Q&A For Digital Photography
This column will attempt to provide solutions to problems readers may have getting into and using digital cameras, scanning, and using digital photographic images with a computer and different kinds of software. All questions sent to me will be answered with the most appropriate information I can access and provide. However, not all questions and answers will appear in this column. Readers can send questions to me addressed to Shutterbug magazine, through the Shutterbug web site, directly via e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org or by US Mail to: PO Box 2830, Lompoc, CA 93438.
Q. I currently have Windows 98, but have been contemplating upgrading to Windows 2000. Would you recommend this upgrade? Is it really worth the money, and are there any installation problems? I would greatly appreciate your expertise.
A. Windows 2000 is a definite advantage over Windows 98 in several important areas of performance, particularly running on a newer, more powerful PC. Although Microsoft has been rather thorough about testing compatibility with legacy applications and hardware, that effort has been concentrated almost entirely in the area of business computing. In the graphics and digital photography fields, compatibility, with the exception of Adobe products like PhotoDeluxe 3.0 and Photoshop 5.5, is hit or miss. My experience so far is that doing an upgrade install from 98 with a variety of drivers and applications installed in 98 is fraught with problems. After three attempts and no success, I found I had to abandon my trusty old Sony CD-R burner, and then format my "C" drive and make a clean install of Windows 2000 to obtain a stable running operating system. Even if you are luckier in doing an upgrade install from 98 to 2000, you'll still probably have to re-install most of your applications including Photoshop, so a clean install is really the only way to go for now. My final word then is to wait if you can until you either buy a new machine with 2000 installed, or until you can obtain certification from all of your hardware makers (there's a list of compliant hardware on Microsoft's web site), and certification from your software applications' vendors that your applications are compliant with Win-dows 2000.
Q. Could you please help guide me in the right direction? Like everyone else, I'm putting together my first digital darkroom, and I'm confused. My goal is to be able to produce photo quality 11x14 prints.
I've read numerous magazines and articles on the subject, but it gets confusing. In the March 2000 issue of Shutterbug, ("Touch & Go," page 26) Mike Glassman says he uses a Nikon Super CoolScan for his 35mm slides and makes 11x16" and even 40x60" prints. But then Gary Barnett says in the article "Out Of The Box" on page 40, that he uses an Imacon FlexTight scanner to make 11x17" prints. The Nikon cost about $1400 and has 2700dpi, whereas the Imacon cost about $15,000 and has 5760dpi. Am I understanding that dpi doesn't necessarily determine the print size, but rather just the quality of the print?
I've been looking at the Minolta Dimâge Scan Multi at 2820dpi because I shoot primarily 6x7 transparencies and occasionally 35mm slides. The Minolta is in a price range I can afford, but will it make the photo quality 11x14 prints I'm after or will I be disappointed? Exactly how much dpi do I need to not just make an 11x14" print but rather a photo quality 11x14" print? The only thing I am sure about is the Epson Stylus 1200 printer. I wish everything else was that easy!
Something else that has me confused: the Minolta Dimâge Multi scans medium format films at 1128dpi, whereas the new Epson Perfection 1200U Photo scanner scans at 1200dpi. For my 6x7 transparencies, would I be better off with the Epson flat-bed scanner rather than the Minolta?
The reason for the confusion you spoke of in your letter is the result
of the fact the basic parameters of determining digital input requirements
are not commonly associated with output requirements. In other words,
to determine what you need to scan a particular film image at in resolution,
you need to first know what your print output resolution requirements
are. This specification is not commonly dealt with as such in printer
or scanner manufacturer documentation, so it is the source of confusion
for many like yourself.
This would eliminate the Minolta Dimâge Multi and the Epson Perfection 1200. However, your requirements would be met by the new Epson Expression 1600 Pro scanner was available in March, and which I just finished testing for a report in Shutterbug.
As you know there are other specifications of scanner performance besides resolution that affect scanned image quality. One is scan color depth, and the minimum for serious digital darkroom work is 36 bit, or 12 bits per RGB channel scanner input, and preferably output as well in addition to the standard 24-bit RGB. As well, a scanner's dynamic scan range is an issue. The minimum for scanning color transparency films should be 3.2/3.3, with higher figures preferable of course. In more expensive professional scanners color depth at which the CCD sensor scans is usually greater, 42 bit for example, and the dynamic range is also greater, as much as 4.1 or 4.2 in some models. These advantages to scanned image quality usually come at a significant increase in price, as well as accompanied by higher resolution, and a longer product duty cycle, distinguishing products made for consumer use with those designed for professional applications.
Today, for the enthusiast who wants a digital darkroom, and has to remain within a reasonable budget, the Epson Expression 1600 Pro at about $1000, which includes film scanning, has the capability to scan medium and large format film to make excellent quality prints up to 13x19 print size, producing good results with the Epson Stylus Photo 1200 series printers. If you also have 35mm film to scan I would recommend a dedicated slide scanner. In the under $1000 bracket, I would suggest looking seriously at the Canon CanoScan FS 2710.
Q. A question is the current issue [that] addresses the availability of digital backs for existing 35mm cameras. FYI, there's a company in Irvine, California, called Silicon Film Technologies that appears to be close to offering a digital cavity insert for various 35mm cameras called the Imagek EFS-1. I've been following them now for over two years, and they appear to be getting close to releasing their first generation product. It seems to be a unique concept, but what they're offering is very limiting: it offers a 2.85x multiplier which makes shooting with a wide angle lens impossible if not prohibitively expensive; and it's only being offered in a 1.3 megapixel unit, which right off the bat won't stack it up to the current offerings from virtually everyone else. But for less than $700, it gives anyone with certain high-end 35mm SLRs a chance to experiment digitally, using their current gear.
