|Volume 9, Number 15||20 July 2007|
Welcome to the 206th edition of the Imaging Resource Newsletter. We spent the last week retouching a lot of portraits with a new product that automates the process. Then Reviewer Theano goes to an air show with Panasonic's hottest model yet. Phanfare CEO Andrew Erlichson explains how the company is using Amazon to back up your images. Finally we reveal one reason some batteries fail so quickly the first time you use them.
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(Excerpted from the full review posted at http://www.imaging-resource.com/SOFT/PORTPRO/PORTPRO.HTM on the Web site.)
When we stroll through one of those portrait galleries full of Thomas Eakins and James McNeill Whistler, we wink at the wealthy patrons they portrayed and mumble under our breath, "You never looked so good."
In fact, they didn't. The broad brush that laid in the flesh tones of their faces didn't lend itself to pore-level detail. The highlight dabbed into their eyes was an old trick that couldn't be relied on in real life. Much was left to suggestion, diplomatically avoiding the distractions of blemishes and scars.
Photographic portraiture has by nature been forced to be less ambitious, confining itself to soft focus, narrow depth of field, whitening teeth and sharpening eyelashes with some airbrushing of blemishes. The real art is in lighting the subject appropriately. Flatteringly.
In short, portraiture has always been about flattery. The artist's job has always been to "convey the subject's personality."
So it shouldn't surprise us that someone would sooner or later automate the flatter's art for portrait photographers. Anthropics Technology has indeed done just that with Protrait Professional, a very simple-to-use application that applies the tricks of the trade to any portrait.
But the program can go a bit beyond what photographers do, approaching the control of a portrait painter when it comes to the shape of the face. You decide just where to draw the line, though, using simple sliders to adjust the corrections and saving those adjustments as a preset.
WHO ARE THESE GUYS
Anthropics Technology (http://www.anthropics.com) was launched in 1997 as the research division of the U.K.'s National Film and Television School, the rough equivalent of the American Film Institute. Initially it was awarded three years of government funding to "explore the future of the media."
Over the past few years, in conjunction with researchers at several British universities, it has been developing Portrait Professional as a new form of photographic retouching software.
Their research led to the unique technology in Portrait Pro that can succinctly describe any human visage. "Essentially we now had a sparse representational model of human faces," CEO Andrew Berend told us, "that could be trained in beauty by being shown hundreds of well-shot, well-lit photographs of beautiful and not so beautiful people. All the software was told for any given face was 'this is beautiful' and 'this is not beautiful.'"
Berend continued, "This means that once a few points on the face have been identified, a user can add attractiveness to a particular face simply by moving sliders. The clever bit is how the software retains the person's identity while subtly improving their appearance.
"It's very easy to make someone more beautiful by simply morphing them towards a beautiful person such as Jessica Alba -- but this progressively destroys their identity as they become more like Alba and less like themselves. We avoid this and can subtly enhance many aspects of a persons appearance while retaining their identity really well."
We tested four versions of Portrait Pro (http://www.portraitprofessional.com) from version 5.0.4 through 6.0. Version 6 of the application is available in a $59.95 standard version or in a Max version with 16-bit channel and Raw file support for $99.95.
A free trial version (http://www.portraitprofessional.com/download) is also available. Anthropics requests your email address, but it isn't required to download the demo.
The program can make a wide range of adjustments to an image. Those include:
- Face reshaping. By using specific sliders you can enlarge or reduce the forehead, raise or lower the jaw and change the position of the nose up or down, in or out. This feature extends to moving eyebrows, reshaping eyes and moving lips, too. But as Anthropics notes, "We have found this unique feature of Portrait Professional to be the most contentious, since some regard actually changing the shape of the face as going to far when enhancing an image. For those people, the shape sliders can of course be left at zero and Portrait Professional will not change the shape. However, before dismissing this effect as 'cheating,' we urge you to try it -- you will be amazed that sometimes a very subtle change to the shape can lead to a dramatic improvement to the subject!"
- Skin enhancement. The program's ability to detect skin depends to a large extent on using a color image. But where it can find skin, the sliders can be adjusted to reduce or remove pores, wrinkles, spots and other blemishes. We found the preview wasn't quite accurate in revealing how well the program could retain skin texture while eliminating blemishes. Zoom in.
