The IMAGING RESOURCE DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY
NEWSLETTER


Volume 7, Number 19 16 September 2005

Copyright 2005, The Imaging Resource. All rights reserved.

Welcome to the 158th edition of the Imaging Resource Newsletter. Finally! A dSLR-sized sensor with a live LCD (not to mention a 24-120mm 35mm equivalent zoom). Shawn bumps bellies with Sony's DSC-R1 while Dave explains the revolutionary technology. We clean a dSLR sensor and live to tell about it before looking over a couple of interesting photo spreads.


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Feature: Sony DSC-R1 User Report

By SHAWN BARNETT
(Excerpted from the full review posted at http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/R1/R1S.HTM on the Web site.)

Sony is not timid. When they commit to a product concept, especially one that will charge in a new direction, their engineers take it all the way. That truth is as clear as the thunk their new Sony DSC-R1 makes when you set it on the table. I've spent a short time with it and I have to say, I'm as impressed as I am flummoxed. The R1 is going to be very popular among Sony aficionados and will have a place in many a photography hobbyist's bag.

When first announced, it was expected to come in at $1,200, but a last minute price drop has changed my impressions quite a bit. I was wondering how a $1,200 digicam would find its niche in a market with $999 dSLRs and $500 long zoom digicams, but apparently someone at Sony wondered the same thing and this rather powerful digicam looks a whole lot more appealing at $999 despite some interface foibles.

THE CONCEPT

Unique in many ways, the Sony R1's chief benefit is in offering a sensor as large as today's affordable dSLRs, but with a live LCD preview. No current dSLR offers full-time color LCD preview, something modern digicam owners have grown to like, and Sony saw an opportunity. They've created a digicam that has a just slightly smaller than APS C-sized sensor -- the size used in Canon's Digital Rebels, Nikon's D50 and D70 and even Pentax and Minolta's dSLR offerings -- but that also has live-preview capability.

The R1 also features a quality lens whose versatility is not currently found in any comparable camera for the same amount of money (Kodak's forthcoming P-series models promise something similar, however). Ranging from 24-120 in 35mm equivalents, the f2.8, 5x Carl Zeiss lens is big, bright and sharp. While this lens is not interchangeable, Sony claims its extremely short back focus significantly reduces chromatic aberration and coma (blurring in the corners), something our tests have borne out.

This is the first time Sony has used a CMOS sensor and it's the first such sensor that can deliver a live image without overheating. But this sensor design has already appeared in another impressive dSLR. Sony was sly about not telling us, but we're pretty sure they're referring to the Nikon D2x. In addition to a slightly lower resolution than the D2x, the sensor in the R1 has a very low power mode that makes it able to draw a live image without overheating the sensor.

(See Dave's full discussion of the R1's finer technology details below.)

USER EXPERIENCE

Overall, I like the camera. With a little time, I think anyone could get used to its interface and capture some pretty impressive images. There are a lot of idiosyncrasies to deal with along the way, however. In their drive to make the R1 unique, they made it somewhat difficult to use. Sometimes it's downright frustrating.

Size. In photos, the R1 looks only a little bigger than the average long zoom digicam. It's quite a bit bigger than that, however, with only a Canon 20D or Nikon D70 slightly eclipsing its profile. Measuring 5.5x3.87x6.25 inches and weighing 2.3 pounds, the R1's size and weight resembles semi-pro SLRs.

But it's designed more like a long zoom digicam, with its large lens barrel, big grip and a large protrusion across the top that houses the LCD and flash. This latter protrusion is shaped like those big HVAC units commonly seen on the top of motorhomes. Extending over an inch from the back panel, jutting out from beneath the big protrusion is the rather pronounced electronic viewfinder.

As if to further define this niche Sony has identified between the dSLR and digicam, though the R1 looks like a digicam, it is built more like the 20D or D70: very solid, with very little body flex. It's a big step up from most long zoom EVF-based digicams in terms of quality, both inside and out.

