The IMAGING RESOURCE DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY
NEWSLETTER


Volume 5, Number 25 12 December 2003

Copyright 2003, The Imaging Resource. All rights reserved.

Welcome to the 112th edition of the Imaging Resource Newsletter. We discuss a trick designed especially for your holiday photos, Dave gives the new Optio a spin and we report on a book that catalogs the tricks of 30 digital photographers. But don't miss our holiday special -- our way of wishing you the very best.


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: Slow Synching Around the Holiday Lights

We have the same dream every year around this time. Not that one about Christmas past, future and present. That was some other hack. Our dream is that we're spending the holidays at Fawlty Towers, a quaint country inn run by Basil Fawlty (played by John Cleese) and salvaged by his wife Sybil (Prunella Scales).

"Right," we hear Basil confirm behind the reception desk, "the holidays." It's on the list. Of course, it's on the list. As if we have time for the holidays. "Yes, great fun, great fun," he says unconvincingly. "Yes, Sybil, but just one little question, if you have a moment," he smiles falsely. "Who has time for the bloody holidays?!"

Fortunately, the Holidays tend to be enjoyable work, so every year it seems to get done even though no one has time to do it.

In our annual dream, the Spanish waiter Manuel hangs the chili pepper lights and the maid Polly trims the halls with holly (what else?) and Sybil even consents to a kiss from Basil under the mistletoe he somehow found time to hang. Where there's a will, you know, there's a way.

We pitch in, too, gathering the cast together with a wave of our hand and taking the annual Holiday Picture that goes out to all the guests from the past year. "Did you send those cards yet, Basil?" Sybil asks knowing the answer. "The cards? Yes, of course," he lies. "Right away."

But since it's only a dream, our snapshot of the staff always comes out perfect. The tree is brightly lit and decently exposed and every face is smiling. We wake up wondering how we did it.

Because normally, you know, the tree in the background would be dark and the flash would turn everyone into snowmen.

Well, it turns out there is a way. It's easy enough for anyone to try but tricky enough to take a little practice. Which is how it gets perfected, after all.

A LA MODE

The technical name is Slow Synchronization Flash. Cameras have gotten so clever, it may be hidden on yours. Likely you rarely, if ever use it. But this is the stuff it was invented to capture. So let's take a look.

Look first at your flash modes. Cycle through them to see if you have a slow synch mode. Some cameras indicate it with the word "SLOW" next to the flash icon. Some only enable it in Manual mode. Some hide it as a Scene mode called Nighttime.

The trick it performs is to keep the shutter open longer than a normal flash exposure would keep it open. That's all there is to it.

The implications are profound, however. On the downside, there's the risk of blurring the image from camera shake. And the upside, more ambient light gets to the CCD, so the background isn't just Blackness.

THINK SLOW

But it's really a very odd exposure technique. When you shoot in Auto mode, the camera sets the lens aperture and the shutter speed to what we presume to be optimum values. Slow synch sets the aperture to an optimum value but gets kind of slack about the shutter speed.

This works because there are two subjects being lit by different light sources. In fact, you might think of it as a double exposure.

There is one long exposure controlled by the shutter speed. That allows enough light from the otherwise dark background to seep onto the CCD so something recognizable appears there.

The other exposure is controlled by the flash. It isn't bothered by the slow shutter speed because it functions as its own shutter on the main subject.

In typical Slow Synch modes, this effect is rather tamely employed to pick up a little color in the background. But take a few minutes to experiment with the concept and you may just find Extreme Slow Synch can capture miracles.

EXTREME SLOW SYNCH

To play the Extreme Slow Synch game, your digicam has to let you control both the shutter speed and lens aperture. That's known as Manual mode. If you don't have manual mode, you can skip this section.

Start by experimenting with the slowest speed you can hold the camera steady. Generally that's the equivalent fraction of a second of the 35mm focal length. A 50mm lens (which might be 10mm in the digicam world) would require at least a 1/50 second exposure. A 100mm lens (20mm) would require 1/100 second.

That represents the most light you can get from the unilluminated background that isn't blurred. Like a lighted Christmas tree.

Blur, though, is OK in Extreme Slow Synch. So this limit is merely a boundary. Remember it as the place between blur and swirl.

Next, find the right f-stop to expose your foreground subject using the flash. Any slow shutter speed will do. You just want the shutter open long enough for the flash to fire.

