DC REVIEWS

:

Archos PMA 430 • FujiFilm F10 Thin Zoom • Alienware Workstation
TM

We’ll show you how!

YOU DON’T NEED FANCY EQUIPMENT TO TAKE GREAT PICTURES!

PAGE 32

OLYMPUS C-7070 PAGE 42 SONY CYBERSHOT DSC-P200 PAGE 44
PHOTO ACCESSORY ROUNDUP
• Little Things Make a Big Difference

Over 30 Products Reviewed!

RAW POWER!
• Get everything you capture

COOL NEW STUFF
• The stuff you want

OCTOBER 2005
47813 $4.99 US / $6.99 CAN

Photo Organizer Software Compared TOP FOUR for Windows
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Photo © David Bergman for The Heart Gallery NJ

Think Like A Pro

VOLUME 9, ISSUE 36

F E A T U R E S

20 32 48 60
DEPARTMENTS
4 Toolbox 4 Contact Sheet 8 Masthead 9 Cool New Stuff 12 Photo Gadgetry 72 Advertiser Index 72 Reader Service

FEATURE Accessorize Your Olympus E-300 EVOLT
If you only use the kit lens and built-in flash, you’re missing half the fun!

FEATURE Think Like A Pro
To capture great pictures, take your cues from the best

FEATURE RAW Power!
How to find the digital diamond in the rough

FEATURE Using Pigment Inks in Dye-Based Printers
Open up a whole new world of possibilities in your old printer

R E V I E W S

12 12 12 12 12 12 12 12 26 30 32 32 38 40 42 44 46 52 54 56 66
8 18 62 82

REVIEW REVIEW REVIEW REVIEW REVIEW REVIEW REVIEW REVIEW REVIEW REVIEW REVIEW REVIEW REVIEW

Norazza Digital Cleaning Kit & Norazza Data Destroyer MediaGear 7in1 USB 2.0 Card Reader Kinetronics Speckgrabber Pro Kit LensPen Digi-Klear Display Cleaning System Promaster Xtrapower Express Batteries and Charger RoadWired MegaMedia, @ttaché, and PV/Pro (page 24) Tenba Travelite S-6 and ProDigital D-10 (page 24) LowePro Rezo 170AW and Rolling MiniTrekker AV (page 24) Konica Minolta magicolor 2430 DL color laser printer Archos Portable Media Assistant 430 Dust Away cleaning system d_skin optical disk protectors Alienware Area 51 MJ-12m 7700 mobile workstation

CAMLAB FujiFilm F10 thin-zoom camera CAMLAB Olympus C-7070 camera CAMLAB Sony CyberShot P200 camera CAMLAB Casio EXILIM EX-750 thin-zoom camera CAMLAB Concord DVx video/still camera CAMLAB Olympus C-5500 camera CAMLAB FujiFilm S3 Pro digital SLR camera CAMLAB Second Look: Epson Perfection 4990 Scanner

C O L U M N S
EDITOR David MacNeill DCM at your service BEGINNER’S MIND Melissa Perenson Four top photo organizers compared IMAGING WORKSHOP Al Francekevich Lights, camera, actions! VIEW FINDER Conrad Blickenstorfer Zoom, zoom

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DIGITAL CAMERA MAGAZINE 3

Editor
Vol. 9, No. 36 • October 2005
Publisher Christopher Perretta General Manager Andrew Eisenberg Editor-in-Chief David MacNeill Executive Editor Conrad H. Blickenstorfer Feature Editor Arthur Bleich Technical Editor Bob Shell Imaging Editor Al Francekevich Contributing Editors Ernest Lilley Kirk Linsky Adventure Photographer / Writer Jonathan Cox Editor-at-Large Edison Carter Contributing Writers & Photographers Leo Heppner Beau Hooker Melissa Perenson Natasha Ryan Database Management Prestige Periodical Advertising Manager Linda O’Hara / linda@mobilemg.com Advertising Coordinator Alyssa Guelzow / alyssa@enoblemedia.com p 415.861.5290 West Coast Advertising Sales Director Chris Connors / cconnors@enoblemedia.com p 818.223.9880 East Coast Advertising Sales Director Jeff Adler / jadler@enoblemedia.com p 201.843.4004 x 102
Printed in the United States of America

David MacNeil

DCM at your service

T

he internet, or more specifically the web, has forever changed the way you and I gather information. Printed magazines, particularly enthusiast technical publications like Digital Camera, must adapt to the new reality or face extinction. Where do you go when you want to find current pricing and availability information on a new piece of photo equipment? One of the many photography websites, of course. How about when you want to compare an array of specs from six different laptops? Google them. Want to find the absolute latest on a firmware update for your digital SLR? Visit the manufacturer’s website. But I’ll wager these quick fix data snippets are not the only aspects of photography that interest you. There are times when kicking back in a hammock and reading about some fabulous new piece of gear in depth is extremely enjoyable — even if it’s something you’ll never be able to afford. Looking at printed samples of what this gear can do is also rewarding as well as instructive. And for step-by-step instruction, nothing beats print for ease of use. I read Road & Track, even though I am not even slightly interested in buying a new Ferrari or Porsche. I like my little gray MINI Cooper S just fine, but still enjoy the vicarious experience of reading about supercars

whizzing through the winding two-lanes of Tuscany. Before we launched our own photography magazine, I used to occasionally pick up Outdoor Photographer, just to get inspired to go outdoors and take some pictures. You’ve told us what you want and so we are adapting to meet your needs. With this issue, we’ve replaced the news-oriented Developments section with a new section called Photo Gadgetry. Here you’ll find those little things that can make your rig perform the way you want it to without costing you a bundle. Beginning next issue, we’ll launch a new section devoted to photography software for Windows and Macs — editors, albums, special effects, Photoshop plug-ins, and so on. You’ll also see more comparative round-ups with clear winners in popular categories. We hope you enjoy these changes and that they make the time you spend with us more relevant and pleasurable. –DM
PHOTO BY DAVID MACNEILL USING OLYMPUS E-300 WITH OLYMPUS ED 11-22MM LENS & FL-36 FLASH

Digital Camera Magazine is published bimonthly by D.C. Publications, Inc., under license from Westwood Media Corp. Periodicals postage paid Paramus, NJ and additional offices. Postmaster: Send address changes to: Magazine Services, Dept. DC, P.O. Box 9863, Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33310. Subscriptions (6 issues) U.S. $17.95, all others $23.95. All orders must be in U.S. funds. Contents copyrighted © 2004. All rights reserved. Contents may not be reprinted in whole or part without prior written permission from the Publisher. Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and photographs if they are to be returned, and no responsibility can be assumed for unsolicited material. The publisher does not endorse and assumes no liability for any of the products or claims of service advertised in the magazine.

8 DIGITAL CAMERA MAGAZINE

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COOL NEW STUFF
E D I T E D B Y D A V I D M A C N E I L L

STUNNING IN BLACK AND WHITE

A SATELLITE PHONE FOR UNDER $500!
Nobody can say we’re not living in the future now, baby. You can buy a satellite phone for a mere $475 and pay only $50 a month for 120 minutes usable from anywhere in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia. The Globalstar Qualcomm GSP-1600 also switches to standard terrestrial CDMA or AMPS cellphone mode when you’re within range of a tower. It can also be used as a 9.6 kbps modem if you’re desperate to get online. In satellite phone mode, you get 3.75 hours of talk time and 19 hours of standby. One of these and a solar trickle charger and you got the ideal emergency communicator for when you’re off the beaten track. globalstar.com coloradodiscoveries.com/shop/globalstar.html

Media Street has released a new archival black and white inkjet system designed by a fine art photographer. This complete printing solution for select Epson printers incorporates Media Street’s new Generations QuadBlack pigment ink set and fine art papers plus special software to produce exhibition quality black & white photo prints. mediastreet.com

CREATIVE TRAVELSOUND 500
The vast majority of laptops have crappy speakers driven by wimpy amplifiers. The TravelSound 500 clips a 4-watt digital stereo amp and a pair of high-quality speakers directly to your display, or it can sit on a desk using its flip-out stand. It can be powered by 4-AAA batteries, an AC adapter, or from your USB port. There’s a port for an external subwoofer and the thing runs an impressive 30 hours on a set of alkaline batteries. creative.com

SAMSUNG IS IN VOGUE
With trends indicating that women outspend men in the gadget department, Samsung knows that on-the-go women desire fullfeatured multimedia phones in eye-catching and compact “fit in my evening purse” designs. Beginning February 22, 2005, on the heels of New York’s Spring Fashion Week, Samsung and VOGUE will debut Anna Sui Mobile by Samsung, a limited edition couture phone. Accompanied by an Anna Sui signature case, a Sui Rouge #371 lipstick, and a designer phone charm, Anna Sui Mobile by Samsung is available with T-Mobile service. www.AnnasuibySamsung.com

FAST USB 20 LAPTOP-CAM
The Creative Live! Ultra for Notebooks has a wide-angle lens that captures video with a 76 degree field of view (almost 50% wider than the 52 degree view offered by most webcams) and offers true USB 2.0 support for video with up to twice the frame rate of common USB 1.1 cameras. creative.com

www.digicamera.com

DIGITAL CAMERA MAGAZINE 9

PHOTO GADGETRY

Edited by Leo Heppner

W

elcome to a new section we call

Photo Gadgetry. Here we will look at all the cool gadgets that you can buy to make your life easier as a digital photographer. (Isn’t that why you got into photography, to play with all the cool gadgets?)
If you’ve got a digital camera, you’ll need memory cards to shoot pictures. The one that came in the box is enough for only a few pictures; you’ll need to get at least another card with more memory. I like Kingston Technology’s new Elite Pro Compact Flash and Secure Digital Cards. They are high speed rated (66X), which means that you can shoot faster and take more consecutive photos than with standard speed rated cards. Also, when you transfer your photos to the computer, they will load into the computer considerably faster. Who has time to wait transferring hundreds of photos? Using a Kingston Elite Pro Card will make your life much easier. Also, it comes with a lifetime warranty; you should always purchase a card with a lifetime warranty as it assures you that the product has to be better than those that don’t offer it. Kingston offers memory cards in all popular media formats; Compact Flash up to 4 Gigs and Secure Digital up to 1 Gig. With prices of Memory cards going down almost daily, it makes dollar sense to purchase a card of at least 512 MB. www.kingston.com To save time transferring captured images, as well as conserving your camera’s battery power, I always use a card reader. I have several; one for my computer at the office and
www.digicamera.com

one for each of my camera bags for the road. I use the MediaGear 7-in-4 USB 2.0 Card Reader. It’s inexpensive (only $5.95!), fast, compact, reliable, features a removable USB cable and works with all popular memory cards. www.mymediagear.com While we’re talking about memory cards, over time dust, dirt, corrosion and carbon build-up can occur with your digital camera. This problem can cause faulty camera

Each issue we will focus on the most interesting new accessories to complement our camera reviews. To me, and I suspect to many of you, it’s those critically important accessories that really complete your quest for great photography. –LH

operation and corrupted files, meaning missed photos! To keep your digital camera in the best condition, I use the Norazza Digital Cleaning Kit. They make kits for all of the popular cards, just buy the kit for the type of card(s) you use. Simply drop the cleaning card into the camera’s media slot and it will clean and polish the connectors inside the camera. Each kit is good for up to 20 cleanings and also comes with those handy moist wipes in foil pouches to keep your monitor and camera body clean. Another useful Norazza product is the Data Destroyer. I’ve been using it for a year and it’s wonderful. As we all know, Identity Theft is a major issue in today’s world. I’m sure you wouldn’t want an un-

12 DIGITAL CAMERA MAGAZINE

scrupulous person to obtain your personal files and images from your discarded CDs and DVDs. The handy Data Destroyer creates a pattern on both sides of the CD or DVD, rendering it useless. It’s simple to operate, just load your disk into the unit and it’ll automatically feed itself though. It only takes seconds to operate. It looks good on your desktop and it doesn’t take up too much space. It’s affordable insurance from potential problems and it’s easier and safer to use than shears. www.norazza.com While we’re talking about cleaning cameras, you should check out Kinetronics’ Speckgrabber Pro Kit. This handy device will safely remove those pesky dust specks from optics, films, glass, SLR mirrors, electro optical devices and other delicate surfaces. Kinetronics created this new tool to facilitate the removal of small particles by attaching a tiny rubberized tip to a thin rod with a rubberized handle. With just a gentle touch small particles are captured by the surface of this amazing material. The kit includes a bottle of cleaning solution and their fine Anti-Static Tiger Cloth. Although the literature says that it’s good for cleaning CCDs, I would avoid touching the CCD with any product in fear of damaging the unit. www.kinetronics.com

To wrap up our discussion of cleaning devices for this issue, I recommend the use of LensPen’s new Digi-Klear Digital Display Cleaning System. As you may be aware, the original LensPen has been available for several years. I have found that this fantastic product works the best for keeping your lenses and filters clean. Now with Digi-Klear (comes in silver instead of black color), they wisely altered the shape of the cleaning tip to safely and effectively clean the corners of monitors (the tip now has a semi-triangular shape). The

unique self-replenishing tip (you rotate its cap on the cleaning tip after each use) and cleaning compound will not spill or dry up. LensPen also has a smaller version of the original, named miniPro for small optical lenses such as those on point and shoots. There’s even their new cell-Klear, utilizing a tiny cleaning tip, for cell phone lenses. What will the guys at Parkside Optical think of next? www.lenspen.com Now that we’re using digital cameras, we’re in the battery business whether we like it or not. You have AAs for cameras, flashes, camera grips, meters, PDAs and the list goes on and on. Rechargeable batteries and chargers have improved immensely during the past few years, from the standard NiCads from years ago to the latest and far superior Nickel-Metal Hydride (Ni-MH) rechargeable batteries and fast chargers. The folks from Promaster has just released their new XtraPower EXPRESS 4 NiMH Batteries and Charger. This new charger uses smart controlled charging technology. Most chargers require that you charge batteries in pairs or four at one time. The 4-channel charging system in the XtraPower EXPRESS allows you to charge

1, 2, 3 or 4 cells at a time. The charger automatically recognizes the capacity of the battery you have inserted in each slot, individually tests the integrity of each cell and then charges each battery individually until it has reached its maximum capacity. The charger fully charges your Ni-MH batteries in just minutes. Most fast chargers claim that your batteries are ready when they have been charged to just 80% of their capacity. The Promaster charger will continue to charge until your batteries reach 95% capacity before reverting to the trickle charge mode. You’ll get almost 20% more power from your batteries with every charge. I have personally experienced this; recently I charged my AAs in another brand of smart charger (name withheld) ‘til it indicated a full charge, then I transferred the batteries to the Promaster charger and it continued charging for about 10 minutes longer! This charger will fully charge your AA Ni-MH batteries in less than 20 minutes. Also, most fast chargers cause your batteries to get very hot. In time, the extra

heat can destroy the life of your batteries. The Promaster charger utilizes a fan that keeps everything cool, a useful trick that works. The charger is packaged with 4-2400 mAh high capacity AA cells. www.promaster.com You’ll need to carry your expensive digital cameras and other equipment in the field, whether you’re shooting a child’s birthday party or the CEO of a corporation. I own many bags and they all serve a particular purpose. If I’m bringing my laptop to a
DIGITAL CAMERA MAGAZINE 13

www.digicamera.com

PHOTO GADGETRY
pact camera, PDA, cell phone and more. It sports two separate sections for files and up to 8 x 11 photos. And it’s a beauty too; black Ballistic nylon that’s good looking, cleans well and smooth to the touch. It’s got a slim profile and the contoured 4-layered shoulder pad with moisture-wicking mesh and friction overlays helps keep the bag on your shoulder. It’s the most comfortable strap I have ever used! Its overall size is 15”L x 12”H x 7”D; it’s plenty large but not an overkill. The folks at RoadWired really have a winner here. If you don’t need the larger size and abundance of pockets of the MegaMedia because you’re only carrying a laptop, power supply, card reader, cables, and a few other items, then the Roadwired Standard @ttaché will be a fine choice. It has the same basic design, quality materials and construction, but with a substantially thinner profile. www.roadwired.com If you don’t need to carry your laptop but instead want to bring a modest DSLR system, I urge you to try Tenba’s Travelite S-6 Bag. Travelite series represents Tenba’s newest entry into the popular

Edited by Leo Heppner

anywhere inside the bag. There’s plenty of pockets with mesh material to hold memory cards, cables, filters and others small items. The removable and adjustable strap sports a massive non-slip pad. You can’t go wrong with Tenba’s new series. www.tenbagear.com For those who want to travel even lighter, you’ll enjoy the new LowePro Rezo 170 AW. First of all, it’s lightweight and compact, but packs lots of gear because of its tall and slim design. The top conveniently opens away from you when you’re wearing it; the soft, protective, brushed tricot lining allows the padded dividers to be placed almost anywhere to adjust specifically to your equipment and there’s even a built-in memory card pouch on the inside of the bag’s lid. More thoughtful features are a removable and adjustable non-slip strap, built-in All Weather Cover, stretchy neoprene rubber side pocket, belt loops, one SlipLock attachment loop and a padded handle. Probably the most clever feature of this bag is the large built-in Microfiber Cloth used to clean the camera’s monitor

photo shoot, I’m carrying it in RoadWired’s MegaMedia Bag. You won’t believe how much equipment that this bag can carry! With 36 different compartments and pockets, it will let you bring your laptop, power supply, cables, mouse, card reader, files, pens, memory cards, com-

priced camera bag market and it’s a good one. The bag has lots of welcomed features, built like a brick and priced right. The S-6 will carry up to two camera bodies, four lenses and a small flash. The external dimensions are 9.75”L x 14”W x 7.5”D. The Tenba DuraTek black exterior fabric is rugged yet soft to the touch and the interior fabric of light gray colored SofTek is soft so it allows the padded dividers with hook and loop material to be attached virtually
14 DIGITAL CAMERA MAGAZINE www.digicamera.com

and to keep it from getting scratched from items rubbing on it when you close the lid. As you can see, this bag is designed for digital from the ground up and you’ll be hard pressed to find a better compact bag. www.lowepro.com
For carrying point-and-shoots, I recommend Ape Cases from Norazza. Ape Cases are aptly named; they are built strong with Ballistics Nylon, thick padding and sealed with zippers to keep your camera safe. The black exterior is handsome and the yellow interior is not only useful to find small items in the bag but it’s also a fashion statement. They have many models to choose from in the Ape Case Digital Series. My favorite is the AC220.

