The IMAGING RESOURCE DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY
NEWSLETTER


Volume 6, Number 26 24 December 2004

Copyright 2004, The Imaging Resource. All rights reserved.

Welcome to the 139th edition of the Imaging Resource Newsletter, the first time we've published on Christmas Eve. Only a few years ago we found it hard to believe anyone could go around the world in a single evening, leaving something for everyone in his wake. And yet, here we are. Ho, ho, ho!


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: The VueScan Solution

We couldn't believe it. With a roll of color negatives to scan, we were staring at our screen trying once again to decipher the scanner manufacturer's array of icons. We knew exactly what we wanted to do. But which click led where made us feel like we were playing Myst IV, not scanning slides.

"Do yourself a favor," we advised ourselves. Use something whose artful design requires no cosmetics. What? We knew what. VueScan from Hamrick Software (http://www.hamrick.com). It's been doing favors for scanners for years now, thanks to the efforts of one guy. Ed.

WHO'S ED?

Ed learned FORTRAN on a CDC mainframe when he was 15. He worked at NASA/JPL while attending California Institute of Technology, dabbling in the Voyager project. He quit his job at Boeing to work on an Atari painting program called Leonardo da Video and five years later wrote a JPEG viewer called VuePrint.

At NASA he got into satellite images but he'd already developed an interest in photography, inspired by his father.

Legend has it he bought a Hewlett-Packard PhotoSmart scanner and was so disappointed with its software that he wrote his own. He called it VueSmart and gave it away with VuePrint.

Then he bought a Nikon LS-30 scanner and VueScan was born. The current version with over 100,000 users runs on Linux, Macintosh and Windows and supports over 400 flatbed and film scanners and 109 digital camera raw formats.

And how does Ed have time to develop this frequently updated program? No phone calls and no meetings, that's how. Smart man.

ABOUT VUESCAN

This review (illustrated at http://www.imaging-resource.com/SOFT/VUE/VUE.HTM) concentrates on film scanning because that's what we did, but it also covers some flatbed features.

Flatbed or film, you can't buy a scanner without scanner software. So this market is a tough nut to crack. Your competition has an inside angle.

For a while, anyway. Then you upgrade your operating system or change hardware and suddenly your scanner isn't supported by the manufacturer anymore.

VueScan has been the lifesaver of the scanner world by supporting older hardware on new platforms even when the manufacturer throws in the towel. The VueScan solution has worked for pioneers on OS X with no place to turn as well as Windows and Linux users with no supported driver.

SilverFast, its only real competitor, requires the manufacturer's driver. And you have to buy a copy for each scanner you own. One copy of VueScan handles whatever hardware you throw at it. And it does it without touching your system, so you can run it with any other scanning software.

Those are compelling features, but when you get down to work, the features you care about are the ones that help you handle the demanding task of scanning. VueScan, with IT8 color calibration, 16-bit channels and infrared cleaning support, is no slouch there either. But much of its intelligence is harnessed to the computer, not you, so you don't have to be a technical wizard to get good scans. It's automatic color balance feature is just one example.

There are two versions of the program. The $49.95 Standard version provides one year of free upgrades. The $89.95 Professional version provides unlimited upgrades and support for raw scans, ICC profiles and color spaces, plus IT8 color calibration.

SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS

Hamrick doesn't quote any specific system requirements but if you can run a scanner on your system, you can run VueScan.

VueScan runs on Windows 95/98/ME/NT/2K/XP with all known SCSI cards. The current version also runs on Linux and Mac OS X. There is an older version for Mac OS 9. Release notes for each OS cover the main known issues with specific hardware.

INSTALLATION

Installation is simple. VueScan is only one file in its own directory. Put it where ever you want.

The Windows version installs to Drive C, but you can (as the installer notes) move the folder to any other drive. It's entirely self-contained.

Of course, simplicity has its drawbacks. Modern operating systems like to have things like profiles in a central location. VueScan keeps everything in its own directory.

SUPPORT

A note about support. As a one man band, Ed's email-only stricture is an essential strategy. We've used various versions of VueScan over the years and went through three versions during this review. VueScan is updated frequently. So don't interrupt Ed just because you smell smoke.