- Eyes and teeth whitening. Sliders again can adjust the degree to which eyes and teeth are brightened. We found the defaults to be quite pleasing.
- Red Eye Removal. A simple checkbox handles red-eye removal.
PLAYING THE GAME
Portrait enhancement with Portrait Pro is a four-step process starting with picking an image to manipulate and telling Protrait Pro if the subject is male or female. Which, apparently, isn't obvious even to software any more.
The next trick is to identify five "key points" on the face: the outside corner of the left and right eyes (after which the program enlarges the face to fill the work area), the center of the nose, and both corners of the mouth. This does, yes, rule out profiles. But not three-quarter views.
The third step enlarges each facial feature so you can adjust the outlines of features and face more precisely. The software walks you through the facial features you've identified, giving you a chance to refine the automatic outlining of them by moving a selection point, of which there are several on each outline. Then you see a 100 percent view to make larger head corrections. We did find it necessary to make corrections on every image.
Finally, you use the sliders to adjust the amount of enhancement you want. There are buttons for Face Sculpt, Skin, Eye, Mouth, Lighting and Picture settings that expand to reveal a set of sliders. There is also a setting for Spot Removal sensitivity and Red Eye correction. All of these can be saved as a preset. Portrait Pro includes 10 presets ranging from Subtle to Glamor to Black & White.
Face Sculpt enhances "the face and features so that the subject becomes more attractive while retaining their identity." Skin improves skin texture, reducing wrinkles and fine shadows, minimizing shine and balancing hue and temperature. Eyes whitens the eyes, sharpens eight individual areas of the eyes and can also adjust their size and color. Mouth whitens teeth and adjusts lip hue, darken, contrast and saturation. Lighting adjusts Shadows, Relight, Contrast and Highlights only on the face. Picture affects the whole image, adjusting Exposure, Contrast, Fill Shadows, Saturation and Color Temperature. Spot removal erases blemishes in any of 10 strengths if enabled. Red Eye is a check box to remove red eye.
In addition to those corrections, the program provides four tool groups which add some controls in the tool bar above the image display:
Skin selection is done automatically by Portrait Pro, no masking required. What the program identifies as skin is affected by the skin and lighting sliders. A blue overlay identifies the automatic skin selection when you select a Skin Selection tool. You can adjust the area manually using the Extend tool to add areas of the Cut Back tool to eliminate areas.
- Blemish brushes let you increase (Touch Up) or decrease (Restore) the degree of enhancement in particular areas of the image
- Skin Selection brushes Extend or Cut Back the area of skin to be enhanced
- View lets you zoom in and out or pan the image to examine the changes although you can also just press the Control key to zoom in on the cursor position
- Image provides a crop tool to set a non-destructive crop region for printing or saving the image
We became instant experts after our first portrait. All you have to do is try it once and you get the idea. Then it becomes a matter of discovering all the sliders and trying out the more advanced tools. The built-in presets are a good introduction to the variety of effects you can achieve, particularly in face sculpting. And the built-in balloon help explains any terms or labels that aren't immediately apparent. It is, in short, a very nice working environment regardless of your skill level.
As soon as we opened each portrait, ProtraitPro asked us to identify the gender. We marked the five key spots and Protrait Pro displayed each in turn for adjustment.
Once we'd marked off the facial features, a progress bar let us know how long the revisions were taking.
Smiles, we're happy to report, presented no problem. That's what really makes a face beautiful. And three-quarter views were legal, too. But we observed a few other things that surprised us.
On an older woman's portrait, we were immediately unhappy with the results. With the slider set to 100 to remove skin imperfections completely, the effect looked more like aggressive noise removal software, completely eliminating rather than softening them. In fact, all skin texture was lost. When we used the Subtle preset, imperfections were set to just 27, which was plenty. The Remove Spots preset set all the Skin sliders to zero with Spot sensitivity at 9, which was even more acceptable.
She was wearing glasses and looking downward, so any eye correction at all would have been a distortion. We simply turned off all eye corrections to get around that problem.
So while the default settings produced unacceptable results, the program's versatility provided just the touch we needed to improve the picture.
We tried an adolescent girl whose skin was not at all wrinkled, of course.
But again, we were surprised. We could see that the software had brightened and sharpened her eyes (which she'd tried to do herself with a heavy application of mascara). Her teeth had also been whitened. She was smiling in the picture and the program remodeled the skin folds around her smile so there were no folds at all.