We owe this flash-based exposure to Harold Edgerton who, in 1931, built a stroboscopic prototype of today's modern flash. In fact, we now and then refer to our electronic flashes as strobes because they deliver the instant burst of intense light he devised.

Edgerton showed off his invention by taking some very famous photos. He captured the wings of flying hummingbirds by freezing them with a flash that lasted just 1/100,000 second -- far faster than any shutter could open and close. By keeping the shutter open and firing the flash stroboscopically -- several times in succession -- he caught a sequence of poses in one image of a diver as she jumped off the diving board. He's the guy who caught the drop of milk forming a crown as it plopped into a bowl and the playing card being shredded by a bullet. Stuff you just couldn't capture relying on the shutter speed.

His trick was to build a flash so fast it stopped the action, regardless of the shutter. And in slow synch, the flash does the same thing. You control the amount of flash illumination that hits the CCD by setting the f-stop -- and fire.

Two exposures at the same time, one made by the shutter and the other by the flash.

BREAKING THE RULES

After you've tried a few slow synch shots, you may be delighted or despondent. Either way, it's time to break a few rules.

The first rule to break is the one that insists you hold the camera steady. Normally, you have to hold the camera steady to prevent the image from blurring. But this isn't a normal shot. Your main subject is being captured by the strobe, not the shutter. It's going to be fine. So the background can slur. Move your camera -- especially with a Chanukah bush in the background -- and get some special effects for free.

You can, in fact, move the camera pretty wildly and still get a perfectly sharp image of whatever the flash illuminated.

The second rule to break involves flash power. Not all digicams let you adjust the strength of the on-camera flash, but if yours does, experiment with a lower setting than full power. That will give you a better exposure (more color in the faces) at close range.

It will also let you use the f-stop to control depth of field rather than just flash illumination. You can open the aperture up a bit if you can knock the flash power down.

CONCLUSION

Fawlty Towers (available on DVD, BTW, from http://www.bbcamerica.com) always ran at two speeds: the hectic frenzy of Basil's continual frustration and the placid cool of Sybil's disarming competence. Slow synch is very much like that. The quick-tempered flash of the strobe capturing the main subject is married to the patience of the slow shutter gathering in the ambient light. Balancing them can be tricky but the show is always worth watching.

Return to Topics.

Feature: Pentax Optio 555 -- A Full-Featured Compact

By DAVE ETCHELLS
(Excerpted from the full review posted at http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/O555/O55A.HTM on the Web site.)

INTRODUCTION

After co-developing several cameras with Hewlett Packard, Pentax introduced digicams entirely of their own design. Their Optio line featured the two-, three- and 4-megapixel 230, 330 and 430 respectively. The 230 was crafted for an entry-level price with a plastic body, but the 330 and 430 had compact, all-metal bodies. The follow-up metal-bodied 450 and 550 featured four- and 5-megapixel sensors. Now, the Optio 555 broadens the line even further with a 5.0-megapixel CCD and 5x optical zoom lens, in addition to a well-rounded feature set.

CAMERA OVERVIEW

Equal in size and similar in appearance to the Optio 550, the $599 Pentax Optio 555 features a rugged, metal body. The camera sports the same 5.0-megapixel CCD and 5x SMC Pentax lens as the 550, but has a few enhancements, like a longer maximum exposure time and a longer movie recording time. Control layout is similar to 550, as is the overall design. The Optio 555 measures 3.9x2.3x1.6 inches, exactly the same as the 550 model. With the memory card and battery loaded, the camera weighs a slightly hefty 8.8 ounces. The all-metal case no doubt contributes to the camera's weight, but the Optio 555 is still quite portable. Too large for most shirt pockets, it should easily fit into larger coat pockets and purses. Eliminating the need for a lens cap, the 555's compact design includes a built-in, shutter-like lens cover which opens when the lens telescopes out. At 5.0 megapixels, the 555's CCD produces high resolution, print quality images, with options for lower resolution, email-ready images to share with family and friends.

Built into the Optio 555 is a 5x, 7.8-39mm SMC Pentax lens (a 37.5-187.5mm 35mm equivalent). Maximum aperture ranges from f2.8 to f4.6, depending on the zoom setting. Focus ranges from 1.97 feet to infinity in normal shooting mode, with a Macro option covering from 6.0 inches to 1.6 feet. Super Macro mode lets you focus even closer, from 0.8 inches to 2.13 feet. Normal Macro mode is available throughout the zoom range, while Super Macro is only available with the lens at full wide-angle. The Optio 555 offers both manual and automatic focus control, with Spot and Wide AF modes. Spot AF mode focuses from the very center of the frame or from one of four AF points around the central spot. Wide AF mode focuses from a larger area in the center of the frame. There's also an Infinity/Landscape fixed focus setting and a manual focus mode.

