The IMAGING RESOURCE DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY
NEWSLETTER


Volume 11, Number 10 8 May 2009

Copyright 2009, The Imaging Resource. All rights reserved.

Welcome to the 253rd edition of the Imaging Resource Newsletter. We've been having so much fun with Kodak's answer to the Flip that we had to tell you about it. Dave finds the Sony W220 grows on you, too. Then we explain what those CIPA numbers are all about before discussing two kinds of Auto ISO. Enjoy!


TOPICS

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Feature: Kodak Zx1 -- Reinventing Reinvention

Google "reinventing" and you'll discover everything has been reinvented. It's practically a closet industry. Got something? Reinvent it.

We just read, for example, an essay in which the author, who had just written a book using Power Point, claimed to have reinvented The Book. And not a few minutes later we ran across someone claiming his video snippets with dSLR were a reinvention of still photography.

Once upon a time, every scribe with an electrical outlet would tell you how the word processor had reinvented the pencil. But, oh, how they all longed for something as user-friendly as that pencil.

All these reinventions depend on a gross oversimplification of the original, reinvented concept. The reinventors don't quite get it. What a book is. What a photo is. What a pencil is.

Video, we would have replied, reinvents photography the way color photography reinvents black and white. It doesn't. Anyone who has used a Wratten filter knows you can't do that tonal manipulation in color and get away with it.

They're different beasts.

That's what we were thinking when we walked home with a Kodak Zx1 the other day. Video? You've got to be kidding. Not going there. No way.

OPRAH & TARA & BEARS

No yellow brick road, that walk. No lions, tigers or bear, either. Just flashbacks of Oprah touting the Flip and Tara showing off the Kodak Zi6. Cute little bars of soap that take video.

But the Zx1 we walked home with had a couple of big advantages over those little boxes: an SD card slot and HD video capture.

It also shared their one interesting trait: pencil-like user friendliness.

It's so user friendly, there isn't even a manual, really. Just a sort of getting started guide. Put the two rechargeable AA batteries in, slip in an SD card, press the Power button. When the screen lights up, press the OK button to set the time and date.

That's it.

To record you just press the big red round button in the middle of the Razr-like key pad just below the little color LCD viewfinder ("little" means 2.0 inches and some older folks who shot with the Zx1 complained about it). And to stop recording, press it again.

Press any two buttons to get into Setup mode to change the time and date, turn sounds off, set video to NTSC or PAL and format the optional SD/SDHC card. We used a 2-GB Eye-Fi card not recommended for video recording -- and it worked just fine.

The change from HD at 30 frames a second to HD at 60 fps (slow mo) to VGA to stills, press the Right arrow. To go back to the format you just passed, press the Left arrow.

To use digital zoom, press the Up arrow to zoom in and Down to zoom out. You could have guessed that.

There are four icons outside that center area. On the left side is a Delete button and a Stop button (we didn't use either). On the right side is a Recording mode button and a Playback button (both of which we used a lot).

There's a tripod socket on the bottom (perfect for Kodak's $20 Adventure Mount), the card slot in the right side and the Power button and the HDMI/USB/DC-in ports on the left side. On top is a speaker and an infrared receiver for the optional remote.

On the business side of the Zx1, there's a mic, a recording light and the little lens. That's the side you pop the batteries in, too, under the slide-off cover. Comes with two Kodak rechargeable AAs and a charger for them.

The thing is not only water-resistant but it's certified for protection rating IP43. That means it has protection against entry of objects larger than 1.0 mm (like dirt) and protection from entry of water spray from angle of up to 60 degrees from vertical (like rain or snow).

What it really means, though, is that you can 1) carry it around in your pocket and 2) pass it around at parties.

PARTYING WITH THE THING

And pass it around we did.

"What's that? Is that a camera?" someone would ask.

"Yeah, it's a video camera."

"It's not a phone?" they wouldn't believe us.

"No. Wanna see?" and we'd pass it to them.

Horrified, they shrank back but grabbed it. It was already on so they could see the action on the LCD.

"Where's the lens?" they'd ask, not realizing the back of the Zx1 was really the front.

"On the other side. Just press the big red round button to start and stop recording," we'd say and disappear into the kitchen.

Hoots and screams and laughter later, we'd retrieve it. "That's so easy," they would say.