No, I don't work for them--I'm just an interested pro-shooter who's looking for another way to get images quickly to the web sites I currently shoot for. Check them out: www.imagek.com.
Thanks for listening.
A. Thanks for the update on the 35mm digital insert. From what you specify about the affect on angle of view at a 2.85x multiplication and the relatively small 1.3 megapixel image size, at $700 it does not seem to be something very attractive from any perspective. Considering Fuji just announced a 35mm SLR hybrid with their FinePix chip technology with less than a 2x angle of view factor and 6.1 megapixel resolution including a Nikon body in the $4000 range, the professional who wants to use an existing SLR system of lenses and accessories is more likely to find a way to afford the Fuji. For those who do not have the budget to do that, some recent new all-digital cameras like the Olympus C-2500L compromise little in functionality and produce very good 8x10 prints and larger to boot.
I agree with you, there is little advantage in using an existing 35mm SLR system if the lens multiplication factor is so great and the chip resolution is so modest. Especially when better all-digital camera solutions are available. However, I will concede that for the very limited application of doing photos for a web site, the insert could be a solution. But that application is a pretty narrow one, and probably not sufficient to support much market success.
Q. I am purchasing a new monitor for my computer and I was wondering if you could compare the pros and cons of a $2000 monitor with Colorsync vs. a $200 monitor. Will this impact the quality of my printed work? Thanks so much.
A. First of all let me assure you a $2000 monitor is not essential to using a computer as a digital darkroom to produce quality print results. At the other extreme, a $200 monitor that's commonly sold today with entry-level PCs has performance limitations that are fairly serious. But, before getting into those specifics let me say a word about the relationship between size and cost. The most expensive monitors today within the range specified are the 21 and 22" top of the line models of the priciest brands. A 19" (18" viewable) monitor of comparable quality will be half the price. For most digital photography uses I've found a 19" monitor is a quite comfortable size, and I'm an old geezer whose 40 some years of photography has taken its toll on my eyesight.
One of the features which should be a must for the digital darkroom user, is a monitor which supports the selection of a range of different operating color temperatures. The inexpensive home and small business computer monitors have one color temperature setting of 9300° Kelvin, which is very cold and blue. This makes the perceptual adjustment of photographic images using an image editor like Photoshop almost impossible. Professional publishing and pre-press use a color temperature standard of 5000° Kelvin. Most photographers find this too warm, and the recommended setting to work with photographs is 6500° Kelvin. Most of the top of the line models of major brands provide this color temperature selection feature. The other features which are important include a high-resolution capability of at least 1024x768 pixels, a dot pitch no larger than 0.26, and at a refresh rate sufficiently high so no flickering is apparent.
In the past I've used several different brands of monitors including Iiyama, Hitachi, and several Sony's recently. However, I just received delivery of a new 19" monitor for my G3 PowerMac, a Mitsubishi Diamond Pro 900U with a flat screen, and a built-in USB hub. It's set up and calibrated with Colorsync and my initial use of it to do some of the test printing for my report on the Epson Stylus Photo 1270 printer has been more than satisfactory. The cost: $610 plus shipping.
Q. I've been going through batteries for my digital camera very rapidly. Is this normal? What is the average "usage life" of a battery? Is there one made for specific use with a digital camera? I'm looking forward to your response as I'm growing tired of buying new batteries every other week.
A. In a very general sense digital cameras use rather little battery power for the actual picture taking function. One of the primary culprits that runs batteries down is the LCD display featured on most digital cameras. The more it is turned on the faster the batteries will be depleted. So developing a habit of using the LCD screen as little as possible and always turning it off when it is not needed will help a lot. The other main drains on batteries comes from the use of flash and in some cameras operating a power zoom lens.
Another strategy for those digital camera users who do not have rechargeable batteries is to consider purchasing and using them. To do so you should consider how much you use the camera to determine if the investment is cost effective. And, just as important limit your choice of batteries to only those recommended by the camera manufacturer. Using the wrong battery type could damage the camera.
Q. I'm a 69-year-old grandfather who has recently become involved in digital photography. I would like to send some of my work to my kids, but I'm in a bit of a quandary. I'm hoping you can help. Should I have my images put on a CD at a drugstore-type photo processor, or should I download the images from my camera directly to my computer and e-mail them to the family that way? Which would be the best way to view them? Thanks.
A. If the family has a computer and can receive e-mail, the most economical and easiest method is to attach pictures to e-mail. If the photos are only going to be viewed on screen, the image size/file size you can e-mail is sufficient to display good image qualities. On the other hand, the Picture CD disc solution has its own advantages. However although the resolution is somewhat greater than what can be e-mailed efficiently, it is primarily a snapshot medium with its own quality limitations. It is an efficient way to record and transport a relatively large number of images, and the disc can be mailed safely for less than a dollar.
If you are primarily concerned about sending one or two pictures at a time, e-mail attachment is most appropriate. To do so you need to use an image-editing application, like Adobe PhotoDeluxe, applications which should be available to all users of digital cameras as part of the software bundle provided with the camera. Open the image in that photo application. Then use the tool provided to change the size of the image, and downsize the image to about 640x480 pixels at 72dpi (screen resolution). Next click on the File menu Save As, and select the file format .JPG (JPEG compression), and also select medium level compression. Rename the file and click on OK. Then with your e-mail application open click on the command to attach a file to your e-mail, and select this *.JPG file that you just saved to your hard disk. Now send the mail.