|Volume 6, Number 19||17 September 2004|
Welcome to the 132nd edition of the Imaging Resource Newsletter. Follow along as it gradually dawns on us that our favorite hard disk has bought the farm. Dave takes a look at Nikon's long zoom with a nice personality. And we see an inadvertent example of self-policing in the professions (well, ours).
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You have no idea the trouble we go through to come up with stories for each issue. Why just the other day we flirted with disaster just so you'd have some idea what it's like and how to overcome it. If you've ever considered living vicariously, this is your chance.
SATURDAY MORNING BEFORE CARTOONS
Too early for the sun to rise, we make some revisions to our code for a new software project (right, Photo of the Day) and upload it to the server.
After the uploaded, our hard drive makes a clippity clop sound and the system stalls waiting for the disk to stop thrashing. When we get control of the cursor back, we launch our browser only to hear the disk thrashing again.
We put the computer to sleep and go back to bed, too tired to launch into any diagnostics. But we've got a nightmare on our hands.
ON DISK NOISE
Hard drives make all sorts of noises. They're like refrigerators. They all sound like they're going south. As long as they sound like that every day, no problem. When they don't sound like they're going south, you've got a problem.
Our third laptop, circa 1997, would occasionally screech at us as if metal was grinding into metal. After we'd run a disk utility on it, we wouldn't hear the sound again for a year. So we ran that disk utility regularly to prevent the problem. Today that drive is still spinning for our little brother (who whines, but doesn't screech).
We hoped our IBM/Hitachi Travelstar was having the same problem.
DON'T ASK THE PATIENT
The Travelstar is a modern hard disk with built-in Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology. S.M.A.R.T. (http://www.freepgs.com/smart) drives constantly monitor critical parameters like disk heads, surface state, electronics, head-to-disk flying height, etc. to warn you when things actually are going south.
S.M.A.R.T. technology can predict up to 70 percent of all hard disk problems if you regularly retrieve it for analysis. And you can do that with a variety of programs, including disk repair utilities.
So we asked our favorite third-party disk utility to retrieve the S.M.A.R.T. report. "This hard drive's built-in S.M.A.R.T. diagnostics indicate the drive is functioning normally."
Right. Never ask a patient how they feel. "Fine!" they always say as they pass out.
If the hardware really is sound, we reasoned, the data must be corrupt (something like what kept happening to our old screeching drive). If the drive directory sends the head to a non-existent location, you can expect noise as it bumps into something. So, we cogitated, let's not send the head to a non-existent location.
We ran our disk utility to clean up the directory. It completed the operation, although we intermittently heard the same clippity clop noise as it progressed. In theory, we now had a sound disk with data that made sense.
But after the repair, the drive still clippity clopped.
We hadn't restarted since we noticed the problem because, even though a modern restart will do some disk repairs, we could still see the disk. Now was the time to copy off the files we hadn't backed up before trying a restart.
We connected our external drive to the laptop's FireWire/IEEE-1394/iLink port (a SCSI or USB 2.0 port would do the job, too). Our external drive is the fastest way we have to clone our working hard drive. But it's also the most convenient way to back up a single file, too.
So we started copying all the files we were in danger of losing forever. After each successful copy (hand verified, because operating systems don't bother to verify simple file copies), we had to wait out more clippity-clopping.
After we'd saved the most critical stuff, we took a break. The critical stuff we thought about, anyway. It's remarkable how many critical files are easy to overlook. Especially if they're at all tax related.
But it's important to take a break from recovery operations to reassess exactly what you need from the disk. We have offsite and local backups and even duplicate data backups. But we didn't have everything on that disk.
If you try to play the hero a little too early, you risk losing everything. Take your aspirins separately.
THE SECOND ASPIRIN
After saving everything we could think of, we tried a restart. We heard the clippity clopping and a little screech, too. And then the laptop hung.
There's more than one way to start a computer, however.
The simplest is to use the boot CD that came with your machine. It won't allow you to do much, but it should get you to the Desktop where you can see your external and, if you're lucky, your internal drive.
One of the brightest ideas we ever heard was to partition a new drive to install an operating system on each partition. That way, should one partition get fouled up, you have a bootable partition to repair the problem partition.
And, of course, booting from the external was an option.
We preferred the CD, which mounted both drives. So once again we could see our data files. Still had the clippity clop but still had our data, too.