First, make sure your scanner is supported (http://www.hamrick.com/vuescan/vuescan.htm#supported). Second, see if your issue is a known problem by first checking the release notes for the version that runs on your operating system (http://www.hamrick.com/vuescan/vuescan.htm) and secondly searching comp.periphs.scanners newsgroup. Google (http://groups.google.com) makes that easy.

If that doesn't help, email a problem report to Ed but include all the information he requests on the support page (http://www.hamrick.com/sup.html). If there isn't a release that addresses your issue in 25 minutes, Ed probably has a cold.

GETTING TO WORK

VueScan does a lot but it keeps to itself. It won't scan an image from Photoshop but it will hand one off to Photoshop by writing a file to disk and optionally opening it in your image editor. This isn't a big deal with a multitasking operating system.

It can also do a lot of work to the image before it writes it to disk and that work can save you a good bit of time. So understanding how to fit VueScan into your workflow is an important first step in mastering it.

Fortunately, Hamrick provides plenty of guidance.

You can easily set VueScan to do batch scanning that will set the correct exposure for your film (automatically eliminating any mask color) and skipping the preview. You can scan raw files to make edits based on output later.

PROFILING

But the first thing you should do is profile your scanner. VueScan makes this easy by using standard IT8 scanner calibration targets. These targets are available at reasonable prices online from Wolf Faust (http://www.targets.coloraid.de).

An IT8 target consists of a color chart and a reference file. The reference file describes the precise color values of the accompanying color chart. When these known values are scanned by your scanner and the output compared to the values of the reference file, the differences are written to the profile file.

To use an IT8 target with VueScan, you copy the target file as scanner.it8 into the VueScan directory. Then you Preview your target after telling VueScan you want to profile the scanner.

A mask outlining the IT8 target pops up over the preview. You align the mask to the target by dragging its corners into position. When the mask and image are aligned, you Profile the scanner. That writes a profile named scanner.icc to the VueScan directory.

You can also use VueScan and your scanner to profile your printer/ink/paper combination. VueScan can make an IT8 target on your printer which you pop into your scanner and scan to profile the printer. In this case, VueScan knows the values of the target, so you don't need a reference file. It writes the profile as printer.icc in the VueScan directory.

Profiling is not the same as calibrating. VueScan does offer a Calibrate command in the menu bar for scanners that support calibration. Calibration compensates for uneven lighting in the scanner, varying sensor element sensitivity and the dark current of each sensor element. In short, calibration attempts to make each CCD element behave the same.

SCANNING PROCESS

VueScan first scans an image and then it processes the raw sensor data the scanner has captured.

The scanning step itself may involve focusing the scanner and setting the CCD exposure time, the scan area, the number of bits per sample, the number of samples per pixel and the scan resolution.

Processing is done for both the preview and the final scan and may be repeated without rescanning if you capture the raw sensor data. The first step in processing is using any infrared data (captured by some film scanners) to remove dust. A cleaning filter, which removes dust spots and reduces film grain, is then applied to the image. Restore color and restore fading filters are applied if enabled. Then corrections based on film characteristics are applied. A 3x3 filter is applied to the image to increase its sharpness before color correction is applied.

VueScan's internal file format is 16-bit linear even when a scanner only supports 10-bit samples.

INTERFACE

Ah, the interface. We probably stand alone here, but we like it. No, it isn't fancy. And it can get a little cluttered. But its simplicity (nothing more complex than your average Web form) appeals to us. We're a little weary of poorly designed icons that fail to help you remember what they do. A word would do.

It's so simple, in fact, that the User Guide doesn't have to resort to screen shots. Imagine that. The Getting Started PDF, however, does (so fear not).

The VueScan interface starts with its menu bar. Commands include File, Scanner (calibrate, eject, focus, etc.), Profile, Image (zoom, rotate, flip, etc.) and Help (which takes you to the online User Guide).

But the main interface is a dialog window divided into a left-hand pane of commands and a right-hand pane for display of the scan above a row of action buttons (Preview, Scan, Save, etc.) with a status bar on the bottom that reports the state of active tasks and the image dimensions of the saved file.

The command pane is tabbed with six options: Input, Crop, Filter, Color, Output and Prefs. A popup Options menu at the bottom of each tabbed command pane is the key to enabling the more Advanced options.

