|Volume 5, Number 22||31 October 2003|
Welcome to the 109th edition of the Imaging Resource Newsletter. Finally, we review an inkjet printer (but what an inkjet printer!). Then Dave wrestles with the latest Sigma using Foveon's unique sensor before we award our Ersatz Nobel for Customer Service. A treat for all.
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(Excerpted from the full review posted at http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRINT/HP7960/HP7960.HTM on the Web site.)
Hewlett-Packard invented the thermal inkjet printer (Canon the bubble and Epson the piezo, according to the rock painting on the wall behind us). But with the Photosmart 7960, HP has focused its expertise on creating the Ideal Home Photo Printing Experience. Make it easy, Carly said, to print digital images without resorting to Windows.
We've applauded this approach in the Hi-Touch 4x6 dye subs (which can make 40 cent 4x6 prints). But the 7960 goes a bit further than the Hi-Touch by providing larger prints of similar quality. Borderless 8.5x11 prints, in fact. Seeing your images large used to be a thrill reserved for professionals or amateurs with infrequently used bathrooms. But since the advent of photo quality inkjets, anyone can enjoy them.
For $299, HP's engineers put together a fast 4800-dpi printer using three cartridges with up to eight inks. It includes an LCD monitor, a card reader that can handle 10 formats, a scanner and some intelligent firmware. That firmware can calibrate the printer automatically when you change cartridges, plus print and read a proof sheet to automatically print images from your storage card, among other things.
While it's a Photosmart printer, you can certainly print plain black text if you want. In fact, HP sells a black ink cartridge optimized just for that.
The 7960 features drop-on-demand thermal inkjet printing up to 4800-dpi (1200-dpi black) using two USB ports and four memory card slots. The slots can read CompactFlash, SmartMedia, Memory Sticks, Secure Digital/Multi Digital/Multi Media and xD-Picture cards. Next to them the second USB port handles direct printing from a compatible HP digicam.
A 2.5-inch swivel LCD provides feedback from an array of buttons on the front of the printer. There are buttons to Print New Photos, Save photos from the card to your computer, Email a photo, Zoom in or out on the LCD, set the paper Size, Print tagged photos (using Digital Print Order Form fields), set the number of Copies, Rotate a photo and Select photos for printing.
Internal memory is 16-MB, facilitating black-and-white print speeds of 21 ppm in Fast Draft mode (0.9 ppm in Best mode) and color in 35 seconds (Fast Draft) or 97 seconds in Best mode.
It uses HP's PCL Level 3 Enhanced printer language. The 100-sheet input tray includes a 20-sheet built-in 4x6 tray. Printable media includes plain, inkjet, photo and glossy paper; transparencies; labels; cards; iron-on transfers and banner paper -- all of which have HP-brand products.
The unit is built to handle 3,000 pages a month, consuming 10 watts when printing and four when idle (and even two when off). Dimensions are 20.9x15.1x7.6 inches and 16.8 pounds. Operating environment is 59 to 95 degrees with a recommended humidity range of 20-80 percent RH.
HP warranties the printer for one year.
OUT OF THE BOX
We didn't get a retail version of the printer, but one that's been packaged for lowly reviewers. A few things were missing (like a power cord and the cartridge cover to keep a partially used cartridge from drying out) that should be included in the retail version.
One thing missing that is always missing with an HP printer is the cable to connect the printer to the computer. In this case, a USB cable. HP has been doing this for years. And it stinks. HP, include a cable.
In contrast, the printer was swaddled in adhesive wraps and tape and foam to protect it from scratches and more serious damage. It took quite a while to "unwrap" it. Make sure you remove all the protective tape, plastic and foam before you power it up.
At 17 pounds, it's surprisingly heavy. We like that in a printer. It won't walk across the table. We also like how whisper quiet it is when printing. And there's no banging from side to side.
But we really don't like the high-pitched whine from the power supply. You hear it whether the printer is on or off. As long as it's plugged into the wall, the printer whines. The only thing we like to hear whining around here is our little brother when we hide his power adapter.
Task number one is to install the cartridges.
This is a wide printer, so opening the hood flexes the plastic in what we would call disturbing ways. If we'd paid for this thing, we would have broken a sweat.
Same problem with the cartridges. They're delicate little things, but you practically have to cram them into the printer and then seat them with very flexible caps that require too much force to lock into position. Twenty-four hour protection won't cut it.
