|Volume 8, Number 16||4 August 2006|
Welcome to the 181st edition of the Imaging Resource Newsletter. It's sort of a theme issue. We look at the Lensbaby's selective focusing (and describe an image editing procedure to mimic it), then we report on Kodak's compact 10x zoom. Not only our selective focus on it as a reviewer, but what happened when a friend took our advice and bought one. There are two sides to every story in this issue!
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(Excerpted from the full review posted at http://www.imaging-resource.com/ACCS/LBY/LBY2.HTM on the Web site.)
Whenever we're confronted with a profound philosophical question, we put our feet up (grateful not to be a centipede) and sigh audibly (and, we admit, repeatedly). We find this alerts the neighbors in sufficient time to avoid any awkward pleasantries.
The Lensbaby provided just such an occasion. After shooting with this peculiar lens over a period of several months, we stopped to ask ourselves just what it is we see when we look at things.
Speaking strictly for ourselves, when we cast our vision out upon the world, it focuses only on a small circle of attention. We don't, that is, take in the whole scene at once, but in bite-sized pieces as we scan over it.
We assemble those bite-sized pieces in our brain, comprehending the scene bit by bit. Often we rescan a particular piece of it to see if we really got it right.
All of that happens very rapidly, as if we had snapped a shutter and gotten the picture immediately. Unless we were out too late the night before.
So what if we were able to capture in an image not the whole scene in one gulp but just that initial impression? The moment when our attention was directed to some inspired or prominent point in the scene? What would that look like?
It would look like you shot it with a Lensbaby.
The Lenbaby (http://www.lensbabies.com) focuses only on a small circle of the whole scene. Everything else smears toward the center of attention, where ever it's located in the frame. Brides, of course, love this. Birthday boys don't need convincing. And, when you think about it (with your feet up), it makes sense.
It's a "selective focus" lens for your dSLR, which means you can control how much and which part of the scene is in focus by squeezing the lens into its bellows extension. Fully extended, the Lensbaby focuses about 12 inches ahead. As you pull in and bend the flexible extension, you change focus and move the lens's sweet spot around.
To increase the size of the sweet spot and its depth of field, you change aperture rings. These are nothing more than black magnetic washers. A complimentary mini Lenspen lifts the installed aperture ring out and you simply drop another in.
The lens itself is a coated, high refractive index, low dispersion, optical glass doublet that is about a 50mm equivalent focal length. A macro kit can focus as close as two to three inches away.
When we first tried it, we immediately found it fun to use, but we also immediately realized it takes some practice. It would be a great converter lens for a digicam (especially in Movie mode), but Lensbaby 2.0 is available only as dSLR lens.
Here are the details on the Lensbaby 2.0 itself:
And here are the specs for the Macro Kit:
- Construction: Coated, high refractive index, low dispersion optical glass doublet
- Focal Length: About 50mm
- Focus: Manual from about 12 inches to infinity
- Aperture: interchangeable aperture discs ranging over f2.0, f2.8, f4, f5.6 and f8
- Size/Weight: 2.25x2.5 inches (HxW) and 3.7 oz.
- Mount: Canon EOS/FD/EF, Nikon F, Pentax K, Konica Minolta Maxxum/Manual, Leica R, Olympus 4:3/OM, Contax/Yashica and screw mounts
- +4 Lens: Focus from 6 to 13 inches
- +10 Lens: Focus from 3.5 to 5 inches
- +4 on +10 Lenses: Focus from 2 to 3 inches
USING THE LENS
Mounting the lens is just like mounting any other SLR lens. But focusing a Lensbaby is unlike focusing any other lens.
The Lensbaby focuses about 12 inches in front of itself. That could prove embarrassing in many social situations, so it is actually mounted on a small (but stiff) bellows. When you compress the bellows, focus shifts further away. You can even get to infinity.
How you compress the bellows is not as tricky as it sounds, but it does take two hands. Or fingers. The longest finger on each hand collars the front ring of the lens and pulls in on one or both sides. There's plenty of resistance (so the lens stays aligned when not manipulated by hand), so you won't forget you are manually focusing. In fact, you're really manually focusing.
