The IMAGING RESOURCE DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY
NEWSLETTER


Volume 6, Number 11 28 May 2004

Copyright 2004, The Imaging Resource. All rights reserved.

Welcome to the 124th edition of the Imaging Resource Newsletter. Chalk (er, ink) up another printer review, this time the dazzling Epson Photo Stylus R800 with archival inks, direct CD printing and roll feed. Dave plays with Sony's colorful new Cyber-shot before we dabble in Photoshop automation the easy way. Dig in!


TOPICS

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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: Epson R800 -- Master Printer in a Box

When some desperate soul grabs our lapels as we're trying to cross the street and demands to know which photo printer to buy, we shrug our shoulders and confide, "You really can't go wrong these days." That's been especially true of inkjet printers for a couple of years now, but recently we've become a little more enthusiastic. The leading models from the major manufacturers offer an exciting array of features.

Previously, we raved about Hewlett-Packard's 7960 (http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRINT/HP7960/HP7960.HTM). Its built-in card reader, borderless printing on luxurious media with clever proof sheets that can be scanned for unattended printing produced gorgeous images. Looking over the output, we were sure someone else took the shots, not us.

And for the last few weeks we've been similarly amazed at the output of Epson's $399 Photo Stylus R800 (http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRINT/ER800/ER800.HTM). No card reader, no scanning, but its mix of features defines a different personality. If the HP 7960 is a home print kiosk, the Epson R800 is a master printer in a box.

What's a master printer? It's the guy at the photo lab who can do anything. The one who knows how to do it quickly and better than anyone else. The one who never has to make any excuses. The pro.

HIGHLIGHTS

The R800's feature list is impressive. Epson claims it sports the industry's first 1.5 picoliter droplet (compared to 2.0 for the Canon i960 and 4.0 for the HP 7960), which you'll notice particularly in the highlight detail of your prints. Those miniscule droplets yielding 5760x1440 dpi are feed by an eight-ink Ultrachrome Hi-Gloss pigment ink set, which Epson claims makes prints that are lightfast up to 80 years on glossy or matte media and over 100 years in dark storage.

The quiet print engine is also Epson's fastest, delivering a 4x6 print in 45 seconds and black and white text at 17 pages per minute. And Epson didn't skimp on the ports, either, providing the fastest connections available. The USB 2.0 High Speed port is complemented with a FireWire/iLink/IEEE-1994 port that will be particularly welcome among Mac users.

Any inkjet's claim to fame, however, is its versatility. It's the one device that can just as easily print an envelope as a photo print. But the R800 redefines versatility. It can print on an astonishing array of paper sizes from a 3.5x3.5 minimum to letter, legal, A4, statement, executive, 4x6 5x7 8x10 and roll paper in either 4 or 8.3 inch widths. Full bleed (borderless) printing is available on 4x6 5x7 8x10 and roll paper sizes. Roll papers provide less expensive photo prints than the equivalent sheet sizes but they do require decurling. More interesting to us is roll paper's unique ability to print panoramas.

Pro photographers have long admired the Epson 2200 for its ability to print on a variety of paper types and the R800 can do the same in a smaller format. Epson provides a wide range of papers optimized for their inks including Premium Glossy, Premium Semigloss, Premium Luster, Enhanced Matte, Matte Paper Heavyweight and Premium Bright White. But the printer can also handle more exotic stocks with its straight-through paper path.

You can fit 100 sheets of plain paper, 20 sheets of photo paper or 10 envelopes in its foldout input tray.

But the R800 doesn't just print on paper. It also handles printable 5-inch and 8-cm CD and DVD media, though with less saturation than other media. Epson recommends a 24 hour dry time and cautions against handling even dry media with wet hands, but that's a small price to pay to eliminate Sanford Sharpie markers and adhesive labels.

SPECS

An Energy Star compliant device, the R800 consumes 20 watts when printing but just two in standby and includes a 64KB buffer. It needs 12.1 by 19.5 inches of real estate, standing 7.8 inches tall and weighing 17.6 lbs. without its cartridges. You'll need a depth of about 25 inches once you've extended the input and output trays (which also require another five inches clearance in height).

The attractive silver and dark gray plastic case has a smoked plastic window on top through which you can detect the printhead assembly in action. The front of the printer has four buttons: Power, Paper (load, eject, resume printing, cancel print job), Ink (to access ink cartridges and clean the print head) and Roll Paper (to print a cutting guide and feed roll paper).

The output tray has two positions, a lower position that's inclined slightly upward so paper doesn't fly out of the printer when its ejected (as happens with the HP 7960) and an upper, flat position used to feed the disc tray.