We tried both a native drive utility and the third-party drive utility from the CD, finally getting errors that the drive was malfunctioning during reads. This despite the S.M.A.R.T. report that continued to insist the drive was functional.
Apparently S.M.A.R.T. doesn't track all critical parameters. Our drive definitely had a mechanical problem.
This technical problem obscured the larger functional one. We, uh, had to get back to work. We weighed our options.
Option One was to buy a special screwdriver to get into our laptop and replace the drive. We could install the operating system, do all the updates online and then move our data files over from the external. With a new drive, that would cost about $150.
Option Two was to buy time. Pick up a new laptop, copy our files to it and get back to work immediately. Then over the course of the next few weeks, pick up any other files we needed from the limping drive on the old laptop. That would cost us a lot more.
By the end of the day Sunday, we had a new laptop. Whatever the hardware cost, we told ourselves, the real price was our time. The stories we had to write, the images we wanted to print, the solutions we had to code, the files we needed to restore.
Oh, such insufferable vanity. Your mileage may vary.
A NEW SLATE
Just because you buy a brand new box, don't expect it to have the latest version of the operating system. We ran the native disk utility on the new machine first, then updated the operating system before running our other disk utilities on it.
By running all our diagnostics on the new box before installing any software, we started not only from scratch but from a clean slate too. The next time we run the diagnostics, this is the state they'll return us to.
Bringing a new box up to speed these days isn't trivial. A few applications cleverly use the hardware address of your box as a copy protection mechanism. Change the box and the software has to be re-authenticated. A simple copy from your backup won't cut it. Kudos to Adobe for not playing that game. Sneers to Quark.
But even more aggravating is the complex architecture of today's software. Applications require support libraries, preference files, ad infinitum. Now add to that your browser bookmarks, your appointment calendar, maybe last year's tax forms. Do you know how and where all those things are stored on your system?
And as far as that goes, configuring your operating system isn't as simple as it used to be either. There are all sorts of essential secondary files that must be in all sorts of buried places to make the new system work like the old one. And manually copying the files isn't usually the way to get them there.
If you use a backup utility of some kind, you can skirt some of these issues. But for the one or two files you usually need from a backup, backup utilities usually make you work too hard.
Still, by the evening of the day after the disaster, we were functional again. Not entirely functional, but we'd stopped humming Suicide Is Painless.
Since we were functional again, we had the freedom to reconsider a few things. This led us to reorganize our data files into elaborate but more efficient schemes.
It also led us to wash the insides of our windows, something we hadn't gotten around to since moving here over a year ago. It was the first time we'd pulled up the blinds, too. Fiat lux.
Fortunately, we're in the habit of showering regularly. But we found ourselves seriously contemplating new socks for the first time in a decade.
Buying new gear does that to your psyche. It passes, though.
As the week went by, we tinkered with our configuration until it surpassed what we'd been doing. Maybe the crash was a good thing. We seemed to be writing much better utilities, adding all sorts of features we'd only expected to get to "one day soon."
And our old Nameless inkjet printer which had never worked under the new operating system finally came to life. We just spent the 10 minutes installing it correctly that we never had time for otherwise.
BACK AT PRE-OP
Meanwhile, the old box was patiently awaiting surgery.
Option One had been to swap the drive out for a new one. We'd run a hardware diagnostic that suggested the electronics were fine. So for $150 we could have a terrific backup computer, not just a backup drive.
We shopped around locally for a Travelstar but couldn't beat the prices we found online. And since we'd used this particular online vendor very happily in the past, guess what, we went with them.
The catch to all this was opening up the laptop. Our little brother had once opened his wife's laptop, a similar model, and nearly lost his health care coverage. There are all sorts of tabs and closely fitted connections and easily bent parts to negotiate. He had to take it apart and put it back together again several times before it would stop springing apart whenever his wife asked if it was fixed yet.
A special wrench was required. The online vendor had one but we could see right away that while it would open the case, it's T-shaped handle wouldn't work in the tight quarters inside the box. We needed a simple, short screwdriver handle to fit inside.
So we asked at the local hardware store, a place that always has a biscuit for your dog. They had that kind of wrench but only in industrial sizes. "What's this for exactly," the woman helping us asked. "Electronics," we said vaguely. "Why don't you try Radio Shack across the street?"
Stroke of genius. Not only did they have what we needed, but they had a couple of choices. We ended up buying the one that looked like an erector set. If it had come in an 18 volt cordless model, we'd have bought that.
