The IMAGING RESOURCE DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY
NEWSLETTER


Volume 5, Number 23 14 November 2003

Copyright 2003, The Imaging Resource. All rights reserved.

Welcome to the 110th edition of the Imaging Resource Newsletter. The RoadStor answers our prayers for a box that can backup our cards on the road (and it does a lot more, too). Then Dave enjoys the latest innovations of Minolta's flagship digicam. Finally, two pictures remind us why we love this stuff so much.


TOPICS

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: Micro Solutions RoadStor -- A Prayer Answered

(Excerpted from the full review posted at http://www.imaging-resource.com/ACCS/RDS/RDS.HTM on the Web site.)

Digital imaging's dirty little secret is that it's easier to travel with a film camera than a digicam.

If you run out of film, you're only a drugstore away from a fresh supply. If you fill up your storage card, though, you've got problems. To reuse the card, you've got to copy the images off it.

There have been imperfect solutions:

  1. Pack a laptop. Copy the images to the hard drive. Burn a couple of CDs. This is our preferred solution. But, except for business users, this solution adds a piece of luggage.

  2. Pack extra cards. Fine but finite. And easily misplaced as you move from hotel to guest room. Worse, no backup.

  3. Pack a small hard-drive/reader combo. Call it a wallet or vault or whatever, it won't make backups either -- and costs nearly as much as a laptop.

What we really wanted all along was something 1) smaller than a laptop, 2) convenient as extra cards, 3) designed to make backups and 4) inexpensive.

But not just for travel. We've been touting the utility of 4x6 and larger printers that don't need a computer to deliver beautiful photo prints. But the problem is that sooner or later you need to copy the images off that card to a CD.

We've been playing with Micro Solutions RoadStor (http://www.micro-solutions.com) for a few days now and this little box has answered our prayers. Whether you want hassle-free travel with your digicam or just want to store its images after printing them without wrestling with a computer, it may answer yours too.

THE ROADSTOR

The RoadStor is a well-connected CD-writer/DVD-player (CD-RW/DVD-ROM drive) with a card reader. At 1.4x5.4x6.875-inches and 26 oz. (both with battery), it imposes no more of a burden on a traveler than a hardback book or a couple of DVDs.

The card reader and combo drive are both accessible from the rear of the unit. The slim reader sits on top of the combo drive with two slots (only one active at a time) to read MultiMedia Card, Secure Digital, Memory Stick, SmartMedia, CompactFlash Types I/II and IBM Microdrive formats. xD-Picture cards are not supported. A green LED indicates reader activity. An orange LED indicates drive activity.

The combo drive is an Hl-dt-st RW/DVD GCC-4241N (4x-write/24x-read CD), according to Roxio Toast's Recorder Info option, with firmware revision 0H22/MMC-3 with a 2-MB cache and buffer underrun prevention.

The custom lithium-ion battery attaches to the other end of the RoadStor and delivers about two hours of use after a four-hour charge. A release button on the bottom of the unit unlatches the battery. You can also run the device from the included adapter.

Connectors include USB 2.0 (to function as another device on your computer), Video Out (for slide shows and DVD playback), S-Video Out (to show off) and Audio Out (for music CD and DVD playback). There's also an NTSC/PAL video format switch, particularly handy for international travel since playback is through a television.

This is, by the way, a high-speed USB 2.0 device, not merely USB 2.0 compatible. It did function on our USB 1.x ports, though.

Five buttons on top control the player with feedback from a black and white LCD. The firmware is not user-upgradeable. A remote control is also included, along with cables for USB, S-Video and Composite Video & Audio.

CD burning software and DVD player software for Windows is included. A device driver for Windows 98 is also included.

Macintosh support relies on OS X's built-in burning and playback software. But until recently Mac hardware supported only slower USB 1.x transfers (preferring FireWire for this sort of stuff). You can read your CDs via the RoadStor and even play DVDs (though not smoothly) but you'll need third-party software to write to CDs via the RoadStor.

Documentation includes a thin but thorough User's Guide, Software License Agreement, registration card, Speedy CD Software manual and a couple of blank CDs. It's all packaged in a nice carrying case (with a one-year warranty) for $249.

UNIQUE?

Shortly after the RoadStor was introduced, Alera Technologies (http://www.aleratec.com) came out with its $249 Digital Photo Copy Cruiser, a 36x CD writer with a USB 2.0 port and a reader that handles CompactFlash Type I and II, Secure Digital, MultiMedia Card, SmartMedia, Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro and Microdrive formats.