That doesn't take a lot of practice, but the next trick takes some. Compressing the bellows straight back keeps the in-focus part the image in the center of the frame. But the bellows can compress asymmetrically. That allows you to move the in-focus part of the image around the frame.
Focus is the fun part of the game (even if it takes some practice). But changing apertures is part of the focusing game, too.
HOW TO CHANGE APERTURES
The interchangeable aperture discs are held above the front glass element of the lens by three strong magnets. Drop a disc into the lens well and it snaps right into place without touching the glass. The three magnets actually create a magnetic shield that protects the lens.
To remove a disc, Lensbaby includes a tool with a holder for the other discs and a plastic finger you insert into the hole on the disc to simply lift out the lens. They also include a small Lenspen to clean the lens.
No matter which disc you put in, it can't be adjusted so that leaves shutter speed alone to change exposure. Some dSLRs just won't meter exposure at all if they can't control everything, so you're reduced to evaluating the histogram after every shot. Life could be worse.
We found we needed some pretty fast shutter speeds to get a good histogram, often shooting over 1/1000 second in sunlight.
A FEW TIPS
The company recommends you adjust your viewfinder diopter before using the Lensbaby. With an autofocus lens, that may be just a convenience. But with a manual, selective focus lens, it's a necessity. Make the adjustment using any lens but the Lensbaby, though.
If you practice with the f4 or f5.6 aperture discs, it will be easier to focus. These apertures have a greater depth of focus and larger sweet spot.
Slow and small adjustments to the bellows are more effective. You can easily move right past the focus point without realizing it. One trick worth remembering if you have trouble finding focus on close subjects is to lean in or out without changing the bellows.
Finding -- and holding -- focus is a problem, though. Researching this review, we were amused to see sample images from reviewers who had not spent much time mastering the bellows. All slightly, jarringly, out of focus. A successful selective focus image must have some circle of sharp focus. It isn't really relative. And hitting the sweet spot could be easier. It can be very shallow.
The problem is that, even when you do find focus, it's hard to hold it. There's no detent that locks in the lens position, so you have to freeze your grip.
Sure, it's a gadget lens but it's surprising how often it's just the right approach. Even with the macro kit, which we highly recommend, it isn't expensive. Unless you count the second camera body you'll inevitably want to acquire to keep it handy!
(Excerpted from the full review posted at http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/V610/V610A.HTM on the Web site.)
It's not just compact, it's sleek. It's not just a big zoom, it's the world's smallest 10x zoom. It's not just wireless, it's the new speedy Bluetooth. As Mom said when we showed the Kodak V610 to her, it's "nifty."
That applies to almost any digicam in Kodak's Pocket series. But the Kodak V610 has a much shorter list of compromises than its siblings. It does make compromises, but they seemed smart tradeoffs to us. That isn't always the case.
On the other hand, the Kodak V610 does some things brilliantly. We very much enjoyed its many conveniences: using the 10x zoom over two lenses, wireless printing, sophisticated in-camera panoramas, Kodak's Perfect Touch technology, macro shooting, sports shooting, docking it to make prints and recharge and even selecting Scene modes (something we're not fond of generally).
Let's take a closer look.
A few years ago, Kodak developed a lenticular (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lenticular) plastic card that could display a series of images as you changed the viewing angle. We have one made from 12 shots of a NASCAR race in 1997. As we rotate the top of the card toward myself, one car passes another to win.
The Kodak V610 uses a circular lenticular pattern as a faceplate and it's quite attractive, catching the light like a CD without the psychedelic effect. No NASCAR races, but we're glad all the R&D wasn't wasted.
The second thing that struck us about the Kodak V610's design was how thin it is. It's about as thick as a pack of cards, nothing special there, but its elongated frame led us to expect a little more heft. It's surprisingly more compact than the EasyShare-One, in fact, although the V603 is smaller still.
There is a little heft to it, actually. But the ends of the Kodak V610 are sculpted into something like grips. The left end holds a set of five buttons, while the right has the zoom toggle and navigator. That's a pretty smart arrangement, considering the top panel has a row of buttons, too (three of which illuminate with classy blue LEDs to tell you in Record mode which is active or indicate battery charge). They are organized by function, although the Flash and the Scene buttons seem to float around from one model to another. Here Flash is grouped with Power (which makes sense to us because we always disable it immediately). And Scene is separated from the Auto mode button to live an independent life with Delete, Menu, Review and Share (which makes less sense; except we were glad to have Scene by itself).