Rated for 25,000 letter/A4-sized pages per month, it includes a one year limited warranty. But you'll have to bring your own printer cable to the party.

SOFTWARE

The R800 can optimize output by reading exposure information from PRINT Image Matching digicams. A Photoshop plug-in is provided to convert that data into the Epson 2001 color space, since Photoshop does not retain PIM data in the Exif header.

It also supports Exif Print technology, which uses exposure data like Scene mode to optimize print settings.

Drivers for Windows 98SE/2000/ME/XP and Macintosh Classic 8.6-9.2 and OS X 10.2 and higher are included. The OS X driver actually installs separate printers for manual feed, roll papers and sheet feed.

The included software runs on both platforms, although it has a Windows motif, let's call it, which Mac users may find a bit kludgey. The applications include Film Factory for organizing, viewing and printing images and Print CD for designing and printing artwork for CD and DVD discs, as well as extensive HTML documentation.

PIEZO PRINT HEADS

Epson uses piezo print heads rather than thermal printheads (as in the HP 7960 and Canon i960). Piezo heads fire ink by using an electrical charge to distort the print head elements. Thermal heads fire ink by heating it until it bursts.

The debate over the relative merits of each technology is intriguing (see our coverage in http://www.imaging-resource.com/NEWS/1063266040.html), but we've found only one important caveat to pass along. Thermal cartridges include new print heads but Epson's piezo print heads are built into the printer, not the cartridge.

Inkjets that do not get regular use will clog as pigment dries in the head. Epson provides nozzle check and cleaning functions in its drivers to maintain the print heads and there are more drastic measures available to cleaning them, too. But failure of a piezo print head usually means replacing the printer. Repairs are possible but expensive.

Both technologies make stunning images, but if you're a casual user, piezo heads might disappoint you.

INK SET

The inks used in the R800 are an intriguing set of pigments. Most inkjets use dye-based inks that are encapsulated in the surface of the media. Dyes provide a brighter and wider range of color but tend to be less permanent than pigments, particularly in media not designed for them. So the HP 7960 requires HP papers to deliver extended lightfastness whereas the R800 can print on nearly anything. Pigments are fade resistant. As the outer layer deteriorates, it is replaced by a fresher layer, much like an onion.

But dyes and pigments are only colorants. To get them from the cartridge to the paper, an ink vehicle is deployed. A dye is dissolved in this vehicle, which evaporates when it gets to the paper. But pigment has to be wrapped in the vehicle, which is a trickier business. Pigments tend to have a hard time on glossy surfaces, where uniformity is difficult to achieve, working best on satin paper finishes. But the R800 has a special Gloss Optimizer cartridge that addresses this weakness rather well.

While matching a specific color (say some corporate PMS color) can be tricky with pigments, the R800 adds two new pigments to build an unusually wide color gamut. The Red and Blue cartridges complement the usual Cyan, Magenta and Yellow cartridges to provide what Epson calls a 22 percent larger color gamut than the HP 7960. The same comparison shows it is six percent larger than the Canon i960 and even one percent larger than Epson's 2200, which uses Light Cyan and Light Magenta rather than Red and Blue.

Cartridges are $15 each (with the Gloss Optimizer provided as a two-pack at that price). Expect about 60 8x10s from a set, although Red, Blue and Matte Black won't run out as quickly as the others. At $13.50 for a pack of 20 Premium Glossy 8x10 sheets, that's about $40 in paper, so the per print price is about $2.60, roughly the equivalent of the HP 7960's $2.50 (given our creative math skills).

PAPERS

Epson sells a number of papers for their line of Stylus Photo printers. The names, however, could use a little elucidation:

Whichever sheet you load, be sure to tell the driver about it. Optimum ink coverage is quite different for a glossy sheet that can hold out the ink than it is for a matte sheet that absorbs it.

THIRD PARTY OPTIONS

Any day now, we expect to see some television murder mystery solved by the discovery, in a crime lab, that the perpetrator did not use genuine Epson ink and paper. There is a difference.

The difference may not be discernible outside a crime lab and may not be as important as the penny saved, but the complexities of ink manufacture and the chemical interaction between ink and paper persuade us that it's small tribute to pay when you need the best out of the printer.

This goes for HP as well as Epson. Of course, neither company (to our knowledge) manufactures their own inks and papers. But that doesn't mean the actual manufacturers are free to rebrand the same stuff for sale at lower prices.

The small droplet size of the Epson's permanent print heads are a further caution against using third-party inks. That said, we wouldn't hesitate to run a favorite paper through the Epson. It may not be optimized for the inks, but we might just like what we see.

