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Monday, June 29, 1998
June 29 - Droid returns, news resumes, angry mob subsides.
By Michael Tomkins, The Imaging Resource
(Monday, June 29, 1998 - 0:00 EDT)
- After a too-short vacation (and a too-long gap in the news) the Imaging Resource web 'droid has returned, albeit reluctantly. Apologies to all who suffered for their lack of imaging news these last 11 days! To make up for it, here's a big dose of goodies:
-Steve Haehnichen is putting together what promises to be an awesome FAQ on the Kodak DC260. Among other things, it's the first place we seen on the web that has practical information on the Digita scripting language, including some sample scripts! Check it out at http://www.trix.com/dc260/.
-This one (and several more below) is from Steve's Digicams - Ricoh has posted some sample images from their 4300 camera on their Japanese site (apparently it's called the DC-4 over there). Thanks, Steve! (Steve does a great job of digging out scoops from Japanese sites...)
-Nikon has posted info on their website on their new Coolscan III (LS-30). This new scanner incorporates much of the technology of their new SuperCoolscan 2000, including the revolutionary Digital ICE technology that can magically "vanish" fingerprints, dust, watermarks, etc. Many of the specs are the same as the SuperCoolscan, including the 20 second scan times and 2700 dpi resolution. The main differences seem to be 10 bit/channel digitization (vs 12) and 3.0 max density (vs 3.6). At $999, the LS-30 is only a bit more than half the cost of the '2000. This should push the scanner price/performance envelope substantially!
-Another tip o' the hat to Steve's Digicams - he got this one before we saw it: The unstoppable John Cowley has taken add-on accessories for the Nikon Coolpix 900 to new levels, cobbling together a Tasco monocular, a 35mm film cannister (and probably some gum & baling wire) to turn his CP900 into a 48x telescope! (All the way to 24x zoom optically!) He describes how he made it, and shows some of the amazing results on his web site. The image quality looks to be a bit shy of what the Nikon optics do on their own, but the results are amazing, particularly given the small dollar amount he invested. Check it out!
-In a similar vein, Ricky Lo had a neat solution to the lens cap problem for the Nikon CoolPix 900 shown on his site. Unfortunately, he took the link down(@#!) A hint for the rest of you '900 users out there: Check out a standard 35mm film cannister lid!
-In welcome news for those without a PC-slotted laptop handy, Intermart Systems has announced a series of card readers that connect to a parallel port and read PC Cards, Compact Flash cards, and Smart Media cards. The PC and CF models sell for $99 each, while the SmartMedia unit goes for $139. You can find them on the web at EPC Online. (Credit to PC Photo Forum for this item.)
-Is Convergence Coming? Many technophiles have drooled over the Canon Optura hybrid digital still/video camera. Recording up to 3000 still images on a digital video cassette (try putting that in your CF card), or full-motion video, the Optura may point the way to a future in which a single camera meets all your needs, whether still or video. (Alas, the current Optura is only VGA-quality in still mode.) For those who *really, really* want to know what makes the Optura tick, Future Image and Questra Consulting have announced another in their series of "teardown" reports, this one focusing on the Optura. At $2,299 for the 82-page report, it's not cheap, but undoubtedly worth it to other manufacturers wondering "how'd they do that?"
-How low can they go? Preparing for a future in which scanners will be bundled free in cereal boxes ;-) UMAX has fired another salvo in the ongoing flatbed scanner price war. Their parallel-port-connected Astra 1220P is now priced at $149, $139 after a $10 rebate if purchased with Windows '98 between July 1-31, 1998. While there are other scanners out there selling for even less (!), the Astra 1200 series boasts 36-bit color, and 600x1200 dpi resolution - impressive specs, indeed. The SCSI version is $50 more.
-Why didn't I think of that? In yet another twist on the scanner front, long-time innovator Storm Technologies has announced their ImageStudio VS, which combines a sheetfed page scanner with a video digitizer at an estimated street price of $169. As if all that wasn't enough, the VS has a detachable, motorized scanner head that you can pick up and use to scan from books, magazines, maps, etc. (What'll they think of next??)
