The IMAGING RESOURCE DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY
NEWSLETTER


Volume 10, Number 10 9 May 2008

Copyright 2008, The Imaging Resource. All rights reserved.

Welcome to the 227th edition of the Imaging Resource Newsletter. Need a last-minute gift idea for Mother's Day? We got two thumbs up on the Pandigital photo frame reviewed here from one real mom who also wanted one for her own mother. Then Shawn tests the Sigma DP1, which is suspiciously like the dream camera described in our last issue. Our Letters section includes what amounts to two mini-articles this time, too. So get cracking!


TOPICS

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Feature: Pandigital PanTouch Frame -- New Dimensions

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

Pandigital (http://www.pandigital.net) isn't a very familiar brand name but its digital picture frames are among the best in the business. That's because the company doesn't just put its logo on a generic frame like a few hundred other companies with unfamiliar names. It engineers useful features into them.

You could say much the same about Kodak's frames and even Westinghouse's frames with their mosaic display (multiple images at one time in the frame). But, familiar brand or not, Pandigital is among the more widely distributed.

Whenever we have a Pandigital frame here for review, they're an instant hit with visitors. And when they ask where they can find one for themselves, we just say, "Everywhere." Because that's where you can find them (http://www.pandigital.net/wheretobuy.html).

For the last few weeks we've had a $170 8-inch PanTouch frame here, which is available now at Sears and Wal-Mart. It features a backlit LED screen with a 4:3 aspect ratio (common to digicams and preferred for portraits), 512-MB of internal memory to hold about 3,200 800x600-pixel images (if resized to the frame's dimensions). You can load images through the 6-in-1 built-in card reader and the standard or mini USB 2.0 Hi-Speed port (for thumbdrives, cameras or direct connection to a computer). The stand is adjustable but only one frame, a black one, comes with this product.

USEFUL FEATURES

The PanTouch series of frames features one big advance over previous Pandigital frames: a patent-pending touch sensor that is sensitive enough to work behind multiple surfaces.

Pandigital has deployed this technology to provide a new interface to the frame's capabilities while keeping the display area of the screen itself clean. All the touching occurs on the glass covering the mat, not the picture. But the picture area does display soft buttons that it's hard to avoid tapping the icons instead of the mat above them at first.

On the frame we tested, the sensitive areas were along the top of the frame and along the right side, converging in that top right corner. The frame recognizes two gestures. You can tap to click or slide a finger for slider controls.

The touch controls are designed to substitute for most of the remote control functions, which are disabled when the touch controls are active. After about three seconds of inactivity, the touch control icons fade away. You can activate the touch controls any time just by touching the top right corner of the mat, which is the Home button.

This frame sports some much-appreciated new features beyond the touch sensor, though.

We particularly applauded the inclusion of programmable on/off times (and hence a clock). The frame also includes calendar and alarm clock functions. Calendar mode not only displays the month but runs a slide show, too.

The frame can play mp3-encoded but not iTunes-compatible music (with or without images) through its built-in stereo speakers or its audio-out port to your speaker system. And it can play video you take with your camera, too. As long as it takes AVI or MPEG movies.

Also among the new tricks is some intelligence. The frame can resize and compress images as they are copied to it so you can store more photos in the frame's 512-MB available memory. If you like to zoom in to see more detail, this may not be a great idea, but otherwise, it's a big help. And images stored on the frame and rotated to the proper orientation will be saved that way for future viewing.

If you've got a WiFi adapter, you can also connect the frame to your wireless home network to tap into Picasa, specifically. We didn't have one around to test that feature, alas. That's unfortunate, because this feature addresses one of the dirty little secrets about digital frames. The company said their own adapter will be available from Gateway, Best Buy and directly from its site later this month.

DIRTY SECRETS

Like any other digital frame, the PanTouch series suffers from a few issues common to the species.

For one thing, these things just don't show 24-bit (full) color for some reason. They're all 16-bit. Thousands, not millions, of colors. And you can't calibrate those colors, either (except manually, which we'll explain below).

Then there's the problem of framed art in general. You have a print you love, you frame it and hang it. And it sits unaltered on the wall ready to engage your interest whenever you look its way. It's passive but constant.

