The IMAGING RESOURCE DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY
NEWSLETTER


Volume 5, Number 16 8 August 2003

Copyright 2003, The Imaging Resource. All rights reserved.

Welcome to the 103rd edition of the Imaging Resource Newsletter. Well, nik multimedia stuns us again with a powerful plug-in to polish up your digicam images. Dave finds a Sony that breaks the mold. And we discover where to put our captions before discussing a little hocus focus.


TOPICS

SPONSORS
This issue of The Imaging Resource News is sponsored in part by the following companies. Please tell them you saw their ads here. And now a word from our sponsors:
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Are you in the digital photo business? This newsletter is read by approximately 55,000 combined direct and pass-along subscribers, all with a passion for digital photography. For information on how you can reach them, contact us at editor@imaging-resource.com.

Feature: Dfine-ing Your Images

Noise. Hard to define, you know it when you hear it. And, if you're a digital photographer, you know it when you see it, too. If tools like Photoshop's Smart Blur have disappointed you, you've probably learned to live with it, much as you did with film grain.

But noise isn't grain. You can do something about it.

Until we played with nik multimedia's Dfine (http://www.nikmultimedia.com/dfine), a Photoshop plug-in to handle noise and enhance image detail, we didn't really think it was worth doing anything about noise. But now we've got the glow of a seeker of wisdom and truth, as the song goes.

WHAT'S THE PROBLEM?

Frankly, most of the time, we're not looking at the image the camera has captured. We're looking at a resampled version.

With today's multi-megapixel digicams, our on-screen slide shows display our pictures at only a fraction of their full size so they fit them on the screen.

And when we print an image, we're converting the data the camera captured into one kind or another of halftone screen. An inkjet lays down a frequency modulated screen, printing more dots to build density, while a laser printer or printing press typically uses an amplitude modulated screen, printing bigger dots to build density.

Even photographic prints like dye subs recast the original data.

We are, therefore, inclined not to take noise too seriously.

But enlarge your image 200 percent (just double size, that is) in your favorite image editor and take a look at the sky. What you see may make you reach for the phone to call tech support. Instead of the smooth blue you think you shot, you've captured a mosaic of discount tiles that hardly match. And what's that magenta pixel doing in there?

That's noise. Data that didn't come from the scene.

OH, BOY

But it's not a defect. Not to camera manufacturers anyway. In part, it's a fact of digital life called dark current.

Each sensor in your digicam's CCD is stimulated by light. The more light, the more electrical current. And this current is converted into data, somewhere between 0 and 255 units. No light, no current. In theory.

Well, not in reality. Sensors are not uniform. Even without light, there may be a little current here and less there and none here. Where it's really noticeable, we call it a hot pixel. And it varies depending on the temperature of the sensor, too.

Digicams that feature in-camera noise reduction often simply use an exposure of a dark frame (no light) at the shutter speed you've used to subtract these hot pixels. You can do the same manually, too. Just cover the lens and take another shot. Use that image with the Subtract blend mode in your original image to simulate in-camera noise reduction.

Observe that this problem occurs before anything even happens. No light hits the CCD, no data is compressed into a JPEG file, nothing.

OH, BROTHER

Wait, there's more. Things don't get any better when you actually snap the image. There's the problem of color interpolation to deal with. Each sensor, reading the brightness of just the one color it is filtered for, is guessing from its neighbors what two thirds of its color information should be.

And, yes, then you get to JPEG compression. JPEG compression, which we've stoutly defended, really doesn't hurt. The liberties it takes are unnoticeable by definition. But it does take liberties. And you will, now and then, see what we fondly call a JPEG artifact. Diagonal lines in your image attract them.

Finally, the longer your exposure, the higher ISO equivalent you use and the less light in your scene, the more noise you are going to get. Ever try to brighten an underexposed digital image? Think you were seeing confetti? You've seen the problem.

That, in fact, is what got us. We're no more inclined to go after every warm pixel in our digital images than we were to get rid of every speck of dust from our film. But some shots we thought were unsalvagable turned out to be hidden masterpieces when we ran them through Dfine.

And with this sort of tool in our bag, we became a lot less hesistant to use higher ISO settings.

ENTER DFINE

Hot pixels cause luminance noise, color interpolation causes chrominance noise and JPEG compression can cause artifacts. Dfine uses a four-step method to deal with these problems and to improve the resulting image.