We've asked for an Alera unit to review, but at first glance it lacks RoadStor's DVD player and television signal output for reviewing your images.

BACKUP OPERATION

With either a charged battery or the adapter attached, you power on the unit with the On/Off Switch.

To copy images (or any other files) from a storage card to a CD, open the CD tray by pressing the Eject button on its front panel. Insert a writable CD-R or CD-RW (either a blank or one that can still be written to). Then close the tray.

It takes a few seconds for the RoadStor to load the CD. When it's done, you can pop in your storage card.

Press the Backup button on the RoadStor or its remote control to enter backup mode. Press it again to confirm the operation and begin copying images from the card to the CD.

The LCD will tell you how many images have been copied. When the operation is finished, the CD is ejected.

As long as there is space available on the CD, you can repeat the procedure to add images to the CD. Each session is stored in a new folder, named RDST0001, RDST0002, etc. The actual images are buried a bit deeper, usually in the DCIM folder.

The 4x-write/24x-read CD writer includes buffer underrun protection to avoid burning toasters instead of CDs.

What happens if there's more on the card than fits on the disc? We filled a CD nearly to the brim and then tried to copy a full card to it. "New Disc In," the RoadStor prompted us. When we put a new disc in, the RoadStor backed up the card.

And what about 1-GB cards? We didn't have one handy, so we asked. "This is an issue that we're currently researching and hope to have support for soon," the company told us. "We plan to keep RoadStor compatible with 1-GB and larger memory cards and will provide information on www.micro-solutions.com when such support becomes available."

PLAYBACK OPERATION

If you want to view your images from the card or a CD or watch a DVD, make your connections before powering on the device. Video cables are color coded to make connection simple (yellow is video, white and red audio). Use your television's Input switch to display the signal from the External connection.

With both the television and the RoadStor powered on and the television displaying the External signal, you see the RoadStor sign-on screen (just as you would your DVD player's sign-on screen).

Pop in a DVD and use the remote control to navigate the Main Menu and Play the movie. Once you learn which buttons on the remote do what, it's just like having a portable DVD player.

To see the pictures on your storage card, pop a card into the right slot of the card reader. RoadStor displays its Card Menu, which lets you navigate the directory structure until you find the session you want to see. You can even interrupt DVD playback by inserting a card.

To see the pictures on a CD, drop in the CD. RoadStor displays its Disc Menu, which functions exactly like the Card Menu.

You have to select the first image in a directory to begin the slide show. Eleven different transitions can be activated by pressing the Transitions button on the remote. You can also set Transitions to None or Random. You can rotate and zoom images, or view them in a 3x3 thumbnail format.

The device also supports VCDs, Enhanced CDs, CD-Text, CD-I and Multi-session Photo CDs. In fact, it even played a VCR slide show our cheapo brother-in-law burned with the demo version of some slide show program.

COMPUTER OPERATION

If you connect the powered-on device to your computer via USB, you'll have access to a card port and the CD-writer/DVD-player. You can then copy images from a mounted CD to a mounted card, burn images on your computer to a CD, play DVDs on your computer (if your computer has a USB 2.0 port).

We connected the RoadStor to a PowerBook G4 and were able to read cards and CDs and even play a DVD (a bit choppy in parts, but not viewable). We weren't able to burn CDs in OS X, though. We suspect OS X doesn't want to write using a USB 1.x port. Roxio Toast, however, did recognize the drive for burning.

SIMPLE

That's really all there is to it. Turn it on, drop in a CD, slide in a card and push the Backup button twice. You've copied your images. Do it again and you've backed them up. Simple. Fast. Elegant.

But wait. Say you're at a wedding. Plan to be the last to go. Ask everyone with a digicam if you can copy their card before they leave. You'll have a complete set of every digital image shot -- and you can even sort them by time (assuming everyone set their camera's clock correctly) for a unique, second-by-second instant replay from multiple angles. Pretty wild!

In fact, let us be the first to propose that the time-honored ministerial prohibition against flash pictures during the ceremony be rephrased:

"The wedding party asks that you refrain from flash photography during the ceremony and instead confirm your camera's date and time settings so they may be accurately included in Chimichanga's compilation CD, to which you are invited to contribute at the end of the festivities."

