The IMAGING RESOURCE DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY
NEWSLETTER


Volume 10, Number 17 15 August 2008

Copyright 2008, The Imaging Resource. All rights reserved.

Welcome to the 234th edition of the Imaging Resource Newsletter. We do a little scrapbooking (and have a ball doing it, too) while Dave reflects on the new Micro Four Thirds system that promises a rangefinder with Movie mode (hmm, a dRF?). Then we ask Canon what ERR99 means (and find out, too) before showing you how to run DNG Converter from the command line in OS X or Windows. There's more, but don't wait. Dig in!


TOPICS

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Sony
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Feature: Scrapbooking With Pages

The other day we bumped into another great idea. A friend of Mom's was about to celebrate her 80th birthday. Her kids, who had been raised right, respected her desire to avoid a big bash and instead spend it with just the immediate family (which, it turns out, is something of a big bash anyway).

But the kids had a great idea. They wrote to all of their mother's friends (presumably sneaking her Christmas list using that Unmitigated Gall all kids have) asking them to contribute to a book of memories they would present at the small family gathering.

The note included a prepunched sheet of letter-sized paper on which you could write a note, paste a picture, anything at all. "Ah, it's a scrapbook page!" we thought when Mom told us about it.

"Yeah," she said, "so how do you do it on the computer?"

Ever since we showed her how to run the dishwasher and vacuum the downstairs room with the computer, she asks that same question. It's unnerving.

But she had a point (as always). She would write a nice remembrance on the computer and she would scan a couple of old prints to the computer. So why not do the rest of the job on the computer. In fact, the invitation had encouraged email contributions. Which is just another benefit of raising kids right.

"We'll use Pages," we decided. Pages is the page layout, word processing software in Apple's iWork '08 (http://www.apple.com/iwork) that Mom uses for all her correspondence. She'd be writing her reminiscence in Pages and Pages is adroit at handling images.

But could it scrapbook?

WHAT SCRAPBOOK SOFTWARE IS

We frankly had no idea. The only scrapbook tool we'd ever played with on a Mac was iRemember (http://www.macscrapbook.com). It defines itself as a page layout application specifically designed for scrapbooks. By which it means it includes tools and templates to enable scrappers to quickly design and layout pages.

There's no doubt infinite value in those templates, designed along themes like holidays and life events. And no doubt the included backgrounds and clip art are a treasure trove of riches.

But they also make for a very busy page. And our background is more in the full-page print ad field than the wallpaper-like scrapbooking genre. We just needed a simple template with pictures and text.

Pages had just what we were looking for, actually. The concept is that you work from templates to begin with and your text is formatted with styles, which are built into each template and which you can create on the fly. The model is very accessible, easy to use and, well, a lot more fun than Quark XPress or Adobe InDesign ever was.

THE RIGHT TEMPLATE

We found what we needed in the Travel Journal template (buried in the miscellaneous Page Layout templates). We double clicked the template and got a page full of images with nice borders over a shadow effect and placeholder text that was fully formatted in color. A lot of work, in short, we did not have to do.

When we say we found what we needed, we don't mean we found what we wanted. There were four pictures in three sizes. We had two to place. There was just a little sample text. We had a lot. There was a footer with a page number. We were going to do this on one page.

But the beauty of Pages is how adaptable it is. These are, after all, just templates. Every object on them (and they are all objects) can be manipulated. In fact, under the Pages icon on the toolbar, you can quickly realign all the objects on the page into derivative layouts.

We clicked on one of the pictures and hit the Delete button to remove it, for example. We clicked some clip art of a coin and deleted that, too.

To get rid of the footer, we used the Inspector, switching to the Documents tab of the very first item in the toolbar and unclicking the Footer option. The Inspector really makes object editing simple.

ADDING IMAGES

Next we imported the pictures. But actually that makes it sound like a lot more work that it was. On Mom's computer there's an alias on the Desktop to her picture collection. We just opened that folder, scrolled down to one of the images she wanted and dragged it onto the picture object in Pages. It was resized to fit. We did that with the other one, too. But we could also just have dragged an image to any blank spot on the page and get the full treatment with a border and shadow. Pages is smart enough to apply the default image style for the template to any image.

Neither one was quite how we wanted them to appear yet, but we were beginning to get the feeling that's the fun of scrapbooking. Or at least scrapbooking with Pages.