Once you've done it to a couple of cartridges, it's no problem. But the first time is disconcerting. Try it in the store.
Calibration is automatic when you turn on the printer after installing the cartridges. A test sheet is printed and read as it comes out of the printer. That's very nice.
In fact the scanner built into the printer comes in handy for other tasks as well. Like ordering prints from a proof sheet.
USING A PROOF SHEET
The simplest way to use the printer is just to plug a storage card into the built-in reader. You can use the LCD to scan through, print or mark to print the images on your card. Or you can print an index or a proof sheet on plain paper to see what's on the card.
The proof sheet lets you identify individual images to be print, print up to three sets of prints and indicate the size (4x6 and some ganged layouts on 8.5x11). Once you've marked your choices, you feed the proof sheet back into the printer by putting it back in the paper tray and pressing the OK button when prompted. The printer scans the proof sheet and starts printing after confirming paper size.
This worked fine for us and we found it pretty convenient, too. Especially if you want to repeat the run later or don't like working from the LCD. Not that you wouldn't, but if you make a mistake on the proof sheet, you just print another one.
USING THE LCD
We didn't have any trouble at all using the swivel LCD. The type was large and the menus clear. You navigate with a four-way controller button just below the LCD that has an OK button in the middle. We had to press firmly to navigate, but you get used to the touch.
The firmware behind the LCD is fairly well thought out. And the system recovered gracefully from all the bonehead mistakes we made. But it does more than just recover gracefully. You can enhance images and even remove red-eye. In no time at all we were ready to print.
The printer comes with the paper tray installed. It looks like a removable tray, but we never actually removed it. We tried but it resisted. More deodorant didn't help, so we can't say if it's removable. We can say it seemed a bit shallow for our use, especially for loading photo paper. But on second thought, maybe you don't want to leave 75 sheets of expensive paper out en plein aire.
But it is very easy to use. You flip the deck up, turn your 8.5x11 stack of sheets upside down and slide it up to the front of the tray, adjusting a side guide and a back guide to hold the stack snugly in place. A smaller tray to the right fits 4x6 media. It's engaged by sliding forward a large rubbery tab on the top right side of the deck. We expected the tab to be hard plastic. While the flex doesn't make it easy to move the tab, it doesn't prevent it.
HP doesn't use a straight-through paper path. The sheet is fed upside down via small rubber rollers that contact the printable surface and small pinwheels that grab the back side. Then it makes a U-turn, righting itself as it comes under the print heads.
If you make borderless prints, you'll notice the printer slow down as it finishes the print. It drops borderless 4x6 prints neatly on the paper tray deck. But larger prints get spit out rather quickly. We installed the printer at the edge of a table and had to routinely dive for prints sailing toward the floor. Not a pretty sight.
The whole point of the U-turn paper path is to take up less desk space. You can back this baby up to the wall, in fact. Just leave room for the power cord and the USB cable. But it would be wise to plan on a little desk space in front. The prints that made it to the floor all landed upside down.
HP makes much of their combination of ink and paper. Sometimes this is a lot of hooey (buy our products or void your warranty). But sometimes there's some science behind it. Well, a lot of science (http://www.hp.com/oeminkjet/learn/techreparchive.html). Let's take a look.
The premium photo paper alone is built with more layers than Nonna's lasagna. Below the imaging layer is a thick undercoat on top of a resin coating that rests on a photo base paper (the same as silver halide photo paper). Under that is another resin coating on top of a back coat that rests on a unique stacking layer. The stacking layer is composed of very small plastic beads that prevent ink on the previously printed photo from offsetting onto the back of the newer print. You can actually feel the little beads. Quite a thrill.
Inks, we learned from HP's Dr. Ross Allen, are not just colored water, even if they are mostly water. The trick is to keep them soluble in the cartridge but quick-drying on the print. Without resorting to alchemy.
When an inkjet droplet hits photo paper, the surface of the paper swells, encapsulating the dye before it shrinks back to its normal size as the ink vehicle (everything but the dye) evaporates. That's why the print is at first sticky or wet. Indeed some combinations of ink and paper may never dry.
LET'S TEST IT
We ran a batch of prints using HP's premium photo paper. And the stuff was indeed gorgeous. We left one in the sun and weeks later it still compares exactly to the copy we kept in the dark.