-Polaroid plunges into the software biz. While imaging hardware is becoming increasingly commodotized (is that a verb?), inadequate software solutions are becoming a primary limiting factor in broader application of images. (Translation - the software still sucks.) Polaroid's Commercial Imaging Group announced today a new shrink-wrapped image database "toolkit" (our term) that lets users easily customize their own image-organization databases. The new DisplayCase 2 software includes simple drag-and-drop and "wizard"-based configuration, built-in TWAIN support for image aquisition, built-in image editing tools, and Microsoft ODBC compliance for techie types wanting to connect to SQL-compliant databases on networks, PCs, or mainframes. At a suggested list price of $278, that's a lot of bang for not a lot of bucks! At the same time, Polaroid also announced their DirectPhoto 2.0 software that tightly integrates (and simplifies) image usage with popular applications such as email, Microsoft Word, or PowerPoint.
-Big, strategic corporate partner alert! VideoBrush Corporation has announced a Software Development Kit (SDK) for their (amazing) VideoBrush panorama technology. While we haven't played with it directly ourselves, we were witness to a demonstration of this technology: The name pretty well describes it -- you wave a video camera around, covering a large area in (generously) overlapping swaths. The VideoBrush software then stitches the (multiple) video frames together into a single, high-resolution image. (Maybe this is the way to turn a digital still/video camera like the Canon Optura we mentioned above into a true high-resolution digital still camera.) VideoBrush gave no indication of pricing in their press release.
Thursday, June 18, 1998
(PM) Web 'Droid Escapes!
By Michael Tomkins, The Imaging Resource
(Thursday, June 18, 1998 - 0:00 EDT)
Authorities perplexed, readers concerned but supportive
- The Imaging Resource site will be unmanned (un-droided?) until 6/27, as the main tech drudge (Dave) will be vacationing far from computers and modems. The rest of the staff (all two of them) will be taking this time off as well. As always, we welcome your email, but beg patience until we return! (And many thanks to the thousands of you who've made The Imaging Resource the success it is! - 100K+ page loads/month, pushing a gigabyte a day of downloads!)
June 18 PC Expo News & Hot New Posts
By Michael Tomkins, The Imaging Resource
(Thursday, June 18, 1998 - 0:00 EDT)
- As expected, we have a flurry of reports to pass along relating to product announcements made at PC Expo this week in New York. (The PR teams must be working overtime, biz.yahoo is straining beneath the load ;-)
- You saw it here first! The ink is barely dry on the press releases for the Toshiba PDR-M1 camera, but we have a full set of test images on-line, and stitched into the Comparometer as well! Overall, a very impressive 1.5 megapixel camera, with a projected "street" price of only $699. Check out the pictures page, which also has extended comments analyzing what we found.
- The DC260 review is up! We sent our "beta" unit back, and will re-shoot most of our pictures when we get the production-model replacement, promised for the first week in July. Win'95 serial problems also prevented us from fully reviewing the software, a condition we'll correct when we get the production model.
- Kodak Professional has introduced a *bunch* of new products, including a new 1.5 megapixel full-frame CCD camera, the DCS 315. Accepting standard Nikon lenses, the new unit will list for $5,995. This is a new low for a pro-level (full-frame CCD) unit accepting standard Nikon lenses. We expect lots of pro and semi-pro photographers will sit up & take notice at this one!
- Also announced in the same press release are two new large-format inkjet printers, the 2042 and 2060, for $13,995 and $17,995 respectively. We haven't worked with the large Kodak inkjets yet, but expect a lot from them: Kodak's color management technology is second to none, and their long experience in dye chemistry could translate into better longevity for the prints.
- Agfa cuts price on ePhoto 1280. Responding to price pressure from the competition, Agfa has dropped the price of their 1280 to $649(!) This is a GREAT price, as it means we can probably expect to see it for under $599 at various internet vendors. Pretty good for a 1280x960 camera with a 3x zoom lens! (We hope to be able to provide tests and reviews of the Agfa cameras on the Imaging Resource sometime in the next month or two.)