Making them larger was no problem. Just click on one of them and pull a corner out. The dimensions are constrained by default (which, after all, is what you want). You can change the default with a click in the Inspector's Metrics panel.

That's also where you can change the rotation. Both of our images were rotated, as if we'd just tossed a couple of prints on the page.

The scans had not, we have to confess, been perfect. Pages doesn't offer image editing tools beyond some rudimentary masking tools, background removal and resizable image frames.

But we had taken a moment before importing the images to open them in the recently released Photoshop Elements 6.0 (http://www.adobe.com/products/photoshopelmac). A quick auto correct helped but left them too saturated, so we simply decreased the saturation until they looked better. We really didn't have to do anything else to them, but that's not stuff you can do in Pages.

Photoshop Elements is often overlooked, but it remains one of the best low-cost image editors you can get, particularly if you toss in Richard Lynch's power tools (http://www.hiddenelements.com). Photoshop CS3 isn't for everyone, but it's easy to forget that Adobe does offer a family of Photoshop products. In fact, Adobe's Web-based Photoshop Express (http://www.photoshop.com/express) is free and Photoshop Elements is less than $100 and often bundled with hardware. Highly recommended, as we say around here.

FORMATTING TEXT

Next the text. Mom had already written a draft.

Pages has two modes: word processing and page layout. Mom had used the word processing layout to write her draft. 'Modes' may be an exaggeration, though. To get into word processing mode, you just open a Blank template and start typing. Pretty natural. And a good deal less trouble than a typewriter.

Mom has another alias on her Desktop for all her documents, so we just popped in there to find her draft and, big surprise, drag it onto the text box on the page.

Mom had used block style paragraphs, double spacing between each one. But our template added eight points after each paragraph, so we didn't need a full blank line. We could have removed the extra spacing, but eight points is less than a full line and we were trying to fit everything on one page, so it made sense to take advantage of the style.

So we hit Command-F and up popped the search and replace box. We weren't looking for text, so we clicked on the Advanced tab and used the Insert popup menu to add a Paragraph Break to our Find. Two of them in fact. To be replaced by just one. Then we clicked Replace All and that took care of that.

To set the text in a style, we just selected it all with Command-A, then used the pulldown Paragraph Style button to select the Body style. We could also have clicked on the blue Style button next to it to open a drawer on our document window with all the styles listed so we could just click on a name to apply it.

Which is what we did for the title. The drawer also shows the Character Styles, making it easy to switch the first few words of the first paragraph to All Caps. You don't turn 80 every day, after all.

But first we had to fit the text. We had all the text set as Body, then we went to the Inspector and fiddled with the Text settings until we could see the end of our text. You can do this from the tool bar, too. You can Create New Style From Selection to apply this change with a click, too.

The one-column format across the whole page made it a bit hard to read a line of text now that the text was smaller, so we used the Inspector's Layout tab to change the number of columns to two.

Mom wanted a caption under the photos, so we clicked on the Text Box tool and a new text box appeared in the middle of the page. We just moved it where we wanted it, resized it and entered the text, picking a style that looked like a caption.

FINISHING TOUCHES

With the text formatted to fit and all the elements on the page, we just moved them around until we liked the arrangement. Every now and then, we had to use the Arrange menu command to bring an object forward or back so it laid over the other objects the way we wanted. But that was about it.

Except we thought that rather than sign the piece in text, Mom could sign it with her signature. So she gave us her autograph, we stuck it in her psc1300 HP all-in-one printer, pressed the Scan button and it showed up in the Pictures folder. We dragged it to the document, resized it, got rid of the drop shadow and placed it in the corner.

PRINTING TO PROOF

Once we had everything where we wanted it (no tie votes either), we printed a copy to make sure the text was correct and the images were clear. The quality was really very nice and a few minutes later we were ready to make the final.

Instead of printing this on the three-hole punch sheet that had been supplied, we were going to email the page. That would save postage and time. All we had to do was print a PDF of the page, attach it to an email and that would be that.

Pages has an Export command with a PDF option offering three levels of quality, so we used Best and let it rip. A few seconds later, we had emailed the page to one of the children.

And the next day, they had replied with a gracious note thanking my mother for her kind words and asking if she didn't have a little help formatting the page, too.

Oh, but we'd never tell.

Return to Topics.