Hardly anyone believed it was capturing HD video at 720p. But I brought the HD cable with me and if they had an HD set, I'd just plug it in and show them what they had just recorded. Screams of delight.

This, it dawned on me, is the reinvention of the pencil.

VIDEO PENCIL

Well, the video pencil. It's that easy to use. Not that anyone would erase anything. But capturing a sketch is actually fun.

You don't have to set anything, for one thing. You just turn it on, hold it up and press the big button with your thumb. You're kind of like a painter holding a thumb up to the scene. Except your thumb is recording video.

In the weeks I hoarded it from Kodak, I learned a few things. And good thing, too, because taking video is easy to do badly.

Hold it still, first. You can be handheld documentary cool later if you want but, really, why make your viewers sea sick? Especially if you're in the room with them. They like the people in the video to move, not the camera.

Zoom with your arm, second. Your arm moves smoothly. It has reach. You can just stretch it out (and not only just straight out, you know) to zoom in on your subject. Very effective with a tiny camcorder.

Zooming with the Up or Down arrows is not so effective. It works, but it jerks. And it's digital zoom. It's pretty nice digital zoom, actually, but it's not as nice as arm zoom.

Do the twist. You can't shoot vertically and expect people to hold their $800 HDTV on end to view your 10 second video. But you can start shooting horizontally and twist the view. It's like cocking your head for the viewer. Not that big a deal. And kind of funny, depending.

Framing a 16:9 wide screen image is a lot more fun that those 4:3 digicam or 3:2 dSLR crops you're used to. Just avoid the temptation to center the subject. See the frame in thirds: left, right, center. Put your subject on the left or right. They will suddenly look like a real actor in an expensive movie.

Keep it short. Oh, you can let it run on and on, the Zx1 won't mind. But the people watching it will drift away and miss the next part that isn't boring. They're used to those fast cuts in TV commercials, after all. (How long is the longest scene in a commercial? Don't blink, you'll miss it.)

You can shoot video with your digicam, sure. But there's something liberating about not having to switch modes and press a button to configure settings. There's something liberating about having a little box that just shoots video.

PLAYBACK

The easiest playback was straight from the Zx1 to an HDTV through HDMI. Great video, great sound (at least indoors). No one could believe the little box did that. Looking at the video on an HDTV, they all thought is was a Canon 5D. Your choice: buy a 5D or 18 Zx1s (it's just $150).

Copying the Zx1 MOV files (H.264) to the computer wasn't bad. Although niece's Windows machine reported it would take half an hour to copy 1.2-GB of video, we did it in a couple of minutes on an old PowerBook G4.

Unfortunately HD playback on old computers skips a lot of video to keep the audio real. And editing video is not for netbooks. You want some horsepower to handle HD, even if it comes from a little Zx1.

SO WHAT?

Confession time. We boxed up the Zx1 to send back to Kodak three different times. We never (ever) do that. We box things up once, slap a UPS label on the box and drop it off.

But there was this baptism. And then there was this baby shower. And a dinner party. And so on. And whenever we took it with us, we passed it around. And half a dozen people (of all ages) would shoot with it and think of 12 other things they could do with it. Take it to Mexico. Bolt it to their mountain bike. Make a baby monitor out of it. Start a cooking show on YouTube.

And when we got home and looked at the video that had been captured on our own TV, we found ourselves smiling and laughing and having a good time all over again. It was a real sweet way to reparty -- and not just through our own eyes, but through a handful of other people's eyes, too.

Sometimes, to our amazement, we ourselves were in the clips. That never happens.

Yeah, you can upload these clips to YouTube (if you're running Windows, anyway -- Kodak only really supports Windows, you know) like anyone cares. Or any other video sharing service. Maybe a more private one, you know. So you can share it with just family and friends (who do care). Or other party people (who really care, especially about how they look). Beats spending your best years burning DVDs.

And you can get back out there with the Zx1 for even more fun! Which is one place we never thought we would be. But there we were! Reinvented, you might say.

Return to Topics.

Feature: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W220 User Report

By DAVE ETCHELLS
(Excerpted from the full review posted at http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/W220/W220A.HTM on the Web site.)

Announced in early January, the $180 W220 becomes the entry-level model in Sony's mainstream W-series digital camera lineup. It shares its 12-megapixel resolution with the other W-series models announced at the same time (the W230 and W290). These models differentiate themselves primarily by their LCD size and zoom ratio, secondarily by various internal features.