But it got interesting when we clicked on the More Controls buttons, grabbed the sliders and ran them back and forth over the whole range to see exactly what they were up to.
Face Sculpt, for example, offered these extra sliders:
After goofing around a while, we were glad to click the Default button to restore the program's attempt to flatter our model. But again, we really didn't like what we saw. It's no secret the look she was going for though, and Portrait Pro had a couple of presets for it: Glamour - more and Glamour - some. Both changed her lower lip to cover the bottom line of her top teeth.
- Head: This control widened the top of her head above the eyes (although we've seen it make foreheads taller, too). Her head was butted against her father's, though, and when the program widened it, it distorted his hairline.
- Jaw: The Jaw control raised her jaw, making it smaller. At 100, it was really much too small.
- Nose: This control moved the tip of her nose down (although we've seen it move a nose in or out on a three-quarter profile).
- Eyes: This control actually bundles several options: Eye Widening (which tries to open the eyelids), Left Eye, Right Eye (enlarging them) and Eyebrow Shape (which raises or lowers the eyebrows and itself includes options to move the Left or Right Eyebrow independently).
- Mouth Shape: This option raised or lowered the lower lip on our girl. But it, too, has a few options: Upper Lip (expand or contract), Lower Lip (expand or contract), Expression (pinching or spreading the mouth) and Blur Lip Line. There are a few more mouth control further down, though, including Teeth Whiten, Teeth Area, Lip Saturation, Lip Darken, Lip Contrast and Lip Hue.
With two faces in that image, we simply used the Another Face In This Photo button to work on the second one, while retaining the edits on the first.
OK, how about the child?
Showing unusual restraint, the program seemed to make no change at all to the child's face. Good move.
But we were wrong. It actually narrowed the child's face. When we flipped back and forth between the two versions on different layers in a Photoshop document, we preferred the original over the modified version. It's a child, after all. A broad face is the norm. Perhaps the program should ask the age of the subject as well as its sex.
We know all of the people in those portraits. And we found any face sculpting disturbing, almost as if they had been shot with a wide angle lens. Your mind accommodates the distortion but you know it isn't real. If you don't know these people (say you're the great grandchild looking through the family album), you're getting the wrong impression.
So for our next test, we tried another young woman, but someone we had just met. This near stranger seemed improved. The rosy cheeks were smoothed away (we only had to spot out a pimple when we turned down the default skin revision), her lips reddened a bit, her eyes made more dominant -- all the distractions were removed and she looked lovely.
It's no secret people don't like pictures of themselves any more than they like hearing recordings of their voice. It's certainly disorienting to see yourself in a print compared to that reverse image in the mirror that you've grown fond of. But smoothing out the skin, brightening the eyes, whitening the teeth are a flattery we can all appreciate.
Portrait Pro isn't really about beauty at all, but simple, time-tested flattery. It does simple retouching as well as more dramatic reshaping toward an ideal you may or may not find so ideal. That can't help but interest any professional interested in making a sale. Considering how easy the program is to use, there's nothing to fear, either.
Many of these edits are nothing more than time-honored retouching practice. The sharpened eyes, the whitened teeth and eyes, the more saturated lips, blemish removal are all standard effects, very nicely implemented. Automating things like that is a blessing. They're often very time consuming to do by hand.
But the greater achievement, it seems, is the program's ability to distinguish facial features like skin defects from pores and small wrinkles from the larger ones that define character. Giving you control over these categories of facial features -- as well as being able to store your settings as a preset -- means you can define your own level of flattery.
Portrait retouching software really never looked so good.
By THEANO NIKITAS(Excerpted from the full review posted at http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/TZ3/TZ3A.HTM on the Web site.)
The worthy successor to the Panasonic DMC-TZ1, the 7.2-megapixel DMC-TZ3, offers many of the TZ1's benefits including a 10x Leica-branded optical zoom lens and Panasonic's signature Optical Image Stabilization (MEGA O.I.S.). But the TZ3's 10x optical zoom lens -- and those of all current Panasonic cameras -- starts at 28mm (35mm equivalent), which automatically takes the TZ3's value up a notch or two for offering a true wide-angle option. Even with all that lens power, the TZ3 is actually a hair thinner and lighter than its predecessor. It's still not comfortable in a shirt pocket, but it's definitely compact and portable.