Grip. When I first held the R1, I didn't like the grip much. It's a bit on the big side, which can be as annoying as a grip that's too small. Right away, my thumb began to hurt like it did after only a short time with the formidable Nikon D2x. Once I learned how to palm the grip properly, though, I was fine with it. Those with longer fingers will rejoice, because there's plenty of room to wrap long digits all the way around the grip. I'd prefer a slightly deeper recess for my thumb, but this works well as is. The camera is heavy enough that you'll need to use your left hand to support it when shooting. Because it has a manual zoom ring on the lens rather than a thumb-driven rocker, you'll need that left hand anyway.

I eschew camera straps and hold the camera in my right hand most of the time and this grip's depth offers lots of surface area to make that a more secure option. When I shift it to my left hand, which I do frequently with heavier cameras, I find I have to be more cautious. The zoom ring on the lens is nice and stiff, but the focus ring behind it spins more freely. I could see myself forgetting this and dropping the camera to the ground, so be advised.

Interface. Digital cameras these days are much like sedans. It's difficult to distinguish one from the other. They all have five-way navigation systems, a thumbwheel, a big LCD and most of the controls are on the camera's top or back. But every once in awhile, someone decides to be different. Sometimes it's great, sometimes things might have been better left alone. The R1 is like that.

First there are the buttons on the Sony R1. They're all over the place and a few are oddly placed, like the ISO button. It's the only button besides the shutter on the camera's top surface, nestled so your index finger touches it every time you reach for the shutter. I kept forgetting it was there and instead looked for the ISO control in the Menu, where you usually find it on a Sony. Instead, you have to press the button, find the active display and turn the Main command dial to adjust the ISO.

The display menu is more than an inch away from either of the displays it affects. I have no problem with the flash and white balance button on the left side by the lens, nor the focus controls, since they're relevant to the lens. But why is the Playback button perched on a cliff right of the EVF with a barely visible small blue icon to indicate its purpose?

Dials, wheels and joysticks are next. On the R1, it's tough to remember which one you need to use for a given function. To move through the menus, you use the five-way toggle. To change selections among Flash settings, you press the Flash button and the thumb dial on the grip, the main command dial. EV and Zoom in Playback mode are controlled by the bigger, sub-command dial surrounding the mlti-selector joystick. Using these controls requires you to see either the LCD or EVF; without them, you're blind to what settings you're changing and how.

THE VIEWFINDERS

I was intrigued when I first heard about the top-mounted LCD. I thought it made sense and I wondered why no one had yet done it. There are a few reasons.

There's a three-position switch under the huge EVF protrusion labeled "Finder, Auto, LCD." To select either the EVF or LCD, you set it far left or far right. In the Auto position, the camera defaults to the LCD until you put the camera to your eye. Then an infrared sensor detects an object nearby and turns the LCD off so you can see an image through the viewfinder. Perfect, right? Wrong.

With the LCD facing up and locked down flush, this mode just frustrates. We've taken to calling it Belly Detection mode, because when you take the classic from-the-waist shot, you hold the R1 near your stomach. Get within an inch of your belly, though, and the LCD turns off. The same goes for when you want to play back your images and relax with the camera near your body. Hey, when the LCD is on top of the camera, you're going to want to hold it this way. But unless you make the effort to hold it out away from your body, that LCD is going to turn off. Naturally, it also happens while you're trying to adjust settings.

The LCD, very nice in its own right, collects fingerprints like a crime scene investigator. Worse, the oily smudges have a tendency to obscure the LCD in bright light, which otherwise performs very well in direct sunlight.

THE GOOD

Those are my main gripes. Though the big EVF protrusion complicates holding the R1 as much as the flip-up LCD does, it also offers a nice relief for the nose. My biggish nose just barely touches the Mode dial. It's also a high-eyepoint viewfinder, very easy to see corner to corner, even with glasses.

The flip-up LCD tilts downward just enough for over-crowd shots, though a little more wouldn't have hurt. It turns left 90 degrees and right 180 degrees. It also snaps closed facing down for protection.

The big power switch surrounds the shutter release and turns on with that signature Sony quality. Of all recent power switches, this one makes the most sense to me.

A stiff door covers the CompactFlash and Memory Stick slots on the right of the R1's grip. I particularly like how the door reaches a point in its smooth swing and then snap-locks open.