Its tools are not only comprehensive (providing both global and selective corrections), they're flexible. You can Dfine your image with the Quick Fix tool in one click or tap into the pressure sensitivity of your graphics tablet to paint away noise with the companion tool Dfine Selective, accessible from the File Automate menu in Photoshop.

And the image analysis and display are like seeing a body scan of your image.

CAMERA PROFILES

But Dfine has a trick up its sleeve. No obligation, but you can use nik's proprietary camera profiles to inform it more precisely about the difference between detail and noise in your images.

According to nik, profiles help because "the way images are captured and processed differs greatly from camera to camera. This single consideration is one of the most significant factors that creates the dependent nature of noise in digital cameras and it is the major reason that noise varies from camera to camera. Additionally, because cameras capture and process details differently, detail types and their relationship to noise will often differ from image-to-image."

We asked for two digicam profiles to test. The Sony F707 digicam profile we received included four different profiles to match ISO settings 100, 200, 400 and 800. The Nikon 990 profile includes three profiles to match Daylight, Indoor and Lowlight conditions.

That delineation by ISO is key. Josh Haftel, nik imaging and photographic specialist, told us, "By analyzing the noise patterns created by specific cameras at specific ISO settings, we are able to instruct Dfine [by way of the camera profile] what detail structures are most likely to be noise. This enables Dfine to target only these detail structures without affecting image detail, all while giving advanced selective control to the user with the camera profile controller."

That focus on luminance over chrominance is based on two factors: the CCD itself and the digicam's image processing. Josh explained, "Since the noise that appears throughout the image is based more on the CCD used and the in-camera processing, the extremely low variability in noise structure to noise structure does not harm our ability to make noise profiles."

SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS

The $99.95 Adobe Photoshop compatible plug-in runs on Macintosh OS 9 and OS X and Windows 98/ME/NT/2000/XP. A camera profile to optimize the program for your digicam ranges from $24.95 to $59.95 each. See the Deals section below to learn how subscribers can earn a 10 percent discount.

INSTALLATION

Like other plug-ins, Dfine and the camera profile install in the Plug-In folder of your Photoshop-compatible plug-in application. Dfine runs fine under Elements, too, BTW.

THE DFINE METHOD

Dfine uses a four-step method of optimizing images. The method was developed "to help identify noise and guide you through the noise reduction and detail optimization process," according to nik.

In brief, the four steps are:

  1. Reduce luminance noise.

  2. Reduce chrominance noise and JPEG artifacts, using any of several tools.

  3. Adjust contrast and brightness, using any of three options.

  4. Adjust color cast and color balance, using any of four options.

Clearly, more than noise removal is going on here. And we really wouldn't be reviewing Dfine if it merely reduced noise. But it turns out that saving many digicam images requires just the approach Dfine takes. Each step complements the others, such that we wouldn't want to give any one of them up.

Another fine point to observe is that Dfine works with 16-bit channels, even if you are working on an 8-bit channel image. That's a big advantage over doing any kind of color and tone adjustment in your image editor. Display a histogram before you start, make your adjustments and look at the new histogram. You'll typically notice banding, tonal values in the chart that do not appear in the image. The original data was stretched too thin, in short, when the correction was made.

Take the same image and run it through Dfine. Now look at the histogram. No banding. Neat.

Let's go through the interface before putting it to work with a few real-world images.

INTERFACE

Whether you are using nik's Sharpener, Efex or Dfine, you'll recognize the nik interface. It's attractive and doesn't get in the way. Like other nik dialog windows, there's a preview display to the right and sliders to the right with unbordered text buttons on the bottom for Load Profile, Help, Save, Load, Cancel and OK.

The preview display can be configured using a small Mode pop-up menu to use one of several different layouts. You can see:

When sliders are present, using the right mouse button (or the control key on the Mac) enables a real-time preview.

A small set of controls rests on the top right of each display window.

Click on the small triangle in the lower left corner to reveal the eight single-click presets in a pane below the main window. After adjusting the settings, you simply click on one of the Set buttons and type in a name to record them. Then just click on the Use button to apply those settings to any other image.

Those settings are made on the left-hand side of the window. Click on one of the four bars indicating the four steps to the method and sliders appear below them so you can make your adjustments.

