|Volume 5, Number 11||30 May 2003|
Welcome to the 98th edition of the Imaging Resource Newsletter. We take the new HiTi for a spin while Dave matches wits with a clever digicam. Our book review includes a free sample chapter and we even have a little home hunting advice.
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When it comes to sequels featuring impossible acrobatics, great hacking and spectacular special effects, the HiTi 640PS does not take a back seat to The Matrix Reloaded.
In our recent review of the 630PS (http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRINT/HT630PS/HT6.HTM), we suggested it eliminated the need for a computer to enjoy digital photography. And cut the costs of a 4x6 dye-sub print to just 40 cents a print. But we were disappointed the built-in card reader only read CompactFlash and SmartMedia cards.
NEW & IMPROVED
Just you wait, Hi-Touch Imaging (http://www.imaging-resource.com/cgi-bin/nl/pl.cgi?hti) told us at the time. And we didn't have to wait long. The just-released 640PS updates the 630PS's card reader to handle CompactFlash, SmartMedia, Secure Digital, Memory Stick, MultiMedia Card and IBM's MicroDrives. The space-age design has been updated from the "air-conditioner" look of the 630PS to a gun-metal blue with a huggably curvey design that's just 6mm wider.
The new card reader is one reason the price has increased to $299.99, but you also get a bump in speed and resolution. Hi-Touch says the 640PS takes 75 seconds to print where the 630PS took 100. And the 630PS's 300-dpi resolution (among the highest in a consumer dye-sub anyway) has been increased to 403. Hi-Touch claims 403 dpi is equivalent to a 6400-dpi inkjet.
While the processor on the 640PS is the same as that on the 630PS, the 640PS increases flash memory (for firmware) from 512K to 1-MB and DRAM from 512K to 1-MB.
One of the slickest things about this new printer, though, is the price drop it brings to its predecessor. You can now grab a 630PS for just $189.99. Hi-Touch told us they plan to continue to manufacture the 630PS "for the foreseeable future."
And you don't have to worry about media, since the two printers use exactly the same paper and film cassette. Think of the 640PS as the deluxe version of the 630PS, rather than as its replacement.
This greatly pares down the wish list, but there's still one thing we'd really like to see Hi-Touch add. A Macintosh driver. Or two -- one for OS 9 and one for OS X. Hi-Touch planned to outsource the project, they told us when we reviewed the 630PS.
Hi-Touch Imaging Technologies (http://www.hitouchimaging.com) was established in Feb. 2001 in Taiwan. With 350 employees, their focus is in hardware ASIC design, moving mechanisms, firmware/driver/application development and color science. Every one of those talents is evident in the 640PS.
Since the introduction of the 630PS, we've seen HiTi printers showing up all over the place from our local photo dealer to major online retailers. Hi-Touch clearly knows how to play the distribution game, too.
If you do attach the 640PS to an optional computer <g>, it connects to a USB port (and supports USB 1.1). Drivers are provided for Windows 98/ME/2000/XP.
You'll need 64-MB RAM, 150-MB hard disk space and a Pentium PC to run HiTi's PhotoDesiree image editing software, included on the CD, which enhances and modifies images and can adjust individual color preferences for all prints.
Available from camera dealers, the 640PS has a small footprint, an upright printer with two media slots and a detachable but cabled controller with a color LCD. Cut sheet paper, perforated to 4x6 size, is fed into the straight-through paper path from a small, 25-sheet cassette. A power cable and USB cable round out the package.
The controller's job is to tell the built-in processor what you want to do. It can print an index print of everything on your card (in several formats), ID photos, stickers and every image on the card unattended. And it even provides access to some minor image editing capabilities.
The two media slots accommodate CompactFlash, SmartMedia, Secure Digital, Memory Stick, MultiMedia Card and IBM MicroDrives.
The printer is Digital Print Order Format compatible, so if you tag images for printing in your DPOF-capable camera, the 640PS will know what to do with them.
Printed documentation is a little sparse but we found the PDF included on the CD to be everything we needed and the Web site (http://www.hi-ti.com/english) very helpful as well.
The sample print kit that ships with the printer includes eight sheets of photo paper, one sheet of 4x4 sticker paper, one sheet of 4/2/4 sticker paper and one ribbon cartridge good for all 10 prints.