- Agfa announces the ePhoto 1680 digital camera. Using Agfa's proprietary PhotoGenie(tm) software to produce images up to 1600x1200 from a 1.3 megapixel sensor, the 1680 actually matches the pixel count of the Polaroid 2000 and 3000. It includes a 3x optical/2x digital zoom, and otherwise mirrors the functions of the 1280. Price is listed as $899.
- Philips announces three new digital cameras. Philips has announced the VGA-level ESP50 and ESP60, and the 1280x960 ESP80, at prices of $349, $399, and $799 respectively. From other announcements made by top Philips executives, we can expect some pretty aggressive marketing. (We don't have the press release in front of us to quote directly from, but we were surprised by the frank acknowledgement the Philips brass made of the prior less-than-stellar marketing efforts. - They sounded serious.) According to Steves Digicams, it looks like these are units OEM'd from other parties.
- FINALLY, a solution to making multiple prints on your inkjet printer! Arcsoft (creator of software bundled by several digicam mfrs) has announced PhotoPrinter 2.0, an applicaton that lets you print multiple images of different sizes (same or different photos) on single sheets of paper. Tools for sharpening, cropping, rotating, and color adjustment are included. This could finally end the "digital black hole" my wife complains of with our digital camera images - they go into the computer, and never come out, because printing them is too much hassle! We've had good success lately with CompuPic by PhotoDex (a *great* little image viewer, by the way), and HP's software for the PhotoSmart printer apparently performs some of the same functions, but we feel this whole area of efficiently getting images back out of the computer and onto paper is a key "missing link."
The brand new Digital Camera Magazine (purported to be on-line at www.digicamera.com, but we found the link dead when we checked it) has announced the results of a test, in which CF cards from Silicon Storage Technology significantly improved cycle time on a Nikon CP900 camera. No specifics were given in the press release, but this could answer questions many have had about whether CF cards touted as "faster" really make a difference in digital cameras.
- WinCE when you say that! Sierra Imaging (publishers of PhotoExpert) have announced a Windows CE version of the product, called Image Expert, and Epson and NEC are bundling it with their products. This could bring a new level of portability to digital cameras, as the size of their "host" computer migrates down to palmtops.
- Canon has created a new division, Canon Software Publishing, to market new web-linked photo management software, called Photo Org(tm). Organization is clearly another "missing link" in the digicam story, so it will be interesting to see what Canon's cooked up. FAQs can be found on the new canon web site, at www.software.canon.com
- Broader distribution for Nikon! Nikon announced that the CoolPix 900 and 600 have been selected by Computer City to be sold across the entire US. This may make it easier to find the popular CP900, and we expect Imaging Resource readers to make aggressive use of Computer City's 110% low price guarantee!
- Agfa enters US inkjet paper market. Agfa has announced a series inkjet papers, including a true photo-weight glossy, complete with Agfa watermark on the back. Pricing looks good too, with the photo glossy selling for about $0.50 a sheet for 8x11.
- The latest from Steves Digicams: Two interesting announcements we missed: Fuji has announced an update to their Nikon-based SLR digicam, in the new DS-560. 1.3 megapixels, 2/3" CCD, selling for about $5K. Also, a new inkjet paper (with free samples) that claims new technology to improve ink coverage and appearance. Check Steve's site for details on both.
Friday, June 12, 1998
June 12 - Lotsa cool stuff ... and... the DC220 is up!
By Michael Tomkins, The Imaging Resource
(Friday, June 12, 1998 - 0:00 EDT)
- Our first test images from Kodak's new DC220 are on-line! This one's a "beta" unit like the DC260 we tested, but doesn't seem to have the "hand-built demo unit blues" sensor problems the 260 did. (At least not as bad - just a minor problem with contrast breaks in fleshtones on the outdoor portrait shot.) With all the other work right now, the review for the '220 probably won't show until the end of the month, but operation is quite similar to the 260. Look for the 260 review, and 220 images in the Comparometer(tm) by next Thursday (6/18).
