|Volume 9, Number 12||8 June 2007|
Welcome to the 203rd edition of the Imaging Resource Newsletter. We scan SilverFast's latest new tricks before touring Epson's V700 scanner. Then we practice mouse medicine, discuss linear capture and hit for the cycle. Enjoy!
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LaserSoft recently released an update to SilverFast (http://www.silverfast.com), its venerable scanning software application we reviewed in November 2002 (http://www.imaging-resource.com/SOFT/SF6/SF6.HTM). That review covered version 6 -- and the latest release is still version 6. But a lot has changed with the last update.
In fact, a lot has changed since the blockbuster release of version 6.5r5 just a few months ago. With release 6 of version 6.5 (pay attention now), LaserSoft has gotten into the calibration game, selling barcoded IT8 targets that work with its software to provide one-click calibration convenience.
Version 6.5 introduced a couple of very helpful new technologies, too, so if you haven't upgraded lately, or you're still using the SE lite version that came with your scanner, you might think about upgrading to Ai version 6.5r6. Let's take a look at the major new features to see why.
It seems obvious, but automatically identifying the scannable parts of a film holder like a 12-up slide holder should be something any scanning software package should know how to do. Typically, however, only the manufacturer's software is privy to the location of the images in its holders. Every other application requires you to identify the scannable areas in some sort of batch mode, saving the configuration for reuse later. For some reason batch processing just gets no respect.
With this revision, SilverFast has made a stab at auto identification, scanning the preview you make manually and drawing frames where it thinks images are. At the same time, Auto Frame Alignment (new in Release 6) can straighten those frames out (if, for example, you are scanning prints that are not easily aligned on the scanner glass).
Unfortunately, our experience was problematic (to use a polite word), even after upgrading to release 6, which, we were told, made significant improvements in this function. And given its very imprecise selection tools (at least on the Mac) for marking up the full view size of the preview (showing the whole scanner bed on the screen, that is), that's unfortunate. It still takes a lot of twiddling to identify scan areas in SilverFast unless you're working with a 100 percent preview.
To use the feature, first make a preview scan and then click the Auto Frame button identified by an icon with two images surrounded by dotted black lines. You can see it identify frames, marking them with marching ants and moving on to the next. The selected frame is outlined in red with a large crosshair in the middle that can also be used for rotation.
You can delete frames by selecting them individually and clicking the Trash icon. In release five, we had to delete a lot of empty slide slots on the holder. SilverFast seems to identify scannable frames by contrast detection. Hence a dark slide only convinced SilverFast a part of it was the image. The program, in short, doesn't look for a repeating pattern (as you might have on a 12-up slide holder). In release six, the function only found one frame. We didn't have to do any deletions, but we didn't enjoy any automation either.
This is a new function, so we hope a little more tender loving care will turn it into the useful tool we all could use.
The most exciting development in this release, however, is the new multi-exposure option. At PMA we discussed the feature with several scanner manufacturers who were universally delighted with it.
LaserSoft discovered that by scanning once for highlights and once for shadows (at two different exposures that is) and then combining the two scans into one high density range image, it was able to 1) reduce noise while 2) revealing shadow detail and 3) still retain highlight detail.
Scanner manufacturers are fond of quoting Dmax numbers (especially above 4.0), for their units but they don't easily confess that they've cranked up exposure so much to get that Dmax that the highlights are blown out. The rarely quoted density range is what you're really interested in (Dmax minus Dmin) for single pass scanning.
But with Multi-Exposure you can tap into that Dmax to get shadow detail without sacrificing highlight detail, which can be captured on a second pass exposed just for them. Ingenious.
LaserSoft claims the new feature makes multi-sampling obsolete. And we agree. Unfortunately the feature isn't available for all scanners that run SilverFast. Check the SilverFast site to see if your scanner is supported. If it is, consider yourself the proud owner of a new scanner. It's that good.
To use Multi-Exposure, pick a 48-bit scanner setting, set the Multi-Sampling option to "1" and then click on the Multi-Exposure button below it to set it to "2." Your scanner will perform a dark scan of the shadow detail and a lighter scan of the highlight detail and then merge the two together into a 16-bit channel file.
We found it helpful to adjust exposure before scanning, which we would normally do. The presets for type of scan are disabled in this mode.
With release 6 of version 6.5, SilverFast also includes auto calibration. This new trick uses the auto frames detection capability as well as new IT8 targets manufactured by LaserSoft that include barcodes.