And there are a dozen hot keys for frequent commands like Save, Print, Quit, Scan, Abort, Eject, Zoom and Rotate.

When your mouse hovers over an option or button, a short description pops up to explain what the feature does.

The actual options displayed in any pane depend on a number of factors, including the scanner's capabilities and other settings.

You can choose to use the Advanced mode, where you flip all the switches you want or Guide Me mode, in which VueScan takes you step-by-step through the scanning process. It's very easy to get things wrong, so don't be shy about using Guide Me mode. VueScan has a lot of controls and a little guidance won't hurt.

Once you've set up options for a particular task, you can save them to disk. Resetting them to the defaults is a menu option, as is loading saved options.

MAKING CORRECTIONS

VueScan displays two histograms. The top one is the histogram of the raw data (seen in the Preview) and the bottom one is that of the corrected data that will be saved to disk. You can adjust the top histogram's highlight and shadow cutoffs.

With no midtone adjustment, that's precious little control. Particularly considering that there's no curves to fiddle with either.

That made us nervous, but in fact, VueScan's automatic white balance turned out to be reliable. And because we could save the scanner's raw output for processing in an image editor, any correction was only delayed, not denied.

That goes for filtering, too. VueScan does offer some built-in filtering for infrared cleanup (on scanners that support it), restoration of colors and fading, grain reduction (none, light, medium or heavy) and sharpening (just a checkbox). Descreening (removing halftone dots) is enabled when you set Media on the Input tab to Newspaper or Magazine. It includes a field for the screen value (133 lpi, for example), too.

Color correction, accessible from the Color tab, is likewise rudimentary. The white balance settings are extensive (None, Manual, Neutral, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Night, Auto Levels, Landscape and Portrait) and you can set the clipping percent of both the black and white points. You can also adjust overall brightness, as well as the brightness of the red, green and blue channels.

So, in short, you don't fiddle much with tonal or color corrections in VueScan. You let VueScan fiddle. And it fiddles pretty well.

SCANNING SLIDES

VueScan does do some serious fiddling with faded colors. We put VueScan to the test with some 42 year-old Kodak Ektachrome slides that had seen better days.

We did a normal scan to raw so we'd have the sensor data available in the buffer to reprocess without rescanning.

In the Color tab we turned everything but infrared cleaning off. The image looked better than we expected, the auto white balance salvaging much of the image. Turning on Restore Colors helped. Restore Fading helped a bit more. These were slight color shifts but they brought a long-gone garden back to life.

How about an obviously overexposed slide? Well, we had to fiddle. In the Color tab, we started with both Restore options enabled. Then we reduced overall brightness quite a bit to get some life back into the image. That left it too blue.

By right-clicking the mouse, we were able to set white balance manually. There wasn't however, a neutral spot on the image to use. So we manually decreased the brightness of the blue channel to get a pretty good restoration.

But this is the kind of work that would profit enormously from a curves tool, where you can selectively lock in or edit highlight, midtone or shadow values for any channel. You can, however, have VueScan open the raw file in your image editor and work with curves there. That produced a better result for us, with no more work.

SCANNING COLOR NEGATIVES

As common as color negatives are, it's not every day you find software that can handle them (as we discussed in our series of Color Negatives). VueScan knows about a lot of different emulsions (over 200). And the User Guide makes it as simple as it can be to tell just what film your negatives are so you can tell VueScan.

Set the Media popup in the Input tab to Color Negative and select your emulsion on the Color tab (Negative vendor, brand and type). The Color Negative setting increases green exposure time 2.5 times and blue 3.5 times to compensate for the orange mask.

Selecting the emulsion is optional, but if you do that after profiling your scanner, you'll be delighted with your results. Deliriously delighted.

Just for fun, we tried to tweak the color balance of a few of these in Photoshop, but we couldn't make much of an improvement.

CUSTOM SCANNING

Auto white balance and the film database are, essentially, shortcuts. To squeeze everything you can out of a scan, you'll want to account for emulsion batch and processing variables, too.

VueScan lets you do that by locking the exposure on the highlight area for slides (some white spot) or the shadow area for negatives (the orange leader).

Locking the exposure on that value will let you scan a whole roll of film with optimum exposure values. You may have to scroll down the Input pane to see that option.

You can then also lock the film base color for color negatives, saving time when scanning a roll of film. See the Advanced Workflow section of the User Guide for details.

