of table service was lost. The solemnity of his irreverence. Mom's complete surprise.
Which got us thinking. Digital photography makes it very difficult to capture any precise moment because the shutter lag is often significant. But it facilitates capturing sequences because there's no extra cost to shooting extra images.
You just have to think a bit more sequentially than economically.
Visit the Imaging Resource discussion forums at http://www.photo-forums.com to find out what people are saying about the latest digicams, hard-to-find accessories, friendly suppliers, clever techniques, you name it! Recent hot topics include:
Read ongoing comments about the Sony F707 at http://www.photo-forums.com/[email protected]@.ee867ac
Compare Olympus camera prices at http://www.photo-forums.com/[email protected]@.ee860fe
Read all about camera accessories at http://www.photo-forums.com/[email protected]@.ee6b2e5
Ken asks about the Foveon X3 at http://www.photo-forums.com/[email protected]@.ee8a8ca
Visit the Kodak Folder at http://www.photo-forums.com/[email protected]@.ee6f77d
There are two kinds of people in this world. People who shop online and people who don't.
Online shopping can be intimidating because 1) you have to use your browser (and that means typing and not crashing), 2) nobody is at the other end and 3) you are sending credit card information into Cyberspace.
But online shopping can be a real thrill because 1) there's nobody at the other end to screw up your order (who knows your address better than you?), 2) order information like price and in-stock status are easily accessible and baloney-proof and 3) you can track your shipment.
Online can also be cheaper, but (as always) you have to do your homework.
At Imaging Resource we promote online shopping because it pays for the virtual water filters in the virtual water cooler here. Alongside our product reviews are links to our Preferred Vendors. Buy from them and you support us, too. And if you have a problem, we'll support you.
But online shopping is an evolving art and we had two different experiences recently.
Our first was a major purchase, a new laptop. We did our research on the product (no price breaks) and the vendor (no complaints, out of state mail-order). Using the vendor's site to apply for a loan, we kept getting bounced (the page wasn't there), so we emailed them.
To apply for the loan, our salesman Gary emailed us that we had to call the 800 number and ask for him. But he also answered our other questions. He confirmed that they inspect each computer before shipping (I'd been worried about getting a unit with too many dead pixels for me if not enough for the manufacturer). And he quoted a couple of configurations we were interested in.
A couple of emails later, we called, got the loan promptly and made the order. The next day we got the tracking number by email and the laptop arrived the day after. Let it be said Airborne is a bit behind UPS and FedEx when it comes to tracking numbers.
Unfortunately, the unit arrived with a problem we couldn't help but notice immediately. The lid closed but it took more effort than it should have. We wondered if there was something wrong with the latch or the hinges, but really couldn't see any obvious defect. So we wondered if there was something wrong with us. But we've been over that ground before without any conclusive results.
In the light of the morning sun the next day, we noticed a peculiar bulge on the keyboard deck. An internal component had been improperly seated and actually bent the deck up, preventing the lid from closing properly. Ah ha.
Clearly a manufacturing defect. Also, clearly, the vendor hadn't inspected the laptop. But we could tell that from the original packing materials.
If this had been a BigStore purchase, we would have fired up the Rumbolino and driven back to the store for an exchange. Which may or may not have gone smoothly, depending on the whereabouts of the tech guy required to confirm the problem was not caused by a Careless Consumer (you can't trust any of us).
But as a mail order purchase, we called Gary. We explained the problem and offered to send a picture of the damage (handy, these digicams) to prove it was clearly a manufacturing defect.
Gary had to talk to his tech guy. But when the day had nearly passed without a return call, we called back. Oh, the story changed, he's been trying to catch his boss whose been in meetings all day.
We got that lousy feeling in our stomach.
To make a long story tolerable, Gary proposed we send the unit to the manufacturer for repair. We weren't interested in a refurbished unit at full price. Gary couldn't himself authorize a return. And there was no one else in the chain of command.