A digital frame, however, has an On/Off switch. But why would you leave it on? And that switch, of course, leads to a power supply, which is actually a power brick plugged into a wall socket. So you have this ugly cord to conceal. And why are they all black when so many walls are white?

A digital frame also has a number of viewing modes. It can certainly display a single image just like your framed print. But will that burn that image into the LCD?

And it can run a slide show of whatever images it finds either in its internal memory, an inserted memory card or even some online gallery. But how do you know what you've missed? Do you have to watch it like a television?

In fact, it's easier to think of a digital frame as a television than a frame. You'd never frame a portrait in a horizontal frame with big black bars inside the mat on the left and right sides. But you'd put up with that on a television.

And that is pretty much what Ron Glaz, IDC director of Digital Imagine Solutions and Services, described as the preferred way to view images at home during his presentation on digital frames at PMA earlier this year (http://www.imaging-resource.com/EVENTS/PMAS08/MRP/idc.htm#the).

Citing the big challenge as stimulating users "to release photos from the PC," he acknowledged that digital frames are a popular and inexpensive way to view your growing image collection. People paid a mean price of $75 some time after acquiring a camera (not at the same time) but 38 percent didn't know what brand they'd bought. Card slots and battery power (to hide that cord) were the top deal makers.

But Glaz pointed out the last dirty little secret we'll reveal. If you don't refresh content on the frame, it gets old quickly. That's where the home network and HDTV displays come in. With the network connection cooking, updating content isn't a big deal. Ask anyone with an Apple TV (http://www.imaging-resource.com/ACCS/ATV/ATV.HTM).

But while you're waiting for that home network to be built, these little frames sure are a crowd pleaser.

PHYSICAL SETUP

Setup is quick and quite easy.

There are a couple of plastic tapes that should be pulled to allow installed batteries to make contact. One is in the small remote control. The other is in the frame itself. This provides battery backup to the clock.

Main power is delivered from your wall through the included AC adapter with a five foot reach. Where you place the frame has to take that requirement into account.

Once connected to a power source, you can turn the frame on using the Power button on the side. The frame automatically starts a slide show of the included images. Pandigital populates the frame with a set of photos you'll no doubt want to dispense with after proving the thing works.

The easiest way to start viewing your own images is to slip a card into the card reader on the opposite side of the frame from the Power button.

You can also attach a thumbdrive to the USB port just below the card reader. That port also functions for direct camera connections (using the USB cable that came with the camera and with the camera set to behave like a USB host) or to connect a computer to the frame. A mini-USB port is also available. Images can be imported to the frame through these connections.

A computer isn't necessary to use the frame, but it does make managing the content a lot easier. The frame appears to your computer like a removable disk, otherwise known as a USB mass storage device. You can delete content, move it around and copy files back and forth. There are three folders on the frame to start with: photo, video and audio. Load your respective media there so the frame can find it.

The review unit mat has a small hold for the infrared remote sensor that you won't see on your frame. It isn't necessary.

SOFTWARE SETUP

To setup the frame's behavior, visit the context sensitive Setup menu by pressing the Setup button.

System Setup. The main setup mode allows you to:

These are pretty self-explanatory, except for the Network settings. Even though we didn't have a WiFi adapter to test this feature, we did go through the setup. A screen-based keyboard is displayed to use PanTouch technology to enter your router's name (SSID). You use the same keyboard to enter your network password after describing the type of security in use (WEP, WPA). We left IP Address dynamic because our router assigns an address.

Viewing Setup. Pressing the Setup button when an image is displayed presents the Viewing Setup menu. From this menu, you can:

These options use a fly out menu but the color scheme is less than clear. Unavailable options appear on a gray background, available ones on a green background and the selected one on a blue background. Fortunately a box to the right of the background indicates which setting is active.

QUIBBLES

We had a few vibrations on the old Quibble meter when we plugged this frame into it.

The first is viewing angle. Unlike an HDTV with an LCD, you don't get a very wide viewing angle with this frame.

Timer activation is a bit too fragile for us. You set on/off times for weekdays and weekends but you have to activate them in the View or Calendar mode and you can't touch the remote or pop in a card after that. If we set a schedule, we expect it to be honored. Period.