Moreover, we couldn't detect a dot pattern. We did only once, in a highlight of our very first print. But subsequent prints -- even under 10x magnification showed no such pattern, so we suspect it was just a break-in issue. Although the rest of the print was spectacular.
It's hard to convey that. We were awed by the quality. It was like looking at sharp 8x10 dye subs. Vibrant colors. We weren't sure they were our photos, the prints looked so good. We had to take a little walk to calm down and remind ourselves how pedestrian we are.
When we came back to earth, we tried a test print of a sailboat with colorful sails on the blue-green bay under a blue sky with the Golden Gate bridge in the background. We used three other papers. One was an Epson photo paper, another was made by Champion (an old favorite) and a third was a new paper made by Tapemaker designed to be compatible on any inkjet (more about that later).
The only disappointment was the Epson. There was a noticeable color shift toward blue. The others reproduced the color accurately, although the Champion, a lighter sheet, exhibited some track marks across the surface of the sheet, probably from the small pinwheels the 7960 uses to advance the paper.
The Tapemaker sheet did very well. Standing alone, you'd be delighted with the detail and color. But the HP sheet did even better. It seemed to exhibit more tones with a brighter image. Ever so slightly, but noticeable.
Print times were respectable. About five-and-a-half for a Best quality 8x10.
Total materials cost for an 8x10 is $2.50, HP told us. That's about 65 cents for a 4x6.
We've yet to see a printer driver that should be emulated by anyone. And HP is no exception. Kudos for delivering cross-platform drivers, but my, what confusion.
Say, for example, you have a grayscale image. You want a black and white print. You will look all day in Page Setup for a setting to use the photo gray inks. So you think it's automatic. Nope. You actually have to give the Print command, then look under the options to set the popup option for Grayscale on the right tab. Nuts.
Less aggravating but still confusing is the Page Size menu. That's where you determine whether you're printing borderless or not. In fact, for any particular size, there are several options. The driver indicates that with the word "Index," as in "4x6 Index." The menu option should just use an ellipse in place of the word "Index" to indicate there are more options. Ellipses aren't confusing. They're standard.
PHOTO GRAY OR QUADTONE
HP is making a lot of noise about the three gray inks in the black cartridge. Superior black and white photo printing, they say.
If you print black and white on an inkjet using just black ink, they're right. The number of tones you can get with one ink just isn't going to equal using three tones (a light gray, a medium gray and a photo black). You salvage detail in the shadows and pick up detail in the highlights.
But who does that? For years we've recommended printing black and white images in color. In the printing industry it's called a quadtone (neutral printed with cyan, magenta, yellow and black inks). And the reason you do it is to enjoy a greater density range.
Because we didn't know about the Print dialog option to print Grayscale, we actually printed a few black and whites as quadtones (although, we suppose they're properly six inks, considering the light versions of cyan, magenta and yellow). When we compared an identical image printed both ways, we found a slightly magenta cast to the quadtone. But we also noted the Grayscale image printed with a warm tone.
Whether you like your monocolor images warm or cool, you can manipulate a quadtone to do what you want. Not so with the photo grays.
For some time now, we've pointed out you really can't lose whichever inkjet printer you buy. The photo quality results are outstanding across the board.
But the 7960 holds its own by providing multi-ink (glorious) printing in borderless sizes with unassailable quality and unparalleled print longevity using HP media. And then it takes it a step further by providing the home drugstore print service we lauded Hi-Touch for delivering. Finally, it delivers all that for under $300.
How to decide? Enjoy the agony. You can't go wrong. But with the HP Photosmart 7960, you can go very, very right no matter what level of expertise you have.
By DAVE ETCHELLS(Excerpted from the full review posted at http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/SSD10/SD10A.HTM on the Web site.)
Last year, Sigma entered the digital market dramatically with the SD9, leaping directly into the digital SLR fray, eschewing any intermediate steps in the consumer camera marketplace as a prelude. What's remarkable is the extent to which they achieved parity with other major manufacturers in that single step.
Much of the credit went to Sigma's use of Foveon's revolutionary X3 sensor technology, which stacks separate red, green and blue sensors behind every pixel of the sensor array. The lack of any offset between color samples promised to eliminate the color aliasing of most digicams. Of course, there's no free lunch. The X3 sensor suffered from problems with color purity, high image noise and rather strict limits on the length of an exposure.
