The IMAGING RESOURCE DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY
NEWSLETTER


Volume 9, Number 21 12 October 2007

Copyright 2007, The Imaging Resource. All rights reserved.

Welcome to the 212th edition of the Imaging Resource Newsletter. The bright idea to use LCDs on cameras has led to touch screens even on printers and multi-touch screens on playback devices, but what's the best interface for a camera? Sony's W-series is affordable, compact and fun -- none more so than the W80 we review next. Then we discover a flat tripod just in time for Columbus Day before revealing a couple of tips for scenics. Finally, we beseech you again in our most plaintive voice for your Nobel nominations this year (you know, concerning customer service).


TOPICS

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Feature: It's the Interface, Samson

We'd been wrestling like Samson after a haircut with a new camera interface when, one morning, we eschewed the decaf for a bolt of caffeine. Desperate times, desperate measures. Double espresso, we were so desperate.

The new interface that was giving us fits is the touch screen of the Pentax Optio T30, an ultra compact here for review. Several of the guys at the lab in Atlanta raved about it, so our expectations were great. There are far too many buttons in this world. Ask any seamstress.

But our experience with the T30 was disappointing. Blame our expectations if you want. But we simply couldn't find common functions that should have been at the tip of our fingers. We were disoriented.

Here's just one example. When you turn it on, the screen flashes the recording mode. But as the icon faded away, we felt as if we'd just missed our chance at a flying virtual mode dial, leaving us alone with the live preview. Not so, we learned later. All you have to do is tap the screen to bring up the shooting menu.

We don't know why that wasn't intuitive, but it wasn't. And something either is or is not intuitive.

THE TOUCH SCREEN

Our bank uses ATMs with touch screens. That works great in several languages. The options are clear and our transactions are remarkably quick, faster than button-based ATMs with onscreen directions (which always make us look in two places to do anything).

The earliest touch screen on a camera was the large 3.5-inch LCD on the original Kodak EasyShare One. That one still beats the T30 when it comes to onscreen graphics. One big problem with the T30 is its crudely drawn icons. The One had the virtue of using drawing routines rather than bitmaps to build the screen display. Very attractive, very simple. The One had its problems (like glacial startup) but its touch screen wasn't one of them.

HP has just introduced a line of all-in-one printers and compact photo printers that both rely on large touch screens. And HP's done a fine job on the interface with simple visual clues that are attractively drawn. Just a tap here or there to select or scroll or tag. And drag to move a crop. It's remarkable how quickly you get used to it and how much more efficient it is than using a set of buttons and reading a menu or instructions on an LCD.

When we go back to the Kodak EasyShare 5300's LCD system and buttons, we really feel like we're using an old-fashioned button-based ATM.

But even the HP's touch screen has its limitations. It seems as awkward to tap a plus or minus sign to enlarge or reduce a crop field as borrowing money from a friend.

GESTURES

What none of these photo devices has, however, is the latest, hottest interface innovation. It's sometimes referred to as multi-touch sensing, recognizing more than one contact at a time (even able to accommodate multiple users). It's also pressure sensitive (force sensitive, in the jargon). Let's roll that all into one word: gestures.

We've had a high definition television for about a year now. When someone visiting asks about it, we fire it up and show them what a humble 720 display can do with an off-air HD broadcast and how it displays our most recent digicam images synced to an Apple TV. And inevitably we end the short demo with Jeff Han's TED talk on multi-touch interfaces (http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/65).

During the talk he stands in front of a spacious touch-sensitive 36x27 inch screen mounted like a drawing table. It's projected onto a big screen so the audience can see what he's doing as he manipulates 3D objects just by tapping and dragging them. He goes on to show a light table application in which he shuffles images as if they were actually prints, and then stretches them to enlarge them and pinches them to shrink them. Which he can do because they aren't prints. He does the same trick with a virtual keyboard, fitting it to his hands because it isn't a plastic box. And near the end of the short video talk, he actually navigates a 3D map using three fingers. A gesture he apologizes for.

In 2006 he founded Perceptive Pixel (http://www.perceptivepixel.com) to develop and market his multi-touch system. That site has a nice video of the concept, too.

IN THE FIELD

That multi-touch screen interface will sound familiar to iPhone and iPod touch owners. They already know about gestures like tapping and pinching. Without having to learn anything either.

