The IMAGING RESOURCE DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY
NEWSLETTER


Volume 12, Number 27 31 December 2010

Copyright 2010, The Imaging Resource. All rights reserved.

Welcome to the 296th edition of the Imaging Resource Newsletter. We give you a little tour of what we're working on before locking up the bunker for the last time this year. Then we play with a Fujifilm long zoom. And if Santa brought you a camera this year, we have a little advice to share for getting great photos. Happy New Year!


TOPICS

SPONSORS
This issue is sponsored in part by the following companies. Please show your appreciation by visiting their links below. And now a word from our sponsors:
C A N O N

There's a lot behind a great photograph.
But nothing is more important than the lens.

The Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM

It'll open up worlds you never knew existed. Maybe it's time you got behind one.

See Canon's entire line of outstanding lenses at: http://www.imaging-resource.com/cgi-bin/nl/pl.cgi?canonlens

Inspired. By Canon.

P E N T A X

Feed Your Photo Obsession

Get a taste of the ultra-advanced PENTAX K-5. This digital SLR serves up a fast 7 fps frame rate, enhanced focus performance and high resolution. The K-5 has a 16.28 megapixel sensor with a wide sensitivity range from ISO 80 to 12,800. It's equipped with widescreen 1080p HD video. And it all comes in a compact, weather-sealed, magnesium and stainless steel body.

Be obsessed. Dig into all the features of the new PENTAX K-5 at http://www.imaging-resource.com/cgi-bin/nl/pl.cgi?px1.

S I G M A

The Exception to the Photographic Rule

Sigma's line of cameras are designed to obtain the highest quality end-result photo possible.

The Sigma DP1 introduced the world's first compact digital camera with the 14 megapixel Foveon X3 direct image sensor; the same sensor used in our SD digital SLR camera. Since then, Sigma has continued to improve upon this amazing camera and the result is the DP2s, with a 24mm f2.8 focal length and faster auto focusing, a power save mode and a new rear-panel design making operation of the camera completely user friendly.

The Sigma DP2s gives the photographer full creative control and ease of use. It's the new DP2s!! Visit http://www.imaging-resource.com/cgi-bin/nl/pl.cgi?sg1 for more information.


Are you in the digital photo business? This newsletter is read by approximately 55,000 combined direct and pass-along subscribers, all with a passion for digital photography. For information on how you can reach them, contact us at editor@imaging-resource.com.

Feature: Loose Ends & Coming Attractions

The end of the year has caught up to several of the products awaiting review before we have. We're not sure if that makes them loose ends or coming attractions. Only time will tell.

Meanwhile, though, they're pretty interesting. They each reflect a facet of this brilliant art that, if it doesn't dazzle you, at least makes you think.

And, who knows, they might even inspire you.

DXO: OPTICS PRO 6.5

We've been follow Optics Pro for years now. And we're about ready to actually deliver a review of the latest version. The stars had to be aligned.

But we're finally on a platform that can nimbly handle the program with enough supported gear to actually do some work in it. That last part is worth emphasizing because it's key to what's different about Optics Pro.

Image editing software that is not sold by the camera manufacturer is as universal as possible. It doesn't matter if the shot was taken by a Sony, Olympus, Canon or Ricoh camera. The software can open and edit it all the same.

That isn't quite as true of Optics Pro. It relies on what DxO knows about the sensor in the camera and the lens used to take the photo to optimize the image. It finds that information in the Exif header and, while it can certainly edit a JPEG, it performs its miracles with the Raw data.

So to enjoy the significant advantages of Optics Pro, you have to have a supported camera body and lens. DxO publishes a checklist (http://www.dxo.com/us/photo/dxo_optics_pro/for_your_equipment) explaining what features are hardware dependent. You'll also find the supported hardware on a tab at that link. And the system hardware requirements.

Of course, that's also the beauty of Optics Pro. It can open your Raw image and correct for lens problems and sensor limitations automatically. So rather than fiddling with sliders to get rid of noise at high ISO, you open an image that's been denoised with highlights and shadows optimized. You start where you may eventually arrive with other software.

We can still remember opening our first image in Optics Pro and marveling at how quickly we got where we wanted to go. We made coffee after we corrected the image, just to calm down a little.

There's still plenty to play with, though. Draw two straight lines that should be parallel on your image to correct for keystoning, for example. Or select from a number of presets for some sophisticated special effects.

And helpful hints are always popping up to guide you through the process.

It's very nice stuff and we'll have a lot more to say about it in 2011.