Feature: Micro Four Thirds System in Detail

By DAVE ETCHELLS
(Excerpted from the full feature posted at http://www.imaging-resource.com/NEWS/1217960634.html on the Web site.)

The recent announcement of the "Micro Four Thirds" lens mount standard will doubtless send shockwaves through the camera industry and SLR marketplace. It may be the most significant announcement in the camera market this year, introducing a whole new body/lens standard and (at long last) opening the possibility of compact digital cameras with interchangeable lenses.

What's the major change?

The biggest change with the Micro Four Thirds system is that the mirror box has been eliminated. All Micro Four Thirds cameras will be LiveView-only because there won't be any direct optical path from the viewfinder through the camera lens. They'll thus technically be EVF cameras, similar to most non-SLR digicams.

By eliminating the mirror box, the "back focus distance" (or back focal length) of the lenses can now be reduced and will cut roughly in half the equivalent dimension in the current Four Thirds system. Technically, back focus distance is defined as the distance from the vertex of the lens's rear element to the sensor, but for practical purposes, it's easiest to speak in terms of the distance from the lens mounting flange to the sensor surface. In current Four Thirds systems, this dimension is 40mm, in the Micro Four Thirds system, it will be 20mm.

Why are they doing this?

One of the first reasons consumers give for not making the move to an SLR is that SLRs are "too big." One of the original marketing points for the Four Thirds concept was that, by designing the system from the ground up to use a smaller sensor, lenses and bodies could be made much smaller than those for conventional SLRs, which are all based on dimensions from the 35mm film world. Even reduced-frame cameras deviate only slightly from the size constraints imposed by the 35mm roots of other current SLR systems.

Part of the reason the original Four Thirds system hasn't resulted in much smaller cameras is the 40mm back focus distance mandates rather large optics. The physical size of camera lenses depends somewhat on the size image circle they must produce, but depends even more strongly on the back focus distance they're designed for. Reducing the back focus distance can dramatically decrease the size of the lenses needed to cover the Four Thirds frame. It also (obviously) reduces the thickness of the camera body itself.

The decrease in lens size isn't only in length. Lenses for the new system can be smaller in diameter as well, so the new mount is also 6mm smaller (44mm vs 50mm) than in the original Four Thirds system.

Why didn't they do this in the first place?

When the Four Thirds system was developed, Olympus (one of the founding companies of the Four Thirds coalition) felt telecentric lens designs were critical to producing the best image quality on electronic sensors. Telecentric lenses are unusual, in that light rays striking the imager surface all arrive perpendicular to the imager's surface. This is important for CCD sensors, because the multiple metallization and insulating layers used for that technology produce a chip surface with a very significant 3D structure. This structure can actually cast shadows on the light-gathering areas of the chip if light rays arrive at a glancing angle. This leads to shading, and (when the microlenses are considered) possibly chromatic aberration effects and crosstalk between the camera's RGB color channels. Geometric distortion is also generally less in telecentric lens designs, and

Telecentric lenses aren't easy to make though and having a greater back focal distance really helps in their design. So the original Four Thirds lens specification dictated a rather large back focus distance.

Since that time though, some of the downsides of non-telecentric lenses have been mitigated by advances in image processing. Current camera CPUs are fast enough to do very sophisticated image processing to greatly reduce some of the image artifacts resulting from the use of non-telecentric lenses. At the same time, the NMOS-based image sensors developed by Panasonic (and others?) have a much flatter surface profile, and so are much less subject to problems with light arriving at higher angles of incidence.

The combination of these two factors means that many of the benefits of telecentric lens design are less compelling than they were only a few years ago.

What does this mean for us as photographers?

This, of course, is the $64,000 question. What sort of characteristics can we expect from the new cameras, and how will they work (if at all) with existing Four Thirds lenses?

Smaller Size. This is the obvious one. The new system will permit substantially smaller system components, most notably the lenses themselves. Expect Micro Four Thirds lenses to be almost half the size of current ones sporting the same focal length/aperture specs. This is a big reduction that will only become truly apparent when we see the first Micro Four Thirds camera and lens prototypes. No product announcement is being made at this time, but we expect to see product announcements either before or at the Photokina show in late September. Stay tuned, we think you'll find the reduction in size quite impressive.