THE DYE SUB DIFFERENCE
Dye sub printing is continuous tone printing (think real prints), not screen printing (as on an inkjet). It uses a heating element to heat dye impregnated in a ribbon to over 350 degrees, at which point it turns into a gas and migrates into the surface of the specially coated photo paper. Temperature controls how much dye transfers at any point on the paper.
In addition to yellow, cyan and magenta dyes, the ribbon contains a clear coating. Hi-Touch's Magic Coating Technology protects the dyes from UV light and waterproofs them, sealing the dyes into the paper.
The paper is sold in kits that include 50 sheets of 4x6 paper and a new ribbon for $19.95. Kits, available either directly from the company or through your camera dealer, include dye-cut sticker paper for all the various sizes supported by the print driver as well as combinations of them (http://www.hitouchimaging.com/consumable.asp?lid=350).
With no messy inks, dye sub printing is very clean. Once in a while, you'll want to clean paper dust off the feed transport rollers inside the printer, but that's it. A $9.99 cleaning kit is available to do that (http://www.hitishop.com/accessory1.html). Otherwise, this is as clean and simple -- and beautiful -- as photo printing gets.
If you don't attach a USB cable to the printer's USB port (or your computer is off), the 640PS operates in standalone mode. The LCD on the controller displays a color menu of icons.
But if the printer senses a computer at the other end of the USB cable, it will display "PC Mode" on its LCD and behave like any other USB printer.
WHAT THE CONTROLLER DOES
The six-button controller with a 1.6-inch color LCD provides a computer-free interface to the printer's functions.
The Main Page displays a set of eight icons. On the top row are Photo, ID Photo, Index and Sticker. Along the bottom are Quick Photo, DPOF, Print All and Setup. A four-arrowed toggle button navigates the options and an OK button confirms your choice.
Select Photo to scroll through the thumbnails of the JPEG images on your storage card one at a time. When you see one you want to print, press OK. Use the Up or Down arrow key to set the number of copies to print and press OK again. Continue through the card. When you've finished, press Print to batch print the set.
While previewing your images, you can press the Edit button. Functions available include Move, Rotate (not really necessary), Resize and Copies.
You can also Enhance the image, changing its Brightness, Contrast, Color R/G (hue shift from red to green) and Color B/Y (blue/yellow hue shift).
ID Photo is a pair of special ID photo formats that use matching die-cut photo paper. You can print 12 one-inch ID photos or 9 two-inch ID photos on a 4x6 sheet. An Index print can be formatted into 6x5 8x7 or 5x4 columns/rows, providing a handy contact sheet of your card contents. There are also two Sticker formats, 4x4 and 4/2/4.
Quick Photo simplifies printing a single image. Just select the photo and press OK to send it to the printer.
Press Print after selecting DPOF to confirm and print the DPOF order.
Similarly, press Print after selecting Print All to confirm and start printing.
PUTTING IT TO WORK
True confession. We just unplugged the 630PS, plugged in the 640PS, installed its drivers (despite XP's help) and went right to work. Our original enthusiasm (http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRINT/HT630PS/HT6.HTM) for the HiTi concept was confirmed.
This is just a fun way to get prints. Pop your card into the printer and Print All. They get through the printer without paper jams, stacking on top of the cassette, so you don't have to attend the operation. Get a sandwich, have an Odwalla, twist off a top, read the latest Imaging Resource newsletter and when you come back you'll have nicer prints faster than any drugstore can deliver.
Without, we repeat, turning on a computer.
Which, as we thought about it, has another advantage. We happened to have a couple of guests recently who brought their digicam to shoot the sights here. After pointing out the on/off switch on the back of the printer, we invited Carolyn to print whatever she liked.
All she had to do was insert her SD card into the reader, navigate the menus and get prints. No need to move her images onto our computer first and print from some application she may not have used before.
And she had a ball. She observed (astutely) that the icons for the card reader would be clearer if embossed on the side of the printer, showing the correct orientation. And she managed to load a new cartridge with no trouble. When she printed a digitally zoomed image of the famed sea lions lounging at Pier 39, she even ventured to use the onboard sharpening to enhance the image.
If you have guests every now and then, this makes a great treat. At home print processing. It was harder to explain how to make coffee.
There's nothing flimsy about these printers -- or the company, for that matter. We really like what they're doing. And at these prices, they're making the quality of dye-sub printing irresistible.
Inkjets are marvelous multipurpose printers. They don't dent your wallet until you start buying glossy paper (much of which gets trimmed away) and ink cartridges. They also require rather frequent use to avoid head clogging. And if you buy third party supplies you may void the manufacturer's warranty.