A year later, Sigma has announced a successor to the SD9. The new Sigma SD10 is very much an evolution. The body, controls and interface are nearly identical, as is the sensor resolution. Under the hood, though, Sigma has made some significant changes to the sensor, firmware and software -- as well as subtle tweaks to the camera body -- that extend the life of the basic design and enhance its capabilities considerably.
We've had a few days to try out a near production level SD10 (final image quality, only minor tweaks in autoexposure and power management are left) and with the camera being so closely related to the SD9 reviewed last year, the learning curve was quite short.
With the comfortable heft of a traditional 35mm SLR film camera, the SD10 follows closely in the footsteps of Sigma's ground-breaking entry into the prosumer digital SLR marketplace. Featuring a 3.34-effective megapixel Foveon CMOS sensor with full-color pixels, the SD10 and its predecessor are the only cameras in the world to use Foveon's X3 sensor technology. Capturing and storing images as lossless raw sensor data files, the SD10's included software provides an unusual level of post-exposure image adjustment. Add to this the benefit of full manual exposure control and an interchangeable lens design.
The SD10's body is slightly larger than the competing Canon EOS 10D and Nikon D100, but quite a bit smaller and lighter than the pro-level dSLRs from those companies. The SD10 feels pretty rugged overall, but the rather thin body panels on the front of the unit contribute to a slightly "tinny" feel there. While it does have the heft of an SLR design, it isn't by any means a heavy camera. It features an SA-type, proprietary bayonet lens mount, which accommodates a wide range of Sigma lenses.
Manual focus is activated via a switch on the lens, but the SD10 itself features both Single and Continuous autofocus modes. A TTL optical viewfinder provides an accurate display of the frame area, with a unique view that lets you see a good bit of area outside the actual capture region. (Called "Sports Framing" by Sigma, this is great for keeping an eye on fast-moving action outside the frame, but I felt that it resulted in an uncomfortably small active area.) In my tests, the marked viewfinder region indicated the active frame area with 97 percent accuracy. A detailed information display inside the viewfinder reports exposure and basic camera settings and a center AF target is useful for lining up your subject.
Four main exposure modes include Program AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual. While aperture settings will vary with the lens in use, shutter speeds range from 1/6000 to 15 seconds, with the ability to extend this range to 30 seconds -- twice as long as the SD9's maximum. There's also a bulb setting, which curiously is limited to approx. 15 seconds -- although it is now accessible at all ISO settings instead of just ISO 100. Also, gone is the SD9's limitation preventing photos longer than one second at ISO 200 or above -- the SD10 now allows 15 seconds at ISO 100/200 and 4 seconds at ISO 400/800 -- which can be extended to allow all possible shutter speeds up to the 30 second maximum at all ISO ratings.
For long exposures, the SD10 has a cable release terminal, which lets you remotely trip the shutter via cable release, avoiding any movement of the camera caused by your finger hitting the Shutter button. The SD10 is also compatible with an optional IR remote release.
The SD10 employs an Eight-Segment Evaluative metering system to determine exposure. It provides Center (spot) or Center-Weighted metering modes as well, though. In all exposure modes except Manual, you can decrease or increase exposure from -3 to +3 exposure equivalents in one-third-step increments -- much preferable to the SD9's one-half-step increments (bravo, Sigma!). ISO choices include 100, 200, 400 and 800 equivalent settings plus an option to extend this to ISO 1600 equivalent, but keep in mind that the slow end of the shutter speed range contracts dramatically with ISO settings higher than 200 by default as mentioned above (although switching to Extended mode allows all shutter speeds at all ISO ratings). The final exposure option is white balance, with Auto, Sunlight, Shade, Overcast, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Flash and Custom modes. Because the SD10 captures files in the raw sensor format, any further image adjustments can be made with the interface software. The SD10's software offers a really remarkable level of control and is overall one of the best pieces of image adjustment software I've seen to date.