PHOTOFLEX: FLASHFIRE

We've long admired Photoflex (http://www.photoflex.com) lighting equipment. The products are well designed, well engineered (we've never had a failure) and the price is right.

It's that last bit that intrigued us about the company's new FlashFire wireless flash system. At the moment it's only available as part of a kit like the SoftBox kit. But that makes a pretty nice (and affordable) starter studio lighting setup including a 150- or 300-watt monobloc with a stand and a LiteDome soft box or umbrella or OctoDome.

The FlashFire system consists of a wireless transmitter/receiver for the hot shoe of your camera (requires a 3v CR2 lithium battery), a compact receiver (two AAAs required) that mounts on the shoe connection of your portable flash or by cable (included) to a monobloc like Photoflex's StarFlash system. There's also a mini-jack/3.5mm adapter plug.

Photoflex says the FlashFire has up to 16 channels on the 2.4 GHz band (to avoid interference with other wireless systems as you might find at a wedding reception). You configure recessed mini-DIP switches to set the channel, nothing fancy. And its range is about 164 feet.

With a wireless trigger for your flash (whether it's strobes or monoblocs), you're unleashed, free to roam around for the best shot without strangling or tripping yourself.

The PocketWizard (http://www.pocketwizard.com) has been the pro's tool of choice for this sort of thing but it's an investment. The alternative has been very inexpensive knock-offs that are 1) not reliable and 2) have a short range. So the FlashFire is a welcome option.

We've used it happily with a StarFlash 300 monobloc and Nikon equipment. We've still experimenting with other camera systems. There isn't a lot of documentation for it, so we're not moving very fast on the review. But we did buy the batteries, so we're invested.

CAMERA BITS: PHOTO MECHANIC

Subscribers may recall our July 31, 2009 Advanced Mode article "Ingestion" (http://www.imaging-resource.com/IRNEWS/index-indx.html) in which we detailed our custom script for getting images from our cameras to a master folder on our hard disk.

Since then, we've moved to new hardware and a new operating system. Our routine didn't change, but we had to recast our script for the new gear. To our delight, it's much faster and just as reliable.

But as we were evaluating new approaches for the new system, we took a look at Photo Mechanic (http://www.camerabits.com). It's been around a while and enjoys both very active development and simply superb customer support. And it's fast.

Instead of scripting it, you set options to configure the program to do what you want it to do. There are a lot of options and going through them has been a daunting task, so the review is taking a lot longer than it might have taken were the program not so comprehensive.

It goes beyond our ingestion script in that it's a browser that can (very) quickly present your images for review. You can make the important adjustments, too, adding metadata and lossless rotation.

Whenever we think we've hit a wall with it, we just complain and get a solution right back.

How many applications can you say that about?

HDR SOFTWARE

High Dynamic Range software has been all the rage for a while now. Photomatix (http://www.hdrsoft.com) is probably the best known tool, but the field became very crowded last year. We've been looking at several of them:

Photoshop CS5 (http://www.adobe.com) added an HDR tool that, the company claimed, "reinvents" HDR (http://www.imaging-resource.com/SOFT/CS5/PS12.HTM#hdr). Photoshop can give single images the HDR look with its HDR toning option. And it's pretty smart about removing objects that don't appear in the same place in every image, which create ghosting artifacts.

Nik Software's HDR Efex Pro (http://www.niksoftware.com/hdrefexpro/usa/entry.php) can also handle single images and includes a number of presets. It's a pretty interface and the presets are thumbnailed so you can see your options.

Hydra (http://www.creaceed.com/hydra) is an elegant little tool for OS X with 64-bit support that can tap into the GPU for processing. The interface is quite appealing with plug-ins for Lightroom and Aperture.

Finally, we've been looking at a new tool from Atlantic Light Works and Reindeer Graphics called PercepTool 2 (http://www.georgedewolfe.com/perceptool.html). Reindeer Graphics was in this game from the start with Optipix and this new offering looks promising, particularly if your aim is subtle tone remapping rather than the surrealist look.

And that's the intriguing thing about this fad. It isn't just a fad, but unmasks what being a photographer is all about: deciding which of the available tones and colors to use in the limited palette available. You can be extreme in developing a unique look. Or you can be very subtle and get an elegant, rich image. All with the same tool.

VUESCAN 9

Yes, we've been using the new VueScan (http://www.hamrick.com). We first got acquainted with it when it was in beta. And we've come to rely on it since the release of version 9 to access older unsupported scanners on newer operating systems.