No Optical Viewfinder. This will depend somewhat on the camera form factor manufacturers are aiming for. While you could add a conventional, non-TTL (through the lens) viewfinder to such a camera, the fact that they'll have interchangeable lenses makes that less likely (Leica's long-standing system of interchangeable-lens 35mm rangefinder cameras not withstanding). Micro Four Thirds cameras are thus likely to all be EVF (electronic viewfinder) designs. Personally, I view this as a distinctly mixed blessing.

EVFs to date have been rather lackluster in their performance in several areas. They generally have poor tonal response in the highlight area, making it difficult to see subtle subject detail in areas of strong highlight. They also often have difficulty in very dim light. To keep the viewfinder refresh rate high enough to be useful, they end up having to clock the sensor chip for relatively short exposure times for each frame. Think about it. You're in a situation where the correct exposure requires a one-second shutter time, yet you expect the camera to be refreshing the viewfinder display 15 times/second. Something has to give, and it's image quality in the viewfinder. EVF cameras tend to show great amounts of noise in their viewfinder displays at low light levels.

There's also the matter of responsiveness of the viewfinder when dealing with fast-moving subjects (sports, kids, some wildlife). Most EVF cameras to date have trouble with smearing of the viewfinder display when dealing with rapid movement, even under good lighting.

Contrast-Detect Autofocus Only. To my mind, this is potentially one of the most critical areas. One of the biggest reasons people move from digicams to an SLR is to get past the shutter lag of most digicams. SLRs focus much more quickly than digicams because they use an entirely different mechanism for determining focus. Rather than clocking data off the sensor and adjusting the lens until the image is sharpest (so-called contrast-detect AF), they use a separate AF sensor that indicates not only whether the subject is in focus or not, but how much out of focus it is and in which direction (phase-detect AF). Rather than having to creep up on focus, most SLRs can take one "look" at the subject, calculate the focus correction needed and set the lens to the correct focal distance.

But an AF sensor has to go someplace, and in most SLRs, it's in the bottom of the mirror box, with light reflected down to it by a small secondary mirror. No mirror, no mirror box equals no phase-detect AF system. You might still be able to do some sort of phase-detect AF by inserting a mirror into the light path ahead of the image sensor. But that would interfere with the viewfinder display, defeating the purpose.

So Micro Four Thirds cameras will depend on contrast detection for their AF systems. This isn't necessarily a kiss of death. We've seen impressive improvements in digicam shutter response figures over the last couple of years, with the best of them approaching the lag times of entry-level SLRs. The lenses for the Micro Four Thirds system will be much larger than typical digicam lenses (due to the larger sensor), so the focus motors will have more mass to move back and forth. Current Live View SLRs that support contrast-detect focusing range from decidedly slow to only a little slower than phase-detect AF systems. Overall, we've some reason to be hopeful that Micro Four Thirds cameras will compete reasonably well with SLRs, particularly under good lighting.

Lens Compatibility: Yes and No. This leads us to the next question, that of compatibility between current Four Thirds lenses and the new bodies. There is backward compatibility between the two systems. Current Four Thirds lenses can be mounted onto Micro Four Thirds bodies via an adapter, but Micro Four Thirds lenses can't be attached to a current Four Thirds body. The mirror in current Four Thirds cameras won't permit the Micro Four Thirds lenses to be mounted close enough to the body.

This is good news for current Four Thirds users. You will at least be able to mount your current lenses on the new Micro Four Thirds bodies. Note though, I said "mount," not necessarily "operate with full functionality." The distinction comes in how fast a given lens can change its focus setting. Normal phase-detect AF systems are fairly forgiving of lens performance, because the correct focal distance setting is determined somewhat independently of the lens elements' motion. The camera looks at the subject, calculates the correct focal distance, commands the lens to move, and then snaps the shot once the lens reports back that it's moved to the correct setting.

With contrast-detect autofocus though, the lens has to move multiple times, and must come to rest before the camera can take each "look" at the subject to determine whether the focus is better or worse than it was. In order for the overall focus cycle to be performed quickly, the lens needs to be able to shift focal settings very quickly, multiple times per second. This is a demanding requirement and not all lenses will be up to the challenge. Olympus offers contrast-detect AF on some of their recent SLRs, but the feature only works with lenses that have focus motors strong and fast enough to slew the lens elements to a new position very quickly. Other manufacturers offer contrast-detect AF that works with any of their lenses, but at the cost of very slow AF times. That's why Nikon refers to the contrast detect AF option in their SLRs as "tripod mode."