PHOTOCOPYING & LINE ART

Sometimes you just want your flatbed to behave like a photocopier. VueScan makes that simple using its Copy to Printer mode. Just Scan and the result will be sent to your printer. You can even set your scanner's buttons in the Prefs pane to scan the current page and print the current page so it actually behaves like a photocopier.

Scanning line art on a flatbed is as simple as selecting Lineart in the Media popup on the Input tab.

CONCLUSION

You may live happily ever after with the scanning software that came with your scanner. But if you aren't happy or you want to learn one application that you can use with your next scanner, too, you have one question: SilverFast or VueScan?

The answer depends primarily on how you want to work with your scanner. We've gotten excellent results from both applications, so we don't think the issue is quality. It's workflow. SilverFast is capable of a lot of image editing prior to the scan from curve adjustments to unsharp masking with spot densitometer readings to give you precise feedback. With VueScan, you leave the tweaking to the program.

If the originals you're working with need prescan tweaking, VueScan isn't the right tool. But in practice, we liked the results VueScan delivered and were particularly impressed with its handling of color negatives. When we couldn't make adjustments in VueScan, editing the raw file in our image editor did the trick. VueScan squeezed a lot of information out of the scan. We'd have no trouble relying on it as our only scanning software.

So do yourself a favor. Download the demo and see for yourself.

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Feature: Konica Minolta DiMAGE A200 -- Strong 8-Mp Contender

By DAVE ETCHELLS
(Excerpted from the full review posted at http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/KMA200/A2A.HTM on the Web site.)

INTRODUCTION

The Konica Minolta DiMAGE A200 is the latest in the DiMAGE SLR-style line that stretches back to the original DiMAGE 7, the first 5-Mp prosumer camera, introduced over three years ago. The new A200 offers much of what I enjoyed on the previous A1 and A2 models, though it's slightly pared down in some respects.

One of the most important features of the A200 though, is its anti-shake system. We're seeing more and more anti-shake technology integrated into long-zoom digicams and the system used on the Konica Minolta A200 has been well-proven in the field for over a year now.

EXECUTIVE OVERVIEW

The $799 Konica Minolta DiMAGE A200 offers excellent exposure control and a wide range of features, maintaining most of the ones that made the A2 so popular. Some of the A2's extended custom settings are missing, but the camera does offer a few design improvements, like a swiveling LCD monitor and a less complex control layout. The A200 features the same 8.0-megapixel CCD and 7x optical zoom lens as the A2, but now boasts an improved Movie mode with up to 800x600 pixels at 15 frames per second, expanded white balance presets, a Portrait sRGB color space option, a lower base ISO option (50 instead of 64) and a 4x interpolated digital zoom option.

But the maximum shutter speed has been cut to 1/3200 (and only at f8; otherwise it's 1/1600). Other downgrades include a lower resolution EVF, the removal of support for wireless control of external flash units and external PC sync terminal, 256-segment metering as opposed to 300-segment metering and the deletion of Subject Tracking AF.

At its core though, the A200 still features extensive creative controls (including an option to use the Adobe RGB color space), sophisticated camera functions and a user-friendly interface. The camera's ergonomic design looks and feels a lot like a conventional 35mm SLR. Old-line SLR users will greatly appreciate the direct-coupled manual zoom control that dramatically improves responsiveness over the "fly by wire" approach used in most current digicams. Like the A1 and A2, Konica Minolta has packed a lot of functions into a workable layout, with features normally found only on more expensive professional-level digital cameras.

A 2/3-inch interlaced primary-color CCD with 8.3 million pixels (8.0 million effective), provides a maximum resolution of 3264x2448 pixels. Sensitivity ranges from ISO 50 to 800 and may be automatically controlled by the camera or manually selected. Color space selections include three sRGB options (Natural, Vivid and Portrait color), plus an embedded-profile Adobe RGB option.