That the Panasonic TZ3 has higher ISO capabilities than before (1,250 manually and a push to 3,200) is not as welcome as its high resolution, 3-inch LCD and the ability to fine-tune white balance. And although the maximum shutter speed is set at 1/2000 -- a fairly common number -- exposures up to 60 seconds can be made on the other end.
You won't find manual exposure controls nor an optical viewfinder, but the Panasonic TZ3 has a Simple mode for no-brainer shooting, Normal (Program AE) for slightly more control and a long list of scene modes, 20 in all, including two unique baby modes that record the child's age with each photograph. There's also a special Underwater mode that helps eliminate blue color casts when the Panasonic TZ3 is taken diving or snorkeling with the optional underwater housing. Overall, this is a user-friendly camera and ease of use has been increased with a new Function button for on-the-fly setting changes.
In case you were wondering, the TZ designation refers to Travel Zoom, referring not only to a large 10x zoom in a small package, but also to special features. There's the new Clipboard mode, which allows you to take pictures of maps, timetables and other travel reference materials, eliminating the need to carry extra pieces of paper when vacationing. You can also set your travel dates and the local time at your destination to track your travel shots.
The Panasonic TZ3 scores high marks for its versatile lens, with amazingly little distortion and its ease of use. Some photographers will miss having aperture- and shutter speed controls but this camera is strong enough to stand on its own without manual exposure controls.
The Panasonic TZ3 may not hold the record for the tiniest 10x optical zoom digital camera on the market, but it comes close. More important is the Panasonic TZ3's one-two punch combination of MEGA O.I.S. and wide-angle 10x zoom, which help this camera offer more versatility than most in its class. Whether you're shooting landscapes, wildlife, family reunions or your child scoring a goal on the soccer field, the TZ3's lens is up to the challenge. Panasonic's optical image stabilization technology is very helpful when the lens is fully extended and also when low light conditions require a slow shutter speed. Like any image stabilization solution, it's not a panacea, so a tripod is still a good accessory to have when you plan to shoot in low light or want to take advantage of the camera's long exposure capabilities.
Design. Like a Volvo, the Panasonic TZ3's design is boxy but good (if you've seen Dudley Moore's movie Crazy People, you know what I'm talking about). And while it's available in black, silver and an interesting shade of blue, the camera won't win any fashion awards. That's not to say that the TZ3 is unattractive -- it's a nice looking camera -- but it's just not as sexy as some other models on the market. But there are few that can handle a 10x optical zoom, so function over form is a good thing; and the Panasonic TZ3 is built to work. It's sturdy and well-built and the extra weight makes it easier to hold the camera steady.
Thankfully, Panasonic did away with the separate lens cap of the TZ1 and designed the TZ3 with a built-in lens cover, so you won't have to worry about losing or misplacing the plastic cap. The grip isn't as substantial as the TZ1's but it has enough surface and curve to make one-handed shooting possible.
A logical control layout is complemented by a clear, simple-to-navigate menu system. A small mode dial sits atop the camera, along with the shutter button/zoom lever, the on/off switch and a dedicated button to access the MEGA O.I.S. menu. The rear of the Panasonic TZ3 features a large, 3-inch LCD, 4-way arrow buttons, a center Menu button, a Function/Delete control and the Display/LCD button. Because of the clean, almost minimalist control configuration, there's plenty of room to rest your thumb. The menu system has a virtual mode dial that appears briefly whenever you rotate the physical mode dial, so there's never any question of what mode you're in. Both the control layout and the user interface make this camera a pleasure to use and beginners can quickly get up to speed after reading the manual.
Display/Viewfinder. Given the size of the camera and the LCD, it's no surprise that the TZ3 lacks an optical viewfinder. But other than high-noon sunlight that sometimes causes reflections, there were few times I missed having an alternative to the high resolution LCD. By pressing and holding the Display/LCD button you can increase brightness or choose a special setting to view the LCD as you hold it overhead. The latter is so bright that it washes out the LCD when viewed straight-on, but from below, the monitor is clear and perfectly usable.
The LCD brightens quickly in low light so it's easy to compose. And the screen retains its clarity, showing little evidence of graininess that strains low light performance of some other cameras.
