The IMAGING RESOURCE DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY
NEWSLETTER


Volume 5, Number 18 5 September 2003

Copyright 2003, The Imaging Resource. All rights reserved.

Welcome to the 105th edition of the Imaging Resource Newsletter. We spot some Reindeer plug-ins (even if it's still summer) and Dave gets his hands on Canon's $999 dSLR Rebel. Al Ward reveals his special effects magic in a new book and we have a bright idea of our own (accidentally). Enjoy!


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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Nikonusa.com
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The Nikon D100 -- the Best of Both Worlds.

Designed to meet the needs of the experienced SLR user, this lightweight, full-featured digital SLR offers a 6.1 Effective Megapixel CCD to capture high-resolution images up to 3008x2000 pixels for brilliant, large prints.

Precise image control technologies like 3D Matrix Metering, Five-Area Dynamic AutoFocus with Focus Tracking and Lock-on(tm) and a new built-in Speedlight with D-TTL flash control capability put you in complete control.

Add a full-color LCD monitor, simple USB connections, full compatibility with dozens of AF Nikkor lenses and accessories, plus Nikon Capture 3 software for remote operation and superior image management, and you've bridged the gap between your 35mm and digital worlds.

To learn more about the D100 visit: http://www.nikonslr.com


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: Optipix 2 (or Photoshop 8?)

Long on our wish list for Photoshop have been more 16-bit mode tools -- like selections and layer modes. There are workarounds for some (8-bit selections can be made to work) but not for others (layer modes).

Just as we were narrowing our gaze toward Adobe and the soon-to-be-announced Photoshop 8, Reindeer Graphics (http://www.reindeergraphics.com) answered our prayers with Optipix 2.

THE 16-BIT GAME

In our review of the original Optipix (http://www.imaging-resource.com/SOFT/OPT/OPT.HTM), we were impressed with how it let us blend a series of 8-bit exposures into a 16-bit image. The expanded shadow and highlight detail survived when we converted it back to eight bits -- as the review illustrates.

Digicams typically use eight bits to record the luminance in each color channel, although high-end models can use more (10-12) as do scanners (12-14). There are three color channels -- red, green and blue -- that use eight bits each in building a 24-bit color image. Your monitor and printer can display no more than 24-bit color anyway.

The attraction of 16-bit channels (48-bit color images) is that they provide room to make tonal and color adjustments without posterizing the image (called banding). Once you've optimized those adjustments, you can reduce the image to 8-bit channels to continue editing it. It's a little like digging into a serving bowl for just the stuff you want on your plate. You can only eat what's on your plate but it's nicer picking from a much larger platter first.

But with Optipix 2 (http://www.reindeergraphics.com/optipix) a 16-bit workflow from shot to print is now actually feasible. In fact, photographer George DeWolfe has written Digital Fine Print Workflow, a 95-page treatise on just that subject -- and it's included with Optipix 2.

The CD also includes Photoshop for Digital Photographers, a 217-page PDF by Dr. John Russ on image editing in general. The tome is a hands-on guide showing how to adjust, enhance and print optimized images.

The two publications are worth the price of admission themselves but the real draw, of course, are the plug-ins.

PLUG-INS

The Blend plug-in that can turn your 8-bit images into a 16-bit picture now has some new companions.

Layer Modes emulates all the Photoshop 7 layer transfer modes and adds six new layer transfer modes in a 16-bit compatible plug-in.

Detail Sharpener enhances texture and grain without over-sharpening edges. It's also useful for dynamic range compression.

Auto Contrast now sports a wide histogram for 16-bit images, exposure value compensation labeled according to the Zone system and user adjustable tail-clipping.

Safe Median, which first appeared in Optipix 1.1, removes grain without rounding corners like typical medians.

Power Median, which also first appeared in Optipix 1.1, removes power lines and scratches.

You can now store and recall a selection to and from the second image buffer and retrieve whatever you've stored there, too.

These join not only Blend but Image Averaging, Edge Enhancement, Safe Sharpen and Safe Median from prior releases.

Let's take a closer look at a few of the new ones. See our expanded review (http://www.imaging-resource.com/SOFT/OP2/OP2.HTM) for illustrations.

LAYER MODES

Using Layer Modes in Optipix 2 is a little different from using the Photoshop equivalent. In Optipix 2, you store a base image in Optipix's Second Buffer. Then you select the image to apply to that base image and run the Layer Modes filter.