LOOK & FEEL

These days, the W220 would be considered a mid-sized digital camera, but that standard has shrunk considerably over the years. The W220 will slide easily into most pockets and weighs in at less than 5 ounces.

Following the current trend toward more colorful cameras, the W220 is available in bright pink and blue as well as the more traditional silver and black. In typical Sony styling, the color covers the front and back of the camera, with a chrome accent running up both sides and across the top. Overall, it's an attractive design that doesn't call undue attention to itself.

Slim, sleek camera designs can sometimes leave you wishing for a bit more for your fingers to hang onto and this was my experience with the W220. I never felt I was in danger of dropping the camera, but the relatively large LCD screen on its back leaves little room for your thumb to grip the case -- and the smooth front surface provides relatively little for your fingers to grab onto as well. When holding it one-handed, your thumb completely obscures the right-side controls, meaning that control adjustments are a two-handed affair. One piece of good news, though: Your thumb will most naturally lie over the mode dial, which actuates by turning rather than pressing -- so there's no problem with controls being activated by accident. I don't want to belabor the point, as many small cameras share similar issues, it's just that the very smooth front of the case left me feeling a little uneasy about the security of my grip: Take my advice and use the provided wrist strap.

CONTROLS

You power up the W220 by pressing the slightly recessed Power button on the top panel. The slight recess is a good design touch, as the camera is less likely to be turned on accidentally. When turned on via the Power button, the lens telescopes out and the camera is ready to shoot in just over two seconds. You can also turn the camera on simply by pressing the Playback button on the rear panel (just above and to the left of the 4-way controller), in which case the camera comes up in playback mode. A nice touch is that the camera is essentially always ready to snap a picture. If it's in Playback mode, just half-press the Shutter button and the camera will immediately switch to Record mode.

Other than the Power button and Shutter button, all the controls are on the camera's back panel. The Zoom toggle at upper right moves the lens pretty quickly. It only takes 3-4 seconds to zoom the lens from one extreme to the other. Like the lenses on many digicams, the W220's isn't a smooth zoom. It moves in steps, no matter how briefly you press the toggle control. The steps are reasonably small (I counted a total of nine different zoom settings), but I always prefer a truly continuous zoom.

Control space on the back panel is a little cramped, but the layout of the buttons and their slightly raised profiles made it easy to select what I wanted to do without miscues. The four-way controller is a little small, but again, I had no trouble selecting the option I wanted. Any issues I had with the camera's operation had more to do with its menu system (see below) than its physical controls.

The 2.7-inch LCD screen is bright and a little contrasty and has an enviable viewing angle side-to-side, but a much more restricted one top to bottom. Holding the camera over my head, I could easily see the viewfinder image if I held the camera vertically (portrait orientation), but when I rotated the camera to its normal horizontal position, the image vanished almost entirely. The screen works well in bright light, but will wash out in direct sunlight. It's also a fingerprint magnet, but that's common to most all camera LCD panels.

The audio/video/computer connector is located on the camera's bottom in a wide, narrow connector that receives a rather large plug. All output connections are provided on one multi-tentacled cable, with video, stereo audio and USB connections all available together. An optional HD-compatible cable (sold separately) lets you view still images on an HDTV, but movies can only be viewed via the normal NTSC-compatible cable that's included with the camera.

The flash is controlled via the four-way control on the camera's rear panel, although some scene modes either disable the flash or make it fire all the time. Sony rates its range at 12.8 feet with the lens at its widest-angle setting or 6.3 feet at telephoto. As is usually the case, the camera has to boost its ISO setting to achieve these ranges, so the resulting images can be a little soft. Not more so than most competing models, though, at least in our experience.

LENS

The lens covers a focal length range of 30-120mm equivalents, going a bit wider than the standard 35mm wide-angle available on many cameras. This wider coverage can come in handy when shooting indoors or in cramped quarters. The W220's lens is also distinguished by its wider maximum aperture of f2.8 at the wide-angle end of its zoom range. This lets in more light than lenses on many competing cameras that typically start out at f3.2-3.5. This brightness advantage disappears at the telephoto end, though, where the maximum aperture is a pretty typical f5.8.