Kodak's concept of modes is evolving toward the idea that you are either shooting Stills, Movies or looking at your Favorite images, stored in the camera. We like that simplicity even though it ignores Playback as a concept.
It also ignores manual shooting, which always disappoints us. But it's quite normal for a point-and-shoot where Auto with Scenes serves the most customers.
The design feature we had the most trouble with, hilariously, was the non-protruding behavior of the zoom lenses. Like the V570 (http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/V570/V570A.HTM), each lens on the Kodak V610 has its own sensor and like all folded optics, the lens zooms internally with the sensor tucked into the side of the camera, finally seeing the world through a reflex mirror, much like a periscope. So neither lens protrudes, reducing the likelihood of lens damage.
Of course, that isn't funny when it leads you think the lens is retracted and power is off, so you can put the camera away. You might easily scratch a lens. We had to train ourselves to see if the lens cover was in place before pocketing the Kodak V610.
Two other design features also deserve a little applause. The tripod socket is well away from the battery compartment door on the bottom, so you don't have to upset the apple cart just to get fresh power. And the Dockability of the Kodak V610 is no small convenience, either.
Kodak saved the company with its dockable EasyShare printers that require you to do no more than plop the camera on top of a cute little box to get pro-quality 4x6 prints. At the same time, the box recharges your camera. And, for extra credit, you can even transfer images from the Kodak V610 to your computer (or even run a slide show on a TV) without touching the camera.
It's such a smart concept that other camera manufacturers have adopted the ImageLink dock concept and provide the port in the bottom of the camera as well as the plastic insert that adapts the dock to any camera.
The only thing better than a printer that smart would be wireless operations. Nothing quite compares to the Kodak EasyShare-One when it comes to wireless. It isn't just its Wireless-B transmission (which Canon matches and Nikon exceeds with Wireless-G) but what you can connect to: EasyShare Gallery. You can view your Gallery albums on the EasyShare-One's large LCD and even tell Gallery to email an image from your One. And, of course, upload images anywhere you find a WiFi hot spot.
The Kodak V610 can't do that. It isn't a WiFi device. But it can print and transfer images wirelessly -- just like your camera phone -- using the new, faster, improved Bluetooth 2.0+EDR protocol. We liked that.
Transferring a 624K, 6-Mp image to a PowerBook (one of the first computers to include Bluetooth 2.0+EDR) took about 14 seconds. That would be about 42 seconds to a Bluetooth 1.x device like the Kodak EasyShare Printer Dock Plus Series 3.
Compare that to the Nikon P1, which can send a 2.6-MB file in eight seconds using Wireless-G and you might think that the Kodak V610's Bluetooth is too slow for words. But even at 42 seconds, the V610 can feed the Series 3 data before it gets printed, so that's moot. And while transferring files wirelessly to a computer using Bluetooth may seem like watching spilled milk evaporate, raise your hand if you've ever forgotten to pack a USB cable or PCMCIA card. It can come in handy.
Kodak's also given you the option of transmitting smaller versions of the images, too. Just enough to email or just enough to print a 4x6 print. Our timings were for the full resolution image. Sending the small versions to the PowerBook is almost instantaneous. Though the smallest is only 320x240, it looks a lot better than a camera phone image.
Then again, there's nothing quite as simple as Bluetooth. We don't find WiFi all that much more complicated, but we find nobody bothers to enable things like passwords on their routers (let alone consider the relative security of various protocols). If a Bluetooth device is open, your Kodak V610 can connect. If you want to store the host device in the camera, you just have to enter the device passcode, like any other Bluetooth device.
There's no substitute for a long zoom. Getting 10x the focal length (from 38mm all the way out to 380mm) changes the image far beyond the crop of a 3x or 4x zoom. Starting from 38mm may not seem like a wide-enough angle, since it's very near to the normal range, but we didn't feel cramped when shooting with the Kodak V610 in a small room.