Multiple on-screen display options, including full information (mode, flash setting, ISO, resolution, compression, battery life, number of pictures remaining, metering mode, O.I.S. setting) a grid overlay and a live histogram. Regardless of OSD mode (on-screen display), the shutter speed and f/stop are displayed when the shutter button is depressed halfway, so you'll always know whether you need to activate optical image stabilization.
OSD options are available in Review mode so you can see shooting information as well as a histogram. The TZ3 also has an interesting Dual Display setting that shows two images at the same time so you can compare them side-by-side to determine which is the better shot -- a particularly useful feature when using the camera's bracketing mode.
Performance. Overall, the TZ3's performance was speedy, even considering the lens had to extend on start-up. Setting the camera to Zoom Resume, which returns the lens to the focal length used when powered down, adds a fraction of a second to start-up, but this feature can be turned off. Minimal shutter lag meant few missed shots and shot-to-shot time was brief, even with the flash activated.
Autofocus was rapid and accurate, slowing down only a hair under low light and when the lens was fully extended. But, even at 280mm, the lens didn't have to search for its focus point. And Panasonic's MEGA O.I.S., which can be set to Continuous or Shoot Only, works very well. Of course, how well and at what point the O.I.S. works depends on how steady you can hold the camera. Without an optical viewfinder, you're forced to hold the camera away from your body, thereby increasing the need for image stabilization; add the camera's 280mm telephoto range and O.I.S. becomes even more important. With the lens fully extended and the O.I.S. on Shoot Only, I was able to shoot comfortably at about 2 stops slower than normal.
Beyond its impressive focal range, the lens displayed surprisingly little distortion at either end of the zoom. What was most surprising was the minimal curvature at wide-angle, making its 28mm setting even more useful.
Three burst modes are available. First there's a High Speed mode that captures up to five high-quality JPEG images at three frames per second; then there's a Low Speed mode that captures seven standard-compression JPEGs at 2 frames per second; and a Free mode that will shoot at approximately 2 frames per second until the card is full. Although speed will vary depending on a number of factors including ISO and card speed, Panasonic's estimates are pretty much accurate. But things can get a little dicey when you're shooting a moving subject, because exposure and white balance are based on the first frame and will remain the same for the rest of the shots.
The TZ3's rechargeable lithium-ion battery seemed to meet or exceed its CIPA rating of 270 shots. Even after a full day of shooting, the battery was still going strong.
Auto White Balance was surprisingly accurate under a variety of conditions -- even incandescent lighting. But a full complement of white balance presets and a manual option are available, as is the ability to fine-tune blues and reds -- a useful feature that's not often found on a camera of this class.
Panasonic raised the ISO to 1,250, which can be set manually and ISO 3,200 in Intelligent ISO mode on the TZ3. While high ISOs are all the rage, it's rare that these settings are useful for anything but those can't-get-it-otherwise types of shots. Fortunately, in Auto ISO and Intelligent ISO, you can set a maximum limit so the camera doesn't increase sensitivity above a certain ISO. One of the shortcomings of Panasonic digital cameras has always been image noise; and while they've improved noise reduction, it comes at a price. You get softer details due to overagressive noise reduction. I tried to keep the ISO set to 100 whenever possible and only went up to ISO 800 when absolutely necessary, with the understanding that the size of enlargements would be limited.
Although the camera has a tendency to blow out highlights, the TZ3 generally delivered well-exposed images. Colors were accurate, so those who like highly saturated and bright photos might want to set the TZ3's color to Vivid.
Shooting. Most of my shooting with the Panasonic TZ3 was done at an airshow on a bright, sunny day. One of the reasons I chose to bring the TZ3 was its wide-angle capabilities, since I knew there would be static displays of aircraft; and of course I thought the 10x zoom might come in handy to capture the exciting aerobatics. I also took the Casio Z75 and a Canon EOS 1D Mark III and while I╩ended up using the Mark III╩exclusively for the aerobatics, I was disappointed that the TZ3's telephoto range and LCD High Angle viewing abilities didn't allow me to capture some of the action in the sky. Despite the camera's speed, it's almost impossible to follow jet planes without an optical viewfinder.