So, while some current Four Thirds lenses will work fine on the new Micro Four Thirds system, supporting full AF operation, other lenses will likely be reduced to "guided manual" focus, in which the user will need to adjust the focus setting, looking to either the viewfinder (less accurate) or the camera (more accurate) for focus confirmation.

Movies! A few months ago, I found myself thinking "Hmm ... Live View SLRs, can movie recording be far behind?" Not included in the press release, but prominently mentioned on the Four-Thirds.org website, is the possibility of movie recording from Micro Four Thirds cameras. The fact that the press release made no mention of movie recording and that the Four-Thirds website uses the phrase "soon" in describing its availability (rather than just saying "Users will be able to ..." suggests that a) not all Micro Four Thirds cameras will be movie-capable and b) it may be later models that support this feature.

Actually, it's not entirely clear why current Live View SLRs don't offer movie recording, but I suspect it's due to limitations with current contrast-detect autofocus systems. Continuous AF is a requirement for movie recording and would in turn demand fast-operating AF systems and lenses. I won't be surprised to see this capability arrive in some non-Micro Olympus models because they've already got contrast-detect AF working reasonably quickly. But I also suspect that the Micro Four Thirds lenses and cameras will focus much faster and therefore be more-capable movie platforms.

Whither the current Four Thirds system?

What this will mean to the current Four Thirds system is an open question. In the joint announcement, Olympus was careful to say they'll continue to "develop Four Thirds System interchangeable lens type digital camera system products," while they're working on new Micro Four Thirds products, and Panasonic said essentially the same. Resources are scarce and corporate budgets tight though, so it's an open question where each manufacturer's primary focus will lie.

I don't expect either to maintain a strong position in both product lines simultaneously. I also see the two product lines aimed at somewhat different groups of photographers. While it will doubtless be popular with enthusiasts interested in its small size and portability (not to mention its likely stealth: No whap-slap mirror noise to give away the candid shooter), the Micro Four Thirds line seems clearly aimed at current digicam users who've yet to be enticed into the world of SLRs. With their optical viewfinders and (probably) faster phase-detect AF, cameras based on the current Four Thirds standard are likely to be more appealing to advanced users and/or those most concerned with photographing rapidly-moving subjects. They'll also compete more directly with current SLR models having similar optical underpinnings.

The competition is pretty severe in the mainstream SLR market, and will only become more so. A lot will depend on how consumers react to the first Micro Four Thirds products. If the new models do poorly, the issue of Micro vs. mainstream Four Thirds will be moot. If they're successful (and they have an excellent chance of being so), the market equation will likely motivate Olympus and Panasonic to pursue Micro Four Thirds more strongly. Among other things the pool of potential new adopters of the Micro Four Thirds format is much larger than the group of users currently engaged in the SLR market.

Of the two players, Olympus has more to lose, and perhaps less to gain, while Panasonic appears to have less to lose and much to gain. Olympus currently has a much more developed SLR lineup, with three current models, a very extensive array of lenses (21 lens models, plus two teleconverters and an extension tube) and a large existing user base. In contrast, Panasonic has only one current model (the DMC-L1 appears to be largely out of the market now, at least here in the U.S.), and far fewer existing users.

Given this balance, it's reasonable to expect to see more activity from Panasonic under the new standard. It's also significant that, while it was a joint press release and Olympus' name is mentioned first in it, we received the press release here in the U.S. from the Panasonic organization. If they're successful though, we think Olympus will follow with models of their own. Olympus has to be very careful how they position any involvement with Micro Four Thirds, to avoid their current, loyal user base from feeling left behind. Ultimately though, the market will ultimately decide whether one or both standards persist into the future. I don't view the fourth option, of Four Thirds going away entirely, as being very likely, at least not over the next several years.

All in all, a very interesting announcement for the digital camera market, clearly one of the more significant of 2008. Stay tuned for our video coverage of the Photokina trade show, we'll surely be taking a look at any Micro Four Thirds products announced there and interviewing key executives and camera designers!

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:

Return to Topics.

Beginners Flash: When Your Canon Fires an ERR99

"I'm having trouble with my camera," our beleaguered sister-in-law emailed us. "I keep getting ERR99 msg and it won't save to the disk. Often it won't fire. Seems to dislike the standard setting. I'm frustrated. Any ideas?"

She was in no position to do any research herself, spending three days out of cell phone range fishing with the family. So we pitched in.