But two other disadvantages to inkjet printing discourage its use. Color matching is unreliable (just try changing paper brands some time) and the process is messy.
Dye sub printing locks you into one supplier for the ribbons and paper (which only comes in one size), but when that supplier is making 40 cent 4x6 prints achievable, who cares? The quality is repeatable and reliable. And the output is clean. It's not the closest thing to drugstore prints, it surpasses them.
And best of all, with either the 630PS or its deluxe sequel the 640PS, you don't have to turn on the computer to get prints.
By DAVE ETCHELLS(Excerpted from the full review posted at http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/F300/F30A.HTM on the Web site.)
After something of a slow start, Minolta came on strong in the consumer digicam market two years ago, when its Dimage 7 rocked the high end of the market as the first 5-megapixel consumer model. Last year, they continued their innovation with the Dimage X and the Dimage F100, the latter sporting an innovative autofocus system ported from Minolta's advanced film cameras. As Minolta has rolled out more digicams, it has become clear that innovative design and high optical quality are particular hallmarks of their designs.
This year, Minolta upgraded the F100 with the 5-megapixel F300, featuring intelligent autofocus that responds to your subjects directly and an automatic scene mode. The F300 also takes nice photos and is very nicely styled, with a compact, all-metal body and fully retracting lens design that makes it easy to take along on outings.
Nearly identical in shape, size and design to the earlier Minolta Dimage F100, the $500 F300 sports a larger, 5.0-megapixel CCD for capturing higher quality images. The F300 features the same 3x optical zoom lens, full manual exposure control and exposure features as the F100. But it adds a Center-Weighted metering mode, a high-speed Continuous Advance mode, different ISO equivalents and extended Movie mode capabilities, among a few other minor adjustments. Like the F100 before it, the F300 has a sleek, skinny body tailored for larger pockets and small purses and its light weight makes it very portable. The matte, all-silver camera body measures 4.37x2.07x1.28 inches, just a hair larger than the F100. With batteries and memory card, the F300 weighs only 8.3 ounces.
It features a real-image optical viewfinder as well as a 1.5-inch color LCD monitor, with a detailed information display. The optical viewfinder is a bit less accurate than average, with around 80 percent frame coverage, while the LCD monitor is 100 percent accurate. In Playback mode, the LCD offers an optional histogram display for double-checking exposure. The Minolta GT 3x lens has a focal range from 7.8-23.4mm (38-114mm 35mm equivalent). The telescoping design extends the lens outward from the camera body whenever it's turned on and retracts it when powered off. A shutter-like lens cover instantly slides out of the way as the lens extends from the camera, eliminating any need for a removable lens cap. Like other Minolta GT lenses I've tested recently, the one on the F300 looks to be of unusually high quality, quite sharp from corner to corner and with very little chromatic aberration. But it does have more barrel distortion than average at its wide-angle setting.
The F300 offers both automatic and manual focus control, with a selectable five-point autofocus system and the Subject Tracking AF mode that debuted on the F100. The five-area autofocus system automatically locks onto the subject closest to one of its five areas. It's great at locking onto people, typically the subject's head. The Subject Tracking AF feature takes this a step further, locking focus on moving subjects. Locked focus continuously changes to whichever of the five AF regions is most appropriate, tracking the subject as it moves. This is great for children and sporting events. You can also manually lock the focus on just one AF area. A Full-Time AF option enables the camera to continually adjust focus, instead of waiting until the Shutter button is halfway pressed. That should reduce shutter delay, although at the cost of increased power consumption. A digital zoom option enlarges images as much as 4x, depending on the file size and quality settings, but like all digital zooms, also reduces the overall image quality in direct proportion to the magnification.
Exposure control is varied and flexible, with a full Auto mode, as well as Program AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual exposure modes. The preset scene modes include Portrait, Night Portrait, Landscape, Sunset, Sports Action and Macro modes. An Automatic Digital Subject Program option puts the camera in charge of which scene exposure mode it should use to take the picture. The camera assesses the subject and exposure conditions and automatically selects the best scene mode to shoot with. Sounds crazy, but it seemed to work well on the F100 and I'm glad to see it offered again here.