Optical image stabilization is becoming a more and more popular feature on cameras these days and the W220 follows suit, sporting Sony's excellent SteadyShot technology. A menu setting gives you options of off, shooting (active whenever the Shutter button is half-pressed) or always-on. The always-on option gives you a steady viewfinder image all the time, but at the cost of shorter battery life. Most users should choose the shooting option. In Movie mode, the stabilization options reduce to always-on (continuous) or off and you'll probably want to leave it on all the time, for the sake of capturing steadier-looking movies.

MODES

The mode dial offers no less than 10 different settings, including two "simple" modes by adding an "Easy" option to the normal Green Zone setting. In Easy mode, the menu text becomes larger and only two menu options are offered. Flash (Auto/Off) and Image Size (Large/Small). Most users will probably find the normal Green Zone (Auto) setting more useful, as it does provide a number of useful settings, including Face Detection, exposure compensation, single/continuous recording mode, red-eye reduction for flash exposures and Sony's iSCN Automatic scene recognition.

Like most digicams, the W220 offers a variety of different Scene options right on its Mode dial, including night portrait, landscape, group portrait, high ISO and Smile Shutter (more on that in a moment). In its green-zone Auto mode, there's also an option in the shooting menu for Sony's iSCN automatic scene recognition. This option tells the camera to analyze the scene itself and decide whether to set itself up for Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Twilight with a tripod, backlight or backlight portrait shooting conditions. I'm more than a little puzzled, though, that Sony doesn't enable this by default in Auto mode, but instead leaves it as an option the user must select. The users who'd most benefit from this are the ones least likely to find and select it on the shooting menu. Perhaps that's what Easy mode is for, but it still seems a little strange to me to make novice users hunt for this option on the menu system. One nice touch, though. When the camera recognizes either twilight or backlight scene types, the iSCN+ option makes it shoot two images each time the Shutter button is pressed: one with the auto scene settings selected, the other with the camera operating at its defaults.

The Smile Shutter option is a cute idea, but one that I personally wonder about. In this mode, when you press the shutter, the camera begins watching for a face in the image to smile. When it detects the smile, the camera will trigger the shutter. This seems like an easy enough thing for the human holding the camera to attend to.

MENU SYSTEM

I have to say Sony's menu system is one of the things I personally like least about their cameras. Several years back, their menus were a model of simplicity and navigational ease, but they abandoned that design in favor of the current one, which is attractive and easy to read, but which is more awkward to navigate (in my humble opinion, at least). Others may appreciate the large text and icons.

On the W220, the menu system is made even more awkward by a second menu, accessed via the Home button, just to the right of the Menu button that accesses the main menu system. I found the dual menu system confusing -- and I think a lot of users might also. I've seen dual-menu systems that work well (the Canon Function Menu/Main Menu system comes to mind), but the menu system on the W220 left me guessing about where I needed to go a lot of the time.

But the menus do offer a good range of control over the camera's functions and the options offered vary to match the capabilities of whatever mode you're shooting in. This could be a bit confusing if you tend to jump around between modes a lot, but the lack of extraneous features in various modes will certainly be welcomed by novice users.

STORAGE & BATTERY

The W220 stores images on MemoryStick PRO Duo memory cards, with a current maximum capacity of 16-GB per card. That's more than sufficient for most needs with this camera and indeed a 2-GB card should be more than adequate unless you plan to shoot a lot of video with the camera. The camera also comes with 15-MB of internal memory, which can only hold about three shots at full resolution.

The W220's battery is a 960mAh, 3.6 volt lithium-ion design, model number NP-BG1. The battery and memory card are both hidden behind a bottom-panel hatch that latches when closed and slid to its locking position. Sony says it's good for 370 shots per charge, based on the CIPA standard for battery life. We certainly have no quibble with that rating. The sample we worked with seemed able to run a long while without significantly draining the battery's capacity.

SHOOTING

Shooting with the camera proved to be more pleasant than I'd have expected. I was particularly impressed with how well its Easy mode handled a wide range of conditions. Standard outdoor and indoor shots both turned out quite well, with no intervention whatsoever on my part.