All of the modes you know from Photoshop are available in Optipix. But Optipix adds a few interesting new ones:

Highlight keeps the brighter pixels in the two images. It can remove shadows from a pair of exposures in which the light source moved by removing dark areas not common to both images.

Shadow retains the darker pixels in the two images. It can remove an object's highlights when the light was moved between shots.

Subtract is the mathematical (rather than absolute) difference between two images. It can emboss an image aligned with itself by nudging the top image.

Remove subtracts the luminance of the bottom image from the top image, leaving color alone. It's useful for correcting brightness falloff. After shooting your subject, shoot a blank sheet of paper in the same spot. Remove the second image from the first to even out the lighting.

Ratio is the ratio of the two images.

Compare is similar to remove, but uses a ratio of the luminance instead of just subtracting the luminance.

Layer Modes also lets you Nudge the top image to align it with the bottom image. But unlike Photoshop's full pixel moves, Nudge allows a move of only a third of a pixel (although other values are possible). This is a not just handy but essential, actually. At full enlargement, it was easy to nudge the working image over the image stored in the buffer for perfect alignment. And you need perfect alignment because you're usually working with two separate images, rather than a duplicate of the background.

AUTO CONTRAST

The Auto Contrast plug-in has new life in Optipix 2.

Its doublewide histogram provides more detail than Photoshop's 8-bit histogram. And it's labeled with the nine zones of the Zone System. Just click on any of them to place the midtone there.

A popup menu provides an interesting alternative to using the Zone System to alter tonal values. It uses EV values ranging from -2 to +2 in one-third increments. There's also a Custom and Pen Color mode that can set the midtone to the foreground color or any part of the histogram you click on, respectively.

And you can set the percentage of tail clipping to use or turn it off. Tail clipping compresses the darkest values and the lightest values, enhancing contrast.

A scalable image preview accompanies the histogram so you can instantly evaluate your changes.

Unlike Photoshop's Auto Levels, Optipix's Auto Contrast presumes you want to play. We played around quite a bit with our high-key test image until we got a range we liked. But we liked it very, very much.

DETAIL SHARPENER

Detail Sharpener can enhance fine details in an image without over sharpening the edges. If you want to sharpen edges (without bumping up the noise), use Edge Enhancer.

But Detail Sharpener can also reduce the dynamic range of 16-bit images, optimizing them for display and printing. Monitors and printers can display much less dynamic range than a 16-bit image contains. Typically, the last step before printing an image is to reduce it to 8-bit mode in Photoshop.

But the Reduce Dynamic Range action included with Optipix 2 uses Detail Sharpener to enhance detail in the highlights and shadows while also reducing the dynamic range to something your printer can handle.

POWER MEDIAN

Released with the 1.1 free upgrade, Power Median lets you describe a custom median using a 5x5 matrix to remove noise with a particular shape or orientation. You can get rid of power lines and scratches (or the cables on the Golden Gate Bridge), for example.

You can designate Normal, Dark or Light noise removal and a Preview helps you evaluate your custom median.

SELECTION TOOLS

In Photoshop, you can only make selections in 8-bit mode. There are ways to apply an 8-bit selection to a 16-bit image, but Optipix makes that moot with a set of selection tools that appear on the Selection menu.

Duplicate a 16-bit image and change the mode of the duplicate to eight bits. Make your selection and then store the selection in Optipix's second selection buffer. Then just select the 16-bit image and recall the selection from the buffer.

You can also recall as a selection any image placed in the second image buffer. Call it 16-bit luminosity masking. Everything brighter than the midtone will be selected.

PRICE

Optipix 2 retails for $149.95. For a limited time, Reindeer Graphics is offering a $15 discount on purchases made through the Reindeer Graphics store (http://www.reindeergraphics.com/online-store/scstore). Users with a valid Optipix 1 serial number can upgrade to Optipix 2 for $75. Users who purchased Optipix 1.1 after Aug. 1, will receive Optipix 2.0 as a free update. Subscribers should look in the Deals section to save an additional $5.

CONCLUSION

Adobe will no doubt make some headlines at Seybold San Francisco next week. But while you're waiting for the big guys to roll out the next release -- which may or may not cover your wish list -- we invite you to marvel with us at what the little guys can do. With Optipix 2, Reindeer Graphics has delivered what others only promise.

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Feature: Canon EOS 300D -- The Rebel With a Cause

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

EXECUTIVE OVERVIEW

Canon's EOS D60 digital SLR was one of the most in-demand digicams in 2002 and the subsequent EOS 10D update was even more so in 2003. Both cameras blew past sales projections and the 10D continues to be very hard to get, despite Canon's dramatic increase in production capacity.