Turns out, this is pretty standard. Mail order companies tend not to handle returns. Defects are handled by the manufacturer (who often does upgrades at the same time, though). This is not what you might expect from buying in your shoes.
To the manufacturer's credit, they were anxious to help. But we had to talk to seven people over three hours on two days to find out our options. Worse, a month after we placed our order, we're still without the machine.
Which raised an interesting issue. Interest. Here we were accruing debt while our unused machine sat in a repair facility awaiting a part for over a week. A part, we learned, that was in greater demand than supply.
We also learned another thing which, as we thought about it, disturbed us more and more. The part being replaced was "not usually covered under warranty service." OK, it was being replaced anyway, but this gap appalls us. We didn't register the product and could have returned it as shipped, but before even seeing the product we were theoretically subject to warranty limitations.
We called the company that had our loan to see what our options were. The manufacturer has 30 days from their receipt of the defective merchandise to resolve the problem. Typically first statements don't go out for 45 days, which tend to avoid the embarrassment of being billed for nothing.
After those 30 days, the credit company will itself file a dispute on your behalf with the manufacturer. Meanwhile you don't have your purchase.
In short, lose one.
Last year we upgraded our 1997 desktop with a USB/FireWire PCI board and more RAM. And we lived to tell about it. We've been out of disk space since we were born, but things had gotten very cramped recently so we had been shopping for external drives. This time we thought we'd add a FireWire drive.
Huge capacity (thanks to those gluttons in video imaging), inexpensive hardware (ATA drives) and small packages that can be taken anywhere without power adapters made these boxes attractive. When we saw a 30-GB 2.5-inch Fujitsu drive for $220, we grabbed it. It even included a carrying case and adapter (just in case we wanted to mount several drives at once, taxing the FireWire power available from the computer). Very nice.
This transaction took place entirely online. And it wasn't strictly components. The drive had to be assembled and formatted.
But it arrived when expected and although the case was slightly different than the illustration on the Web site, it was to spec. No real complaint (see how reasonable we are?).
In fact, we quickly grew to love the thing. Somehow, within a few days, we'd put 10-GB on it, moved it from machine to machine, booted off it and even found a nice name for it. Alcatraz.
And what did we learn from these experiences? The bad experience was not strictly online, involving dozens of phone calls, while the good experience was purely Web-based.
But small comfort that. Shopping is shopping. Caveat emptor, as the Romans used to say to the Etruscans. Or as the Italians put it, "Chi compra ha bisogna di cent' occhi; chi vende n' ha assai di uno." Buyers need a hundred eyes but a seller needs only one.
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RE: Burning CDs
I use Nero (http://www.ahead.de) for my storage medium. I got it with my Yamaha CD burner.
I can use a CD-RW exactly as I would a floppy. You can drag and drop files to it and also delete and rename files instantly. And you drag the files from it onto your computer.
The program is called InCD. The CDs can be read by other computers if InCD or UDF Reader (available free online) or a similar UDF driver is installed.
It takes 10-20 minutes to format the RW to InCD, but after that you don't ever have to format it again.
I would highly recommend it.
-- Iain S.(Thanks for the recommendation, Iain! From the formatting time it sounds like InCD does fixed packet writing (rather than variable, like DirectCD). But they seem essentially to work the same after formatting. There's no reason either shouldn't work on any platform or OS version but we've been, uh, burned, too often to rely on packet writing for back ups. -- Editor)
Rather than partial burns, I do this:
Create a 640-MB volume (or two or three) on your hard disk. With over 40-GB drives typical these days, these partitions are so small you'll never miss the space. Name them "CD-Size." Drop your photos on them. Then full burn them to CD with Toast.