Shooting indoors with the W220 was for the most part a pleasant surprise. Its automatic white balance leaves just a bit more yellow cast in images shot under incandescent lighting than I'd personally prefer, but prints made from Easy-mode images looked just fine. When the flash fired, it exposed properly, neither too bright nor too dim, at least if the subject was within range. The SteadyShot image stabilization worked quite well, making it much easier to get sharp images without flash than when shooting with the stabilization turned off. I still had to hold the camera carefully, as the shutter speed was typically only 1/13 second, but if I was careful, the majority of my non-flash shots turned out sharp.

As it turns out, though, "sharp" is a somewhat relative term when talking about indoor shots with the W220. To get to even the 1/13 second shutter speed under normal room lighting, it has to boost its ISO to 400, at which point a lot of subtle detail is lost to noise-reduction processing. The resulting images make great-looking 4x6 inch prints, but 8x10 enlargements look somewhat soft. They'd be fine for display on a wall, but don't hold up to close inspection too well. I found 5x7 inches to be about the limit for close viewing of indoor, non-flash photos.

Outdoors, the W220 acquitted itself quite well, delivering bright but natural-looking color and plenty of detail. Not as much as you'd perhaps expect from a 12-Mp camera, but Sony isn't alone in that regard. The microscopic pixels of most consumer 12-Mp cameras have largely outstripped the capability of the accompanying lenses and noise reduction (even at base ISOs) further muddies detail. On the whole, the W220 does better than some and no worse than most.

One thing that I did find slightly annoying was the stepwise zoom operation. Because there are actually only nine separate focal length settings available, I sometimes had to move forward or back to achieve the framing I wanted. Not a show-stopper by any means, but a minor annoyance compared to some other cameras.

Shooting close-ups with the W220 was a pleasant surprise. While the camera does have a specific macro setting, its main impact is merely to speed focusing for close-up subjects. Regardless of the setting of the macro option, the W220 will focus on near or distant subjects equally well. Sony doesn't state the minimum shooting distance for the W220, but we measured it at about 1.4 inches with the lens set to its wide-angle position, at which point you can capture a very small area of only 1.5x2 inches.

The W220 did well with movie recording as well. I only shot in its highest-quality movie mode (which produces 640x480 pixel movies, running at 30 frames/second), but found the movies to be clean and smooth-running and audio quality was excellent. Unfortunately, optical zoom is not supported while recording movies and neither is digital zoom.

CONCLUSION

I warmed to the Sony W220 the more I used it. I initially was a bit put off by its menu structure and its very smooth skin made me fear losing my grip on it at an inconvenient moment. Viewed 1:1 on-screen, its images look a little soft, even at its lowest ISO.

As I shot with it and made prints from its images, though, I came to like it more and more. As is the case with many high-megapixel consumer cameras these days, the quality of its images when viewed 1:1 on-screen has little to do with how they look when printed. On that score, the Sony W220 did pretty well, and my picture-taking experience with it was quite good.

I don't think it's an out-of-the-park home run, but after living with it for a few days, it clearly deserves a Dave's Pick. Most consumer-level users will be happy with the results produced by it.

Return to Topics.

Publisher's Note: Follow IR on Twitter!

It was one of those hit-you-over-the-head realizations. We post dozens (often hundreds) of new test images every day, but you wouldn't have had a clue they were there. Not until we finally posted the review, anyway.

Now, we are giving you a clue. Our "Latest from the Lab" Twitter feed (http://twitter.com/IR_Lab) gives you a peek behind the curtain here at IR HQ.

We'll of course tweet about our camera and lens reviews, but we'll also tweet every time we upload more test shots or results for cameras we're still working on. So you'll know about our latest test photos and results as soon as they're available!

And if you follow us on Twitter, you'll be notified the moment we post a news item about a new camera announcement.

So check out the "Latest from the Lab" Twitter feed (http://twitter.com/IR_Lab) and follow us in your favorite Twitter application!

(Paul Boutin has a handy guide to Twitter published in the New York Times at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/07/technology/personaltech/07basics.html?em and our RSS feeds available from the News page at http://www.imaging-resource.com/NEWS.HTM will keep you up to date on news items and reviews. -- Editor)
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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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Beginners Flash: About CIPA Battery Standards

Our reviews often describe battery capacity as the number of shots you can expect to take on a single charge "according to CIPA standards."

But what are CIPA standards? And how real-world are they? Do they remotely reflect how you use a camera?

Measuring battery capacity is just one standard the Camera & Imaging Products Association has established. They also have set standard measurements for camera resolution, sensitivity and more.