The A200 keeps the same advanced apochromat 7x zoom GT Lens so impressive on previous models. With 16 glass elements in 13 groups, the GT lens has two anomalous dispersion and two aspheric glass elements for sharp, detailed images with minimal distortion and glare. The 7.2-50.8mm focal range (a 28-200mm 35mm equivalent) provides the flexibility for wide-angle interior and landscape shots, as well as close-up portraits and distant action in sports photography. The manual zoom ring's wide rubberized grip and smooth, mechanically-coupled lens action is a pleasure to use. A maximum aperture that ranges from f2.8-f3.5 is fairly fast, helpful for low-light and action photography. The Macro capability lets you capture subjects as close as 9.8 inches from the CCD, a small 1.5x2.0-inch minimum capture area with the lens at telephoto.

The A200 offers an electronic viewfinder whose resolution of 235,000 dots is more typical of current competitors. The camera's 1.8-inch LCD monitor features a tilt/swivel design, making it more flexible for unique or difficult shooting angles. The LCD panel actually lifts off the rear panel and flips around forward, so you can rotate it 270 degrees. Both displays feature full information readouts, a histogram option and two alignment display modes (grid and scale).

The exposure system offers three metering options: 256-segment Multi-Segment, Center-Weighted and Spot. The default Multi-Segment metering divides the image into 256 separate areas, placing emphasis on the main subject, but integrating luminance values, color and autofocus information from across the image to accurately calculate exposure. Center-Weighted and Spot metering place most of the exposure emphasis either on the central portion of the frame or on a small spot at the center of the frame, respectively. Exposure modes include Auto, Programmed AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual, plus four Digital Subject Programs specifically set up for Portrait, Sports, Night Portrait and Sunset exposures. These presets use not only aperture and shutter speed settings to best capture the subjects, but also Konica Minolta's exclusive CxProcess III image processing to optimize color balance and skin tones.

The A200 also provides Color Saturation, Contrast and Filter (hue) adjustments. The Digital Effects adjustments are particularly notable for their fine gradations and wide range. Color Mode offers special color effects and a black and white shooting mode. Exposure Compensation is adjustable from -2 to +2 EV in one-third-step increments. Auto Exposure Bracketing takes three bracketed exposures of an image automatically, with two different values adjustable to either 1/3 or 1/2-stop increments. In addition to exposure, this feature can also bracket white balance. A customizable AE Lock button can be set to lock only exposure or both exposure and focus. White Balance offers seven options (Daylight, Tungsten, two Fluorescent settings, Cloudy, Shade and Flash settings), along with Auto and Manual options. Shutter speeds range from 1/3200 to 30 seconds (1/1600 to 30 in Shutter Priority and Manual mode; 1/3200 is only available at f8), with a Bulb setting for manual exposures up to 30 seconds. Maximum lens apertures are f2.8 at the wide-angle end and f3.5 at telephoto. A real-time histogram display mode helps verify exposure before capturing the image. There's a histogram display option available in Playback mode as well.

The autofocus system can determine focus several ways. Wide Focus Area looks at a large area across the middle of the frame and chooses a point of focus that is indicated with a red rectangle. Spot Focus Area reads information from 11 user-selectable areas arrayed across the center of the screen. Flex Focus Point lets you move a target cross-hair to any position within the center of the viewfinder, so you can focus on off-center subjects without having to aim, lock focus and then recompose the shot.

In Manual Focus mode, a rectangular area is outlined in white. With a press of the Four-way's center button, the outline turns blue and the rectangle can be moved around the screen with the arrow pad. When the focus ring is turned (a fly-by-wire-type ring around the lens body, close to the camera) the display is zoomed in to show only the rectangular area to make focusing easier. A small map appears on the right of the screen indicating what is being displayed relative to the rest of the image.

The built-in, pop-up flash operates in Fill-Flash, Fill-Flash with Red-Eye Reduction, Slow-Sync and Rear Flash Sync modes, with Flash Compensation available from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents in one-third-step increments. A top-mounted hot shoe lets you attach Konica Minolta external flash units (and any compatible third-party units). A manual flash mode fires the onboard flash at full, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8 or 1/16 power. Since manual flash mode doesn't use a pre-flash, it's perfect for driving studio strobes via conventional slave triggers.