The barcodes imprinted on LaserSoft's IT8 targets tell SilverFast exactly what reference data to use for the target. You can do this manually, of course, for any IT8 target (as you always have), but the one-click automation can do it for you with the barcode. The reference data simply tells the calibration software what the values of each color block on the target actually are, as opposed to how the scanner has read them. The difference is the calibration.
This works with both reflective and transmissive targets, both of which are available from the company (http://www.silverfast.com/show/it8/en.html). The transparencies available include Kodak 35mm ($50), 6x7 ($33) and 4x5 ($33), Fuji 35mm ($110), 6x7 ($95) and 4x5 ($95). Reflective targets include Fuji 10x14cm ($33), 5x7 ($33), 16x21cm ($76).
Version 6.5 can also scan to PDF, pass SilverFast Ai's HDR gamma optimizations of 48-bit scans on to SilverFast HDR for further processing and adds a color cast neutralizer to NegaFix.
Version 6.5 is a compelling upgrade and release 6, with the inclusion of auto calibration, makes it a no-brainer for commercial studios where time is money. We'd like to see auto frame alignment polished a bit, but that's no reason to deny yourself the advantages of innovations like Multi-Exposure and its other useful improvements.
(Excerpted from the full review posted at http://www.imaging-resource.com/SCAN/V700/V700.HTM on the Web site.)
We've been working with an Epson V700 in the bunker since July of last year, thanks to a quite generous loan from the company. Its distinctive dark gray and silver squared-off design takes up a corner of our large equipment table, connected to our main systems via a USB 2.0 port, the recommended configuration.
Epson sells this scanner in two versions: the $549.99 V700 Photo and the $799.99 V750-M Pro. It's the same hardware (except the V750 has an anti-reflection optical coating applied to the CCD glass and comes with a fluid mount accessory). The real difference is in the bundled software. Both come with Epson Scan software and Adobe Photoshop Elements, but the V700 includes LaserSoft SilverFast SE6 while the V750 adds Monaco EZ Color and SilverFast Ai 6.
We've used the V700 for nearly all our scanning, from simple copier tasks through high resolution film scans for prepress. No matter what we threw at it, it never missed a beat.
With one of the highest scan resolutions available in a desktop model at 6400 dpi and a dual lens design that can digitize a slide at 2400 dpi in a minute, that's no surprise. Indeed, VueScan author Ed Hamrick cites it as one of the best high-end flatbeds. Let's take a look at what makes this Epson the state of the art.
Highlights of the Epson V700 include:
- A scan resolution of 6400 dpi optical resolution, thanks to an exclusive arrangement for that size CCD
- A dual lens system that automatically selects the lens based on the resolution required
- A Dmax of 4.0
- Digital ICE to remove dust and scratches from film and reflective material
- Batch scanning of slides, negatives and medium format film using plastic carriers that slip into place on the scanning bed
UNDER THE HOOD
Several interesting technologies at work in the V700/V750 are worth highlighting.
Epson's Dual Lens System employs two lenses mounted on a single carriage that switch automatically depending on the resolution required. Reflective art up to 4800 dpi is scanned in the High Resolution Lens Mode and film at 6400 dpi is scanned in the Super Resolution Lens Mode.
In Super Resolution Mode, the larger diameter lens and a higher f-stop optimize the modulation transfer function to capture the highest possible level of detail and sharpness. But Super Resolution Mode is limited to a maximum width of 5.9 inches instead of the full 8.5 width of High Resolution.
The scanners also implement Digital ICE, which scans the original with infrared light to identify physical defects on prints and color film.
The film holders use hard rubber height adjusters to adjust how far off the glass platen they sit, allowing you to slightly alter focus. This can be helpful with curled film where the subject is not sitting in the expected plane of focus. It may also be worth experimenting with to find the optimum height setting for your particular scanner.
USING THE SCANNER
A big part of the scanning experience -- both frustration and thrill -- is the software. As we noted, we confine ourselves to using VueScan and LaserSoft Ai, both of which get our recommendation, although we would really like to see better user interfaces.
On the hardware side, scanning with the V700 is simple. You start by turning on the scanner using its Power button.
The border of the glass platen is clearly marked to align reflective material. And the holder system uses plastic pins on the right side of the document bed to align the holders on the platen. Pin registration, in short. You mount film in various holders, place them on the glass, aligning the holder's pins to a couple of holes in the bed frame. To scan film using the holders, you simply remove the white document mat from the lid of the scanner so it can backlight the film.