The interior dimensions are 4.5” x 6” x 2.7”. There’s plenty of pockets and compartments and there’s no hook & loop material; it’s got all zippers for a secure and water tight fit. The Ape Case MC420 is a handy little pouch. It stores four batteries, two memory cards and other accessories that fits on your belt. Now that’s convenient!

www.norazza.com There are new digital photography toys coming out every day. Some work and some don’t, but when you find gadgets that work, not only do they make photography more fun, they might make you a better photographer. –Leo Heppner

www.digicamera.com

DIGITAL CAMERA MAGAZINE 15

Beginner’s Mind Melissa Perenson Four Top Photo Organizers Compared
resh back from vacation, you have cards, or maybe even a laptop, packed with digital images. You thought taking the pictures was fun? Nah—now, the fun is really just beginning: You have to sort through those hundreds of photos you snapped while gone. Sound familiar? It should: Between the current crop of high-megapixel point-andshoot cameras, and the explosion in digital SLRs for the masses, chances are you’re taking more photos than ever before. The quandary becomes, what do you do with all of those bits-and-bytes? And how do you begin to manage them? Myself, I find I use up to an average of 4GB a day when I’m on a vacation, shooting with a Nikon D70 and 2GB high-speed CompactFlash cards (shooting in RAW + Basic JPEG mode). Bottom line: I can come back from two weeks of travel with 60GB of images that have to be stored and sorted. The storage part is almost less-daunting than the prospect of sorting and viewing hundreds and hundreds of images. Doing so effectively means coming up with a fileand-folder structure that matches your shooting habits, as well as finding a software program that works best to sort, organize, and retrieve your images. I recently gave four programs a try— Nikon’s PictureProject 1.0, ACDSee Systems’ ACDSee 7.0, Google’s Picasa 2, and Breeze Systems’ BreezeBrowser Pro 1.1—in my first attempt to find a program that makes sense for my system and photo col-

F

lection. These four programs span the gamut of upfront expenditures. The PictureProject I used is admittedly a year old—the version that shipped with my camera when I first bought it. ACDSee 7.0 sells for $50. Picasa costs nothing beyond the free download, while BreezeBrowser Pro is the priciest, at $70 downloadable from breezebrowser.com. Of the four, sadly I can’t say I’ve settled on just one. Choosing an image browsing and organizing tool is not like a Chinese menu, where you can pick food, er, features, from columns A, B, and C. For now, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll need more than one of these programs on my system, depending upon the task at hand. And I suspect you’ll feel much the same.

03-21-05-Shinjuku and Ginza. I use dashes instead of slashes because the Microsoft Windows file system can’t accommodate slashes in the folder name. Then I move the folder to my designated Pictures folder, erase the card, and start again. Now, those pictures are on my hard disk—the challenge lies in finding them again. How do you do your sorts? If you have a good solution, let me know via email at mperenson@digicam.com.

PictureProject
Considering that PictureProject 1.0 (now at 1.1)shipped with my Nikon, it’s logical that I’d install it immediately and start to use it. Unfortunately, I found it to be woefully designed. The user interface is kludgy, and sometimes counterintuitive. If I were using PictureProject to import images, maybe I’d have found it easier to use. But for accessing images already on my hard disk, the software’s import process quickly proved annoying. And, I shied away from it for importing from a card: I’d found the import slow, and preferred using Windows Explorer instead. As a convenience, PictureProject offers the option to upload files to Nikon.net after transferring them to your hard disk, but again, this is only useful for the small percentage of users inclined to rely on online. The biggest advantage I found in PictureProject was its integrated image editor, which offers a host of image enhancement capabilities, including the ability to easily auto-adjust an image. It also displayed RAW images quite cleanly—better than the other programs I looked at here.

Sorting: A System in Progress
It took me time to come up with a system, but I finally have. Sort of. I consider my digital image card to be the equivalent of a digital negative—so I’m loathe to delete anything once I’ve shot it. Instead, I prefer to transfer the card in its entirety. I actually rename the image folder on the card itself, so when I transfer the images using Windows Explorer—generally the fastest way to transfer raw data from the card to your PC—I’m not going to accidentally erase another folder generically named DCIM (just in case I got sloppy while copying images a previous time). When I rename the folder on the card, I append a date and location or other description after the ubiquitous DCIM nomenclature. I do this in part just because it saves a few keystrokes of deleting the DCIM every time I transfer a card; I also do it because it makes it easy to find my image folders (as opposed to other stray images I might have socked away on my hard disk). So, a typical folder might look like this: DCIMwww.digicamera.com

ACDSee 7.0
With an image browser, a means to catalog and archive images, an image editor, and a way to create photo discs and backup discs, ACDSee has lots of appeal. But the cost of admission is high—and I’m not talking about the impact on your wallet. In spite of its interface improvements, ACDSee has a steep learning curve, and much of its power feels buried behind menu options and tabs. The default screen manages to be both busy and streamlined at the same time—displaying a cacophony of image information at once (file name, size, resolution time, and date, for example). You can customize the screens to display what you what—but that requires you to head into Tools/Options,

18 DIGITAL CAMERA MAGAZINE

and play trial-and-error with a slew of other customizable options. I liked how you could rate your photos on a scale of 1 to 5, and then just view all of the photos with a given rating. I also liked how you could categorize images by subject—Albums, People, Places, Various to start with, plus you can create your own categories. You can even cross-categorize an image as falling into more than one of those subjects (for example, if I had an image of a bride I captured in Tokyo, I could file it under People and Tokyo, if I were so inclined). This program also has a way for you to search for files and folder, as well as search by specific categories and file properties. If a file is buried on your hard disk and you know something about it, chances are you’ll find it with ACDSee. I’ve only just touched on the capabilities of ACDSee 7.0, and you probably will, too. It’s a great choice if you want a well-integrated package that makes it easy to browse and backup images. But if you’re really going to tap its searching and organizing power, be prepared for a sizable time investment to do those ratings and the categorizing up front.

Picasa 2
Ah, where to start about this little gem of a program? Search engine giant Google snapped it up a year ago, tweaked the code, and released an update earlier this year as a free download via its Web site. And like Google’s site, Picasa is now a lean, mean image viewing machine. Picasa takes a cue from Apple’s iPhoto (which I don’t go into here because I’m a PC, and not a Mac, user), and provides a straightforward and fun means of browsing thumbnails of all of your photos. The first thing that jumped out to me about Picasa was its blazing-fast browsing speed. Even importing images from my hard drive proved to be a breeze; this operation continued in the background as Picasa searched for, and found, long-lost photos, buried on my hard drive. The clean, streamlined interface has a pleasing design which is mostly easy to navigate. I say mostly, because, as with most applications, Picasa has its share of quirks. For one thing, once images are imported, the program’s folder-tree left pane reflects just the folder name that contains the images. This drill down enables you to easily browse, in the right-hand pane, which contains the image thumbnails from all folders imported into Picasa An added fun bonus comes from the ability

to use a slider control to instantly resize these images from a teeny-tiny stamp to something more comfortably visible. However, this approach fails if your images are contained in subfolders, whereby the higher-level folder describes the general content therein, and say the lower-level folders are dates. It also fails if you do as I do, and rename the top-level folder, and keep the rest of the folder structure intact upon transferring from a memory card (I ended up with four folders in a row generically labeled 100NCD70). Picasa does let you edit that folder’s label without changing the original folder name, but the process is tiresome for a volume shooter like me who has already assembled and sorted a large image collection. If you’re first importing your images directly from a memory card, though, Picasa fixes this issue, by automatically prompting you to name the collection of images. The integrated image editor is slick, easy, and effective, with multiple levels of undo. As a bonus, changes you make won’t affect the original image (they’re remembered only by Picasa), so the effects can be removed at any time. The software is also efficient in how it lets you email, blog, and backup your image collections to CD or DVD. I loved how you could easily create another copy of a collection of images from different folders—a feature I’ve sought for some time—and how you can view images by the date taken. The slideshow feature feels more limited—no exporting to DVD, although you can export to CD (just not in a format playable on a DVD player). In spite of a few interface kinks, I’ve quickly become attached to Picasa. I can’t rely on it for sorting and organizing by subject, but I am finding a great tool that I plan to add to my imaging toolkit. After all, you can’t beat the price.

BreezeBrowser Pro 1.1.2
I’ve saved the best for last. This tool is well worth its price of admission. Aimed at pros and enthusiasts, BreezeBrowser Pro is handy and fast, and has some indispensable features. The no-frills interface lacks design finesse and has a few rough spots; still, you get straight to your images, no fuss, no muss, and no importing required. You have three views—a thumbnail view (with a Windows Explorer-like pane on the left that shows you your PC’s folder structure); film strip views (thumbnails and image info on left, full image shown at right); and the main view, which shows the image, its EXIF data, and its histogram. You can tag images across multiple folders, to compare images or create a slideshow. BreezeBrowser Pro supports RAW conversion for Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Minolta, and Olympus, and provides image enhancements (including sharpening, correcting gamma and color saturation) for RAW files. Plus, it lets you retain EXIF data upon converting from a RAW file to a JPEG or TIFF. As someone who knows where her images reside, I loved how easy this software made it to speedily browse my images, with no startup hassles as I had with all of the other programs. I also loved seeing the EXIF data, so I could learn how I achieved a shot. The template-based HTML generator for creating basic image Web pages is a snap, and even lets you add watermarks and create an online ordering system that taps into PayPal’s shopping cart. Nifty indeed. –Melissa Perenson
DIGITAL CAMERA MAGAZINE 19

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Accessorize Your Olympus E-300
If you only use the kit lens and built-in flash, you’re missing half the fun!

A

s our feature editor, Arthur Bleich, wrote in his review in our previous issue, “With the E-300 EVOLT, Olympus has come up with an ideal reflex camera for serious photographers at a very affordable price. If you’re ready to step up to an 8-megapixel digital SLR, the E-300 is an exceptional camera that will give you superb images and help you achieve your creative vision.” Pretty strong endorsement from Arthur. I’ve been his editor since we launched this magazine in 1998 and I can tell you that he doesn’t gush easily. By reading his review, he convinced me to borrow an E-300 kit from Olympus for an extended time, just to see what all the excitement was about. Had Olympus actually revolutionized the digital reflex camera? That’s a tall order.

lar camera is the Olympus-developed Four Thirds sensor and lens system, which allows for a much smaller design overall than traditional SLR cameras. The target imager is smaller than a 35mm film frame, so the lens mount, internal optics and various support mechanicals can be smaller. Traditionalists may look askance at the E-300, but personally I find the “flattop” look appealing and even a bit retro — from a distance, the E300 looks almost like a classic 35mm German rangefinder from the mid-20th century. But this camera is about far more than a cool body design. This is the entry level to Olympus fledgling professional line of dig-

Punctuated equilibrium
Now that I’ve spent a considerable amount of quality time with the E-300, I’ll say right up front that this camera is more evolutionary than revolutionary, though in the punctuated equilibrium sense that is current in evolutionary biology circles; this is a big leap forward but not a whole new species. Rotating the mirror mechanism and prism/mirror optics into the body of the camera makes loads of sense in a digital camera because you have so much more room to play with. There’s no film spools or motor drive, of course. More to the point with this particu20 DIGITAL CAMERA MAGAZINE

ital SLR cameras, lenses, flash systems, and support accessories. As has often happened in the digital photography space, the “prosumer” camera that follows the “pro” camera is in many ways more powerful and appealing than the high-ticket version. Technology moves ridiculously fast in this realm; both Canon and Nikon found themselves in the same place with the release of the EOS 10D and D70, respectively. Bottom line is this: cameras like the E300 are leveling the playing field by blurring the formerly clear demarcation between consumer and professional photography gear. With a camera like this in hand, you can capture pictures with about as much facility as the big boys do — provided you have the eye, the training, and the experience, of course. Oh, and you’ll need some stuff that doesn’t come in the E-300 Kit box: better lenses, bigger flashgun, some fast memory cards, extra battery packs, and a bunch of cables and gadgets. To give you a head start, I’ll tell you about the accessories I chose to round out my arsenal for the way I shoot. It’s not a comprehensive roundup of all available accessories, but this is what works for me.

1. Memory
The first thing you should buy to start taking advantage of all your E-300 has to offer is a fat, fast CompactFlash card from a name-brand maker. Lexar, SanDisk, Kingston, and other makers offer speedrated cards aimed at pro use in DSLR cameras that can take advantage of the speed boost. For my tests I used all three of the brands I mentioned above in capacities ranging from one to four gigabytes. All performed beautifully for me with no speed advantage favoring one brand over another that I could perceive. I’m sure one of them is faster than the others, and I’m sure I’ll hear all about it from the PR folks at all three companies. My advice to

Need a longer lens but can’t pony up the several thousand dollars needed for a long telepho-

you is to not worry about it and just look for a good deal. Don’t even think of buying anything smaller than 1GB. Eight-megapixel photos eat up smaller cards way too fast to be fun, so live large and shoot with abandon.

Prefer shooting sports action, animals, and other subjects captured at some distance such a classic portraiture styles? For this use I chose the Olympus Zuiko 50-200mm f2.8-3.5 ($899). Another impressive piece of gear, yet not oppressively heavy or unbalanced like oldschool 35mm film lenses often are when attached to a lighter, smaller DSLR body. Though the 50-200 has a stout mounting collar for tripod use, I usually remove it and shoot handheld unless I’m indoors. Like the 11-22mm, the 50200mm is world class. Fully buzzwordenabled, with ED glass, internal focusing, aspherical lens elements, and so on. It’s a joy to use and perfectly suited to the E-300 body.

to? Get the Olympus 1.4x Tele Extender. This little adapter takes your 200mm out to 380, which doesn’t sound like much until you

2. Lenses
Next on your list should be a lens or preferably two: one ultra-wide zoom and one telephoto zoom. If you can only afford one lens right now, get one that best suits the kind of photography you shoot most. As I like photographing landscapes and interiors, I chose the Olympus Zuiko 11-22mm f2.8-3.5 ($899). This is a gorgeous lens, with a 35mm equivalent range of 22-44mm — perfect for most of the scenes I like to capture. The wide maximum aperture gives me excellent natural light performance. Edge to edge sharpness and light distribution is excellent, but most important is the lack of barrel distortion at 11mm, or maximum wide angle. I know it’s at lot to ask someone to spend almost as much on a lens as they did on their camera, but that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Try one and you won’t want to shoot without it.

realize that this is equivalent to 560mm in the 35mm world. That’s one seriously long lens — practically a telescope. There is some minimal light and optical performance loss using an extender over a purpose-built megazoom, but it still takes fantastic pictures and the camera takes care of exposure compensation needed. Like the E-300 camera, all these Zuiko lenses have nonvolatile internal flash memory that allows you to field-upgrade your investment to the latest firmware. That takes a little of the sting out of the high prices, as this makes your purchase that much more future-proof. Olympus has already issued one round of updates, which I installed in about twenty minutes with zero hassle. Be sure to follow the instructions to the letter, though. If you skip a step you could render your camera or lens useless and you’ll have to ship it back to Olympus for repair. If you’re going to shoot in dusty or wet conditions, get some high-quality clear fil-

FOR MORE INFO…
OLYMPUS . . . . . .www.olympus.com LEXAR . . . . . . . . .www.lexarmedia.com SANDISK . . . . . . .www.sandisk.com KINGSTON . . . . . .www.kingston.com ROADWIRED . . . .www.roadwired.com LOWEPRO . . . . . .www.lowepro.com TENBA . . . . . . . . .www.tenbagear.com

conditions, get some high-quality clear filters that fit your lenses. Get the low-profile kind to minimize any vignetting, particularly on your ultra-wide. I haven’t bought clear filters yet so I don’t have a preference, but any good name brand will do. If you frequently shoot around open water, get a good circular polarizer to eliminate the reflected glare. Unfiltered, it’ll play havoc with your metering system and make that beautiful lake look more like

with the E-300, so the level of automation is amazing. Turn on the camera with the FL-36 attached and they both come on. Want to add more power or a bit of fill flash to a bounce shot? Pop up the internal flash and the two work together in perfect harmony. Need a bit more help getting the autofocus system to lock on to a difficult subject? The Fl-36 will emit a red grid pattern on your dark subject from across the room. Need more light at the edges when shooting with your ultra-wide lens? Flip out the FL36’s built-in diffuser panel to disperse the light output even more. My favorite use of an external flash is to aim the rotating head up to bounce off the ceiling. In most cases you get smooth, balanced light that seems to come from everywhere and nowhere. Faces aren’t blasted out and the background doesn’t go dark and underexposed. For interior photography, a good flash is absolutely essential.

4. Power
You’ve learned by now that the true consumable in digital imaging is battery power. Unless you sit in a studio all day with easy access to an AC jack, you’ll want to invest in a spare rechargeable battery pack ($50). Olympus has achieved remarkable longevity in the E-300. You can shoot all day with this thing on a charge. Personally, I’ve never run out of juice on any of my modest photo expeditions, but I carry a fully charged spare anyway, just in case. People photographers will want to consider the Olympus HLD-3 Battery Holder ($99), a screw-on extension to the E-300 that adds two more batteries to your power supply while also offering a second set of critical controls for vertical shooting. It adds to the heft, of course, but if you need maximum untethered power, this accessory is the way to go.

aluminum foil than water.