When the drive arrived a few days later, we had studied our vendor's online video about dismantling the laptop and removing the hard drive. We'd also read the documentation provided by our laptop's manufacturer. We were as prepared as a Den Mother.
Dissembly went so smoothly we really wished someone had been watching. In no time, we had the defective drive out. We shook it and it rattled. Something really was broken. Shake the new drive (gently, gently, nevermind the three-year warranty) and it was quiet. Money well spent.
We carefully put the new drive into the old box. But we weren't sure it was correctly seated, so we pulled it out and popped it back in again. When it had gone in the same way several times, we figured we'd done it right.
There was no operating system on this drive, so we started from scratch again. But by now we were old hands at it. In a few hours we had all the redundancy of a space shuttle. With clean windows to boot.
The sad truth about backing up your computer is that no backup is current very long. But don't let that deter you.
At the very least, back up to an external drive. If you ever lose your internal, you can replace the internal and copy the external to it. In fact, you can swap the internal with the external and get a new external, too.
We were able to rescue everything important to us ourselves (and were glad to be able to do it as we needed to over the course of a few days), but drive recovery firms can help when all else seems hopeless.
Regularly use your system's disk utility and get familiar with a reliable third-party utility for a second opinion.
We're still not glad this happened to us, but we survived. In the end what could have been a disaster was merely an inconvenience. Knock on silicon.
By DAVE ETCHELLS(Excerpted from the full review posted at http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/CP4800/CP48A.HTM on the Web site.)
The Nikon Coolpix 4800 is one of the latest in a long line of Coolpix digital cameras whose popularity stretches back to the Coolpix 900, Nikon's original breakthrough digicam. The Coolpix 4800 extends the consumer-oriented portion of Nikon's line into the long-zoom arena, with a combination of a 4-megapixel CCD and a high quality 8.3x optical zoom lens.
While compact for a long-zoom digicam, the $399.95 Coolpix 4800 is nonetheless large for a Coolpix. Rectangular with a nicely sculpted bulge providing a comfortable handgrip, it's a bit smaller than a 3x5-inch index card. Weighing 10.6 ounces with the battery and memory card, it has a comfortable heft without feeling heavy. The automatic lens cover makes it quick on the draw and eliminates any worry about keeping track of a lens cap.
An 8.3x optical zoom lens with ED glass mates with a 4.0-megapixel CCD for capturing high quality images. Nikon uses Extra-low Dispersion glass in its finer lens elements to improve optical performance. Macro mode can focus as close as 0.4 inches and there are no fewer than 15 preset shooting modes. The camera operates mainly under automatic control, with a very user-friendly control layout and menu display.
Both an electronic viewfinder and a 1.8-inch color LCD monitor provide nearly 100 percent framing accuracy. With eleven elements in nine groups, the 8.3x, 6-50mm zoom lens (a 36-300mm 35mm equivalent) offers maximum apertures from f2.7 to f4.4, depending on the zoom setting. Normal mode uses contrast-detection autofocus, ranging from 16 inches to infinity. Multi-point AF automatically chooses among five autofocus points to find the nearest object. You can also select the AF point manually from among five AF points clustered near the center of the frame.
In Macro mode, the camera focuses as close as 0.4 inches, automatically switching to continuous AF mode. Closest focusing is possible only when the lens is set toward the wide-angle end. The zoom indicator that appears at the top of the LCD when zooming and the tulip macro icon both turn green when the zoom is set within the optimal range in Macro mode.
Turning on the camera triggers the shutter-like lens cover to open and the lens to extend forward anywhere from 3/8 to 1 inch, depending on the zoom position. In addition to its 8.3x optical zoom, it offers a maximum 4x digital zoom, which lets you zoom in even closer (equivalent to a 1200mm lens on 35mm camera). The 4.0-megapixel CCD produces high-resolution images, good enough for printing to 11x14 inches with good detail, as well as lower-resolution images for sending via email or printing as 4x6-inch snapshots.
Exposure control is straightforward. Operating mainly under automatic control, the Coolpix 4800's user interface is easy to learn. Most of the options are controlled from the multi-page LCD menu system, although a handful of external controls access basic features. A Mode dial features four Preset modes (Portrait, Landscape, Sports and Night Portrait), a Scene mode to select one of 11 specific shooting solutions, Auto setting and Movie and Setup modes.