CIPA's 15-page DC-002 or Standard Procedure for Measuring Digital Still Camera Battery Consumption (http://www.cipa.jp/english/hyoujunka/kikaku/pdf/DC-002_e.pdf) explains how its standardization committee recommends camera batteries be tested.

The guiding principle isn't to maximize the number of shots that can be captured, as you or we might do out here in the real world. Instead, it's to make sure all of the default still photography functions of the camera are well exercised.

That bit about defaults is important. It determines the image quality mode, number of recorded pixels, autoexposure setting and autofocus setting.

But other settings are just as critical.

That starts with the flash. CIPA standards require full flash illuminated for one of every two pictures taken. That's well in excess of what we normally do. How about you?

Even more unusual from a practical standpoint is the specification for optical zoom usage. "Before every picture is taken, the motor driven optical zoom lens shall be moved either from the TELE end to the WIDE end, or from the WIDE end to the TELE end." And back again, if the next shot is to be taken at the same focal length as the previous one.

The standards require the LCD to be "lit continuously" in Record mode and immediately turned back on if it goes to sleep.

Shooting should begin 30 seconds after the power is turned on, allowing the flash mode setting, zoom operation and other settings to be adjusted for the test. And power should be turned off after every tenth picture.

There is no specification for Review mode (the function, sometimes disabled, for reviewing an image immediately after it has been taken).

And filling the internal memory or a small memory card is no excuse to halt the test. Either delete the recorded files or replace the storage card and continue.

And how does CIPA determine the test is over? When "the first low-battery shutdown occurs, or when any function related to still photography stops working without low-battery shutdown." Unless, that is, you can reengage the function automatically or manually.

As you can see, the test gives any camera quite a workout. High drain operations like flash use and recycling, LCD illumination and powered zoom are used almost to excess. So when reading the CIPA numbers for any particular camera, consider how your own typical usage might affect them.

The real value of the CIPA numbers, after all, is in comparing cameras, not in predicting what you'll get from the camera.

Return to Topics.

Advanced Mode: Taking Advantage of Auto ISO

What's the most useful but most neglected feature of your digital camera? Doesn't matter if it's a digicam or a dSLR, either. Think a minute....

Oh, you read the headline.

Yes, Auto ISO is something often ignored during camera setup. And, in fact, manufacturers have taken their sweet time refining it. And then the marketing department got their hands on it and really confused everyone by calling it, on a digicam at least, digital image stabilization.

Actually, it's just letting the camera pick the ISO for you. Except it has two modes on advanced digicams and dSLRs: a plain Auto mode and a capped, configurable Auto mode in which ISO is adjusted within a certain acceptable range that you set.

There never was an Auto ISO of any kind on a film camera because the whole roll was the same sensitivity. You bought ISO 100 or ISO 400 film, set the camera's ISO to match (so the built-in exposure meter would take the film sensitivity into account) and shot away, worrying about aperture and shutter speed.

But on a digital camera, aperture and shutter speed are just two legs on the old exposure stool. ISO can also be adjusted for any image.

You can (and probably do) set ISO sensitivity for the situation at hand. That may be cranking it up to ISO 800 and turning off the flash, for example, to get some nice natural light shots. Or setting it to ISO 200 for a sunny picnic to minimize noise. And as long as you're shooting in that situation, locking down the ISO lets you concentrate on aperture and shutter speed (unless you have those on Auto, too).

If you set the camera on Auto ISO, however, your camera can help minimize blur either from a shutter speed that's too low or from a subject that's hyperactive. It does that by monitoring the image. If it detects blur, it simply raises the ISO. And if you're shooting a bright landscape with no motion in it, it can lower the ISO to get the most noise-free image your camera can produce. That's how it got the "digital image stabilization" label.

On some cameras Auto ISO is a single setting, simply called Auto in the list of ISO options. But on others, there is more than one Auto option or, in the case of a dSLR, a configurable Auto.

Configurable Auto ISO lets you set the upper limit that the camera can use to set ISO. It may be a conservative ISO 400, which generally tends to exhibit very little more noise than ISO 200. You may select ISO 800, which on a digicam (but not a dSLR) usually does come at the price of more noise. Or ISO 1600, if you are more concerned about getting the shot than noise. And, yes, some cameras even let you set the upper limit of Auto ISO even higher.