But the EOS Digital Rebel promises to dwarf the popularity of even the 10D. In typical Canon fashion, they've dramatically pared costs from the 10D design, while retaining most of the features and (apparently) all the image quality. The net result is a camera with performance only a notch down from the EOS-10D, but at a precedent-shattering price of only $899 for the body alone or $999 for a kit that includes Canon's new 18-35mm EF-S lens.

The biggest concession in the design of the 330D seems to be a much more extensive use of body plastic than in any previous Canon dSLR. This is one of the few aspects of the camera that I personally disliked, giving the 300D a rather cheap, "plasticky" feel in the hand. The case is also all silver, another departure for Canon's dSLRs, but a design that calls to mind the film-based Rebel Ti.

Internally, the camera's 6.3-megapixel CMOS sensor captures the same maximum resolution of 3072x2048 pixels as the 10D, with two JPEG compression levels and a RAW format. Exposure control is very similar to the 10D as well, although minus a few features -- and the 300D continues to operate and feel much like its 35mm EOS cousins.

With an updated optical design created specifically for the digital format, the new 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 EF-S lens is lighter and more compact than the rest of the EF lens series. Based on my testing, it appears that the reduced back-focus distance and smaller image circle of the EF-S design has allowed Canon to achieve an unusually high level of optical quality in an inexpensive lens.

Like the 10D, the 300D autofocus system uses a seven-point array for more accurate focus with off-center subjects. The same One-Shot and AI Servo AF modes are available, the latter adjusting focus continuously for moving subjects, though the 300D doesn't allow the user to select AF modes manually. Instead, the camera automatically selects between One Shot and AI Servo modes, depending on the exposure mode chosen. An AI Focus AF mode switches back and forth between One Shot and AI Servo AF modes, depending on whether or not the subject is moving. This again is automatically enabled, however, depending on the exposure mode selected. Basically, you only get AiAF in Sports scene mode. In normal shooting modes though, you do have the ability to manually select one of the seven AF points as the controlling focus point or leave the area selection under automatic control.

Like the 10D, the 300D offers what Canon calls Predictive AF, which basically tracks the rate at which a subject is approaching or receding from the camera and accurately focuses based on the subject's predicted position -- a feature sports photographers will no doubt appreciate.

The 300D's TTL optical viewfinder displays an impressive amount of exposure information. The 1.8-inch, rear-panel, color LCD monitor is for image review and menu display only. The 300D also features a small status display readout on its rear panel, which reports a large number of camera settings as well.

For readers new to dSLRs, note that the rear-panel LCD display is not usable as a viewfinder. Instead, the optical viewfinder uses a mirror to intercept the image on the way to the shutter and the sensor. When the camera isn't taking a picture, light from the lens is directed only to the optical viewfinder and isn't available to the sensor to drive a live viewfinder display on the LCD. With the exception of the Olympus E-10 and E-20 (which use a beam-splitter prism instead of a mirror, at some cost in the camera's light sensitivity and viewfinder brightness), all dSLRs operate in this fashion.

Exposure control on the 300D is very good, offering almost exactly the same level of control as the 10D. Basic exposure modes include full Auto, Program AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual and Auto Depth of Field modes.

Auto Depth of Field mode is quite useful, intelligently using the seven AF points to determine the nearest and most distant points of the subject. It combines that data with the lens focal length to determine which aperture setting will provide sufficient depth of field while at the fastest possible shutter speed. Very slick!

Within what Canon calls the "Image Zone," are a handful of preset scene modes, including Portrait, Landscape, Close-up (Macro), Sports, Night Portrait and Flash Off. Combined with its full-auto option, these scene modes make the 300D approachable for even complete novices. Shutter speeds on the 300D range from 1/4000 to 30 seconds, with a Bulb mode available in Manual mode that allows shutter times as long as 2.5 hours!

Metering modes include Evaluative, Partial (close to a spot-metering option) and Center-Weighted, but their selection is automatically controlled based on the exposure mode chosen. The camera's Exposure Compensation function increases or decreases the overall exposure from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents in one-third-step increments. The 300D also features Auto Exposure Bracketing, ISO values from 100 to 1600 and AE/FE lock.

White balance options include six presets, an Auto setting and a Custom setting. You can also bracket white balance through an LCD menu option. Color space options include sRGB and Adobe RGB and the Parameters setting lets you adjust contrast, saturation, sharpness and color tone. New additions include two preset Parameter modes, one setting up the camera like the previous 10D and the other (the default) increasing sharpness, contrast and saturation slightly, for snappier-looking prints when going directly to a photo printer.