Framing Assist modes are optional in Portrait, Landscape, Sports and Night Portrait modes, each offering a range of framing scenarios. For example, under Portrait mode, you can frame a centered single subject, a single subject off to the right or left, a close-up portrait, two subjects positioned side-by-side and a figure shot with the camera held in portrait (tall) rather than landscape (wide) orientation. When you choose a setup, faint yellow subject outlines appear in the LCD monitor to help you line up the shot.
Sports mode offers enhanced options for capturing fast-paced action, such as a rapid fire mode to capture 16 tiny images in two seconds forming a single 4x4 image mosaic.
The Scene option provides 11 preset scenes for difficult shooting situations including Party/Indoor, Beach/Snow, Sunset, Dusk/Dawn, Night Landscape, Close-Up, Museum, Fireworks Show, Copy and Back Light. Beginning with the 3200, Nikon added a Panorama Assist mode which places a ghosted translucent overlay of the last image on the LCD screen, so you can line up subsequent shots for easier off-camera stitching.
Though no exposure mode allows you to control the aperture or shutter speed directly, the exposure compensation adjustment can be set in any mode to deal with high contrast, dark or light subjects. This is a nice touch. Exposure compensation is an essential control, but it's disabled in the Scene modes of many digicams. The Exposure Compensation adjustment optionally increases or decreases overall exposure from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents in one-third-step increments. They aren't reported on the LCD display, but the shutter speeds range from 1/2000 to four seconds. White Balance offers five preset modes, an Auto setting and a Custom setting for manually determining the color balance.
A 256-Segment Matrix metering system determines exposure, evaluating the contrast and brightness across the frame to determine the best exposure. In any of the Framing Assist modes, the emphasis of the exposure reading is placed on the AF area indicated by the framing guidelines.
ISO light sensitivity is rated at 64 during normal shooting, but is raised automatically as high as 400 when conditions require it. You can also manually select ISO from the four available options of 50, 100, 200 and 400.
You can also access Nikon's Best Shot Selector mode, which automatically chooses the least blurry image from a rapid series shot while the shutter remains pressed. BSS is one of my all-time favorite digicam features, making it possible to hand hold even very long exposures by playing the odds that during one of those moments you're going to be still enough to get a sharp image.
The Coolpix 4800's built-in flash is effective from 16 inches to 14.1 feet with the lens at wide-angle or 3.3 to 8.6 feet with the lens at telephoto. I found little decrease in image brightness all the way out to the 14 foot limit of my test. The flash operates in Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Anytime (Fill) Flash, Flash Cancel and Slow Sync (Night) modes. Slow Sync flash mode combines the flash with slower shutter speeds, letting more of the ambient light into the exposure. In some Assist and Scene modes, the flash mode is automatically set for you, but otherwise, it's up to you. Portrait Assist, for example, defaults to Red-Eye Reduction mode but can be overridden, while in Night Portrait Assist the default Red-Eye Reduction can not be overridden. Night Portrait Assist and the Scene modes Night Landscape and Dusk/Dawn also enable an automatic Noise Reduction feature to eliminate excess image noise resulting from the higher ISO sensitivity and longer exposure. Flash is also not available in Sports or Landscape modes. While this panoply of default flash modes and constrained options may sound complicated, the bottom line is that they take good-looking photos in tricky shooting conditions with point and shoot simplicity.
Continuous Shooting mode captures a rapid series of images while the Shutter button is held down, with the actual number of images dependent on the size and quality settings, as well as the amount of memory card space. The special 3-Shot buffer mode is designed to help you capture the action, even if the action is happening a little faster than your reflexes can catch up with. Just hold down the shutter as the action approaches and release just after the action has occurred. The last three images in the buffer are saved, recorded at just over one frame per second. There's also a Multi-Shot 16 mode, which captures 16 thumbnail images (400x300 pixels each) in sequence at a rate of about 2.1 fps and arranges them in rows of four within a 1600x1200 image. Self-Timer mode provides a 10-second delay.
The Coolpix 4800's Movie mode offers three options: TV Movie 640, (640x480, 15 fps, 440 seconds max on 256-MB card) Small size (320x240 pixels, 15 fps, 880 seconds max on 256-MB card) and Smaller size (160x120, 15 fps, 3520 seconds max on 256-MB card). Provided you're using a fast enough memory card, the actual length of recording time depends only on the amount of available SD card space (there is no arbitrary limit set by buffer capacity) and appears in the LCD monitor.