It turns out nobody knows what ERR99 is, although that doesn't stop anyone from speculating. It also turns out to be a fairly common error with a range of Canon dSLRs. Sis has an XT she loves dearly and that has performed faithfully for her for over two years.

So we asked Canon Technical Advisor Chuck Westfall what ERR99 means.

"ERR99 appears as a generic error message to the user," he told us, "but its cause can be isolated when the camera is examined by a qualified service technician using Canon's diagnostic software, which is not available for consumers."

Does that mean you have to send your camera to Canon to resolve the problem? Well, no necessarily. We also asked Chuck what he thought about a step-by-step diagnostic procedure we ran across. He checked with Canon's service department to see if the procedure would be any help.

The service manager said, "I would not call this 'Canon's official advice,' but it is a sound method to confirm the cause of the error."

Without further delay, here's the (slightly edited) procedure, which we first saw at Richard's Notes (http://www.richardsnotes.org/archives/2005/04/29/50mm-lens-contact-points/):

  1. Turn off the camera.

  2. Remove the lens, battery and CF card. Cover the lens opening with the body cap and charge the battery.

  3. Allow the camera to sit without power for approximately 20 minutes.

  4. Insert the fully charged battery and turn on the camera.

  5. Depress the shutter button as you would to take a picture.

Does the ERR99 message appear? If it does, then the camera should be serviced. If it does not, then proceed to the next test:

  1. Turn off the camera.

  2. Insert the CF card.

  3. Turn on the camera.

  4. Format the CF card in the camera.

  5. Depress the shutter button as you would to take a picture.

Does the ERR99 message appear? If so, then the CF card is the most likely source of the issue. Try using a different card. If the message does not appear, try the next test:

  1. Turn off the camera.

  2. Clean the lens contacts by gently rubbing them with a pencil eraser or soft cloth. Point the camera body down and be careful you do not let any debris fall into the camera body.

  3. Reattach your lens.

  4. Turn on the camera.

  5. Depress the shutter button as you would to take a picture.

If the ERR99 message only appears when one particular lens is attached, then that lens should be examined by a service technician. If you see ERR99 with a different Canon lens attached, then the camera should be serviced.

There you have it. The last sequence seems to be the one that helped the most people. But the real solution to this problem is to have a second camera body and another lens.

Return to Topics.

Advanced Mode: Automating DNG Converter

Sometimes, when we triple click by accident, we think it would be really wonderful if someone would just invent the pencil. You know, a stick with one end that writes while the other erases. What a concept!

The other day we had a similar thought about the command line. Yes, the one MS-DOS burned into our retina. We were kind of hankering for the invention of the command line as we stared at our Desktop.

Our workflow here is as simple as we can make it (which gets complicated). We get images onto our hard drive several ways: an Eye-Fi WiFi transfer, PCMCIA cards and USB cables (for card formats we can't plug into our cards). In most cases, a small utility (Image Capture on OS X, if you must know, but the game is the same on Windows) notices when one of these devices is connected and copies them to a temporary folder we set up.

Then a script (an AppleScript) we wrote figures out what the date is, formats it and asks us for a slug for the images. It then creates a folder named with the date and slug, like "2008.08.10 Yosemite" that sorts nicely no matter what year it is. Then it moves all the new images out of the temp folder into this new folder.

The Eye-Fi (http://www.eye.fi), incidentally, works a little differently. The Eye-Fi only transmits JPEGs wirelessly through its own utility. So we set up a watched folder that pops up a dialog box to tell us the Eye-Fi is transmitting and asks if we want to move the images to a new folder. We wait until the transmission is done before we click OK and it moves the images over. So it's a slightly different game, but we can't tell.

Then we take a look at the images and, if all is sound, we copy them to our various backup media.

But the other day, staring at our Desktop, we had a bright idea. What if we could somehow plug Adobe's free DNG Converter [MW] (http://www.adobe.com/products/dng) into our automated workflow? We could automatically, painlessly, invisibly convert Raw files to DNG files during the file transfer process.

Why would we want to do that?

Well, we had a project that required shooting Raw images and we wanted to work with DNG files instead of the camera Raw files. You know, we made an executive decision. But we weren't looking forward to having to run DNG converter as a separate step and we didn't want to import these images into Lightroom (which can also make the conversion during import). We only import to Lightroom (or iPhoto or EasyShare or any similar application) after we archive our new folders.