SETTINGS AT A GLANCE

We'll list the settings here, but we're just skimming the surface to give you an idea how deep this body of water really is.

Luminance Noise offers a Quick Fix, Print Optimized Methods (low, normal and strong) and Reduce Noise Methods (normal, strong and very strong).

Chrominance Noise & JPEG Artifact Reduction offers a Quick Fix, Global Reduction, Protected Reduction and JPEG Reprocessing.

Contrast & Light offers a Quick Fix, Highlights & Shadows, Counter-Light Reduction (for backlit subjects) and Tonal Adjustments (a more powerful equivalent of Levels).

Color Cast & Color Balance offers a Quick Fix, Remove Blue Cast, Adjust Saturation and Color, Additive Color Filter (to add a color cast) and Subtractive Color Filter.

In short, that's a lot of control over mere noise. You can see that Dfine has ambitions in global chrominance and luminosity control as well. And why not work on the whole problem?

DFINE SELECTIVE

Dfine Selective is another tool all together. It complements Dfine's global corrections by providing a paint tool to apply corrections on 8-bit channel selections. If your brush is a Wacom pressure sensitive graphics tablet, you have even more control over how the correction is applied.

You activate Dfine Selective from the File Automate menu, preferably after selecting the parts of the image you want to work on.

A small floating window with eight tools appears: Dfine 1.0 to access the plug-in, background, hot pixels, JPEG artifacts, hair and fine structures, skin, sky, shadows, strong noise and, finally, normalize.

Under those options are four editing functions: Paint (to make the correction), Erase (to undo it), Fill (to apply the correction to the entire selection at once) and Clear (to reset the image). And under those are the Discard and Apply buttons.

A Close box sits in the top left corner.

It's hard to describe the thrill of using this tool with a Wacom Intuos2. We took a horribly underexposed image of a friend's face, and painted the smooth flesh tones over the noise without losing detail. It was a truly remarkable transformation, easy to do (and undo) and immediately rewarding. We just painted away the problems.

Once you've made your corrections in the dialog window, you click OK and Dfine goes to work. A progress bar will keep you informed, but it does take a minute or two to process the image. A lot is going on.

AN EXAMPLE OR TWO

The Red Rose. We tried the simplest test, using a very noisy image of a red rose against a blue sky taken with a camera for which we didn't have a profile. ISO was 400 and the shutter speed was 1/2000. Silly, yes, but if you want to make noise, that's a great method <g>.

To correct it, we used Dfine's Quick Fix methods and watched the noise disappear in stages.

Luminosity fixed a large amount, Chrominance refined it further, Color Cast took the correction beyond noise and Contrast made it printable. Very quickly and without requiring any special expertise.

By watching the previews enlarged to 100 percent, it was easy to see the noise disappear. There's no reset, but the same end is achieved by turning the step on or off by clicking on it.

The Friendly Face. The image mentioned above, with a shutter speed at a hand-holdable 1/60 and the aperture at f5.1. ISO was set automatically at 200. The histogram had everything to the left of the midtone -- a very dark image.

This one took a lot of work. It was just plain old Bad Exposure.

But instead of burying it in the family plot, we started its resurrection with Dfine. Four steps, using a camera profile. That saved the image. Good color and saturation and noise much reduced. But we wanted to remove all noise from our friend's face.

So we launched Dfine Selective, clicked on the Skin tool and started painting over the face, wiping away years of noise and aggravation. The transformation was remarkable. Smooth skin with detail.

Ocean View. Noon. Sparkling ocean. Shutter at 1/500 and aperture at f8.0. We manually set the ISO to 100 on the Sony. The histogram wasn't bad but there was nothing in the highlights and the image was both too saturated and too blue.

We reduced noise in both the sky and the ocean first using the appropriate camera profile. There are five color slots with the ISO100 profile. We used a blue we selected from the sky using the eyedropper tool, another for the ocean and one more slot we dedicated to the green trees. The blues we set around 80, but the green (and default black) were below 40. We moved the sliders while holding down the right mouse button to see the change as we moved the slider.

Nice as it was to smooth out the sky and ocean, we wanted more. We got rid of some red artifacts on the tree edges with the JPEG Reprocessing option. And then we dealt with the saturation and color balance, taking full advantage of the 16-bit channel workspace. Wow.