The Optio 555 offers up to 4x digital zoom, for an effective zoom capability of 20x. However, I always remind readers that using digital zoom decreases image quality, since it simply enlarges the center pixels of the CCD image. You can choose between the real-image optical viewfinder or the 1.5-inch, color TFT LCD monitor to compose images. The LCD monitor offers an informative display in Record mode, reporting not only shutter speed and aperture settings, but also a wide range of basic exposure options. Additionally, the 555's LCD monitor features a grid display for aligning shots and a histogram display for checking exposure in either record or playback mode.

Exposure can be manually or automatically controlled on the Optio 555, a nice feature for novices wanting to learn more. You get the convenience of automatic exposure when you want it or full manual control when you'd like to experiment. An On/Off button on top of the camera controls the power and a Mode dial lets you select between Manual, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Program, Picture, Movie, Panorama Assist, 3D, Digital Filter, User and Audio modes. Most exposure options are controlled through the LCD's on-screen menu system, which offers very straightforward navigation. That said, you can control the focus mode (auto, macro, landscape, manual or spot AF point selection), self-timer, drive mode, exposure compensation and flash mode externally. You can also configure combinations of external buttons to control your choice of 12 different camera settings. In Manual exposure mode, the user controls aperture and shutter speed (from 1/2000 to 15 seconds), in addition to all other exposure variables. Aperture and Shutter Priority modes give the user control over one variable, while the camera controls the other. Program mode keeps the camera in charge of the basic exposure, though the user maintains control over the rest of the available settings.

By default, the 555 uses a Multi-Segment metering system to determine exposure, which reads points throughout the entire frame to find the best exposure. Spot and Center-Weighted options are also available. Both Exposure Compensation and Flash Exposure Compensation are adjustable from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents in one-third-step increments. You can also adjust the camera's sensitivity setting, which offers ISO equivalents of 64, 100, 200 and 400, as well as Auto. Auto Bracketing mode can bracket either exposure, white balance, saturation, sharpness or contrast. Auto Bracketing mode captures three images at different exposure settings (or any of the other values) and you can adjust the step size. The camera's White Balance setting features an Auto mode but also offers Daylight, Shade, Tungsten, Warm Fluorescent, Neutral Fluorescent, Daylight Fluorescent and Manual options. The built-in flash is effective from 1.31 to 17.1 feet with the lens at full wide-angle, with a more limited range at the telephoto setting. Available flash modes are Auto, Off, On, Auto with Red-Eye Reduction and On with Red-Eye Reduction.

In addition to the standard exposure modes, the Optio 555's Picture mode setting offers nine preset "scene" modes for shooting under unusual circumstances. Once in Picture mode, you can choose from Landscape, Night-Scene, Flower, Portrait, Surf & Snow, Autumn Colors, Sunset, Fireworks and Text settings. Panorama Assist mode lets you capture panoramic images, in either horizontal or vertical directions. Guide arrows appear on the LCD display to let you choose the direction in which the photos will be captured. After the first shot, subsequent frames show a small translucent portion of the previous image to help you line up shots. Exposure is not locked from frame to frame, so some panoramas may still be best achieved by shooting manually. The accompanying software stitches the captured images together into one panoramic frame on a computer.

The 555 also offers a 3D recording mode, which debuted on the Optio 230. In 3D mode, the camera produces three-dimensional "stereo pairs" of images similar to old-fashioned stereographs. The camera helps you capture two images of the same subject (one just slightly off-center from the other) and then combines them as a "stereo pair" in a single frame of image memory. A translucent display of the first image captured remains on the LCD monitor, so you can align everything as you move the camera over slightly to capture the second image. Very slick, this eliminates one of the biggest problems with hand-held 3D stereo photography. The 555 supports either the Parallel format (which means you view the stereo photo with your eyes looking straight on) or the Cross format (which means you cross your eyes to see the stereo effect). Most people seem to have an easier time with the latter, but the 555 includes a pair of 3D viewing glasses, which helps make viewing 3D images in the Parallel format much easier.