Aperture settings range from f2.8 to f8.0, depending on the lens zoom setting, while shutter speeds range from 1/1000 to four seconds. A Bulb mode lets you keep the shutter open for as long as 15 seconds. The F300 has three metering modes: Spot, Center-Weighted and Multi-Segment (with 270 sections). Exposure Compensation is adjustable from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents in one-third step increments. There's also an Auto Exposure Bracketing mode, which captures three images at different exposures.
The camera's variable ISO option offers an Auto adjustment mode, as well as ISO equivalent settings of 64, 100, 200 and 400. White Balance can be set to Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent and Custom (the manual setting). A Custom Recall setting lets you recall the previously-used Custom white balance, without having to reshoot a gray or white card, a handy feature. The F300 also offers image adjustment settings for Sharpness, Saturation, Color and Contrast. A Self-Timer mode provides a 10-second countdown before the shutter fires and works with the optional remote control accessory.
Two Continuous Advance modes capture a series of images in rapid succession. Frame rates are as fast as 1.2 fps, depending on camera settings, in the normal mode, while a UHS Continuous Advance mode captures a maximum of 11 frames in one second in 1280x960 pixels. The F300's Movie mode captures moving images with sound, at 320x240 or 160x120 pixels, for as long as 20 minutes (depending on file size and memory card space). A Night Movie mode optimizes the camera for darker shooting conditions.
Additionally, an Audio mode records as much as 30 minutes of continuous audio and a Voice Memo mode records 15-second sound clips to accompany still images. The camera's flash operates in Auto, Fill, Flash Cancel or Red-Eye Reduction Auto modes and is rated as effective to approximately 11 feet, depending on the lens zoom setting.
Images can be saved as uncompressed TIFF files or as JPEG files at three different compression levels. All images and movies are saved to SD (or MMC) memory cards and a 32-MB card is shipped with the camera. Available image sizes are 2560x1920; 2048x1536; 1600x1200; or 640x480 pixels. The UHS Continuous Advance mode, however, captures 1280x960-pixel resolution images.
A USB cable accompanies the camera, as well as a CD with an updated version of Dimage Image Viewer and USB drivers for both PC and Mac platforms. The F300 connects to a television set via an included A/V cable, allowing image viewing and composition (NTSC or PAL timings). Two AA alkaline or NiMH batteries or a single CRV3 lithium battery power the camera and Minolta offers an AC adapter as a separate accessory.
SHUTTER LAG/CYCLE TIMES
The F300 was generally a pretty responsive camera, with very good cycle times, at least when it was writing to its buffer memory, which holds six high resolution JPEG images. Autofocus speed was disappointing though, particularly at the wide-angle setting, where most cameras are generally faster. The F300 showed very similar shutter lag at wide-angle as at telephoto, the respective numbers being 1.35 and 1.37 seconds. This is slower than most competing models on the market, with average shutter lag running from 0.8 to 1.1 seconds. Pre-focus shutter delay was very good though, at only 0.208 seconds. If you remember to half-press the shutter button before critical exposures, you should have no trouble catching the action with the F300, but its autofocus speed leaves something to be desired.
Color: The F300 did a really nice job with color, producing pleasing, accurate color in most cases. Manual white balance typically produced the best results, although Auto also turned in good results, just slightly reddish at times. The Auto setting actually did the best job under the tough incandescent lighting of the Indoor Portrait (without flash). The large color blocks of the Davebox test were nearly accurate, with good saturation, although the red and blue additive primary color blocks were a little hot.
Exposure: The F300 generally exposed the test shots accurately, though it produced rather high contrast under the deliberately harsh lighting of the Outdoor Portrait test. Shadow detail was typically good, but bright highlight detail was somewhat limited. Midtones were dark in the high-key Outdoor Portrait, but still showed good detail. On the Davebox test, the F300 distinguished the subtle pastel tones on the Q60 target well. The indoor portraits required an average amount of exposure compensation, the Outdoor Portrait required less adjustment than is usually required.
Resolution/Sharpness: The F300 performed very well on the laboratory resolution test chart. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 1,000 lines per picture height vertically and around 800 lines horizontally. I found strong detail out to at least 1,300 lines vertically and as high as 1,350 lines in the horizontal direction. Extinction of the target patterns didn't occur until about 1,600 lines.
Close-Ups: The F300 performed exceptionally well in the macro category, capturing a tiny minimum area of only 2.01x1.51 inches. Resolution was outstanding. Color and exposure were both nearly accurate. The F300's flash throttled down nicely for the macro area as well.