3. Flash
This is another hard sell to the uninitiated. A good flashgun will cost you about two hundred bucks. You can buy compatible flashguns from other than your camera’s manufacturer, but to make life simple and get the best results, get the FL-36 ($239). Olympus designed this unit to perfectly mate

5. Cases and other stuff
You may want a wireless remote to control the camera, and not just so you can easily capture group shots with you in them. In critical tripod shots using natural light, you’ll be using longer exposures that can easily blur if you use your finger to press the shutter. Use the RM-1 remote control ($19) and

seamlessly. A couple of years ago I was fortunate to have the use of a Nikon dream rig built around the D1x, their flagship camera at the time. I had over twenty thousand dollars worth of pro gear in that bag, which weighed about 25 pounds. My Olympus E-300 rig can be had for less than $3000 and weighs under 15 pounds complete, including the manual. Best of all, in my semi-professional hands my E-300 rig can do everything the Nikon system could. – David MacNeill www.olympusamerica.com/evolt

breathe easy. Speaking of relaxing, you’ll be very unhappy if you drop your E-300, so use the strap that comes with the kit or, even better, get the GS-2 Grip Strap. It makes the camera part of your arm. Don’t leave home without it. You’ll need a good case for all this gear, and not just some garden variety case will handle all these larger lenses and such. My favorite is the RoadWired Photo/Video Pro case, but then again I helped design it for them and I’m vain enough to think I did an utterly fantastic job. (Incidentally, I derive zero financial gain from the sale of these cases.) Other faves in the case space include LowePro and Tenba. Both makers offer a staggering number of carrying systems appropriate to your new rig. Just be sure you don’t overbuy, as your E-300 rig, while powerful, occupies less space and weighs considerably less than 35mm-derived pro DSLR camera systems. For expeditions where I may be hauling along a rented mega-zoom, I like the LowePro Rolling Mini Trekker AV ($279), a brilliant design from one of the top names in photo cases. For traveling light with, say, the E-300

with 11-22mm mounted, the 50-200mm, a spare battery and a few cards, I like the Tenba ProDigital D-10 ($95), a compact shoulder case that’s tough as nails yet light in weight. Close-up photography often requires specialized double flash rigs or ring flashes, as well as special off-shoe cords, clamps, and other arcane stuff. Olympus offers a range of special lighting systems for this purpose, all of which mate with your E-300

REVIEW
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What’s Hot:

Konica Minolta magicolor 2430 DL
Super photographic images from a laser printer? You’ve got to be kidding!
check how the dots had been laid down. And since that’s not the way photos are ordinarily viewed, it doesn’t matter if the dots are big or small, random or ma-

f you think inkjet or dye-sub printers are the only game in town for quality photo output, think again. The Konica Minolta magicolor 2430 DL color laser printer at only US $499 is the new challenger and whips out beautiful images fast and on the cheap. A laser printer? Come on, I’ve got to be kidding, right? They’re supposed to be big and ugly and expensive and the pictures they output look like you’re viewing them through a screen door—coarse, grainy and just plain awful. Not any more. In fact, when I framed and hung two identical prints, one output on the magicolor and the other on a top-of-the-line inkjet, I’d have given odds you couldn’t tell which was which, unless, of course, you used a magnifying glass to

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

High quality image output Moderate initial expense Perfect for multiple users Fast printing of both images and text Prints on plain paper. Can take up to 45 lb (90 lb index) paper stock Low cost per image Two-sided printing without bleed-through PictBridge compatible No ink/paper color profiles needed Extremely long print life Excellent tech support and warranty

What’s Not:
No written manual or quickstart guide Limited to 8.5 x 14-inch prints Somewhat noisy Not PostScript compatible No borderless printing No drivers for Mac OS 9 All images have similar surface characteristics (matte/lustre) No extensive color controls (but can be adjusted from within imaging program)

trixed. The proof is in how the image looks– that’s all that counts. The 2430 DL arrived well-packed and weighed in at 44 lbs with its four toner cartridges pre-installed. All I had to do was plug it in, run a USB cable to the computer and boot the utilities and documentation CD. That’s when I ran into the first hurdle. The driver insisted on “speaking” Spanish. At first I thought it was because the printer had been shipped to Miami and it knew where it was. But that would have given it too much credit—it was just a glitch and a quick call to tech support solved the problem. At only 16.9 x 19.8 x 13.4 inches, the magicolor will fit comfortably almost anywhere but don’t place it too close to you—it thumps and whirs when it prints and sometimes gives a burp or two even when it’s idle. Unlike most laser printers, where the paper rolls past a series of fixed-in-place toner cartridges, the 2430 DL’s toner cartridges (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) rotate. This keeps the printer compact but also makes it go though a song and dance routine for each print. If you have more

than one computer, the printer can be networked through either Ethernet or a variety of high speed USB switches available from Belkin (http://tinyurl. com/4wm2b).

Manual labor
Unfortunately, no useful written documentation or quick-start manual came with the printer—only a meager installation guide and a caution booklet both of which had less than a page of English among 21 different languages. The real meat is on the CD—a Reference Guide (140 pages) and the more useful User Guide (144 pages) which you’ll have to plow through and print parts of to learn how to operate the printer. Count on at least an hour for that; if you’re anxious to get going, begin by printing out pages 7-14, 20-48, and 64-71. On a more upbeat note, the 2430 DL carries an excellent one-year warranty. If tech support can’t solve a problem, Konica Minolta will ship you a replacement printer by two-day air and have yours picked up—both at their expense. You can also extend that warranty for one or two years at US $80 or US $140 respectively (which I would highly recommend) or buy an on-site service policy.

Laser vs. Inkjet Quality
The two cat’s-eye pictures are scans of the same photo, one of them output on the Konica Minolta magicolor 2430DL at 2400 dpi and the other printed on a premium inkjet at 2880 dpi. The magicolor lays down its dots through a screening process while the inkjet uses a more random dot pattern that gives the illusion of a smoother, more continuous tone image. However, the laser print is actually sharper when viewed at this large magnification. Hold the page away from you, however, and you’ll see that both images begin to look the same because the eye cannot resolve fine details as it gets further away from them. Except for differences in the paper surface, pictures printed on the magicolor and the inkjet looked identical at a normal viewing distance. –AB

Laser printers form their images by heatfusing dry toner to paper. Unlike inkjets, where paper type plays a large roll in determining how the image will look, laser printers couldn’t care less. A photograph will look just about as good on any old lightweight paper as it does on thicker stock. That can trick you into thinking the image is inferior when, in fact, you’re being fooled by the thinner-than-inkjet paper it’s printed on. If you use thicker paper stock like NCR’s Glossy and Matte Presentation Papers, it levels the playing field; pictures begin to feel (and therefore look) a lot more like inkjet prints. But you’ll never get the variety of output that inkjets produce when using different types of paper surfaces. The best way to describe magicolor prints is that they fall somewhere between a matte and lustre surface, with a slightly soft sheen. By the way, don’t run inkjet paper through a laser printer; the coated surface can mess up the printer’s drum.

The 2430 DL can print at three different resolutions: 600 dpi, 1200 dpi, and 2400 dpi. If you look closely, there’s a just-noticeable difference in detail between 600 dpi and 2400 dpi but 1200 dpi seems to be neither herenor-there and I noticed a slight color shift at that resolution. I found myself sticking to 2400 dpi—Konica Minolta says it only costs about a penny more per print as opposed to outputting at 600 dpi because the printer uses just a smidgen of additional toner; it produces the higher resolution by running a different algorithm to lay down a tighter dot pattern on the paper.

100-year print life
Color prints from the migicolor have a predicted life of over a hundred years unless they are subjected to extreme heat while stacked together. Prints are also very inexpensive compared to those output on injets and dye-subs. According to Konica Minolta’s calculations, a 7.5 x 10-inch color print costs

about 31-cents, which includes the expense of replacing the printer’s drum ($149) after several thousand prints have been run. My own seat-of-the-pants calculations were around 44-cents which is still pretty low. And prints just fly out of this machine! I clicked on “Print” and the first 2400 dpi, 8 x 10 photo rolled out in just 35 seconds; subsequent copies of the same image took just 12 seconds each. Black and white photos of similar size and resolution took 15 seconds for the first copy and just two seconds for each additional one. Compared to the speed of an inkjet printer… well, there just isn’t any comparison. The magicolor would be perfect to take to events where you could shoot, say, portraits and deliver a finished product to your subjects in just a few minutes. What’s also a timesaver is that you don’t need to bother with ink and paper profiles —recommended for inkjet printers—to get color-perfect results. Remember, with laser printers paper type doesn’t enter into the equation; you could print on a shopping bag

REVIEW

and the colors would still be right-on. In fact, the driver gives you only a few choices to play with: brightness, contrast, and saturation. And that’s all you really need. One of the 2430 DL’s touted features

then replace later it to use for a smaller one, do not do that with the 2430 DL. If you remove a toner cartridge before its time well, then, that’s its time and even if it’s still full, it becomes a pricey doorstop. If you reinsert it, the printer will refuse to run, giving you a message that the toner is out. I know this firsthand, having blown over US $400 worth of toner one memorable afternoon. Thankfully, it didn’t cost me anything but when I called tech support, even they didn’t know that you couldn’t remove and then re-insert still-good cartridges. I finally found that little caveat buried deep on page 64 of the User’s Guide on the CD.

Skeptics, listen up
is that it is PictBridge 1.0 compliant; you can print pictures directly from your digital camera if it has that feature. But there’s a price to pay. Not that the printer doesn’t do its job, but it’s that PictBridge, still in its infancy, gives the magicolor its marching orders. I connected an Olympus E-300 via its USB cable and was sorely disappointed. First, the printer requires an extra 256MB of RAM (which was installed) for full functionality and best image quality when printing using PictBridge. So that’s an extra US $150 right there. Which wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t take so long for most pictures to print out—in some cases up to five minutes per image. The feature I was most interested in, printing a series of small index pictures from the camera’s memory card worked faster but, alas, there was no way to have the file names print out under each picture to quickly identify them. So don’t expect miracles here—at least not yet. Unlike inkjet printers where you can remove a cartridge if it’s low so it won’t run out during the middle of a big job and
28 DIGITAL CAMERA MAGAZINE www.digicamera.com

Undoubtedly some skeptics will read this review and doubt that the quality of a laser print can ever equal that of an inkjet image. I imagine they might be the same ones (as was I) who once said that inkjet prints could never equal the quality of silver halide photographs (now they surpass them, of course). All I can say is that I, too, had my doubts about the 2430 DL but ended up thoroughly impressed by what it could do. And remember, you can also knock out flawless text at 20 pages a minute and quickly print brochures and other material—even on both sides—without the slightest bleed-through (large, two-sided photos are a piece of cake). Am I going to throw out my beloved Epson inkjet printers? Not a chance, because they can still give my images a variety of “looks” that I like due to a wide choice of paper surfaces. And my 2200 can also give me bigger prints than I can get with the 2430 DL. But when I compare inkjet prints made on matte or lustre paper with those the magicolor produced on comparably thick paper, I am awed by the quality. I mean, who would have thought the old laser workhorse could become such a stunning showhorse? Not me. At least not until now. – Arthur Bleich

REVIEW
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Archos Pocket Media Assistant 430
Archos wants to know how much you can take, literally
a stretch on a single charge of the easily removable 3.7-volt lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack. The PMA430 ships with an elaborate cradle sprouting connections for just about everything under the sun. All jacked in and sitting next to your home theater rig and media computer, it’s almost comically well connected, but it all works as advertised.

rchos wants to know how much you can take, literally. I’m not talking about how much media and other data you can cram onto a 30-gigabyte hard drive — the upper limit of that is fixed. No, what they want to know is how many functions you want in one pocket-size device, and when that threshold is found, how much money are you willing to hand over to possess one? First attempt: the almost ridiculously wellendowed Pocket Media Assistant 430, now shipping for a mere $799. That’s a lot of cash, but when you read the list of what the PMA430 can do, it doesn’t seem so bad: ■ Video recording from any analog media source at slightly better than television resolution in the MPEG4 format for video and MP3 for audio; ■ Playback on a crisp, bright, 3.5-inch LCD touchscreen with 320x240 pixels and 262,000 glorious colors, or connect to any television monitor/home theatre system with standard RCA or S-Video input ports; ■ Store, organize, and play digital audio files in MP3, WAV, and WMA formats; ■ Record and rip stereo audio straight to MP3 using an external mic, the internal mic, or any stereo line level source, up to 192 kHz at 48 bits, or lossless stereo WAV format; ■ Store, organize, and view digital photos in JPG, BMP, PNG, and GIF file formats, either copied from your computer or downloaded directly from your digital camera using USB Mass Storage compliance; ■ Play widely available games in either Mophun or Qtopia formats; ■ 802.11b WiFi to browse the web and check your email accounts, or use an optional USB ethernet adapter to use wired networks; ■ Maintain your calendar appointments, task list, address book, and notes, then sync them with Outlook on your Windows PC; ■ View, but not edit, standard Office documents including Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, as well as TXT, CSV, and soon (Archos promises) Adobe PDF documents, either copied from your computer or emailed; ■ Legally enjoy any Windows Media Player-compatible DRM-protected digital media file, including movies and music downloaded from online services; ■ Run Linux programs; ■ Create your own applications using the Archos SDK. Crikey! All that for a paltry 800 clams? And you can do all this for up to ten hours at

Storming the citadel
Now the reality. I hate to break it to you, but the Archos PMA 430 is as much a technology demonstration as it is a useful consumer product. All but the geekiest among us will stumble over user interface quirks, playback limitations, and byzantine media preparation procedures involving multiple pieces of software from all over the net. The PMA 430’s interface clumsiness I can forgive — this is a Linux-based device, so it’s not exactly been given Apple-class treatment in the polishing and user testing department. With Linux, you take the rough with the smooth because you are (a) cheap and (b) like to fix things yourself. Thus, the fonts look yucky, the colors are amateurish, and the various interface controls work differently depending on which part-time student programmer hacked out the code on that piece of the puzzle. It’s a UI trainwreck, but once you get used to the abuse it’s really not so bad. Like a Stockholm Syndrome for bad software, over time you can learn to love your kidnappers in spite of your better judgment. It’s a human survival mechanism that had made Bill Gates the richest person on Earth, money earned from the profits gleaned from decades of software abuse. If he wasn’t such a generous philanthropist, his tens of millions of victims would have stormed his mighty citadel and forced him to use his own software until he went completely insane. This machine’s media playback hassles are also forgivable, as they really aren’t Archos’ fault. Without, for example, the inability to play back a recorded DVD on any device but one unique PMA430 and not on a computer

screen or TV, Archos would have been suffocated overnight with restraining orders from Big Media’s legal goon squads. The one thing I cannot forgive is the almost comically complex hoops you, the end user, have to jump through to take a piece of visual media and make it playable on the PMA430. Even the documentation that comes with the device is apologetic about this atrocious state of affairs. MPEG4 is not really a single specification as much as a collective set of guidelines. A QuickTime movie, for example, encoded in proper MPEG4 format, won’t work in the Archos without transcoding it into another variant using third-party software you have to pay for. There are many examples of media that won’t just work in this device — basically, anything that isn’t ripped either by a PMA430 or on another computer using DivX or XviD encoders will probably fail to play without a fair bit of tinkering. If you like downloading lots of little pieces of utility software from the net, installing it, then making it all work like an assembly line, then you’ll love this aspect of PMA430 ownership. To be fair, most potential PMA430 buyers will be most interested in recording TV shows for viewing elsewhere and elsewhen, like a mobile TiVo with a built-in display. After this will be those who want to copy DVDs and old videotapes into the device for personal use. Beyond media use, the obvious mobile computing aspects of wireless net access and personal information management are pretty compelling. If this unit had a phone and a mapping GPS receiver in it, the word “convergence” wouldn’t begin to describe it. – David MacNeill www.archos.com

REVIEW
ike a buzzing, biting mosquito, dust is a constant annoyance. It’s on our lenses, it’s on our photographs and it finds it way onto our imaging sensors. If you follow your camera manufacturer’s recommendations you probably send your camera off to be cleaned at least once a year or you decide when you can no longer deal with cloning out all the dust particles appearing as black dots in your images. The cleaning process at the manufacturer can sometimes take as long as eight weeks, leaving you without a camera. Since I can’t handle waiting that long every time I need my camera’s sensor cleaned, I always clean it myself. For the past three years I have been swabbing the sensor with a sensor cleaning solution. It takes a while and it’s an expensive process that costs about $8 for each cleaning. I discovered a new product that seemed so simple that I was skeptical that it would work. I’ve been using it after every photoshoot for the last two months, and since then I haven’t had to use Photoshop to clone out any dust spots. It’s so easy to use and all you need is canned air to make it work. Spray the canned air on the sensor brush fibers for 5-20 seconds, making sure you don’t shake the can. This removes particles from the brush fibers. The next step is to slide the brush fibers from left to right over your camera’s sensor. It’s that easy! Repeat the entire process if needed. If you’re tired of sending your camera out for cleaning or using swabs to clean your camera’s sensor, you have to try this little gem. It’s worth the price. –Jon Cox

Dust Away
Sensor cleaning solution for digital SLR owners

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d-skin optical disk protectors
f you have ever lost important data because a CD or DVD picked up a bad scratch or scuff you’ll appreciate the new d_skin CD/DVD protectors. Think of them as jewel boxes that stay on your disks while they are being played. The d_skin protectors come in a neat metal can, five to a package for $5.99 list price. Do they work? As an informal test I put a d_skin onto a CD I had just burned and took an old rusty nail to it. With pressure I was able to damage the surface of the d_skin, but the CD surface underneath remained pristine and

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unharmed. As insurance for valuable data these should become very popular. The only caveat I could think of is that some computers use very thin slots to accept CDs, so thin that even a CD with a label stuck on won’t slip into the slot, and a CD protected by a d_skin might not fit into some of those, but I didn’t have access to one to try. I plan to put d_skin protectors on my most important back-up CDs and DVDs as an extra layer of protection. –Bob Shell www.d-skin.com

Dust Away Econo 1.6X Kit Price: $89.95 www.visibledust.com

Pro
By Arthur H. Bleich
32 DIGITAL CAMERA MAGAZINE www.digicamera.com

Think Like a

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rofessional photographers usually take better photos than you do because, a) they shoot more and, b) they have developed methods to assure that knock-out pictures are delivered to their clients. You, too, have clients (family and friends) and although they may not be as demanding (because they’re not paying) you still have an obligation (and hopefully a desire) not to bore them with trivial snapshots. No doubt about it, serious photography is difficult because it requires both a mastery of technique and an eye for esthetics. Sometimes one gets in the way of the other and visual chaos results. But if you think like a professional photographer, you’ll find it a lot easier to get the kinds of results that’ll have both you and your “clients” saying: “That’s a great shot!” Let’s begin. Have a goal in mind whenever you decide to shoot pictures. Don’t just wander around hoping that something will catch your eye. Decide, for example, that today’s the day for shooting unique doorways, or seals at the zoo, or something equally specific. With your mind (and eye) focused on one objective, you won’t get frustrated trying to find things to take pictures of or come back with a lot of junk. In essence, you are taking on an “assignment” that has some structure to it and you will be forced to shoot accordingly. You’ll also end up with lots of good pictures to choose from instead of a smorgasbord of images, none of which may be very good because you didn’t spend enough time on each of them. If you want to shoot great candid pictures of kids, pretend to ignore them. With younger kids, be pleasant at first but if they continue to bug you with questions or start to ham it up for the camera just don’t answer and keep the camera up to your eye. They’ll quickly become bored and go back to their activities, forgetting that you’re there (which is exactly what you want). Dealing with pre-teens and teens requires negotiation, especially if you want

Photo © Jon Cox

them to pose for some portraits. Tell them up front you know this may not be their idea of fun but you promise it won’t take more than 15 minutes. Most of them can live with that, though they’ll probably still think it’s an eternity. If you offer a reward, that will sweeten the deal considerably.

shot most of his great pictures with one camera and a 50mm lens.