There goes the disposable camera favor, too.

BUTTONITIS & BLATTERIES

We're a firm believer in using the least buttons. The five on the RoadStor are pretty minimal. Copy, Back, Play/Pause, Forward and Stop. The remote control was, initially, maddening. Play and Forward have the same icon, which can drive you mad when you're navigating a CD and want to Play a folder. Instead, you Forward the first image. And there's no Menu button for DVDs (try the Stop button) but you can Fast Forward from one chapter to another. It isn't intuitive (like a DVD remote, in fact) but you figure it out.

Exhausting a battery in two hours is a bit more of an issue for DVD playback than card backup to CD. You can backup a lot of cards in two hours. One battery should be sufficient to copy images from any event. But it's only enough to play one movie. And it won't play too many audio CDs (maybe one day's bus commute to school). So don't forget to bring the adapter along. With a four-hour recharge, you won't have time to recover from a dead battery.

A spare battery (BAT-001 for $39.99) is probably not a bad idea. Micro Solutions also sells replacements for the remote ($9.99), carrying case ($24.99) and power adapter ($24.99).

COMPUTER-FREE WORKFLOW

As a travel companion for your digicam, the RoadStor is an obvious boon. But, combined with the right printer, it promises a completely computer-free workflow.

We find that second option pretty exciting. We suspect there are plenty of snapshooters out there who would love to have the "free film" of digital imaging. But they just don't want to use a computer to get it.

They really don't have to any more.

The RoadStor solves the long-term storage and archiving problem. With a RoadStor, images captured to a supported storage card can be copied to a couple of CDs for safe storage and the card can be erased in the camera for reuse.

Before erasing the card, though, the images can be printed (and even edited) on a printer with a card reader and editing firmware. The Hi-Ti 630PS and 640PS photo printers can print affordable 4x6 dye subs automatically in less time than it takes to go to the drugstore. And inkjet prints as large as borderless 8.5x11s can be printed on the Hewlett-Packard 7960. All those printers include card readers and LCDs to edit, select and print images just as if you were at your own drugstore kiosk.

The only glitch in such a system is reprinting images stored on CD. You would need a computer to copy them to a card.

CONCLUSION

Were we given to adjectives, we'd call the RoadStor indispensable. Were we into awards, it would be the Imaging Resource Peripheral of the Year. Were we thieves, we'd steal one. If we were a retailer, we'd bundle it with every digicam we sold. Were we wealthy, we'd give one to each subscriber.

But let's not fantasize any longer. Our prayers for a simple, portable device to archive and duplicate our images -- whether we're on the road or just want to enjoy digital photography without a computer -- have been answered. Amen.

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Feature: Minolta DiMAGE A1 -- Top This!

By DAVE ETCHELLS
(Excerpted from the full review posted at http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/A1/A1A.HTM on the Web site.)

MANUFACTURER OVERVIEW

The Minolta DiMAGE A1 is the latest in the family of DiMAGE electronic SLRs started by the original DiMAGE 7, the first 5-megapixel prosumer camera, introduced in early 2001. It carries on the proud tradition of the line with a host of innovations and improvements.

In 2002, Minolta improved on the DiMAGE 7 with the DiMAGE 7i, dramatically improving focusing speed and shutter response. The same year it introduced the DiMAGE 7Hi, which added an external flash sync socket, higher-speed continuous shooting for full-resolution files and an extra-fine JPEG image-quality setting.

Now, Minolta has improved on an already great camera with the $935 DiMAGE A1.

EXECUTIVE OVERVIEW

The new A1 keeps the 5.0-megapixel CCD, ultra-sharp 7x optical zoom lens and a host of fine-grained user controls that made the earlier models popular. But it adds a number of subtle but significant enhancements like 14-bit A/D conversion and a new Anti-Shake system. The camera also boasts a higher maximum shutter speed at 1/16,000 second, a grip sensor that controls the Fulltime AF option and a tilting LCD monitor.

As with the 7Hi, the A1 features extensive creative controls (including an option to use Adobe RGB color space), sophisticated camera functions and a user-friendly interface that make it appealing to advanced users. And its simple-to-use full auto mode lets you hand it to a novice with confidence. The camera's ergonomic design looks and feels a lot like a conventional 35mm SLR, with an elongated lens barrel and a lightweight magnesium alloy body with plastic outer panels hosting the numerous dials, switches and buttons. Although the profusion of controls makes the camera appear complex, they're all logically arranged and actually fairly easy to learn. Minolta has packed a lot of functions into a very workable layout, with a range of features normally found only on more expensive professional-level digital cameras.