The Coolpix 4800 stores images on SD memory cards, but the standard U.S. retail package includes no memory card. There is enough onboard memory, however, to hold up to six pictures at the maximum image size and quality setting. Files saved to internal memory can be easily copied to an SD card and vice versa. Images are saved in JPEG format, with three compression levels available.
A CD-ROM loaded with Picture Project software [MW] accompanies the camera. Nikon Picture Project provides organization and image editing tools for enhancing images. There's also an excellent tutorial video. The camera comes with an EN-EL1 lithium-ion battery and a charger. The optional AC adapter plugs into a connector on the camera's left side. This could be useful for offloading pictures after a long day of shooting, but really isn't necessary for the vast majority of users. Also included with the Coolpix 4800 is a video cable for connecting to a television set and a USB cable for downloading images.
Color: The Coolpix 4800 produced good color in the majority of my tests, although it has the typical consumer camera's bias toward moderate oversaturation. The Auto white balance setting tended toward a warmer cast in the studio, leading me to choose the Manual white balance setting more often than not. Outdoors, color balance was more neutral and the camera also did better than average with the very warm-hued incandescent lighting of my Indoor Portrait test. Skin tones were generally very good and the always-difficult blue flowers in the bouquet came out very well also. Color accuracy was good on the Davebox target, with moderate oversaturation in the additive primary (red, blue and green) color blocks, but quite accurate color elsewhere.
Exposure: It showed good exposure accuracy, requiring roughly average amounts of exposure compensation in my standardized test shots. Its default contrast was rather high though. Contrast adjustment helped, pulling in the highlight values a bit more than the shadows. Even with contrast adjustment though, the camera had a little trouble with the deliberately awful lighting of my Sunlit Portrait test. Overall, I'd like to see the cameras default contrast a notch or so lower.
Resolution/Sharpness: The Coolpix 4800 performed well on the laboratory resolution test chart. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns as low as 800 lines per picture height, in both horizontal and vertical directions. I found strong detail out to at least 1,200 lines horizontally, 1,150 vertically. Extinction of the target patterns didn't occur until about 1,400 lines. The MTF 50 results from Imatest show average resolution of 1227 LW/PH uncorrected or 1219 LW/PH with standard sharpening of radius 1 applied.
Image Noise: As we've moved to higher pixel counts on small CCD chips, image noise has increased. Many current cameras have cranked up their anti-noise processing to manage the increased noise coming from the sensor, but in the process throw away important subject detail in areas of subtle contrast. The Coolpix 4800 manages to walk a good middle ground on this issue, showing slightly higher than average image noise at low ISO settings, but giving up little if any subtle detail to achieve it. The noise takes a sudden jump at ISO 400 though, making that ISO setting useless.
Close-Ups: Exceptional macro performance has almost become a Nikon trademark, so it's no surprise that the Coolpix 4800 performed well, capturing a minimum area of only 1.01x0.76 inches. Resolution was very high and detail was excellent in the dollar bill. Details were fairly sharp, though softened quite a bit toward the corners of the frame. The flash position makes it difficult to light the subject evenly at the shortest shooting distances, so plan on using external illumination for your closest shots.
Night Shots: It produced bright, usable images only down to the 1/4 foot-candle (2.7 lux) light level and those only at the 400 ISO setting. At ISO 200, images were bright as low as 1/2 foot-candle (5.5 lux) and at ISOs 50 and 100, images were bright only to one foot-candle (11 lux). Average city street lighting at night is about equivalent to one foot-candle, so the 4800 should handle most city night scenes at ISO 100 and above just fine. With the camera's Night Landscape mode, images were bright as low as 1/4 foot-candle, as the camera boosts the ISO to 300 and allows exposure times as long as 2 seconds in this mode. Color was pretty good, though a hint warm with the Auto white balance setting. Image noise was moderately low to moderate at the lower ISO settings, but increased to a higher level at ISO 400. The Coolpix 4800's autofocus system worked down to light levels a bit below 1/2 foot candle, so the camera is capable of capturing photos at light levels slightly darker than those that it can focus effectively in.
Viewfinder Accuracy: The electronic optical viewfinder is very accurate, showing 99+ percent frame accuracy at both wide-angle and telephoto zoom settings. The LCD monitor is also very accurate, since it shows the same view, just on a larger screen.