The 300D Self-Timer provides a 10-second delay after the Shutter button is pressed before the shutter actually opens. You can also trip the shutter remotely with the optional wired remote control, which plugs directly into the camera body or a wireless IR remote that communicates with a sensor on the front of the camera's handgrip. A Continuous Shooting mode captures a maximum of four frames at approximately 2.5 frames per second, while the Shutter button is held down. In addition to the top-mounted external flash hot shoe, the 300D has a built-in, pop-up flash with Redeye Reduction and Slow Sync settings.

Images are stored on CompactFlash Type I or II memory cards and the 300D is compatible with IBM MicroDrives. The 300D also supports FAT 32 directory structures, allowing it to use memory cards over 2-GB in size.

A USB cable connects the camera to a computer and accompanying software CDs feature Canon's EOS Digital Solution Disk software and Adobe Photoshop Elements. The Canon software is required for processing the camera's RAW files, including those saved with an embedded JPEG image. The 300D also features a Video Out jack and comes with a cable for connecting to a television set. For power, the 300D uses a Canon BP-511 battery pack and comes with one battery and a charger.

SHUTTER LAG

Overall, the EOS Digital Rebel 300D is a surprisingly nimble camera. Full-autofocus shutter lag is on a par with other low-end SLRs on the market and shot-to-shot speed is very good.

What surprised me most was how responsive the camera felt, even when I was shooting the wide range of bracketed exposures I use for some of my test shots. Despite a buffer only four frames deep, I almost never found myself waiting for data to write to the card. I suspect the 300D's dual-buffer design lets the cycle time degrade a bit more gracefully once the primary buffer is filled, clearing the primary buffer memory very quickly the moment you stop shooting.

RAW MODE

The 300D's RAW format records all the data from the sensor, exactly as it comes from the A/D conversion process. It uses lossless compression, preserving all the original data from the sensor, but is nevertheless much more compact than an equivalent TIFF file (the compression ratio is about 3:1, but varies greatly with image content).

The 300D's RAW format automatically includes an embedded JPEG as well, which Canon's RAW Image Converter applet, TWAIN driver and Mac Photoshop plug-in extract via a button labeled "Extract JPEG." Note though, that the embedded JPEG size is limited to Medium/Fine. This should provide a quicker workflow for situations where your final file format is JPEG. Although my personal preference would be for the approach used in the EOS-1D, where the JPEG is a separate file altogether.

TEST RESULTS

Visit the 300D Picture page to judge for yourself how well the camera performed (http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/EDR/EDRPICS.HTM).

Color: Like the EOS-10D before it, the 300D turned in a nearly flawless color performance. Its photos were just about spot-on accurate in daylight and it did very well even under the extreme color cast of the incandescent household lighting of my Indoor Portrait test, although that difficult light source required use of the manual white balance option. Colors were hue-accurate, but I felt that the default Parameter 1 setting left colors just a bit oversaturated in some settings, most noticeable in the Caucasian skin tones in my Outdoor Portrait test. Fortunately, you can easily opt for the Parameter 2 settings, which mimic the color and tonal balance of the 10D. While still within acceptable limits, I also felt that the Auto white balance option of the Digital Rebel wasn't quite as accurate as that of the 10D, as I frequently found noticeable color casts in subjects that the 10D rendered more accurately, with the Rebel showing a tendency toward warm casts. Overall though, very good color all around.

Exposure: The exposure system was generally accurate, but showed a marked tendency toward underexposure, particularly with high-key subjects. Like the 10D, it was considerably more accurate than most cameras in exposing my high-contrast, high-key Outdoor Portrait subject, but in other tests it required larger than average amounts of positive exposure compensation or positive exposure compensation for subjects that normally require none. This was a little disconcerting, in that I never knew when it was likely to underexpose a test shot. As a result, I ended up either bracketing a lot more than I would otherwise or having to check the histogram display after most every shot. The default tonal curve of the Rebel has noticeably more contrast than the 10D, but again, simply selecting parameter set 2 on the Record menu brought the tonal response more in line with the 10D's.

Resolution/Sharpness: Given that they use more or less the same sensor (apparently only minor changes to improve manufacturing yield in the Digital Rebel), it should be no surprise that the 300D turned in a virtually identical performance to that of the EOS-10D. The boosted sharpness setting in the 300D's default configuration resulted in a slightly crisper image, but the difference wasn't nearly as pronounced as I expected. Overall, the 300D performed very well on the laboratory resolution test chart. I found strong detail out to at least 1,400 lines horizontally and 1,200 vertically, although there was still meaningful detail beyond that point. Extinction of the target patterns didn't occur until somewhere around 1,550-1,600 lines.