Almost every scanner is an older (and unsupported) scanner these days, though. If you're looking for 64-bit drivers or a version of the manufacturer's software that runs on Windows 7 or Snow Leopard, forget it unless the product was introduced last year.

Which is a sad state of affairs. And would be tragic if not for VueScan and, to a lesser extent, LaserSoft (whose SilverFast still requires Rosetta to run our scanner on Snow Leopard).

With VueScan, we were able to run a Microtek M1 from Snow Leopard without a driver from the manufacturer. No tragedy there.

The 64-bit business is a bit misleading with VueScan, however. On Snow Leopard, you can run 64-bit applications on a 32-bit kernel. That's how we like to run Photoshop and Lightroom. But VueScan sees this as a 32-bit world, so it starts up in 32-bit mode.

We're still no fan of the VueScan interface of sliders where we wish we had curves but everything is right there in front of you, not hidden away on some menu of some other panel as in SilverFast. The perfect scanner interface software hasn't been written yet, as we observed in the last issue.

There's not a lot new with VueScan beyond the 64-bit support, so don't expect an update to our review (http://imaging-resource.com/SOFT/VUE/VUE.HTM). But we are evaluating it.

BOINX: FOTOMAGICO

We prefer to review cross-platform products but we make an exception for exceptional products. And Boinx's Fotomagico (http://www.boinx.com/fotomagico) is an exceptional product.

Since we last looked at it in the newsletter, it's added quite a few new bells and whistles, including movie clips in slide shows, multiple audio tracks, audio ducking, iPad export, drag and drop storyboarding, live recording of narration, plug-ins and more.

But it still retains an interface that's not only easy to use (it won't take longer than the blink of an eye to learn it) but fun to use.

We have a couple of projects to throw at it before we write up our experience but it's something we're actually looking forward to using.

COTTON CARRIER: CARRY-LITE

We reviewed the Cotton Carrier (http://www.cottoncarrier.com) harness last year, impressed with a new way to carry a camera securely that didn't strain our upper body and still left both hands free. This year the company expanded on the concept with its Carry-Lite version that isn't a vest at all but resembles those belt and shoulder straps school crossing guards wear.

That sounded good but when we got our hands on one it seemed a bit much for, say, a small dSLR. We thought maybe it would be smarter to invest (and they aren't cheap) in a quick strap. Those are just a long strap you wear across your chest with a tripod mount threaded onto it. You let your camera hang at your side until you need it and then just swing it up to your eye. Since it simply rides the strap, it's very easy to swing into position. And since the hook is screwed into the camera's tripod mount, it's secure, too.

But a quick strap won't keep your camera from swinging wildly as you run from a bear, say. For that, you do want something a little more stable, like the Carry-Lite.

Juries still out, but we'll update our Carrier review (http://www.imaging-resource.com/ACCS/CTN/CTN.HTM) when we come to a conclusion.

Meanwhile, the company has added an angled camera insert for heavier gear as well as a Velcro hand strap. More about those later, too.

COMING ATTRACTIONS

So those are our coming attractions. You can let us know which ones you're dying to read about first by sending an email to editor@imaging-resource.com. Or just stay tuned for the feature presentations!

Return to Topics.

Feature: Fujifilm FinePix S2550HD -- A Photo Machine

(Excerpted from the full review posted at http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/S2550HD/S2550HDA.HTM on the Web site.)

Fujifilm makes some interesting cameras -- if you love photography.

Just one example. Program mode on most digicams is nothing but Auto with a few menu options enabled. But on a Fujifilm camera, Program actually lets you select the aperture/f-stop combination. You know, exactly how Program is supposed to work.

It's just too bad the camera has only two aperture settings to choose from.

Another spin Fujifilm gives the S2550HD is its film-inspired shooting modes and aspect ratios ("film" is still a part of their name, after all). And the Photo Mode menu is still unique to Fujifilm.

The S2550HD is an 18x superzoom that inherits that love of photography. That love is reflected in the modest 18x lens just when competitors have broken the 20x barrier. As with sensors, more isn't always better. In the case of lenses, it means more distortion and more chromatic aberration. Fujifilm didn't shoot for the highest number with the relatively inexpensive S2550HD, because it usually brings more distortion.

LOOK & FEEL

First, let's point out that the S2550HD is well built. The recent trend has been toward cheaper and cheaper builds in long and superzooms. So outright prolonged applause for building a solid camera body with a substantial rubberized textured surface instead of the lightweight plastic body panels used on so many superzooms.