ROLL PAPER

While the R800 includes a two-piece roll adapter, our evaluation unit didn't include roll paper. So we hustled down to CompUSA and picked up a roll of 4-inch paper that had a nice patina of dust on it for $18. That's 26 feet of paper or 52 4x6 with no waste (but there will be waste). That's less expensive than buying 4x6 sheets but more expensive than printing 4x6 dye subs from, say, one of the Hi-Touch printers (which can do it for about 40 cents a shot).

Roll paper has a distinctive curl to it, which gets more pronounced the deeper into the roll you get. Just to feed the paper into the straight-through paper path on the R800, you have to decurl the first six inches or so. Epson shows how to do that using the roll paper manual so you don't blemish the print surface.

After printing, you'll want to decurl the paper before cutting it. We rolled it up in the opposite direction and bound it for a few hours with a rubber band. When we released it, the paper laid perfectly flat. And stayed that way. Of course, you can also get it to lay perfectly flat when you mount it and frame it.

The R800 does not include an automatic sheet cutter (as on the Stylus Photo 960), nor is one available as an attachment.

Our interest in roll paper, however, wasn't for printing 4x6 images. We have a number of panorama prints (built with Photoshop Elements) that we've printed on 8.5x11 inch sheets to mount in APS panorama frames. That's always a bit disappointing, like looking at a letterbox-formatted movie on a 13-inch television.

But with the R800, we doubled the size of our panoramas and they sprang to life. Key to this is the ability of the driver to created custom page sizes, although getting width and height straight was a bit counter-intuitive.

SIDE BY SIDE

We printed a particularly vibrant hibiscus on three different printers and compared them side by side. We invited various visitors to compare them without knowing which printer printed any particular print. And the results were fairly evenly distributed. As we said, you can't lose.

That said, we can make a few observations. The dye sub print from a Hi-Touch printer was more saturated but less sharp than either the HP 7960 or the R800 print. The two inkjet prints were really very hard to tell apart.

BLACK & WHITE

For all the interest in color prints, it's worth noting that both the HP 7960 and the R800 have special features for printing black and white images. The HP uses a special ink cartridge with three grays (light, medium and dark) while the R800 includes a Matte Black ink cartridge in addition to its regular Black.

The additional blacks are designed to provide a wider tonal range without the color cast typically introduced when printing a quadtone, a neutral monotone using the primary color inks. We detect a color cast even in these neutral blacks (both HP's and Epson's), so we aren't disturbed by any we find in a quadtone, which you can at least shift to a warmer or colder cast. But they do provide a richer black and white print than using black alone.

Bit the Epson really outshone the HP in this category. For two reasons.

The first is that the Epson is perfectly at home printing on several paper types including Photo Glossy, Premium Luster, Enhanced Matte and Matte Heavyweight. The matte papers make a flatter print, with less density in the shadows, since the paper absorbs the ink, but their high tones are brighter for the same reason. Luster doesn't absorb as much ink thanks to its medium glossy surface.

The second reason is the R800's 1.5 picoliter droplet. Even under magnification, you can't detect any screen pattern in these prints.

On the glossy and luster surfaces, what you see looks like grain, but not your father's grain. It's a very, very fine grain pattern that makes our old 8x10 RC prints from Tri-X look like pointillist paintings. That's true even in the highlights of a color print, where again all you detect is the slightest pattern of grain, much finer than we ever saw in our darkroom prints.

But on the matte surfaces, you can't see anything but tone. The absorption of the very fine spot of ink completely obliterates any sort of grain pattern, creating very smooth washes of sky, for example.

In contrast, HP's glossy surface paper encapsulates its dye inks and the screen pattern (indeed the rows themselves) is discernible under magnification. Prints enjoyed at normal viewing distances are perfectly delightful, understand, but we found the Epson's range and resolution much more exciting for black and white prints.

PLAIN PAPER

An inkjet, we have observed, is an all-in-one printer, capable of producing photo-quality images as well as letters and envelopes. But not all photo-quality inkjets are capable of handing the routine page printing of a small office or home user. And most inkjets that do handle those tasks aren't optimized for printing photos.

We were delighted to find the Epson equally at home printing plain paper as it is making high-quality prints. It can handle up to 10 envelopes (in various standard sizes) and flies through text printing from a word processor. It did a very attractive job of printing Web pages from our browser, too.

We simply can't think of an application with a Print menu that the R800 won't flatter.