The SD10 doesn't offer a built-in flash, but does have an external flash hot shoe on top of the camera, compatible with Sigma's EF500 DG ST SA-N and the new EF500 DG Super SA-N flash units, as well as conventional "dumb" hot shoe flash units. With the EF500 DG Super SA-N flash unit, the SD10 supports wireless TTL flash metering. Available Drive settings on the SD9 include an Autoexposure Bracketing mode, two self-timer modes and a Continuous Shooting mode. The bracketing mode captures three exposures, each at different exposure settings (one at the metered value, one underexposed and one overexposed). The self-timer modes offer two- and 10-second countdowns. Continuous Shooting mode captures a series of images at about 1.9 frames/second for large images and about 2.4 frames/second for small ones.
The SD10 saves images to CompactFlash Type I or II memory cards and is compatible with IBM MicroDrives. All files are recorded as raw sensor data and three resolutions are available. Note that like its predecessor, FAT32-formatted cards are not recognized by the camera. This means that users are limited to the maximum capacity per card inherent in FAT16 -- only the first two gigabytes of a card are accessible -- an important point to remember, considering that cards as large as 6-GB are available on the market now! For downloading images, the SD9 has both USB 1.1 and IEEE-1394 ports and comes with both cables. I found the download speeds over FireWire (1.2-1.3M/second) to be much improved relative to the SD9, but was unable to test USB download speeds due to computer problems (which were probably the fault of my overloaded Windows XP box and not of the SD10). A video cable also comes with the camera, for viewing images on a television set. For power, the SD10 utilizes either two CR-V3 lithium battery packs or four AA-type batteries -- gone are the inconvenient (and frankly, rather expensive) pair of CR123A lithium batteries from the SD9's handgrip (a second bravo to Sigma!). An AC adapter is also included for use in the studio or when the camera is connected to the computer for lengthy downloads.
Color: The SD10 generally produced very good color in my testing, with notable improvements over the performance of the earlier SD9. Colors were hue-accurate and appropriately saturated, across the spectrum. Skin tones were good to excellent, but the results depended strongly on the white balance setting. White balance was fairly good, but there were often slight color casts left in images. Overall, I'd rate the SD10's color as good to excellent, marred only by the tendency of the white balance system to leave color casts.
Exposure: The metering system had a tendency to slightly underexpose by about a third of an f-stop, but we've heard the firmware will be upgraded in final production units. On a positive note though, the SD10's powerful histogram display and over/underexposure warning option makes it easy to see when the exposure is off a bit and to correct for it. One pleasant surprise with the SD10's images was the amount of dynamic range. The camera generally did a good job of holding onto highlight detail without plugging the shadows excessively. Some of the biggest exposure-related news with the SD10 actually has more to do with the software than hardware, namely the "Fill Light" function in the Photo Pro application. It really was remarkably effective in mimicking the effect of a fill light or reflector in very contrasty shots.
Resolution/Sharpness: As before, the 3.4-megapixel three-color-per-pixel Foveon sensor in the SD10 produces overall resolution approaching that of a 6-megapixel sensor using a conventional color filter array pattern, with strong detail present in the laboratory resolution test image out to about 1,050 lines vertically and 1,200 lines horizontally. I thought I saw more softness in the SD10's images relative to the SD9. Foveon contacted me to ask about this, as their own internal tests had shown essentially identical performance between the two sensors. Determined to get to the bottom of the issue, I had Foveon ship me an SD9, so I could test with the same lens, at the same aperture, under identical conditions with the same image processing settings I used with Photo Pro to generate the JPEGs. There's a fair bit of variation between different samples of Sigma's lenses of the same focal length/aperture. I suspect the original lens I used on the SD9 was sharper than the one I used one the SD10. Either that, or there was something else that was optically different about the original SD9. But Foveon and Sigma say there were no changes between that original model I tested and the current one.
Night Shots: This was a huge improvement over the SD9. The SD9 really wasn't usable for low-light photography due to limited ISO, high image noise and poor AF performance. Every one of these parameters has been improved in the SD10, so much so that the SD10 is very usable for shooting typical night scenes. I'd have to characterize its performance as something below "pro" level though, since the dSLR competition still smokes it when it comes to image noise with long exposures. The SD10 shows really excellent noise characteristics under bright lighting, in fact producing less noise than much of the competition under those conditions. Noise levels increase disproportionately in long exposures though, resulting in fairly noisy images at light levels you'd encounter when shooting outside after dark. Make no mistake, the camera is quite usable for after-dark photography, but you'll have to accept higher noise levels than you'd find with cameras such as the Nikon D100 or Canon's EOS-10D and Digital Rebel.