CONCLUSION

Dfine is an ambitious plug-in. It tackles noise reduction in a comprehensive, almost compulsive, way, providing global and local tools customized for your digicam to find and remove pixels that do not represent image detail. Then it lets you make color and tonal adjustments in its 16-bit channel workspace.

By focusing on noise reduction, it makes it possible to salvage images shot without enough light -- and opens up a world of low-light imaging. The pressure-sensitive brush tools that are skin-texture aware, let you retouch portraits with an uncanny intelligence.

And if you're going to be ambitious, a little intelligence goes a long way. As nik multimedia has shown once again.

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Feature: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-U60 -- Ultra-Cute

By DAVE ETCHELLS
(Excerpted from the full review posted at http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/U60/U60A.HTM on the Web site.)

Sony's ultra portable "U-series" line of point-and-shoot digicams has just gained a 2-megapixel model, the DSC-U60. Waterproof down to five feet, it's truly a "go anywhere" camera, offering a fixed focal length lens, full automatic exposure control, seven preset Scene modes and a compact package. If you've been looking for a camera that you wouldn't be afraid to bring along to the beach or on a backpacking or rafting trip, this could be it.

CAMERA OVERVIEW

Whimsical in design, the $249 Sony Cyber-shot DSC-U60 turns the familiar shape of the "P" series on its end. As soon as I saw the U60, the blue accents on the white camera body and tilted orientation immediately called to mind the R2-D2 'droid of Star Wars fame. I almost expected the camera to start talking to me when I pulled it from the box.

Because of the camera's layout, you actually do hold it vertically, which might take some getting used to, but is actually quite comfortable. The tilt closely matches the angle of your right arm as you bring the camera to eye level, making the grip very natural. It's small enough to fit most shirt pockets and a wrist strap keeps it secure.

One of its most interesting features is that it's waterproof down to five feet, perfect for shallow snorkeling or splashing around in a pool. Perhaps more importantly, the waterproof design means it can tolerate splashes of mud or water and stand up to even very dusty environments. Likewise, its tough plastic case should be much more scratch-resistant than the metal case designs people often associated with ruggedness.

The DSC-U60's fixed focal length lens features automatic focus control, with several fixed focus settings also available. The 2.0-megapixel CCD produces good resolution images suitable for 5x7 prints and lower resolution settings produce images suitable for email or other electronic use. Featuring the simplicity of automatic exposure control, a handful of preset "scene" modes (including an underwater setting) and the creative Picture Effects menu, the DSC-U60 is a fun choice for first time shooters, kids or anyone who just wants an easy to use digicam that can actually go anywhere.

The DSC-U60 has a 5.0mm lens, equivalent to a rather wide-angle 33mm lens on a 35mm camera, with a maximum aperture of f2.8. Focus ranges from approximately four inches to infinity under normal conditions, with a minimum focusing distance of six inches underwater. In addition to automatic focus control, the DSC-U60 offers four fixed focus settings through the Record menu.

For composing images, the DSC-U60 offers a one-inch, color LCD monitor. The LCD monitor is at an angle on the back of the camera, so you have to hold the camera somewhat slanted to line it up straight. The LCD monitor in the U60 deserves special mention as one of the most readable I've seen -- and under all conditions, including bright, direct sunlight.

Exposure is automatically controlled at all times, great for novices and casual users looking for simplicity, although I do wish that there was at least an exposure compensation adjustment available on it. Uniformly bright or uniformly dark subjects will trick its exposure system and without a compensation adjustment, there's no way to correct for this.

The Power button on the rear panel turns the camera on and a Mode dial on the back panel selects between Playback, Record and Movie exposure modes. Sony doesn't report the camera's shutter speed range and the information is not reported on the LCD monitor.

Although you can't adjust the exposure, you can select from a range of preset "scenes" via the Scene button on the rear panel. Scenes include Automatic, Underwater, Active Outdoor, Soft Snap, Illumination Snap, Twilight and Vivid Nature modes. Underwater mode enhances color for underwater subjects (boosting red tones to combat the overwhelming blue) and produces the best results when there is bright sunlight. Active Outdoor mode is for capturing fast-moving action and uses a faster shutter speed to freeze action shots. Soft Snap mode enhances skin tones and applies a soft filter for softer portraits and close-up shots. Illumination Snap and Twilight modes are both for shooting under dark conditions. While Twilight mode just captures basic night images, Illumination Snap mode sets the flash to Red-Eye Reduction mode for portraits and applies a cross filter that creates cross-shaped rays around background lights. Finally, Vivid Nature mode enhances blue and green tones for more vivid images of natural landscapes.