DISCS

Sooner or later your precious images end up being archived on CD or DVD discs. And since there will be more than one of them, some labeling scheme is essential. We've managed until now by using a Sanford Sharpie (favored by autograph hounds) losing no data with images dating back to 1998. Paper labels with adhesives scare us, but we limit them to discs we present as souvenirs or gifts. We suspect they get lost before they deteriorate.

Since CDs are such an important part of the digital imaging experience, wouldn't it be nice if your inkjet could print labels for them? The R800 can. And it's one case where you don't have to worry about using non-Epson media. Any inkjet printable disc is fine (but not thermal printable discs).

Start with cleaning the printer rollers by running blank paper through the printer. Press the Paper button to load the sheet and press it again to send it through.

Epson recommends burning the disc before printing it. Printing is messy by nature and burning needs pristine conditions. Once burned, you drop the disc into the black plastic tray (using the adapter ring for 8cm discs).

The printer output tray actually has two positions. For normal printing, you simply drop it down. But for CD printing, you pull it up until it stops before slipping it into its upper position, which lays it flat. Insert the tray until the white arrows along the side are aligned with the matching arrows on the output tray. Then press the Paper button to load the disc into the printing position, which nearly consumes the tray.

The next trick is to create the cover artwork. Epson provides a special application, Epson Print CD, just for that. But you can (probably) build your own template in any image editor using an 8.5x11 inch page size, centering the 4.75-inch disc side-to-side and dropping it 4.25 inches from the top. Or just do the artwork to size in your image editor, save it as a JPEG and take advantage of Print CD to print it.

Print settings are for Letter size and Manual Feed. Don't forget to set CD/DVD as the media type.

Discs print quickly. We timed one at 23 seconds to transfer the data and 1:10 to print for a total of 1:33. Epson recommends letting them dry 24 hours before using them.

FIREWIRE VS. USB

Epson provided some interesting test timings for printing over the FireWire 400 and High-Speed USB ports on the R800 from a Sony Pentium running Windows XP Professional.

While FireWire 400 can (obviously) transfer at 400 megabits per second, the USB 2.0 spec has been somewhat less straightforward. In fact, according to the 2.0 specification, USB 2.0 encompasses three speeds: low (1.5Mb/s), full (12Mb/s) and high (480Mb/s). Only High-Speed USB achieves the highest data transfer rate of 480 Mb/s. That's what you get with the R800.

Total print times for a borderless 8x10 were 2:57 for FireWire, 3:00 for USB 2.0 and 4:55 for USB 1.1. An 8x10 with borders printed in 2:27 for FireWire, 2:29 for USB 2.0 and 4:15 for USB 1.1.

Spool times were fastest with FireWire (13 seconds for borderless and 15 seconds for bordered) but USB 1.1 beat out USB 2.0. USB 1.1 spooled in 14 and 15 seconds compared to 16 and 16 for USB.

The main advantage of FireWire capability for Macintosh users is that it provides high-speed data transfer to their printers even though they don't have a USB 2.0 port. Very few inkjets offer FireWire printing but when you are printing 8x10s, you appreciate shaving nearly two minutes off your print time from the standard USB 1.1 port.

For Windows users, FireWire's main advantage is freeing the more versatile USB port to handle other devices that are only USB, like tablets, mice, keyboards, card readers, etc.

So it's a welcome feature for anyone but of significance for Mac users.

FILM FACTORY

Film Factory provides a convenient way to print your images in ways that are not easily managed in your typical image editor.

The Main Menu lets you select Standard Prints, Index Prints, Duplicate Prints, Album Pages, Greeting Cards, Sticker Prints, Calendars and Combo Prints. These options generally provide simple-to-use layouts for printing your images. The Main Menu also makes it simple to import, export and select images already on your hard disk. Film Factory does offer a number of retouching tools that are easy to use even for beginners. It also has a built-in slide show.

We selected 16 images from one outing, set the print options and let it fly after loading the printer with 5x7 paper. At 45 seconds per image, we took a shower and came back to find a stack of nicely printed images dry to the touch with no offsetting.

There are a few user interface annoyances. Slides must be slid, they don't jump to where you click. And orientation is best left alone if you have rotated your images. But for all the smooth packages that don't have the features you need, it's nice to find one that can do anything you want.

PRINT CD

Our first experience with Print CD, the CD artwork application, was frustrating. Then we read the manual.

Two buttons are all you need to quickly put together artwork to print on your disc. A background button brings up a wealth of options, letting you easily select and mask an image. Just drag the mask around for the best fit. A text button lets you add text, color it and use a rudimentary drop shadow. Some text effects to distort and run the text along differently curved paths are also available.