Night Shots: The F300's optional full manual exposure control and maximum exposure time of 15 seconds gives the camera excellent low-light shooting capabilities. Even at ISO 64, the F300 produced clear, bright, usable images down to the 1/16 foot-candle (0.67 lux) limit of my test. Though slightly warm, color looked good and noise was actually quite low (the F300 has a noise-reduction function). Even at ISO 400, image noise was only moderately high, with a tight grain pattern that isn't too obtrusive. The autofocus seemed to work quite well down to between 1/2 and 1/4 foot-candle. Even below that level though, the camera generally delivered sharply focused images, even though it didn't seem to think it had achieved a good focus lock, as indicated by the blinking focus indicator in the LCD. With a little AF-assist illumination, this would be a superb low-light shooter. Hint, hint, Minolta engineers....
Viewfinder Accuracy: The F300's optical viewfinder is rather tight, showing approximately 80 percent frame accuracy at wide-angle and about 78 percent at telephoto. The LCD monitor proved much more accurate, showing approximately 96 percent accuracy at wide-angle and about 99 percent at telephoto.
Optical Distortion: Optical distortion on the F300 is higher than average at the wide-angle end, where I measured an approximate 1.1 percent barrel distortion (the average is about 0.8 percent). The telephoto end fared much better, with only one pixel of pincushion distortion. Chromatic aberration is quite low, showing almost no color on either side of the target lines. The image is also very sharp all the way to the corners, with only very slight softening in the upper corners.
Battery Life: The F300 is a mixed bag when it comes to power consumption. With the LCD on, battery life is short. With the LCD off, the power consumption is among the lowest of any camera I've tested.
The Minolta Dimage F300 is an impressive performer. Its 5-megapixel resolution combined with its excellent optics deliver images that are sharp from corner to corner with excellent color. The unusually sophisticated Autofocus modes worked well (if not infallibly). Exposure control is also very versatile, with controls that let you tweak color saturation, brightness, contrast and sharpness. Minolta hit the size/comfort balance right, too.
No product is perfect though, and the F300's Achilles' heel is its shutter response. It's noticeably slower than most competing models, with about a 1.3 second shutter lag in full autofocus mode.
If your primary interest is sports photography, look elsewhere, but if your applications don't require blazing shutter response, the F300 is one of the best compact 5-megapixel models out there, delivering really excellent photos, at an attractive price point.
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:
- Reviewed: Olympus D-390 (http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/D390/D39A.HTM)
- Reviewed: Minolta Dimage F300 (http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/F300/F30A.HTM)
- Illustrated Review: iCorrect (http://www.imaging-resource.com/SOFT/ICO/ICO.HTM)
We were leaning on the concrete wall at Aquatic Park the other day, pretending to gaze over the dancing blue surface of the bay as we took a break in the middle of a long bike ride. All of a sudden, a seal came up for air. Shiny as a slug, he looked around for someone prosperous to bark at, shrugged and dove back under.
It was a revelation. We'd been wondering exactly how Adam Engst, author of iPhoto 2 fo Mac OS X, found the time to explore every facet of iPhoto, survive every shortcoming and purchase every output option to give the program a run for its money. Adam is normally engaged as editor of the online newsletter TidBITS (http://www.tidbits.com), which has published "all the news that's fit to byte" weekly since 1990. Obviously, he used trained seals to point and click.
So convinced were we of having discovered his secret, we actually asked him. "Ork ork!" he replied, offering "Sharing Photos," Chapter 6 of his book, free to our readers (http://www.imaging-resource.com/cgi-bin/nl/pl.cgi?ace) as long as you promise to keep the secret.
Don't expect to find such repetition in the book itself, though, a slim but profusely illustrated volume published by Peachpit Press (http://www.peachpit.com) as a Visual Quickstart Guide.
The VQG format uses screen shots "rather than lengthy explanations" (like the kind you find here) to get readers up to speed on the latest software. In fact, almost every page is a distinct topic with a short introductory paragraph followed by step-by-step instructions, bulleted lists of useful factoids and sometimes a list of tips. That textual information rarely exceeds a single column of the two-column page format. The inside column of each page is devoted to the black and white screen shots.
We can still ride a bike, but squinting at 15 pica screen shots is not our idea of illustrating 17-inch screens. Nor is it Adam's, apparently. As the sample chapter demonstrates, the Acrobat PDF version of the book (available to purchasers) can be enlarged substantially to really enjoy the color screens and image detail. Not only that but, as he told us, "the bookmarks and linking work really well in a VQS format." You can search the book using the Find command with the greatest of ease (although the 10-page index of the printed version isn't too shabby, either).