Adventurous Mac owners can get a little taste of this with Abracadabera, a gestural interface for QuickSilver (http://www.blacktree.com), a productivity enhancement written by Nicholas Jitkoff. You can assign a mouse movement (say a diagonal swipe) to a command (like Launch Photoshop). Then, by holding down a modifier key (like the Option key) and performing the gesture, the command is executed. It isn't multi-touch or pressure sensitive, but it does recognize rudimentary gestures.

Gestures, as any driver whose ever been cut off knows, do not require much thinking. They come naturally.

That's what sold a million iPhones in a couple of months and one reason the iPod touch can be of any interest at all with just 16-GB max storage.

ON A CAMERA

It's easy to see how a pinch or spread of two fingers would be a winning way to reduce or enlarge a screen image. But it's not so easy to see how a multi-touch interface would work on a camera.

Much as we've enjoyed the swivel digicam and the LCD's wonderful blessing of getting the camera off our face, most digicam interfaces for recording images feel removed from the actual experience of taking pictures. We never really recover from our initial disorientation.

Focus is automatic (and fails with some regularity to find the thing we're interested in). Exposure options are hidden in menus. The LCD does let us compose the image, granted. But the shutter is often lazier than we'd like. Zoom can be annoyingly imprecise, too, stuttering away from our best attempt to compose the scene. If you've got a digicam you're comfortable shooting with, count your blessings.

Something as critical on an automatic camera as EV compensation has no agreed upon interface. It's the first thing we look for on a camera but everybody does it differently. Canon puts it in a menu (or a dial on the G9), Kodak uses the Left and Right arrows (but doesn't label them), and so on.

So what would a multi-touch camera look like?

You have only to look at the very simple camera built into the iPhone. No zoom, no flash. Just tap the Camera icon on the Home screen, hold the iPhone up to compose your image and tap the onscreen Shutter button. An animated shutter opens and closes. You can view your images by pressing the Playback button next to the Shutter button.

It has its problem, though. Pressing the button can induce camera shake, since it's not really a button that can absorb the pressure. And it has no EV compensation for confused metering.

A less simple camera might have a button to cycle through the flash modes. And let you just pinch or spread two fingers to zoom. Maybe even a slider for EV. But that's pushing it. When you start looking for White Balance, ISO settings, even Scene modes, you inevitably get lost drumming your fingers on a simple camera.

ALREADY INVENTED

The equivalent of the gestural interface for a camera, it strikes us, has actually been around a long time. It's the approach used on any dSLR. The camera itself is designed to be gripped in a very specific way, with buttons and controls encouraging the mind to memorize certain physical movements. Uh, gestures.

It's one reason brand loyalty is so strong among professionals. A Nikon feels like a camera to a Nikon user but a Canon feels strangely uncomfortable. And a Canon user feels right at home moving from one Canon to another, but is lost at sea on a Nikon. Things just aren't where they expect them to be.

Moving your view of the scene to the viewfinder restricts you to the two dimensions of the print. You enter the black box of photography. The grip is simple: one hand on the lens to zoom and to focus, the other on the shutter, which is quick as a synapse, with a command dial or two nearby to shift exposure.

You change mode with a gesture, really. Spin the dial on a Canon, shift click a Nikon. You change f-stop or aperture with another gesture, clicking a dial. Some less expensive models send you to the menu system for things like ISO, but the higher end models usually provide a button. Another gesture, that is.

Twist, press, dial, click -- those are all gestures. Familiar even to anyone who shot with film SLRs.

FROM HERE

As comfortable as dSLR users and digicam owners whose cameras imitate the SLR form are with their cameras, point-and-shoot users have always had to struggle when they wanted to do anything beyond point and shoot.

As Jeff Han points out, multi-touch systems provide an opportunity for advances in efficiency, usability and intuitiveness. We could use all three on our point-and-shoots. Until then, let your hair grow, Samson.

Return to Topics.

Feature: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W80 -- A Bionz Bargain

(Excerpted from the full review posted at http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/W80/W80A.HTM on the Web site.)

Sony describes its W-series digicams as affordable, compact and fun companions for the technosocialites (hey, it's their word) of both genders. The Sony W80 fits that bill coming in at a list price of $250 with a small form factor that's capable of turning ordinary snapshots into an HD slide show with special effects and music.

It's the bottom step in the W-series only in terms of sensor size and price. And a smaller sensor at a lower price isn't such a bad thing, really. The other shipping models include the 8.1-megapixel W90 for $299 and the 12-Mp W200 for $399.

While the Sony W80 is available in silver, black, pink and white, it doesn't offer this same level of sophisticated style and ultra compact size as Sony's T-series. Still, we found it stylish in its own way and certainly competent.