Once we knew how to play the game, we put together a simple label very quickly.

The program also lets you adjust the print position (and a cardboard blank is provided to check position). You can also adjust the print density to account for differences in how discs from various manufacturers absorb ink.

CONCLUSION

You can't go wrong, we have to repeat, but there's a lot of ways you can go right with the Epson R800.

It will be particularly appreciated by those who enjoy printing beyond the 4x6 Jumbo. Roll-fed panoramas, printable CD/DVD discs, a range of color and black and white papers that reminds us of darkroom debates over Seagull, Ilford and Kodak papers all printed with archival pigment inks are features that tug at the pro, enthusiast and artist.

But the excellent plain paper printing (including envelopes) and convenient batch printing with PIM and Exif Print enhancements will be applauded by the average Joe and Jane, too.

We had so much fun with it, the batteries on our Quibble Meter ran down and we didn't bother to recharge them for this review. But then, you just don't quibble with a master printer.

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Feature: Sony DSC-P100 -- Red, Silver & Blue

By DAVE ETCHELLS
(Excerpted from the full review, to be posted next week. Watch for it at http://www.imaging-resource.com/NEW1.HTM on the Web site.)

INTRODUCTION

Sony is well known for its camcorders, notebook computers and other multimedia products, blazing a long trail of innovations, including the first electronic still camera (the Sony Mavica, released in 1981). In the subcompact camera market, they've developed a unique line of Cyber-shot digicams with a thin, elongated profile, which lets them slide easily into small pockets, yet provides plenty to grab onto.

The latest addition to the series is the $399 P100, with a 5.0-megapixel CCD, 3x optical zoom lens and an expanded range of nine preset Scene modes and Manual mode. The 3x zoom lens (with Macro mode) is great for recording a wide range of subjects, from close-up portraits to scenic vistas. The P100 offers greater speed with Sony's new Real Imaging Processor and a Carl Zeiss Vario Tessar lens. Finally, the P-100 is available in Red, Blue or Silver.

OVERVIEW

The P100's size ranks it among the smaller Sony Cyber-shots on the market, perfect for travel and leisurely outings. It definitely passes the shirt pocket test and would even fit into a rather small handbag. The P100's compact shape isn't all the camera has to offer though. A 5.0-megapixel CCD and an all-glass, 3x zoom lens deliver sharp, clear pictures, suitable for printing as large as 8x10 inches. There's also an email size option for efficient Internet transmission. Plus, the handful of preset Scene modes handle a wide range of common exposure situations, from beach scenes to night shots.

The P100's 3x optical zoom lens has a focal range from 7.9-23.7mm, the equivalent of a 38-114mm lens on a 35mm camera. Focus ranges from 19.7 inches to infinity in normal focus mode, with a macro setting as close as 3.9 inches. Although the camera does not have a manual focus option, it does offer a range of fixed focus settings, from 0.5 meters to infinity. The five-area Multi-Point AF system bases focus on one of five areas in the center of the frame. You can opt for Center AF mode, which bases focus on the very center of the frame. Also available are two AF operating modes: Single and Monitoring. In Single AF mode, focus is set whenever the Shutter button is halfway depressed. Monitoring mode constantly adjusts focus before the Shutter button is halfway depressed, which locks focus (this mode is likely to drain battery more quickly than the others because the focus motor and image processor are constantly at work). The camera's AF illuminator helps the camera focus in dark conditions and works well with the Twilight scene modes.

In addition to 3x optical zoom, it also features up to 4x Smart Zoom, Sony's implementation of digital zoom. Sony's Smart Zoom does not resample the image, so no image deterioration occurs. Pixels are simply excised from the central portion of the sensor's image and packaged as a separate file. When the optical zoom reaches 3x, Smart Zoom takes over, if enabled in the Setup menu. The maximum total magnification available for 3.1-MB images is 3.8x, 1.M is 6.1x and VGA is 12x. Note though, that as a result, Smart Zoomed images will always be restricted to sizes smaller than the camera's full resolution.

The P100 has a real-image optical viewfinder and a larger 1.8-inch color LCD monitor for framing shots. An information display on the LCD monitor reports a handful of camera settings (including aperture and shutter speed) and features an optional live histogram display as well. The histogram graphs the tonal distribution of the image, giving you a quick idea of any over- or underexposure.