The major chapters include Getting Started (what you need to run iPhoto, how to get it, update it, make sense of its interface), Importing and Managing Photos (including backing them up, managing libraries and tapping into other resources like Image Capture), Organizing Photos (titles, keywords, photo information), Editing Photos (from the basics through integrating more powerful image editors), Creating Books, Sharing Photos, Troubleshooting, Deep Background (covering aspect ratios, resolution and color management) and Taking Better Pictures.
Considering that the table of contents itself runs four pages, that's a terribly brief synopsis of the 156 topics the book covers.
Adam draws on his years of online expertise to add something to the book no trained seal could. Links. Where iPhoto can be enhanced or extended or improved, Adam has published a link to the enhancement, extension or improvement. They're all over the book and include some of our favorites. Even where a company (like Caffeinesoft) has ceased operations, Adam gives them their due and refers readers to a site for updated news.
That would be his own FAQ page for iPhoto (http://iphoto.tidbits.com), where readers can ask a public question and read his replies.
We were also impressed by the number of iPhoto bugs Adam has documented. A brave approach, considering any day Apple could distribute the fix for any number of them via a Software Update. But one we applaud, sparing the isolated user the nagging feeling it's their own fault, not iPhoto's, when something doesn't work.
Climbing the last hill on our ride home, we had another inspiring thought. Maybe we can get Adam to write a VQG on Shumano derailleurs. We're certain it would make the going much easier.
iPhoto 2 for Mac OS X by Adam C. Engst, published by Peachpit Press, 190 pages, $19.99.
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 about the Canon PowerShot S50 at http://www.photo-forums.com/[email protected]@.ee9133b
Visit the Fuji Forum at http://www.photo-forums.com/[email protected]@.ee6f779
Mike asks about cleaning lenses at http://www.photo-forums.com/[email protected]@.ee92a28/0
Scott asks about print resolution at http://www.photo-forums.com/[email protected]@.ee92900/0
Visit the Buying and Selling Forum at http://www.photo-forums.com/[email protected]@.ee6b2ac
We recently submitted a proposal to PBS for a television show called This Old Digicam in which Dave would do all the fishing and we would interview contractors. Previously, we'd proposed a radio call-in format for Cam Talk, but two brothers in Boston stole the idea, using it to pitch their auto repair service.
The pilot for This Old Digicam is already a glimmer in our lens. We see it as a fascinating tour of local houses, condos, flats and apartments with tips on photographing them for evaluation later, in the cozy confines of a borrowed shopping cart.
Your digicam, we've discovered, is a big help when it comes time to hunt for a new home. But we've also discovered it's a tough assignment.
One reason it's so difficult is that your digicam has only one eye. With two eyes, you can judge distance. Distance is big in home hunting. Our depth perception is what helps us sense whether the wall unit on the other side of town will fit in the alcove in the place we are visiting.
The strategy employed by most photographers is to use a wide-angle lens to take one or two shots of each room. That helps, certainly, but the 38mm-equivalent wide-angle in most digicam zooms isn't quite wide enough (as you may have discovered over the holidays as you crawled up the wall to take a picture of everyone around the table).
Very wide-angle lenses (fish-eyes come to mind) can introduce too much distortion to be meaningful. These are, after all, utilitarian snapshots more akin to press photography than glamour photography.
You might try the 3D mode available on some digicams to take two side-by-side shots (without moving) that the camera will compose into one image. You view 3D images with a special plastic viewer that ships with the digicam. But generally, this is too time-consuming in the field, though a particular room may be worth it.
But pack your digicam along with your diminished expectations when you're looking for a new place to live. What it can tell you, is worth the trouble.
Returning home with roughly 120 shots per afternoon excursion, we've learned a few lessons to pass along.
The first is to take a look at what real estate agents do (or have done). Take, for example, the San Francisco Multiple Listing Service (http://www.sfarmls.com) where you can view current home listings. A link takes you to Additional Pictures on some listings. There you can see what works and what doesn't without learning the hard way.
Tip number two is to practice this one at home. Shoot your own rooms, the front of your place, the garden, the garage, the basement. It may even be helpful to have a record of the old place (and how the stereo connections are supposed to be made).