So the TZ3 wasn't right for that part of the airshow, but its wide-angle lens was perfect for shooting the static displays. In the past, not having a true wide-angle lens meant that I would either have to shoot only sections of the plane or have to step so far back from the aircraft that the plane would be obstructed by groups of people wandering among the exhibits. While the TZ3 didn't quite cut out all the people, I was able to stay closer to the plane and get the entire (or almost the entire) body in the same frame. I even made use of the High Angle viewing display option on occasion to snap a few pictures of personnel sitting on the top of a couple of the static displays (they, of course, were in an enviable position to shoot the aerobatics unobstructed).
Closer to home, I shot some flower close-ups and other garden/nature scenes. Macro isn't this camera's strong suit and my flower shots were soft and often overexposed. But the Panasonic TZ3 is fun to shoot with and given its strong lens, I had no problems leaving the flowers for another day and another camera.
Though it's not the best looking camera from certain angles, the Panasonic TZ3's images look pretty good; a remarkable improvement from the Panasonic TZ1. The TZ3 has a more conventional zoom design, which results in less distortion overall. Corner sharpness is good and chromatic aberration is well-controlled, especially impressive when you consider the TZ3's 10x span from a 28mm wide-angle to 280mm equivalent.
The TZ3's large, 3-inch LCD offers good resolution and special modes to enhance viewability when shooting from the side or overhead. It's a nice enough LCD that we really didn't miss the optical viewfinder. The Panasonic TZ3's grip is just right to hold onto this relatively solid camera and its controls are well-placed, if a little cheap in appearance.
Menus are logically laid out and offer a wide range of custom options. There are no semi-auto or full manual modes on the TZ3, but the camera does tell you what shutter speed and aperture it's set so you know what to expect. Its built-in image stabilization gives you a little extra help with indoor shots, as does the Panasonic TZ3's Intelligent ISO mode. You can even limit how high Auto will take the ISO setting, which is a thoughtful feature for the careful photographer.
We were impressed with the Panasonic TZ3's images, but were interested to find that they actually looked better onscreen than they did printed. They're still good either way, except for some muddiness in red areas as the ISO goes up. Still, for a 7-Mp digital camera with a 10x zoom to produce quality 11x14 images: that's worthy of note and a Dave's Pick.
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: Portrait Pro (http://www.imaging-resource.com/SOFT/PORTPRO/PORTPRO.HTM)
- Reviewed: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9 (http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/H9/H9A.HTM)
- Reviewed: Nikon Coolpix P5000 (http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/CP5000/CP5000A.HTM)
- Reviewed: Panasonic LUMIX DMC-TZ3 (http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/TZ3/TZ3A.HTM)
By ANDREW ERLICHSON(Andrew is CEO of the Phanfare photo sharing site (http://www.phanfare.com). -- Editor)
I am happy to announce that we have moved our backups to Amazon's Simple Storage Service, known as S3. All current backups go to S3 and we are copying over historical data. We currently have about 20 terabytes at Amazon and will have about 40 terabytes when all the data is moved over.
We also maintain a copy of customer photos and videos on our RAID servers in our N.J. datacenter. Amazon promises multi-data center redundancy for S3 data, so Phanfare customers now have the peace of mind of knowing that their data is in at least three datacenters, on opposite coasts of the U.S. (New Jersey and Washington).
The natural question is, why did we do it? We did it because we wanted to provide the assurance of off-site backup and because the engineering costs (time and money) in building out something similar to S3 exceed any cost savings we might have realized by managing the storage ourselves in the medium term.
We actually get more redundancy than we had before. Before we backed up data on a second set of RAID servers in our N.J. datacenter. Those servers were cheaper to operate than Amazon S3 assuming two year amortization, but they did not provide the same level of geographic or physical redundancy. So for us, using Amazon was not cheaper, but it was better. Including the opportunity cost of working on Phanfare's core products vs. working on offsite backup, using Amazon is a definite strategic win for us.
To make Amazon actually lower our overall long term costs, we would need to stop storing the data ourselves, instead just caching hot data. We have competitors that do that and it would be cheaper, but we are not positive it would be better. After all, right now, Amazon does not provide a Service Level Agreement or even a phone number to call if you are unhappy with the Amazon Web service. I don't expect that Amazon will ever lose our data of course, but we would like an SLA before we bet our customer's data on that.