Getting the film into the holder can be a bit of a trial, though. There isn't much of a margin on the film for the holder to grab. And film tends to have a slight curve, the emulsion a bit tighter than the base. The Epson holders don't stretch the film flat as much as close tightly down on the film. So a curved emulsion stays curled.
Slides were easier to mount and scan. There's very little curve to a single frame of 35mm film held captive by a slide mount. Be careful not to scratch the slides as you slide them under the stiff plastic springs. It's not a great design for slide mounting, but it works.
The medium format holder gave us the most trouble. You have to walk the frame down, pinching in each fastener one side at a time. And still it's easy to miss a fastener. This one left the most curl in the film, too.
But we did like the 35mm film strip holder. It held the strips flat and securely without much trouble closing the more flexible frame back down on them. And all of the holders have a convenient finger catch to lift the holder off the glass without touching anything.
The height adjusters are simply four or six feet that snap into place on each holder. They each have an embossed arrow on them to indicate which of two options they have been positioned in. If you look at the bottom of a film holder at either end of the slots for the height adjusters, you'll see two symbols: a plus and a circle. They weren't left there by aliens.
When installed with the arrow facing the plus, the holder rides 0.14 inch (3.5mm) off the document table. With the arrow facing the circle (as shipped), the holder sits 0.12 inch (3.0mm) from the table. With no height adjusters installed, the gap is 0.1 inch (2.5mm). They are easier to push out than pull out and when you do, you'll see the small notches on either leg are not the same height. So when you turn them around, the notches click into the holder at a different depth.
There's no magic height setting, we found. With two different lenses engaging without your control (except for your decision about resolution), it isn't easy to know what to do. An autofocusing scanner would be the better solution to this issue, but at least Epson provides something. For what it's worth (not much at all, frankly), we found the default setting to be sharpest.
You can buy excellent after-market holders from http://www.betterscanning.com where a single frame can adapt to several film sizes. They can also do either dry or wet mounting and have infinitely variable height adjustments, although that's accomplished using nylon screws in the corners that have to be manually cranked a quarter turn at a time.
Once you get your originals on the scanner, it's time to perform the actual scan. Both applications were careful to warm up the scanner light source before scanning the first image. After that, scans were really quite quick.
In the course of our short marriage to the scanner, we scanned everything from prints to film. But three case studies serve to illustrate why you might want to pay $500 for a scanner.
The Cheap Seats. In our review of the inexpensive HP G3010, we compared that scanner's scan of a 35mm slide of Yosemite taken in the 1970s with the V700 scan of the same slide. It was no contest. "Our Yosemite scan was soft and lacked detail in the shadows," we concluded, "as if the scanner had been unable to focus on the slide. We weren't happy with the color either. For comparison, we scanned the image on the high-end Epson V700 to see what it might have looked like. Compare the detail in the shadows of the trees, the sharpness, the detail in the snow bank. And note the difference in color."
We'll compare for you. The V700's color is natural, not oversaturated. The highlight detail -- the snow bank -- was not blown out, even with just a straight scan (no high density range or multi-exposure scanning). There was detail in the shadows of the trees. It was a pleasing scan, inviting you into the scene, rather than a garish one that looked like it was printed with Crayolas.
You wouldn't see such a dramatic difference in print scans between the two devices, but film really separates the pretenders from the champs. Its film scanning capability is also why -- with its demands for resolution, bit depth and things like calibration -- the V700 costs more.
The difference is really between a flatbed copier that can perform a film scan trick and a camera that can accurately photograph either film or prints. Buy the camera if your film is important to you.
Medium Format Negatives. An inexpensive scanner like the G3010 doesn't even try to scan film larger than 35mm. But that's no problem for the V700. It has a full 8x10 film scanning area with holders to match.
Our medium format scanning was of black and white view camera negatives which we'd processed ourselves. We were really quite pleased with the results, although we avoided scanning at the highest resolution to keep the file sizes manageable. A 10-MB file size, more or less, provided sufficient resolution to print up to 13x19. To test the highest resolution, we cropped only a very small area of a 35mm slide.
Our negatives were generally low contrast, so single pass scanning was sufficient to hold highlights and see what detail there was in the shadows. What we particularly liked about our image of the roses was the delicate modulation of those low-contrast tones. The image was quite sharp as well.