A 2/3-inch progressive-scan primary-color CCD with 5.3 million pixels (5.0 million effective), provides a maximum resolution of 2560x1920 pixels, among the highest available in a consumer digital camera. The 14-bit A/D converter and relatively large pixel size provide a wide dynamic range and fine tonal gradation, with as many as 16,384 levels captured in each RGB channel. The CCD's sensitivity ranges from ISO 100 to 800 and may be automatically controlled by the camera or manually selected by the user. The A1's updated color space flexibility includes two sRGB options (Natural and Vivid color), in addition to standard and embedded-profile Adobe RGB options.

All that sensor resolution would be useless, however, if the lens couldn't resolve fine detail. The A1 appears to use the same 7x zoom GT Lens that was so impressive on previous models, one of the sharpest and lowest-distortion digicam lenses I've tested. With 16 glass elements in 13 groups, the GT lens has two anomalous dispersion and two aspheric glass elements for sharp, detailed images with minimal distortion and glare. The 7.2-50.8mm focal range (a 28-200mm 35mm equivalent) provides the flexibility for wide-angle interior and landscape shots, as well as close-up portraits and distant action in sports photography. The manual zoom ring is a pleasure to use, with a wide rubberized grip and smooth, mechanically coupled lens action. A maximum aperture that ranges from f2.8-f3.5 (depending on the focal length setting) is fairly fast, helpful for lowlight and action photography. The Macro capability lets you capture subjects as close as 9.8 inches from the lens, which translates to a very small 1.5x2.0-inch minimum capture area. A host of focus controls provides a lot of flexibility and on-demand manual focus lets you tweak the autofocus setting without switching from auto to manual focus mode.

A significant departure for the A1, though, is its use of a conventional TFT LCD for its electronic viewfinder over the unique reflective ferroelectric LCD used on previous models. The ferroelectric LCD was the source of much comment and rather polarized feelings in the user community, some lauding it for its very smooth appearance and excellent low-light capability, while others were put off by the "crackled glass" effect caused by either camera or subject motion. The new TFT-based design seems to have very high resolution (Minolta hasn't published a spec for its pixel count) and does an excellent job in low light as well, while not showing the crackled glass artifacts of the earlier design. Like those of its predecessors, the A1's EVF offers unique flexibility, with a variable position eyepiece that tilts up as much as 90 degrees. The camera's 1.8-inch LCD monitor also tilts downward about 15 degrees or upward 90 degrees, making it more convenient when shooting at high or low angles.

The A1's exposure system offers three metering options: 300-segment Multi-Segment, Center-Weighted and Spot. Exposure modes include Auto, Programmed AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual, plus four Digital Subject Programs specifically set up for Portrait, Sports, Night Portrait and Sunset exposures. These presets use not only aperture and shutter speed settings to best capture the subjects, but also Minolta's exclusive CxProcess image processing to optimize color balance and skin tones.

Plus, the A1 provides a Digital Effects Control to adjust Color Saturation, Contrast and Filter (hue). The Digital Effects adjustments are particularly notable for their fine gradations and wide range, allowing you to customize the camera's color and tonal response to precisely match your personal preferences. A Color Mode option offers special color effects and a black and white shooting mode, which can be adjusted via the Filter Effects setting. Exposure Compensation is adjustable from -2 to +2 EV in one-third-step increments. A Digital Enhanced Bracketing option for taking three bracketed exposures features two different values adjustable to either 1/3 or 1/2-stop increments. This feature can also bracket any of the Effects options, including contrast and saturation. A customizable AE Lock button can be set to lock only exposure or both exposure and focus. White Balance is adjustable to one of four preset options (Daylight, Fluorescent, Tungsten, Cloudy and Shade settings), along with Auto and Manual options. Shutter speeds range from 1/16,000 to 30 seconds. Maximum lens apertures are f2.8 at the wide-angle end and f3.5 at telephoto. A real-time histogram display mode helps verify exposure before capturing the image.