But Auto ISO isn't just about raising the ISO value. You'll often find that it actually lowers it, providing a cleaner image than you otherwise might have gotten. We tend to set ISO as high as we need it, but we rarely bother to lower it when we can. Auto ISO does both.

And it does it in finer increments than the camera settings, sometimes with half the steps of the listed options you can set.

On a high-megapixel digicam, noise tends to become objectionable pretty low on the ISO ladder. You may find ISO 400 to be as far as you want to go. Earlier digicams didn't even have the feature, though.

On a dSLR, though, with its larger sensor, noise doesn't often become objectionable until you hit four digits. Setting the camera to manual control for aperture and shutter speed while letting ISO float can be the trick you need to shoot sports inside a gym or grab action on the street.

So next time you're setting up your camera, don't stop after picking how to handle the aperture and shutter speed. Remember to set the ISO, too -- and consider using Auto ISO, either straight or capped.

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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 Canon dSLRs at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?50@@.ee92fbe

Visit the Digital Cameras Forum at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?14@@.ee6b2a8

A user asks about the characteristics of a Canon at http://forums.slrgear.com/index.php?showtopic=399

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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: Panasonic Digicams

The review of the Panasonic Lumix ZS3 caused me to ruminate a little on Lumix cameras in general.

We have a TZ5 as a "put in the purse" alternative to my wife's D80, but my favorite of all our cameras (there are more) may be my elderly DMC-FZ20. I really regret that Panasonic didn't put out a simple successor to that camera that retained the 2.8 lens, hot shoe, and general feature set and just added a little more resolution (to enhance cropping and printing) and a little better noise reduction.

But every model afterwards (even in the same line) seems to have sacrificed lens quality and added bunches of arguable features at the same time as any increase in resolution, so I haven't replaced what I have.

Oh, well, I think I'm just getting old! <g>

-- Clayton Curtis

(We heard a wise (and no longer young) man the other day reflecting on his experience during the Depression. It was a blessing to him, he said, to get not what he wanted but what he needed. And it taught him the fine art of wanting what you need rather than needing what you want. If cameras were designed with what we need in mind, fast glass, bigger sensors, manual modes and a smart hot shoe would be familiar features. There are a few cameras like that out there (those flagships from Canon, Nikon and Panasonic come very close). But we need more of them. -- Editor)

RE: Special Projects

While it might be a little more expensive, take a bit more time than you intended and a larger project than you intended, you might look at http://www.blurb.com.

-- George Harmeling

(Yes, our project required us to do the whole thing in-house. And wouldn't you know it, we're still making revisions to it! Turns out half the people in the family are reliable sources and the other half are editors. We have just requested a Unibind system for review, though, that might make the binding process a bit less crafty. We'll let you know! And one of these days, we'll take a look at a few online book producers, too. -- Editor)

RE: Aurora System Requirements

I read about the Aurora Photo Software in a recent issue of your newsletter and was intrigued. So I decided to get the trial version. Imagine my disappointment when it wouldn't launch. I got the error message: "A processor with SSE2 support is required." I wrote to Light Crafts support, but have since looked up SSE2 on the Internet. It is a replacement for MMX and my older AMD processor does not support it. I did read the system requirements on Aurora's Web site before downloading the software and nowhere do they mention that SSE2 is required. They do recommend a dual core processor but do not say that it is required. In the article in your newsletter, there is no reference to that requirement either. What gives? Why isn't that requirement listed anywhere?

I already do run Kodak EasyShare (latest version), Picture Window V5.0, and Nikon Capture NX. All of these applications run fine and at reasonable speed on my desktop. So I didn't expect any problems with Aurora. I will be interested in hearing what their support department has to say. I think that you should put a note in your next newsletter cautioning your readers about this requirement. Also, Aurora should add that to their system requirements on their web site. It would have saved me a lot of time.

-- David

(We suspect Light Crafts doesn't list the SSE2-compatible CPU requirement simply because almost no one knows what it is and nearly every system built since 2001 when it was introduced with the Penium 4 supports it. But not AMD. They didn't support it until 2003 (well, why help out Intel?). Aurora does some pretty heavy lifting, using LightZone code to do it, so having double-precision 64-bit instructions that run twice as fast as the MMX code that SSE2 replaced was an easy call. And we suspect you'll appreciate the wisdom of that decision should you ever upgrade. -- Editor)
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Editor's Notes

Eye-Fi (http://www.eye.fi) has announced its 4-GB $79 Share Video and $99 Explore Video SD cards that can upload videos directly from a digicam to Picasa, Photobucket, SmugMug, YouTube or Flickr. The Explore Video card geotags photos and videos and offers hotspot access from over 10,000 Wayport and open hotspot locations in the U.S.