That image was short with a view camera using a studio setup, not much of a challenge to scan and reproduce well.
But another medium format black and white was a copy of an old photo print. There was a lot wrong with the original, which must have been captured by a Kodak Instamatic in the early 1960s. And the medium format copy managed to capture every problem.
We scanned our copy print several times using several different techniques. None of them were outright failures, but the last was a real winner, adding contrast without losing detail. It helps to dodge and burn a bit, too, we confess. But the scanner gets credit for giving us more to work with than we usually get.
Going to Press. We usually confine our scanning experiments to visual analysis of the scanned image file and analysis of large inkjet prints. But we used the V700 to scan a couple of old 35mm dupe slides to accompany an article which was published in a magazine.
One of the great mysteries of print production is exactly how many pixels per inch you need for various line screens. But that's a mystery Brian Lawler (http://www.thelawlers.com/essays.html) has unraveled in his essay on halftone resolution. While setting the ceiling at a 2:1 ratio (so a 133 halftone screen would get no more than a 266 pixel-per-inch file), he notes that people pictures do quite well at less than that (portraits at 200 ppi, say) while highly detailed subjects require the full 2:1.
Our subjects were two portraits of children. The Epson scans were remarkable in recovering both color and detail that were lost on our large Cibachrome prints of these images. And those attributes, we're glad to say, showed up on the printed page as well.
Our experience with the Epson Perfection V700 has been a happy one. It's fast. But it also delivers one of the highest quality captures we've seen in a flatbed. Sharp with good color.
Our reservations start with the need for the height adjusters. We just don't like that approach -- or the need for it. We'd much prefer being able to adjust focus, as you can with a film scanner. And even more, we'd prefer an autofocusing scanner.
But the single platen flatbed design itself is an issue that still disturbs us. It seems to disturb Epson, too, since the company offers this scanner with an anti-reflection optical coating applied to the CCD glass in the V750 model. Only Microtek, with its unique dual bed design that scans film with no glass in the way, seems to have a good approach to this issue.
And yet this scanner can undeniably handle the demands of film. As we said a few thousand words ago, it handled everything we threw at it. Which defines state of the art and explains why we've had no problem recommending it to anyone who has asked what's the best scanner to buy.
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:
- Full Exif Display option on all Test Shots and Gallery images. Clicking on the Full Exif Display button shows the Exif data along with a thumbnail that can be clicked for the full resolution image.
- Reviewed: Kodak EasyShare V803 (http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/V803/V803A.HTM)
- Reviewed: Olympus SP-550 UZ (http://www.imaging-resource.com//PRODS/SP550/SP550A.HTM)
- Reviewed: Canon PowerShot A570 IS (http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/A570IS/A570ISA.HTM)
- Reviewed: Canon PowerShot A460 (http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/A460/A460A.HTM)
- Reviewed: Epson Perfection V700/V750 (http://www.imaging-resource.com/SCAN/V700/V700.HTM)
We thought it was old age. We'd slide the cursor toward a close box. And miss. We'd slide back. Too far.
Hmmm. It isn't that tough. Probably a well known medical condition described unthreateningly in some brochure that doesn't mention mortality. Maybe Early Warning Signs of Arthritis.
Then we realized, in mouse years, our pointing device must be a lot older than us. Maybe it's the mouse. Alzheimer's in Rodents of Advanced Age maybe.
We turned the thing over. Like a surgeon.
Our mouse is a Wacom mouse that glides over a tablet with no strings attached when the pen is perched in its holder. It does its gliding on a felt pad attached to its belly. Very smooth, usually.
Sure enough the felt pad was dirty. Mice get dirty gliding over a mouse pad or a tablet, doesn't matter. Dirt falls to earth. Gravity. Mice run over the dirt. Some of it sticks to the mice. Black tar-like stuff. And suddenly there's no smooth to your move.
You can clean a regular mouse with a little water or Windex or even a fingernail. But felt?
We did what came naturally and wiped it on our sleeve. Crud fell off. It worked again. For a while.
The junk gets embedded in the felt. Wacom actually suggests using a toothbrush to get it out. But even with that, the felt eventually wears off. Pretty soon (well, after five or six years of sleeve rubbing) you have a serious problem. No felt.
We could have logged onto the Wacom Web site and ordered a replacement. But we felt lonely. So we called the 800 number. Got a guy in the service department. He took our vital signs and then we explained everything worked fine. But the mouse felt was no pelt.