That competence includes Sony's 2007 technobundle (our word) of double anti-blur (high ISO plus Super SteadyShot), face detection with auto white balance and flash control, in-camera red-eye, D-range optimizer (thanks to the Bionz image processor) and nine-point autofocus.

You don't have to be a technosocialite or even a millenial to appreciate that.

DESIGN

We had the Sony W80 and the T20 here at the same time and actually gravitated toward the W80 over the two-week testing period. They're almost exactly the same size (although the W80 feels lighter), but the Sony W80 has an extruding lens rather than the folding optics behind the T20's sliding lens cover. The W80 also adds an optical viewfinder.

In other respects, Sony has saved a few pennies, limiting the W80's 2.5-inch LCD to just 115,000 pixels, so the image isn't quite as sharp as the T20's. You get about 40 shots less on a battery charge; but 340 is nothing to technosneeze at. Oddly enough, Fireworks and High Speed Shutter (Sports) Scene modes are missing, too. That may be because there wasn't room for them on the Mode dial that the W80 adds to its package.

Like most small digicams (ultra compact or not), the W80 doesn't call much attention to its grip. But it's easily grasped in the right hand with a chrome accent on the front edge to give you a sense of security. You'll want to use the included wrist strap for real security, however.

The top panel has a large, easily located Shutter button next to a small power button with an LED indicator. Back panel controls run down the right side of the LCD starting with the Zoom lever on top, a Mode dial with all the Shooting mode options, a Playback button, Menu button, four-way navigator and Sony's Home button to set major functions.

It's a comfortable arrangement made even more so by the Mode dial. On the T20, you have to press the Home button to change shooting modes, which isn't as obvious.

Display/Viewfinder. While the W80 has a nice, big 2.5-inch LCD, it uses only 115,000 pixels. That used to be good enough, certainly, but these days 230,000 is increasingly common. Still the difference, while perceptible in a side-by-side comparison, isn't likely to be disturbing.

To facilitate framing in direct sun, the W80 has an optical viewfinder as well. Optical viewfinders are not very accurate (especially if you're shooting 16:9) but nothing quite substitutes for them when you need one. It's noteworthy that Sony would include one on a camera priced this low (standing ovation).

PERFORMANCE

Despite having to extend its lens, the W80 was quick enough to power on and off that we didn't worry about missing shots or burning up the battery. We just turned it on when we wanted to take a shot and turned it off when we didn't.

Zoom was a different story. It's smoother than the steps shown by the zoom bar on the LCD, but it isn't as precise as we like to compose images. You can see it reframe the image when you stop zooming.

But the W80's virtues are the collection of imaging technologies Sony has slipped into its 2007 lineup. Those include its Bionz processor, face detection technology, High ISO and Super SteadyShot one-two punch, in-camera editing and HD output signal: All worth examining in depth.

Bionz. Sony's 2007 lineup profits enormously from the Bionz image processor descended from the one in Sony's Alpha dSLR. It's responsible for some improvements most of us take for granted with every new generation like faster image processing and quicker response times, but it goes quite a bit further.

Enabled by Bionz, the W80's D-Range Optimizer captures a wider density range than normal, holding highlights while bringing out details in the shadows. And it's also one reason the Sony W80 rates 340 shots per charge rather than a more typical 250.

See the Gallery shots under the Samples tab to draw your own conclusions. Take a close look at the construction site shot with the white concrete barrier in full sun. That's the kind of subject that typically gets blown out, but in the W80's shot, it holds onto quite a bit of detail. At the same time, the underbelly of the freeway and the column of rebar have quite a bit of shadow detail, too. That's the Bionz at work.

Face Detection. While we usually don't find many occasions to shoot people pictures, we did rely on Sony's face detection technology to grab shots of a horde of visitors over the weekend. It's amazing how quickly you get used to it and how much you rely on it.

Sony's version is quick, finding as many as eight human faces in the frame. It looks for a combination of eyes, nose and mouth so only heads facing you are identifiable. No pets either.

Available in Auto and Portrait modes, it controls more than focus, extending its reach to exposure control, white balance adjustment and flash control. That's more important than it may sound. Finding the faces to focus is a pretty clear benefit, but controlling the flash so it illuminates them both at that distance and for that subject is a big help, as is the white balance adjustment. Even more so is adding that information to the exposure calculation. Think of all those brightly lit landscapes that don't expose the people close to the camera. Now your camera, detecting the faces, will expose for them rather than the blue sky behind them.