Each setting offers a different technical problem. Bedrooms (and baths) are challenging perspectives. Garages and basements put your flash to the test. Gardens are deceptively easy (turn around and take the back of the place, too) but fronts are often hard to capture. Converging verticals are perfectly acceptable, but you may not be able to include the whole facade easily.
Stills are marvelous, especially since you can enlarge them to get better detail, but we also found shooting MPEGs with narration gave a good overall sense of the room (well, when it's yours and you want to recreate it intact).
When you've got a feel for it, you're ready to rush through a few places, snapping as you go. In the field, you have to move fast.
Here's a few tips for shooting in the field, some of which you can also practice at home:
When you get home, burn a CD. Share the CD with significant others who plan to make the move with you. Talk amongst yourselves.
- Mark each location by photographing the exterior. This indexes the interior shots. Whenever you see a new facade (preferably with the address visible), you know it's a different place.
- Extra batteries. We rarely have to change batteries even though we use the LCD to compose everything. But in home hunting, you fire the flash a lot and the batteries take a beating. So bring along an extra set.
- Extra memory. We really did bring home between 120 and 140 shots to see a handful of places. And we wished we'd taken more. Make sure you have enough memory for that many shots. You still won't fill a CD later.
- Shoot corners of tight rooms. You won't be able to see the whole room in one shot, but make sure you have a corner in the shot. Then pan over and take the other corner. You aren't shooting panoramas, so nothing really has to overlap, but the sequence, when seen in a slide show will help give you a sense of the room size.
- In tight spots, back into a closet or hallway and shoot through the door. Framed shots like these provide a close approximation to what you see with two eyes, because doorways somewhat negate our depth perception.
- Lift your camera over your head and shoot down, squat and shoot up. You'll fit more of the room into the shot and get around the people who wander into the shot.
- Shoot details. Spend a lot of time at the kitchen sink? Shoot it. Wonder about the window frames? Shoot them. Phone wiring a little suspicious? Click. Cracks in the ceiling? Shoot them. Shoot the heater, the electrical box, the foundation. Slip into macro if there's some fine detail you want to remember.
It's amazing how our minds redraw what we've seen. Fortunately you'll have some forensic evidence to reign in your imagination -- or a landlord's when you subsequently move out. The shots will resolve a lot of questions, quell debates, imprint certain features, highlight problems. And knowing you'll have them later, you can actually enjoy the whirlwind tour, concentrating on how you actually feel about the place.
Not by memory alone should you make a decision this important. After all, you have to live with -- and in -- it.
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RE: JPEG Flipper
A couple of years ago, a commercial lab processed several roles of slide film for me, producing slides and medium-resolution digital files at the same time. Unfortunately, they managed to scan a mirror image of each image (e.g., any signs in the images are backwards). I have looked in vain for a tool to do a "lossless flip" (as opposed to a "lossless rotate"). Any suggestions?
Thanks from a devoted reader of the newsletter.
-- Clayton Curtis(You're in luck, Clayton. Nearly any program (which is most of them these days) that does a lossless JPEG rotation also provides a lossless JPEG flip. Called a JPEG transform, the lossless variety doesn't have to decompress the data to rotate or flip the image. If a program offers one variant of the lossless transform, it probably uses the suite. To name a few names (which do make lossless flips), try jpegtran in Unix, Cameraid for the Mac, ACDSee in Windows and for a free online flip, http://www.jpegwizard.com from Pegasus will do it. -- Editor)
RE: XP Strikes Again
We have Picture Easy 3.1 for our Kodak DC210 camera. Recently I upgraded my computer system to Windows XP and I have a warning window stating that I do not have hard drive space to run this program. 30-MB of space is needed. I currently have numerous GB of space. How must I upgrade this program to operate my camera?
-- Aline Parker
(Well, the bad news is that you can't upgrade Picture Easy 3.1 to run under Windows XP (http://www.kodak.com/global/en/service/faqs/faq1550.shtml). They aren't compatible. But Kodak's EasyShare might work for you. It's free and we recently reviewed it (http://www.imaging-resource.com/SOFT/ESY/ESY.HTM).
RE: Picasa Emailed Images
I read with great interest your review of the Picasa software to organize images. You rated it very highly so I downloaded the trial version.
I really liked everything about their program except one apparent flaw: when the images are converted for email, a "fuzziness" of the image slips in. Have you experienced this difficulty in an otherwise outstanding image program?