Optical Distortion: Optical distortion on the Coolpix 4800 was about average at wide-angle, with 0.8 percent barrel distortion. Telephoto fared only slightly better with 0.6 percent pincushion distortion. Most digicams seem to have about 0.8 percent barrel distortion at wide-angle. The 0.6 percent pincushion at telephoto is higher than average, but not unusual for cameras with long-ratio zoom lenses. Chromatic aberration was very low, showing only about two or three pixels of very faint coloration on either side of the target lines. Apart from the somewhat high pincushion distortion at telephoto, the lens appears to be of very high quality.
Shutter Lag & Cycle Time: Shutter lag and particularly cycle time are two of the Coolpix 4800's weaker areas. With a range from 0.91-1.04 seconds, full-autofocus cycle time is in the average range, which actually isn't bad for a camera with a long-ratio zoom lens, which tend to focus more slowly. Pre-focus lag is very slow at 0.34 seconds and cycle times are on the slow side as well at about 2.3 seconds per shot for up to four large/fine images. Continuous mode performance is a little faster at about 1.5 fps, although (like many digicams), the interval between the first and second shots is longer, about 0.83 second, vs. 0.67 for subsequent ones. Overall, probably not a first choice for sports or other action shooting, despite its long-ratio lens.
Battery Life: Because it uses a custom power connector, I couldn't conduct my usual detailed power consumption measurements on the Coolpix 4800. A simple run-down test with the camera in its worst-case power drain mode (capture mode, with the LCD turned on) gave run times of just under three hours though, excellent by any standards.
The Coolpix 4800 is a compact, point-and-shoot digicam with a nice long zoom lens, a good choice for anyone who wants an easy-to-use a camera that delivers good-looking pictures with pleasing color and plenty of resolution. For those willing to delve just slightly deeper than just-push-the-button, its extensive scene modes and unique framing-assist options greatly extend its capabilities, bringing back good-looking shots of what might otherwise be difficult subjects.
All in all, a good choice for the point-and-shoot user looking for a friendly long-zoom digicam with a surprising range of capabilities. The Coolpix 4800's images showed accurate exposure and better than average color, but were a bit more contrasty than I personally prefer. Under average lighting, the high contrast makes the sort of bright, snappy-looking images that appeal to many consumers. Under harsh outdoor lighting though, the high contrast resulted in lost highlight detail and a harsher look to the images, making it worthwhile to acquaint yourself with the contrast-adjustment option on its record menu. Overall though, the Coolpix 4800 looks like an excellent long-zoom digicam, easily winning status as a Dave's Pick for its combination of color, sharpness and capabilities.
At http://www.imaging-resource.com/NEW1.HTM you can keep track of what's new on our main site. Among the highlights since the last issue:
- Reviewed: Nikon Coolpix 8800 (http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/CP8800/CP88A.HTM)
- Reviewed: Nikon Coolpix 8400 (http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/CP8400/CP84A.HTM)
- Reviewed: Nikon Coolpix 4800 (http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/CP4800/CP48A.HTM)
- Reviewed: Sony DSC-M1 (http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/M1/M1A.HTM)
- Reviewed: Sony DSC-V3 (http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/V3/V3A.HTM)
- Reviewed: Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z10 (http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/Z10/Z10A.HTM)
- Reviewed: Konica Minolta DiMAGE X31 (http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/X31/X31A.HTM)
Visit the Imaging Resource discussion forums at http://www.photo-forums.com to find out what people are saying about the latest digicams, hard-to-find accessories, friendly suppliers, clever techniques, you name it! Recent hot topics include:
Read about the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-F828 at http://www.photo-forums.com/[email protected]@.ee94123
Visit the Beginners Forum at http://www.photo-forums.com/[email protected]@.ee6b2b2
Diana asks about reference guides for dSLRs at http://www.photo-forums.com/[email protected]@.ee9b0d5/0
Kevin asks about a dSLR for a beginner at http://www.photo-forums.com/[email protected]@.ee9b03d/0
Visit the Scanners Forum at http://www.photo-forums.com/[email protected]@.ee6b2ae
September is the best month to visit San Francisco, according to local legend, but it isn't a bad time to live here either. The weather is interminably hot and the fog shy, just the way our guests like it as they scoot from one scenic shot to another. And we stay out of their way by attending one or another free concert.