Even more surprising was the detail the 40x digital zoom maintained. We're used to seeing things wash out and become grainy in digital zoomland, but apart from atmospheric haze, this wasn't bad at all. That's in spotting scope range. Not near spotting scope range, but in it. So the Kodak V610 actually puts a spotting scope in your pocket, something that should intrigue bird watchers and relatives with bad seats at graduation ceremonies.
The dirty secret about long zoom is how hard it is to hold the camera steady. A 40x zoom seems to magnify hand shaking about 120 percent. It can be hard to keep the subject inside the Kodak V610's 2.8-inch LCD, in fact.
Unfortunately, the V610 reserves its image stabilization for Movie mode. You'll need a bright, sunny day or a tripod to enjoy all it can do.
This is a slightly bigger LCD at 2.8 inches than the 2.5-inch LCD on the V570 and a slightly smaller one than the EasyShare-One's 3-inch LCD. But it has enough resolution to evaluate the images.
The LCD's glossy surface is not easy to keep clean, though. Touch it and it leaves a fingerprint. Cleaning the fingerprint off takes a good buffing.
We really did enjoy shooting with the Kodak V610. It was quick enough on the draw and the large LCD made it easy to compose images. But it also seemed designed to make its special features particularly accessible.
One of the biggest aids to successful Auto mode shooting is mastering EV settings. Cheating, in other words, a little over or under the exposure Auto prefers. Unfortunately, most digicams hide this feature as if it embarrasses them. Kodak, to its credit, puts it right up front on the V610. The navigator's Left and Right buttons allow you to under and over expose by adjusting the EV setting, giving you instant feedback in the LCD monitor as you click through the progression.
Add the Kodak V610's live histogram to your display (using the Up button) and you've got all the clues you need to optimize the Auto exposure. We don't know why live histograms aren't standard, because they are indispensable. Bravo, Kodak!
Auto can't do everything because everything sometimes goes beyond shutter speed and aperture settings to include flash and other settings you wouldn't have time to consider. That's where Scene modes come in.
On most cameras, navigating Scene modes and their colorful but meaningless icons and terse but technical text descriptions can make them almost unusable. Kodak has addressed this by putting three rows of monocolor icons on the bottom half of the Kodak V610's screen to represent every Scene option at once. As you scroll from one Scene mode to another, the top half of the screen explains what each does. Sort of what you'd tell yourself if you remembered them.
Probably for no other reason than the mode was so easily accessible, we decided to shoot in Sport mode one afternoon waiting for a bus on a four-lane road where vehicles typically shoot by at 50 mph. We were shocked at how setting the Scene to Sport let us catch speedy Hondas and BMWs without blurring them.
With the Scenes displayed, though, we were able to find an alternative called Panning Shot. "Use for expressing speed of subject in motion," said the Kodak V610. Well, that would be nice too, let's try it, we thought. We panned along with the cars and shot, capturing a sharp vehicle against a blurred background.
That's probably the first time we were ever able to play with Scene modes rather than examine, test, try and forget them. The Kodak V610's simple one-screen layout with full descriptions made it possible.
One of the more incredible Scene modes (well, two of them actually) is Panorama mode. There are two: one to shoot left to right and the other right to left. You can take up to three shots in succession, with the edge of the previous shot overlaid on the scene to help you align the next shot. A lot of digicams can do that for you, but Kodak goes further.
When we revealed a few tips for taking panoramas in a previous article, we came up with a set of rules. Six of them, actually. Some of them were a bit of work.
For example, we recommended you use the same exposure for each shot by locking the automatic exposure so it won't change when you move from the brighter side of the scene to the less bright. If you leave it on Auto, the sky won't be the same brightness at the edges you want to stitch together. But the Kodak V610 handles that automatically.
Or take our advice to avoid wide-angle settings that distort the horizon. The Kodak V610 doesn't mind if you back out to 38mm and make a 180-degree panorama in three shots.
But nicest of all, the V610 itself stitches the three images together in just a second or two. You can evaluate the result immediately. And you won't be disappointed. It does a remarkable job.
Playback mode has a trick up its sleeve for the few disappointments you may have captured. It's called Perfect Touch technology. When you see an image you'd like to improve, just press Menu, scroll down to Perfect Touch and take a look at what the Kodak V610 thinks would be an improvement. The screen is split into two halves: the Original and the New image. You can Save As New or just Replace the Original (or Cancel). Kodak says only that it improves the brightness of the image, but that's often enough. Particularly if you're printing directly from the camera.