-- Frank Failing(Actually, we never saw the JPEGs we emailed ourselves. As we noted in my bracketed additions to Michael Tomkins' review, they didn't display. We did exchange email with the technical support, but it was never resolved. The fuzziness you mention is probably (guessing here) a failure to sharpen the image after resizing it. We were impressed with both Easyshare and SendMail in that regard. Their small images looked good. -- Editor)
RE: A List?
I have been trying to read some of the camera reviews on your site, but I still don't know which digicam to buy. Is there any best list that will tell me? I look at sites, but to tell you the truth, I just get more confused!
(Sure, take a look at Dave's Picks (http://www.imaging-resource.com/WB/WB.HTM) where Dave lists his favorites for different interests. Whatever you decide, though, we're confident you'll enjoy it. -- Editor)
Summer has spawned a rash of new digicam announcements. Among the highlights:
- Fuji (http://www.fujifilm.com) has announced the FinePix A210 Zoom, styled like the FinePix 2600.
- Nikon (http://nikonusa.com) has updated the Coolpix 5000 and 5700 with the Coolpix 5400, which sports a 4x zoom.
- Sony (http://www.sony.com) has announced two Cyber-shot U digicams, the DSC-U30 (updating the DSC-U10 and DSC-U20) and the underwater DSC-U60.
- Ricoh (http://www.ricoh.com) has annnounced the Caplio Pro G3, adding a CompactFlash slot to the Caplio family.
Proteron (http://www.proteron.com) has released a downloadable version of Kelby's Notes, which enhances Photoshop 7 with a "How Do I?" menu containing answers to the 100 most-asked Photoshop questions, written by Scott Kelby. Kelby's Notes is $24.95 for Mac OS X, Mac OS 9.1+ and Windows, with Photoshop 7.
TTP Software (http://www.ttpsoftware.com) has released the $19 Photologist 1.2.1 [M], which manages and organizes digital photos, creates slide shows and Web photo albums and manipulates photos. It also includes a search feature and batch processing for some functions. The new version adds an option to automatically include iPhoto albums, improvements to the camera download process and a choice of actions to take after downloading from a camera.
Component X (http://www.componentx.com) has released the $21.63 Bosco's Foto Trimmer 2.0 beta 1 [M], a digital photo utility that can scale, stretch, squish, rotate, flip and trim photos.
ITEM : Devon Technologies (http://www.devon-technologies.com) has released the free ThumbsUp 2.1 [M], a drag-and-drop utility for creating thumbnails for a batch of pictures.
Minolta (http://www.minolta.com) has announces the Minolta SD-CF1 CompactFlash Adapter, enabling SD cards to be used with most CompactFlash-compatible cameras, printers, PDAs or other imaging equipment.
Olympus (http://www.olympusamerica.com) has added Web Photo School lessons on the fundamentals of digital photography to its Web site. The lessons have been tailored to nine models of Olympus cameras: C-4000 Zoom, C-4040 Zoom, C-50 Zoom, C-5050 Zoom, C-720 Zoom, D-520 Zoom, D-550 Zoom, E-10 and E-20N.
MacCentral (http://www.maccentral.com) reports that Adobe will drop OS 9 support in the next Photoshop release.
Canto (http://www.canto.com) has released Internet Client Pro to enable Cumulus to catalog assets, edit metadata, publish archives and market assets over the Internet. Internet Client Pro builds Web pages to search for images and documents within Cumulus catalogs.
Connectix (http://www.connectix.com) has released Updater 6.0.2 for Virtual PC to resolve issues with the Airport Extreme Card.
Extensis (http://www.extensis.com) is beta testing SmartScale, a Photoshop plug-in that taps into the VFZ file format we reviewed recently.
Looking for a place to recycle exhausted batteries? Visit http://rbrc.org for a local reference.
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That's it for now, but between issues visit our site for the latest news, reviews, or to have your questions answered in our free discussion forum. Here are the links to our most popular pages:
Daily News: http://www.imaging-resource.com/NEWS.HTM New on Site: http://www.imaging-resource.com/NEW1.HTM Digicam index: http://www.imaging-resource.com/DIGCAM01.HTM Q&A Forum: http://www.imaging-resource.com/FORUM.HTM Newsletter Forum: http://www.greenspun.com/bboard/q-and-a.tcl?topic=irnews Tips: http://www.imaging-resource.com/TIPS.HTM
Mike Pasini, Editor
Dave Etchells, Publisher