Like any superzoom, though, the S2550HD is a contradiction. It's compact compared to a dSLR and yet much too large for a pocket. Appearing much like a mini-SLR format, the superzoom is really a big lens with a big grip and a big LCD tucked into the smallest shape possible.

That shape is almost square, though, so a superzoom like the S2550HD doesn't much like to be tucked away in a camera bag. They all ship with shoulder straps rather than wrist straps, although we still prefer to use a wrist strap, dropping the camera in a dSLR holster. It swims around in there, but it's convenient.

The big lens requires a pop-off lens cap, which itself requires a tether of some sort. The S2550HD comes with both.

The big grip houses four AA batteries, which are themselves becoming rare in digicams. We had to dig around the bunker a while to find four lithium AAs to use.

And the big LCD is a full 3.0-inch model. It was our least favorite feature, though, because its resolution is only 230K pixels and it can be hard to see in sunlight (although you can bump up the brightness).

So with all these contradictions, we wondered if the S2550HD is a big small camera or a small big camera?

LENS

The lens is a Fujinon 18x optical zoom lens with apertures of f3.1 or f6.4 at wide-angle and f5.6 or f11.0 at telephoto, using a neutral density filter. Focal lengths range from 28mm to 504mm in 35mm equivalents with digital zoom of 6.3x, up to 113.4x with optical zoom.

Wide-angle focuses from 1.3 foot to infinity and telephoto from 8.2 feet to infinity. Macro focuses from 0.2 foot to 9.8 feet at wide-angle and from 5.9 feet to 9.8 feet at telephoto. Super Macro focuses from 0.1 foot to 3.3 feet at wide-angle only.

Image stabilization is sensor-shift, meaning that the S2550HD's sensor is mounted on a moving platen that is moved to compensate for camera movement during exposure.

We couldn't find a manual focus mode on the S2550HD because there just isn't one. But you can be pretty specific about where the camera should autofocus. Autofocus modes include Center, Multi (for off-center high-contrast subjects), Area (which allows you to move the focus target using the navigator arrows) and Tracking (which follows a moving subject when you half-press the Shutter button).

MODES

Modes are the personality of your camera. And the S2550HD's modes reveal a traditional photographic personality focused on exposure options rather than post-processing tricks-and-gimmicks.

Real PASM. The first indication of this is that the S2550HD includes the full set of PASM options: Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority and Manual. Just press the EV button to manipulate the relevant option with the Up and Down arrows. And in Manual, use the Left and Right button to select shutter speed or aperture.

Fujifilm expects the S2550HD owner to want to set just the shutter or the aperture or both, to handle a particular situation (fast action, lighting and subject that would fool a meter, etc). So the company made it convenient to do.

Pressing the EV button, located in an odd position on the lower right, allows you to adjust the aperture and shutter speed combinations. It's not exactly a range, though, since there are only two available apertures.

Custom. If the camera can be configured by the photographer, it makes sense to be able to store the configuration and the S2550HD provides a Custom mode to do just that. You can record the Photo menu options, Shooting menu options, Setup menu options and a few other items.

Photo menu options include settings for ISO, Image Size, Image Quality and FinePix Color.

Shooting menu options include settings for Photometry, White Balance, High-Speed Shooting, Focusing, AF Mode, Sharpness, Flash and Bracketing.

The Setup menu options include settings for Image Display, Dual IS Mode, AF Illuminator, Digital Zoom and EVF/LCD mode.

Other options including settings for PASM, Continuous release mode, Intelligent Face Detection, Instant Zoom, Macro mode, EV, Flash mode, Shutter speed, Aperture, EVF/LCD and Indicators/Best Framing.

Auto. There is an Auto mode, don't worry, which turns the S2550HD into a competent point-and-shoot camera with an 18x lens. The battery status and focus point are displayed (optionally) on the LCD or EVF and you can also shift the Display mode into Silent mode to turn off the speaker and the AF-assist light.

Auto Scene Recognition. Auto Scene Recognition mode can optimize the S2550HD's settings for several kinds of scenes automatically, a big help to the newcomer. The mode selected is displayed with an icon when the Shutter button is displayed half way.

Scene recognition includes Portrait, Landscape, Night Landscape, Macro, Night Portrait and Backlit Portrait. If the S2550HD can't decide, it simply uses Auto.

Being able to distinguish between Portrait and Landscape is very helpful all by itself, but being able to slip into Macro mode when necessary is an increasingly common and very welcome addition. Probably most welcome, however, is Backlit mode. It's one of the most common exposure problems you'll encounter.