Viewfinder Accuracy: The SD10 is a dSLR, meaning that the optical viewfinder shows the actual view through the lens. The LCD monitor is for image review and menu navigation only. The SD10's viewfinder is very accurate, showing approximately 97 percent of the final frame area, better than average, even among SLRs.
Shutter lag and cycle time: I measured the SD10's cycle time using three different memory cards: a Lexar 24x 256-MB, a Lexar 24x 256-MB "WA" (Write-Accelerated) card and a SimpleTech 512-MB. While the SD10 supposedly supports Lexar's Write Acceleration technology, there was little difference in buffer-clearing time in my tests between WA and non-WA cards. With a 0.15-0.23 second shutter delay using Sigma's 20-40mm f2.8 zoom and a pre-focus lag of 0.111 seconds, the SD10's shutter lag times were much faster than typical consumer cameras and on a par with most other dSLRs I've tested. The pre-focus lag is a bit slower than most pro SLRS though. Shot-to-shot speeds were quite good, but the buffer took a long time to clear. Also, as noted above, in non-continuous mode, the interval between the first two shots is quite a bit longer than between subsequent ones, so you may want to use continuous mode for fast-breaking action, even if you don't plan on shooting more than a few frames.
Battery Life: Because the SD10 does away with the (onerous) requirement for the extra pair of CR-123 cells used by the SD9, all of the camera's circuitry now operates directly from the four AA cells. As a result AA-cell battery life is a bit shorter than on the SD9 (at around 3.5 hours in capture mode with true 1600 mAh-capacity NiMH cells), but still quite acceptable. With the highest-capacity NiMH cells currently on the market, battery life will be quite good, indeed.
Foveon and Sigma have made remarkable strides over the last year, as evidenced by the dramatic improvements in the performance of the new SD10 camera over the earlier SD9 model. Many of the limitations of the SD9 have been addressed and the improvements in image noise levels and high-ISO capability are impressive. Color rendering has also seen substantial improvement, to the point that I'd now rate the SD10's color as "very good to excellent," something I'd not have said about the SD9. While Sigma and Foveon are trying to position the SD10 and its sensor as 10.2-megapixel units, my own tests suggest a resolution more equivalent to its 6-megapixel competition.
The success of the SD10 will depend primarily on its price. As with the SD9, the SD10 has in its favor the relatively low cost and high optical quality of the Sigma lenses, making it quite affordable to build up a considerable kit of lenses.
If it's priced competitively, it might steal some business away from Nikon and Canon at the low ends of their lines. If it's priced higher though, I'm afraid it will have a difficult time getting traction with consumers.
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: Minolta DiMAGE Z1 (http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/Z1/Z1A.HTM)
- Reviewed: Olympus C750 (http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/C750/C75A.HTM)
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 Sigma SD10 at http://www.photo-forums.com/[email protected]@.ee95868
Visit the Nikon Forum at http://www.photo-forums.com/[email protected]@.ee6f781
Andrew asks about lines appearing in pictures at http://www.photo-forums.com/[email protected]@.ee9559c/0
Tom asks a printing question at http://www.photo-forums.com/[email protected]@.ee9552f/0
Visit the Scanners Forum at http://www.photo-forums.com/[email protected]@.ee6b2ae
The awards business isn't what it used to be. Genuine Achievement seems somehow overwhelmed by the almost literary hyperbole that wraps up and delivers Mere Pretension.
And yet, Genuine Achievement is the only thing worth celebrating. A lot of people come to the dance, but they don't all break a sweat, as Grandmother Twinkletoes was fond of saying. Herewith, then, we present the nominees for the Ersatz Noble for Customer Service.
Gordon Heathfield admits to "living in Paris France for over 20 years," even though he originally found himself on the other side of the white cliffs of Dover. But something of civilization remains in him. "Have you ever taken a coffee on one of those fashionable cafe terraces in Paris and had some difficulty firstly in actually getting some service from the rather aloof 'garcon,' and when he does arrive the tension rises over his lack of attention or enthusiasm in dealing with you? Well, I'd say it was 10 times worse when it comes to actual after sales service."
We know where you're coming from, Gordon.