-- Bruce(Thanks for the tip, Bruce! While that's a perfectly reasonable thing to do -- if you regularly back up that partition <g> -- we like to keep three copies of every image file (written at two different times). Two on site and one off. That's what saved us when DirectCD failed (one of the three discs had a useable image). And with the 9660 session format we can read any of the discs on any of the thousands of computers around here. -- Editor)
RE: Olympus C-3020
Thanks for the great review on the Olympus C-3020 zoom. I purchased one just two days before and your review made me feel quite good as it reinforced my analysis.
-- Harold(Thanks, Harold! Enjoy that great little camera. -- Editor)
RE: Teoma, Google and Mike!
I recently learned about Teoma and find it to be pretty good -- but I tried to find your article on Google and could not. Since I have been using Google regularly, I'd like to read about your favorite ways to use it.
-- Alisande(Visit http://www.imaging-resource.com/IRNEWS to find "Getting the Goods" in the Archive or Index to Articles (where you can use the keyword search when you don't know the name of the article). -- Editor)
Thank you -- I did not know to look for "Getting the Goods"! I found the information in the second or third article listed.
-- Alisande(You're welcome! Guess this is one time neither Google nor Teoma could help <g>. -- Editor)
RE: Toshiba Firmware?
I recently bought a 128-MB SmartMedia card for my Toshiba PRD-M4, only to discover the camera wouldn't accept it without a firmware upgrade.
On checking the Toshiba site I found that the firmware was not suitable for the European model. It refers to NTSC compatible systems.
Is there a European firmware version available? Or, as I don't use the camera to connect to my TV, does it matter that the firmware is for the NTSC format?
-- Alan(Only Toshiba can say precisely why the firmware is not recommended for European models. Video hardware may be a significant reason, but I suspect time/date formats and languages are another. But they don't say much about it at http://www.toshiba.com/taisisd/isd_svc/svcdsc/m4v02.htm (as you may know). It's probably wisest, as this point, to swap that 128-MB card for some 32-MB cards. -- Editor)
Adobe (http://www.adobe.com) has begun shipping Photoshop 7.0 [MW] with first deliveries arriving April 15. The usual trials and tribulations of a new release seem to be fairly minor. Less minor is the lack of printer drivers and plug-ins for OS X.
Logitech (http://www.logitech.com) has announced a new digicam, the 1.3-megapixel Pocket Digital camera, actually designed and built by SMaL technologies. The thin credit card-size model sports a brushed aluminum chassis and 16-MB non-removable storage (good for 52 shots). It's expected to go on sale next month for $129. "It's a pretty cool hunk of technology," Dave noted.
Kingston has introduced a $59 USB 6-in-1 Flash Card Reader (http://www.kingston.com/products/pcreader.asp) to host CompactFlash, Memory Stick, Microdrive, MultiMediaCard, SecureDigital and SmartMedia with support for Windows 98/ME/2000/XP and Mac OS 9 and X.
Sapphire Innovations (http://www.sapphire-innovations.com) has released a Styles Vol 1 and 2 Bundle [MW]. The special offer includes over 2,000 styles for Photoshop 6, 7 and Elements including gradient effects, bevels, satin effects, glows, colorful strokes, inner glow, incredible drop shadow effects and more.
AT&T Broadband anthropological research notes a behavioral trend they've dubbed Web snacking, in which individuals casually and frequently use high-speed Internet connections for periods of five minutes or less. AT&T said mothers do it most frequently, in response to their "ongoing focus on multiple projects." Most mothers said they've been emailing a lot of digital images from their new a digital camera to the rest of the family. One mother confided, "I have a Yahoo photo album full of pictures of my son. Since part of our family is in England, this has been an effective way to share photos. Within the last year, this has become the primary source of sharing photos with our family."
ACD Systems (http://www.ACDSYSTEMS.com) has announced a special edition of ACDSee (their imaging software for viewing, browsing, managing and sharing images) will be bundled with Toshiba digicams.
ACDSee will also be bundled with Leica's new Digilux 1, a compact digital camera for reportage photography, the company said.
Hamrick Software (http://www.hamrick.com) has released VueScan 7.5.17.
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