BTW, in addition to its other virtues, the DNG format is also a backhand way to support newer cameras in older versions of Photoshop or Raw converters. If Photoshop CS2 doesn't support your camera's Raw format, convert it to a DNG and get to work.

We were used to running DNG converter as a stand-alone application, filing out the four sections of its dialog box and watching it convert image after image.

So, we wondered, is DNG Converter scriptable? AppleScript or JavaScript? Nope. But since version 3.2 it can, we discovered, be run from the command line on either the Mac or Windows. That was really all we needed.

The exact syntax for this is detailed in the PDF (http://www.adobe.com/products/dng/pdfs/dng_commandline.pdf), but it won't hurt to restate the parameter list.

Start by calling the application itself -- and since it has spaces in the name, be sure to delimit it with quotes. Follow that with any of the following options. The -u option outputs uncompressed DNG files; compressed DNG files are the default. The -l option outputs linear DNG files (demosaicized). The -e option embeds the original Raw file. You can set the JPEG preview size to none (-p0), the default medium (-p1) or full size (-p2). You can also specify a target directory (-d directory) and filename (-o filename). The defaults are the same folder and the same root filename. Finally, you pass DNG Converter the filename you want to convert. Use full paths for version 4.5.

In AppleScript, we ended up with this:

do shell script "'/Applications/Adobe DNG Converter.app/Contents/MacOS/Adobe DNG Converter' -p1 -d " & my_dest & " " & my_file_posix

That builds a command line that, with the variables spelled out, would look like this:

'/Applications/Adobe DNG Converter.app/Contents/MacOS/Adobe DNG Converter' -p1 -d '2008.08.10 Yosemite' temp/_MRP1867.NEF

In Windows it would look something like this:

"C:\Program Files\Adobe DNG Converter.exe" -p1 -d "d:\pictures\2008.08.10 Yosemite" d:\temp\_MRP1867.NEF

We opted for the default compressed (but lossless) DNG format, explicitly asking for the default medium size JPEG previews (-p1) so we remember what DNG has been doing, writing the DNG file to the same folder the other images are going and, of course, telling DNG what image to process.

Note that DNG Converter doesn't do any wildcard expansion. It just processes one file. So if you want to do a whole directory (as we do), you just keep passing it file names. That worked fine for us because we only call this line of the script if we are moving a file that's a certain Raw format (Nikon NEFs, in fact).

We put that in an AppleScript but you could put it in a shell script or a batch file.

Now, if we could only find a pencil around here....

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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: Flashers Unite!

Just like you may have to turn the flash off, you may also have to turn the flash on! In case there is a lot of sunlight or bad shadows, knowing how to turn the flash on (Forced Flash) is just as important!

-- Stu Gershon

(Yes, all true, but we haven't seen a camera yet that defaults to Off. They always default to On. So the problem you have in museums and other venues where flash is prohibited is knowing on the spot how to turn it off. Seems to be a rather big problem in cities with museums. -- Editor)

I got a chuckle from a caveat that you wrote in the Beginner's Flash article. You said, "If you're shooting any subject that's further away than the other side of the room would be, turn it off and save your battery. Your flash won't reach that far anyway."

Don't turn off your flashes, folks! I'll miss the stadium twinkle effect that added so much to the Olympic opening ceremonies! And the Energizer Bunny will stop drumming!

-- Leigh Whittemore

(Ah, yes, our responsibility to others! Forgot all about that, selfishly. -- Editor)

RE: Close-Up Lens

I need to document small items like coins with a Nikon D60. What is the best digital lens for this close-up work?

-- Scott

(For close-up work, you want a macro lens. Nikon makes a number of these (look for 'Micro' at http://www.slrgear.com/reviews/showcat.php/cat/12). The 105mm f/2.8 IF-ED AF-S VR (http://www.slrgear.com/reviews/showproduct.php/product/351/cat/12) is the most advanced version (offering Silent Wave Motor focusing and Vibration Reduction). -- Editor)

RE: Canon AE-Lock Button?

Glad of your write-up on the XSi, but where the H is the AE-Lock button? I have looked for and tried every button on the camera!

Shawn wrote, "Just like Quick mode, unfortunately, you have to press the AE-Lock button first until you hear the focus confirmation beep."