Close-ups: Given that a lot of Digital Rebels will be sold with the 18-55mm EF-S lens attached, I tested that configuration against my standard macro target. I found that the combination performed very nicely in the macro category, capturing a minimum area of just 2.53x1.69 inches. Resolution was high, with strong detail in the dollar bill. The coins and brooch are soft due to the very short shooting distance, however. There's quite a bit more softness in the corners of this shot, now evident in all four corners of the frame. The Digital Rebel's pop-up flash throttled down well for the macro area, though the lower portion of the frame is slightly dark, likely shadowed slightly by the lens.

Night Shots: The 300D features full manual exposure control, an adjustable ISO setting up to 1600 and a maximum exposure time of 30 seconds, plus a Bulb setting for even longer exposures. Thus, the camera performed very well in my low-light testing. At all five ISO settings, the 300D produced clear, bright, usable images down to the 1/16 foot-candle (0.67 lux) limit of my test, with good color. The 300D employs an automatic Noise Reduction system for long exposures, which does a great job of cutting down on image noise. Even at ISO 1600, image noise was incredibly low and fine-grained. About my only beef with the camera for low-light work is that there's no way to use the AF-assist illuminator function for non-flash photography.

Viewfinder Accuracy: In my testing, the viewfinder proved just ever so slightly tight, showing about 97 percent frame accuracy at wide-angle and approximately 98 percent at telephoto. Actually a very good performance, the optical viewfinders of many pro SLRs aren't this accurate and the 300D edges out the 10D quite handily in this respect.

Battery Life: Canon claims about the same battery life for the 300D as for the 10D, which was an excellent performer in this area.

CONCLUSION

Although there are a few design "de-featurings" that will leave more experienced users wanting (such as the inability to select metering and focus modes at will), the 300D is a very capable camera with an excellent feature set. Resolution, color and tonal range are all very good to excellent and the newly introduced 18-55mm EF-S lens offered along with the Digital Rebel is of surprisingly high quality.

All in all, a dramatically affordable, true interchangeable-lens dSLR. I've heard through the grapevine that Canon has plans to produce upwards of 70,000 of these per month for the worldwide market. IMHO, that's still not going to be nearly enough. At $1,000, this is clearly going to be the hottest camera in the history of digital photography. If you have any interest in owning a Digital Rebel before the end of 2003, you'd better get in line promptly.

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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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Book Bag: Photoshop Elements 2 Special Effects

Al Ward is the genius behind ActionFX Photoshop Resources (http://www.actionfx.com), which gives him the time to write voluminously on creating special effects in Photoshop and Elements. We want you to know that right off the bat because you'd never guess from the cover of the book. The coffee must be decaf at Wiley because they left the author's name off the cover.

Too bad, because Ward knows special effects like Houdini knew magic. Which makes the fact that he wrote the book sort of a, well, selling point. Plus he's doing his magic act in Elements rather than Photoshop, so even would-be Harry Potters can try this stuff.

And there's plenty to try.

Like any pro, he starts you off with a brief but comprehensive tour of the tools.

Then he discusses the problem of creating "3D Objects in a 2D World." The step-by-step tutorials show you how to create a pool ball (gradients, highlights and shadows are all easily digested) before moving onto the more challenging eyeball. Cubes, tubes and pyramids are also covered -- using gradients and texture to feign realism.

"Unnaturally Natural Elements" makes you a master of photorealistic water drops, liquid type, pond ripples and surface disturbances, wood textures, carved type, chiseled stone and stone type.

In "Getting Technical: Industrial Effects" you learn how to fabricate sheet metal, rust and tarnish, metal spheres, pipes, bolts, screws, chrome, blown glass and plastic type (quickly).

"Shock Value: Electronics" demonstrates how to spin basic wire, plastic-coated wire, wire bundles, two ways of making circuit boards and how to add lamps, wires and sparks to them.

By then you're ready for "Getting a Grasp on Intagibles: Vapors, Rays and Electricity." Lightning, static, smoke, ghost (our favorite) and X-rays are all revealed.

In "I Should Have Been a Doctor: Altering Humans and Critters," you'll learn how to give your friends a face lift, warp you kitten and merge (or composite), morph and liquify your photos.