Boinx Software (http://boinx.com) has released its $149 ($89 updates) FotoMagico Pro 3.0 [M] for Mac OS X 10.5 with support for HD video, a new Instant Slideshow assistant, a rewritten and improved Storyboard, three audio tracks (Music, Sound Effects and Narration), built-in recording for narrations, audio ducking, support for Elgato's Turbo.264 HD, multi-touch support, context-sensitive authoring guides, an optional $19.95 FotoMagico Remote controller for the iPhone and iPod Touch and more.


Panasonic (Lumix) has announced its Lumix GH1 will be available in June at $1,500 for a kit that includes the Lumix G VARIO 14-140mm/F4.0-5.8 ASPH/MEGA O.I.S. lens. See our preview (http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/DMCGH1/DMCGH1A.HTM) with first shots.


Hamrick (http://www.hamrick.com) has released its VueScan 8.5.11 [LMW] with improved high-resolution processing speed, support for more Canon scanners and a few fixes.


The International Center of Photography has been cataloging 4,300 recently-discovered negatives taken Robert Capa, Gerda Taro and David Seymour during the Spanish Civil War (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/30/arts/design/30capa.html?_r=1&hpw).


According to the Nikonians Blog (http://blog.nikonians.org/archives/2009/04/nikon_batt-mtr_patent_2k9.html), Nikon has filed a patent for a battery meter that would report battery capacity adjusted for "different operating modes."


Nikon (http://support.nikontech.com) has updated Camera Control Pro 2.5.0 [MW] with support for the D5000 and two bug fixes. Support for Mac OS X 10.3.9 has been dropped.


Lemkesoft (http://www.lemkesoft.com) has released its $34.95 GraphicConverter [M] with support for bio-formats, NV12 import, import of images in .CWK files, improved large preview performance in the browser, import of 32-bit IEEE TIFFs and more.


Plasq (http://plasq.com) has released is $24.95 Comic Life 1.4.5 [MW] to address "a change in Mac OS X 10.5 relating to temporary files that was causing a loss of images within comic documents being edited over a number of days."


O'Reilly (http://oreilly.com) has published the second edition of The DAM Book by Peter Krogh, available via the Imaging Resource Amazon affiliate program at a 37 percent discount (http://www.amazon.com/dp/0596523572/?tag=theimagingres-20).

O'Reilly (http://oreilly.com) has also published iMovie '09 & iDVD: The Missing Manual by David Pogue and Aaron Miller. It, too, is available via the Imaging Resource Amazon affiliate program at a 34 percent discount (http://www.amazon.com/dp/0596801416/?tag=theimagingres-20).


DxO (http://www.dxomark.com) has published detailed Raw-based image quality data and DxOMark Sensor rankings for the Pentax K-m and the Olympus E-30.


Phase One (http://www.phaseone.com/4) has introduced the Phase One P 40+ digital camera back/camera system. Like the P 65+ introduced last year, the new system offers two separate image-capture modes. In normal mode, the P 40+ delivers full 40-Mpp captures for high-quality image details. But you can push a button to instantly switch to 10-Mp captures, gaining a four-fold increase in light sensitivity (to ISO 3200) and a capture rate of up to 1.8 fps.


Nik Software (http://www.niksoftware.com) has announced that Sharpener Pro 3.0 [MW] is now available for Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2.3. The update is available now as a free download to current owners.


Ovolab (http://www.ovolab.com) has released its $24.95 Geophoto 2.4 [M] with support for copying and pasting coordinates, support for faster geotagging of image files in non-JPEG formats and fixes for a few minor bugs.


Fat Cat Software (http://www.fatcatsoftware.com) has released its $19.95 iPhoto Library Manager 3.5 with support for tagged faces in iPhoto '09 libraries.

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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:

Daily News: http://www.imaging-resource.com/NEWS.HTM
New on Site: http://www.imaging-resource.com/NEW1.HTM
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Happy snapping!

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

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