Auto Scene mode does enable face recognition, using the battery more quickly as focus is continually adjusted, but that's a good trade-off.

SP Scene Recognition. You can also manually select the scene setup you want, which includes a few more options harder to detect automatically. These are worth a little explanation.

Panorama. The S2550HD will stitch a multi-exposure panorama together in the camera. You can take up to three shots. Successive shots show a ghosted alignment image on part of the frame. You can select which direction to pan by using the Up arrow. Exposure and White Balance are set with the first shot. Line up each shot with the ghosted image and use the OK button to go on to the next or the Back button to reshoot one of the images in the sequence. Press the OK button to end shooting and start processing the images.

A few seconds later, you'll have a stitched panorama, made right inside the S2550HD.

With such a wide range of focal lengths, stitching can't always be seamless. At wide-angle and close to our subject, it wasn't very successful. But landscapes were well spliced.

Movie. There aren't many digicams we have enjoyed taking movies with. Usually the zoom is just impossible to control. Often autofocus is inebriated. Sound makes you cringe, especially if there's even the hint of breeze.

But the S2550HD, while not solving all those problems, didn't do badly with any of them. It did, unfortunately, introduce a high-pitched whine whose source was undiscoverable. But it was evident in all audio, regardless of the ambient noise level, suggesting the source is the camera itself.

Zoom speed, while constant, is slow enough that it's pleasant to use. Autofocus didn't quite keep up with the zoom but did finally catch up. And the microphone, tucked under the flash housing, is protected from some of the wind noise at least.

Options include just Frame Size: 1280x720, 640x480 or 320x240, all at 30 frames per second. From the S2550HD's Menu system you can also set the Zoom Type (Optical, which may pick up the zoom motor in the audio or 3x Digital).

Movie clips can't exceed either 2-GB in size or 15 minutes in length.

There is no dedicated Movie button. You simply switch the Mode dial to Movie and use the Shutter button to start and stop recording.

IMAGE QUALITY

Pixel-peeping a superzoom is a recipe for disappointment. You'll find the unavoidable distortion and chromatic aberration all long zooms suffer. Our hunch is that the problems are slight enough -- particularly if you go to print -- that you won't bother trying to correct it in your image editing software. Corners are soft, but it's not too noticeable when printing at 8x10. Noise suppression is pretty aggressive, but our printed results show the camera's still capable of making a decent 11x14 at the lower settings.

SHOOTING

If the S2550HD wasn't the first digicam we grabbed on our way out the door, it was only because a superzoom requires some attention when it comes to carrying it. But if we took the effort to bring along a camera bag, we never regretted shooting with the S2550HD. It handled any situation we put it in and brought back shots as good as anything else.

Our first trip was up Twin Peaks. At the same time we took along the Sony Cyber-shot WX5, which makes for an interesting comparison. Many of the shots were exactly the same, if handheld.

The weathered Portola Substation sign shot is a good example. Sony has rich color, but perhaps a bit too rich for the subject. Detail on both is excellent but when combined with the less saturated color of the S2550HD, the S2550HD shot looked more natural, more sun-bathed.

The row of logs is another instructive comparison. Both cameras did an excellent job holding onto highlight detail and giving the sky some color in this south-facing shot. The WX5 held shadow detail better (look at the end of the log closest to the camera) but highlight detail was bleached compared to the S2550HD's rendering. The S2550HD shows a bit more contrast in the field, too. Much as we liked the WX5 shot, we preferred the S2550HD capture.

Of course, all of those shots were taken without tweaking the camera. Just point-and-shoot. And also obvious should be that neither camera's LCD lets you make very intelligent exposure decisions in the field.

When we got to the top of the hill, we were impressed with the S2550HD's digital zoom. The shot west of the ocean with the hills and (in the very far distance) the California coast shows more detail than the full optical zoom shot of the same scene just before it. In the digital zoom image, you can actually make out a green hammock in the trees below one of the houses that you can't see in the optical zoom shot.

We often disregard digital zoom, but when it can deliver more detail, it earns some consideration.

The same thing happened with our shot of the Golden Gate Bridge. The horizontal support cables are very clear and sharp from one end of the bridge to the other. That's unusual. The weather helped this time, no doubt, but we expect digital zoom to obscure not heighten detail like that.

Next we spent some time at the beach with the S2550HD. Most of the shots were at the full optical zoom or digital zoom (look in the Composite section of the Exif header for the 35mm equivalent; values over 504mm are zoomed digitally).