The 555 has a nice range of creative tools, including a Digital Filter mode with nine filters including Black and White, Sepia, Red, Pink, Violet, Blue, Green and Yellow and a Soft filter softens the overall image. Image contrast, saturation and sharpness settings provide further creative options. The User setting on the Mode dial lets you save a set of exposure adjustments for quick recall.

In Movie exposure mode, the camera captures moving images with sound as long as the memory card has space. The included 16-MB SD card holds about 41 seconds. Movies are recorded at the 320x240-pixel resolution and limited exposure options are available. The Optio 555 also features an Audio recording mode, which records audio only as long as the SD memory card has space. The 16-MB card can hold approximately 31 minutes of audio. The 555 also lets you record short audio clips to accompany captured images, like a voice caption. Fast Forward Movie mode uses a slower frame rate to capture lengthy sequences (such as clouds moving across the sky), with capture ratios ranging from x2 to x100 faster than normal. No sound is recorded with these high-speed videos. An Interval shooting mode snaps from 2 to 99 successive photos at programmable intervals ranging from 10 seconds to 99 minutes.

Self-Timer mode provides a 10-second delay between pressing the Shutter button and the camera actually taking the picture. A remote control is available as an accessory. For shooting fast action, the Optio 555's Continuous Shooting mode captures a rapid series of images for as long as you hold down the Shutter button, much like a motor drive on a traditional 35mm camera. The space available on the memory card determines the maximum number of images the camera can capture. Resolution, shutter speed and the state of the camera's buffer memory determine the shooting interval. Finally, a Multiple Exposure mode lets you capture two or more images in one frame, much like double-exposure in a film camera.

The Optio 555 stores images on SD/MMC memory cards and comes with a 16-MB SD starter card. I recommend buying at least a 64-MB card at the same time as the camera, so you don't miss any shots for lack of memory space. The camera uses a D-LI7 rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack for power. Both a battery and external charger are included. Since the Optio 555 does not accommodate AA batteries (or any other form of commonly available battery), I highly recommend buying an extra battery pack and keeping it freshly charged. The optional AC adapter could also be useful for preserving battery power when reviewing and downloading images.

TEST RESULTS

Color: The Optio 555 has good color accuracy overall, although its default settings produce color that's a little less saturated than most consumer digicams. Technically, the less-saturated color of the 555 is more accurate than the over-bright color of most consumer cameras, but I've found that consumers generally prefer their photos to be a bit brighter than real life. For those who do like brighter color, the Optio 555's saturation adjustment works quite well, letting you boost the camera's color to suit your tastes. White balance was generally accurate, but the Auto white balance setting has difficulty handling light sources with strong color casts. Look to the Manual option for the greatest flexibility.

Exposure: It handled a variety of lighting situations well, requiring slightly less positive exposure compensation on the high-key outdoor portrait, although the default contrast was high. Indoors, the camera required an average amount of positive exposure compensation, though the flash shot required a great deal more. The camera's default tone curve was somewhat contrasty, causing it to lose highlight and shadow detail under harsh lighting. The 555's contrast adjustment worked quite well though and the low-contrast option helped greatly with dynamic range.

Resolution/Sharpness: It performed very well on the laboratory resolution test chart. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 800 to 1,000 lines per picture height, in both horizontal and vertical directions. I found strong detail out to at least 1,250 lines. Extinction of the target patterns didn't occur until about 1,500 lines. The 555's images were unusually sharp from corner to corner, one indication of a high-quality lens.

Image Noise: While the Optio 555's absolute image noise levels appear typical for a 5-megapixel compact digicam, I was impressed with its very fine, regular "grain structure." I find fine-grained image noise like that of the 555 much less visible and objectionable than the more blotchy-looking noise of most digicams.

Close-Ups: It captured a slightly larger than average macro area, at 3.98x2.99 inches. Resolution is very high however, with excellent detail in the coins, brooch and dollar bill. Even the tiny dust particles on the coins are clearly visible. All four corners were fairly soft though, with the softness extending down both sides of the frame. Most digicams tend to have some softening in the corners of the frame on macro shots, but the 555's macro mode shows the problem more than most. The Optio 555's flash throttled down well for the macro area, with only slight reflections in the coins. Overall, not a terrible macro performance, but if ultra-close macros are a primary need for you, the 555 wouldn't be your best choice.