Exposure is controlled automatically or manually on the P100, great for both novices looking for simplicity and for those wanting a little more control. An On/Off button on top of the camera powers it on and a small Mode dial on the back selects between Playback, Automatic, Program, Manual, Scene, Setup and Movie modes. Automatic controls everything except flash, macro and resolution. Program mode also automatically sets aperture and shutter speed, but gives you control over a number of other exposure variables. Scene mode offers a range of preset exposure modes, including Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Landscape, Soft snap, Snow, Beach, High Speed Shutter, Fireworks and Candle modes. Both Twilight modes optimize the camera for low-light shooting by allowing shutter times as long as two seconds, while Landscape mode sets the camera up for shooting distant subjects. Soft snap mode warms skin tones and sets focus to slightly soft. Snow mode enhances saturation and adjusts exposure, to prevent loss of color in bright white snowscapes, while Beach mode ensures that blue tones are recorded accurately in lakeside or seaside photos. High-speed shutter mode is for shooting action or bright subjects. Fireworks mode preserves color in shots of fireworks or other night light displays by fixing the lens aperture at f5.6 and setting the exposure time to the 2-second maximum. Candle mode slows shutter speeds and biases exposure to keep candlelit scenes looking natural; a tripod is recommended in this mode.

By default, the P100 uses Multi-Metering mode to determine exposure, reading five sections across the frame. For higher-contrast subjects or pinpoint readings, it also offers Spot metering. Exposure Compensation is adjustable from -2 to +2 exposure values, in one-third-step increments. Sensitivity options include 100, 200 or 400 ISO equivalents and Auto. White Balance options are Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, Incandescent and Flash modes. Picture Effects yields sepia or black and white images. The camera also offers Sharpness, Saturation and Contrast adjustments. The flash operates in Forced, Suppressed, Auto, Red-Eye Reduction and Slow-Sync modes and an intensity adjustment controls flash output (in an increment of one unit higher or lower than normal).

In Movie mode, the camera captures either 640x480- or 160x112-pixel resolution movies with sound as long as the memory card has space (640 mode requires a Memory Stick Pro card). Multi Burst mode captures an extremely rapid 16-frame burst of images, at a rate of 7.5, 15 or 30 frames per second. Multi Burst shots are played back on the camera in slow-motion animation, but appear as a single large file with 16 sub-images on a computer. Self-Timer mode provides a 10-second shutter delay. Burst mode records nine full resolution images in quick succession, while holding down the Shutter button. As many as 100 VGA images can be recorded before the buffer is full.

Images are stored on Sony's Memory Stick media (a 32-MB stick is included) and can be downloaded via a speedy USB 2.0 connection. An AV cable is also provided for viewing images or slide shows on your TV. The P100 is powered by a Sony InfoLITHIUM battery pack (NP-FC10 or NP-FC11 model) and comes with an AC adapter and battery charger.

TEST RESULTS

Color: The P100 produced good color, with only a slight color cast with each white balance setting. It did particularly well in the Outdoor Portrait, with natural-looking skin tones and flawless handling of the difficult blue flowers. Indoors though, it had a little trouble with household incandescent lighting, leaving it warmer than I like.

Exposure: Exposure was very good on the P100, requiring less adjustment for difficult lighting conditions than usual. Like most consumer digicams, its default tone curve is somewhat contrasty. But its low-contrast adjustment is much more effective than on other cameras, taming even the extreme contrast of the Outdoor Portrait.

Resolution/Sharpness: The P100 performed very well on the laboratory resolution test chart. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at 1,000 lines per picture height vertically and around 800-900 lines horizontally. I found strong detail to about 1,250 lines vertically and 1,300 lines horizontally. Extinction of the target patterns didn't occur until 1,600-1,700 lines.

Image Noise: Overall, I was surprised and impressed by how clean the images were, with noise levels lower than I expect from a 5-Mp camera, let alone a compact model. I did see some blooming though, where a bright, highly-saturated color abutted a dark area. I still give the P100 high marks for low noise levels, but wish its noise-suppression algorithm was a little more gentle.

Close-Ups: The P100 performed fairly well in the macro category, capturing a minimum area of 2.42x1.81 inches. Resolution was high and detail strong. Curvature of field in the lens resulted in soft corners in the image, extending a fair ways into the frame. The flash almost throttled down enough for the macro shot, but is too far to the left to be effective when shooting this close.

Night Shots: The camera produced clear, bright, usable images down to the 1/16 foot-candle (0.67 lux) limit of my test, with good color at all three ISO settings. Again, it handles noise quite well even at ISO 400. The bright autofocus-assist lamp helps focus on nearby objects even in complete darkness. Even without the AF assist, it can focus (albeit slowly) with only 1/8 foot-candle. Very impressive.

Viewfinder Accuracy: The P100's optical viewfinder is a little tight, showing about 84 percent frame accuracy at both wide-angle and telephoto. The LCD was just slightly loose, showing more than the final frame. Still, the LCD's frame accuracy was very close to 100 percent.