-- Ron Light

(It's the same button as on the XTi, which Canon insists on labeling with an asterisk. In Playback mode, it's labeled with the minus magnifier. -- Editor)
(Yes, I switched between calling it the "star" button and the AE-Lock button, knowing that I'd get criticized by those in the know if I said "star." Calling it an asterisk might confuse others. Of course I could also say, the asterisk button. Or all three. Sorry for the confusion. I'll use them all next time. -- Shawn)

Thanks, Shawn, but your real failure was in not saying it is necessary to hold the star button down for three long seconds. I had pushed the star and every button on the camera without success. This is about my sixth dSLR and who ever heard about having to hold any button down for three seconds!

-- Ron

(Live View on a dSLR other than the Sony A300/A350 takes about three seconds (and sometimes more) to focus, whether you're using phase-detect or contrast-detect. But I did leave that factoid out and I'll try to add it in as soon as the cascade of other SLRs stops. Still, the Canon XSi is among the fastest-focusing Live View cameras. -- Shawn)
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Editor's Notes

Microsoft (http://www.microsoft.com) and Nikon (http://www.nikon.com) had a rough two weeks. On June 20, to show off its Web-based Live Search function, Microsoft launched a photo contest with Nikon as sponsor. To win a Coolpix, you could submit an "iconic image of Britain" you found by performing a Live Search or vote for one of the ones other people submitted. But Pro-Imaging, a Web-based group of professional photographers, pointed out Microsoft didn't have the rights to display those retrieved entries. Nikon consequently withdrew as sponsor (http://www.pro-imaging.org/content/view/402/32/) and Microsoft apologized with a promise to try to acquire the rights to any contest images it displays (http://www.pro-imaging.org/content/view/403/32/).

Meanwhile, Nikon refreshed its Coolpix lineup (http://www.imaging-resource.com/NEWS/1218445782.html). But that didn't go very smoothly either when the company revealed its new GPS-enabled P6000 flagship would capture Raw files in a new Raw file format intelligible to Windows Imaging Component under Microsoft Vista. The outcry against the new format was universal. Our inquiries to Nikon asking about the rationale for the new format have not been answered.

Seems like this was the wrong month for some people to take vacation.


Adobe Computer Scientist Eric Chan blogged about Lightroom 2's new camera profiles and the free profile editor that lets you build your own on Jack Nack's blog (http://blogs.adobe.com/jnack/2008/08/the_dng_profile_editor.html).


Lowepro (http://www.lowepro.com) has introduced two new lines and extensions to three of its series of camera bags. The Terraclime line offers an eco-friendly bag in a casual style that doesn't look like an expensive dSLR is hiding inside. The Luxe series offers a premium leather camera clutch for the fashionably inclined. A new PrimusMinimus AW backpack made of 51 percent recycled material, a SlingShot 350 AW that can hold a laptop along with your camera and a large Flipside 400 AW round out the announcements.


LQ Graphics (http://www.lqgraphics.com) updated its $49.95 Photo to Movie 4.1.5 [MW] with support for Lightroom 2 libraries, improved stability on various graphics cards and more.


Canon (http://www.canon.com) has introduced two new photo all-in-one printers. With a 1.8-inch color LCD, the $99.99 PIXMA MP480 Photo All-In-One with optional Bluetooth prints 4x6 borderless prints in about 45 seconds. The $69.99 PIXMA MP190 Photo All-In-One, like its big brother, features 4800x1200-dpi color resolution and a minimum two-picoliter droplet size in a two-cartridge, four-color setup.


Sony (http://www.sonystyle.com) has announced two new Cybershot ultracompacts, the $300 T77 and the $400 T700. The T77 has a 3.0-inch LCD with 230,400 dots and 15-MB of internal memory while the T700 has a 3.5-inch display with 921,600-pixel resolution and almost four gigabytes of built-in memory.


Apple has launched a Web page (http://www.apple.com/aperture/resources/plugins.html) devoted to Aperture 2 "plug-ins, workflows and other extras."


Olympus (http://www.olympus.com) has announced its 1030SW, a 10.1-megapixel 28-105mm zoom digicam that can be used up to 33 feet under water.


Brian Lawler writes about his HDR photo mural (http://www.creativepro.com/article/photo-murals-make-you-think-big-really-big).

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Signoff

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Happy snapping!

Mike Pasini, Editor
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Dave Etchells, Publisher
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