Night Shots: While primarily a consumer-oriented digicam, the Optio 555 offers a full manual exposure mode, with exposure times as long as 15 seconds. Throw in the adjustable ISO setting and the Optio 555 is a capable camera when shooting in low lighting. It 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 (64, 100, 200 and 400). The shot at ISO 64 is a little dark, but still quite usable. The camera's Auto white balance setting did a good job, although some of the ISO 400 shots have a pinkish cast. The camera automatically employs a noise reduction system at slower shutter speeds, which does an excellent job controlling image noise. Even at ISO 400, noise is only moderate, with a very fine grain.

Optical Distortion: Geometric distortion was lower than average at the wide-angle end, where I measured an approximate 0.4 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto end fared somewhat worse though, as I measured 0.6 percent pincushion distortion there. While the barrel distortion is quite a bit lower than average, pincushion is a good bit higher. Overall, the geometric distortion averages out to being roughly typical. Chromatic aberration was virtually nonexistent, as I couldn't find even one full pixel of coloration on either side of the target lines. The only other distortion I noticed was some corner softness in the macro shot, but other images captured at normal shooting distances were exceptionally sharp from corner to corner. Overall, the lens on the 555 is of unusually high quality.

Viewfinder Accuracy: The Optio 555's optical viewfinder was somewhat tight, showing only 83 percent of the final frame at both wide-angle and telephoto zoom settings. The LCD monitor fared better, showing approximately 95 percent frame accuracy at both zoom settings. The Optio 555's LCD monitor has a little room for improvement, but is certainly accurate enough for most subjects.

Shutter Lag and Cycle Times: Shutter lag is the Optio 555's Achilles' heel. With a shutter delay that ranges from 1.13 to 1.35 seconds, it's definitely on the slow side of average. The pre-focus lag time of only 0.161 seconds is pretty brief, letting you capture fast-breaking action. Cycle times are pretty good, 1.72 seconds at the camera's highest resolution and quality settings.

Battery Life: Excellent battery life for a compact camera. With a worst-case projected run time of 2.36 hours, its battery life is a good bit better than average. My standard recommendation of an extra battery still stands, but a full charge on the 555's Li-Ion battery pack lasts longer than most.

CONCLUSION

With a 5.0-megapixel CCD, 5x optical zoom lens, exposure control ranging from fully automatic to fully manual and a wide selection of creative modes and features, the Pentax Optio 555 offers the functionality of higher-end digicams in a compact, easy to use package. The camera's levels of exposure control make it suitable for any level of user, and novices will be able to gradually expand control as they gain experience. Its color is slightly less saturated than average, but the color saturation adjustment compensates nicely and the hues are accurate. Resolution is excellent and images are sharp from corner to corner, evidence of a high-quality lens. Battery life is a good bit longer than average too. About the only negative point is its somewhat sluggish shutter response. All in all, an excellent choice for a compact digicam with a full set of features. Chalk up another Dave's Pick for Pentax.

Return to Topics.

Book Bag: Shooting Digital

A long time ago, we showed up for a BBQ at a friend's place to find her very excited about a new book, County Fair Portraits. She and her sister had run into the author, Mikkel Aaland, at one of those fairs and admired his work.

Aaland began writing about digital photography a decade after Ansel Adams suggested he take it seriously. We reviewed his earlier Photoshop Elements Solutions in our Nov. 30, 2001 issue. So we were looking forward to reading his new title, Shooting Digital, with about as much excitement as our friend once displayed.

We suspected it wouldn't be the usual tome that rewrites a software manual. We hoped it would provide an interesting perspective on what it is we do when we do digital imaging.

Boy, is this that.

In fact, when we showed it to nephew Joe Two Megapixel, he got his cell phone out, made an entry for Michel Aaland and punched in the book's ISBN 0-7821-4104-8 for the phone number so he could look for it later.

We weren't surprised. It's for people, Aaland points out, "who aren't satisfied with only point-and-shoot photography. It's for people who want to get the most out of their digital camera, regardless of model." And it's consequently not just a compilation of Aaland's tips, but case studies illustrated by over 30 contributors. If you want to know how it's being done today, this is your book.

There is the obligatory introductory chapter, Before You Shoot, that explains the digital terrain including the film/digital gap, picking the right digicam, know your camera, the role of software and accessories and tapping into both information and support. But it does that both comprehensively and clearly and includes some interesting new territory like how to test your camera for quality.

Then the fun begins:

Shooting Great Portaits -- Aaland's specialty, this chapter covers handling the subject, preparation, head and shoulder shots, environmental portraits and group shots.