The W80 does face detection so well, we really missed it when we shot a few portraits with a dSLR that just couldn't understand that people were the important part of the shot.

High ISO, Super SteadyShot. Of course, flash is holdover tech from the last century. In this century, you shoot with image stabilization. When that isn't enough, you crank up the sensor's gain control (raise the ISO), which you do at the expense of adding a little noise to your image.

Sony is to be applauded for including both options in its 2007 lineup. The Sony W80 has only a 3x optical zoom that doubles to 6x with digital, so it doesn't really need image stabilization for long zoom in daylight. But for low light situations, it's indispensable. Super SteadyShot can allow you to hand-hold the camera at low ISO settings to get both good detail and good color.

Our low light shots in the Gallery include a stick shift and auto interior taken at several ISO settings. The thumbnails are remarkably consistent in color. But if you study them you'll see that the detail starts to disappear as the ISO increases. At ISO 3200, the W80 used a 1/125 second shutter speed. But relying on Super SteadyShot, we were able to shoot as low as 1/13 second (far below the reliable 1/60 second hand-held limit) at ISO 400, with a much better result.

Still, there are times when you have to crank up the ISO. The W80 will still deliver good color and you can smooth away much of the noise in post processing if it bothers you.

That's our one disappointment with the W80's image quality, however. Sony tends to prefer to hang on to the color while letting the detail dissolve away. Again, the full resolution gallery shots show you what we mean.

In-camera retouching. In-camera image editing is another trick Sony has added to its 2007 lineup. It can automatically detect and remove red-eye, a real blessing if you're printing flash shots directly from the camera at a party, say.

The W80's other editing tools are a lot of fun too. With the Partial Color option you can pinpoint an object in your scene to hold its color and watch as the W80 turns everything else into monochrome. Then you can use the Zoom lever to expand or contract the color effect; great for images of flowers.

You can also apply a fish-eye lens effect with nine levels of control or blur the periphery with five levels. These aren't just fun, but they can minimize composition problems, too.

HD Output. Sony touts the W80 as an HD camera, but that moniker really refers just to the 1080i output signal for stills. The Sony W80 doesn't take HD resolution movies (either 1080 or 720) and it has a hard time playing VGA movies through the optional HD dock. In fact, Sony doesn't even supply a cable with the W80 to connect it to your HD television.

Instead, the company provides three HD accessory options. You can buy a component cable that attaches to the W80's proprietary USB port. Or you can buy the $80 Cyber-shot Station CSS-HD1 (http://www.imaging-resource.com/ACCS/CSS/HD1.htm). Sony also sells a $149 printer/dock solution for the problem.

The Cyber-shot Station includes two cables: a composite video cable for HD output and a stereo audio cable that also has standard video (yellow) output. If you attach both video cables to your set, the composite cable takes precedence and the VGA signal is ignored. But the W80 only outputs a VGA signal for video. So you see the station report: "Invalid operation. HD (1080i) output in progress." It can't send the VGA signal out the composite cable. You see the first frame of the movie on the TV but that's it. The error message is overlaid. The trick is to pull the composite connection out of the back of the Station so the VGA connection (assuming you've made it) is live. Then the movie plays.

You may wonder if it's worth the trouble to buy any of these accessories considering TV resolution -- even HD resolution -- is a lot less than the full resolution the W80 can capture with its 7.2-Mp sensor. But the W80 does have a 16:9 aspect ratio mode (not recommended for portraits) and the included special effects and music that make up the automated slide show function really are quite well done, as our CSS-HD1 review demonstrates. That also plays well on a standard TV, but at a much reduced size.

CONCLUSION

It's hard to call the Sony W80 the bottom rung in the W-Series because it only gives up a few pixels for a lower price. Otherwise the Sony W80 has all the bells and whistles, making it a terrific bargain. It has a Bionz processor, face detection technology, High ISO, Super SteadyShot, in-camera editing and HD output signal.

The Sony W80 does give away detail to hold onto color at higher ISO settings, but most users won't mind that tradeoff, particularly if you only plan to make 4x6 prints. The color that the Sony W80 holds at ISO 1600 is pretty good. HD output -- particularly when played as a slide show with the built-in special effects and music -- was stunning on the Sony W80, but only for stills. This isn't an HD movie camera and it even has trouble playing VGA movies through the dock accessory. But to see any HD output from this camera, you'll have to buy an accessory cable, dock or dock/printer.

Packing that big a technoload (new word, sorry) into such a small package at such a low price makes the W80 an easy Dave's Pick.

Return to Topics.