We also had some difficulty pressing the stiff buttons on the remote control. You get used to that, certainly, but what we'd give for a remote that had soft-touch buttons. We could also use a repeat function, so when you do finally hold the button down, the control continues to do what you want.

The power adapter has a five-foot reach, which may seem generous for table-top use but if you're planning to place the frame on a dresser, it can be a bit of stretch. You may need to plug it into an extension cord to place the frame where you want it.

CONCLUSION

The more we used the frame, the more we liked it. Slide shows replaced the pass-the-camera around routine after an event but the Movie mode was even more compelling. We could download video from some relative's blog and share it on the Pandigital frame. Even the Calendar mode amused us for a while.

But we preferred the remote to the touch screen and looking at a single still didn't seem to make much use of the frame. It wants an audience. Maybe that's what our visitors really liked about it. There was something to see on the screen.

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Feature: Sigma DP1 -- Dream Come True?

By SHAWN BARNETT
(Excerpted from the full review posted at http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/DP1/DP1A.HTM on the Web site.)

Just about every photography aficionado I know is keeping their eyes open for the ideal, high-quality camera to bring along when they don't want to carry an SLR. Certainly most of us here at headquarters consider carefully each unique camera that turns out decent images and slips into a pocket. The $799 Sigma DP1 raised eyebrows and expectations two years ago and when it arrived this year it got a close look from the whole team.

Sets of criteria vary by individual, but the general desire is for a small to medium-sized camera with a fast, good quality lens and an excellent sensor that rivals an SLR. Most small digital cameras, however, use sensors that are smaller than a fingernail, have tiny pixels that are prone to high noise even in bright sunlight and use small optics, insufficient for an APS-C-sized sensor.

So the question is, how does the DP1 do compared to our list of desires? How will it do for you?

The short answer is that it takes great wide-angle pictures if you take the time to work at it and get to know the DP1. Further, you need to have the time to wait for the DP1, as well as its software, to get the best quality from the camera. You also have to be content with the lower resolution on the DP1. Though it technically has 14.1 megapixels, you have to divide that figure by three to get the actual image size, which is a very smooth 4.69 megapixels; the actual images measure 2640x1760 or 4.646 megapixels.

Each pixel of each resulting image is made up of three pixels, stacked in layers much like film. It's been about two years since we reviewed the last 4-Mp digital camera, so it's very strange to have to compare the DP1's 2640x1760 images to images from more modern cameras, especially the SLRs that it is supposed to rival. But more on that toward the end of the review.

LOOK & FEEL

The DP1 is a handsome digital camera, with an air of confidence. Its no-nonsense allure diminishes somewhat when you press the power button, extending the aardvark-like snout of a lens to its proper 16.6mm focal length (equivalent to a 28mm lens on a 35mm camera), an operation that makes quite unusual sounds and takes a long time.

Button placement is good, with the AEL and EV adjustment buttons just left of my thumb's resting place. And though the DP1 has a fixed-focal-length, it does include a digital zoom function, which explains the Wide and Tele buttons just above the thumb grip area.

The Menu button is in the center of the Four-way controller, which brings up an attractive menu with small fonts, but they're somewhat jaggy and switching between menu screens can be slow.

A spring-loaded switch upper left of the DP1's LCD releases the recessed flash to pop up from the camera's top surface. The flash hot shoe on the top has a plastic cover that removes to allow installation of the optional external viewfinder or the EF140 external flash.

The simple mode dial selects from the basic exposure options that most aficionados will look for, plus full auto, video and audio record modes. Video, unfortunately, only records at 320x240, hardly worth considering.

The shutter button has a mushy travel toward firm resistance that gives with a good click. Despite needing the negative-sounding adjectives to describe the feel, it's actually quite good.

Finally, right behind the shutter, we find the enticing manual focus dial. Sounds good, doesn't it? Unfortunately, although there's an artificial audible click and an onscreen scale, it's really hard to focus with any accuracy on the 2.5-inch LCD screen. There is a digital zoom to aid in focusing (which I only found after posting the review, thanks to a forum poster), that works fairly well, though it's still hard to determine an exact point of focus. There's also no focus confirmation for reassurance when focus has been achieved. However, if you just want to lock focus at infinity, it's a long turn to the right; and if you want to set a distance you can measure with a yardstick or two, you can choose from 57 steps on the LCD's scale, as opposed to the 17 on the dial's scale.