Boy, was he relieved. He transferred us to the parts department. Some girl sitting at a desk across from him. She laughed. It was going to cost us big bucks. Three of them.
"How many of them you want, Mike?" she asked familiarly.
I did some quick mental arithmetic. "I'll probably screw up the first one, so I better get a spare. Two."
"Big spender, that'll be six bucks. But wait, gotta charge you tax on that. Let's see, you're in San Francisco, hmmm, pretty high tax rate there, that's going to be another fifty cents."
"I'm getting cold feet," I confessed. The shipping charge could break the deal.
"Come on, Mike," she rallied me, "let it go now."
"OK, what about shipping?"
"Well, you have two options. We can ship UPS ground, which would be about next day to you, or we could FedEx it overnight. UPS is free, FedEx is on you."
"UPS will be fine," we pointed out the obvious.
"Excellent choice, Mike," she laughed. "And now about that credit card."
A few days later (not next day), we got our two spares. There were no instructions. But the repair guy had suggested using a hair drier to get the glue on the original to soften, so we did. It came right off. We lined the new one up, took off the backing and attached it. Piece of cake. In minutes we were good as new.
It would seem Wacom took a loss on that repair. The UPS charge had to be about $9 and the parts only came to $6 with 50 cents going to the state. Not to mention the charming chats we had with two of their employees for 20 minutes. But we'd have to say that defines product support. Outright prolonged applause.
The moral of the story depends on where you sit. Clean your mouse. Replace your Wacom felt. Do customer service right and you won't have to tell your customers to say, "Cheese," to get a smile out of them.
We're grinning from mouse ear to mouse ear. It wasn't old age after all.
Somewhere in the middle of our recent chat with Light Crafts CEO Georges van Hoegaerden, we observed that LightZone 3.0's HDR mode really addresses the old complaint about linear capture in general.
What old complaint?
Well, perhaps you've noticed those blown highlights in almost every digicam you've ever used. Or maybe you wonder why your dSLR's shots are always so dark. That old complaint.
A digital capture -- whether it's a $200 digicam or a $2,000 dSLR, whether it's a CDD or CMOS sensor -- is linear. And, as the late Bruce Fraser so eloquently explained it in his Real World Camera Raw with Adobe Photoshop CS2, human vision "is nonlinear." We don't see things the way a digital camera does.
Bruce's real world illustration of the difference: "If we double the acoustic power going to our stereo speakers, the resulting sound isn't twice as loud." More simply, he pointed out, two spoonfuls of sugar in our coffee are not twice as sweet as one. And, more to the point, twice as many photons are not twice as bright to us, just brighter.
Now let's map that to a digital exposure. "When a camera captures six stops of dynamic range," he writes, "half of the 4,096 levels are devoted to the brightest stop, half of the remainder (1,024 levels) are devoted to the next stop, half of the remainder (512 levels) are devoted to the next stop and so on." The darkest parts of the image have just 64 levels.
But what we see with our own eyes is a much more balanced distribution of tonality, minimizing the highlights and studying the midtones and shadows for information.
"One of the major tasks Raw converters perform," Bruce explains, "is to convert the linear capture to gamma-encoded space to make the captured levels more closely match the way human eyeballs see them." Good exposure, he continues, helps images survive that tone-mapping without falling apart.
The trick to that is keeping the highlights from blowing out. Inexpensive digicams tend to sacrifice the highlight detail of their linear capture to get a more realistic tonal rendering overall. Our reviews often complain about high contrast images with blown highlights, but the conversion is really only trying to match how we saw the scene.
With a dSLR, however, the temptation is to underexpose to save the highlights. But, as Bruce argues, you're only wasting bits the camera can capture, introducing noise in the midtones and shadows. "If you overexpose," he writes, "you may blow out the highlights, but one of the great things about the Camera Raw plug-in is its ability to recover highlight detail ... so if you're going to err on one side or the other, it's better to err on the side of slight overexposure."
Of course, to take advantage of that, you want to shoot Raw. JPEG, limited to 8-bit channels, tosses out four of the 12 bits your camera can capture.
Which brings us back to LightZone, which edits everything (even 8-bit JPEGs) in 16-bit channels, remapping that linear capture to how the eye would see the scene. Using the Relight command we got a much better tonal distribution between the shadows and highlights than a simple automatic Levels adjustment provides. The highlights on the JPEG were still blown, but important detail in the high key tones were salvaged even as detail in the shadows was brought out. A neat trick.