Feature: The Klikk Camera Stand

(Excerpted from the illustrated review posted at http://www.imaging-resource.com/ACCS/KLIKK/KLIKK.HTM on the Web site.)

If Dr. Phil devoted a show to photographers, the topic of tripods would elicit some disturbing confessions. Everyone knows you need one. Everyone knows why. But very, very few of us are emotionally stable enough to actually carry one around.

If he wanted to broadcast a week-long series on this phenomenon, he could. Because there are dozens of ways photographers have tried to substitute some gadget for a tripod. None of them actually replace a tripod, but they are all useful in some situations. Like lies.

The bean bag is a common favorite, providing an accommodating support on irregular surfaces. The Joby Gorillapod (http://www.joby.com/products/gorillapod/original/) is another, wrapping its three legs around nearly anything to do the same. We're devoted to the Clampette (http://www.highsierramfg.com), a little C-clamp with a tripod screw on it. And we always carry a string with a quarter-inch/20-thread bolt to make a counter-force support in a pinch.

No doubt you have your favorite, too. And if we were on Dr. Phil's show right now, we'd all be laughing about it. Nervously.

That's because we feel guilty about it. We don't have that Pavarottian who-me smile that can get away with anything short of murder.

ENTER KLIKK

Well, we don't have Pavarotti anymore, but we do have Klikk, whose corporate slogan is "Just Smile!"

Klikk, also made in Italy, is a camera base. That's all. Just an ABS plastic stand with a special brass tripod screw designed to slide along a long slot so you can aim the camera up or down, right or left. Very light, very small, it's just 12mm tall.

The Klikk includes a padded case with a neck strap and metal hock. The 4.5x3.75-inch case is large enough to include an ultra-compact camera with the Klikk positioned over the LCD, providing a measure of protection, too. But it's small enough it probably fits in your current camera case, too.

We have a friend who has cracked the LCD on every Canon digicam he's owned (quite a few now). He always carries his camera in his coat pocket. This little investment could save him hundreds of dollars a year.

And, ingeniously, it comes in two configurations, a small 2.0x3.25-inch model and a 3.25x3.25-inch version. The smaller one is just right for cameras whose tripod socket is in the middle of the camera. And the larger one is just right for the majority of cameras that have a tripod socket well off-center.

You have to be Italian to find this funny, but you also get your choice of color. Either size can be ordered in red or black. Or, as the poet Montale, put it, "chierico rosso, o nero." A reference to the sacred and the profane. He, too, come to think of it, could get away with anything short of murder.

The bottom of the base is not flat, so you can actually make a three-point, tripod-like contact between the base and an uneven surface. We found it easy to angle up or down, although the larger side is easier for sideways adjustments. Just make sure the plastic base doesn't slip from any precarious perch you place it on.

So that's it. A plastic base, slightly bowed, with a slot in it for a small brass tripod screw.

PERFORMANCE

Attaching the Klikk is simple. Just aim the brass screw at your tripod socket and twirl. The plastic guide runner has a good grip on the brass screw, but doesn't grip the brass screw tight enough to twist it the final hand-tightened quarter turn or so. Just finish off by twisting the screw from the bottom until you've got a nice tight connection. Thanks to the special design of the screw, you aren't binding the screw to the base when you tighten it to the camera.

Then decide if you want your camera to point up, down or straight ahead. To set or change the angle, just slide your camera along the guide runner until it's set the way you want it.

One of the advantages of using a flat camera support like this is the unusual angle you can shoot from. You can set it on a table or desk to get an intimate view in Macro mode of what's happening. Or you can set it on the floor for an interesting look up at things. Prop the Klikk's front edge on something to raise the angle of view, if you like. Just make sure you have three points of support.

We tested a few angles, shooting our fingers flying over the keyboard and our feet flat on the ground. Even a shot up at our face frowning in concentration as we wrote this review. It was actually kind of fun.

We set Macro mode on a Sony H3 here for review and turned on the self-timer. Then we set the camera at a flattering angle and forgot about it. Ten seconds later, we had an unusual shot.

You don't have to use the self-timer, though. You can just use the base like you would any support.

You don't even have to be shooting to find it useful, we found. Mounting the camera on the Klikk makes it easier to connect a USB cable and transfer files to your computer if your USB connection is not on the base of the camera. Often we find we have to lay a camera down on its LCD or faceplate to transfer images. Ultracompacts are pretty unstable as soon as you connect a cable to them. But the Klikk stabilizes the camera so we can make the connection, power on the camera and transfer our photos without worrying about scratching the LCD or nicking the front of the camera.