We cabled the Kodak V610 to our Quibble Meter for a quick evaluation and did get a few things of note on the printout. The smudges on the LCD were the worst of them, though.
Less significant and perhaps just a review unit issue was the loose battery compartment cover. We used that corner to hold the camera steady, so any little wiggle was unnerving. Check yours.
We didn't much mind the need to release the zoom toggle to switch between lenses. It isn't nearly as much trouble as shifting gears, more like pumping air into a tire with a foot pump. One pump doesn't do it, so you try two (well, 50, but you get the idea). But we did mind the difference in zoom rates, let's call it. The Kodak V610's wide-angle lens was smooth and slow while the telephoto zoom was abrupt and jumpy.
We loved this nifty little digicam. The Kodak V610's 10x zoom let us go places we hadn't been before and the 40x digital zoom even more so with surprisingly little dropoff in quality. Bluetooth transmissions would not go unused here, either, providing a handy protocol for sharing images between devices. The controls were easy to get used to and well laid out, the was screen large enough for immediate gratification and the special features were actually useful.
No, it isn't the best image quality. But the problem is more a technical limitation due to such small 10x optics than the substitution of cheap parts. The wide-angle zoom is softer than the telephoto, there is some blur in the corners and luminance is a bit contrasty even at the Natural color setting.
But, you know, we got some great shots with the Kodak V610. And that's what makes us smile!
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 D200 (http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/D200/D200A.HTM)
- Reviewed: Canon 24-105mm f/4L lens (http://www.slrgear.com/reviews/showproduct.php/product/145/cat/1)
- Reviewed: Nikon Creative Lighting System (http://www.imaging-resource.com/ACCS/NIKONCLS/NIKONCLSA.HTM)
- Reviewed: Nikon Coolpix L2 (http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/CPL2/CPL2A.HTM)
- Reviewed: Fujifilm FinePix A500 (http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/A500/A500A.HTM)
- Reviewed: DxO Optics Pro Version 4 (http://www.imaging-resource.com/SOFT/DXOv4/DXOv4.HTM)
- Reviewed: Fujifilm FinePix F470 (http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/F470/F470A.HTM)
We never mind when people ask us what kind of camera to buy. "Anything! They're all great!" we say. That demonstration of our unusually undiscriminating standards usually changes the subject.
Family and friends see another side, though. We show up at birthdays, graduations, bon voyage parties and weddings with a different camera every time, proving our confusion and shifting affections. Sometimes a different one in each pocket. We see no reason not to work while we're having a good time. Or have a good time while we're working.
Recently, we were socializing with a Kodak EasyShare V610 (reviewed above). It was such a hit, the hostess bought one.
It's hard to say just what appealed to her. Kodak would like to think, no doubt, it was the special features of the V610 -- and it has a lot of them. But we rather think it was the ordinary features. There's the small, black case that's really quite stylish. And the big bright LCD (not the biggest, but certainly large enough to enjoy). All the buttons and what they were for weren't really digestable. But one unique feature probably did matter: the double lens providing a 10x range from 35-350mm. Not those numbers, of course, but the effect of seeing the image size change on the LCD as the zoom level was toggled. And especially Macro mode, which gets closer than you're used to with a film point-and-shoot.
The next time we saw our hostess, she'd just returned from a vacation trip to Montana. The V610 had been along for the ride and worked overtime. We were curious to see just what she thought of it now.
Well, she loved it. She was still learning how to use it, she said, but she'd already managed to capture hundreds of images, a good CD's worth.
She'd used Auto mode for most shots, but we were surprised to see how many "stitch photos" she took. Is there a more perfect place for panorama shots than Montana's Big Sky country? The very first ones showed the trouble she had trying to get one image to line up with another (especially viewing the LCD in full sun). Finding a landmark on the edge of the picture, before you take the shot helps, she found. She also wondered how you can calculate the sweep of the panorama. The V610 can put together up to three shots, but it wasn't obvious they can be three wide-angle shots, to grab the largest sweep.