If you know what you're doing, you can certainly do it in Photoshop, too. We switched to 16-bit channels, ran our Contrast Mask action (described in our May 31, 2002 issue) and did even better with our blown out JPEG. You could use Shadow/Highlight or the Exposure adjustments, too.
Understanding linear capture can help you select exposure values that can later be remapped into more compelling images in software that manipulates 16-bit channels. That's been true of Raw files all along, but we're starting to see a little help for JPEG images, too, in products like Lightroom and LightZone.
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 Canon Digital SLRs at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?50@@.ee92fbe
Visit the Sony Forum at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?14@@.ee6f789
Richard asks about the quality of slide scans at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?50@@.eea57fc/0
Soko asks about online photo gallery suggestions at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?50@@.eea599a/0
Visit the Pentax Forum at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?14@@.eea2980
Last weekend we hit for the cycle. Friday was a high school graduation, Saturday a wedding and Sunday the 25th anniversary of our couple of dear friends. We saw our life pass before our eyes in just a few hours.
Once again we brought a different camera to each event, but the real story this time was what everybody else brought. And what they had to say about their digicam experience.
The graduation was held in the school theater, the stage quite dark except for a spotlight on the school banner hanging in the rafters and some gold stars floating above the students in their gold and green gowns. Stage lighting, in short. We watched a professional photographer set up to get each student as they received their diploma.
We stood well out of his way, along the side of the theater, but close enough that our 200mm zoom could frame the speakers and the awarding of diplomas. To get the most depth of field, we set our ISO up to 800. No flash (at that distance it wouldn't reach the action anyway), but we set our shutter speed to 1/30 second. Not quite fast enough to stop motion, but fast enough for this action. With an image stabilized lens, we wanted to avoid Auto shutter speeds as low as 1/4 second, which would have resulted in blurry pictures. The banner and speakers confirmed our settings so we were ready for the diplomas.
But our best shots were outside in the crowd. It was still light but overcast, perfect really. In the crush of relatives finding their graduates, we just set our zoom to wide angle, hoisted our camera up and pointed it down to take a few shots. We'd have loved to have been able to see the scene in our LCD, but we had to rely on our instincts for framing the unposed shots. And we did manage to get a few good ones -- at least one worth a 13x19 print.
Back at the house after the graduation, we sat around with the family and compared cameras. A Nikon D80 that missed the ceremony had done some nice shots of a gorilla taken at the zoo earlier that day. All that was missing was a diploma, really. And a Canon G7 got some good telephoto shots with a Canon adapter ring and the large Canon 2x teleconverter that sucks in as much light as it can, compensating for the adapter. We'd brought along a Nikon Coolpix P5000 as a backup and everyone admired its small but comfortable contours. The G7 owner particularly liked the P5000 grip, something missing on the G7.
The last time we saw James, he had a Coolpix he loved. But it kept shutting down on him, so he bought a Canon SD1000. His sister Alice had the oldest digicam with a postage-sized LCD, a Coolpix suffering the same shutdown problem. Even with a full charge, her camera would shut down suddenly. We tried to look at her pictures and sure enough after a few shots, it shut down. As old as the camera was, we suspected the lithium battery had reached the end of its life. When they go, they go suddenly. The charge cycle is shorter than normal but otherwise there isn't much warning.
We got a good razzing from another relative who had seen his family in our gallery shots of the Canon A640. We didn't believe him. They were all facing away from the camera in our shot, how could he tell? Ah, they were reflected in the television screen, he said. Sharp lens on that camera!
And then we settled down to a discussion of some of the newer digicams. With laptops all over the place, it was easy to visit Imaging Resource and compare test shots to see which attractive new camera was also a sharp shooter.
The wedding the next day was quite a formal affair at a Greek Orthodox church. The priest addressed everyone before the ceremony asking us to turn off our cell phones and not take flash pictures during the proceedings. He pointed out the event was being photographed professionally.
Indeed, it was -- by a team of photographers with Canon dSLRs, each fitted with a Canon 580EX strobe mounted on the camera hotshoe. The strobes each had large Gary Fong Lightsphere diffusers (http://store.garyfonginc.com) on them but the dome wasn't inverted. With the swivel head on the 580EX, the photographers could quickly flip the dome up to shoot portrait or back to shoot landscape. No need for a cumbersome flash bracket.