"Interfacing with the Web" is devoted to Web graphics with some helpful advice about design motifs in general.

"How Can You Say That? Type Treatments" shows how to use either the Type tool or Masks to create type treatments before explaining how to load and apply layer styles. It also covers using the Type Effects palette.

Three appendices and an index make the book a handy reference tool, too.

But before you refer back to it, you'll want to load the example images from the included CD and follow the recipes for creating the effects that most interest you. You can easily transform someone into a ghost, for example, without first mastering the pool ball.

In fact, as Ward writes early in the book, special effects look like magic to the uninitiated. "The digital magician, however, simply knows the tools of the trade and applies them skillfully to trick the eye." But that doesn't mean you have to have art skills, he adds.

Photoshop Elements, the working materials on the CD plus Ward's step-by-step procedures for each transformation or creation make the magic of special effects something anyone can do. And that's quite a trick.

Photoshop Elements 2 Special Effects by Al Ward, published by Wiley Publishing, 280 pages, $29.99.
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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 about the Olympus C-750 Ultra Zoom at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?50@@.ee913a3

Visit the Kodak Camera Forum at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?14@@.ee6f77d

Tammie asks about deleting images at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?50@@.ee940c8/0

A reader asks about cameras for beginners at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?50@@.ee93c07/0

Visit the General Q&A Forum at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?14@@.ee718ec

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Just for Fun: A Bright Idea

Our place is going to be a cinch for anthropologists of the future. Everybody who ever lived here put up one or two wall plates. To determine the layers of civilization here, you just have to inspect the wall plates.

We've got the kind Edison briefly experimented with before getting into movie making. And of course the minimalist beige and ivory (it isn't white, I'm told by a journeyman electrician). We've even got some oak (remember when every jumbo print you got for a gift was framed in oak?) from more innocent times.

A friend of ours happens to fight fires in the summer for the park service. I have it from him that when fires get big, you have to start a little fire of your own to starve them. Fight fire with fire, he nods.

Following his advice, we weren't about to buy a case of wall plates and replace everything just so they'd match. Instead, we decided to add to the confusion. Whenever we see a wall plate we like, we'll buy it to replace one of the tired ones.

We imaged all sorts of oddball wall plates. Flea market, street fair wall plates. Three dimensional, optical illusions, you name it. Anything would be an improvement.

Then one day, shopping in the Big Old Store for a thermostat that hadn't been painted over, we stumbled onto the perfect wall plate for any photographer.

It's made by AmerTac (http://www.amertac.com) and sports three patents (if you can believe it). Costs about $3 each in any configuration. Screws included.

It has two parts. A clear cover plate and a white plastic back plate that lock together. So you can "insert your own wallpaper to match your decor."

Did a light bulb just go off above your head?

Sure, why waste it on wallpaper. This thing is a mini picture frame! Every wall plate in your house can have one of those thousands of digital images you've acquired since buying a digicam.

There is one problem. You do have to excise a part of the picture for the wall switch or the outlets themselves. But no, not the screws. The backplate screws into the wall and the clear plate just snaps onto the backplate.

But that's not that big a problem, actually. The total image area on the single switch wall plate is 2.75x4.825 inches. So you can deftly position any 4x6 image so nothing important gets cropped out. Or not.

Of course, you do have to use a portrait-oriented image, rather than a landscape-oriented one. Probably.

We bought a couple and dashed home. We rummaged through our reject prints for something we wouldn't mind cutting up just to see how hare-brained our idea was. We do thoroughly test our advice, here. Ask anybody.

We slid the clear cover over our image to see what crop would work and then used the paper insert (like the fake picture in a picture frame) as a template to trace our cuts. Piece of cake.

Five minutes of careful cutting later, we had a custom wall plate.

The manufacturer recommends sandwiching your uncut wallpaper between the front and back plates, clicking the frame together and trimming the excess away with a utility knife. That will bleed the image to the wall, in fact.

But you then have to separate them for mounting. Screw the back plate to the wall, slip your image into the front plate and snap it on. It can be a bit tough to slip back off, but it's only $3 if you break it anyway.

You may not see these in Sunset magazine, but we get a little chuckle every time we reach for a switch.

And that's what makes it the perfect wall plate for any photographer. Not only is fun for you, but it makes a fabulous gift. Inexpensive and amusing. Certainly not your ordinary photo frame.

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Dave's Deals

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We Have Mail

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RE: Wal-Mart Prints

I just wanted to give you some feedback on last week's newsletter. Kim's feature called Making Prints at Photo Kiosks was excellent! In fact, I wish I had read it before I stood at the Fuji kiosk at my local Wal-Mart for an hour while printing 140 4x6s.