Photographing Children, Pets and Social Events -- Tips for shooting children, pets and social events while dealing with shutter lag.

Shooting Action -- How to set up your digicam to catch action shots, the best cameras for the job, panning, composing for motion, the decisive moment, focusing on reactions.

Shooting Digital Minimovies -- Tips and case studies for digicam movies, animated GIFs, collages, storyboarding.

Shooting Digital on the Road -- Packing, storage, achieving, shooting candids, handling the weather. In fact, three different pros open their bags so you can see everything from their batteries to their aspirin.

Shooting Interiors and Exteriors -- Image quality, scale, light and location, motion, keystoning, mixing light.

Shooting Beautiful Landscapes -- Three ways to calculate exposure, maximum depth of field, ISO control, neutral density filters.

Shooting Panoramas and Virtual Reality -- From simple panos to movies.

Shooting Your Stuff -- Using indirect natural light instead of flash, relying on software, basic photo studio, studio in a box, lighting techniques.

Shooting Past the Boundaries -- Infrared photography, underwater shots, aerial photos, night shots, grid photos.

Organizing and Sharing Digital Photos -- Direct to print, camera to computer organizing and managing images, sharing photos.

An In Depth Look at Digital Technologies and Procedures -- RAW format, reading histograms, fine-tuning white balance, sensor technology, exposure latitude through software manipulation.

And an 11-page index followed by a short bio of each of the book's 33 contributors.

Interspersed within the pages of each chapter are some very useful sidebars. They're categorized as Software Solutions, Accessories That Make a Difference and Know Your Camera. You'll learn how to test your camera for general quality and shutter lag, what can go wrong with a camera, how to blur a background in software and more.

If we have any gripe, it's the book's Web site (http://www.shooting-digital.com). It's a little thin, but that's only disappointing because the book often refers the reader to the site for more information or lists of suppliers that just aren't there (yet). That, fortunately, can be fixed.

But if you -- or someone you know -- wants to know how other digital photographers do things, this is the book to get. It's full of practical advice on every topic of concern. You'll learn everything from how to pack your camera for a trip to how to fly it in a kite to take aerial photos.

It's more fun than a county fair.

Shooting Digital by Mikkel Aaland, published by Sybex, 288 pages, $35.
Return to Topics.

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 Kodak EasyShare DX6490 Zoom at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?50@@.ee95466

Visit the Sony Forum at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?14@@.ee6f789

Mike asks about zoom versus pixels at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?50@@.ee96150/0

Bonnie asks about a camera recommendation at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?50@@.ee96384/0

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

Return to Topics.

Just for Fun: Our Holiday Special

'Tis the season again when the fun is all about giving. Each year we try to come up with some special tidbit for you. In the past, we've coded some JavaScript to handle some aggravating calculations or divulged our Christmas Eve mousse recipe. You can get them from our Archive (http://www.imaging-resource.com/IRNEWS/index-arch.html):

They all still work, especially the Gift Certificate, perfect for anyone on your list getting into digital photography. A PDF with a nice shot of the Golden Gate, you can download it (http://www.imaging-resource.com/cgi-bin/nl/pl.cgi?gsb) and print as many copies on your inkjet as you need. Then just remember to sign up your recipient at http://www.imaging-resource.com/IRNEWS using the Subscriber Services page.

For this year's gift, we got some help from a little elf named Derrick Story. Derrick donated several copies of the just-released second edition of his Digital Photography Pocket Guide. It was our idea of a terrific stocking stuffer last year when we reviewed it. The second edition is even more colorful -- the cover and the illustrations are now in color -- but it's still just $14.95 from O'Reilly.

We mused long and hard about how to divide these among all our readers. We considered everything from establishing a lending library to forming a book club. But finally we decided to just blindly throw them into the crowd.

So here's what we'll do. If you'd like to enter our blind drawing for one of the books, send an email to editor@imaging-resource.com with the subject "Pocket Guide" and your mailing address (which will die with us). We'll hold the drawing sometime on Friday, Dec. 19.

In this day of spam-contaminated email, we hardly want to send out confirmation emails announcing "Holiday Contest Winner!" So if we draw your name, we'll just ship you the book via U.S. Mail.

There's only one hitch with this. What about everybody else?

Not to fear. We can't give everyone a copy of the Pocket Guide but we can cobble together a little code again.