Autofocus is powered by a Large Scale Integration chip that rapidly processes image data through a high-speed 32-bit RISC processor (a lot of jargon to explain why the A1's AF system is noticeably faster than average among high-end "prosumer" digicams). The autofocus system can determine focus in one of three ways: Wide Focus Area averages readings from a large area across the middle of the frame; Spot Focus Point reads information from the very center of the LCD and Flex Focus Point lets you move a target cross-hair to virtually any position within the viewfinder, so you can focus on off-center subjects without having to aim, lock focus and recompose the shot.

The built-in, pop-up flash offers two ways to meter flash. Advanced Distance Integration bases its exposure on the lens aperture, feedback from the autofocus system, as well as on a separate metering flash. Pre-Flash TTL uses only the small metering flash prior to the main exposure to gauge how much light the scene reflects. The A1 also includes a top-mounted hot shoe for external flash units. An external flash sync terminal offers a standard PC jack for connecting to studio strobes or other external flash devices. Flash modes include Fill-Flash, Red-Eye Reduction and Rear Flash Sync, with Flash Compensation available from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents in one-third-step increments. A Wireless flash mode lets the camera work with certain Minolta-brand wireless flash units. A manual flash mode fires the onboard flash at full, 1/4 or 1/16 power.

Additional A1 features include a Movie (with sound) mode with Night exposure option; Voice Memo mode; Standard and High Speed Continuous Advance modes; 2x Digital Zoom; Interval Recording of two to 240 frames in one- to 60-minute intervals; 10-second Self-Timer; and three Sharpness settings. Five image quality levels include RAW uncompressed files and TIFF, Extra Fine, Fine and Standard compression settings. Resolution options for still images include 2560x1920; 2080x1560; 1600x1200; and 640x480 pixels. Movie resolution is 316x240 pixels.

Minolta has also incorporated Epson's PRINT Image Matching technology. A1 images captured in autoexposure mode and output on compatible Epson printers are automatically color balanced to provide true-to-life hues and saturation.

Powered by a NP-400 rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack (or optional AC power adapter), as well as an accessory hand grip that can power the camera from either six AA cells or two NP-400 packs, the A1 is an amazingly versatile package for the serious amateur or prosumer photographer. USB and A/V cables also accompany the camera but my prototype did not come with a software CD. I assume that Minolta will include a standard software bundle along with the camera.

TEST RESULTS

Color: Excellent color, hue-accurate and appropriately saturated. The A1 did a really excellent job with color overall, producing pleasing, accurate color in most of my test scenarios. Colors were hue-accurate and neither over- nor under-saturated. The Auto white balance setting did quite well outdoors, while the Manual option fared better under more challenging light sources. Overall, arguably the best color I've seen yet from Minolta and excellent by any standard.

Exposure: Good exposure accuracy. A contrasty tone curve, but an effective contrast adjustment. The A1's exposure system did a pretty good job, responding to the various metering challenges in my test suite more or less the same as other top-ranked cameras. The A1's default tone curve is fairly contrasty, but its optional contrast adjustment helps tame the contrast when working with harsh lighting.

Resolution/Sharpness: High resolution, 1,150 lines of strong detail. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 800 lines per picture height vertically and as low as 600 lines horizontally, but I found strong detail out to at last 1,150 lines both vertically and horizontally. Extinction of the target patterns occurred around 1,350 lines.

Image Noise: Noise levels and "grain pattern" roughly in the middle of the 5-megapixel pack, which show higher image noise than did their 2- and 3-megapixel forebears.

Close-Ups: Excellent macro performance and the flash does a good job up close, capturing a tiny minimum area of only 1.96x1.47 inches. Resolution was very high, with some softness in the corners, but not bad when compared to most cameras. The A1's flash did a very good job throttling down for the macro area and exposed the shot evenly.

Night Shots: Excellent low-light performance with good color and low noise and a surprisingly sensitive autofocus system. The A1 offers full manual exposure control and a maximum exposure time of 30 seconds. It thus does very well under dim lighting, especially given its adjustable ISO and Noise Reduction features. The A1 produced clear, bright, usable images down to the 1/16 foot-candle (0.67 lux) limit of my test, with good color at all four ISO settings. The camera's Noise Reduction feature did a good job, although noise was still pretty high at the 800 ISO setting. The A1 doesn't have an autofocus-assist illuminator, but I found its AF system to be surprisingly sensitive. The AF system sometimes became confused near its low-light limit, indicating focus when it wasn't even close. Refocusing by half-pressing the shutter button again generally took care of that.