The battery and card door on the bottom plate opens with a slide to the right, revealing the SD card slot and the BP-31 lithium-ion battery, which is held in place with a white latch. Though the battery life is not great, rated at around 250 shots, batteries are available for $20 online, so there's no reason not to buy at least one spare.

The tripod socket is metal, held in place by three screws in the two main metal shells.

LENS

The lens is of good quality, with minimal chromatic aberration and remarkably little distortion. As I mentioned, it comes out slowly to its fixed position and doesn't move when focusing.

Unless you buy and use the $149 optical viewfinder, the LCD is the only method of framing your images. The optical viewfinder is nostalgic and does provide a way to generally point this wide-angle lens at your subject, but is not great for framing images. The silver framing guide inside the optic doesn't appear most of the time indoors and a good deal of the optic is blocked by the optional lens hood.

Also priced under $20, the lens hood is a good accessory to buy, but it does make the camera a lot bigger out front, destroying the DP1's pocketability. And unfortunately, the camera's lens cap does not attach to either part of the two-piece lens hood, leaving the lens exposed to dust, dirt and physical damage. No cap is included with the lens hood.

Though the DP1 has a fixed-focal-length lens, it also features eight levels of digital zoom, up to 3x or roughly equivalent to a 72mm lens on a 35mm camera. But you can't focus well at all in this mode, because you're presented with a terribly jaggy live image. The digitally zoomed image itself is also soft and jaggy, because it's upsampled to the full sensor resolution of 2640x1760.

INTERFACE

I've described the buttons as well-placed and of good quality, but the camera's interface could use some help. Commonly used items like ISO, Drive mode and AF area are only adjustable via the DP1's Shooting menu. The last item in particular needs addressing, because though you can select from nine autofocus points, you have to scroll down eight times and wait for the animated menu display to scroll to the second screen before you can select an alternate AF point. Even on a tripod, I found this to be a particular nuisance.

Given the few controls on the DP1, Sigma had little choice. The Up arrow is used to set the Focus mode and the Down arrow cycles through the flash modes. The Right and Left arrows, though unlabeled, serve as Program Shift buttons when in Program exposure mode; in Shutter and Aperture priority modes, they adjust the shutter or aperture setting; in Manual mode, they adjust either setting again, switching between the two with the EV compensation button; and in all other modes, they do nothing.

Some with limited near vision might find the DP1's small menu fonts hard to read, but I didn't have a problem with them. The white fonts are outlined with gray, so that you can read them better against a white background.

PERFORMANCE

The DP1 is the slowest camera I've used in recent memory. Powering it up takes 3.9 seconds and full autofocus and image capture takes 1.53 seconds. With a single focal length, this really should be faster. As I said, changing autofocus points on the DP1 is painfully slow, so all basic aspects of taking pictures with the DP1 are slower than film and slower than digital.

Saving an image to the card is also tough to deal with. I made the mistake of taking a Class 2 SDHC card on an outing with the DP1 and started to lose interest in taking pictures with the tripod-mounted camera, as I had to wait 15 seconds for the Raw images to be written to the card. And the camera didn't make the wait easy, either. While it's writing data to the card, you can't adjust anything. So I couldn't change the EV compensation, aperture or shutter setting while I waited for the save to complete. I just had to wait and watch the red light flash. One Raw image saves more quickly with a Class 6 SDHC card, but it's about nine seconds from start to finish; add that I was using a 2-second self-timer and it's still a long time to bracket. The process is made longer because the DP1 takes a few seconds to process and show you the image on the LCD before it even begins saving it to the card.

Of course, you can use the DP1's auto bracketing mode, which allows three rapid shots, separated by up to 3.0 EV, but this still takes 16 seconds to save the images to a Class 6 card. (I was doing a more detailed bracket with more steps.) At least you can get three shots off rapidly without a lot of fiddling.