A snow/beach scene mode would have helped get correct exposure in those situations. Given the go-anywhere design of the U60, it's likely that many will be used on beach and ski holidays, so a scene mode catering to those environments would have been very useful.

Though the camera controls exposure and white balance, the Record menu offers an entertaining Picture Effects setting. You can record images in black and white or sepia monochrome or select the Solarize or Negative Art options for unusual effects.

The DSC-U60's flash operates in Forced, Suppressed, Auto and Red-Eye Reduction modes. Sony estimates the flash as effective to about 6.2 feet, a fairly short range, but one that's consistent with its wide-angle lens. A Burst mode captures five successive 640x480-pixel images while the Shutter button is held down, at approximately 0.5-second intervals.

The DSC-U60 also has a Movie exposure mode, which records moving images without sound. The maximum movie length per clip is 15 seconds, depending of course, on the amount of available memory card space. A Self-Timer mode provides a 10-second delay between the time the Shutter button is pressed and the time that the camera actually takes the picture, giving the photographer a few seconds to get into the picture.

The DSC-U60 stores images on Sony Memory Sticks and comes with an 8-MB Memory Stick. Like other entry-level Sony cameras, the DSC-U60 uses two AAA batteries rather than a high-capacity InfoLITHIUM battery pack. A set of two rechargeable NiMH AAAs and a battery charger are included in the box with the camera. I strongly advise picking up a couple of extra sets of rechargeable AAA batteries and packing them along on any extended outing, especially since the camera does not feature a terminal for an AC adapter. The DSC-U60 has a USB jack for downloading images to a computer. A software CD is loaded with Pixela Image Mixer software and USB drivers, for downloading and organizing images. On Windows Me, 2000 or XP computers or Macs running OS 8.6 to 9.2 though, no separate USB driver software is needed, as the camera shows up on the desktop automatically when it is plugged in.

TEST RESULTS

Color: The U60 generally produced very good color, although it frequently injected a slight reddish tint in the images. It rendered the always-difficult blue flowers in my Outdoor Portrait test much more purple than they are in real life, a frequent problem. To its credit, the U60 even handled the very difficult household incandescent lighting of my Indoor Portrait shot very well.

Exposure: The exposure system did a pretty good job with evenly-lit scenes containing a mix of subjects. It had distinct problems with overall high- or low-key subjects, which tricked it into under- and overexposing, respectively. This is typical behavior and why higher-end cameras routinely include manual exposure compensation adjustments to correct the problem. I understand Sony's desire to make the U60 a pure point & shoot, with virtually no manual functions, but I can't help but wonder why they omitted a control as fundamental as Exposure Compensation.

Resolution/Sharpness: The DSC-U60 performed pretty well on the laboratory resolution test chart. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 500~600 lines per picture height, in both horizontal and vertical directions. I found strong detail out to 800+ lines. Extinction of the target patterns occurred around 1,100 lines. Overall, it isn't up to the level of the best 2-megapixel cameras, but not bad for such a compact, basic point & shoot.

Close-Ups: The DSC-U60 turned in about an average performance in the macro category, capturing a slightly large minimum area of 4.35x3.26 inches. Resolution was moderately high, with good detail in the dollar bill, coins and brooch. There was a lot of softness in the corners though, this time present in all four corners of the frame. The DSC-U60's flash had trouble throttling down for the macro area and overexposed the shot.

Night Shots: The DSC-U60's all-automatic exposure control and lack of an exposure compensation adjustment limits its low-light shooting capabilities a fair bit. In my testing, the camera produced a clear, bright image down to 4 foot-candle (44 lux), which is about four times as bright as normal city street lighting at night. Shots at 1 foot-candle (11 lux, corresponding to normal city street lighting) were quite dark, but possibly usable with some tweaking in an image manipulation program.

Viewfinder Accuracy: The DSC-U60's LCD monitor was just a little tight, showing approximately 93 percent of the final frame.