Viewfinder Accuracy: Excellent accuracy from the electronic viewfinder. The A1's electronic "optical" viewfinder was very accurate, showing almost exactly 100 percent of the final frame at both wide-angle and telephoto zoom settings. The LCD monitor was likewise very accurate, since it shows the same view, just on a larger screen. Given that I like LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the A1's LCD monitor is essentially perfect in this regard.

Optical Distortion: Higher than average barrel distortion at wide-angle, but very low chromatic aberration and very sharp images, from corner to corner. Optical distortion was somewhat high at the wide-angle end, where I measured approximately 1.0 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto end fared much better, with only 0.3 percent pincushion distortion. Chromatic aberration was very low, showing only very faint coloration on either side of the target lines. The A1's images were also unusually sharp from corner to corner, with very little of the softness in the corners that I've come to expect from digicam lenses. All in all, the A1's lens appears to be of unusually high quality.

Shutter Lag & Cycle Time: Very fast shutter response, great cycle time. The production-level A1 proved to be one of the faster-responding digicams on the market. Full-autofocus shutter lag hovers right around 0.6 seconds, regardless of the zoom setting, nearly the fastest of any prosumer digicam I've tested. Cycle time runs a little over a second for large/fine files and the buffer memory holds as many as 5-6 shots before the camera has to slow down to wait for the memory card. While by no means in the same category as most digital SLRs, this would be a great prosumer camera for shooting sports and other fast-paced action.

Battery Life: Really excellent battery life. Thanks to a beefy Li-Ion battery pack, the A1 has about the best battery life of any prosumer camera I've tested.

CONCLUSION

Throughout their evolution, I have continued to be impressed with Minolta's series of digicams, from the 7 to the 7i, 7Hi and now the A1. The new A1 is a very nice upgrade to the 7Hi, adding the benefits of faster shutter speeds, an effective Anti-Shake option, tracking autofocus, an intelligent grip sensor, 14-bit A/D conversion, a tilting LCD monitor and remote capture capability to an already great camera. With its panoply of features and flexible control, the A1 is a serious contender at the high end of the prosumer digicam market. Highly recommended.

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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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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 Canon Powershot A70 at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?50@@.ee91e2f

Visit the Fuji Forum at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?14@@.ee6f779

Tiffany asks about buying a digital camera at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?50@@.ee95d05/0

Erik asks about shooting directly at the sun at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?50@@.ee95c02/0

Visit the Printers Forum at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?13@@.ee6b2b8

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Just for Fun: A Tale of Two Images

Not a day goes by without the introduction of some new hardware or software. It's easy to forget you don't need a particular model or latest revision to work digital miracles. But recently, we were reminded of just what fun it still is to play this game.

We came home the other evening, listened to our phone messages and found out we had a new member of the family to add to our address book. Naturally, we called back and got all the vital statistics and exchanged congratulations. But when we hung up, we sort of wished we weren't 3,000 miles away from the hospital.

So we wandered over to our computer to distract ourselves with a little Web surfing and email checking.

But beating the hospital staff to the punch, someone had actually emailed us a photo of the little surprise. There he was, in his knit cap, eyes shut and taking his first nap.

It didn't take long to run off a print. And if we hadn't been so anxious to pass his picture around, we could even have framed it.

It's a new world. You're born, some relative with a digicam snaps your mug and before you can even open your eyes, people 3,000 miles away are passing around snapshots of you. Talk about the miracle of birth, we thought.

Only a few days later, we held in our hands a very strange photo from no later than 1918. It was the earliest picture we'd ever seen of Grandpa. He was dressed in his Army uniform, standing next to a buddy, both of them holding up medals. Cousin Steve probably disposed of Grandpa's.

He was a canny fellow. His plan was to emigrate here, then join the Army and eventually send for his girlfriend who, upon marriage, would also become a citizen. Only one hitch in the plan: World War I. As soon as he got here and enlisted, he was sent right back to Italy. So this picture predates his wedding portrait.

Unfortunately, it was nearly black with age. And pretty well scratched up from a lifetime, we suspect, in a drawer.

We took it back to our bunker and scanned it. Then we used Photoshop's Levels command to restore normal contrast -- which brought the image right back to life. But it enhanced the scratches nicely, too. So we spent some time drawing over the scratches and spots with Photoshop's Healing Brush. The Healing Brush lets you be a little sloppier than using a Rubber Stamp or Clone tool. But your image editing software only needs a Levels command and a Clone tool to do this. Whatever it calls them, they're no doubt there.