About $40 later I was very happy with my prints, but the article quickly gave me the answer to three problems I noticed: 1) The system was designed for standard print sizes, so cropping before would have prevented cutting off my wife's head in some pictures, 2) the images from my Sony DSC-717 were too large, I should have resized (print size & DPI) before taking a CD-R to the kiosk and 3) Fuji's Aladdin doesn't know how to read monochromatic images. That explains why my B/W pictures showed up on the kiosk screen as jumbled pixels.

It was great to use one of these kiosks first-hand and to read about someone else's experience and advice. In the past I've used online services like Imagestation.com and Shutterfly.com. The photo kiosks definitely have a better price point and immediate satisfaction.

Thanks for the article and keep up the good work.

-- Shaun Nelson

(Thanks for the feedback, Shaun! -- Editor)

RE: Card Sizes

In your experience, is it likely that the G2 will work with a 256-MB card?

-- Roger

(Here's how that works. The size of the card that ships with your digicam is no guide. What matters is your digicam's firmware. It reads and writes file allocation tables using links of a specific size (12-bit, 16-bit or 32-bit links). FAT-12 was popular on floppies and hard disks smaller than 16-MB. FAT-16 was developed for hard disks larger than 15-MB but smaller than 2-GB. Over 2-GB requires FAT-32. So if you're using a 32-MB card, you can use a 256-MB card. But you might not be able to use a 2-GB card. -- Editor)

Based on your advice and confirmed by a Best Buy guy, I purchased a 256-MB card. Appears to be working fine.

-- Roger

RE: Confused

I just got your August 2003 newsletter email, but when I clicked on the link to view the HTML version, it looked so much nicer. What kind did you send me, (with all the ads) and is there any way to get the HTML version without ads ?

-- Michael

(If you like the HTML version, click on the first link in the newsletter (every issue) to see it -- but it won't have the Dave's Deals section. Only subscribers to the email version get the deals.... Those ads pay us to write and distribute the newsletter. No ads, no newsletter. And sometimes <g> they actually offer something terrific. -- Editor)

RE: Projectors

I enjoy browsing through your newsletters and save them all -- even though most of it is way beyond both my comprehension and needs. Your reviews of new equipment have been very helpful.

My query this time is along a line tangential to what you are doing. In making presentations about the volunteer projects that we have started and are supporting in Zimbabwe, we have gone from slide shows to a video that Ann produces and continuously updates on her iMac from the various media we film while there. Up to now, we have then exported them through our digicam to VHS and then played them through VCRs. Thus we are limited to whatever TV is available. When the group is large that is not very satisfactory.

Video projectors seem too expensive for our use, but if we can find a reasonably priced projector that will fit our needs for zoom lens and some speakers and our church's need for power point presentations, we will move ahead.

Can you point us is in the right direction?

-- Morris Taber

(Actually, Morris, since our better half tossed out our 20-inch Toshiba, we haven't even seen much television, let alone projection television. Maybe our readers have some advice, though. Readers? -- Editor)

RE: Last Week's Blackout

Thought you would find this (Space.jpg) interesting.

-- Blake

(According to Michael Tomkins, Imaging Resource news editor, "That photo is actually a fake. There's no such satellite as ISAT or Geostar and satellite images don't show time in Eastern time. Also it is a cloudless image, which means it was a composite of numerous images taken over a period of days, weeks or months. If you bump up the levels in Photoshop you can see the area that was painted over in the image by whomever faked it.... If you want to see a real comparison, there's 20 hours before the blackout at http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/nightlights/blackout081403-20hrsbefore-text.jpg and 7 hours after the blackout at http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/nightlights/blackout081503-7hrsafter-text.jpg -- quite a different picture." -- Editor)

RE: Eye-One

In your current newsletter edition you carry an ad by GretagMacbeth extolling the virtues of Eye-One Photo color management system. Have you reviewed (evaluated) this product and if so, where can I find your commentary?

-- Xavier

(We've been trying to get GretagMacbeth to send us a unit for evaluation for two years now, Xavier. We seem to be getting a bit closer, but we still don't have one to test. We've been impressed with demos of it at the shows we've attended. -- Editor)
Return to Topics.

Editor's Notes

If you're itching to burn DVDs, there's a flood of new drives on the market. Compared to CDs, DVD burning has a lot of gotchas. You can't, for example, burn DVDs from Apple's iDVD unless you have an internal burner. And there are lots of DVD formats to support. So check the bundled software and formats before you buy.