SOFTWARE

The bundled Sigma Photo Pro Raw processing software is good and bad. I like how you can either install it on your machine or run it from the disk (at least on a Mac). It's also a pretty straightforward Raw processing engine that's easy to understand and use. What's disappointing is again the speed. From building thumbnails to making even a minor adjustment takes a long time. I felt a lot like I did when I was out in the field, getting bored between adjustments, feeling like I was missing other opportunities while I waited for the program to apply my tweak.

I used the default conversion settings to create JPEGs of our Raw test images and aside from oversharpening a bit, the results are pretty nice. More consistent than some of our JPEG shots. Clearly if you want the best from the DP1, you need to shoot Raw and process images in this application. Just make sure you have a lot of time and a very fast computer.

IMAGE QUALITY

When I got back to the office to look at my images, I was glad I'd bracketed and surprised at which images were the good ones. Images that looked badly underexposed out in the daylight were actually about right. Focus, however, was all over the place. Some shots that I thought were fine were far from it. Many of the f4 shots were softer than I could see on the LCD.

Color was flat, but detail in the well-focused images was surprising. Though the images aren't large, only just exceeding the size of most of my computer screens, the detail is -- not crisp, that's just the wrong word -- but smooth. They look a little more real, like you could reach out and touch the image and feel texture. However, it's hard to overlook the smaller size of the image. Had this sensor been introduced three years ago, I think we'd be looking at a very different sensor marketplace today. It's as if someone took the 4-Mp sensor and kept working on it until it reached its full potential.

SHOOTING

I really expected to enjoy my outings with the DP1, but I found exploring the tripod-mounted world of the DP1 to be too slow. Moving around with and adjusting a tripod is already slow enough, but add a slow camera and it gets frustrating. Still, I like shooting handheld with a wide-angle lens and when just taking single shots, the DP1 was fun to use.

I discovered that the fake click sound that plays when you trip the shutter is just about the exact moment of capture, rather than the softer click you hear from the shutter button itself. That there's a delay between the two clicks is no surprise, but that the audio is spot-on is good to know.

Because the LCD is hard to read for both exposure and focus, shooting with the DP1 was a bit like throwing a Hail Mary pass; you just shoot and pray you did it right. I often had to shoot from high or low angles to adjust for the perspective distortion, which made framing images on the non-articulating LCD screen with the shiny reflective screen cover even more difficult.

And because my photographic eye is used to being able to zoom or switch lenses, I was often disappointed when the lens couldn't crop the way I wanted. Used to zooming with my feet, I'd try to frame an image from a certain distance, then walk forward to reframe a little tighter. But then the 16mm lens distorted the scene such that I no longer wanted the shot. The lens couldn't deliver what I had seen from a distance. I needed a different lens. It's not really a flaw with the camera, just a limitation I'm not accustomed to.

Though it's not a big deal when shooting still life on a tripod, the AF system freezes the screen for between a second and a half-second while it's focusing, long a pet peeve of mine. That makes the camera less useful for people or any type of action picture. As for shots of any but the most sedate kids, forget about it.

Autofocus indoors is unsure at best and worse at night. Most cameras we test can still achieve focus on a high contrast subject down to 1/8 foot candle and the DP1 stopped at just below one foot candle. There is no AF assist lamp.

I also found my shooting both indoors and out limited by the f4 to f11 aperture range. The shutter speed range is a little broader, going from 15 seconds to 1/2000 second. But it helps to think in a third exposure dimension and adjust the ISO. When shooting Raw, the high ISO images from the DP1 are quite impressive, even up to the maximum ISO 800. The lack of a histogram while shooting is a significant omission, considering the difficulty I had judging exposure on the LCD, especially while shooting outdoors. There is a histogram available in Playback mode, but it takes too long to get there, especially when shooting Raw.

CONCLUSION

Sigma's DP1 was long awaited by camera aficionados, especially those looking for an affordable second camera that's small enough to bring along, but captures images of SLR quality. While the DP1 exceeds expectations of image quality relative to its 4.6-Mp image size, it falls short of current speed and operational standards, making it difficult to use for most who are accustomed to other modern digital cameras. Sigma's statements in their brochure that too many cameras have automatic features that take some of the art out of photography have merit, but that doesn't apply to making basic items like Drive mode and AF point settings easy to access, nor does it apply to adjustment of camera controls while images are saved to a memory card. If photographers are going to have to compromise on overall image size, it's a lot to ask to have them compromise on functionality as well.