Optical Distortion: Optical distortion on the DSC-U60 was about average, as I measured approximately 0.8 percent barrel distortion. Chromatic aberration is moderate, with noticeable coloration on either side of the target lines. I also noticed very strong corner softness in many of my shots, most severe in the lower corners of the frame and extending upward a fair ways into the frame.

Battery Life: Because it has no external power connector, I couldn't conduct my normal power-drain measurements on the U60. I did, however, take the rather unscientific approach of simply running the camera continuously with its LCD on in capture mode (the worst-case power-drain mode) on a freshly charged set of batteries. They lasted 76 minutes. This isn't anything to write home about, but isn't bad for such a compact digicam.

CONCLUSION

The DSC-U60 is something of a departure for Sony. It extends their "ultra cute" U-series line, but this time adds a flash, two megapixels of resolution and a completely waterproof case. The result is an extremely easy-to-use camera that snaps surprisingly good photos and that can literally go anywhere without worries about water, mud or dust. Its simplicity, combined with its rugged, waterproof construction, makes it ideal for packing along on the trail or to the beach. The combination of ruggedness and simple operation also make it a nearly ideal first camera, suitable for use by even very young children. While far from the sort of feature-laden "enthusiast" camera I tend to review, the U60 easily won a place on my Dave's Pick list for filling its unique niche so well.

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New on the Site

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:

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Beginners Flash: Digital Captioning

Just after we wrote about kitchen table copying, Executive Editor Kim Brady sent us a family portrait from the 1930s. She'd recently been home for a reunion and discovered a cache of photo treasures (including tin-type originals). She burned a CD for everyone at the reunion.

But it drove us nuts trying to guess who was related to who in the picture. It's only obvious after you've been told.

Of course, that's why magazine photo editors invented captions. And driven to extremes, they have traditionally relied on a device nearly as old. Create a line drawing outlining each person in the photo, number the profiles and put names to the numbers with a legend.

But in this digital (if not heady) era of JPEG images with Exif headers, we can do better. You just need an image editor or cataloging program that can write data to the header.

In Photoshop, for example, you simply open your image, select File Info from the File menu and, under the General option, fill in the Caption. It will show up as the Image Description in the Exif header.

That field can be displayed by archive programs like Extensis Portfolio. In List View it's displayed alongside the Thumbnail and Keywords as the Description. It can also be edited using the Item Properties option.

So with digital images -- whether scanned or shot -- you can have your caption and share it, too. Just add it to the Exif header and everyone who gets the image will know who's in it.

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Advanced Mode: Using Infinity

Where's Infinity? It's one place you really can't get to from here. But like the North Pole, you don't have to have been there to use it.

And if you've got a digicam, you'll want to use it every now and then. That's because its autofocus system can get confused.

Your digicam's autofocus system relies on a number of tricks to find focus.

The most common is contrast detection. It trains itself on a part of your scene where there is a sharp break between bright and dark areas, like a border or an edge. But give it a fairly dark corner to shoot and it can't find focus. You can help it by shining a flashlight into the corner, but you hardly need one less hand to take the picture.

Another method involves projecting a holographic image (a cross-hatched pattern of short diagonal lines, say). The hologram stays in focus no matter how far it travels and the lens is able to train itself on it wherever it lands.

But any method requires time. Which means longer shutter lag. Then, too, there are those times when neither method quite cuts the mustard. Shooting through windows, for example, or focusing on fireworks.

Fortunately, there's a simple way to focus automatically without using autofocus.

Set your lens focus to infinity. Just slip into manual mode (either using a Menu option or a function button) and move the lens to the infinity setting.

Your lens is the critical factor here, but generally, focusing is more critical the closer the subject is to the camera. Typically, autofocus is finding focus no further away than the other side of the room.

So if you're shooting a stage production or a sporting event or anything further away than middle distance, infinity will usually work just fine. And if you are shooting at the wide-angle end of your zoom lens, even more of your scene will be in focus. That's true of bright scenes, too. As you stop down the lens, you increase the depth of field.

Wait, there's more to this story. It's called the hyperfocal distance. It's the limit of depth of field closest to you when you focus at infinity.

It's marked on the typical SLR lens using one ring that rotates with focus and is marked with a distance scale aligned to another ring linked to and marked with the available f-stops. Set your f-stop, focus on infinity, read the scale to find near focus at your f-stop, then reset your focus to that mark to enjoy a depth of field one half the hyperfocal distance to infinity. On a 50mm lens, we have focus from 31 feet at f4, 15 feet at f8 and 8 feet at f16. On a 35mm lens, we can focus from 15 feet at f4, 7 feet at f8 and 4 feet at f16.