Right next to the R1's pop-up flash is Sony's now nearly ubiquitous amber AF Assist lamp. It's just as bright as the lamp on other Sony cameras. The only disappointment is it isn't the amazing laser AF assist found on the F828 and V3. The other big surprise is the flash mount perched right atop the R1's grip. Unusual placement, but very logical given the already significant weight out by the camera's lens. I think adding a flash would go a long way toward balancing the camera. Yep, just tossed another manufacturer's flash on there and the balance is far better; looks cool too. Just needs a battery grip to complete the picture, though there are no signs there will ever be one, because the battery door is not removable.

Another aspect worth praise is Sony's use of the standard menu system on the R1, with elements common among Sony digicams. Though it's completely different from anyone else's, it works very well, looks contemporary and is familiar to Sony fans.

SHOOTING

Out in the field is where the fun begins. The R1 makes each shutter click feel like the best shot you've ever taken. And the sense of fun when shooting with the R1 very often does turn into good and interesting pictures. I suppose that 24mm lens contributes as well. It's sufficiently close to the average human's field of general attentiveness, so you're able to include more of your world in your pictures. As such, any digicam or dSLR/lens combination that includes this focal length should be in any photography hobbyist's top ten list.

I love the zoom ring on this camera. When you pay this much for a camera/lens combination, you don't want a sloppy fly-by-wire pseudo-mechanical zoom, you want the fine control and speed that a real zoom ring delivers. Crazy enough, despite the R1's size and weight, it was the live LCD display and overall design that kept me searching for the zoom toggle on the back of the camera from time to time. There are so few digicams with a zoom ring that it took some getting used to.

Despite all the interface problems, I still found myself inspired to get creative. I wished for some event with lots of people to really put the camera through its paces, but I think the camera is more suited to art photography. Artists are wont to spend more time on an image and this camera caters to that.

I also ran the camera though the toddler test, since I have one at my home testing lab. After about 20 shots, I got one I liked. It was in sharp focus and was framed well (my ISO-standard son is a gadget freak like his father, so it's tough to get shots of him doing anything but trying to get close so he can grab the latest review camera). I got far more good shots of my ISO-standard 7-year-old, who was more likely to sit still, at least while doing her homework.

The camera focuses quickly, so in theory, it should be fine for kid pictures and other action shots. Because I was shooting in Auto mode, I suspect I may have had trouble with depth of field, since I could usually detect a band of focus somewhere in the shot, but it wasn't always on the critical part of the child. Much of this is due to unfamiliarity with the camera's sweet spots, but of all the shots I took, few are crystal sharp. The ones that are do impress indeed. A particular shot of my son's face yields an amazingly sharp view of his eye when zoomed to 100 percent on a computer monitor.

The other impediment to calling this an action camera is its slow shutter lag numbers, combined with the low burst depth of three frames. You do get all of those frames in one second if the shutter's going fast enough, but you really have to time your usage of Burst mode, because it's a full three to four second wait until you can fire your next burst.

MARKET

The R1 was destined to a mediocre performance in the market if it came out priced at $1,200. But the $999 price point is just about right for a 5x zoom camera with a relatively bright f2.8 lens that reaches back to 24mm and a 10.3-megapixel sensor slightly smaller than APS-C sized and that exceeds the pixel count of the SLRs they're looking at. It would be hard to get these features in a dSLR without paying quite a bit more, starting with $300 to $600 in lenses. It's enough to make the spec-savvy buyer feel like they're getting a bargain.

Though it has its quirks, the R1 will be tough to send back at the end of the review period. I think it will be very popular among Sony aficionados. They will scoff at my critique and learn to love every foible and difficulty they encounter as part of the wonderful personality of the R1. And as long as they're happily capturing the fine images this camera is able to produce, they'll be right.

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Feature: Sony DSC-R1 Technology Notes

By DAVE ETCHELLS
(Excerpted from the full review posted at http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/R1/R1S.HTM on the Web site.)

As you may have gathered from Shawn's User Report above, the Sony DSC-R1 is an unusual beast, incorporating technological twists not found in any other digital camera. Here are my notes on a few of the major developments embodied in the R1.

BIG SENSOR, LIVE VIEWFINDER

At the heart of the Sony DSC-R1 story is its combination of a slightly less than APS-C sized image sensor with a live LCD viewfinder display. The larger physical pixel dimensions of big image sensors lead to improved light sensitivity and lower image noise levels, while the live LCD viewfinder provides precise framing, flexible shooting angles and the ability to preview white balance and exposure. The R1 sensor is the same size as those found in a majority of dSLRs currently and its ISO and noise performance are at least in the same category, too.