Amazon's Web services are game-changing, especially to smaller companies. They allow small companies to have a cost position that rivals some of the biggest online competitors. Amazon's Web services also lower the cost of entry for new startups and hence increase competition and foster innovation. Both these things are good for consumers and we applaud Amazon for embarking on their ambitious plan of providing storage and compute in the cloud for other companies. I know they are also trying to amortize their own costs of development, but for us it is wonderful. With proper SLAs, we would consider using Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud too (EC2).
EC2 enjoys local area network latency and bandwidth to S3 storage and that would make S3 that much more attractive as primary storage for Phanfare. One of the first rules of building a high performance system is to keep compute close to the data it operates on and hence without using EC2, we would always need to cache data on our side for performance. The latency between N.J. and Seattle is too long otherwise.
If you think about it, Phanfare does for consumers what Amazon does for us. Just as it would be difficult and expensive for a consumer to build a system to store his photos and videos into the cloud, accessible from anywhere and backed up in geographically distributed locations, it would be difficult and expensive for Phanfare to replicate Amazon's level of Web infrastructure.
Sometimes the lab at headquarters in Atlanta and Mr. Realworld here in San Francisco have very different experiences with an aspect of a particular review unit. Battery life, for example. Our experience with the Canon PowerShot TX1contrasted sharply with Luke Smith's, who takes all the test shots.
Luke found it was "not so good. I'd never managed to use up a Canon Li-Ion battery on the standard test shots before this one." But we used it for a several hours, shooting before and during the Chevy Red Carpet show at the All-Star game (mostly powered on, too) and still didn't have a battery warning hours later showing the pictures on an HDTV.
How come is that?
Hunting through either Canon's Basic or Advanced manual's battery sections didn't help. But a note in the Date/Time section explained the TX1 has a rechargeable lithium ion battery built into the camera to save date/time settings. Most cameras now include that kind of backup power, in fact. And, as you might expect, that battery needs to be charged the first time you use the camera.
But on the TX1, you have to charge that battery four hours, much longer than most cameras require (which you barely notice, actually).
Not all cameras have a rechargeable date/time backup battery. In fact, many of them use a simple lithium coin-shaped battery that lasts about five years before requiring replacement.
So the moral of this story is to fully charge your camera's batteries, both of them, before your first shoot.
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-W100 (and the W200) at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?13@@.eea2d62
Visit the Olympus Forum at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?14@@.ee6f783
A user asks about liveviews on DSLRs at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?50@@.eea5d98/0
A user asks about deleting all pictures at once at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?50@@.eea5e9f/0
Visit the General Q & A Forum at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?14@@.ee718ec
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RE: LCD Covers
As a Nikon owner/user since 1964, let me pipe up on the LCD cover issue. Yes LCDs can get scratched and yes the cover may make it a bit harder to see your image. But the covers are still worth having.
For example, you set your strap so the camera (in my case one of two and sometimes three) is comfortable and easy to maneuver. For me that means waist level and most belt buckles are not plastic!
The reason for that long a reach on the strap is that I want it around my neck for security but easy to remove if I want to bring the other one into play from my shoulder.
So in that case the LCD cover is very necessary.
If you ever trade your camera in or hope to sell it, a big scratch on the LCD, while not impairing its actual function, will detract and may make your prospective buyer suspect you of rough treatment.
If on the other hand the LCD cover is buffeted, you can easily replace it. Likewise with a lens hood and your purchaser will be impressed with the care you take of your equipment (all other things being equal).
Thanks for a well written review. I am actually going to send the link to a family member I am urging to move up from good point-and-shoot to a dSLR.
-- Nick Baldwin(Yeah, I hear you. But I still don't like screen covers any more than I like camera straps. I see that the D80 LCD cover is available for only $10 on Amazon.com. Not bad. And for the record, I did praise that one for not letting as much steam in behind the plastic as did the D70. So perhaps I should start adding a recommendation that you buy a few spare screen covers and wear all the abrasive shirt buttons you like (and belt buckles). I'm glad you liked the review and thought well enough of it to write in. I'm always happy to hear that something I don't like is useful to someone else. Keeps me grounded. As a reviewer all I can do is tell you what I think and let you decide whether it's something you care about. For the intended market, leaving the screen cover off was as smart as leaving the old screw-drive AF out of the design. -- Shawn)
RE: Resolution Dispute
I wonder if you can help me with the following. My friend says that a "card size" picture taken through any digital camera is recorded with the same resolution, irrespective of the camera's sensor size. Whether the camera has a 10-megapixel or 3-Mp sensor, it does not make any difference in the image size.