We were surprised that she was learning the Scene modes one at a time, trying to learn what each did. Some of them seemed really useful to her (like the Copy Scene mode that came in handy for capturing a recent diploma on the dining table) but others didn't. "Do we really need a Fireworks mode?" she asked. Well, sure, that can be a lot harder to capture than you might think. "But I never take pictures of Fireworks." Oh, well, no then.
They really got some great images, especially of Yellowstone. It was really a thrill to sit through her slide show. Considering it was a new camera (and an unfamiliar subject), that was remarkable. You just do better with a digicam than a film camera. It's a smarter breed.
Kodak makes the whole experience even more pleasant with its EasyShare software. Well, that's what Kodak says -- and we often parrot that. But, in fact, our friend did install and use Kodak EasyShare software. That was how she ran the slide show.
We found that a little amusing, because she had an iBook and could just as easily have used the vaunted iPhoto. But she chose EasyShare.
But she had a problem with EasyShare, as we found out as soon as we arrived and put the salads down on the kitchen table. Three days of images had simply disappeared. Was there any way to get them back?
You could hear a pin drop.
We were ushered into a back room far from the refreshments and shown the problem. The culprit described what she had done to the extent she remembered (oh, none of us really knows just what we did anyway, but we sometimes do remember what we were trying to do).
She had copied some images in the Date Taken group for that day into the Drawer on the side so she could move them into a new Album. And after she moved them into an Album, she removed them from the Drawer. But that seemed to have deleted them. They were not in the Date Taken section anymore nor were they in the Entire Collection section, a bad sign.
We sat there observantly trying to look smart while reining in our vast expertise. Sometimes doing something is worse than doing nothing.
She had written to the disk since losing the images, so just unerasing them wasn't likely to retrieve them all. Some perhaps. Of course, we didn't bring our laptop to try recovering them in target mode. So we were obliged to look at the problem through EasyShare's eyes. Which was not very helpful. There seemed to be little we could do to help. But we had to do something or we might not get dinner.
Fortunately, we knew just the guy to call. Kodak's Mike Pascucci, who did quality assurance testing on EasyShare, came to the rescue, suggesting we look on the hard disk where EasyShare copies the originals from the camera. And right there in the Pictures folder, we found the Kodak Pictures folder which contained a folder for each of the three missing days.
"He's a genius!" our hostess exclaimed, delighted to be redeemed, amazed at the miracle and anxious to back them up to CD after all. We showed her how to do that and explained the trick while the CD was burning.
EasyShare, like iPhoto and a number of all-in-one programs (including high-end workflow solutions like Aperture) builds a database of your collection. When you create an album in that database, you're really just collecting references to the originals, not actually copying them. You never want to delete the originals just because you've "copied" them to an album. You haven't copied anything. You've just added some data to the database.
Somehow the EasyShare database had become corrupted, losing track of the three folders. How could we get them back into EasyShare? We Imported the first and suddenly all three were visible. Problem probably solved.
Too bad EasyShare doesn't have a Repair function to check the integrity of its database against the Kodak Pictures folder, we thought. But the next day we discovered a newer version of the program, which promised to convert (and no doubt repair) the database format. Upgrading catalog file, it said when we launched it.
The rest of the evening was punctuated with V610 flash shots and laughter and good food. Which is the point of all this advice we give.
Focus only begins with your lens dialing in to one critical plane of the scene before it. It is, in a sense, the proof of photography as an art, requiring the photographer to choose what part of the image will deliver the most information to the viewer.
That choice begins with the focal length but it includes the aperture, enlarging depth of field from the critical plane, and extends to post processing where focus can be manipulated in ways optics can't manage.
Focus, however, has to be captured. Once captured, it can be manipulated (blurred) but it can't be created (sharpened, yes, but not focused).
Focus can be restricted. Depth of field refers to the number of planes in apparent focus. But focus can also be restricted within the planes of apparent focus -- within, that is, the height and width of the image. Both effects can be very dramatic, but the latter is less commonly seen.
Changing aperture (and resetting shutter speed to compensate for the change in exposure) controls depth of field. Simple enough. A wide open lens will capture the fewest planes in focus. At telephoto focal lengths, the effect will be even more dramatic.