- Coming soon to the Imaging Resource! - Toshiba will be previewing their new PDR-5 and PDR-M1 next week at PC Expo in New York. Imaging Resource readers will get better than that! By special arrangement (thanks Kevin!), we're receiving a PDR-M1 tomorrow, and will have the images from it posted by Wednesday at the latest! (Promise!) The PDR-M1 is big news because it offers a true 1/2", 1.5 megapixel sensor for a street price of $699 - this could really shake up the competition! Check back next week for the pictures! (Unfortunately, the PDR-5 demo unit won't make it for another week or two yet.) Info on the new units was just posted to Toshiba's web site today (!) - it's frames-based, so the best we can do is this link to the top level of their digital cameras area.
- Imaging Resource Readers win "niceness" award from Battery City: (Imaging Resource readers say feeling is mutual.) After we announced the "reality" of the Battery City $1.75 deal for AA NiMH batteries, a LOT of you took the opportunity to stock up at this fabulous price. After a reader emailed me with word of the huge response BC was getting, Dave called to say hi. Owner Joanne (a nice lady) was not only taken aback by the number of orders she's been getting, but couldn't say enough about how nice everyone's been. Seems the typical Imaging Resource reader has the general run of her customers beat by a "country mile" when it comes to the "niceness" department. "They're all *gems*!" Joanne said. (For the record, we have no business affiliation with BC - this is just a great deal we want to pass on to our readers!)
- We'd seen this on rec.photo.digital, and then forgotten it. The Digital Camera Resource Page reminded us of it though, and we went and checked it out: Holger Jungk has a Windows program called Picture Information Extractor (PIE) that reads all sorts of info out of the camera JPEG files from certain cameras. (Agfa 1280, Epson PhotoPC, all Olympus models, Nikon CoolPix 900, and Fuji MX-700) Information includes shutter speed, f-stop, flash or not, date/time stamp, etc. The program can also do lossless rotation of JPEG images, for turning images shot in "portrait" mode. It's a steal at $18.95 US! (In reviewing our images, we were surprised to see the extent to which the digicam autoexposure systems favored faster shutter speed over smaller lens openings. - Aperture-priority on a digicam sure would be nice!)
- Great link (in English, no less!) about the Japan-only Sony DSC-MD1 "mini-disc" digital camera. (Via reader Bill Engels - Thanks, Bill!) The page was written by a person who bought one through an importer friend. VERY complete operating description, pictures with all buttons labeled, etc. Stores anywhere from 365 to 2000 images on a mini-disc, plus up to 40 minutes of audio. Hmm... Maybe there could be something to this MD-digicam thing after all.
- Epson cuts prices on Stylus 600 & 400. Inkjet prices are hitting new lows, with Epson dropping the Stylus 600 to $199, and the 400 to $149. We haven't any experience with the 400, but the 600 produces excellent prints, especially at $199. (Note though, not a "photo quality" 6-color printer like the Stylus Photo or HP Photosmart.)
- Kodak and Live Picture will announce on Monday "kits" bundling special tripod heads (Kaidan?) and Live Picture's PhotoVista software to automate creation of panoramas and 3D images of objects. ("VR objects.") Low-end kits with just the software and tripod head will start at $525. The press release didn't say, but we wonder if this might be a first application of the Digita scripting language built into the new DC220 and DC260?
- Kodak & Lexar Media - On? Off? We noticed a news article in which Kodak announced the selection of Lexar Media (competitors of SanDisk, claiming much faster read/write times for their CompactFlash memory cards) as their supplier of 32 meg CF cards. When we went back later to grab the URL though, no sign of the press release. What gives?? Kodak and SanDisk have sometimes seemed joined at the hip, so the Lexar announcement was news. - Maybe Kodak and SanDisk are joined at the hip? (For those wondering what the big deal is, Lexar's faster CF cards could significantly speed up digital camera cycle times. SanDisk has been fighting them on intellectual-property (patent) grounds though, claiming Lexar must license technology from SanDisk in order to sell cards.)
- Dull, boring financial stuff, but what's happening at Polaroid? They announced "dealer inventory reduction steps" as responsible for lower revenue and earnings. Wall Street seemed to take it in stride, but we couldn't help wondering to what extent this could be a result of Polaroid's core instant-photo products being hit by the digital camera revolution(?) - There's a lot of scientific applications out there that once used Polaroid film, but now have digital cameras attached to the microscopes, etc. Hope things work out ok - With both scientific and photo backgrounds, Polaroid has always been a quality company to deal with...