And you don't have to use an ultracompact camera, either. We attached the Klikk to a Canon Rebel XTi and it didn't crack. It did wobble a bit as the ABS plastic flexed, but we were able to press the Shutter button and get a sharp shot without resorting to the self-timer. You don't get the full range of movement (the camera's center of gravity can easily be shifted beyond the base), but you do get support for a straight-ahead or upward angle.

PHILOSOPHICAL QUESTIONS

How does it improve on all those other gadgets (or even just laying the camera flat on its bottom)?

It beats a bean bag because it's a lot smaller and lighter (not to mention flat). It beats the Clampette because it's a lot simpler (you don't have to find something to clamp to). It beats the Gorillapad because it's shorter. You can't get any lower angle than this.

After a great deal of thought on the matter, we believe the keys to its usefulness are the little hump and the hollow bottom. The hump gives you a way to angle the camera a full 18 degrees either up/down or left/right, depending how you mount the camera. And the hollow bottom lets you deal with uneven surfaces (including something to prop up on end).

CONCLUSION

For a long time, we've been addicted to this genre of gadget. It's a healthy addiction. You come home with sharp shots. But we have to say we've never used a tripod substitute this unobtrusive and yet this useful.

It will set you back 15 euros or roughly $22, including taxes and airmail shipping (which only took a day from Milan to San Francisco). To order directly from the company, visit http://www.klikk.it and click the English button. Check out the animated demos, too.

If you need convincing, make a gift of one to someone and watch how much they rave about it. As tripods go, it's the least pain with the most gain yet. You may not be able to get away with anything short of murder, but you will "just smile."

Return to Topics.

New on the Site

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

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Beginners Flash: Two Tips for Shooting a Scenic

Sometimes when we bike up Twin Peaks to take our zoom range shots with a review camera, we catch our breath watching the tourists snapping pictures of themselves on top of the hill.

The City makes a jewel of a backdrop, but the morning sun is always behind the person posing in front of it. So the photo shows a very dark face against the perfectly composed skyline.

Perfect exposed but not very sharp skyline, we should add. Because the little sidewalk doesn't really provide enough room to get both subjects in focus.

What to do?

Well, the first thing to do is find a spot that gives you a few feet between you and the people in the shot. How many exactly depends on your lens and the focal length (wider is better), but beyond a few feet, most lenses (at the wider end) keep everything in focus to infinity. Lenses don't fiddle nearly as much between 30 feet and infinity as they do between two and three feet. So Tip One is Back Up.

Once you've zoomed out to compose your picture, look at the light falling on the people in your shot. In bright sunlight, those faces will either be in complete shade (if the sun is behind them) or suffer harsh shadows (if it's to the side or in front). The exposure is most likely going to be right for the skyline behind them (unless you've metered for the center only). So Tip Two is to set the Flash Mode to Forced On.

That will throw a little light at them, lightening the shadows a bit without being too strong (especially if you backed up).

It's actually a tough shot to get right and no automatic setting quite covers it. But toss these two tips in your bag and you'll get a sharp shot of both the background and foreground subjects that lights both of them up.

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In the Forums

Visit the Imaging Resource discussion forums at http://www.photo-forums.com to find out what people are saying about the latest digicams, hard-to-find accessories, friendly suppliers, clever techniques, you name it! Recent hot topics include:

Read the Canon PowerShot A630 Discussion at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?50@@.eea415e/39

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

Aaron asks about taking photos without a flash at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?50@@.eea696b/0

A user asks about the possibility of reading a picture of an A4 page at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?50@@.eea69ae/0

Visit the Printers Forum at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?14@@.ee6b2b8

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Just for Fun: Nobel 2007 Nominations, Please!

Some people have to wait 20 years (19 usable) to get a Nobel Prize. Like Albert Felt and Peter Grunberg, to name the two guys who discovered giant magnetoresistance so you can have an affordable hard disk large enough to store all these newsletters.

But around here, you don't have to wait that long. Just a couple of weeks, really.

That's because every year we award the Ersatz Nobel Prize for Extraordinary Customer Service in Digital Imaging based on your nominations. You send them in, we award the Nobel in the next newsletter. It's such a radically efficient process, we probably deserve a Nobel for inventing it.

Years ago, when we first thought up this Ersatz Nobel, we thought it would be a dynamite idea. And every year since, we've gotten a bang out of it. You can never, after all, have too much Extraordinary Customer Service.