We call it the Lens Calculator. To get your own copy of the Lens Calculator, just visit http://www.imaging-resource.com/IRNEWS for the online version of this issue. We've plugged it in right about here.

L E N S   C A L C U L A T O R
Enter any actual focal length (eg. from an image):
Focal length: mm
Enter the zoom range of your lens (cf. manual):
Actual focal lengths (wide to tele): - mm
35mm equivalent focal lengths: - mm
The object of the game is to find one of those obscure focal lengths recorded in the Exif header of your image. Then look up the zoom focal lengths on the specifications page of your camera manual and enter both the actual focal lengths and the 35mm equivalents. If you can't find them in the specs, try looking in our database.

L E N S   C A L C U L A T O R   R E S U L T S
For any shot with a focal length of mm:
35mm equivalent focal length: mm
Slowest handheld shutter speed:
The breakdown of your zoom lens ranges is:
Wide-to-Normal Normal Normal-to-Telephoto
- mm - mm - mm
This reports what the 35mm equivalent focal length would be for the focal length you entered above -- which represents a similar crop of your scene but not an equivalent perspective. And it reports the slowest handheld shutter speed recommend for that focal length. Then it breaks down your zoom range into wide, normal and telephoto ranges. You can start thinking in actual focal lengths, instead of 35mm equivalents!


It's our little way of thanking you for continuing to welcome this newsletter week after week. Happy holidays!

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Dave's Deals

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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: Photoshop Album 2.0

Another negative -- I would like to see the file name without having to look in properties.

-- Dale Garvey

(Seems like it's all the rage to hide those mysterious filenames from new photo users. But you can enable their display in Preferences (Show File Names in Details). The File Renaming function isn't terribly impressive, however, offering just a base name. -- Editor)

Read your review of Album with interest. I purchased the program when it first came out. Loaded it and my computer stopped working when I shut down. Reformatted my hard disc per their instructions and reloaded Windows Me. Reloaded Album and lost the computer again. Gave up trying to run the program. They said I am the only one with problems have you heard of others?

-- Jim Horvitz

(We feel your pain -- testing as many software products as we do, we report a lot of things that never happen to anyone else. But a problem like yours would be very hard to hide. It would be reported all over the support forums (including ours). So we suspect it has something to do with your particular hardware. Usually this involves some technical hurdle in the BIOS -- which, lacking an update from your hardware manufacturer, means you have to buy a new computer. There are all sorts of these little known incompatibilities in the Windows world, so even though you may feel like it, you aren't alone. -- Editor)

RE: Music or Data CDs?

Here's a question that was probably answered in Digital Imaging 101, but I must have been behind the door.

Is there any real difference between Data CDs and Music CDs? I've been using Data CDs for everything, including music, slide shows, photo archiving, as well as data. I haven't noticed any difference in sound. Is this just another merchandising ploy or does it really matter?

-- John O'Brien

(There's no difference in quality between the two. The difference between them is a flag that identifies Music CDs for use in consumer standalone audio recorders, where they can prevent making copies of copies (a copy from the original is OK but not from a copy) using the Serial Copy Management System. A portion of their price supports the music industry. Professional audio CD recorders don't require Music CDs blanks. See http://www.cdrfaq.org/faq07.html#S7-17 for more detail. -- Editor)

RE: Shutter Lag Machine

Can you divulge the details of the electronic test setup you use to measure shutter lag and other timing data?

-- Bernard Cuzzillo

(Basically it's a crystal-controlled (e.g., very accurate) electronic counter with very(!) bright LED numerals (21 per digit) that count off either hundredths or thousandths of a second, depending on how I set it. The counter is started/stopped with a handheld push-button switch. Here's what happens: 1) Reset the counter to all zeros, aim the camera at the counter. 2) Use the handheld push-button to mash down the shutter button -- quickly! This starts the counter running and also triggers the camera's shutter. Or more properly, the autofocus, autoexposure, white balance, etc. 3) When the camera fires, it grabs a picture of the counter at that moment. The time shown on the counter (and captured by the camera) is thus the shutter lag time. -- Dave)

RE: Sony Drivers

Hi there, I noticed you have some links to the U.S. Web site for Sony devices. As these are not always the same as models sold in Europe, you might want to add the official European support portal (http://www.sonydigital-link.com).

It's pretty new and growing day by day it seems, so it can be a valuable addition.