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Don’t fixate on equipment. Many photographers constantly gripe that if only they had this or that camera or lens, they could make better pictures. That really applies to only a few areas, mainly sports and wildlife where, indeed, some long telephoto lenses are required. But you know what? Even if these complainers had those lenses, they’d find another reason why they couldn’t bring home the bacon. Learn to make the most of the equipment you have and you may find you don’t really need as much as you thought you would. Unless they have assistants along, most pros leave the kitchen sink at home and travel light– a couple of camera bodies and a few lenses. The legendary Henri Cartier-Bresson
www.digicamera.com

Find a long-term project to work on. You wouldn’t think it, but most pros have a pet project they’re working on aside from their commercial assignments. Though it sounds like a busman’s holiday, it keeps their eye in shape and allows them to shoot whatever (and however) they want without having to answer to a client. Committing to a long-term project also will allow you to make adjust-

Photo © David Bergman for The Heart Gallery NJ

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Photo © Arthur H. Bleich

ments as you move along. As you shoot and see your results, you begin to think about how certain images could be improved and you can then make a mental note of what to do the next time out. To begin with, pick a subject that you can spend at least a half-day a week with over a one or two month period. This could be a bridge or building shot from different viewpoints at different times of day, or a sports or singing group that meets periodically, or a series of pictures on almost any subject.

your intended subject so you know what to look for before you even turn your camera on.

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Stop counting pennies (actually dollars). When film was in its heyday, film and processing were expensive. If you did your own darkroom work, paper and chemicals added to the cost. Here’s something all pros learned early on: if you wanted to get good, you had to shoot a lot of film and if you did your own developing and printing, you couldn’t count pennies when it came to making half a dozen or more prints of the same image to get one that was perfect. You just had to forget the price or you’d stop shooting or printing too soon. The easiest way to do that was to buy 100 rolls of film at a time and 500-sheet boxes of paper so you could just dip into an endless supply. Today, as a digital photographer, you don’t spend a cent on film or processing so you’re way ahead. Put that money toward buying a dozen or more inksets and a few hundred sheets of paper—all at once—so you can work on an image until it reaches perfection without thinking about running out of supplies or how much it costs.

Photo © Beau Hooker

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“Preparation, preparation, preparation.” That was the late Johnny Cochran Jr.’s mantra and you’d do well to heed it. When pros get assignments, they don’t just throw their camera gear in a bag and take off. In the early stages of my career, I sat next to a National Geographic photographer on a plane to Alaska and watched as he went through notebooks worth of material he had researched for weeks before leaving on his assignment. Years later, I found myself doing the same thing because it’s the only way to make sure you have all your bases covered and know what to look for. Now, with the Internet so easily accessible, there’s just no excuse for not learning everything you can about

There are things you should always have with you—extra memory cards, batteries, a tripod and all that, but most pros have a much longer list and it goes beyond throwing an iPod into their camera bag for entertainment. One of the most valuable pieces of gear you can have is a pair of kneepads (do I hear some snickering, out there?). Most photographers simply duck-squat when trying to shoot dramatic low-angle shots and that can just about wreck your body. An inexpensive pair of knee-pads from Home Depot can let you get down and dirty with a smile on your face. You can even wear them under an old pair of jeans so you’re ready to hit the ground at any time. For less extreme shots, bring along a lightweight folding canvas stool (about 13-inches high) so you can sit low and shoot, say, at the sidelines of an event. And at the other end of the spectrum, most pros carry a small ladder for times they need a little added height to improve their viewpoint. Force yourself to shoot the same subject from different points of view and at different times of day. At first, this can be a killer because it takes some thinking and a lot of work. But if you look at images shot by pros, you’ll find that most of them have been shot at an unusual angle or with unusual lighting (early or late in the day or at night). Pros have to bring back eye-poppers and shooting the subject straight on at noon just doesn’t cut it. After awhile, it will just become natural for you to think in terms of different angles and lighting and your pictures will suddenly begin to jump out at viewers. Pros also love wide angle lenses because they give a unique look to an image and can add some deliberate distortion. Buy a wide-angle lens and learn to love it, too. Pros read many of the same books and magazines about photography that you do and listen to a lot of chatter about which cameras, lenses, printers, computers, and software are supposed to be the best. But they don’t go switching around wildly because that can lead to disaster. If you

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34 DIGITAL CAMERA MAGAZINE

www.digicamera.com

Photo © Jon Cox

work on oil rigs and how his “aunt” was always complaining because, even though the money was good, she and the family didn’t see him for weeks at a time. He would immediately see nods and smiles and the ice was broken. OK, maybe you think he was cheating a bit but it worked and no one was hurt by it. If you use this technique, remember not to have an immediate member of your family in the same occupation or you may be expected to know more than you do.

find that the camera and lens(es) you have are giving you good results, stick with them. If shooting in JPEG yields good prints, there’s no need to get bogged down in RAW. Some photographers actually like to use complicated processes—it makes them feel superior to others. You don’t need the latest and greatest to make good pictures; constantly changing your gear and techniques may actually hold you back as you constantly struggle with new learning curves. Most pros keep things simple so they can concentrate on the image-making process. You should, too.

Props can make or break a shot. Many pros drag a whole bunch of them along if they are appropriate to their assignment. A little girl is just a little girl, but a little girl with a red balloon can really catch your eye. Scenic photographers frequently carry a duffel bag full of different colored jackets and hats for their foreground subjects to wear so they stand out. If you shoot pictures of kids and teens, encourage them to bring along their favorite toys or possessions; it’ll make the shot more interesting and your subjects will be more comfortable in front of the camera.

Photo © Bob Shell

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Photo © Arthur H. Bleich

One of the most difficult things photographers have to learn is to overcome their reluctance to approach people they don’t know and ask if they can photograph them. A pro once told me how he was able to establish quick rapport with subjects, putting them at ease while he shot their pictures. He said he always had an imaginary aunt, uncle, nephew, or niece in his pocket who was in the same occupation as his intended subject. For example, if he was photographing oil workers on a rig, he’d tell them how his “uncle” used to

Always keep your eyes open for picture possibilities that are not mainstream. For example, I know a sports photographer whose most interesting shots are not of the game but of things big and small that surround it. In the world of motion pictures these are known as cutaways, scenes related to the main action but not part of it. Fans in the stands, players in anguish over losing or triumphant in victory, a referee tying his shoelaces, bored pitchers in the bullpen, and so on. Similarly, everyday things that you walk by a thousand times bear closer examination. A rope tied to a pole can make a great design shot if you move in on it and frame it well. Even a water sprinkler head can look like a museum piece if you take the time to shoot it at a unique angle when the light is right.

There are a few things you shouldn’t do. One of them is relying on your sequence (or burst) mode to catch a great action shot. Shooting a sequence of images doesn’t guarantee you’ll catch the peak of action; the only way that’d be a shoo-in is if your camera could fire at about 30 frames or more per second and that’s not possible yet. Besides, even if it were, think of the memory card requirements. Before motor drives became available on film cameras, sports photographers relied on their own sense of timing to stop the action. Guess what? They did a pretty good job of it. All it takes is practice. The other thing you should avoid is being too quick to erase “bad” images. Many pros have gone through their film negatives after the passage of time and have found great images they overlooked when they first shot them. Digital makes it too easy to make quick (and often wrong) decisions to delete pictures. Only scrub obvious garbage—if you’re not sure, keep it.

Photo © Bob Shell

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Imaging programs will not improve your photographic skills. This may sound like digital heresy but slavish devotion to these programs can impede your progress as a photographer. When film was king, many of the world’s greatest photographers never went near a darkroom—they handed their “take” to a lab for processing and then edited their slides. Imaging programs are great for adjusting brightness, contrast, color, sharpness, and for getting rid of imperfections and unwanted elements but that’s all you need to know how to do. If you spend a lot of time with your imaging program, that’s less time to shoot. The secret is to shoot correctly to begin with so the time you spend on the computer is minimized. And spending US $650 for Photoshop when $80 for Elements will suffice is simply an exercise in conspicuous consumption or keeping up with the Jones’s, both of which are despicable Pros frequently donate their time to charitable projects and so should you. It will give you a good feeling to know just how powerful photography can be as a force for positive change. And you will make a lot of

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contacts that can be valuable to you in the future. The State of New Jersey recently asked top pros (like David Bergman who’s been featured in DCM) if they would photograph kids who were up for adoption. They wanted appealing images that would give an insight into the kids’ personalities rather than just mug shots that they’d used in the past. As a result, more kids were adopted and each photographer came away profoundly touched by the experience. You can see the results at The Heart Gallery <www.heartgallerynj.com>.

Many pros got their start in the field by doing photography for non-profits. Choose a charity in your area (it could even be your place of worship) and let them know you’re available to do some volunteer photography for them. It’ll be good for both of you.
Arthur H. Bleich (arthur@dpcorner.com) is a photographer, writer, and educator who lives in Miami. He does assignments for major publications both in the U.S. and abroad, and conducts digital photography workshop cruises, the next of which will sail on December 3, 2005. Visit his Digital PhotoCorner at www.dpcorner.com.
Photo © Jon Cox

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DIGITAL CAMERA MAGAZINE 37

Photo © Jon Cox

REVIEW
Y

Alienware Area 51 MJ-12m 7700
Most powerful Windows-based mobile computer we’ve ever seen

ou won’t see many personal computer reviews in this magazine, but when you do, it’ll be something extraordinary. We requested a review sample of the Alienware Area 51 MJ-12m 7700 mobile workstation because of its impressive specs, making it suitable for professional creative production work in video, audio, and serious still photographic work. Don’t be turned off by the garish, science fiction graphic treatment. This machine may be marketed to gaming fanatics but underneath it’s all business. I’ll let the specs below speak for themselves, but taken together in actual use, this machine delivers devastating performance, on par with the best desktop machines. Not surprisingly, this beast is freakin’ enormous. I have end tables at home that are smaller across, and the thing weighs almost 13 pounds. Under your arm, it feels like you’re carrying an attaché packed full of stuff. The power brick is the first I’ve ever seen that is actually about the size of a real brick and weighs almost as much. But, oh! what you get in return. Blistering desktopclass Pentium 4 speed, a gorgeously bright 17" widescreen (1680x1050 pixel) display with a built-in VGA camera, dual hard drives (up to 200GB’s worth) configured in either RAID 0 or RAID 1 striping, up to 2GB of RAM, state-of-theart NVIDIA graphics subsystem with DDR3 vRAM, dual optical drives, and a full-size keyboard.

Our tests were, predictably, flat-out amazing. We ran a full array of pro-grade photo and video editing applications with stunning results. Just for laughs we installed Half-Life II and the thing ran so well one of our editors actually got dizzy and had to stop playing. It’s almost ridiculous how fast this thing is. Other nice features include the ability to play CDs and MP3 disk while the computer is turned off. There are controls of the front within easy reach — even an LCD panel for track info. Watching a DVD on this unit was completely immersive. Between the huge display and the four speakers + subwoofer underneath the case, it was easy to kick back in our office chairs and just watch the show. I’m a Mac guy who relies on a 17" Power Book G4 for everything. If I was a PC guy, this would be my computer. –DM

Specifications
• 3.8GHz Intel Pentium 4 microprocessor • 800MHz frontside bus, 1MB cache • NVIDIA Quadro FX Go 1400, 256MB DDR3 • Up to 2GB of PC2-4200 SO-DIMM RAM • Up to 2 100GB SATA hard drives, RAID 0/1 • 17" 1680x1050 widescreen display • 4 USB 2.0 & 2 FireWire ports • DVI, serial, parallel, and PS2 ports • S-Video, Video-in, 5.1 audio (SPDIF) ports • Gigabit ethernet, 802.11a/b/g wireless • PCMCIA Type II ACPI CardBus slot • Flash card slots: CF, SD, MMC, MS , MS Pro

Dimensions & Weight
• 15.6” x 11.7” x 2.1” • 12.75 lbs. (sans power brick)

Contact: www.alienware.com Price as tested: $3142
(1GB RAM, 80GB hard drive, DVD-R, 1680x1050 display with camera, NVIDIA GeForce Go 6800 graphics card)

CAMLAB

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am a big fan of Fujifilm digital cameras. We recently reviewed Fujifilm’s FinePix E510 and E550 compacts and found them to be delightful 5 and 6 megapixel cameras equally well suited for beginners and those interested in advancing their photography skills. Somehow, Fujifilm has mastered the art of making mass market consumer cameras that are simple and easy to use while still conveying a feeling of quality and sophistication. Even inexpensive Fujifilm cameras don’t talk down to their users with idiot-proof features and Tonka toy design, as if their budget-minded customers were too dumb and clumsy to handle a real camera. And almost all FujiFilm cameras I have ever reviewed back that up with technological competence and excellent picture quality. I was therefore very excited over the announcement of the new FinePix F10 Zoom. Like the E5xx Series, the F10 is an ultra compact just small and light enough to fit into a pocket. And like those fine cameras, the F10 comes with a sensor that uses Fuji’s proprietary Super CCD High Resolution technology that uses octagonal pixels placed close to each other in sort of a honeycomb arrangement. Fuji claims this tech-

nology offers images of higher perceived resolution and quality than what you’d get from a regular CCD of the same resolution, and digital zoom and movies yield better quality as well. We found all of that to be true in our review of the Super CCD HR-equipped FinePix E550. However, the F10 comes with even more astounding new technology such as Fujifilm’s new Real Photo Processor that offers an unprecedented ISO sensitivity range from 80 all the way up to 1600. Theoretically that means being able to take pictures

in very low light conditions, and take shots without flash where other cameras need a flash. Addressing the complaint that digicam batteries don’t last long enough, the F10 was announced as being able to shoot 500 pictures on a single charge of its Lithium-Ion battery pack. And following the much appreciated trend of equipping digital cameras with larger LCDs, FujiFilm gave the F10 a 2.5-inch display, which is about as large as digital camera LCDs come these days. In fact, the only larger display I can think of is that of the Casio EX-Z57 which has a 2.7-inch LCD. Given all of those terrific specifications, my expectations for the FinePix F10 were very high. Perhaps too high. Right out of the box, the F10 is a handsome little camera. It measures 3.8 x 2.3 x 1.1 inches. That’s a bit larger than those tiny cameras in the Canon Digital ELPH class, but not by much. The metal housing is beautifully designed and combines bright, brushed, and powder finishes for a look that exudes both quality and elegance. The 3X optical zoom lens remains inside the body, then motors out about an inch when the F10 is powered on via push of a button. Powerup

Less than the sum of its parts
and some subjects I tried to take closeups of—a lizard in particular—seemed quite perturbed by the constantly moving lens barrel. All of this would be excusable to some degree if the F10 had rewarded my efforts with the superb image quality I got out of the FinePix E550 or even its lesser brother, the E510. But more disappointment there. Most of my shots simply weren’t as sharp and vibrant as I expected from all the cool optics and technology in this camera. And that on a fairly consistent basis and under different shooting and lighting conditions. Needless to say, I was also eager to try out the phenomenal ISO sensitivity range of the F10, and there the news was quite good. You won’t, of course, get crisp images with an ISO setting of 1600, but you can use it to get pretty decent shots under dim lighting conditions where you’d have to use a flash with almost any other camera. That can come in very handy. Battery life is indeed exceptional, especially considering the large display. However, the F10 does not have a power jack. In order to charge the battery you need to plug a terminal adapter into the camera’s sole connection socket. You then plug power, USB, and AV cables into that terminal. Lose the adapter and you can’t charge. One final complaint: the curious mix of abbreviated text and often hard/impossible to interpret icons makes for an unsatisfactory menu experience. If you have to consult the (very good) manual to figure out what those icons mean, someone didn’t get it right. I really wanted to like the FinePix F10, but compared to its many terrific siblings, it just misses the boat. FujiFilm made too many odd decisions here, and the technology just doesn’t work as it should. ◆ —Kirk Linsky
Model...........................Fujifilm FinePix F10 Zoom List price.......................US$499 Sensor res ........................6.3 megapixels Image dimensions ........2848x2136 down to 640x480 ISO ...............................auro/50/100/200/400/800/1600 Lens..............................F:2.8-8.0 Lens focal length ..........8-24 mm (36-108mm equiv.) Shutter .........................1/2000 to 3 seconds Exposure compensation ..+/- 2.0 EV in 1/3 EV steps Storage ........................xD-Picture Card (16MB incl.) Focus............................Center/multi/continuous LCD screen ...................2.5 inch TFT (115k) Flash modes .................6 modes Viewfinder....................none Battery ........................Li-Ion rechargeable Weight .........................5.5 ounces w/o batteries Dimensions...................3.6 x 2.3 x 1.1 inches Included .......................Software, cables, strap

is very fast, as are shutter time lag and time between shots. Most of the backside is taken up by the large LCD display. There are very few controls. Four buttons and a navigation ring in the back. Shutter and zoom are in separate locations and perfectly placed. A large mode dial around the shutter lets you select automatic, scene, manual, and movie modes. All good stuff. The Lithium-Ion battery and xD-Picture card slot are accessible through the bottom of the camera. They are covered by an unlockable plastic door. The battery is smaller than its compartment and doesn’t have a retainer clip, so it can easily fall out. The bottom also contains a plastic tripod mount (why almost all consumer cameras use plastic instead of metal to save a few pennies is beyond me). Now it was time to actually try out the camera during a bright Spring morning outside our editorial offices in the Sierra Nevada foothills. First observation: no optical viewfinder. While editor-in-chief MacNeill applauds this development, I don’t. Not as long as even the best LCDs are only marginally viewable in direct sunlight. The F10’s LCD is large and fairly readable outdoors, but three factors work against it: 1) Only re-

flective LCDs offer truly acceptable readability in sunlight and this isn’t one of them. 2) The LCD’s glass cover reflects like a mirror. 3) The display, large though it is, is actually quite low res. It only has 115k pixels compared to 154k pixel in the E550’s 2-inch display. This meant that often I couldn’t really see what exactly I took a picture of. Often I just pointed the F10 in the approximate direction and hoped for the best. I love doing macro shots. The F10 didn’t work well in that department. In macro mode you can get as close as three inches which isn’t great to begin with, but then the otherwise reasonably fast autofocus slowed down considerably. Between the barely readable display and the slow focus it took me several shots to get a halfway decent picture of a bee collecting pollen (see above). You can use the zoom in macro mode, but that is a mixed blessing as almost any degree of zoom means the autofocus mechanism won’t be able to get a sharp image. As far as the 3X optical zoom goes, it worked well enough, but I wondered why some much smaller cameras have internal 3X zooms whereas the F10’s motors out a full inch, which means you have to turn the camera off before you stick it back into your pocket. That,