But spotlighting focus on a part of the image is a bit tougher trick. Specialty lenses like the Lensbaby (reviewed above) do it in the camera. Andromeda (http://www.andromeda.com) sells VariFocus, a $47 Photoshop plug-in that does it in software. But with the right image editing software, you really don't have to buy anything.
Start with a sharp image. You're going to be introducing blur, so you want to have a sharp image to begin with.
Duplicate the image on a new layer. Then select one of your image editor's blur filters to run on the new layer. A Gaussian blur will blur the image uniformly to the degree you specify.
The next trick is to mask that layer so you can 1) reveal part of the sharp background image underneath it and 2) gradually fade the blur in.
In Photoshop, you simply click on the Layer Mask button at the bottom of the layers palette. In the Tool bar, try the Radial gradient and click the Transparency check box so it's active. You'll also want to switch the foreground color to Black and the background color to White (the opposite of what it normally is).
Now just draw your mask by clicking at the center of the point you want focus to be sharpest and drawing straight out toward the edge of the image. The further you draw, the more subtle the gradient will be. If you draw a short line, your mask will move more abruptly from focused to unfocused.
The key to this is really the type of blur you select and how you adjust its parameters. These change the direction and distance the blur moves. You can also adjust the opacity of the layer to show more of the sharper image underneath.
A radial blur with a radial gradient will give the image a spin. A motion blur with a linear gradient in the direction of the motion blur will give a completely different effect.
As dramatic as the selectively focused image itself is, the effect is even more powerful in a slide show as a still punctuation point among images that hold interest by panning and zooming. And fortunately, it's easy to create.
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 D200 at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?50@@.eea19a9
Visit the Nikon Forum at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?14@@.ee6f781
Kate asks for suggestions for a simple camera for a book project at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?50@@.eea339d/0
Read ongoing comments about DxO Optics Pro v4 at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?50@@.eea336f/0
Visit the Scanners Forum at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?14@@.ee6b2ae
Our happiest moments are when we leave the house with nothing in our pocket but the house key. No credit cards, no cash, no ID at all. Just a key to get back into that well-audited world some time after we've escaped it, taking a stroll as if we had as much right to be in the world as some tree or light post or mail box.
When we pedal the mountain bike up Twin Peaks to take some sample shots with one or another new digicam, we bring the remote control for the garage door. But lately, we've thought of taking a small wallet just in case we blow a tire. Some way of salvaging the adventure, that is.
So we were happy to find the Jimi wallet (http://www.thejimi.com), a plastic case that holds five credit cards and three bills (or two SD cards with an accessory) in a lightweight, water resistant, translucent shell made from recycled material with one percent of its sales invested in the environment.
We liked it so much we thought it would make a great graduation and travel gift, so we bought a few more. And before we knew it, we were sitting down to wrap the little things. Only to find we were completely out of appropriate wrapping paper.
What to do, what to do.
Necessity being related to invention, we made our own on the inkjet printer.
It turns out to be a pretty cool idea. Instead of meaningless but colorful clip art from the stationery store, you can select a meaningful color photograph. Or even a funny one. With thousands to choose from, it shouldn't be hard to find just the right one -- especially if you've keyworded your collection with people's names.
And who knows, the picture on the wrapping paper may make a bigger impression than the present itself.
Naturally, a thin paper does better for folding than a thicker sheet, but 20 lb. bond does fine, too. Laying down less ink isn't a bad idea because there's less ink to dry. It doesn't have to be a gorgeous, frameable photo, after all, just the hint of an image coming through the fog. You definitely don't want to use photo paper for this job, though, because it just doesn't want to be folded.
If you've got a present too large to wrap with a piece of letter-sized paper (printed borderless), consider tiling the image or printing more than one image. You can tile the image just by selecting half or a quarter of it at a time and printing that to fill the page. You can tape them together -- or not. These days you can call anything graphic design.
We haven't quite figured out how to make our own ribbon yet. But there's probably some origami bow to be made from the scraps trimmed out of the paper.
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RE: Flash Options
I bought a flash bracket and a Quantaray QB-350A for my Fuji S9000 camera. The guide number is 70. It fires when the Fuji S9000 internal flash goes off.
I would like to know what non-dedicated brand I can get with a higher guide number.