The shot of the windmill is very well captured with good color and detail. Shots of the ocean were less sharp (and usually digitally zoomed) but quite acceptable. We did find it hard to frame and focus the camera by hand at long focal lengths, but we were on our bike and quite a distance from the surf.

With closer subjects, the S2550HD was much easier to handle.

One exposure puzzle that eluded us was how the S2550HD picked ISO. It seems it only goes to ISO 64 when there is a bright highlight that would usually be blown out. It likes ISO 100 and sometimes shoots ISO 250 in bright sun.

The two images of the world's largest sundial (or so we've been told) are a good example. The shot that frames more of the scene (including trees) is taken at ISO 125 while the shot that crops the sundial tightly is at ISO 250. We would have thought the second shot would have been at ISO 64.

At full screen resolution, neither shot looks particularly sharp and detailed, as if noise suppression had smoothed over the detail. But back away a bit and the color and contrast makes the shots.

In many of these shots, if you look very closely, you'll see some evidence of chromatic aberration in the corners but we found it quite mild and acceptable in general and particularly well controlled for a superzoom.

Our last set of shots were of the dahlia garden in Golden Gate Park. Dahlias make good subjects. Bright color, lots of detail, even more variety. Hard to take a bad picture of dahlias.

And the S2550HD took some very nice ones.

If highlight detail was blown out on some of the white flowers, it seemed sacrificed for overall contrast. Those are the kind of images we would spend some time on in a photo editor to reclaim just a tiny bit of detail for the petals. The images are worth it.

But for more mid-range flowers, the results were very nice. To the point, actually, that using Super Macro or even just Macro let us compose shots that had a rhythm to them beyond straight portraiture. The petals seemed to swing.

But you expect that kind of shooting experience from a real camera.

SAMPLE IMAGES

You can find our Test Shots at http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/S2550HD/S2550HDA7.HTM and the Gallery Shots at http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/S2550HD/S2550HDGALLERY.HTM.

CONCLUSION

We didn't look at the price of the S2550HD until we'd finished this review -- and we were just shocked. The price, if not the camera, would make it a good deal. (The FinePix S1800 is the same camera without an HDMI port, so if you don't need high-definition video output, you can save $20.)

But the camera is also worthy.

It's got a solid build for one thing. That's not just a pleasure but it counts for ruggedness when backpacking or hiking and looking for wildlife. You don't have to baby the S2550HD.

Sometimes we think shooting modes are packed into digicams to make them look more competent than they are. But in the S2550HD they actually highlight the camera's capabilities. They all work well, that is. It's wonderful to see PASM but it's also great to see Natural Light in the Scene modes. And an Auto Scene mode that can slip into Macro mode really makes us smile.

Smile shutter is not the gimmick it may first appear. And Blink Detection helps reveal a problem with a group photo. There really wasn't much in the S2550HD we didn't find useful.

Image quality was reasonably good. Bravo to Fujifilm for working with less zoom range to maintain better quality. There's a little corner softening and chromatic aberration, but it's not too bad at 8x10 and smaller. Noise suppression is a bit overactive but effective. A discerning eye may notice, but most will not. The S2550HD is made for photographers, but Fujifilm really should have added a few more aperture choices to play with.

The S2550HD is a good, affordable superzoom in a small, tight package. All superzooms make compromises on the issues we cite with the S2550HD but Fujifilm manages to make the FinePix S2550HD a pleasure to use, whether you're experienced or not.

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: Your First Lesson

When Good Morning America interviewed Joe McNally (http://www.joemcnally.com) to help new camera owners enjoy their Christmas bonanza, we were sound asleep. Great idea, though. Had we been awake, here's what we might have said:

FIRST

As soon as your hands are busy with a knife and fork, charge the battery.

Nothing will drive you to a manual quicker than having a camera that doesn't work. And you want to avoid that manual.

SECOND

Turn that Mode dial on top to the Green arrow.

Your exposure worries are now over. You have other things to think about. Namely...

THIRD

Zoom that lens in tight to your subject, which we're guessing, is a face.

You aren't photographing a room, you're photographing a face. And the eyes have it. Zoom in close, don't be shy. Nobody can see what you're doing but, well, you.

Intimacy is one of the biggest attractions of photography. Go for it.

FOURTH

Half press that Shutter button until you see the green frame on the face you want to capture.

Your camera will find that face for you, focus on it and let you know it's ready. Great, the camera's ready, but wait...