We brought along a compact dSLR but our results were miserable. The church had been quite dark but we tried a few shots at ISO 800 anyway that at least captured the setting. But there was no light on the wedding party as they went up and down the aisle, so we got nothing there. At the reception, the ballroom was very dimly lit so without flash you got nothing. But there were about 250 people and the built-in flash wasn't built to light up a room like that. Our better shots were of our table mates as one or another of the wedding party dropped by. Oddly enough, there were really no opportunities for natural light shots.
We usually carry our camera in a holster which we keep at our feet when we sit down to eat. But we didn't want to be bothered taking the camera in and out of our bag. So where could we put the camera? We took a tip from a table of ladies who had placed their purses in the middle of the table and left our camera out by the centerpiece. That caught the eye of the fellow sitting next to us who was curious about our compact dSLR. He'd left his Nikon D70 home because it was just too bulky. He has his eye on Nikon's compact D40x, he confessed.
A better solution, though, may have been the two young men (about five and six) who, as part of the wedding party, got small digital cameras. These guys moved too fast for us to catch up with them to get their secrets, but they were shooting everything. And smiling as they ran to their next shot. We mention it as a cheaper alternative to providing disposable cameras at every table.
At the anniversary brunch on Sunday, we brought along that Nikon Coolpix P5000. We hadn't seen our friends in years and wanted some souvenir shots but we didn't want to be saddled with even a compact dSLR. The P5000 didn't disappoint, even saving some backlight pictures with D-Lighting.
We weren't the only one at the table with a digicam, though. Directly across from us, a young man had a Pentax Optio S -- and, just like the ads claimed, he even carried it in an Altoids tin as his camera "bag." A young lady majoring in communications at USC sported a thin red Casio that she slipped out of an attractive leather case.
All three of us were blessed with slightly overcast natural light that lit both the long table during brunch through the large windows of the Cliff House and the group shots outside with the Ocean and Golden Gate as a backdrop. No doubt more pictures were taken on the anniversary than on the wedding day itself, when it was film or nothing.
Quite an array of gear, we thought when we got home and reflected on our big weekend. Quite an array of photographers, too. All but one of them delighted with their cameras. Congratulations to the graduate, the bride, the groom, the husband and the wife -- and another round for the photographers from the tikes to the pros! Well done!
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RE: No Shoes
I read about taking photos without shoes and remembered my last trip to St. Petersburg, Russia, visiting my mother-in-law. I was asked to take some pictures of a couple of Swedish keyharps at a museum over there "as you╩are there anyway," as my friend said before leaving from home.
I brought a second-hand Panasonic from my shop (didn't want to bring my D2xs if something like a robbery happened) and went off to the museum together with my daughter to have her translate for me.
The ticket to the museum (Tjeremetevskij Palace) was 30 rubles. We paid and were asked to put on some blue plastic covers on our shoes to protect the floors from the Russian winter outside. We started toward the showrooms but were stopped by, "Hey, is that a camera?" in Russian of course, translated by my daughter Valera. The lady had observed something hanging from my shoulder.
My daughter answered, "Da" (yes) and we were called back to the ticket office. I thought of course that photography was not allowed but instead we had to pay an entrance fee for the camera too. The ticket for the camera was 50 rubles -- 20 rubles more than for myself!
The ticket looked just like the one for people so the lady who sold it to me took a pen and wrote "foto" in one corner of the little ticket. After that I could take as many photos as I wanted, flash or no flash, but I had to show the special "fotobiljeta" in all the different rooms we entered.
-- Lasse Jansson(At current conversion rates, the entry fee for people would be $1.15 and for cameras $1.93. In San Francisco, $10 gets you into a museum but no video, tripods or flash is allowed and no photography at all in special exhibitions. -- Editor)
I am in the repair business and send customers macros of the damage to their parts. Problem is, I can't find a camera with macro capability to show very fine scratches/dings/nicks in metal and plated metal parts without losing detail. Currently using Kodak CX7530 from home and have to do a lot of editing to get near the actual visual image. Do you or your readers have some suggestions that could help me out?
-- Char Briggs(Many digicams now offer very good Macro mode performance (some with a Super Macro mode to get very close), particularly Casio, Nikon and Olympus. Most of them limit Macro zoom range to wide-angle. And you'll have to arrange for lighting other than with the built-in flash on all of them. The Macro leader, however, has always been the Nikon Coolpix. Zoom range is not restricted to the wide-angle setting and you can get quite close to the subject. Magnification is among the highest, too. Our test shots always include Macro mode shots with commentary in the Test Results section. -- Editor)
RE: Lightweight dSLR
You've been such a square shooter on previous questions I'd appreciate your opinion on one more. I am doing a trip to England in October and am concerned about the weight and size of the cameras I will be taking.