But larger image sensors require more power to clock the data off the array. This isn't a problem when you only have to read out the image data two or three times a second, but a live LCD viewfinder requires clocking the data off at least 15 times a second, preferably more. With an ordinary CCD imager as large as the one in the R1, that would require a couple of watts of power, about half the amount required to power a household night-light. A bit much for a digital camera, to say the least.

On the R1, Sony is using CMOS sensor technology to beat the power problem. CMOS sensors in general require less power to read data out of the array and some designs even permit some level of random access to the pixels, further reducing power requirements. In the R1's chip, Sony has apparently worked some electronic magic to reduce the power levels below what even conventional CMOS imagers would require. Comparing the R1 to the earlier DSC-F828, total power associated with image readout (driver circuitry, the sensor chip itself and the output sample/hold circuit) has been reduced from 0.75 watts to only 0.2 watts, even while the array size has been considerably increased. Besides making the live LCD viewfinder possible, this also contributes to improved battery life overall.

While the through-the-lens optical viewfinders of dSLRs provide accurate framing and generally better low-light usability than electronic viewfinders, they can't show exposure or white balance like an LCD. And the R1's tilt-swivel LCD also greatly facilitates overhead or ground-level shooting. When it comes to low light shooting, the live viewfinder on the R1 does better than most in dim surroundings, but still doesn't work down to as low a light level as a human eye behind an optical viewfinder. Overall though, the R1's combo of live LCD display and near-APS-C sensor size is quite an accomplishment and opens the door to other camera improvements as well.

But there's one very common all-in-one digicam feature missing: Movie capture. Apparently the large sensor size just doesn't permit rapid enough readout or data processing to provide a Movie mode. That's a shame, as movie capability is one of the key advantages of all-in-one digital camera designs over the dSLR format and an increasingly popular feature with consumers.

OPTICS: SHORT BACK-FOCUS

While a live LCD viewfinder display is a nice feature, it's actually not the biggest benefit of the R1's advanced sensor design. Eliminating the large mirror box of dSLR designs also conveys huge optical benefits to the lens system. Reducing the "back-focus distance" of the lens actually makes it much easier to reduce chromatic aberration and other optical defects.

Back-focus is the distance between the rear element of the lens and the surface of the imager and has much to do with how difficult it is to engineer the lens system for low chromatic aberration and other distortions. One way to understand this is to consider that the lens has to project the image across the gap between the back of the lens and the sensor itself. It makes sense that the smaller this distance, the more accurate the projection.

In a conventional SLR, the minimum back-focus distance is set by the space required for the rotating mirror assembly. SLRs built on conventional 35mm bodies typically have back-focus distances of 30mm or more, while special digital-specific lenses (like Canon's EF-S series) have back-focuses of about 20mm. By contrast, the R1's optical system has a back-focus distance of only 2.1mm. This should translate into noticeably lower chromatic aberration at wide-angle focal lengths and in fact, we saw very little chromatic aberration with the R1 our test shots. There was a small amount of chromatic aberration present, but it was quite a bit less than we'd normally expect on a high-end prosumer digital camera. The R1's lens also showed considerably better corner sharpness than we're accustomed to seeing from cameras in this price range.

The excellent optical quality of its lens does a lot to shore up the R1's competitive position relative to removable-lens dSLRs. While you can get a very nice dSLR with lens for about what you'll have to pay for the Sony R1, you'd have to shell out a lot of cash to match its combination of focal length range and genuinely excellent optical quality. You could easily pay more than the cost of the entire R1, just for a lens or pair of lenses to equal its optical capability and quality.

COLOR RENDERING: VIVID MODE

Most cameras have a color mode that boosts color saturation. Here again though, Sony's briefing materials called special attention to the the R1's Vivid mode. The briefing document seemed to focus on "depth of sky" (deeper, richer hues in sky colors) as the primary intent of Vivid mode and it does appear to emphasize and deepen blues a fair bit. Overall though, Vivid mode appears to emphasize all the additive primary colors (reds, greens and blues) about equally, leaving purples, some cyans and yellows more or less untouched.