Optical Distortion: Optical distortion on the P100 is about average at the wide-angle end, with approximately 0.9 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto end fared much better, with only 0.04 percent pincushion distortion (about one pixel). The Zeiss lens quality shows in the P100's images, which are sharper from corner to corner than those of most cameras. There's also relatively little chromatic aberration. Overall, an excellent performance from such a compact digicam lens.

Battery Life: Thanks to Sony's InfoLithium battery technology, the P100 shows really excellent battery life with 202 minutes runtime in capture mode with the LCD on and 379 minutes in playback mode.

CONCLUSION

With its small size and large feature set, the P100 is an excellent and unusually capable subcompact digicam. Housed in a very small package is a 5.0-megapixel CCD, a sharp, high-quality 3x optical zoom lens, nine preset Scene modes and a host of creative options. Its pictures exhibit excellent color and sharpness (although I'd like to see better handling of incandescent lighting) and surprisingly low noise levels. Its contrasty tone curve can be tamed by its contrast adjustment control. Macro mode is very good and it is unusually capable in low light. Add really excellent battery life and a surprisingly fast shutter response and you've got a real winner. Definitely a Dave's Pick!

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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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Advanced Mode: Cruise Control for Photoshop CS

We got a little tired of stumbling through one of our routine procedures in Photoshop the other day. It wasn't simple enough to record an Action and it was too complicated to bang out a script. Wouldn't it be nice, we thought, if we could just set Photoshop on cruise control?

Photoshop CS has just such a feature, actually.

Buried in the Adobe Photoshop CS/Scripting Guide/Utilities folder, you'll find the ScriptingListener plug-in waiting for you to move it into the Adobe Photoshop CS/Plug-Ins/Adobe Photoshop Only/Automate folder.

Next time you launch Photoshop, Mac users will see the file ScriptingListenerJS.log on their Desktop and Windows users will see it in their root directory. Photoshop will write JavaScript code to ScriptingListenerJS.log for anything you do in Photoshop. Here, for example, is the code to Revert to the last saved version of the image:

var id638 = charIDToTypeID( "Rvrt" ); executeAction( id638, undefined, DialogModes.NO );

This is particularly handy for situations that are only scriptable in JavaScript. But it's useful for any task too complex to be recorded by an Action.

Photoshop supports several scripting languages, but JavaScript is the only one that runs on both Mac and Windows platforms. You can easily access your JavaScript scripts from the File Scripts menu, too.

Which is fine if the task can be done exclusively in Photoshop. But if you want to tap into the power of other applications, you'll need AppleScript on the Mac or Visual Basic on Windows to run the show.

You don't have to abandon your JavaScript, though. You can wrap the JavaScript in AppleScript, for example, using AppleScript's marvelous "do" command. Create an AppleScript application with an "on open" handler to deal with any number of files you drag and drop on it. Tell the current document to "do JavaScript," enclosing the command culled from ScriptingListenerJS.log in quotes and curly brackets. Finish by saving and closing the opened files in AppleScript.

(Quick tip for Panther users. If you installed Panther over Photoshop CS, a quick reinstall of Photoshop will put Adobe Unit Types in the right place and reveal a new scripting dictionary without disturbing your plug-ins.)

You won't want to leave ScriptingListener active in your Plug-Ins folder because it slows down Photoshop's launch and adds the overhead of writing to the log every time you do something in the program. But then you wouldn't slip into cruise control for city driving, either, would you?

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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 Pro1 at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?50@@.ee99413/0

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

Dani asks about choosing a camera for pro photography at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?50@@.ee9886a/0

Kitty asks about tripods at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?50@@.ee97c33/0

Visit the Scanners Forum at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?14@@.ee6b2ae

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Dave's Deals

Looking for special prices on featured products? Because of their time-limited nature, we only publish them in the email version of this newsletter. The good news is that you can subscribe for free on our Subscriber Services page:

Subscribe for Great Deals!

We deliver -- just Subscribe!

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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: Slide Shows

I had to make a slide show on a short deadline. After trying some very expensive and not very good programs, I found Photo Story on CD DVD by Magix. It was very inexpensive, as are all their programs, and very good. Its four-track editor allows all sorts of transitions and effects, both in sound and picture. The quality of the end product depends on the computer resources and it will produce anything from a computer file to a DVD or Super CD. The important thing is that it allows you to associate the sound track(s) and picture track(s) in any way you want. You can simply push them around to get what you want.