Tuesday, June 9, 1998
June 9 - ES-10 Review up, DC260, CP900 in Comparometer
By Michael Tomkins, The Imaging Resource
(Tuesday, June 9, 1998 - 0:00 EDT)
- The remaining images (indoor and outdoor portrait shots) from the Kodak DC260 and Nikon CoolPix 900 have been shot and uploaded, and relevant images from both units are now stitched into the Comparometer(tm) pages, so you can readily compare these two cutting-edge cameras.These images should be loaded onto their respective cameras' picture pages by the end of the day today.
- The full review for the Olympus ES-10 film scanner is now on-line, to accompany the images from it we posted earlier. (A "personal" film scanner is an intriguing alternative for film-based photographers: The resolution and general image quality of even an inexpensive film scanner like the ES-10 is much better than even relatively expensive digital cameras, and you retain all the flexibility of film, the ability to use your existing equipment, etc, etc.)
Saturday, June 6, 1998
June 6 - The 260's up!
By Michael Tomkins, The Imaging Resource
(Saturday, June 6, 1998 - 0:00 EDT)
- Our first images from the much-anticipated Kodak DC260 camera are now on-line! We should have the indoor portraits up, and all images stitched into the Comparometer(tm) by next Tuesday evening (6/9/98 PM) at the latest. Look for the images from other cameras, including the CoolPix to (finally) be added to the Comparometer by then also.
On Friday, we received the NiMH AA batteries we'd ordered from Battery City, so can now report that their incredible deal ($3.50 per pair of 1200 mAH NiMH AA's) is for real! - The price is so good, we're trying to figure out how we could justify buying another 5 or 10 pair... If you're even thinking about buying a digicam, you owe it to yourself to call these guys and buy 4 or 6 sets!
Thursday, June 4, 1998
June 4 - A LOT of news
By Michael Tomkins, The Imaging Resource
(Thursday, June 4, 1998 - 0:00 EDT)
After a 5-day hiatus due to travel, the webmeister is back, with lots of exciting news to report!
We know, we know! We've been deluged with email asking when our DC260 review will be posted. We only (finally) received our review unit Tuesday evening, and so will try to have at least some pictures up by Friday (gulp!). There's a LOT to this beast, and we have 3 other cameras in-house (and the new Toshibas due on a short fuse in another week), so the review may take a bit longer to arrive. VERY interesting unit though: The digital zoom is very slick, operating in small steps rather than the all-or-nothing 2x of most others we've seen. Also time-lapse, burst mode, and time exposures to 4 seconds(!) for real low-light shooting.
Olympus dramatically reduces camera prices: Under pressure from new products by Kodak, Nikon, and Canon, Olympus has cut prices across the board on their digital cameras. The new pricing: D-220L $299, D-320L $499, D-340L $699, D-500L $699, D-600L $999. At $699, the zoom SLR D-500L looks like a particularly outstanding bargain! While the official Olympus prices are quoted as "expected street prices", a dcresource reader has reported the following prices from Camera World of Oregon: D-220L $280, D-320L $470, D-340L $640, D-500L$640, D-600L $880. A reader emailed a report of a very low price for factory-refurbed D-500Ls, but we haven't been able to confirm it yet. - We'll post a notice here if we do...
Toshiba has announced two new cameras, the PDR-M1, a 1.5 megapixel unit for $699, and the lower-end (VGA-level) PDR-5 for $399. The VGA unit, and possibly both, sport the first reflective LCD's we've seen to date: These should completely eliminate full-sun LCD visibility problems! The PDR-5 retains the PDR-2's unique built-in PC-Card interface, a real convenience for "road warriors." Both units take the unusual, image quality-oriented step of actually using larger sensors than their final image size(!) We'll see how the units turn out, but expect them to be sharper than other cameras with equivalent image sizes. Toshiba has promised us units for testing in about 2 weeks (just before their official roll-out at PC Expo), so stay tuned!