Color saturation is a pretty subjective thing, with different people having widely varying preferences. So there'll likely be a wide range of reaction to Vivid mode on the R1. I'm personally not to a big fan of highly saturated color, so I much prefer the R1's Standard color rendering. Fans of bright, saturated color may well love it though.

ADVANCED GRADATION CONTROL SYSTEM

The R1 introduces a new technology Sony calls the Advanced Gradation Control System. More than just a contrast adjustment, AGCS analyzes the tonal distribution of the scene and then stretches or compresses the tonal scale as needed to make best use of the total tonal range.

The action taken depends on the particular scene being shot. A low contrast subject will have its tonal scale stretched (increasing contrast), while a subject with a very wide tonal range (like a backlit subject) will have its tonal range compressed.

Because it's histogram based, AGCS should do better dealing with different parts of the tonal scale in the same image. Duller highlights may be pushed higher up the tone scale and somewhat compressed, while dark shadows will also be pulled up the tonal scale, but have their tonal range expanded.

In our own test shooting with the R1, the effects of AGCS were very subtle. We only clearly detected it at work on a single image. The firmware in our late-revision prototype may be updated prior to production release and we hope it improves AGCS. The concept is an excellent one, if it can just be tweaked a little to have a greater impact on typical subjects.

SUMMARY

While a tweaked Vivid mode will appeal to some users and AGCS seems to hold some potential, the big story with the R1 is the combination of its large sensor and its live LCD viewfinder -- and particularly what that combination did for the overall optical design.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The Sony DSC-R1 is a very compelling entry in the high-end enthusiast category. It offers an unusual focal length range, with very high optical quality, attractive color and very appealing tonality in its images. We found some of its ergonomics decidedly awkward and both timing performance and high-ISO noise levels aren't up to the best of the dSLRs currently on the market. As such, it's clearly not a dSLR-killer, nor does it seem intended to be (Sony after all has announced plans to develop their own line of dSLRs in cooperation with Konica Minolta). If you can live within its 24-120mm 35mm equivalent focal length range though, the combination of lens and camera can't be equalled for less than twice its selling price of $999. U.S. availability is slated for Nov. 20, so Sony fans (and others looking for a lot of camera for the price) should start saving their pennies.

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New on the Site

At http://www.imaging-resource.com/NEW1.HTM you can keep track of what's new on our main site. Among the highlights since the last issue:

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Advanced Mode: We Clean a dSLR Sensor

One of the dirty little secrets of using a dSLR is that, just like a film SLR, dust will find it's way into its more sensitive parts. On a film SLR, the problem is confined to the focusing screen because any dust that gets to the film plane is moved when the film advances. But on a dSLR, the photo sensitive element just sits there waiting for trouble. Your sensor accumulates dirt like a focusing screen.

So if you own a dSLR, the day is coming when you'll have to clean the sensor.

That's something of a radical statement, depending on which camera you own. Some manufacturers don't want you in there and say so, suggesting you return the camera to them for cleaning or use a dust-removal filter in their software. Some, well one (Olympus), provide a sensor-cleaning function. Others realize cleaning is inevitable and provide some guidance.

We accelerated the dirt-accumulation process by requesting a loan from Konica Minolta and getting a well-used 7D. It came with dirt on the sensor, as an early shot of a blue sky quickly revealed.

The manual has a chapter titled "Clean CCD" so we didn't feel we had to endure the inefficiencies of applying a filter to every shot we took or send the camera in for cleaning. The filter, however, is a great morning-after fix.

Of course, we had also researched this subject thoroughly, reporting on Visible Dust's cleaning tools (http://www.visibledust.com), less expensive alternatives (our Mar. 18 issue with an Apr. 1 followup) and citing the comprehensive discussion of techniques by camera repairman Curt Fargo on his site (http://www.cleaningdigitalcameras.com), featuring those used in-house by Canon, Fuji, Kodak, Nikon, Olympus, Pentax and Sigma. And we note that Intemos (www.intemos.com), an optical cleaning specialist, has posted a video demonstrating their technique just to show how easy it is.

But now it was time for us to bite the bullet and try to clean a sensor. Profit from our experience, but don't mistake this for a recommendation. We are extremely adroit, uncommonly intelligent and unfailingly fortunate. Your mileage may vary.