CAMLAB

Though I had to stretch my arms over my head to take this shot straight on, the in line viewfinder made composition easy. Notice how well the 7070 handles shadow detail in this early morning lighting

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he Olympus 7070 doesn’t just blur the line between pro and consumer cameras, it erases it. With a superb 7.1 MP CCD sensor, a 27– 110mm equivalent lens, and a solidly constructed magnesium body, this camera is ready to capture the big picture and bring it back in DCF Exif2.2, RAW, TIFF, or JPEG. Shooting speeds are up to 3.3 fps (RAW) with ISO settings from 50-400. You can stand back and take in the landscape, or go into super-macro mode and get as close as an inch from your subject. The 7070 makes you stop and wonder what defines a professional camera, and it does it for about $699 (street). The irony of digital camera design is that the Holy Grail for professional cameras is to look and feel like film SLRs, while consumer and prosumer cameras, freed from this constraint, provide better functionality. If you watch someone who grew up using film cameras use a digital camera with an LCD display, you’ll see that they keep going back to the viewfinder, even though it’s not giving them nearly as accurate an idea of what their picture will be like. Anyone who started in photography with digitals, on the other hand, especially if they’ve “graduated” up to the big leagues and bought a DLSR, will find that as much fun as it is to look through that SLR’s lens, making the whole

world look like a picture on a movie screen in a pitch black theater, having a camera glued to your face is really a drag. I’ve been waiting for digital cameras to get to the point where they can abandon the SLR form factor

A few more days and I could have shown you shots of cherry blossoms, but thanks to a late spring, you’ll have to settle for close ups (as close as one inch in Super Macro) of buds.

and come into their own. I’ve hoped that one of the classic rangefinder companies would take advantage of the similarities between their form factor and digicams, by putting something really professional out there, but though Leica and Epson both have entries in this field, neither really makes the grade. Olympus, on the other hand, has come up with a camera that very nearly fits the bill for fast-moving professional photographers at a nearly consumer camera price. I’ve been carrying one in my bag as a backup camera while I’ve had it for review, and have been delighted with its design, solid construction and especially the crisp wide-angle lens. What I like about the 7070 falls into three areas: form factor, resolution, and lens. Glenn Schwartz, product manager, isn’t overstating the case when he says that “The C-7070 Wide Zoom will be valued by photographers of all levels for its compact size, rugged construction and ease of use, but the powerful wide-angle lens, 7.1-megapixel image sensor and two new AF modes are features that give this camera the extra edge required by high-end amateur and professional photographers.” They’ve included features specifically aimed at pros, like an optional Power Battery Holder (BHLD20), which doubles the already substantial bat-

.

Near Professional Features
plain, and I have to respect Olympus’ conservative assignment of ISO, to control noise, but I’d be willing to pay more and to get more. The controls are a bit iconoclastic, and if you’re jumping back and forth between the 7070 and some other camera that may bother you at first. This is a camera that you can plan on keeping for a while though, so once you’ve learned the ropes you should be fine. Two critical controls that are just plain badly placed take away from my raves about the body, those being the on/off switch, which is hard to get at, and the shutter release, which should be placed a bit more forward and angled down to where your thumb naturally rests. Wide-angle lenses are subject to “barrel distortion” which is the tendency for lines near the edges of an image to bow outward. The 7070 suffers from this as well, but unless you’re shooting an image with straight lines at the edges, you won’t notice it. If you would like to correct it, the software that comes with the camera includes a tool for that, or you can get an Adobe Photoshop plug-in from Panorama Tools to fix it there. In conclusion, though there’s some room left for improvement, this is a very strong camera which accomplishes its mission—to bridge the gap between personal and professional camera and provide a serious tool for photographers that either want to work in a Digital Camera form factor or to be ready to grow into DSLRs and still have a dependable backup camera. There will undoubtedly be some who would rather have a longer telephoto than a wider lens, but that’s a matter of photographic vision. I like wider lenses because they let you capture bigger spaces, especially architectural ones like the shots of Alexandria, Virginia I’ve got here. Longer lenses keep me too far from the action, whether its people, places, or things, because I like interacting with the subject. I’d strongly recommend the camera to photography students and journalists both of which will appreciate its pro-features, compact size and affordable price. —Ernest Lilley
Model...........................Olympus C-7070 Wide Zoom Estimated street price...US$699 Sensor res ........................7.1 megapixels Image dimensions ........2560x1920 down to 640x480 ISO ...............................50/100/200/400/auto Lens..............................F:2.8-8.0, 4X opt/5X digital Lens focal length ..........5.7-22.9 mm (27-110mm equiv.) Shutter .........................1/4000 to 16 seconds Exposure compensation ..+/-2EV in 1/3 or 1/2 EV steps Storage ........................CF + xD Card (32MB incl.l) Focus............................Dual AF: contrast or phase LCD screen ...................1.8 inch TFT (130k pixels) Flash modes .................7 modes, up to 21 feet Viewfinder....................optical real image Battery ........................BLM-1 Lithium-ion rechargeable Weight .........................13.5 ounces w/o battery Dimensions...................4.6 x 3.4 x 2.6 inches Included .......................Software, cables, strap, cradle DIGITAL CAMERA MAGAZINE 43

tery life, a wide(r) angle converter that takes the lens down to a 19mm equivalent and telephotos that take it up to 187 or 330mm (equiv.) Of course, you lose a lot of light with a teleconverter. Of course it comes with a hot shoe mount for computer controlled flash, so that’s some help, but if you’re serious about long lenses you should consider another camera. My favorite feature is the 1.8-inch Semi-Transmissive swivel LCD, which, unlike every other camera I can think of, hinges straight up from the back to make a really convenient waist level view finder. Most cameras first have to swivel off to the side, taking the viewfinder out of line with the lens, and making composing your shot awkward. The 7070, on the other hand, feels extremely natural, perfect for portraits and shooting high or low subjects. Whether I was shooting at waist level, toe level, or with the camera stretched as far over my head as I could reach, aiming the camera felt natural. Light level histograms are very useful for making sure you’re getting

as much information into a picture as you can, but the 7070 goes a step beyond to give you a small target window within the main display so that you can see the relative brightness of the subject as opposed to the entire image. It’s a nice idea. The magnesium housing is both lightweight and durable, and the lens retracts enough so that you can toss the camera into a briefcase, backpack or glove compartment to be ready for a once-in-a-lifetime shot. The 3.3 fps the camera manages in the RAW setting should help you capture the action, and when you get that shot, the 7.1 MP image will have sufficient quality for the pickiest publication. Speaking of RAW, you’ve got your choice of a number of different JPG resolutions for a simultaneously saved file, something that cameras like the Nikon D70 and Canon Rebel don’t offer. You also have more choices when it comes to memory format, the camera has slots for both CF and SD cards. On the “con” side, I wish the camera went further into pro territory, though at this price it goes further than one should expect. The max ISO equivalent is only 400, owing to the small size of the sensor needed to keep the cost down. For the price, I can’t com-

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CAMLAB

B

efore I get into actually describing the subject of this review, Sony’s new Cyber-Shot DSC-P200, I feel compelled to present a few contemplations that came to mind as I perused his magnificent little 7.2 megapixel marvel. It seems, for example, utterly incomprehensi-

ble that not all that long ago, all Sony digital cameras distinguished themselves by recording their pictures onto standard floppy disks. That was the Mavica series (which lives on in a trio of cameras that use optical disks as their recording medium, and one still uses a floppy disk) and you could tell they used floppy disks because their largish bodies were pretty much built around the square shape of a 3-1/2-inch floppy. In this day and age of tiny Memory Sticks and other postage-stamp sized storage cards the thought that a camera’s size was once dictated by something as arcane as a standard floppy disk seems absurd, as does the minuscule recording capacity of those old floppy disks. Such a disk wouldn’t hold a single image from the new Cyber-shot DSC-P200, not even in its lower “standard” compression. Take one look at the gleaming silvery case of the P200 and you cannot help but marvel at how far we’ve come. The fictional characters in Stanley Kubrick’s groundbreaking “2001—A Space Odyssey” movie may have been able to fly to Jupiter, but in Sony’s wonderful world of technology, the year 2001 is ancient, quaint history. Unlike those big old Mavicas, the Cyber-shot P200 is barely larger than a flip-phone—4 x 2 x 1 inch, with a weight of just five ounces—but it’s a powerful 7.2 megapixel camera with a high quality Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar 3X zoom lens, a bright 2-inch outdoor-viewable LCD screen, and the usual flurry of incredibly well designed micro details that Sony is famous for. Just like its P-Series predecessors (the P100 and the P150), from a design point of view, the P200 is playfully styled with one side square and the other side curving around the three bright concentric circles around the P200’s 3X optical zoom lens. In fact, everything about the P200 is rounded and curved: lines, buttons, inserts, even the tiny little flash win-

A VERY COMPACT HIGH RESOLUTION SONY CAMERA AT AN AFFORDABLE PRICE

dow and the long concave moulding around the left side of the camera which is probably there so that you can more easily hold the P200 with the index finger and thumb of your left hand. All of this is in great contrast to the angular T1 Sony shocked the world with way back in, oh, perhaps 2004.
44 DIGITAL CAMERA MAGAZINE

It is not entirely clear why Sony needs so many different lines of fairly similar digicams, but then again, that was no different when Sony still made its Palm OSbased Clié PDAs. No matter what your preference was, Sony had a Clié for you. If I were on Sony’s staff and had to come up with an internal product placement description for this camera, I’d probably say, “The P200 is for those customers who prefer style and elegance over the angular shape of our more engineering-driven models. These customers are value-conscious and demand advanced fea-

DSC-P200

Sony Cyber-shot
BY BEAU HOOKER tures and performance, but they are not willing to pay the higher prices of our no-compromise solutions.” As a result, while the P200 offers full 7.2 megapixel resolution, its 3X zoom lens motors out an inch when you power up the camera. An internal, foldable zoom is more elegant, doesn’t get in the way, but costs more. And while some of the top notch Sonys have 2.5-inch displays, the P200 must do with a 2.0-inch LCD—respectable, but noticeably smaller. There are other, less obvious concessions, but all of this means that the P200 costs less. It is not cheap— no Sony 7.2 megapixel camera can be cheap—but it’s less than the no-holds-barred, all-tricked-out W- and T-Series models. What you get with the P200 is a high resolution camera that does almost everything well. It is small enough to fit into any pocket (as long as the lens has retracted inside the body), it has a solid 3X optical zoom that’s complemented by either a standard 2X digital zoom or Sony’s “Smart zoom” that

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borrows unused pixels to enlarge an image taken in one of the camera’s lower resolution settings. There is a small optical viewfinder for those times when it becomes difficult to view the LCD display outdoors. The controls are all fairly self-explanatory although an initial pass through the very good 98-page manual is definitely recommended. That way you’ll learn that the little green camera icon means “automatic” and everything is taken care of, whereas in P(rogram) mode the camera controls aperture and speed and leaves the rest to you. In M(anual) mode you have complete control over everything. Frequently used controls such as macro, flash, or resolution can be changed by pushing one of the four directional controls—no need to push the Menu button and work your way through the not always obvious
Model...........................Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P200 List price.......................US$399.95 Sensor res ........................7.2 megapixels Image dimensions ........3072x2304 down to 640x480 ISO ...............................100/200/400 or auto Lens..............................F:2.8-10 Lens focal length ..........7.9-23.7 mm (38-114mm equiv.) Shutter .........................1/2000 to 30 seconds Exposure compensation ..±2.0EV in 1/3EV increments Storage ........................Memory Stick (32MB incl.) Focus............................Multi-point, center, manual LCD screen ...................2.0 inch (134k) Flash modes .................4, up to 11.5 feet reach I/O ................................A/V and USB via multi connector Battery ........................NP-FR1 Lithium-Ion Weight .........................5.0 ounce w/o battery Dimensions...................4.0 x 2.0 x 1.0 inches Included .......................Software, strap, cables, charger

on-screen menus for that. Controls are laid out well; you’ll find everything where you expect it. In the field, the P200 performs well. It never gets in the way, its battery lasts a long time and the screen even tells you how many minutes you have left, and the display provides enough information (including a live histogram) without being cluttered. Both controls and icons/text are a bit too small for my taste and

I’d rate the P200 only average in autofocus and frameto-frame recycling speed. I love the 30 frames-per-second 640x480 movie mode with sound. It requires a Memory Stick Pro card, but produces excellent movie clips. All in all, the P200 is the answer for those who want a small, reasonably priced Sony camera with high resolution and good features. ◆ —CHB

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DIGITAL CAMERA MAGAZINE 45

CAMLAB

7.2 MEGAPIXELS IN YOUR POCKET

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’m becoming something of an expert on Casio’s line of card cameras. I can’t help myself; I just love ‘em. And the company keeps cranking out new and improved models at an astonishing rate. Often a new model or two arrive on my desk the day I finish my last Casio review. Fortunately, the retail distribution channels work a little slower, so the models I review are usually still available when our magazine ships. But somebody is putting something in the water cooler at Casio’s design department — these people obviously never sleep.

Casio EX-Z750

I’ve written many times about the recent emergence of the thinzoom form factor and how they have taken over the market. Casio pioneered this category back in 2002/2003 with their first card cameras, the 2-megapixel S1 fixed focal length camera followed by the

3.2 megapixel Z3 with a zoom lens. From the success of those products, the company went on to develop an array of models based on them, increasing resolution, performance, and battery life. Amazingly, they stayed just as tiny and pocket-friendly as the early designs. And now we have the Z750, offering a staggering 7.2 megapixels, a 2.5-inch display, high-quality MPEG4 640x480 movies at 30 frames per second, a new dock design that sports an audio/video out port for connecting to your home theater, and an impressive array of innovative new capture modes and in-camera editing features.

Mixed blessing
Having 7.2 megapixels on tap is great, but it’s a bit of a mixed blessing. The files are quite large. Fine resolution JPEGs are around 4.3 megabytes, while the CMYK TIFF versions I created for this layout each hit 27 megabytes. But of course the upside is all that room to crop without losing detail. If you’ve got a computer with decent processing speed and a large hard drive, you’ll love it. And you’ll need to spend another couple of C-notes on a pair of 1GB SecureDigital cards. The Z750 doesn’t ship with one and anything smaller with a 7.2 megapixel camera will just frustrate you. To illustrate the relative size difference, I took photos of the badge on my MINI Cooper S using a tripod. As you can see not only is the size difference dramatically apparent but you can also see that the different imager on the two cameras produce slightly different fields of view — the Z750 is slightly less wide angle. As the day was extremely sunny and the sun straight overhead, I took a wide shot of my car’s front end to see if I could tease out some purple fringing. As you can see

Z750 (7.2 megapixels)

Z55 (5 megapixels)
in the detail, even zoomed in to 500% in Photoshop there is almost none — and this was an extremely high contrast situation. Continued on page 64
Model...........................Casio EX-Z750 List price.......................$449.99 list Sensor res ........................7.2 megapixels Image dimensions ........3072x2304 ISO ...............................auto, 50/100/200/400 Lens..............................F:2.8-5.1 Lens focal length ..........7.9-23.7mm (38-114mm equiv.) Shutter .........................1/1600 to 60 seconds Exposure compensation ..+/- 2.0 EV in 1/3 EV steps Storage ........................SD Card (none included) Autofocus.....................Contrast AF: multi, spot, free LCD screen ...................2.5 inch (115,200k pixels) Flash modes .................Auto, fill, off, red-eye control Viewfinder....................Optical Battery ........................Casio NP-40 Li-Ion only Weight .........................4.48 oz w/o battery or SD Dimensions...................3.5 x 2.3 x 0.88 inches Included .......................Dock cradle, cables, software

FEATURE

RAW Power
by Jon Cox

DIAMONDS IN THE ROUGH

diamond cutter studies a lump of stone. He decides where to make each cut to capture the beauty of the crystal rock. His level of craft, along with the quality and clarity of the stone, determines how striking the diamond appears. Like diamonds in the rough, RAW image files allow digital photographers to prove their expertise in the digital darkroom. How the photographer interprets the data decides the allure of the image. You’ll hear a lot of people say, “You don’t need to shoot RAW files” and they are correct. You don’t need to but, if you have the option of working with all your camera can give, then why not? I believe this is the best method to render your digital images. A RAW file is a “lossless” compressed file containing minimal camera processing. It seems counterintuitive to spend thousands of dollars on a digital camera that’s equipped with sophisticated settings, only to use file format that doesn’t take full advantage of these advanced settings. However, this is exactly what happens when you shoot using the RAW file format. For years nature photographers have primarily shot color slides. When developing a slide into a print, there is little leeway to make changes to exposure in the darkroom. Hanang Chameleon, Nou Forest, Tanzania. Nikon D1X with Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8D AF lens Trekking around the Nou Forest in Tanzania is breathtaking – finding a rare chameleon is even better. The RAW image is exactly how it appeared on my camera’s LCD screen, seemingly underexposed with very little detail. If I had been judging my exposure based on the image in the LCD screen, I definitely would have re-shot this image. However, I was looking at the camera’s histogram, which showed detail in every part of the image including highlights and shadows. This is why I kept the shot. Weeks later when the image was downloaded onto my computer it still looked much too dark. My camera’s histogram didn’t lie; the image was a diamond in the rough. A few steps in Photoshop’s RAW dialog box and the image appeared just as I remembered.