FIFTH

Anticipate the moment the candles are blown out or wrapping flies off and the box is opened to get the shot of your life.

Timing is everything and starting early won't hurt because...

SIXTH

You can just keep that Shutter button held down and take three, four, ten shots in a row.

There's no film processing to pay for, after all. So hedge your bets. Just keep your eye on the subject and hold down that button.

EXTRA CREDIT

For extra credit, here's a couple more tricks even a beginner can pull off. You just have to set a couple of things.

  1. For that snazzy blurred background look, twist that Mode dial off Green and snap it on the A. Then set the lens to its lowest number (maybe 3.5 or 2.8).

  2. Turn off the flash and dial up the ISO. Nothing ruins the mood more easily than flash. And you don't really even need it. It's just a crutch. Because you can, instead, kick up the ISO to make your camera see more light. If you're going to see your photos on the screen or in 4x6 prints, go to ISO 1600 without fear. If you want larger prints, stick to ISO 800 until you learn what your camera can do.

  3. Shoot candids not poses. This is that intimacy thing. Get people the way they really are, not as bronze statues. OK, it's fun to get all the grandkids lined up like bronze statues for three seconds once a year, but that's only one shot.

  4. Turn the camera 90 degrees for portrait shots. Simple trick but you have to remind yourself. Sometimes the scene is vertical not horizontal -- in fact, a lot of time.

SMALL PRINT

No zoom on the cell phone camera? Stretch your arm out or move closer. Fill that frame, whatever it takes!

No green box around the faces? Check your Focus mode options for Face Detection. It's usually the default, though.

Your camera only takes one shot at a time? Look for the Release mode options or Burst mode. You don't need a lot of shots per second (which are often smaller images), just continuous firing.

THAT'S IT

That's all we have time for (seems to be nap time already) but now you're ready for Good Morning America and Joe McNally (http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/book-excerpt-joe-mcnallys-life-guide-photography/story?id=12480780). And then you'll be ready for another year of this handy little publication!

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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 CanoScan 9000F scanner at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?50@@.eeb0378

Visit the Olympus DSLRs Forum at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?14@@.eea6bcb

A reader asks for photography tips at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?13@@.eead6f5/0

Read about Sigma lenses at http://forums.slrgear.com/index.php?showforum=8

Visit the General Q&A Forum at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?14@@.ee718ec

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Dave's Deals

Looking for special prices on featured products? Because of their time-limited nature, we only publish them in the email version of this newsletter. The good news is that you can subscribe for free on our Subscriber Services page:

Subscribe for Great Deals!

We deliver -- just Subscribe!

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Visit the IR PriceGrabber Page twice a year!

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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: Should Auld Scanners Be Forgot?

I just read your thorough review of the (old) Minolta Dimage Scan Dual III, also identified as AF-2840. I am hoping you can help me.

I formerly had my Dimage III interfaced to a Windows XP computer. I just bought a 27-inch iMac and I can't find a correct driver for Mac OS 10.6.5.

Can you please help me in some way? I really don't want to toss this one out.

-- Don Antilla

(Modern operating systems have generally outrun scanning software and scanner drivers. So we like to keep an old box humming to run our SCSI Umax S-12 and our FireWire Microtek i900. But you're in luck, Don, because VueScan, which runs on Snow Leopard, doesn't need a Minolta driver for the Scan Dual III, according to Ed Hamrick's compatibility notes (http://www.hamrick.com/vuescan/minolta_scan_dual_iii.html). Download the trial and give it a shot. -- Editor)

RE: Infrared

I have been a lifelong avid (78 years old) hobby photographer who grew up in the film world carrying a camera everywhere I went. After my work retirement in 1992, I bought what, at the time, was a state-of-the-art digital camera which simply could not produce as good quality as I got with my 35mm and medium format film cameras. In discouragement I pushed photography aside.

Over the past couple of years, however, the amazing progress of digital photography has again caught and excited my attention and I find my old hunger being rapidly re-ignited.

One important element of my film world was infrared photography -- I loved it! Now I am trying to read and learn my way back into infrared as it is done digitally. But I have not been able to find much my 78 year-old gray matter can readily absorb/decipher.

I now am seeking the right camera and knowledge for me. I think that will mean a converted ddSLR, but am open to suggestions and guidance. I would hope to obtain a suitable camera without having to take out a second mortgage on my home.

Can you help?