But the flip side is that the DP1 has two of the most important elements that make a camera useful: an excellent lens and an unusually good sensor of sufficient size to reduce image noise and deliver surprisingly good photographs. The DP1 is not a great people camera thanks to the 16mm wide-angle lens, but it is an interesting solution for landscape and other scenic photography. Its very low barrel distortion numbers mean that the DP1's lens is a great choice for shooting objects with straight lines. Of course, the usual perspective distortion still applies, so it can be difficult to choose a good point of view with the DP1; but that's part of the fun. Finally, the DP1's printed results prove that Raw images can produce good quality 11x14-inch prints from ISO 100 to 800.

Thanks to its higher price of around $800 and the other limitations mentioned above, the DP1 doesn't meet the needs of the general photographer wishing for an SLR replacement or substitute. However, the patient photographer might find the DP1 a refreshing pocket companion for wide-angle photography and it would certainly serve well as an auxiliary wide-angle choice while shooting with a telephoto lens mounted on your SLR -- if only it were a little faster. As with any photographic tool, an artist can make much of any device that can image as well as the DP1.

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New on the Site

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

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In the Forums

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

Read about the Sigma DP1 at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?14@@.eea8494

Visit the Pentax Forum at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?14@@.eea2980

Sara asks about the relationship between a fast memory card and lag time at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?50@@.eea843b/0

Richard asks for advice about the best scanning application at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?50@@.eea7d23/0

Visit the Beginners Forum at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?14@@.ee6b2b2

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Just for Fun: The Generous Art

We had one of those life-changing decisions to make the other day. Should we get a haircut or go downtown early to catch the Lee Friedlander retrospective at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (http://www.sfmoma.org/exhibitions/exhib_detail.asp?id=304)?

Since we spend most of our time behind the camera instead of in front of it, we went with Door Number Two. It was significantly less expensive, too.

The retrospective includes almost 400 photos Friedlander took (and printed) since the 1950s working with a Leica at first and much later a Hasselblad. We probably don't get through a day here without using three different cameras, let alone a career using two, but the very first thing we saw struck a chord with us.

Friedlander was describing a scene. Here was the subject he was interested in. And then there were all these other elements he could not wish away -- including a dog marking its territory. He took the shot anyway, observing, "It's a generous medium, photography."

We knew what he meant. As we wander around town taking our gallery test shots for various review cameras, we're often annoyed by the overhead wires, the obtrusive traffic signs, the lamp posts that seemed designed to spoil the shot. It's often enough -- even for a test shot -- for us to skip it.

But Friedlander (and Gabriele Basilico, who is exhibiting some cityscapes at SFMOMA at the same time) had a solution to this problem that intrigued us. Except for a very few images, the work was all in black and white.

The elimination of color reduced the composition's complexity just enough to make these distractions acceptable. The overhead wires and street signs didn't bother us in black and white.

But the best illustration of this technique had nothing to do with urban visual clutter. It was instead a wall grouping of several square Hasselblad photos in two rows of unpruned tree branches and leaves. The angle he took made them seem more abstract than representative. Patterns not a portrait. But again, he shot them in black and white to reduce them to an abstract composition. And arrayed on a wall, they made a very pleasing picture. You couldn't immediately tell what you were looking at but you liked the abstraction.

Later, as we thought about this, we wondered why Jackson Pollock (http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/pollock/) worked in color as he splattered complex compositions across his canvases that evoked complexity of forest floors. Perhaps to solve the same problem, we thought. Painting is always a reduction of the complexity we find in nature. Using a lot of color masks that reduction, hinting at the complexity of nature as the eye tries to find a pattern to makes sense of the image.

The problem in photography, which begins with the complexity found in the scene, is a different one. It's the generous art. Its practitioner profits from practicing frugality.

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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: Dream Camera

Yes, Andrew, I want one! You got all (well, nearly all) the important stuff right on the money.