(I'm not sure I understand what your friend means by "card size," unless they are referring to the 1600x1200-pixel Postcard image size available in some models. But the size of the image your camera records depends on 1) the size of the sensor it has and 2) the Image Size you've chosen. So you can have a 6-Mp digicam and a 3-Mp digicam both set to a 640x480-pixel image size and, yes, both will capture a 640x480p image, no more. But the 6-Mp set to a full resolution image size (say, 2816x2112 pixels) will have much more detail than the 3-Mp digicam at its full resolution (2048x1536 pixels). -- Editor)
RE: Date/Time Overlays
I am looking for simple software that can print the date/time from Exif data on to the digital picture without reducing the quality of the picture itself. It should manage batch processing.
I tried Exifer but it changes the contrast of half the picture in some cases while doing a batch processing.
-- Anil Walia(You can often print date/time Exif tags on the image using either a printer or camera maker's proprietary software. Canon's Easy Photo Print (available free from http://www.usa.canon.com) allows you to imprint the Date at least, for example. BreezeBrowser Pro also offers the feature, as well as several other cataloging and printing programs (but they aren't free), including ACDSee Pro [W] and ImageBuddy [M]. There's also the free Photo Time Stamp (http://dts8888.com) program. Finally, if your camera and printer are DPOF-compatible, you can set up a print order in the camera that includes date/time overlays for printouts. -- Editor)
Martin Evening, author of The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Book, has just published a free Lightroom 1.1 PDF supplement update for anyone interested in learning about what's new in Lightroom 1.1. The 20-MB PDF is 177 pages long and available now for download (http://www.peachpit.com/register) via the Peachpit Web site (registration required).
Vertus (http://www.vertustech.com) has released its $$239 Fluid Mask 3 masking software [MW] with a more effective edge detection system and an improved "Smart Blending" capability unique to the software.
Online video and photo sharing service Phanfare (http://www.phanfare.com) has announced it has selected Amazon Simple Storage Service to provide unlimited storage and backup for customer videos and photos at multiple secure locations across the United States. See story above.
PictoColor (http://www.pictocolor.com) has been updating its iCorrect plug-ins [MW] for CS3 and adding a few new features into the bargain like automated tone conversion and sharpening in EditLab Pro 5.5. Orders over $49 get a discount when you use the Deal above.
LQ Graphics (http://www.lqgraphics.com) has updated its $49.95 Photo to Movie 4.0.8 [MW] to fix a problem with QuickTime 7.2.
HDRsoft (http://www.hdrsoft.com) has updated its $99 Photomatix Pro 2.5 [MW] that combines photos to extend their dynamic range with new settings for its Details Enhancer and Tone Compressor, support for resizing 32-bit HD images, faster processing and a smaller Tone Compressor memory footprint.
Canon (http://www.usa.canon.com) has released updates to both its EOS Utility and Digital Photo Professional software. EOS Utility downloads images from EOS cameras and controls remote shooting from them. Digital Photo Pro is Canon's image editing software for EOS Raw and JPEG images. Downloads are available at no charge from the Drivers/Software tab of any EOS camera product page.
O'Reilly has published Dynamic Learning: Photoshop CS3 by Jennifer Smith and members of the Aquent Graphics Institute creative team, who have produced many of Adobe's own manuals. The $44.99 tome covering 13 lessons complete with a DVD containing Digital Classroom video tutorials is available with our Amazon discount (http://www.amazon.com/dp/0596510616/?tag=theimagingres-20).
Sharpics (http://www.sharpics.com) has enhanced its Studio Lighting Kits, designed to offer cost-effective and easy-to-use solutions for achieving professional product photography images. The Compact Studio Light Kit (model LKT-92) and Clamp-on Overhead Light (model CLK-9) deliver ideal lighting placement for tabletop photography. The company also announced it will include two compact 30-watt fluorescent bulbs with the LKT-92 lighting kit, which provide the equivalent to a 240-watt incandescent bulb.
CogniSign has signed iStockphoto to join its xcavator.net visual search portal (http://www.xcavator.net), which serves both buyers and sellers in the stock photography market. iStockphoto's inventory of 1.8 million photos from over 38,000 contributors has already been added to the portal. The portal is open to the public at http://www.xcavator.net where a video introduces the service.
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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