While hyperfocal distance isn't marked on the typical digicam zoom lens, you can still use it. Just set your manual focus short of infinity. Or go crazy working it out using f/Calc (http://www.tangentsoft.net/fcalc).

Infinity is a concept, not a location, but if you get the idea, it can be as handy as the North Pole to a compass.

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In the Forums

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 initial comments about the Pentax Optio 550 at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?50@@.ee9396c

Visit the Digital Camera Forum at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?14@@.ee6b2a8

Liz asks about formatting CompactFlash cards at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?50@@.ee93914/0

Patrick asks about using American cameras in Europe at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?50@@.ee93af8/0

Visit the Professional Digital Forum at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?14@@.ee6b2b4

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Dave's Deals

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You can email us at editor@imaging-resource.com. You can read our Letters policy at http://www.imaging-resource.com/IRNEWS in the FAQ.

RE: Focal-Length Multiplier?!

Could you explain for this dummy the following, which appeared in the newsletter, especially the relation between "imager size" and "focal length multiplier"?

"Nikon selected an imager size of 23.3x15.5mm, what the company refers to as 'DX format.' Like previous Nikon digital SLRs, this yields a focal-length multiplier of 1.5x."

Many thanks.

-- Chap Cronquist

(Good question, Chap. The imager is a CCD or CMOS sensor that makes the image. They come in different sizes. Pretty small ones in the less expensive digicams and 35mm frame size in a few high-end models.... How they compare in size to a 35mm frame determines the focal length multiplier. You use that number to figure out whether the lens you are using is telephoto, normal or wide-angle.... Here's how this works for a 35mm-sized CCD. The factor is 1.0 by definition. Your 50mm normal lens multiplied by 1.0 turns out to be a 50mm or normal perspective. Your 200mm lens turns out to be telephoto and your 28mm lens turns out to be wide-angle.... A CCD smaller than a 35mm frame might have a 1.5 factor. So that same 50mm lens is going to behave like a 75mm telephoto. To get a normal perspective, you need something like a 35mm wide-angle.... For the zooms on most digicams, we detail both the actual focal length and the 35mm equivalent, as we did in the Pentax review: "7.8-39mm SMC Pentax lens, equivalent to a 37.5-187.5mm lens on a 35mm camera." -- Editor)

RE: Now You Tell Me

Thought you might be interested in this one (http://www.steves-digicams.com/smp/07272003.html). The stuff about the left-handed digicam was Steve's idea (credit where credit is due).

I thought I should ramp up the heat just a little bit -- just in case Epson is still deciding whether to do a B&W version of the 2200 and the good guys within the company need a little support from the outside. <g>

-- Mike Johnston

(Very amusing, Mike <g>. Particularly because we can't think of a digicam as anything other than a B&W device -- and same goes for these inkjet printers. Some wise guy just filtered them. -- Editor)

RE: Saved By the Belle

If it's not too late for the next newsletter, you might want to download and test drive Kirk Lyford's (of Test Strip fame) newest and best effort ever: 20/20 Color MD. I tried it on several different problem photos and then leaped at the $49.95 introductory price. This is one smashing plug-in that takes all the work out of color correction.

To download the demo: http://www.phototune.com/download.html

Take it for your own test drive to see what I mean.

-- Barbara Coultry

(Thanks for the recommendation, Barbara. We did take a look at the demo. And it is sweet. But the program confused us when it asked us to make a choice between two options that were both off. Which has never happened with Pictographics' iCorrect, which we still prefer. -- Editor)
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Editor's Notes

Mike Tomkins was up all night with Minolta announcements (http://www.imaging-resource.com/NEWS.HTM), including a rebadged Konica KD-510Z, a wild new design in the DiMAGE Z1 and the DiMAGE A1 that sports a 1/16,000 second shutter speed.


Simple Star (http://www.simplestar.com) released the $49.99 PhotoShow Deluxe [W] to organize photos into albums, edit, print, rate, search and add text, captions and clip art and burn VCD slide shows with transitions and music.