Rather than print the restored image at its small original size, we printed it first as a 4x6 and then as an 8x10. The larger sizes just made it easier to appreciate for older eyes.

And that 8x10 told a story. There was no medal. Cousin Steve hadn't sold it on eBay, after all. What we took for a medal was the sun reflecting off the left lens of a gas mask. Grandpa and his buddy had no doubt just finished basic training and were showing off their bayonetted rifles and gas masks.

Fortunately, it's a new world (isn't it?), as we said. Distance is diminished with an email and time compressed with a scanner. Two relatives, born in different centuries, had their portraits printed here within days of each other. And they never looked better.

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We Have Mail

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: Ray-O-Vac Redux

You just wrote up my encounter with Rita at Ray-O-Vac in your newsletter. More good news. I had two batteries go bad and they sent me four as replacements, plus going to their Web site I find they have a good photo contest going with their 15-minute rechargeable battery system as a prize.

-- R. Knight

(Yeah, but what are you doing to those poor batteries <g>? -- Editor)

RE: HP Thermal Inkjets

There is very little, if any, difference between a "thermal" inkjet printer and a "bubble jet." Both work by rapidly heating a very small quantity of ink so that it expands and squirts out a nozzle. The story goes that this was "invented" by a technician who touched a soldering iron to the side of one of those ink tubes in a ballpoint pen.

Epson's piezo inkjet is quite different. It has the advantage of much lower heat, which makes for a much longer lasting head. This is a good thing because piezo heads are also much more expensive to manufacture. Very few manufacturers use the piezo process.

The one other process (even more rarely used) generates a continuous stream of ink droplets, then deflects and re-circulates unused droplets. I believe the Iris printer is of this type.

-- Greg Marshall

(Thanks, Greg -- interesting story. May explain the invention of the pocket protector, too <g>. -- Editor)

RE: Printers, Inks, Papers

Great and exhaustive review of the HP 7960! Thanks for a good beginning. A start, but a long way to go with so much hardware on the market. Suggestions:

  1. Canon printers have finally caught up with Epson in dye printers! Review at least the i950/960 and wide-carriage versions. (I switched abruptly after many Epson-only years using everything from the Epson Stylus Color to the 2200!)

  2. The big deal is really INK! Is it possible for someone like you, with tight dependence on hardware/software manufacturers, to get serious about the ridiculous cost of OEM ink vs. refilling at much less than 10 percent of the cost? I am getting good results with discount-house inks at $17 per refill kit (one bottle each of five colors plus three bottles of black, each bottle holding 6 [SIX!] Canon i950 refills). A set of 6 OEM cartridges for the $220 Canon i950 costs $77 including tax. Rule of thumb: Three sets of cartridges = one printer including a set of cartridges, thus two sets of cartridges = one printer.

  3. Papers: At your age, you have no time left to review them all! I suggest you consult your readership about favorite candidates. My current favorite: Ilford Galerie Smooth Gloss Paper, $25/100 sheets at Sam's. It is as good as the Canon Photo Paper Pro, which costs around $85/100 sheets.

  4. Print Longevity: I was worried about the water-soluble refill inks fading. My UV exposure testing shows so far no difference, OEM vs. refill inks. Get this: A print using refill inks on Ilford Galerie paper showed absolutely NO adverse effect after being soaked for 30 minutes underwater! Epson Archival Matte paper likewise showed no effect on the ink due to the soaking, although the matte paper tends to be a bit warped after drying. My two-year non-scientific "tests" of Epson inks show that they all fade, including the pigment inks (2000) if not protected and that light is no more important than gases which get in around the edges of protection layers. Ordinary hot-lamination is as good as conservation glass or sheet acrylic in protecting prints.

-- Gene Widenhofer

(Thanks, Gene, maybe we'll get back to that slide show project now <g>! -- Editor)

Great newsletter, even a mug like me benefits from it!! Keep it up.

Regarding ink jet printing paper. Have fallen in love with Kodak Satin Ultima Picture Paper 270gm for my scenic photos but nowhere can I find this material in A3 size.

Also get fantastic results from Celcast Super Glossy 190gn but cannot find this in a satin or matte finish.