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Black and white film allows countless adjustments in the wet darkroom, enabling photographers to pull out details that are difficult to see on the negative. You can compare a JPEG file to a color slide in a way that you have less leeway in the darkroom to make changes. A RAW file can be compared to a film negative. My mindset has changed. Since I started shooting RAW files, I feel more like I did when shooting black and white film. My primary goal is to collect data as I shoot RAW files, and then import it into the digital darkroom for final editing. In the field I shoot, while checking the histogram to make sure my exposure contains details in the whites and blacks. I don’t worry about color temperature or how the image actually appears in the LCD

screen, because I trust my histogram. To use the RAW file, you must start by making sure your camera has the ability to shoot with the RAW file format. Different format options are located in your camera’s shooting menu. Your camera’s manufacturer may have given their RAW file format a different name from RAW; however, RAW should be indicated. Once you have taken a few RAW images, you can download them onto your computer. Adobe Photoshop CS, CS2 and Photoshop Elements 3 all have the built-in ability to open RAW files that have been taken from many digital cameras, but not all. Check www.adobe.com to see if your camera model is supported. Using RAW files takes longer to process than JPG or TIFF files,

50 DIGITAL CAMERA MAGAZINE www.digicamera.com

but has become much easier with the Adobe Photoshop Plug-in. The RAW plug-in is like a special photographer’s software package that’s bundled within a larger imaging program. You might have to adjust your workflow a bit when dealing with RAW files. Use the “File Browser” found under the “Window” option in Photoshop to see a quality preview of each image before opening them individually. As you scroll through the preview, select an image you want to view in more detail and click. It’s in this window where the power of the RAW file is held. Within the RAW file dialog box you can adjust for exposure, color temperature, shadows, contrast and saturation, just to name just a few. What’s different about this RAW file dialog box as compared to other options in Photoshop? It’s made especially for photographers and uses our lingo. For example, if I want to adjust for exposure I use the “Exposure” slider. If Mac users hold the Option key or if Windows users hold down the Alt

key, you can see at what value the whites in your image will lose detail. The image will be “clipped” and appear overexposed. White on the screen shows that detail is preserved, while color on the screen indicates that detail is being lost in one of the channels. The best way to adjust the exposure value is to move the slider until the whites begin to lose detail and then move the slider back a bit so your whites retain detail. When you move the slider, a value will appear in the window, which relates to the amount of f/stops that you have changed in your image. For example –1 shows that your image is one f/stop darker than how you shot it and +1 shows that your image is one f/stop brighter than how you shot it. The “Shadows” slider works much in the same way as the “Exposure” slider. If you want to increase the blacks in your image, then move the slider to the right. Mac users hold the Option and Windows users hold down the Alt to view the point at which the blacks begin losing detail. White on the screen shows that detail is preserved, while color indicates that detail is being lost in one of the channels. If you haven’t used the RAW file yet, you’re in for a treat! You may become hooked like I am. –Jon Cox

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f you want to learn more about RAW files or natural close-up

photography in general, check out Jon Cox’s latest AMPHOTO book Digital Nature Photography Closeup, available worldwide at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and your local bookstore. Digital Nature Photography Closeup Author Jon Cox Paperback: 176 pages Publisher: Watson-Guptill Publications (June 1, 2005) ISBN: 081743674X

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hese days MP3 players have become as ubiquitous as cell phones, so I guess it was just a matter of time before it occurred to someone to combine an MP3 player with a digital camera just as they have done with cell phones. Actually, in spite of some claims by others, Kodak was the first off the mark with such a combination gadget several years ago. Maybe it was the right product at the wrong time (I loved mine), but it just didn’t catch on. Hopefully the time is right today for Concord’s neat little DVx. The DVx isn’t just a digital camera and MP3 player, though, it also can record MPEG movies (68 minutes with a 256MB card), act as a voice recorder (18 hours with a 256 MB card), work as a bright LED flashlight, and work with your computer as an SD/MMC card reader! That’s a lot of features to pack into such a tiny body which measures only about2 3/8 X 4 X 5/8 inch, and weighs less than four ounces with rechargeable battery and SD card. I have to admit that I didn’t have high expectations when I unpacked the DVx because it just seemed so small and lightweight. The day after it came in I installed the 128 MB SD card that came with it and slipped it into my pocket for a trip into the country to do some tests with a “real” camera. I pulled it out of my pocket several times while driving around and snapped photos with it. My only real criticism of the DVx as a camera is that it has no optical viewfinder and even though its 1.5-inch LCD monitor is exceptionally good, I still found it almost impossible to see outdoors in bright light. Indoors or in dimmer light this was not a problem and allowed me to make use of the built-in 4X digital zoom feature.

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Now at 2 Megapixels (4 Megapixels with incamera interpolation) you aren’t going to use the DVx to make wall murals, but the lens appears to be of very high quality and the images I got are very sharp, so I would expect to be able to make very good 4 x 6 inch prints from these files. As you can see in the landscape photo accompanying this review, the small twigs on the tree were rendered sharply without any stair-stepping or color fringing, performance which really impressed me and I am not that easy to impress. Perhaps the neatest part of the DVx as a camera is that the lens and it’s accompanying LED illuminators are mounted in a revolving drum. Use the wheel on the side of the DVx to rotate the camera straight up and it is completely hidden and protected. You can revolve it so it points out of either side of

the DVx, so you can see yourself when holding it at arm’s length to shoot self-portraits. How did the DVx perform as an MP3 player? To see, I loaded some of my favorite tunes onto the SD card and listened to them (legally downloaded via iTunes, of course). I don’t claim to be an audiophile, but I think they sounded as good as MP3 files played through little “ear bud” earphones can sound. I can see putting the DVx in my pocket when I go out for walks so I can listen to music and snap photos if I come across anything interesting. The Concord DVx is certainly one of those neat little gadgets that you just have to have once you know about all it can do, sort of a “digital Swiss Army knife.” And with a suggested price of $ 199, it isn’t likely to bust most budgets. —Bob Shell www.concord-camera.com

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he Olympus C-5500 Sport Zoom is for people who want more than just the basics in a digital camera, but without going to extremes. It’s for those who want more than the standard 3X optical zoom but don’t want to shlep around a camera with a huge zoom lens barrel. It’s for those who want to quickly snap pictures, but also play with manual controls without having to spend hours pouring through the manual. It’s for those who want speed, a great macro function, the ability to take good movie clips, and also enough resolution for large prints. And let’s have all of this for a decent price, say US$350 or less. Olympus listened, as always, and the result is the C-5500 Sport Zoom. It’s a 5.1 megapixel camera, and that is plenty enough even for very large prints. Sure, you can now get a camera with 6, 8, 10 or even more megapixel resolution, but we’re aiming for balance here. The Sport Zoom has a gratifyingly large 5X optical zoom that’s the equivalent of a 38-190mm conventional lens. 5X gets you significantly closer than the common 3X magnification found in most digicams. There are cameras out there with 10X and 12X optical zoom, but they usually have large lens barrels that make the camera bulky. The C5500’s 5X lens, on the other hand, retreats completely inside the camera body when power is off. Turn power on, and the lens motors out between an inch and an inch-and-a-half, depending on the zoom. If 5X is not enough, you can seamlessly combine that with a 4X digital zoom for up to 20X total zoom capability. As is always the case with digital zooms, image quality suffers a bit and it’s best to use a tripod, but even at maximum magnification you still get good pictures. The C-5500 has two macro modes, The standard macro lets you get as close as 3.2 inches and still use the optical zoom to get it just right. In Super Macro mode you can get as close as 0.8 inches for ultra closeups. The zoom can’t be used in that mode, but it’s not needed anyway. Between the powerful optical zoom and the equally power Super Macro mode, you have an amazing range. Nothing is ever too far away or too close for this camera. I quickly came to love this feature. It really adds to the enjoyment of taking pictures in just about any situation. And since this is Olympus, one of the undisputed leaders in the digital camera field, the C-5500 doesn’t just stop with its exceptional zoom and macro. Like the competition, Olympus has its own exclusive electronic wizardry to suppress noise, boost image definition, and deliver sharper and clearer pictures. It’s called TruePic TURBO and it works. There is also an “anti-shake” function when shooting movies. Almost all dedicated video cameras have that, but it is not that common in digital cameras. The C-5500 also records movies at a full 30 frames per second for lifelike quality. Unfortunately, movies can only be recorded in 320x240 pixel format, which is disappointing as 640x480 is becoming the norm. Another cool feature is the way the camera’s ten scene modes are presented. Most cameras have scene modes these days—special settings that work well in certain situations—but they are usually represented by

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OLYMPUS C-5500 SPORT ZOOM
goofy icons. The C-5500, on the other hand, illustrates each scene mode with a representative and very high resolution picture on the camera’s large 2-inch LCD. No big deal, but it shows that Olympus cares about little details such as this. And speaking of the LCD, Olympus digicams are not generally known for large LCDs, so the 2-inch, 110,000 pixel display was a pleasant surprise. There are smaller cameras out there with larger displays, but 2 inches is large enough to actually see the picture and also details when you zoom in. The display is very bright indoors and stays reasonably readable outdoors. In bright sunlight you might have to resort to the optical viewfinder though (and hope it works with your eyes as there is no diopter adjustment). In terms of size and appearance, the C-5500 falls somewhere inbetween the small compact cameras you can stick in your pocket and the larger ones that you need a special bag for. It measures 4.2 x 2.7 x 1.9inches and weighs about 9 ounces without batteries. The plastic body feels very sturdy and has a nice silvery metallic finish. Like many cameras in this size range, the C-5500 has a “power bulge” on the right side. It houses four AA batteries and makes it easy to hold the camera in the palm of your hand (if you’re right-hand-

Great Zoom. Great Macro. Great Fun.
access to exposure information. Red and blue highlights show over- and under-exposed areas, making it easy to correct even before you take a shot. The macro and super macro works so well that you can get addicted to taking extreme closeups of all sorts of things. The only problem you encounter here is in dim lighting conditions where the auto focus illuminator beam will shoot right by a very close object so that the camera has a hard time focusing.

ed, that is). I like having 4 AA batteries because they provide good battery life and you can use either alkalines or rechargeables. From an ergonomic point of view, the C-5500 is good but not great. I’ve recently reviewed several cameras where all controls were within perfect reach of my thumb and index finger. That’s not the case with this camera, but the controls are good enough. One thing I don’t like is having the zoom as a ring around the shutter because that way you can either operate the zoom or press the shutter, but not both. I prefer separate controls where the zoom is handled with the thumb. Another criticism concerns the flash. It is very small and you need to pop it up by manually pushing a button before you can use it. Inevitably, you’ll forget to pop it up and thus will miss some shots where you need the flash. Like all current Olympus consumer cameras except for a couple of the high end models, the Sport Zoom uses xD-Picture cards for storage. If you already have invested in CompactFlash or SD cards you’re out of luck and have to buy a good-sized xD-Picture card. The C-5500 comes with a 16MB card, but that is

In playback mode you can zoom in up to 5X in five steps, and pan around in very small steps (42 x 32 steps in maximum zoom). You can also trim and resize pictures, get rid of the dreaded redeye syndrome, and add up to four seconds of sound to each picture. Overall, I really like this camera. For not much money you get a high quality Olympus product with a terrific lens and the kind of flexibility that makes a camera a pleasure to use. And thanks to its manual modes, the C-5500 is equally well suited for beginners as for more advanced photographers. —Conrad Blickenstorfer

nowhere near enough for a modern 5megapixel camera. In the field, the Sport Zoom is a very pleasant companion. Even though it has to motor out the lens, it starts up very quickly. Auto focus is generally quick, there is virtually no shutter lag, and the camera recycles quickly between pictures. In automatic mode, you simply set your preferred resolution and JPEG compression, and then point and shoot. Macro and flash have their dedicated buttons which cycle through the options. In the more advanced modes (Program, Shutter and Aperture Priority and Manual) you have fairly extensive menu control over settings. Those used to Olympus on-screen menus will feel right at home. Those new to Olympus will need a bit of practice. I also recommend perusing the very good 200 page manual that comes in PDF form on a CD. Shooting picture with this camera is sheer pleasure. Nothing ever seems too far away or too close. A special “Direct Histogram” function provides real-time

Model...........................Olympus C-5500 Sport Zoom List price.......................US$349.99 Sensor res ........................5.1 megapixels Image dimensions ........2592x1944 down to 640x480 ISO ...............................80 to 400 or auto Lens..............................F:2.8-8.0 5X opt./4X digital Lens focal length ..........7.9-39.5 mm (38-190mm equiv.) Shutter .........................1/1500 to 15 seconds Exposure compensation ..+/- 2.0 EV in 1/3 EV steps Storage ........................xD-Picture Card (16MB incl.) Focus............................CCD contrast detection LCD screen ...................2.0 inch TFT (110k pixels) Flash modes .................3 modes, up to 12.5 feet Viewfinder....................optical real-image zoom Battery ........................4 AAs Weight .........................8.9 ounces w/o battery or card Dimensions...................4.2 x 2.7 x 1.9 inches Included .......................Master software, cables, strap

CAMLAB

For this country landscape I wanted maximum tonality, so I set the camera to its longest tonal scale. I added a bit of saturation in Adobe Photoshop.

PROFESSIONAL

b y

b o b

s h e l l

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was very anxious to get a chance to try out the Fuji Finepix S3 Professional SLR camera when I heard about it, because I had reviewed it predecessors the S1 and S2 and liked many things about them. I had also disliked some things about them and was fervently hoping that those things were corrected in the new S3. Did Fuji succeed in satisfying me with their new camera? Well, I have to be blunt and say “yes and no.” The Fuji S series digital SLR cameras are all built around Nikon film SLR bodies, and in the S1 and S2 I thought that their hybrid nature was a bit too obvious. For example, having to power the camera body with one set of batteries and the digital back with a different type of batteries always struck me as poor planning, and a nuisance. I thought a camera in the price range these are in should have professional features, too, such as fast flash synch and a vertical grip and controls for all of those vertical photos pro photographers shoot. I was also a bit annoyed that when you format a card in a Fuji camera it actually overwrites all of the data, so if you accidentally format a card without downloading the images no image rescue software can save you and retrieve the files. I believe the digital photographer who has never accidentally formatted a card does not exist. So the very first thing I did when I unpacked the Fuji

S3 was to check to see how many of these things they had fixed. Kudos go to Fuji for powering the whole camera with one set of batteries, and extra points for making them ordinary rechargeable AA cells which can be bought nearly anywhere. That alone is a major step forward for the S3. The camera comes with four NiMH rechargeable AA cells, and I was astonished at how long the camera ran on a charge. I did all of my testing on the initial charge and only had to recharge when I got ready to write this review. I’d heard that the S3 featured an integral vertical grip and vertical shutter release button, and it certainly does. I was getting to like the camera already from an ergonomic point of view without even taking my first picture. It seemed like the designers at Fuji had been listening to my grousing at long distance. I was a bit annoyed that no other controls were provided when shooting vertically as on the Nikon digital cameras, but hey the vertical release was such a step forward. Fuji has also worked some magic on the shutter and boosted the flash synch up to 1/180 second, a much-appreciated improvement for fill flash work. Ok, after reading through the very detailed instruction manual and learning the basics of operation I set out to do my first shoot with the S3. I wanted to see how a Sigma 70-200 f/2.8 APO zoom lens would do in the studio.

Since that is a large and somewhat heavy lens I mounted the lens on my studio stand, hung the camera on the back, turned it to vertical, and prepared to shoot my first photos. I got the model framed just the way I wanted, perfect expression, and pressed the vertical shutter button. Nothing happened. So, I thought maybe I needed to punch it a couple of times to wake the camera up as I sometimes have to do on other digital cameras. No dice. The camera was stone cold dead. I thought for a bit and on a whim I reached across with my left hand and pressed the regular shutter release, and the camera sprang to life and I began to shoot photos. Then the same thing happened again, and again, completely ruining the flow of the shoot. After a lot of cursing I finally realized that you can’t wake the camera up with the vertical release button when it has gone to sleep. I assumed I must have gotten a defective early sample since I could not conceive of anyone designing it that way, but my contact at Fuji confirmed my worst fears – that is the way they designed it. Their suggestion, set the camera so it doesn’t go to sleep. When I said something about that running the batteries down, they responded that most studio photographers would be using the AC adapter. Well, maybe I am just weird, but I want a camera that adapts itself to my way of working, not one that forces me to work

its way. I don’t want a cord dangling from my camera while I am working. I already converted some time ago to radio triggers for my studio flash systems just to get rid of dangling synch cords. So it looks like Fuji got it almost right on the vertical release button, but I may have to wait for the S4 to get one that is fully functional. My contact at Fuji USA was not able to get an answer from Fuji in Japan as to whether this could be fixed in a future firmware update, but I have a feeling that it is a physical wiring problem and not something the firmware can address. So I hate the camera, right? Well, no, not at all. On the whole I like it very much. I’m just frustrated by thickheaded designers who obviously never use what they design. I like so much about the camera that the couple things I don’t like just stand out like proverbial sore thumbs. If you’re going to put in a secondary shutter release button it is just common sense to make it do everything that the main one does. Now I will get down off my soapbox and tell you the good stuff about the camera. The camera is built on a Nikon body, as I said, so this means that if you are already a Nikon user all of the main controls will be in familiar places and you won’t have to look far to find lenses. All current Nikkor lenses will work just fine, as will most older Nikkor lenses. Nikon-mount lenses from Sigma, Tamron, Vivitar, etc., also work just fine. Similarly Nikon flash units and third-party flash units made for Nikon digital cameras also work just fine (but only the flash units made for digital cameras). For some of my testing I used the little Nikon SB50DX for fill flash and got great results. It may be stating the obvious, but the most important part of a digital camera is the sensor chip. Fuji is one of only three companies building digital cameras that also make their own sensor chips (the other two are Canon and Kodak; most of the others use Sony chips). Making their own chips allows Fuji to go off in their own direction. While other chips, both CCD and CMOS, use sensor elements that are square or rectangular, Fuji uses elements that are sort of hexagonal. Not only that, but in the S3’s sensor, which Fuji calls the Super CCD SR II, the sensor elements are in two different sizes. One of the tricks used by film makers to get broader sensitivity is to use silver halide crystals of two different sizes, big ones for low light sensitivity and smaller ones for bright light sensitivity. It may not be coincidental that Fuji, a major film maker, applied this same kind of thinking to their latest digital sensor chip design. As you can see from this diagram, the chip has two sizes of sensor elements in alternating patterns, the smaller, low sensitivity R pixels and the larger, high sensitivity S pixels. Just as with film, having these sensor elements in two sizes allows the Fuji S3 to make images with an extended tonal range. Not only that, but you have the option to switch the secondary sensors on and off manually to either limit or extend the tonal range. You can set the tonal range that you want to match your subject based on percentage of the input of the secondary sensors. The options are 130, 200
www.digicamera.com

A pretty model, an old shirt and a really loud necktie turned out to be the perfect combination for a studio shoot with model Renee King. I set the camera for its longest tonal scale to hold detail in shadows without blowing out highlights.