The manual wisely warns that you can damage your camera. It mentions the CCD specifically, but the CCD is protected by glass. You can scratch that glass if you screw this up, no doubt, which does mean replacing the CCD. But you aren't really touching the sensor itself.

It also explains that dust can get into the camera whenever you change lenses (one of the reasons you bought a dSLR). It prudently reminds you to examine the rear of the lens you are attaching to make sure it's clean before you mount it. And not to meanwhile leave the camera body exposed. Just put the body cap on if you have to leave the body lensless for a moment. It also helps a bit to mount the lens with the camera facing down so dust won't fall onto the sensor.

The manual recommends you clean the CCD in a "dust-free environment." Yes, well. Find the cleanest place you can (and not one whose dust you've just stirred up by, uh, dusting). Still air is a big help. Stay out of the wind.

The trick to exposing the sensor assembly, the manual reveals, is to lock up the mirror. You can damage the mirror if the camera battery runs out of power dropping the mirror down with your fingers in there. Attaching an AC adapter sounds like a good idea -- unless you suddenly lose power. A fully charged battery is a safer approach, we think. We fully charged the battery first.

So there we were with enough battery power to survive what we hoped was no more than a two minute drill, in a still part of our not quite immaculate bunker and ready to inspect the sensor glass. Sunlight was conveniently streaming over our left shoulder.

We went to the Tools menu of the LCD and selected the Clean CCD option. A dialog box advised us to turn the camera off after cleaning the CCD. It also asked us to confirm that we wanted to continue. We selected Yes and the mirror flipped up.

We took off the lens and saw the sensor glass. We rotated the camera body back and forth to flash glare across the surface of the glass, revealing a blob or three of dust. It's defenses exposed, the enemy was cornered.

The manual recommends using a blower brush and warns against using compressed air. Compressed air is great for cleaning slides before scanning them, but dust blasted by compressed air doesn't really have a clear escape route from the camera and things are quite delicate in there, too. But compressed air has a role to play here. Blow it through your blower brush's hairs to help them attract dust particles.

We angled the camera body downward so dust could drift out of the camera if it had to fall. The 7D will beep if the battery power becomes dangerously low, but that didn't happen to us. We reached in with the blower brush and gave a few soft swipes to the glass. No, we didn't do a full swipe of the glass. We were as delicate as a butterfly, barely touching the surface of the glass, hardly bending the hairs of our brush.

We also did a bit of a vacuum, squeezing the blower before we entered the chamber and letting it fill with chamber air before we swiped.

We inspected the glass in the glare again and were delighted to see it was spotless.

On went the lens, off went the camera, the mirror returning to its normal position. We stepped outside the bunker to take a few test shots and were delighted to see how clean the sky had become. Sensor cleaning done right probably even protects the ozone layer.

Fortunately, we didn't have to deal with smudges or goop or road tar. But goop is not uncommon. We asked Dave how he handles it.

"We recently had a problem with a Nikon D2x," he said, "where the dust just wouldn't come off with any amount of gentle blowing and brushing. Scanning the Web, I came across Nicholas R's excellent tutorial (http://copperhillimages.com) on the 'Copper Hill method,' a combined wet/dry approach. Impressed, we ordered his $30 cleaning kit and gave it a try. It worked GREAT! The most stubborn specks came right up, and the kit is good for dozens and dozens of additional cleanings. If you encounter any dust that the blower brush won't dislodge, I highly recommend Copper Hill's Complete Sensor Cleaning Kit."

Dust is inevitable, perhaps even goop. Cleaning, fortunately, is not difficult.

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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 Sony Cyber-shot DSC-R1 at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?13@@.eea01fa

Visit the Olympus Forum at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?14@@.ee6f783

Sid asks about Canon lenses at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?50@@.eea01cf/0

Ted asks about cameras with low shutter lag at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?50@@.eea0105/0

Visit the Professional Digital Forum at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?14@@.ee6b2b4

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Just for Fun: Two Spreads, Far Apart in Age

We ran after our reading this weekend (as opposed to catching up, which we never quite manage). At top speed that means flipping through pages looking for cool pictures. Two photo spreads forced us to slam on the brakes and take a closer look.