-- Al Clemens

(Thanks, Al. Read on <g>. -- Editor)

I too have tried many different slide show programs, at least six I can remember. One particular requirement for me is to be able to have a narration track I can associate with one or more slides and also to have a second audio track for background music to run under the narration. I have found Magix Photostory on CD & DVD 2004 meets my requirements, is fairly easy to use and costs only $39.99 on CD or $34.95 downloaded. It also incorporates a lot of the features of Magix's Audio Cleaning Lab 2004 (another excellent $39.99 product) so you can record and clean audio material right in Photostory. I don't recall you ever reviewing the Magix products but I think they are an excellent value.

Thanks for the great newsletter and Web site. I turn to you first when I'm researching any purchase.

-- Tom Rathburn

(Thanks, Tom. No, we haven't reviewed it, but it's now on our list. -- Editor)

RE: Canon Powershot Pro1

I read with great interest your review of the Canon Powershot Pro1 as I am about to buy an 8-Mp digicam.

You mention the benefit of shooting in RAW with this camera and I just wanted to find out if your conclusions were made after you have considered the Minolta A2, which is said by some to have very good RAW capabilities. I am unable to find a review of this camera on your site.

-- Paul Wayne

(Raw format is the 7-Up of image formats, an unformat. It's the data the sensor captures before it's processed by the smarts in the camera. One sensor manufacturer's Raw is unlike any other manufacturer's. What Dave was talking about was how quickly the Canon Pro1 captures images in Raw format, a performance issue. His finding was that it's the only one in its class that can save Raw data quickly enough to actually be useful in the field. -- Editor)
(Our A2 review is currently in-process. It does indeed have very good RAW-mode capabilities, actually faster than the Pro1 when you shoot in the RAW-only mode, vs RAW+JPEG. -- Dave)
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Editor's Notes

O'Reilly (http://www.oreilly.com) has published its $29.95 Digital Photography Hacks by Derrick Story. Featuring a foreword by photographer Rick Smolan, co-creator of the bestselling America 24x7 and half a dozen hacks by the editor of this newsletter, the book offers 100 clever solutions to common problems.

The company has also published the $24.95 third edition of iPhoto 4: The Missing Manual by David Pogue and Derrick Story.


Reindeer Graphics (http://www.reindeergraphics.com) has revised its free plug-in Adaptive Equalization, to include a larger preview and an improved blending function.


DataRescue (http://www.datarescue.com) has updated PhotoRescue, adding support for Raw file formats and improving movie file support.


1STEIN (http://www.codedcolor.com) has released an English version of its $48 image management software CodedColor PhotoStudio 3.4 [W].


Extensis (http://www.extensis.com) has released its $199.95 asset manager Portfolio 7 and $3,499.95 Portfolio Server 7 for Windows. Highlights of the new version include NetPublish, an add-on module that makes Web sites from image catalogs and one-click CD/DVD archiving. Macintosh versions will be available in May, the company said.


XtraLean Software (http://xtralean.com) has released its free ImageWell [M] to edit, rotate, crop and resize images and upload them to an iDisk (.mac account), FTP server or WebDAV server.


Alera (http://www.aleratec.com) has announced its $29.99 DVD/CD Disc Repair Plus kit, which includes a motorized system with buffing, cleaning and repair wheels, as well as specialized liquid solutions. Open the lid, put three drops of solution on the wheel, insert the scratched or dirty disc and press Repair.


Apple's (http://www.apple.com) 10.3.4 update to OS X improves compatibility with mass storage devices like digicams, SCIS or RAID PCI cards and USB and FireWire devices; and addresses a kernel panic caused by some Canon digicams in ESP mode.


Reallusion (http://www.reallusion.com) has released its $49.95 FaceFilter Studio [W], which enhances expressions with muscle tuning tools, removes skin blemishes with skin filtration tools, smooths wrinkles, eliminates red-eye in one click, improves facial structure and corrects color balance in portrait photos.

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One Liners

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

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

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

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

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Signoff

That's it for now, but between issues visit our site for the latest news, reviews, or to have your questions answered in our free discussion forum. Here are the links to our most popular pages:

Daily News: http://www.imaging-resource.com/NEWS.HTM
New on Site: http://www.imaging-resource.com/NEW1.HTM
Digicam index: http://www.imaging-resource.com/DIGCAM01.HTM
Q&A Forum: http://www.imaging-resource.com/FORUM.HTM
Newsletter Forum: http://www.greenspun.com/bboard/q-and-a.tcl?topic=irnews
Tips: http://www.imaging-resource.com/TIPS.HTM

Happy snapping!

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

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