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CAMLAB

Manufacturer . . . . . .Fujifilm (www.fujifilm.com) Model . . . . . . . . . . . .FinePix S3 PRO (interchangeable lens SLR-type) Camera body . . . . . . .Polycarbonate over metal chassis List Price . . . . . . . . . .US$2499 Sensor Resolution . . .12.34mp (6.17mp S-pixel + 6.17mp R-pixel) White Balance . . . . . .Auto, 6 presets, 2 custom Image dimensions . . .4,256 x 2,848 down to 1,440 x 960 pixels Compression levels . .RAW-WIDE, RAW-STD; JPEG F/N Sensitivity (ISO) . . . . .100/160/200/400/800/1600 Viewfinder info . . . . .focus, metering, AE, speed, aperture, mode, frames Lens . . . . . . . . . . . . .not included Lens mount . . . . . . . .Nikon F Mount w/ AF coupling, AF contacts Focusing . . . . . . . . . .Single AF, continuous AF, manual Shutter speed range .30 sec. to 1/4000 sec., bulb, X-contact Exposure control . . . .Auto, manual, Aperture/Shutter priority, programs Exposure metering . .3D-10 Matrix, center-weighted, spot

Exp. compensation . . .-3 to + 3 in 1/2 EV steps Self timer . . . . . . . . . .20/10/5/2 seconds Color setting . . . . . . .Standard, high, org., b&w Storage card type . . .slot 1: xD-Picture Card, slot 2: CF/Microdrive File formats . . . . . . . .CCD-RAW (14-bit), JPEG (EXIF 2.21) Autofocus . . . . . . . . .TTL phase detection Tripod Mount . . . . . .Standard ISO type with hotshoe contact Print support . . . . . . .PRINT Image Matching II, DPOF Built-in Flash . . . . . . .Guide No. 12 (ISO 100) Viewfinder . . . . . . . . .Fixed eyelevel pentaprism w/ diopter adjustment LCD screen . . . . . . . .2" TFT, 235,000 pixels Battery type . . . . . . .4 AA Ni-MH Weight . . . . . . . . . . .1.9 lb. without battery and lens Dimensions . . . . . . . .5.8 x 5.3 x 3.1 inches Included . . . . . . . . . .Battery charger, shoulder strap, LCD cover, IEEE 1394 and USB cables, software, clamp filter, eyepiece and camera bodt caps, AV cable

and 400%, which I found confusing terminology. You can also allow the camera to automatically make this choice for you. For my testing I shot a number of photos in each manual mode as well as many in which I let the camera make the decision. I found that it worked better when I made the choice myself based on the subject since the automatic selection didn’t make the choice I would have made in many cases. The Super CCD SR II sensor allows the Fuji S3 to offer effective ISO speeds from 100 up to 1600 without significant noise at the higher ISO equivalent settings. I did some test shots at all of the ISO settings and found that noise was just beginning to rear its ugly head in the 1600 shots. For most applications this means that the full ISO range is completely usable. The active area of the sensor chip measures 15.5 X
I don’t know if it will show up in magazine reproduction but selecting the widest possible tonal range has retained detail in the darkest parts of this old bridge without losing highlight detail.

23 mm, a size that produces an approximate 1.5X multiplication factor of the lens focal length. This extra magnification is really great for adding extra reach to your telephoto lenses or the long end of your zoom lenses, but really wreaks havoc on wide-angle lenses, turning a 28mm wide angle into a 42mm boringly normal lens. Getting real wide shots requires ultra-wide lenses or zooms that go ultra-wide on their short end. Neither option is inexpensive, although more lenses have become available in this once-exotic range and prices are coming down. There are 6.17 million of each type of sensor element on the imaging chip. Thus, when the secondary sensor elements are turned off, the Fuji S3 is a 6 Megapixel camera. When both sets are active, there are 12.34 million active sensor elements, and the S3 becomes a 12 Megapixel camera. Images at the highest quality setting are 2848 X

4256 (12.1 million) pixels, which means that the camera firmware must be interpolating the missing pixels when the secondary sensor elements are turned off. You can also shoot at lower resolutions of 2016 X 3024, 1536 X 2304, and 960 X 1440 pixels when you don’t need the full resolution. Additionally, you can shoot in JPEG or 14 bit RAW. Fuji’s RAW files carry the .RAF file extension, and can be opened with Photoshop CS and CS2, as well as with Fuji’s own software. I found no need to use Fuji’s software since I was already working with Photoshop CS2 when I was testing the camera. The Fuji S3 incorporates automatic file rotation, a feature all cameras should have. When I first started working with files from the test camera this feature was really flaky, working sometimes and not working at other times. A question to Fuji elicited the information that there was a firmware update available on their web site for download. I downloaded and installed the new firmware, a very simple process, and the automatic file rotation worked flawlessly. This brings up an important point. Whenever you buy a new camera the very first thing you should do is visit the manufacturer’s web site and check for firmware updates. Check to see that the camera you bought has the latest version of the firmware, and if it doesn’t, you should upgrade immediately. This can save you a lot of headaches. One feature I found interesting is that the camera offers what Fuji calls Virtual Film-Simulation Function. This has two settings, one for less saturation and contrast and one for more saturation and contrast. I would have called them Astia-simulation and Velvia-simulation, since that is how they look to my eye, although the setting to boost saturation does not produce as much saturation as I get from scanning my old Velvia transparencies. I found myself boosting the saturation in Photoshop on nearly all of the images I shot with this setting. I really liked having this choice, though, since it simplified my Photoshop work on the final images. Another bit of flexibility I like is the dual card slots that are revealed when you pop open the door on the back of the camera. The upper slot accepts xD cards and the lower slot CompactFlash cards or Microdrives. I’m not a big fan of xD cards simply because they are so small and I have a propensity to lose little things in my chaotic office, so I was happy that I could use my collection of CompactFlash cards. Others without my tendency to lose things can happily snap away on their xD cards. Better yet, put in one of each and double your shooting capacity. It is impossible to go into every detail of this new camera in a review such as this. But Fuji has put the complete brochure on the Finepix S3 Pro on their web site as a PDF file. Just go to www.fujifilm.com and you will find this camera under Consumer Products/Digital Cameras.

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Top: I found that when I let the camera automatically select its tonal scale it worked pretty well most of the time. These tomatoes look just as I remember them from the outdoor market. Above: Sometimes the camera did not automatically select the tonal range I would have picked leading to blown out highlights in the yellow apples on the right of this shot. Left: The enhanced color mode, which I called Velvia mode, was just right to bring out the colors and textures in this rusty metal. Right: After parking on an upper level of a parking garage I made this shot of reflections in the side of a glass building. The camera was set to automatically select tonal range, and seems to have got it exactly right in this shot.

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DIGITAL CAMERA MAGAZINE 59

FEATURE
emember that old Epson printer that’s stored somewhere? The one gathering dust in the attic or basement because you couldn’t bear to part with it after you bought that new super-duper model? Well, check the sidebar to this article and if it’s on the list, give it shake and wake it up—it’s about to spin out longer-lasting images than it ever thought it could. Even with new dye-based inks formulated to extend print life, pigment-based inks will give you longevity that lasts for generations. Pigments withstand light, humidity, ozone and temperature variations much better than dyes, which is why most printer manufacturers are gradually moving over to them. Dye based inks will gradually fade away (yes, that’s a pun ) and hundreds of thousands of printers will be left high and dry. But MediaStreet (www.mediastreet. com), a third-party ink and paper manufacturer, offers a pigment-based ink just for those older (and even some newer) printers. They claim their specially-formulated Generations G-Chrome Ink virtually matches (and in some cases exceeds) the rich color gamut of Epson’s own pigment-based inks and that its

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miniscule particle sizes ranging from .12 to .18 microns won’t clog up printer nozzles designed to spray small dye droplets. Since the smallest nozzle opening on an Epson printhead is 25 microns (that’s twenty-five, not dot 25)—it’s as easy for MediaStreet’s pigment particles to pass through the printhead as it is for a flock of chickens to strut through an open barn door.

Furthermore, MediaStreet says they have patented a technique that keeps their pigment ink particles from agglomerating (sticking together) which some other pigmented inks are prone to do, and that results in continually clogged printheads. This, obviously, is not a good thing because at best it requires multiple cleaning cycles that waste ink and at worst can totally incapacitate your printer if you don’t use it regularly. Having several older Epson inkjets hang-

Using archival dye inks in an Epson pigment ink printer
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ing around, I decided to test the process on a StylusPhoto 870 that had been used on one of our digital photography workshop cruises and then stored. The first step was to clean its nozzles thoroughly with a special cleaner called Jet Jrano (try pronouncing that, though if you’re from Sarajevo it should be easy). I downloaded MediaStreet’s 7-color-purge pattern image, snapped in the two cleaning cartridges and ran about a dozen cleaning cycles until the paper showed no ink. Because the printer had been in storage for about four years, it required more cleaning cycles than if it had been in use, but there’s more than enough cleaner to do the job and plenty left over to flush out the printhead again should you decide to revert to dye-based inks. By the way, nothing drastic will happen if you still have a few drops of the old ink in the printer’s system; it will quickly be overpowered by the new ink. Now the moment of truth. I popped out the cleaning cartridges and inserted MediaStreet’s pigment ink cartridges. Setting my printer to 720 dpi and its speed to high (the combination I had always used with good results) I knocked out my first print. Bummer! I had faint white lines running through sky and other solid-colored areas. OK, let’s read the instructions. Aha! “Use the highest dpi setting on your printer and turn high speed off.” At 1440 dpi, that produced a much better result—there were still some faint white lines in the sky areas but you really had to make an effort to see them. Other areas of the print were fine. (If my printer had been capable of 2880 dpi, MediaStreet assured me that every print would be perfect. As it turned out, about 95% of them were fine at 1440 dpi.) Why the big deal about using the highest printer resolution (which lays down smaller dots of ink)? You need smaller droplets of ink with pigmentbased inks because the dots do not spread out and blend together as they do with dye-based inks; therefore many smaller dots must be placed closer together to give the appearance of a smooth, continuous tone. Most people avoid using higher dpi settings because they think each higher multiple uses twice as much ink. Not so, says MediaStreet. What the printer does at higher dpi settings is simply break up larger dots of ink (that would normally be laid down at lower resolutions) into smaller ones— the volume of ink

used essentially stays the same. What I found to be a killer, though, is that the printer has to think a lot more about where to place the increased number of dots. So what used to take me 2:20 to output a 6 x 8-inch print, now took 8:05, quite a bit longer. Another down side is that I had to be careful not to run my hand over the surface of a glossy print until it dried thoroughly or the ink would smear. Overnight usually did the trick. Lustre and matte surfaces, though, dried quickly. Aside from longer print life, there’s a modest saving by using MediaStreet’s pigment inks; they’re about 10-15% less expensive than using the manufacturer’s inks. I ran 26, 8 x10-inch prints before the color cartridge was depleted (black was only a third gone). Figuring a 3:1 ratio of color to black, the cost of ink for each print would be about $2.10 (a cartridge set costs about $68.00 and paper prices vary according to their surfaces). I found the color quality to be just fine, though if you want the best results you should use MediaStreet’s color profiles, available at their site. That puts your output in the more capable hands of your imaging program rather than at the mercy of the printer driver. Profiles also optimize the output of the ink so you can get better results at lower dpi settings. What if profiles for the paper and dpi settings you might want to use aren’t available? No problem. MediaStreet will custom-make as many profiles for you as you want—at no charge! While other firms might slam you for $40 to over $100 each for custom profiles, you can download a color target at MediaStreet’s site, print it out, send it to them, and they’ll email you the profile in just a few days. This allows you a perfect match between your printer using their inks and papers– or any manufacturer’s paper that you want them to profile. Now that’s a deal! It was good to hear my old printer humming along again. I was able to justify being a pack rat—it’s hell for me to throw anything out, I mean, you never know when it might come in handy, right? Now, at least, one of the hundreds of obsolete and useless items I have stashed away finally has proved my point, thanks to MediaStreet.

MediaStreet Compatible Epson Printers, and Cleaning Tips
Here are the Epson printers that will accept MediaStreet’s G-Chrome inks:

• 780 • 875DC • 1270 • 9000

• 785EPX • 890 • 1280 • R200

• 825 • 900 • 3000 • R300

• 870 • 925 • 7000 • R320

—Arthur Bleich

If your printer has been sitting around awhile, you should make sure it’s functioning properly before switching to pigment-based inks. It may need several cleaning cycles to clear the nozzles so they lay down a proper pattern. If you still have dye-based ink cartridges in the printer, start by running a nozzle check to see if the printer is functional. Epson printers go through progressively stronger cleaning cycles so if the first doesn’t do the trick (as determined by printing out a nozzle check pattern), keep going. After three cleaning cycles (checking the nozzle pattern after each one), print an image (or the MediaStreet color pattern) and run a nozzle check again. If it still shows an irregular pattern, run some more cleaning cycles in groups of three. Don’t overdo the cleaning cycles. If the nozzle pattern continues to show gaps in the same places, let the printer sit overnight, which will usually help dissolve clogged ink, and then run some cleaning cycles (in threes) again. If that still doesn’t do it, you can try an easy “industrial strength” cleaning method (http://tinyurl.com/5motv). Why not just clean your printhead with Jet Jrano from the beginning? Because you’ll have no way of seeing the whole nozzle pattern since Jrano is a clear liquid. Jrano works best when used to flush dye-based ink from a printer that is printing up to specs, with all nozzles firing cleanly. If you must use Jrano as the first step (because you may not have a set of functional cartridges in your printer), be sure to run a nozzle check with the G-Chrome ink after it’s been installed. Finally, always leave ink cartridges in Epson printers when they are idle or in storage because the cartridges create a seal against air entering the ink feeding system which can interfere with the nozzles firing correctly. If this happens, a few cleaning cycles will usually take care of it. –AB
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IMAGING WORKSHOP

Al

Francekevich

If you put the words “Photoshop Actions” into Google, you’ll come up with 1,020,000 hits! These include actions that are for sale and a remarkable number that are totally free.

Lights,Camera,

Actions!
you slide the saturation value to the right, the picture gets more sepia and eventually becomes a very vivid and garish orange. If you move the hue slider, the picture changes to a number of toned photograph treatments from green to blue to brown, etc. If you really like to play, you can change the opacity of either of these two layers and you’ll get a blend of pure sepia and full color. You can also put a mask in the middle layer and by painting in it with a medium value of black, you can make part of the picture color and part sepia. Most actions work this way. Some of

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n action is a series of computer commands that can be saved and used to accomplish repetitive tasks. You can write your own action and save it for future use. You have to be perfectly logical and specific in your commands or else it won’t work. You can’t record every command in an action that you might want to, and it usually takes me a few tries before a homemade action works perfectly. Photoshop comes with a bunch of pre programmed actions. One that I like is the sepia toning action. You start with a single layer

color photograph. When you run the action, it does the following things: 1. It copies your color photograph onto a new layer and desaturates it so it appears to to black and white. 2. It adds a Hue Saturation adjustment layer already pre-set to Colorize with the Hue slider set to 30 and the Saturation slider set to 25. The beauty of this is that you don’t have to know any of this—your picture is automatically a pleasant sepia. If you like to play, like many of us, you’ll open the Hue saturation adjustment layer and fool with the settings. If

◗ “Porcelain Skin” - A retouching action from craigsactions.com was used on this portrait of my wife Janet. It gives you a result in layers in which you can
decide what features are sharp and which ones are soft focus.