In fact, you might just be wondering what Extraordinary Customer Service actually is (if you've never seen it). We hope it isn't that rare, however.

If you've had trouble with a product that was happily resolved, you remember it. It may have surprised you that the company in question went to the expense it did, or that the person you were dealing with spent so much time and energy to resolve your problem. Whatever it was, this is the time to tell us about it.

In return, fame, fortune and health -- well, no promises. We'll just remind you that what goes around, tends to come around.

To submit your entry, simply email us at editor@imaging-resource.com with the Subject line "Ersatz Nobel Prize." Please.

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We Have Mail

You can email us at editor@imaging-resource.com. You can read our Letters policy at http://www.imaging-resource.com/IRNEWS in the FAQ.

RE: HP A626

Does the HP A626 read high speed cards? I received a Canon photo printer and it will not.

-- Fordson

(Good question. There is an issue with any card reader and higher capacity cards and the HP specs do mention SDHC cards, for example. But high speed cards? We used a 1-GB Memory Stick Pro Duo and a 2-GB CompactFlash Extreme III without any problems. The Pro Duo writes 15Mbps and writes 20MB/sec while the Extreme III card has read/write speeds of 20MB/sec. What card do you have? -- Editor)

Lexar Professional CompactFlash, 2-GB. 133x speed with Write Acceleration.

-- Fordson

(Ah, that might explain it. HP told us, "While the printer is compatible with high speed cards, some card makers, such as Lexar, do not follow CompactFlash specifications to the letter and this can sometimes create an incompatibility with some printers." -- Editor)

RE: Behind the Scenes (Mode)

For the times when I don't have my Nikon D70s with me, my little Sony W55 is great. However I'd like to know a little more about its Scene settings. I think the palm tree setting adds blue and the moon (which says shoot low light scene without flash) uses a slower shutter speed. The snowman setting darkens an image, such as one with a too-bright sky, probably with a smaller f-stop or a faster shutter speed, but that would be good to know. I am guessing soft-snap just uses a larger f-stop. Is "twilight portrait" perhaps fill-flash? If I knew exactly what they all do, it could be very useful. Is more info available somewhere?

-- Lynn Troy Maniscalco

(While the manual will tell you what exactly they are for (the palm tree is Beach Scene mode, which compensates for bright sand and water), they don't always tell you what they do to improve the exposure. Sony has a Function Guide option in the Set up menu that, if you enable it, will display a short text description of when to use each Scene mode. That moon (Twilight mode), for example, report, "Shoot lowlight scene without flash." Twilight portrait will "shoot portraits in low light with flash." -- Editor)

Thanks. Yes, I had found those but would like to know more. Since both the snowman and the palm tree compensate for overexposed subjects, I wonder what the difference is. While I suspect Twilight is a slower shutter speed since it suggests using a tripod, maybe Twilight Portrait is just fill flash, but maybe not.

-- Lynn Troy Maniscalco

(That information isn't always documented (top secret, you know). But you can shoot your own comparison shots and analyze their Exif header data. Many image editors and viewers offer Exif display so you can see what happened to the ISO, f-stop, aperture, etc. It will also tell you if the Flash fired, what Scene mode was set and what EV setting was used.-- Editor)

RE: Framed Again!

I know you reviewed a couple of digital photo frames recently but with the changes you alluded to and the upcoming holiday season I bet there will be lots to choose from. As usual, there will be little real tech guidance on the packaging or at the originator's Web site. Can you help us with a more expansive article on these products?

Here's what I want in these products: 1) Bright LCD. Maybe the new backlit LED solution? 2) Good handling of subtle distinctions in bright tones. 3) At least 5x7 4) Somehow understands rotation logic that renders images right-side-up whichever way I choose to place the frame. 5) Loadable without hooking up a computer. 6) USB connection for times I want to use the computer or transfer from my hard drive-based archives 7) Randomization (I'm sure this is available on all the gear out there now) 8) A way to choose transitions to avoid hokey over-dramatic image change-overs. 9) Traditional "framed" looks: matted, wood. 10) Option for battery-driven use: for locations or events that do not offer a nearby power plug.

Wow, that's a lot to ask of a device that will have to be cheap enough to be sold in large quantities.

I always thought that the Ceiva frame was a great idea for my Mom. Her assisted living site nixed the idea of anything that grabbed a phone line. But the way these current frames offer a "publishing" platform makes the idea of having them grab images from a site appealing -- to me, anyway.