The first was Micah Ganske's digital images. They start life as digital photos and seem to end up as digital photos, but they're really not photos. The illusions, created with Photoshop, won Ganske an Adobe Design Achievement award (http://www.adobe.com/education/winners/2005/ganske.html).

Ganske is 25 and his series of images titled "Look Into My Eyes" reflects a "certain visual trope" from video games, he said. There are two hands in most of these images of everyday life, somewhat like the magician showing you the box is empty. So where's the camera? Cropped out of each image composited into the final.

The New York Times recently ran a six image deconstruction of his self-portrait while shaving, showing the individual images and the challenges to the composition each was taken to resolve. A single shot of his left hand, for example, was required because the depth of field wasn't adequate for both hands in one shot. And Ganske was also able to maintain a perspective on the composition by referring to previous shots on the digicam's monitor.

The second spread that made our heart skip a beat was photographer Art Shay's images titled "Patient's Eye View" in the Times Magazine. At 83, Shay isn't much influenced by video game tropes. His 25,000 published images have appeared in Life, Time, Fortune, Sports Illustrated and a few other places (http://www.stephendaitergallery.com/dynamic/artist.asp?ArtistID=7).

So, he figured, why not document his own cardiac surgery to replace a failing aortic valve? The valve itself was replaced with a pig value 17 years previously, so Shay had already done a dry run.

The six images cover his ride to the operating room, an electrocardiogram after surgery, a self-portrait with oxygen mask, the removal of electrical leads from his chest, his wife Florence slipping some elastic socks on him to reduce swelling and his old pig valve. They're mostly extreme wide-angle shots and not identified as digital images, although Shay said he was editing them seven weeks after surgery.

In our more expansive moods, we wonder if the digicam doesn't resemble movable type as a technological breakthrough. It's certainly broadened photography's view in much the same way movable type expanded publishing's topics. Digicams go everywhere. Everything is being photographed.

Evacuees from Katrina post shots of the devastation on the Web. Police solicit digital images as part of their investigation into the London subway bombings. Soldiers take digicams into battle in Iraq. And show up uninvited everywhere. Nothing is beyond the view of the wide-angle 3x zoom, apparently.

It's sort of the micro view of that famous shot from the moon that shows the Earth as a blue jewel in space. Now we can see more closely just what makes it shine.

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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: Wireless Flash

Your timing for "Wireless Flash" was perfect. After spending about three hours reading and re-reading my manuals for SB-600 and Nikon D70S, I think I've got a good handle on it. Thanks for this great feature.

-- Tom Bookey

(Need a telepathic article on wireless flash? No problem. -- Editor)

RE: Shutter Lag

I don't understand why shutter lag on a digicam is more than on any film point-and-shoot or more than any SLR or dSLR. Lens zoom shouldn't be an excuse. I'm not talking about continuous shots where memory lag may be important if there is no internal buffer. Has there been any literature/reports/technical discussion on the reasons for shutter lag? I use a Canon G3 (significant shutter lag) and a Nikon D70 (no noticable shutter lag).

-- Robert M. Lurie

(Shutter lag is multi-factoral, Robert. Zoom itself isn't an issue (you rarely zoom as you press the shutter button) but the way digicams autofocus does cause a significant delay (where significant is measured in fractions of a second). Dave explains the process, "Digicams clock the actual image data off the CCD, run a computation it to figure out how well-focused the image is, adjust the lens, and then clock off another sample of data." A dSLR, in contrast, delegate the task to a separate focus sensor, which is much faster. Auto white balance and auto exposure also contribute but not nearly as much. And that live LCD preview takes its toll, too (constantly refreshing the display before the buffer has to be cleared for the shot). When you half press the shutter button, you freeze many of those calculations and shutter lag disappears on currently shipping digicams. Old digicams show a significant improvement, too. -- Editor)

RE: Converter Menu?

I have read your review of the new Canon S2 IS digicam. Your review is very detailed and complete. I have a question on one item. Under the heading Record Menu you list the item "Converter: Used to tell the camera which conversion lens is attached to the S2 IS". What does selecting which converter is on the camera do to the camera? I have a Canon A80 with a wide-angle conversion lens. All I need to do is attach the lens adapter and the conversion lens and start taking pictures. I don't need to make any additional selections from the menu.