Sony has announced the next generation of their top-selling Digital Mavica cameras, with the introduction of the MVC-FD51 and MVC-FD71 models. These appear to be incremental updates to their earlier models, with a faster floppy drive, smaller overall size, improved flash function (turns on automatically in low light, adjusts output to minimum required), and a unique, microchip-based battery meter function that can show how many minutes of battery life are left. The new units also offer progressive scan CCD sensors, which should improve sharpness with moving subjects. Expect the new cameras in late July, at list prices of $599 and $799 respectively. Steve's Digicams page has pictures of both new units.
The same Sony press release also announced a twist on the "pictures to floppy" concept: The MaviCap is a video frame-grabber that can capture images from any analog video source (most camcorders or VCRs), and save them to floppy! At $299, the unit is a fair bit more expensive than other frame-grabbers on the market, but the floppy interface will doubtless be popular with consumers.
Agfa continues on a strategic "roll", announcing a "strategic partnership" with Microsoft around the Windows 98 slated for June 25. This looks like just a publicity pitch, but there may be some unique plug & play capabilities coming. In the same press release, Agfa also officially acknowledged their forthcoming ePhoto 1680, slated for introduction at PC Expo June 16.
Enroute Imaging has announced QuickStitch(tm) 360, an upgrade to their amazing QuickStitch panorama-stitching program. QuickStitch is unique in that it automatically figures out distortions due to lens focal length and camera angle, and produces seamless "stitches" under conditions that would give most panorama programs fits. QuickStitch is currently bundled with selected models of Olympus, Ricoh, and Nikon digital cameras. The upgraded version will ship with the Ricoh 4300, or can be purchased directly from Enroute for $69.95
MGVision responded to our comment last week about their "Digital Wallet" product, and offered to arrange a demo for us. We still have doubts about the speed of the serial connection, but on the other hand, we generally don't mind long downloads as long as we don't have to baby-sit them. Given our workload, it may be a while before we can look at this product, but it could be an intriguing solution to the vacation dilemma of whether to lug the laptop along or not.
(Much) faster links soon? HP has demonstrated an IrDA (infrared) link operating at 16 Mb/s, 4 times faster than the previous standard. Industry pundits indicate that the 16 Mb standard should be easy for equipment manufacturers to implement, meaning we may see it in digital cameras and computers within the next year. This would *really* speed up camera connections, allowing a 500K file to download in about a quarter of a second!
(Much) more sensitive CCDs? This is only black & white for now, and won't make it into consumer cameras for quite a while, but it's encouraging nonetheless: G-LINK of Santa Clara, CA has announced an ultra-high dynamic range CMOS sensor that can handle a 10,000:1 range of brightness! - That's about from sunlight to candlelight. As we said, don't hold your breath, but this bodes well for future consumer digicams.
Itching to know what's inside your digital camera? Got deep pockets? Future Image and Questra Consulting are offering ultra-detailed "teardown" reports on popular digital cameras. The reports go into excruciating detail on the internal workings, including electronic and optical design, chip usage, etc. Reports are $2299 each, or you can subscribe to a year's worth (one per month plus end-of-year recap) for $18,000. Gee, and Father's day is right around the corner! Seriously, our readers in digicam companies will probably jump at these reports, to see *exactly* what the competition is up to. Order from Future Image. (Tell them you heard it first at The Imaging Resource.)
AOL Alert: Several readers connecting
via AOL have complained of poor image quality when using the AOL web browser.
This is caused by a setting called "compress images" in the browser
that causes it to completely mangle images in the interest of faster transmission.
You should turn this setting OFF before viewing any of the comparison images
on this site.
- FLASH: Thanks to reader Lynn Mannan, here's an explanation of how to
make the correct settings adjustments (at least in AOL 4.0 for PCs):
- I opened the "My AOL" preferences screen
in the toolbar across the top. Then I clicked on WWW icon and selected
the "web graphics" tab where I unchecked the "compressed
graphics" choice and clicked on the Apply button at the bottom. Now
the scanner test pictures are gorgeous. The pictures take a long time to
load. But they are worth waiting for. Thank