-- Jonathan Rawle

(Interesting about the assisted living facility. While the importance of the phone line for medical emergencies is obvious, it seems a cable connection or second phone line for the Internet isn't too much to ask.... Also funny how the summer frame releases seem to have been delayed. Review units we were promised months ago just haven't been delivered. But here's the state of the art: 1) Brighter LCDs should be feasible. 2) No LCD to date displays more than 16-bit color. You can fiddle with the settings to minimize the banding (especially in blue skies) but that's about it. 3) 5x7 is available now. 4) Rotation of the frame would require an orientation sensor. We'll keep an eye out for that feature. 5) Frames with a card reader or USB port for a thumbdrive don't need a computer. 6) See five. 7) Yes, you can now play back images randomly (as random as a computer gets anyway). 8) Setup modes usually offer a choice of transitions. Dissolves are the least annoying. 9) Some manufacturers do include a choice of frames, both wood and acrylic. You can also have the LCDs custom framed. 10) We know of one company that promises a battery option in those new models that hasn't shown up yet. -- Editor)
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Editor's Notes

DxO Labs (http://www.dxo.com) has announced DxO Optics Pro v5 [MW] will be released later this fall with a new Raw conversion engine. The new engine adds a couple of interesting new wrinkles to the product, looking beyond the immediately adjacent pixels for demosaicing and doing noise suppression on the Raw data before demosaicing is applied.


ACD Systems (http://www.acdsee.com) has unveiled its $49.99 ACDSee 10 Photo Manager [W] with seamless integration to photo sharing sites like Flickr and SmugMug, as well as cameras and other devices. Additional features include real-time viewing, management and editing of multiple image files, even in large albums and photo collections.


Digital Foci (http://www.digitalfoci.com) has released its $39.95 Pocket Album, a digital keychain photo viewer with a 1.5-inch color LCD screen that can hold up to 74 pictures with its 8-MB internal memory.


Alien Skin (http://www.alienskin.com) has released its $249 Exposure 2 [MW], a Photoshop plug-in that simulates film stock and photo lab and darkroom effects. It can simulate Portra, Velvia, Kodachrome, Polaroid, Tri-X, Agfa Scala, GAF 500, and Kodak EES, among others.


DSLR photography will be the focus of an eight-day, $2,195 workshop cruise embarking from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. to St. Maarten, St. Lucia and St. Kitts in the Southern Caribbean, March 14-22, 2008. Workshop attendees will each receive up to $1,000 worth of hardware and software from participating sponsors, and those who do not own dSLRs will be able to borrow Pentax K1000D cameras. For further information visit http://www.dpcorner.com/cruise or call (800) 652-2267.


Gefen (http://www.gefen.com) has introduced its $399 Wireless USB 2.0 Extender based on 802.11a, b, g, n and Extreme USB technologies. The extender requires no driver installation and just a short cable connection from a computer to the sender. A wireless 4-port hub/reciever replaces all USB cable connections.


Mustek (http://www.mustek.com) has introduced its $179.99 high-resolution 8-inch digital frame with 800x600 pixel TFT-LCD panel (4:3) that can be set vertically or horizontally. With support for SD/MMC/CF/Memory Stick/XD memory cards, it has 128-MB internal memory, two 1W speakers and a clock and calendar function.


Barbara Brundage, whose day job is playing the harp, has authored O'Reilly's $39.99 Photoshop Elements 6: The Missing Manual. The title is available via our Amazon discount program for $26.39 at http://www.amazon.com/dp/0596514441/?tag=theimagingres-20.


David Ekholm (http://jalbum.net) has updated JAlbum [LMW], his free Java-based Web Album generator with the ability to drag-and-drop files and folders into the Publish window folder tree for publishing.


Smith Micro Software (http://www.stuffit.com) has released its $79.99 StuffIt Deluxe 12.0 [M] with PDF, TIFF, PNG, GIF and BMP compression plus the ability to view thumbnails of archived images. The company claims it can also compress JPEGs up to 30 percent.


LQ Graphics (http://www.lqgraphics.com) has released a new beta version of its $49.95 Photo to Movie [MW] with new transitions, timeline improvements, better rendering, a new media browser that supports Aperture and more.


Hamrick Software (http://www.hamrick.com) has released VueScan 8.4.39 [LMW] with over 30 improvements since the last major release in February 2007 and support for 50 new scanners. VueScan is available in a $39.95 standard edition and a $79.95 professional edition.

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One Liners

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Signoff

That's it for now, but between issues visit our site for the latest news, reviews, or to have your questions answered in our free discussion forum. Here are the links to our most popular pages:

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Happy snapping!

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

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