-- John Imholt

(Generally speaking, a converter menu option optimizes the camera set up to take full advantage of the converter. Some of this you may be able to domanually, zooming to wide-angle, for example, as soon as you noticed vignetting in the LCD. But, depending on the camera, setup can also involve limiting the zoom extension so it won't hit the converter and setting the lens elements in the zoom to focus through the converter. -- Editor)

RE: Astrophotography

Has there been any reviews on digital cameras that are preferred for astrophotography? I would like to take some photos of the heavens and just wondered if you have any info on the subject?

-- Phil Toleikis

(We did a little research on this a while ago, Phil, when we were looking for a new home <g>. A dSLR is more suited to this than most digicams. You need to make very long exposures and minimize camera shake. Few digicams let you control the shutter very well either for duration or activation (although a few have remote control shutters). A dSLR handles either easily. It's also a lot easier to mount a dSLR on a telescope using a T-ring/adapter rig. With a digicam, you have to shoot through it's lens, not replace it with the telescope. Mounting a digicam can be a nuisance, too. Canon has actually designed its 20Da dSLR for astrophotography (http://www.imaging-resource.com/NEWS/1117648098.html). -- Editor)
(The active-pixel noise suppression technology used on Canon's CMOS sensors (but not their CCD sensors) delivers amazingly clean images from multi-minute exposures. Canon has discussed this in technical white papers, but they're keeping some details close to their corporate vests. You might also find Max Lyons' Image Stacker (http://www.tawbaware.com/imgstack.htm) helpful in dealing with light pollution. -- Dave)
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Editor's Notes

O'Reilly Media (http://www.oreilly.com) has signed an agreement with digital photo pioneer Stephen Johnson to publish two books in the coming year. Planned for release is With a New Eye: Stephen Johnson's Journey through America's National Parks, Johnson's large format digital photographs of 50 national parks which was over a decade in the making. Also planned for release is Stephen Johnson On Digital Photography, a practical guide chronicling Johnsonıs ride on the bleeding edge of digital photography's evolution.

ITEM: Don't miss Dave's report (http://www.imaging-resource.com/NEWS/1126887991.html) from Canon's one-company trade show in New York City this week, where the company gave a peek at a few key technologies that will impact digital photography in the near future.


TimTech Computer (http://www.robogeo.com) has released its $22.95 RoboGEO 2.0 [W] to permanently record where digital photos were taken by stamping the latitude, longitude and altitude read from a Garmin GPS unit onto the images or by embedding the data into the image's Exif header.


Maple & Star AB (http://www.image-encrypt.com) has released its $35 Inzomia Image Encrypt [W] to protect digital images from viewing using the Twofish algorithm. Using on-the-fly encryption, the decrypted file is not stored on disk where it would be exposed. And on-the-fly decryption by Inzomia Image Viewer makes viewing encrypted images just as easy as viewing unprotected images.


Roxio (http://www.roxio.com) has updated Toast 7 [M] to deal with audio issues and movie exports from Motion Pictures HD.


Hi-Touch (http://www.hitouchimaging.com) has announced a rebate and a rental program. The rebate program runs from Oct. 15 through Jan. 31, 2006 for the 631PS ($30), 641PS ($30), 730PS ($50) and 730GALA ($50) dye sub printers. The rental program, available at selected dealers, gives event photographers access to HiTi printers to print on site at their next event. Call (866) 999-4484 for more information.


Magix (http://www.magix.com) has announced its $39.99 Photostory on CD & DVD 4 [W] to automatically fix photos and add 3D transitions, fades, effects and sounds to slide shows that can be burned to CD or DVD and viewed on any TV or computer screen.


Belight Software (http://www.belightsoft.com) has released its free Image Tricks 1.1 [M], an image editor with over 30 filters based on Tiger's Core Image engine, iPhoto integration and file conversion capability. The new version supports new Core Image filters, mask application, rotation and more.


Hamrick Software (http://www.hamrick.com) has updated its VueScan scanning software [LMW] to fix a problem with the UMAX PowerLook 1000 and the Kodak RFS-3570.

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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).

Digital Photography Tutorials for Beginners: http://www.photoxels.com

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:

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Happy snapping!

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

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