I would, however, beg you to retain the optical viewfinder. I consider it essential for photojournalism (that good old rangefinder feel) and there are times when an LCD screen just is not sufficiently visible. You could use bright-line frames within the viewfinder to indicate a couple of digital-zoom focal lengths, and guesstimate the rest.

I, too, wanted a G9 (until I read its reviews), and bought a Coolpix 5100 instead (despite its reviews). The 5100 is a pleasure to use -- except for its terminally slow responsiveness! I can't say I wasn't warned. It's still a great walking-around camera, but worthless for low light candids -- so the D80 with 18-200 VR still weighs me down much of the time.

Thanks for an inspiring article.

-- Bob Mathews

(It continues to frustrate us too that only dream cameras are perfect. The trick is to avoid the nightmares. -- Editor)

Your dream pocket point and shoot is here and it has been for a while: the Panasonic Lumix LX2.

First drop it and have it repaired. It works much better now than when I bought it, dropped it from 10 inches above the ground and it bounced on my shoe and lay there in a catatonic state with the lens extended. Not a scratch. Panasonic told me to go pound salt when I finally reached a live person somewhere in Utah or someplace. I said, "OK, keep the damn thing (I had it for all of 10 days) and I'll write it up for the National Press Photographers Association newsletter, about how well you support your new equipment." My cell phone was chirping off the hook 30 seconds after I hung up and they saw it my way.

After it was fixed, it is a dream. For a couple of years now I have been carrying it around and it does amazing things in low light with no noise at ISO 1600. Try one.

-- Hal Weiner

(Thanks, Hal. We praised the LX2 in our review and keep hearing wonderful things about it. Noise isn't one, but we didn't try dropping it. Might make an interesting new twist to our review process <g>. -- Editor)

RE: CHDK Question

First, thank you for letting us know about this wonderful new way to play with our cameras. Second, in the article you mentioned the focus bracketing feature you mention "using freeware to combine the images." Can you point me in the right direction for this freeware?

-- Mark K. Ferguson

(Sure, Mark. For Windows users, the author of that feature cites CombineZ (http://www.hadleyweb.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk). Helicon Focus (http://www.heliconsoft.com) is not quite free, but it is cross-platform. You can get a free license if you submit a tutorial, an article or a tip. For exposure bracketing (HDR images) here's a free cross-platform tool: http://qtpfsgui.sourceforge.net/about.php -- Editor)

RE: RAID

I appreciated the backup-related dialog in the mail section of v10n9 and looked at the ARAID 2000 system described by Mr. Bleich. I'm familiar with RAID and this looks like a very nice product. However, I wonder about╩the performance hit of running ones system (boot, paging, and all files) off an external USB drive, which Mr. Bleich didn't mention. I'd be interested to know what he experienced. USB is certainly the most commonly supported external boot interface; my current computer is 3 years old and doesn't have the capability to book from╩eSATA, which seems like the best approach from a performance standpoint.

-- Clayton Curtis

(Good question, Clayton. Following are replies from Arthur Bleich and David West from Accordance Systems. -- Editor)

There may be a theoretical performance hit but I (and others) have not noticed it. In my case, moving to bigger and faster drives than the one that was originally on the computer has actually increased speed.

Coincidentally, I just received this today from Accordance:

"We are releasing the ARAID 2200 to support SATA II, USB and eSATA on one unit. Firewire external units will be available as well. In addition we will we announcing the M-200 for 2.5-inch SATA drives."

I suggest that, if you are interested in using these products with your current system, you email their Product Development Director (and tech genius) David West. He'll be able to answer all your questions and suggest the right approach. Just tell him what you have and ask him about the best way to go. Also bring up the performance question.

-- Arthur Bleich

I wasn't certain from your email whether you are using a PC or Mac. If it's a PC, it is unlikely that the BIOS will support USB as a boot drive. Depending on the Mac model, USB booting may or may not be supported.

I would suggest you use our T2000/SATA model. It is an external model that uses SATA drives and connects to your PC's SATA host controller. Is this an option for you? More details can be found here: http://accordancesystems.com/cart/products.asp?cat=13>http://accordancesystems.com/cart/products.asp?cat=13

Scroll down to "2000 External" and select "SATA" from the "Interface" drop-down menu.