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◗ “Puzzle” - A jigsaw puzzle effect from actionxchange.com. I ran it with 20 pieces but it can be run with 30 or 56 pieces as well. Each piece is its own layer so you can turn off pieces or even copy them and move them. ◗ “Midnight Sepia” from atncentral.com produces a full color effect
that has a sepia feeling.

them merge the layers as their final step. In the actions palette, you can uncheck this final step if you want to play with the layers. Some actions stop and ask you to input different values to suit your taste. The author of the action can’t anticipate every type of picture or the taste of the user. I think most people like to use actions because they do something without too much user involvement. For the curious crowd, actions are very educational because you can see how the author went about creating a certain effect. What got me started with my exploration of actions in general was the announcement by Kodak of a free series of actions that augment their plug-ins that I wrote about in the January 2005 issue of this magazine (“Four Amazing Plug-Ins from Kodak”). These actions are free, but you have to own the plug-ins for them to work. I used their Air Dimensional action on my self portrait. It modifies what their Gem Airbrush Professional plugin does. My illustration in January of a fashion model’s face was a straight application of the plug-in used full strength and it was perfect. When I used this filter on portraits of “civilians”—people without make-up or special lighting, the full strength version looked artificial. I got around this by running the plug-in on a separate layer and us-

◗ “Air Dimensional” — Kodak’s action that works in conjunction with their Gem Airbrush Filter produced this result automatically on my self portrait.

ing a mask, applying it where needed to smooth out skin but not using it on hair and other details that were better sharp. The beauty of using this free action is that it somehow does this automatically and produces a result that doesn’t need further work. I can see portrait photographers running this action without even looking, it’s that good. Further information on this and the other actions for the other filters is available on their site at www.asf.com. Another source for a series of actions that are geared to professional portrait photographers is www. craigsactions.com. These are for sale and evolved from Craig Minielly’s very successful Canadian photography studio that operates under the trade name of Aura (www.auraphotographics.com). Craig told me that he wanted to standardize effects that he had perfected over the years and put them in a form that other people on his staff could run them even if he wasn’t standing over their shoulders. Some of his actions are very advanced such as converting files to CMYK as preparation for printing brochures and ads. The ones that I favored were the ones that worked on people’s faces. I used his Porcelain Soft Skin on a portrait of my wife Janet. Craig has two versions of this. In the first, the whole picture turns soft and you paint in the details on the mask to restore the areas you want sharp (hair, eyes, lips).

In the second version (the one I used), the soft layer is hidden by a black mask. At first the picture looks like you haven’t changed it at all. Here the object is to paint in the mask using a white brush to soften the areas you want to smooth out - mostly skin. This action and the Kodak Air Dimensional are similar but not identical. The Porcelain Soft Skin action is more ethereal looking and the Kodak Air Dimensional flatters the subject without appearing to diffuse. Two other sites that sell actions are www.fredmiranda.com and http://actions.home.att.net Fred was a pioneer with actions and first wrote an interpolation action that increases the size of a digital photo file in 10% increments. Up till Photoshop 7, this was one of the best ways to interpolate a picture. The interpolation in Image Size in Photoshop CS, using Bicubic Smoother largely eliminated the need for “staircase interpolation” although some experts still use it along with bicubic smoother. Now Miranda has a multitude of actions that do various things at very moderate prices. Noel Carboni is a long time amateur photographer and a professional software engineer. He has a set of actions called dSLR Tools that he sells for $15. Noel has identified certain common problems in digital photos and wrote this set of actions to deal with them. So far I’ve only tried a couple of them before the deadline of this issue and they work well. dSLR Tools contains many actions in one package. Next I went to www.actionxchange.com which immediately took me to an Adobe site. Here there was a wealth of downloads , both actions, brushes and tutorials. Adobe wants you to log in and pick a password. I downloaded an action called “Puzzle effects”. It was written by Panos Efstathiadas and allows you to turn your picture into a jigsaw puzzle. You can choose the number of pieces - I used twenty, but you can go to as many as 56. The way the puzzle is constructed, each piece is a separate layer. That way you can turn off pieces and see through the puzzle to another image, or even copy and move a piece. The action pauses when the first piece comes up and lets you change the direction of the light and the emboss effect. Once you accept it, all the pieces are rendered the same way. The pieces are not simply a line in the shape of a jigsaw piece. They have a three dimensional look with a highlight and shadow, just like a real jigsaw puzzle. A beautifully designed fun action. A friend told me about another site - www.atncentral.com. This contains many actions some of which are beautiful, some are funny, and some are utilitarian. I liked one called “Midnight Sepia, V2” by Dave Jaseck. It produced a dark soft romantic look which I applied to a still life that my

◗ “Sepia” — This interesting sideview was produced using a sepia action
that comes with Adobe Photoshop.

students and I photographed in my old advanced studio class at SVA. It turned a commercial still life into a painterly classic looking still life. I think it would work well to create a perfume ad effect. Very pretty. The same site contains many other interesting actions which I haven’t tried as yet. They should keep me busy for quite a while. ◆
Al Francekevich is an award-winning advertising photographer who teaches studio techniques and digital imaging at the School of Visual Arts in New York City.

Casio EX-Z750, continued from page 47
Overall image quality from this camera is excellent for its class, if a bit on the overly saturated side. This can easily be minimized if you find your results a bit too Disney for your taste.

using the LCD as a viewfinder in direct sunshine, so I doubt I’ll ever need the optical. The Z750 is the best thin-zoom yet from Casio. It’s a gleaming marvel of miniaturization, feature innovation, and appealing user interface design. –DM

Movie modes
This camera offers a boatload of features for moviemakers. The MPEG quality is high. You can now use Casio’s Best Shot mode with movies, making it easy to adjust to challenging lighting situations. the Past Movie function lest you capture five seconds of motion before a still shot is taken, and the Short Movie setting lets you create an 8 second movie centered on a still in the middle. You can use Motion Print to select up to eight frame to convert to a still photo, and Movie Playback Zoom lets you zoom in and move around within a playing movie. They’ve even included three editing modes to eliminate unwanted “footage.” When your masterpiece is done, you can pop the camera in its dock and use the new AV out jack to connect it directly to your home theater equipment. With all this functionality, still Casio managed to make the X750 even slimmer by beveling the edges of the case. the optical viewfinder is ridiculously tiny, but it works. I had no trouble
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REVIEW

Epson Perfection Photo 4990
A second, more detailed look at a powerful, affordable scanning solution

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here’s no question about it: digital photography is here to stay and there are more than a few photographers who’ve made the jump entirely from film. Instead of checking their slides with a loupe, they’ve graduated to “pixel peeping” the LCD on the back of their digital cameras, checking for sharpness and good exposure. However, film has certainly not disappeared and there are still many people who prefer it. Furthermore, chances are good that most photographers who now shoot exclusively with digital cameras still have quite a few slides and negatives tucked away somewhere. A good film scanner might be thought of as a “rosetta stone,” easing the transition from the old ways to the new and even giving some long-forgotten shots a new lease on life. Most affordable scanners designed for home use fall into two categories: dedicated film scanners and flatbed scanners. The former is designed to accommodate only film while the latter can scan prints too. Not too long ago most would agree that flatbed film scanners were not quite ready for prime time. Those early models added film scanning as an after-thought to a device that was primarily designed to scan documents and prints. Sometimes scanning film meant the purchase of an extra adapter and the results were barely good enough for an 8x10 inch print. Epson can take credit for refining the flatbed film scanner with the introduction of its latest model, the Epson 4990 film scanner. I must confess that I had my doubts. Could this new device really deliver a noticeable improvement over my old Epson 2400 dpi scanner? The 4990 arrived at my door with Epson’s usual attention to packing detail. Setup was relatively easy; just be sure to follow the wellwritten instructions closely for unlocking the scanner’s carriage mechanism. Epson is also very emphatic about installing the dri-

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vers prior to connecting the scanner, which supports both USB and Firewire connections. I chose USB to connect to my PC. The installation was a breeze and my Windows XP system had no problems with any of the hardware or included software.

Software bundle extraordinaire
Speaking of software, Epson has pulled out all the stops and includes quite a bundle: LaserSoft Imaging SilverFast 6.0 SE, Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0 (minor gripe here;

Adobe is up to version 3.0 of its Elements software), ABBYY FineReader Sprint OCR, Epson Scan driver with Epson Easy Photo Fix and a new Epson Copy Utility. There is an option for selecting or de-selecting which components you wish to install or not, as the case may be. Once everything was set up and working properly, I started off with some reasonably well-exposed 35mm slides that I shot on a trip I made to Hawaii last fall. The Epson Scan software has three modes to choose from: an Auto mode for beginners, an Intermediate mode with more scanning options, and an Expert level offering the most control over the scanning operation. I selected the expert level and dove right in. I happen to own a much older “cousin” of the 4990—an Epson 2450 scanner—and was hopeful that the new model would be a noticeable improvement; I was not disappointed. The Epson 4990 gave me scans with much better shadow detail than my older model was capable of. The colors were spot-on using my calibrated monitor and the scans really did justice to the saturated Velvia film that I used while shooting on the Big Island. A 2400 dpi scan of a 35mm slide took a little over a minute, which is certainly an improvement over my older model.

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REVIEW

The Hasselblad Test
Next, I tried some good old 6x6 slide and color negative print film that I shot using my trusty Hasselblad medium format camera while on a trip to Yosemite a few years ago. Many of the shots were taken in bright, afternoon sun and thus there was quite a bit of contrast. This scanner handled it all with aplomb. In fact, there was shadow detail in the scans that I had never noticed before when using my old 2400 dpi scanner. I made a few prints using my Epson 2200 and must say I was impressed by the results. For anyone who has spent hours de-spotting negatives and slides, the included Digital Ice software can be a God-send. Even though scan times are increased substantially it’s worth it because I can walk away and do something else while my scan is “cook-

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Epson Perfection 4990 General Specifications
• Flatbed single pass color scanner • 4800 dpi optical resolution • 4900 X 9600 dpi max hardware resolution with Epson Micro Step Drive • 48-bit color scanning with 4.0 dynamic range for transparencies • 16-bit grayscale scanning • Color CCD line sensor • USB 2.0 & FireWire (IEEE 1394) • Maximum Read Area: 8.5" x 11.7" • Zooming: 50% to 200% (1% step)

Scanning Speed
• High Speed Scan mode - (4800 dpi) • Monochrome (bi-level): approx 12.3 msec/line • Full Color - approx. 12.3 msec/line

Outstanding Features
• Digital ICE for film and photo prints automatically removes surface defects • Epson Easy Photo Fix technology for color restoration, dust removal and grain- reduction • ColorTrue II Imaging Technology • Advanced driver with Automatic, Home and Professional modes for all skill levels • 8x10 transparency adapter with a moving carriage and lamp optimized for film scans • New Scan Progress Indicator • 4.0 Dmax • All bundled software is compatible with Macintosh OS X 10.2x to OS X 10.3x • Hi-Speed USB 2.0 and FireWire (IEEE 1394) interface standard

ing.” I try to keep my slides and negatives stored properly but dust always manages to sneak in and a few of my older negatives had managed to get a nasty scratch or two. I could have easily spent an entire evening squinting at my monitor, zapping spots with Photoshop’s clone tool. Fortunately this was unnecessary for the most part and I found only a few problem areas that managed to out-fox the Digtial Ice software. I did find that sharpening the scan using Photoshop’s Unsharp Mask is quite necessary—even more so for my medium format scans. However this came as no great surprise and once I found the appropriate amount and radius, the results were excellent. Scanning at its highest optical resolution (and 48-bit color depth), the resulting files were so huge they threatened to use up most of my available disk space; fortunately I didn’t need mural-sized prints so I settled on scanning my 6x6 negatives at 2400 dpi. This gave me the ability to compare recently-made prints with some I’d made a few years ago with my old Epson 2450. I must say there’s no contest; the 4990 prints win hands down with a big improvement in shadow detail—most likely due to the much improved 4.0 Dmax rating of this new scanner.

Verdict: What’s not to like?
After using this scanner several weeks I feel that I can recommend it wholeheartedly. Sure, if you have the money you can buy a more costly dedicated film scanner that will likely deliver moderately better scans, but the Epson 4990 will still give results that are in the same ballpark as some that cost three times as much and the more expensive scanners can’t scan a print if called upon to do so. For most photographers who don’t need mural-sized prints this will likely be all the scanner they’ll ever need. What’s not to like? While the film holders are an improvement over my old Epson’s, they’re still a bit flimsy and I suspect easily broken. I must admit that they do do a much better job of holding the film flat than the old Epson’s film-holders did and that can be very important for obtaining a good, sharp scan. As mentioned earlier, it would’ve been nice if Epson had been able to work something out with Adobe so that Photoshop Elements 3.0 could have been bundled with the scanner instead of version 2.0. Other than those two admittedly small gripes I cannot think of any reason not to recommend the Epson 4990 flatbed scanner very highly indeed. –Beau Hooker

Software Bundle
• LaserSoft Imaging SilverFast 6.0 SE • Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0 • ABBYY FineReader Sprint OCR • Epson Scan driver with Epson Easy Photo Fix • New Epson Copy Utility

Dimensions & Weight
• 18.7” x 12” x 5.3” (L x W x H) • 14.8 lbs.

Contact: www.epson.com Street Price: $449

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DIGITAL CAMERA MAGAZINE 69

View Finder
Conrad H. Blickenstorfer

Zoom, Zoom

N

o, this is not about Mazda and its weird “zoom-zoom” commercials (though I’ve owned two Mazda rotary engined cars I never understood that one). It’s about our kind of zoom, the twist of the lens that brings you closer. Zooming seems hardly a topic worthy of an entire column, but when it comes to digital cameras it is. Not for experts perhaps, but for those relatively new to digital cameras who have to make a decision what to spend their money on. So I want to point out a few things about zooming and digital cameras, what types of zoom there are, and what to look out for. Interestingly, while almost every digital camera has a built-in zoom lens, that really wasn’t the case with film cameras. Most just had a standard fixed lens, and if you wanted to get closer you either cozied up to the subject if you could, or you marked up the print and then asked the photolab to enlarge the part you were interested in. You could get zoom lenses of course, but mostly for single lens reflex cameras. I had a couple for my succession of Nikon SLRs, but among serious photographers they were frowned upon as an easy way out, a shortcut tool that took the art and craft out of taking pictures, a lens that was a jack of all trades but a master of none. That may or may not have been so, but for digital cameras it’s irrelevant (unless, of course, you’re a hard core photographer who thinks that zoom lenses are an easy way out). Anyway, when I got my first real digital cameras back in 1997 or so I was surprised that most had an internal zoom. I quickly found out why. If you only have 640x480 or 800x600 pixels to work with, you couldn’t take a picture and later enlarge the parts you liked. The resolution just wasn’t there. The resolution of those early digicams was so low that you always had to get as close to your subject as possible. You simply couldn’t afford to crop later. A zoom helped because it let you get closer, thus getting halfway decent pictures even at the low imager resolutions of the day. So a tradition was born. Digital cameras have zooms. It’s hard to find one that doesn’t. For some reason, 3X has become the standard. 3X means that the picture you take at full magnification looks as if you were about three times closer to your subject. So let’s talk a bit about what to look out for with zooms. First, make sure you have a very clear understanding of the difference between “optical” zoom and “digital” zoom. Optical zoom is the real thing. It actual uses the optical mag82 DIGITAL CAMERA MAGAZINE

nification properties of the lens to bring you closer. Optical zoom uses all the pixels in your camera. Even at full zoom, image quality will be as good as without zoom. Digital zoom is different. This is simply a trick. “Zooming” here means nothing more than zeroing in on part of your picture, then enlarging the picture by doubling or tripling the size of each pixel. You get no more detail because there is none. You simply get a low resolution, blocky picture no matter how many megapixels are in it. Fortunately, only a few digital cameras these days have nothing but digital zoom. It’s mostly the really tiny, ultra-slim ones. I’d stay away from those. You can actually get very small, very slim cameras that have real optical zooms—more on that in a minute. If you do have a digital camera that only has digital zoom, don’t use the zoom. You’re better of taking a picture and then using your image editing software to zero in on the area you want to enlarge and make the best of it. Most digital cameras today actually have both optical and digital zoom (just as most camcorders do). You may have seen labels like “3X/4X.” That means 3X optical magnification and 4X digital magnification. Sometimes you might see a claim like “18X” total zoom. They get that number by multiplying optical zoom times digital zoom. By now you probably realize that 6X optical times 3X digital is much better than the other way around. Above I said that today even very small cameras can have optical zooms. Thanks to amazing miniaturization and ingenious folding mechanisms, the likes of Minolta and Sony have found ways to put a full 3X optical zoom inside tiny cameras without the lens barrel sticking out at all! That’s because the lens actually moves back and forth inside the little body and then uses a mirror system so that the lens never protrudes from the camera. I love that technology as I dislike lenses that motor out by an inch or an inch-and-a-half from an otherwise very sleek and compact camera. I like to be able to take an ultra compact with me and simply slide it in my pocket when I don’t use it. That’s easy with one of those little wonders with completely internal optical zooms, and more cumbersome with those that have a zoom lens motor in and out. A final word about digital zoom: not all digital zoom is useless. Some of the leading digital camera companies have found ways to cleverly enhance the usefulness of digital zoom. Some use tricks that make digital zoom act almost like optical zoom. The secret is that you
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can only use it in the lower resolution modes of the camera. You set a 5-megapixel to, say, 1024x768 mode. The camera then makes use of all the unused pixels to create a much better digital zoom image than you’d get otherwise. There are other similar tricks. And often you actually get very good pictures by applying digital multiplication wisely. Just don’t go for the maximum combined zoom and expect a razor sharp image. Incidentally, if you do plan on using the digital zoom, having a camera with an “anti-shake” feature helps to steady the picture (as does, of course, a good old-fashioned tripod). How much zoom do you need? The standard today is 3X optical, and that isn’t bad. However, one gets spoiled and these days I find I want more. 3X just doesn’t get you close enough, and for all the reasons mentioned, I generally stay away from digital zoom. Fortunately, 4X and even 5X optical zooms are becoming more common even in lower priced cameras. For those who want to get closer yet, there is a whole class of cameras with massive optical zooms ranging from 8X to 12X. Such big zoom lenses generally dictate the shape of the camera. Don’t expect 10X optical in a sleek little compact. However, if you don’t mind a design dominated by its lens, some of the big-zoom cameras are amazingly small, light and handy. And there is truly nothing like having a massive optical zoom when you need it. With a 10 or 12X camera you can discreetly stand away from the action and yet be right in the middle of it. That can let you make shots you’d otherwise never get. Keep in mind, of course, that optical zooms create a different look. They “flatten” the image by bringing the background and foreground together. Our eyes and brains do notice when something is out of the ordinary. It can be an interesting look, but be aware of that. Finally, for those who know a thing or two about photography, make sure you understand the correlation between digital camera zoom data (like 5.8 to 17.4mm) and traditional film camera zoom specs (like 38 to 114mm). Both are 3X, but while film cameras always use the same numbers because the film is always the same size, with digitals you may see 4.6 to 13.8mm or 6.7 to 20.1mm and both mean 3X. That’s because digital imagers come in many different sizes. So now that you know a bit more about zooms, go and get the kind of camera that suits your needs. And experiment a lot. It’s fun and it’ll help you get the most from your digital camera. ◆

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