Additional features include a Movie (with sound) mode with Night exposure option; Standard, High Speed and Ultra-High Speed Continuous Advance modes; 2x standard or 4x interpolated Digital Zoom; two- or 10-second Self-Timer; and three Sharpness settings. Four image quality levels include a Raw uncompressed setting and a choice of Extra Fine, Fine or Standard JPEG compression settings. The A200 also allows both Raw and JPEG files to be recorded simultaneously for each image captured. Resolution options for still images include 3264x2448; 3264x2176; 2560x1920; 2080x1560; 1600x1200; and 640x480 pixels. Movie resolution options include 800x600, 640x480 and 320x240 pixels, with frame rates of either 15 or 30 fps (the 800x600 resolution is restricted to 15 fps) and recording times of up to 15 minutes per video segment possible, depending on resolution, frame rate and memory card speed.

Powered by one NP-800 rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack (an optional AC power adapter is available), it includes USB and A/V cables, a wireless remote control, the latest DiMAGE Viewer [MW] and Ulead VideoStudio 8 SE [W].

The A200 supports the PictBridge protocol (when its USB interface is set to PTP mode), for printing directly to compatible photo printers, without having to use a computer. The extent of PictBridge support varies greatly between cameras and the A200's support is more robust than many. Provided that it's connected to a printer with an equivalent level of support and control, you can select paper size, bordered or borderless, print quality and date imprint options directly from the camera's menu system. To my mind, PictBridge printing is one of the most important developments in the digital camera field in the last year or so and the A200's implementation of it is robust.

TEST RESULTS

Color: Color was accurate, among the best on consumer/prosumer digicams. That said though, "accurate" means "dull," relative to most digicams on the market, which pump up the color saturation. But the A200's fine-grained saturation control lets you set the level of brightness you want. The white balance system worked quite well in most situations, but Auto white balance had a hard time with the incandescent lighting. Fortunately, both the Incandescent and Manual white balance settings did a good job with that. Bottom line, color that you may want to tweak to suit your tastes, but an excellent ability to do just that.

Exposure: The A200 handled my test lighting quite well, accurately exposing most shots. Its default contrast is a little high, but its broad-range, fine-grained contrast adjustment led to an excellent performance under the deliberately harsh lighting of the Sunlit Portrait. It did lose detail in the strongest highlights of the Far-Field shot, but the bright sun and clear air the day we shot made it an unusually tough test.

Resolution/Sharpness: Artifacts weren't present in the test patterns until 1,400 lines per picture height horizontally, though some were present at about 800 lines vertically. I found strong detail out to 1,600 lines horizontally, but artifacts and aliasing held the resolution to 1,450 lines in the vertical direction. Extinction of the target patterns didn't occur until 2,000 lines, but even there, a small distinction between the lines is noticeable. Using its MTF 50 numbers, which correlate best with visual sharpness, Imatest showed an average uncorrected resolution of 1231 LW/PH and a resolution of 1763 LW/PH when normalized to a standard one-pixel sharpening. These are very good results.

Image Noise: Image noise was low at ISO 50 and quite acceptable at ISOs 100 and 200. Better yet, loss of subtle detail to the anti-noise processing at ISOs of 200 and below was minor. At ISO 400, both noise and loss of detail increased significantly. At ISO 800, the images were both much noisier and much softer. Color balance also shifted at ISO 800, the noise in the blue channel contributing to a slightly bluish cast. Nonetheless, ISO 800 images would probably be quite usable for 4x6 prints, possibly 5x7s.

Close-Ups: The A200 performed well in the macro category, capturing a minimum area of only 1.99x1.49 inches. Resolution was high and a lot of fine detail was visible, softening toward the corners. The flash throttled down quite well for the macro area, providing great coverage. Macro also functions at maximum telephoto, giving you a lot more room in front of the lens.

Night Shots: The A200 produced clear, bright, usable images down to the 1/8 foot-candle (1.3 lux) light level at the 100, 200, 400 and 800 ISO settings. I undershot the correct exposure at 1/16 foot-candle, but the camera is clearly capable of working at that light level. At ISO 50, images were bright down to the 1/4 foot-candle (2.7 lux) light level, though the target was visible at the lowest light level of the test. Color balance was a little warm with Auto white balance, with increasing color casts as the light level decreased. Noise was low in most shots, though high at ISOs 400 and 800. Images taken without Noise Reduction enabled show more red pixels and thus a stronger red cast. The A200's autofocus system worked down to the 1/16 foot-candle limit of our test and its EVF remained usable at that light level as well.