-- Howard Gibbons

(We don't shoot infrared, Howard, so the best we can do is point you to a reputable source. That would be Lloyd Chambers, who has had both Canon and Nikon dSLRs converted for infrared shooting and has written a book on the topic, too. You can find his helpful introduction at http://diglloyd.com/articles/Infrared/infrared-main.html where he covers the subject thoroughly and provides a useful set of links. -- Editor)

RE: Scan Resolution Calculator

Whether I save my scan as a JPEG or TIFF, the actual file size ends up in the 77-79K range. That's right where I'd like it to be if I'm scanning something for the Web. But what, then, does your Resolution Calculator's 1.23M actually mean?

I sincerely appreciate all your expertise and I use the Web site a lot. Thanks for doing great work!

-- Merle Hall

(First, thanks for pointing out a little glitch with the calculator earlier, which led to a small enhancement. Now to explain the numbers. The larger number is the image size right after the scan, not the file size. We didn't really want to factor in JPEG compression or TIFF LZW compression levels. And since scanning software doesn't either, we wanted a point of reference to confirm the scan resolution setting. -- Editor)
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Editor's Notes

Catch Scott Kelby and Joe McNally in a holding cell on Nikon's Pro Spotlight page (http://www.nikonusa.com/Learn-And-Explore/NPS-Pro-Spotlight/gcyo3b7d/1/Scott-Kelby-and-Joe-McNally.html#tab=1). Fifteen minutes of fun and insight.


Apple (http://support.apple.com/kb/DL1342) has released iPhoto 9.1.1 to improve overall stability and address "a number of other minor issues." The 62.09-MB update improves email handling particularly.


QH Photography has introduced its Online Lighting Diagram Creator (http://www.lightingdiagrams.com/Creator) for photographers. Diagram your lighting setups online: use the drop down menus, select objects, drag them, rotate them, change their layers then export your diagram to JPEG or save its URL.


Nik Software (http://www.niksoftware.com) has released HDR Efex Pro v1.1 with improved memory management, better interaction with Photoshop and a few fixes.


LrSaver (http://www.LrSaver.com) has released LrSaver 0.98.8 [MW] with a new screen saver hot key to save an image filename to a log file so you can find it later.


Artensoft (http://www.artensoft.com) has released its $79.95 Artensoft Photo Collage Maker 1.0 [W] to automatically generate high-resolution photographic collages as mosaic portraits.


Andrey Tverdokhleb (http://www.raw-photo-processor.com) has released his free Raw Photo Processor 4.2.0 [M] with support for the Olympus E-5 and Panasonic GH2, interface tweaks and bug fixes.


Lemkesoft (http://www.lemkesoft.com) has released its $39.95 GraphicConverter 7.0.3 [M] with full screen previews of files in the browser, IPTC support for ANPA resources, a preference to suppress selection handles, support for XMP data in the resource fork, display times from 0.01 to 60 seconds for slide shows and more.


The New York Times has published 10 Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Technology by Sam Grobart (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/30/technology/personaltech/30basics.html?hpw) to help tweak your electronic world. It's an unusually useful article we plan to pass off as New Year's resolutions.


FeroXsoft (http://www.feroxsoft.com) has released its $20 iPhoto Batch Enhancer 3.1 [M] to suppress error messages "caused by asynchronous behavior of iPhoto 9," restore auto updates, fix a blue tint problem with Raw images and more.


Akvis (http://akvis.com) has released its $39 Refocus 1.0 [MW] to sharpen out-of-focus images. Features include selective focus and a defocus function to blur backgrounds.


Boinx (http://boinx.com) has released its $149 Fotomagico 3.7.1 [M] to address a few issues. A $29 Home edition is also available.


Fat Cat Software (http://www.fatcatsoftware.com) has released its $19.95 iPhoto Library Manager 3.6.3 [M] with a number of fixes.


Koingo (http://koingosw.com) has released its $15.95 Image Smith 1.1.8 [MW] batch image processor with "the latest core classes bringing numerous bug fixes."


Hamrick Software (http://www.hamrick.com) has released its $79.95 VueScan 9.0.09 [LMW] with fixes for problems with VueScan TWAIN, the Photoshop import filter, the Canon LiDE 110 scanner and auto-focus on some Epson scanners.

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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:

Daily News: http://www.imaging-resource.com/NEWS.HTM
New on Site: http://www.imaging-resource.com/NEW1.HTM
Digicam index: http://www.imaging-resource.com/DIGCAM01.HTM
Q&A Forum: http://www.imaging-resource.com/FORUM.HTM
Tips: http://www.imaging-resource.com/TIPS.HTM

Happy snapping!

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

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