But his problem was really unusual. Something like wondering why your childhood sweetheart has three children by some shoelace salesman. In his case it was merely a Tokina 35-200mm zoom. "After about the first 18 years of regular use much of the exterior was badly scarred from travelling and work exploits (a little neglect, but I love this old machine and kept it under -- leather -- covers, at least!) and finally the magic black box gave up the ghost." Proving, we think he means, that it had a soul.
Gordon, no doubt wondering what to do while waiting for his vermouth, thought to ask Tokina to fix the thing.
"I was much surprised and delighted to find, only three weeks later(!) a beautifully bound package from Japan containing what appeared to be a replica of the brand spanking-new camera and lens I bought backing 1981(!!) With an invoice for $120(!!!) They had in fact fully renovated the AE1 and slapped on a brand new Tokina lens (old stock perhaps -- and miraculously recovered in the back of some obscure warehouse)."
OK, tough story to beat. It's got Paris, a sexy Tokina and someone with parts. Typical French menage a trois. Just missing the police.
Randolph Knight stayed home and counted his NiMH AA Ray-O-Vacs. "Got almost three months intermittent use per charge, but after a year they are only lasting a couple days and no longer taking a full charge in spite of only charging them in the Ray-O-Vac Model PS3 charger with the lid always open," he wrote to the company. He sent them a picture of the cells, too.
"Within LESS THAN A MINUTE," he said, "Rita Collins emailed back: 'I will send you some today! Sorry for the trouble.'" Rita, if you still have a job, we adore you.
Not every nomination was bizarre. In fact, Kevin Wildermuth, apologized, "Epson gets my vote and sadly that's because they essentially did what they should have done to solve my problem, which seems to be the best you can hope for most of the time these days."
Epson is a previous winner and would automatically be disqualified, but having done something as stupendous as what a customer expects, we waived the rules.
Kevin had a problem installing the automatic print cutter in his Epson 2200, which was still under warranty. He fenced with a guy at customer support, trying everything before the problem was confirmed.
"When he determined that the printer was at fault he arranged to send a new one out to me with instructions to send mine back when it arrived. They sent the new printer Second Day Air and provided a shipping voucher for returning the printer so I was up and running again quickly."
Along the same line and with nearly the same enthusiasm, Charlie Young nominated ACDSystems. "Their customer service goes the extra mile to solve any problems that may arise. It's true that they don't have a toll free number, but they don't charge you by the minute for their help. (Hear that Adobe, MS, etc.)"
Charlie, Microsoft did not hear that. Adobe did, but will get back to you in a future version (rebate card included in the box).
The budget for the Ersatz having shrunk this year, we're delighted to pretend to share the award among the nominees, who should expect no less than a quarter of what they're entitled to. What's good for the goose, after all, is good for the gander.
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RE: Kelby's Red-Eye
All newcomers want to be able to fix red-eye, currently a topic in the newsletter (I read them all -- cover to cover -- and have contributed by PayPal regularly).
I put this redeye.pdf (http://www.computer-darkroom.com/home.htm) on one of the forums. This technique works extremely well and is quite easy.
The trick is to realize that one makes a quick mask with a soft brush, then inverts it. Then one does the usual desaturation and increase of contrast to bring out the reflection highlights. The key is the ease in getting a great selection so easily.
-- Al Eynon(With newer versions of Photoshop, you can actually build a red-eye brush (detailed in our review of Photoshop 7). No selection required. Just click on your red-eye brush and paint, as your PDF suggests, and the brush desaturates.... We disagreed with Kelby's suggestion to paint over that red with the eye color. We, like most people, suggest you desaturate it, since it's the back of the eye. That's the important thing. -- Editor)
RE: Multi-User Installs
When IR next tackles any testing or comparisons of the image database programs it's worth asking how they deal with the Windows XP multi-user environment.
I bought a powerful computer and placed it in the kitchen so all of the family could use the image database, but in one case at least (ACDSee 6.0) several members of a family can't see the same cataloging or keyword info. Searching the Adobe Album user forum I (so far) see no reference to the issue but will call Adobe to check it out. Perhaps they share the same issue.
Each of these companies should make their scenario for installing (and multi-user work) under Windows XP clear by writing them up as a public FAQ.
Like many families, we have only one "Administrator" who in ACDSee's case is the only one that can really use the program as a database. I have rolled back to v5, but will still have some issues with Windows XP. ACDSee says they will issue an update before the end of the year to address parts of this issue. I believe strongly they should discuss this up front on their Web sites.