Please let me know if you have further questions.

-- David West

RE: Nikon Tour

Just back from a trip to Nikons factorys in Thailand and Japan. Thirty-five people from Scandinavia and the Baltics had a chance to see how the Nikon D60 was assembled in the Thai Ayutthaya factory.

They not only assemble the camera there but they also produce all the parts. Believe it or not, it's all done manually by 1,700 people working in two shifts, 22 hours a day, transported in 66 buses from the city and back. Very interesting to see the young girls╩transferring all the small parts between each other by hand.

Even the white color of the Nikon name on front of the camera is painted by hand! With a machine brush, that is, but holding the little black front panel in one hand and adding the color with the other, holding the machine-brush like a pencil.

The walkthrough in the factory and a sit-down╩Q-and-A session╩ended with a group photo outside the front of the building.

So far everything was great. But while changing lens on my D3 I accidentally dropped my new AF-S 24-70mm f2.8. It was totally gone. And it happened right outside the factory! The lens is not produced in the Thai-factory so nothing could be done there.

We continued to Japan the day after and had a glance at the factory in Sendai, where they produce the Nikon D3 and F6! Not too many F6 cameras but they will keep up the production as long as photographers ask for it, they said.

All 35 of us enjoyed good food, great hotels and extremely nice weather (when we arrived in Bangkok the thermometer said 38 Celsius). Tokyo had 20, a little more like it for northern people. The city is so clean and the people so polite. In all an unforgettable trip.

-- Lasse Jansson

(Thanks for the report, Lasse! So where are the photos? <g> -- Editor)
Return to Topics.

Editor's Notes

Get a rare peek at some Photoshop technology while it's still in the oven at the Adobe Finanacial Analyst Meeting (https://admin.connectpro.acrobat.com/_a791863308/p40652716/). Use the playback bar to jump to the 18 minute mark to see Photoshop Senior Product Manager John Nack show off some performance enhancements by playing with a 650-megapixel image on a Mac Pro, automatic image merging to extend depth of focus and 3D stitching (with draw and painting tools active and export to Flash).


IDC (http://www.idc.com) reports that "the 2007 digital camera market continued to defy textbook market trends as worldwide shipments of digital still cameras, including compact digital cameras and dSLRs reached 131 million units in 2007, a growth of 24 percent over 2006 unit shipments of 106 million units." The company predicts the market will continue to emulate the cell phone market, increasing global shipments despite economic uncertainty. "Unit shipments will grow an average of 3 percent from 146 million in 2008 to over 160 million in 2012. IDC expects that compact cameras will continue to commodify and further become fashionable technology accessories. dSLR shipments will continue to grow and comprise a stronger share of the global product mix as consumers continue to embrace photography as a hobby, driven by lower-priced dSLRs. dSLR shipments will grow an average of 14 percent to 17 million units in 2012," the company said.


Nik Software (http://www.niksoftware.com) has released its $249.95 Viveza plug-in for Aperture 2.1. The Viveza plug-in allows Aperture users to selectively control light and color using Nik's U Point technology.


Greg Gorman (http://www.gormanphotography.com) has announced a series of week-long digital photographic workshops at his studio adjacent to his oceanfront home in Mendocino, Calif. The $4,250 week-long workshops are offered from June 8 to 13, Aug. 3 to 8 and Sept. 21 to 26 and are limited to nine attendees each. The workshop provides two models, paper and ink, printers, daily lunches and beverages, color management tools to calibrate monitors, two dinners and two wine tastings, as well as a certified Adobe guest instructor.


Cerebrosoft (http://www.cerebrosoft.com) has announced that B*Gallery [LMW], its Java-based image publishing application, is now available free of charge with "no strings attached." B*Gallery originally launched as shareware in 2003, creates HTML image galleries that can be easily updated, extended and shared.

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One Liners

For just $150 per insertion you can list your URL or 800 number here (up to a maximum of 70 text characters).

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

PhotoRescue: http://imaging-resource.com/SOFT/PHR/PHR.HTM

Curtin Short Courses: http://imaging-resource.com/cgi-bin/nl/pl.cgi?bdc

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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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