Viewfinder Accuracy: The "electronic" optical viewfinder was accurate, showing about 98 percent of the final image area at wide-angle and about 99 percent at telephoto. The LCD monitor also proved accurate, since it's essentially the same view on a larger screen.

Optical Distortion: Geometric distortion was fairly high at wide-angle with approximately 1.04 percent barrel distortion. Telephoto fared quite a bit better with only 0.03 percent pincushion distortion. Chromatic aberration was low at medium and long focal lengths, rising slightly at wide-angle. Sharpness in the corners was good (much better than average) at wide and medium focal lengths, softening at the telephoto end of the lens's range. Overall, a high-quality lens, with better than average performance across the board.

Shutter Lag and Cycle Time: With shutter lag ranging from 0.61 to 0.63 second in full autofocus mode and down to 0.097 second when pre-focused, the A200 is pretty quick on the draw, particularly for a long-zoom model. Shooting in Raw+JPEG mode is completely unbuffered, although its 10.4 seconds cycle time is quite a bit better than the A2. Overall, a nicely responsive digicam, well-suited for the amateur sports shooter.

Battery Life: With a worst-case run time of 144 minutes (capture mode, rear LCD operating) and playback runtime of nearly 5.6 hours, the A200 shows good to very good battery life.

CONCLUSION

The Konica Minolta DiMAGE A2 was easily a Dave's Pick, capitalizing on fast shutter-lag, excellent exposure and creative control options and an excellent image stabilization system. Though the Konica Minolta A200 is a slightly pared-down version of the A2, I see many of the same excellent features that I praised on the A2. The result is a camera with a really compelling set of features and capabilities, but at a street price $150-200 less than the A2. You do give up the super-high resolution EVF of the A2, along with a noticeable amount of shooting speed and the top end of the A2's shutter speed range. But the bottom line is that the A200 is an 8-Mp, 7x zoom, anti-shake digicam that sells for a lot less than any competing model.

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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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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 Nikon Coolpix 8800 at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?13@@.ee9b16a

Visit the Canon Forum at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?14@@.ee6f773

Larry asks about cameras for taking pictures of wildlife at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?50@@.ee9c74a/0

Jerry asks about scanning veneer at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?50@@.ee9c636/0

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

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Just for Fun: Holiday Greetings from Lucky

(Along with holiday greeting cards, your mail may be fattened by one or three annual family reports. Readers may remember our imaginary intern named Lucky, the one who told us he got his name from having been an accident. He sent us one such, uncharacteristically early. -- Editor)

Hey, remember me? How could you not, right. I practically ran the place while you guys were pretending to be standing in line at the virtual water cooler.

Well, I thought I'd write to say hello and season's greetings and all that. It's been a while, I guess, since I left good old Imaging Resource to intern for the Bowl Championship Series outfit, you know the guys who decide which college football teams play in which bowls. They needed an intern really bad and since I know nothing about football, I was perfect for the job.

Yeah, I was sorry to leave IR, but I was really burned out. I needed a BCS break, for sure. Man, all those guys do is type in some numbers in a little Excel spreadsheet and email it. Ten minutes instruction and I was The Man.

Goofed up a little this year, though. Couldn't find one of the polls I was supposed to use, so I just picked up last year's. I don't think anyone noticed.

Anyway, it turns out they get a lot of email, too. So I quit and am looking for another internship. I thought I'd give you first crack, considering how much I know about you guys.

I figure next year is going to be twice as busy as this year was. Probably double the number of cameras, all of them with bigger files and faster, too. If you blink, you probably have to burn a CD. Plus, I see you guys are reviewing printers now, too. Not to mention all that software. Which is all going to get updated next year, I bet you anything. You guys are really going to get swamped.

Actually, now that I think about it, it sounds a lot like a regular job. You know, working. That could really cut into my real purpose in life, which (if you forgot) is to build the biggest MP3 archive ever. Forget Google and Oxford. This is Big like that sign in Hollywood. That's why I was always snapping my fingers, in case you were wondering.

So forget the offer. I was just being sentimental, I guess. And happy everything, including the New Year. Better enjoy it right away, because it's definitely going to get to you in the end.