EZQuest (http://www.ezq.com) has released its $359 Boa Slim DVD-RW drive, an attractive external weighing less than a pound and featuring FireWire and USB 2.0 ports, 2x DVD-R and 16x CD-R write speeds and authoring software [MW].

Plextor (http://www.plextor.com) has announced its $359 PX-708UF DVD+/-R/RW drive for burning DVD+R/RW, DVD-R/RW and CD-R/RW discs. The drive includes both Hi-Speed USB 2.0 and FireWire interfaces and features 8x DVD+R and 4x DVD-R writing.

Other World Computing is offering a $399 iMac/Cube/PowerBook G4 slot-loading DVD-CD trade-in program (http://www.macsales.com/MercurySL). The new internal drive is compatible with all Apple burning software.


Pentax (http://www.pentax.com) has updated its digicam line with the Optio 555, compact Optio S4 and water-resistant Optio 33WR.


Olympus (http://www.olympusamerica.com) introduced two dye-sub printers, the $199 4x6 P-10 and $499 8x10 P-440, as well as its $600 C-5000 Zoom digicam, which updates the C-4000.


Human Software (http://www.humansoftware.com) has released its $69.95 AutoFocus 1.0 plug-in [MW] combining its Deblur, DeNoise and Sharpener tools.


Arthur Bleich will lead an eight-day Digital Photography & Imaging Cruise (http://www.dpcorner.com/cruise) featuring workshops for beginning and intermediate photographers, embarking from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. on Jan. 24, 2004.


SanDisk (http://www.SanDisk.com) has announced its $39.88 ImageMate 8-in-1 card reader with Hi-Speed USB 2.0. The reader's four slots, which can be used at the same time, accept CompactFlash Type I and II, SmartMedia, SD, MultiMediaCard, Memory Stick, Memory Stick PRO and xD-Picture Card storage cards.


Alamy Images (http://www.alamy.com) has launched the Virtual CD, themed collections of royalty-free images that can be conveniently purchased for a set price online.


The National Association of Photoshop Professionals (http://www.photoshopuser.com) will hold PhotoshopWorld Conference & Expo in Miami, Fla. from Sept. 30 to Oct 2.


Steve Solomon has launched Total Quality Photo (http://www.totalqualityphoto.com). "My site offers high-quality photographic images for sale, as well as photography insights, information and links to other respected photographic sources," Steve writes.


Three Photoshop plug-in makers and one stock image company (http://www.andromeda.com/info/Big_4.html) are together offering The Big 4 Graphics Bundle [MW], seven plug-ins and over 200 royalty free images. The bundle includes: Alien Skin's Xenofex 2 and Splat; Andromeda's LensDoc, Perspective, VariFocus and RedEyePro; nik Color EfexPro Photo Classic Design bundle; and Ingram Publishings Texture Bank Vol. 1 & 2 and Contact Icons. If purchased separately they would total $836.95 but the bundle is being offered at $199 until Oct. 3.


LaserSoft (http://www.silverfast.com) has released its $299 SilverFast DCPro [MW] to quickly access RAW image formats from Canon, Minolta, Nikon, Olympus, Kodak, Fuji and Sigma. Default and custom settings can be adjusted and saved via either the standalone application or Photoshop plug-in.


Shapiro Consulting Group (http://www.asiva.com) has released its $49 Asiva Correct+Apply Color [MW], their second plug-in for Adobe Photoshop. Based on SCGI's patented image enhancement technology, it uses Hue, Saturation and Luminance curves to select the source colors to modify and features 16-bit internal processing, even for 8-bit images.


Tekmate (http://www.tpfit.com) has released its $52 PhotoFit Harmony [W], an image-stitching application that turns individual images into a panorama image. The program has built-in focal-length detection, distortion cancellation and perspective correction. In addition to aligning the image content, the program also performs color matching.

Return to Topics.

One Liners

For just $150 an insertion you can list your URL or 800 number here (up to a maximum of 70 text characters).

PhotoRescue: http://www.imaging-resource.com/SOFT/PHR/PHR.HTM

Curtin Short Courses: http://www.imaging-resource.com/cgi-bin/nl/pl.cgi?bdc

Fast Ritz CF cards: http://imaging-resource.com/cgi-bin/nl/pl.cgi?ritzmem

Lockergnome's Free Digital Media Newsletter: http://www.lockergnome.com

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Signoff

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

Happy snapping!

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

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