-- Jonathan Rawle(Excellent point, Jonathan. Thanks for making it. Multi-user operating systems are far too obscure -- no matter which platform. In daily practice, we mostly try to avoid it. But when you get into an application designed to be shared, how to share it really should be explicit. We often have the feeling a lot of companies are learning along with us what a multi-user environment entails. -- Editor)
I would be interested if you could revisit your QPict review in relation to using it on a Mac running OS X.
I need to enter Czech language characters in the caption field but the program does not seem to recognize fonts in OS X. In your screen shots you are showing System 9, which does enable font selection.
I used your review as a basis for buying the product and made an (unwise?) assumption that if a feature was in System 9 it would carry over into OS X. Perhaps you could add a warning into the review.
I enjoy your Web site and thank you for it.
-- Ray Batty(Hmmm, thanks for pointing that out, Ray. We couldn't figure out how to do it either, but since font handling is different in OS X (look, Ma, no Acrobat!), we thought we'd ask Rune Lindman, the author of QPict. He replied, "The caption filed and the other annotations are currently not Unicode savvy. This will hopefully change in QPict 6 but there are some issues with interoperability with the ANPA standard that need to be worked out." We bet it won't be long. -- Editor)
"Rewarding Lives," a free exhibit of 78 Annie Liebowitz portraits (http://www.fortmason.org/spotlights/2003/1003/1003-spot1.html) runs through Dec. 1 in San Francisco before embarking on a three-year world tour.
Amazon (http://www.amazon.com) is offering five percent discounts on Adobe's Creative Suite standard and premium upgrades and ten percent on the full version.
Apple (http://www.apple.com) has let the latest cat out of the bag, Panther or OS X v10.3. Many applications and utilities have been updated to run under the new system, including Lemkesoft's GraphicConverter (http://whttp://www.lemkesoft.net) and iView MediaPro (http://www.iview-multimedia.com). Others, notably Hamrick Software's Vuescan (http://www.hamrick.com), no longer function. Many scanner drivers seem to suffer the same fate, requiring updates not yet on the horizon.
A serious FireWire drive corruption issue has been addressed, too. Apple claims FireWire 800 drives using Oxford 922 chipsets with a firmware version v01.02 and earlier are susceptible to data loss. Oxford Semiconducter reponded that "this issue relates to a change in the way Panther uses FireWire that affected version 1.02 of the OXUF922 driver software. A new version, 1.05 was issued by Oxford Semiconductor to the manufacturers of external drive products in early September." Check the manufacturer of your external FireWire drive for the firmware update. According to Other World Computing (http://eshop.macsales.com), the issue does not affect older FireWire drives using the Oxford 911 or 900 chipsets.
Micro Solutions (http://www.micro-solutions.com) has introduced its $249 RoadStor portable media player for viewing, copying, toting and sharing digital photos, audio and video with or without a computer. It includes a card reader and CD burning, making it the first portable device that can duplicate images. Having long pined for just such a solution for traveling with a digicam, we have a unit for testing and will report shortly.
Selteco (http://www.selteco.com) has released its $39 Photo Lab software [W] to simplify and streamline digital image editing and printing.
WiebeTech (http://www.wiebetech.com) has reduced prices from $20 to $90 on the high-end versions of its popular MicroGB+ pocket drives.
Canto (http://canto.com) has announced Cumulus 6 Workgroup and Enterprise Editions will be available at the end of November. Features include more efficient asset management, a new toolbar, simplified menu structure and integrated EJaP technology.
David Ahmed (http://homepage.mac.com/davidahmed) has updated his $15 ExhibitionX [M]. Version 2.3 includes seven 3D display environments including an art gallery, octagonal carousel, book view, fly-by view and multi-cube.
Epson (http://www.epson.com) has announced its $1,795 Epson Stylus Pro 4000. The successor to the 2200, will be available in January 2004. The printer uses a seven-color UltraChrome ink system in an eight-channel printhead with 2880x1440-dpi resolution using variable-sized droplets as small as 3.5 picoliters. Interfaces include FireWire, USB 2.0 and a slot for a 10/100 Ethernet card.
Light & Motion (http://www.uwimaging.com) has introduced the Tetra S400, a rugged machined aluminum housing designed specifically for the Canon PowerShot S400.
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