Your Ex-Intern,

-- Lucky

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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:

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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: Elements

I just read your review of the new version of Elements. It seems to be very close to Album in some areas. It would be interesting to know if Adobe has designed the new Elements as an upgrade path for Album users or if they intend to by providing tools to easily migrate from one to the other. Also, it would be interesting to have a comparison of the two in areas were they overlap such as Image classification, CD-Video creation, Image archiving, for instance.

-- Charles de Foucault

(No, Elements is not an equivalent of Album. Album is organizing software which builds a database of your image collection with a wealth of output options missing in Elements but without Elements image editing power. Quite a different beast. Elements is the little brother, so to speak, of Photoshop. It's an image editor. It's picked up some fancy behavior from it's older brother, however. Apart from image editing functions like the Healing Brush, it's also started mimicking Photoshop's File Browser, which does a lot of on-the-fly organizing. But that's a far cry from building a database of your images. -- Editor)

RE: Canon i9900

Hi guys, I love your newsletter. I am thirsting for a Canon i9900 printer but am put off by reviews that say it only does well on its own paper. I have an Epson 1270 but would like to switch to the Canon for bleed edges and multi ink cartridges. I've accumulated all sorts of paper over the years. Would I have to buy new paper for the Canon?

-- Sally Bennett

(We can't speak for that old paper stock, but we printed a few third party brands on the i9900 and they all look great. Would the images look better on Canon paper? Maybe (that's what the drivers are calibrated for). Would they last longer? Probably (that's what Wilhelm tests). Is it worth calibrating your own drivers for the paper stock you have? Maybe. Cautions like "best results on Canon media" are not inaccurate (especially in reference to inks) but they refer mostly to longevity. You can get nice results (if transient) on less expensive media. -- Editor)

RE: View & Sort in Windows

I am unaware of really good software for viewing and sorting multiple pictures. Most are not able to increase thumbnail size to be easily viewed and then print these larger thumbnails with a file name. I have found Vallen Jpegger shareware that is pretty good. I would like to see four to six pictures at a time on the screen with scrolling capability. Any thoughts?

-- Bruce Pease

(I confess I don't have a good Windows solution to this problem. Readers? -- Editor)
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Editor's Notes

Canto (http://www.canto.com) has made the English version of myCumulus version 6 [MW] available for free from Dec. 18 to 26 only. The difference between myCumulus and the full version of Cumulus Single User is just the number of media assets that users can archive and manage. But myCumulus can manage two catalogs simultaneously, each of which can have up to 2,000 digital assets. Download it (http://www.canto.com/pro/myCumulusSpecial.php) before Monday!


Sybex has published Richard Lynch's The Hidden Power of Photoshop Elements 3, which includes a CD containing 60 power tools to handle curves, channels, paths, snapshots, history brush application, digital noise reduction, extended batch actions and more.


The Graphic Intelligence Agency (http://www.graphintel.com/cwl) has announced its one-day $349 Color Without Limits seminar to explain color management. The touring event, produced in cooperation with GretagMacbeth, will visit 34 North American cities, January through April 2005.


Adobe (http://www.adobe.com) has released Camera Raw 2.4 beta [MW], a Photoshop CS plug-in that adds support for Raw image files from the Canon EOS 20D, PowerShot S70, PowerShot G6 and EOS-1Ds Mark II; the Konica Minolta DiMAGE A200 and MAXXUM 7D; and the Nikon D2x.


XtraLean Software (http://www.xtralean.com) has released version 1.0 of its $29 Shutterbug [M] to create Web photo albums from iPhoto or Finder folders.


Todd Ditchendorf (http://izoom.us/) has released his donationware iZoom [LMW], a Java application to crop and resize images.


Iridient Digital (http://www.iridientdigital.com) has released its $69.95 Raw Developer 1.1 [M] to convert Raw images from over 100 digicams.


Human Software (http://www.humansoftware.com) has released it $69.95 PhotoFixLens 2.0 [MW], a Photoshop plug-in to correct barrel and pincushion lens distortion.


Acclaim Software (http://www.focusmagic.com) has released its $45 Focus Magic 3.0 [MW], a Photoshop plug-in to correct out-of-focus blur or motion blur, recovering detail like license plate numbers.


Hamrick Software (http://www.hamrick.com) has released VueScan 8.1.14 [LMW], improving color on Epson and Canon scanners.

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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).

YaWah Professional Image Server software: http://www.yawah.com/ir

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
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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