September always brings back one of the best of those, Opera in the Park. We pack a camera, a blanket, something to read, a bite to eat and a little bottle of something or other for the traditional finale, Verdi's Libiamo (http://www.impresario.ch/text/vertra1A.htm) from La Traviata. Then we wander over to Sharon Meadow in Golden Gate Park to join several thousand others sprawled on the lawn and the hill.
It took the usual leap of faith this year. The fog was drizzling on us as we left the house. And the crowd seemed remarkably small to us. Until we realized we'd arrived early enough for the noontime rehearsal. But the sun broke through by 1:30 and the crowd swelled and luminaries like Ruth Ann Swenson (starring in La Traviata this season) sang to thousands of us for free.
Or tried to. As she took the stage, a dark green helicopter was circling low over the meadow. Repeatedly. Suddenly, it wasn't Opera in the Park, it was the sound track from Apocalypse Now. Copter blades beating the air.
Around and around it went. Event MC Pamela Rosenberg, general director of the S.F. Opera, actually had to stop the performance. Twice. The first time just to let the helicopter pass on. The crowd played Greek chorus and tried to wave it away. It seemed to go, but circled back as soon as the music resumed. So Rosenberg stopped the orchestra again and awarded some prizes after phoning the police. And still the helicopter circled.
Earlier Chronicle Editor Phil Bronstein had welcomed everyone to the event while praising their courage in coming to a large public event in these trying times. But no one waving the helicopter off was thinking about terrorists. Still, this was not the Coast Guard. Who was it?
The day was saved by a photographer in the audience with a long lens. He read the license number painted on the helicopter, looked it up on the Web (presumably at the Federal Aviation Administration's registry site at http://registry.faa.gov), found the owner and relayed the information to the event organizers who passed it on to the police who contacted the FAA who prevailed on the pilot to leave the area.
But hold your applause for the profession.
Turns out the helicopter was operated by a south bay commercial photographer (let's call him Head in the Clouds Aerial Shots) who was looking for the Dave Matthews concert further west at the Polo Grounds. Rosenberg helpfully pointed out Dave Matthews doesn't play with a full orchestra. And the closest thing to a polo field at Sharon Meadow is the merry-go-round. Still that bird kept circling until threatened with a military escort.
Good photographer. Bad photographer.
We briefly toyed with the idea of writing a one-word Advanced article on aerial photography at concerts ("Don't."). But we thought painting this picture as an example of self-policing in our industry would be an inspiration to other professionals who have struggled with similar ethical dilemmas.
In this case, the moral can be dispensed with. Somehow it's enough to imagine Head in the Clouds looking at dozens of images of thousands of people telling him to go away. That, after all, is all he got.
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RE: On CCD Size
Please answer a question that has bugged me for ages. What does the it mean when a CCD size is described (for example, 1/1.8" SuperHAD CCD). Does the number represent the dimensions, i.e. one inch by 1.8 inch? Also what is the significance of this size, is a larger one better than a small one (for a given pixel count)?
Many thanks for publishing such great detail in your tests. They are really good when comparing models, often the only source of information in such matters as shutter lag, etc.
-- Mike Creed(The size designation is an imperial fraction but it doesn't describe the dimensions of the CCD. It describes its type, based on a set of standard sizes used in television cameras in the 1950s. The type size is actually derived from the outer diameter of the longer glass of the TV camera tube.... Generally speaking, the bigger the CCD, the better the image. Smaller CCDs on prosumer digicams cram in as many sensors as they can to offer resolutions competitive with dSLRs but at the expense of increasing noise. The larger CCDs typically used on dSLRs have sensors that are not as small and consequently have less noise. -- Editor)
RE: Photo of the Day
As a longtime subscriber to your newsletter, first let me congratulate you on putting together one of the best. I do several related to graphics myself, so I know what's involved.
Glad to see your new contest. I'd like to mention the photo contest on Graphics.com, which has as its prize a six-month subscription to the Photos.com stock photo site, worth $349. We award this prize to one winner each month.
-- Chris Dickman(Thanks, Chris. We've included Graphics.com on the entry page in the Other Contests section.... And thanks to everyone who helped test the form. Good thing we're not the judge or everyone would have been a winner! Great shots. -- Editor)(We've refined the entry page for better display in all browsers and plan to go live early in October. Check the site then, to see if a photo you submitted was chosen! -- Dave)
RE: Sending Movies
Is there any way you can send 1-2 minute "movies" from a Canon Elph via email?