I was quite interested in the Panasonic FZ50 as a lightweight body with a broad range lens wise, except that it is not quite as wide-angle as I would prefer, then the D40x came on the market and I find myself gravitated toward it since I am a Nikon user except for my pocketable Lumix DMX-LX2.
So the question I have is the sensor in the Panasonic FZ50 smaller than the D40x?
-- Doug Wilson(The FZ50 uses a 1/1.8" sensor (5.32x7.18mm). The D40x uses the Nikon's standard DX format sensor (15.6x23.7mm, if I recall). You can find these on the Specifications tab of each review under the Image Capture section. -- Editor)
Reviewers can always take their own advice. When we recommended Photoshop Standard CS3 with Lightroom rather than Creative Suite 3 with Photoshop Extended, we didn't realize how clever we were. Turns out the Extended version requires 64-MB video RAM while the Standard version of Photoshop only needs 32-MB. That obsoletes a few laptops. Why? Turns out the requirement -- which is only need by Photoshop in the entire suite -- is the fault of the 3D rendering Extended can do.
Tamron (http://www.tamron.com) has posted free video podcasts covering how to shoot scenic vistas and wildlife to urban abstracts and bridal portraits. Click on Lenses to get to the Learning Center podcast list.
MediaStreet (http://MyDigitalContent.com) has introduced its $149 eMotion Bluetooth Digital Picture Frame, the first frame capable of receiving images from a Bluetooth device without the use of wires or cables. Images transferred from cell phones are immediately viewed on screen and stored in the picture frame's built-in 256-MB internal memory. Slots for CF, SD/SDHC, MS/MSPRO, MMC and xD cards are also available, along with a USB 2.0 port.
Photographer Derrick Story, an editor at O'Reilly and the genius behind The Digital Story photo blog (http://www.thedigitalstory.com/blog/), just wrote to us about his latest project: the Park by the Numbers Camera Phone Project (http://www.thedigitalstory.com/blog/2007/06/the_park_by_the_numb.html). Photograph your parking spot and sent it to Derrick.
Microtek (http://www.microtekusa.com) has introduced its $99 ScanMaker s450 with a new slim design featuring a built-in 35mm transparency adapter, an exclusive FilmView light table in the lid of the scanner for selecting the film images to scan up to 4800 dpi with 48-bit color.
Olympus (http://www.olympusamerica.com) has introduced a new line of underwater housings, including the PT-E03 housing for the EVOLT E-410 and housings for the SP-550 UZ, Stylus 770 SW, Stylus 760 and FE-230. The company has also introduced the UFL-1 underwater flash for its 2007 SP and Stylus cameras.
Canto Software (http://www.canto.com) has released Cumulus 7.5, with enhanced support for Microsoft Windows Vista, Microsoft Office 2007 and Adobe InDesign CS3, in addition to a wealth of new features and benefits.
Adobe (http://www.adobe.com) has released an update to Bridge CS3. The new version features multi-level keywords and improved cache management.
The company has also released an update to Camera Raw 4.1 for CS3 and its free DNG Converter with support for 13 more digital cameras including the Canon EOS-1D Mark III, Fuji FinePix S5 Pro, Nikon D40x, Olympus E-410, Olympus SP-550 UZ, Sigma SD14, Phase One H 20, Phase One H 25, Phase One P 20, Phase One P 21, Phase One P 25, Phase One P 30 and Phase One P 45 and camera backs from Phase One.
Apple (http://www.apple.com) has announced that beginning in mid-June, Apple TV will wirelessly stream videos directly from YouTube and play them on a user's widescreen TV. The company also announced a build-to-order option of its Apple TV with a 160-GB hard drive.
Houdah (http://www.houdah.com) has released its $29.95 HoudahGeo 1.1 [M] with support for Flickr exports, improved performance and more.
DivXNetworks (http://www.divx.com/divx/mac) has released DivX Pro for Mac 6.7 with a Universal Binary version of DivX Player, Video On Demand capability, a new DivX Web Player, an updated Stage6 content uploader and an update to DivX Codec 6.6.
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Mike Pasini, Editor
Dave Etchells, Publisher