-- Koen

(Thanks, Koen! Just updated the Drivers Project (http://69.56.180.238/ARTS/DRV/DRV.HTM) with that link. -- Editor)

RE: Dave's Picks Explained

I noticed that Dave listed the Toshiba PDR-M700 as one of his "picks" in its review -- but I don't see it on the official pick list. Why is that? Did he change his mind?

-- Craig

(It took us a while, Craig, but we did find it at the bottom of the 3-Mp Picks Page (http://www.imaging-resource.com/WB/WB.HTM?view=3). There's a top 10 list at the top of each page, but that isn't an index to the page contents. The 10 "most popular" are scored by their click-throughs to our price comparison pages. -- Editor)
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Editor's Notes

America 24/7 (http://www.america24-7.com) is a 304-page, hard-cover book featuring over 1,200 digital photos from the week of May 12-18 submitted by 25,000 Americans. The book retails for $50.00 and may be ordered with a a high-quality, customized wrap-around dust jacket featuring your own photograph on the cover. Great gift idea.


2004: The year of the Digital SLR? summarizes a 16-page report by Popular Photography and Imaging Magazine covering the plans of Fujifilm, Nikon, Canon, Minolta, Pentax, Olympus, Kyocera, Mamiya and Ricoh (http://www.imaging-resource.com/NEWS/1071245961.html).


Nikon (http://www.nikonusa.com) has announced development of the D70, a $999 interchangeable-lens digital SLR using the Nikon DX format sensor and Nikon F lens mount and a matching DX Zoom-Nikkor lens. Both products are scheduled to go on sale in the spring of 2004.


Pentax (http://www.pentax.com) has announced a compact, high-performance, interchangeable smc Pentax-DA 16mm-45mm F4 ED AL lens with a 3x zoom ratio and focal lengths covering ultra-wide to moderate-telephoto ranges for the angle of view equivalent to 24.5mm-69mm in the 35mm format.


PictureCode (http://www.picturecode.com) has released Noise Ninja 1.1 [W], an image noise removal software application. New features include automatic selection of noise profiles based on Exif data; filter preview toggle; improved batch processing; improved toggling between filtered and original images; reading and writing of monochrome JPEG and TIFF files; keyboard shortcuts for common operations; preservation of JPEG Exif data and ICC profiles; noise profiles for 25 popular camera models and more. A Macintosh version is planned.


Rune Lindman (http://www.qpict.net) has released the $35 QPict 6 for Mac OS X. Updates are available for $14. New features include RAW file support, PostScript support, customizable toolbar, kiosk mode, ColorSync ICC support, Move/Copy To commands, Open With command, improved media import, improved performance, new index database format, improved search, full screen index mode, Unicode support and more.


Gary Fong's (http://www.garyfong.com) BullZeye Color Corrector is a custom version of Pictographics' iCorrect Editlab stand alone application and an example of Pictographics Licensing and OEM Partner Program. BullZeye is designed to quickly and easily adjust brightness and contrast, remove color casts, adjust saturation and profile the image into the reference color space of choice. It's unique file handling and queuing makes it very efficient, Fong said.


Lifescape (http://www.lifescapeinc.com) has updated Picasa [W] to version 1.618. The new version includes a Send Hello button to send an image instantly to anyone else.


DTWSoftware (http://www.dtwsoftware.com) has released its $34.95 PhotoDub Album [W]. A 30-day free trial version of this image management, editing and presentation application is available for download.


Funtigo (http://www.funtigo.com) has announced its photo sharing Web site has added 362 high-quality pieces of clip art from collections of Ultimate Symbol and WebstarWest. An additional collection of 250 GIF animations is soon to follow, according to the company.


Shapiro Consulting Group (http://www.asiva.com) has released it $39 Asiva Selection [MW], a 16-bit selection plug-in for Adobe Photoshop based on the patented Asiva technology.


Canto (http://www.canto.com) has announced the immediate availability of Cumulus 6 (Single User, Workgroup and Enterprise). There are reports that, in OS X, stopping a QuickTime movie preview can crash the application and rotating some JPEG images is unreliable.


The Plugin Site (http://www.thepluginsite.com) has released PhotoFreebies 1.0 [W], a collection of 10 Photoshop-compatible plug-ins that contains sepia effects, saturation gradients, b/w conversion, color space transformations and more.


Bobby Cronkhite (http://bobbysoftware.com) has released ZeboPhoto 1.4 [M]. Memory usage and requirements have been significantly lowered and the ability to view slide shows on alternate monitors has been added.

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One Liners

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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
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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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