Richard Lynch (http://www.hiddenelements.com) has released Hidden Power Actions III, a suite of free add-on tools to make Photoshop Elements do more of what Photoshop does. New tools since the release of Hidden Power II include Fade, Trim, Reveal Image, Shadow Mask, Highlight mask, Custom Dropshadow, Custom Bevel, Custom Glow, Stroke and Batch Processing (Sharpen, Auto Levels, Channel Mixer). They join Quick Mask, Layer Mask, Action Playback Speed Control, Selective Color, Channel Mixer and 87 pre-loaded actions.


Extensis (http://www.extensis.com) has released Pro Photo Raw image filter, a free plug-in for Portfolio 6 to import, thumbnail and preview Raw image files generated by high-end cameras from Nikon, Olympus, Kodak, Canon and Fuji.


MultimediaPhoto (http://www.multimediaphoto.com/photomatix) has released Photomatix 1.2 [MW] to blend any number of bracketed shots automatically. The result is a High Dynamic Range image that preserves the details of the original scene's highlights and shadows. Available in two editions, Photomatix Pro costs $99 and Photomatix Light costs $28.


Pictographics (http://www.picto.com) has released a standalone version of iCorrect EditLab, its $79.95 color correction software. The new version features AutoQueue for rapid-fire color correction of any number of digital pictures.


Xequte (http://www.xequte.com) has released DVD PixPlay [W], VCD slide show software. The $19.70 product provides custom display times for particular images, optional overlaying of the image filenames and 30 transitions.


Asiva (http://www.asiva.com) has released Sharpen+Soften, the first of several Photoshop plug-ins based on their maskless selection technology. We reviewed it in the July 11 issue.


The Plugin Site (http://www.thepluginsite.com) has released FocalBlade [W], a $49.95 Photoshop-compatible plug-in to sharpen images for screen display and printing as well as for producing blur, soft focus and glow effects on 8- and 16-bit RGB images.


Canon (http://www.usa.canon.com) says its i560 Desktop Photo Printer is the world's first PictBridge-enabled inkjet printer, which allows you to print directly from any PictBridge compatible camera or camcorder regardless of brand. The $129.99 i560 delivers print speeds of up to 15 ppm in color, delivering 19 million droplets of ink per second at the maximum of 4800x1200-dpi.

Canon also announced the CanoScan LiDE 80 Scanner, a USB device with 2400x4800-dpi resolution and 48-bit color scanning. A film adapter unit to scan a 35mm unmounted frame and Photoshop Elements and Omnipage are also included in the $179.99 package.


Kodak (http://www.kodak.com/go/EasyShare) has introduced two new EasyShare digicams and an additional printer dock. The $399 DX4530 zoom digicam is one of the most affordable 5-megapixel cameras on the market, while the $199 CX6230 zoom digicam is one of the simplest, the company said. The $199 printer dock 4000 produces borderless 4x6 prints in as little as 90 seconds with or without a computer.


Casio (http://www.casio.com) has announced the QV-R40, a 4.0-megapixel digicam that takes one second to power up and features a shutter lag of only 0.01 second. The $299.99 digicam sports 3x optical zoom and uses SD/MMC memory cards.


Lexar (http://www.digitalfilm.com) has introduced a 4-GB CompactFlash card for $1,499. The card is compatible with some Canon, Kodak and Olympus digicams.


Lemke Software (http://www.lemkesoft.de/en/graphcon.htm) has released GraphicConverter 4.8 [M], adding an unskew effect, a swap channels function, import of Foto PDBs and Palm image stream, improved Canon EOS Raw and Kodak DCS detection and more.


Fred Miranda (http://www.imaging-resource.com/cgi-bin/nl/pl.cgi?fmactions) has returned from Brazil and "taken my Photoshop FM Actions to a new level and am happy to announce the release of my first series of Photoshop compatible, FM Plugins. These new and improved digital darkroom tools have automated installation; produce dramatic results with more customized controls and offer more Photoshop compatibility than the previous FM Actions."


Kekus Digital (http://www.kekus.com) has updated PanoTools [M], a $39.95 set of Photoshop panorama plug-ins which now includes LensFix for correcting distortion, chromatic aberration, sensor offset, vignetting and scanned image shear.

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Signoff

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Happy snapping!

Mike Pasini, Editor
editor@imaging-resource.com
Dave Etchells, Publisher
web@imaging-resource.com

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