Can any of your readers advise me on A3 papers in a heavy weight non-glossy surface?

-- Rex Gourley

(Readers? Anyone have a secret source for hard-to-get papers? -- Editor)

I have used this tip for years now and it always imporesses my friends when they look at my pictures.

Instead of using glossy paper whose photographic surface can accidentally be damaged, I use a transparency. With my printing software, I invert the image (as in a mirror) and print. I use Irfanview (http://www.irfanview.com), the best free tool to see and manipulate images. Irfanview sets the best size for printing.

When your printed transparency is done, you reverse it on a white paper (and why not try other supports like tissue or old paper, toned paper, etc.) and put it in a frame for a luxurious effect.

The glossy surface of the transparency approximates glossy paper and protects the printed surface against dust, humidity, scratches, etc.

-- Thierry Carceller

(And you can put it in an overhead projector, too! Thanks, Thierry! -- Editor)

RE: Fast Memory Cards

Just bought a Canon Powershot SD100, which came with a 16-MB card. So I'm looking to buy a 256-MB MultiMedia card (or Secure Digital). They come in 12x 30x 40x speeds. Can you do an article on how much performance is affected by higher-rated cards in various cameras and what's the cost-effective ratio?

-- Ted

(Generally, we prefer to buy the biggest and fastest cards we can afford simply because they outlast the cameras (we use the same media in many different models). If we aren't tapping into a card's potential today, we might tomorrow. -- Editor)

I wrote to Canon on this subject and their reply was that except for continuous mode (where you can take up to nine pictures by holding the shutter down) there would be no advantage in the faster cards. Canon concluded that if you're not interested in rapid shooting, buy a standard card.

-- Ted

(Hmm, maybe we should explain why you should be interested in continuous mode. It's one way to minimize shutter lag. -- Editor)
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Editor's Notes

Apple (http://www.apple.com) has released a Panther update addressing the FireWire issue, among other things. See Mark Pilgrim's "What's New in Panther" (http://diveintoosx.org/panther) for a solid, illustrated overview of the new release.

Adobe (http://www.adobe.com) told us that they have "been conducting compatibility testing with [the Creative Suite and] Mac OS X Panther and to date no significant issues have been discovered. Adobe and Apple have collaborated a great deal over the last few months. We expect our testing to be complete shortly and will announce our findings."


Canto (http://www.canto.com) has announced Cumulus 6 Single User. Expected to ship in December, this is the first version to support Apple's Mac OS X.


The Plugin Site (http://www.thepluginsite.com) has released FocalBlade 1.01 , a Photoshop plug-in for sharpening photos as well as producing blur, soft focus and glow effects on 8- or 16-bit images.


MediaSchool and Sonic have partnered to develop Sonic University (http://sonic.mediaschool.com). Courses, produced by working professionals specializing in Mac OS X application development, cover how to light for digital video production, how to improve the composition of your video and how to master Sonic Solutions software like MyDVD and DVDit! For a limited time, courses are available at no charge.


Hamrick Software (http://www.hamrick.com) has released VueScan 7.6.65 to support Umax SCSI scanners and the HP 6200C running under Panther and add support for the Umax PowerLook 1120.


Lemke Software (http://www.lemkesoft.com) has released GraphicConverter 4.9.1 [M] with improved TIFF import, support for more Raw formats, drag-and-drop installation of Photoshop plug-ins and more.


Coolatoola (http://www.coolatoola.com) has released version 1.1.5 of DV Backup [M], to backup to a DV or Digital8 camcorder from OS X 10.2 or 10.3.


The Everglades Chapter of the Photographic Society of America is bringing George Lepp to Ft. Lauderdale for a two-day seminar Jan. 31 to Feb. 1, 2004. Saturday will cover Outdoor and Nature Photography and Sunday will discuss The Desktop Digital Darkroom. The full day sessions cost $65/day or $115 for both days and include a catered lunch. For more information, email your name and address to gb3251@juno.com with "Lepp program" as the subject.


Bobby Cronkhite Software (http://bobbysoftware.com) has released ZeboPhoto 1.3.8 [M], an image viewer/editor program. The update adds the ability to flip through images using arrow keys; two new image effects to adjust hue, saturation, brightness and the amount of cyan, magenta and yellow; and speed enhancements.

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Signoff

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Mike Pasini, Editor
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Dave Etchells, Publisher
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