Can I also connect it with a cable to the camera? Or is that like putting the flash directly on the hotshoe and would the trigger sync voltage effect that and burn out a circuit on the camera?
-- Ray(You have a lot of options, actually. You can use the new external as a slave, triggered from the popup (preferably with its output dialed down). You can cable connect the external to the hotshoe (but if it's an older flash you should protect the camera's circuitry by mounting a Wein Safe-Sync to the hot shoe and the cable to the Wein. And, last on my list, you can connect a PC sync cord between the camera and the flash. -- Editor)(SR Electronics (http://www.srelectronics.com) has a $129.95 Digi-Slave Deluxe 3000 with a guide number of 115 feet at ISO 100.-- Dave)
RE: Powerful Question
I have just read an article which says that lithium ion batteries should be completely discharged and then recharged, otherwise the battery life will be shortened. I have always understood that lithium ion batteries could be recharged at any time, whether completely discharged or not and that this had no effect on the battery life. Which is correct?
-- Harvey Goldman(Well, both <g>. Lithium ion batteries are indeed memory free. You can recharge a partially discharged battery without degrading its performance. But if you do that constantly, the "fuel gauge" in the battery will be inaccurate. Lithium ion battery manufacturers recommend you "calibrate" your battery once a month by letting it run all the way down. That syncs the gauge with the battery charge. The number of charge cycles isn't affected (300-500) but that too is mitigated by the age of the battery as oxidation builds up. About three years is the limit -- and the capacity drop can be sudden. There's more on this at http://www.batteryuniversity.com/parttwo-34.htm. -- Editor)
When I am downloading images from the camera, I get them in JPE and JPG format. How can I get rid of the JPE format?
-- Arleen Griffin(The JPE files are low resolution images created at the same time as the higher resolution JPEGs. They're intended for email. To stop creating them, look for the Mode option in the Record menu (press the Menu button in Record mode) and select Normal. -- Editor)
Photosynth (http://labs.live.com/photosynth), a collaboration between Microsoft and the University of Washington, can turn photos of a place or object into a three dimensional space. It can view a scene from any angle, seamlessly zoom in or out, see where pictures were taken in relation to one another, find similar photos, explore a custom tour or see where you've been and send a collection to a friend.
The Optical Storage Technology Association (http://www.osta.org) has signed an agreement with Ecma International to work together to finalize an industry-wide archival-grade optical disc specification. The goal is the issuance of an ISO standard for established practices in media archive life testing and classification.
Mikkel Aaland and 11 other photographers have gone to Iceland, shooting by day and using Adobe Lightroom beta to import, select, develop and showcase their digital images each night. Adobe Lightroom Adventure 2006 (http://digitalmedia.oreilly.com/adventure) is "the ultimate road test" for the workflow application, Aaland said.
Extensis (http://www.extensis.com) has released Portfolio 8 for the Mac as a Universal Binary Application, adding native support for Intel-based Macintosh systems.
Megaptera (http://www.megaptera.com) has released its $30 Ishmael 1.0 [M] to precisely synchronize voice narration with still images for export as a QuickTime movie.
Sonic Solutions (http://www.sonic.com) has releases a version of Toast 7 [M] with Blu-ray Disc support to store up to 50-GB of data on BD-R or BD-RE discs by dropping them onto a disc.
JetPhoto (http://www.jetphotosoft.com) is both a digital photo organizer (JetPhoto Studio [MW]) and Web publishing platform (JetPhoto Server). JetPhoto Studio let's you create organize and review photo albums on your computer. One mouse click is required to publish your albums to a Web site based on JetPhoto Server.
After over four years of development, the Gutenprint project (http://sourceforge.net/forum/forum.php?forum_id=596232) has released an update to Gimp-Print, renaming it GutenPrint 5.0. The open source package for CUPS provides over 700 printer drivers, many for printers otherwise unsupported.
Ben Long (http://www.completedigitalphotography.com) has released Photoshop Automator Actions v3.0 [M] with 11 new actions and Raw workflow support.
Google (http://picasa.google.com/web/mac_tools.html) released Picasa Web Albums Uploaders for Mac OS X.
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
Curtin Short Courses: http://imaging-resource.com/cgi-bin/nl/pl.cgi?bdc
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