-- Patricia Schubert(Just attach the movie file to your email, the way you would any other document. But watch the size of the attachment. It can be painful for the recipient if they use a dialup connection. -- Editor)
Adobe (http://www.adobe.com) has announced its Photoshop Elements 3.0 [MW], a major upgrade with new ways to share organize and edit photos. Among the new features (some borrowed from Photoshop CS) are: a Healing brush, Shadow/Highlight tool, Before/After view, Camera Raw 16-bit support, more flexible print options, instant image fixes, Red Eye tool and decorative edges.
O'Reilly has unveiled its Digital Media Web site (http://digitalmedia.oreilly.com). The digital photography component is the first of three parts of the site site to go live, with audio and graphic design sections to follow. Working digital media specialists can enter a listing in the Digital Media Services Directory. They are also invited to contact the staff about authoring articles or weblogs or if they are interested in showcasing their work on the site.
Wacom (http://www.wacom.com) has introduced its Intuos3 pen tablets in 4x5, 6x8 and 9x12 versions for USB. The new tablets offer on-board customizable keys and finger-sensitive scroll and zoom control with your free hand. Other new features include 5000-lpi resolution, a Grip Pen with a rubber barrel, an ergonomic battery-free mouse with five programmable buttons and a scroll wheel and a software bundle of Adobe Photoshop Elements 2, Corel Painter Essentials 2 and nik Color Efex Pro 2 IE. Prices range from $199.99 to $449.99.
Hi-Touch (http://www.hitouchimaging.com) has introduced its $349 730PL for 6x8-inch dye sub prints. Essentially the same as the 730PS, it does not have the standalone capabilities as the 730PS. The company also introduced its $419 730GALA, a large format (6x8 prints) version of the 640GALA. An updated Windows driver and a firmware update are available for the 730PS.
Jasc (http://www.jasc.com) has released its advanced Paint Shop Pro 9 [W] and the easy-to-use Paint Shop Pro Studio [W].
Photoflex (http://www.photoflex.com) has introduced its $199.95 Starlite QL as an easy to use, new generation of tungsten-balanced, continuous lighting for digital imaging as well as traditional photography. The QL refers to a new quick-lock feature that permits easier and safer attachment and removal of the lighting head with a softbox connector. In addition, Photoflex's new Starlite OctoConnector complements the Starlite QL with an adapter plate designed to make attachment much easier than before. It also fits Photoflex's new OctoDome nxt softbox as well as the SilverDome nxt, HalfDome (silver interior) and MovieDome lines.
MK Digital (http://www.MKdigitaldirect.com) has introduced its $495 MK Gem eBox, a lighting system using fluorescent lighting and halogen spot lighting to bring out the brilliance in a wide variety of jewelry products and gemstones.
LaserSoft Imaging (http://www.SilverFast.com) has updated its $49 SilverFast SE [MW] to support Color Management and output of raw 48/16 bit Tiff data. Integrated QuickTime tutorials demonstrate SilverFast SE features.
Imatest (http://www.imatest.com) has released its $59 Imatest 1.0 [W], a software package to measure the sharpness and image quality of digital camera images and digitized film images using inexpensive widely-available targets.
Minos Software Group (http://www.photoEt.com) has released Version 2.1 of its $18.95 Minos Album [W], to turn digital photos into a 3D realistic page-flipping music album just with a few mouse clicks.
M-Rock (http://www.m-rock.com) plans to introduce at Photokina its line of 14 user-friendly, modularly-designed digicam and camcorder bags, modular belts and backpacks.
Transmutable (http://transmutable.com) has updated its $29 93 Photo Street to version 1.2 [MW], which can post photo maps to weblogs and use custom map images with or without road data.
Boinx Software (http://www.untitled-app.com) has released Preview 4 of its $69 Boinx Untitled App with QuickTime movie export, better iTunes searching, improved storyboard editing and better tools.
Hamrick Software (http://www.hamrick.com) has released VueScan 8.0.14 [MW] with support for 43 additional models of Hewlett-Packard OfficeJet/PSC multi-function models, support for the Plustek OpticFilm 7200 and Microtek i900 scanners, Mac OS X support for the Epson 2480/2580 and improved automatic White Balance.
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Mike Pasini, Editor
Dave Etchells, Publisher