Digital Help
Q&A For Digital Photography

sorcadmin's picture

This column will attempt to provide solutions to problems readers may have in 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 the column. Readers can send questions to me addressed to Shutterbug magazine, through the Shutterbug web site, directly via e-mail to: or by US Mail to: PO Box 2830, Lompoc, CA 93438.

Q. Not knowing of anyone with more knowledge than you on the subject, I would most appreciate your advice on what I would need in going from the conventional darkroom production of color (Ilfochrome) and black and white prints to digital. I would be starting with conventional 35mm slides (mostly Kodachromes) and negatives. My basic criterion is that the resulting prints must be at least as good as can be produced in the darkroom.
Scanner: Which specific scanner will produce 8x10, and, hopefully, larger (up to 11x14) prints (excluding drum scanners, which are cost prohibitive for most individuals)? What if I change this to include 4x5 negatives for prints up to 11x14? (I would really like to go up to 16x20, but this may require a cost prohibitive printer.) By the way, can a pro photo CD compare with a really good negative scan?
Computer: In the absence of identifying particular hardware (preferably, Mac), what are the fundamental characteristics that the computer should have in the way of RAM, MHz, hard drive capacity, and other vital characteristics that I am unaware of? What about peripheral items? And, of course, the monitor characteristics, such as size, resolution, and whatever.
Software: Is Photoshop the one piece of software that is necessary, or is there a better single choice? Also, what auxiliary software is necessary, or desirable, for whatever that one fundamental choice may be?
Printer: What specific color/black and white ink jet printer for prints up to 11x14?
I would be most grateful for whatever information that you can provide me in the above regard, as I will be stuck with whatever equipment I get for a long time. Obsolescence cannot be avoided, of course, but making the wrong fundamental choices to begin with is to be avoided at all costs.
John F. Leary
Great Falls, VA

A. You are asking for a tall order with an awesome responsibility attached. But after spending the better part of the last week looking at all of the newest digital photography hardware and software available, I feel as prepared for the challenge as I ever should be.
I'll change your order of items somewhat by dealing first with the computer question. And if I read your question correctly, interpreting the reference to the Mac, I'll not get into the PC vs. Mac controversy again. Although I will say since the newest Mac G3 has been unveiled there seems even less to distinguish it from a PC, excepting the Power PC chip and operating system, than ever. More important are the specifications which you asked for. Presently I would recommend in light of what you want to do, a minimum of 128MB of RAM. Today be sure it is SDRAM and that it is 100 speed running on an 100MHz bus. Most systems today include 9GB or larger hard drives, which in size is adequate. However, the speed of the hard drive needs to be as high as possible, so check the brand and model of HD out in the computer magazines like Windows Sources for comparative listings. Higher-end machines specifically configured as graphics workstations often offer SCSI hard drives using the Wide/Fast option, but you'll find this performance advantage comes at a considerable price increase. This is offset by the fact many peripherals like scanners use a SCSI interface, so it is something needed, and not all scanners and such SCSI devices come with a SCSI card included as part of the product package. While still on the subject of hard drives, do not consider your main system HD as the place to store images except those you are working on immediately. Today image storage is most economically and surely facilitated using CDR, a CD-ROM "burner." Get one that also reads CDs efficiently like the latest Sony Spressa model, and then you can have just one CD drive for most purposes of dealing with removable, external data storage to get data into and from your computer.
The monitor and graphics card for a digital darkroom computer are the most crucial choices. Obviously what looks good in screen performance to one person will not be the best to another. That said, it has been my experience, and I do a lot of color correction and retouching, the Sony monitors although 10-20 percent more costly are worth the extra expense in performance and reliability. However, Hitachi, Mitsubishi View-sonic, and NEC all make higher quality monitors providing good graphics computing performance. You'll also find the newest monitor size of 19" is quite large enough to do photo image editing comfortably.
Today there is a confusing array of fast, powerful graphics cards available. Most are optimized for 3D performance for games and other similar, popular computer functions, but many of these do not provide the 2D color quality and performance that is needed to handle digital photographic functions effectively. Some proprietary graphics workstations like those at the top of the HP Kayak series, as well as machines made by Intergraph, and most recently the SGI Visual Workstations, offer proprietary cards of very high graphics performance in 2D and 3D. They should though as they are premium priced computer models. Otherwise I would recommend the latest Matrox Mill-
ennium or Number 9 graphics adapters, and models specifically recommended for 2D performance with at least 8MB and preferably 16MB of VRAM.
I have left the consideration of the CPU choice till last because even though it is highly hyped, choosing the newest, fastest, currently 450MHz Intel Pentium II, is not a cost efficient selection. If all of the other factors are idealized for graphics performance, as I've suggested earlier, the difference between the fastest 450MHz and say a 350MHz will not be noticed nearly as much as the difference in the extra cost the faster chip will impose.
Scanners. To meet your primary, first scanner expectations there are lots of choices, especially since new 35mm scanner models were introduced at PMA. At the lowest price in the range, the new HP PhotoSmart S20 at under $500 will produce good 2400dpi scans which will reproduce as fine 8x10 prints and then some. Next up the latest available ladder is the Canon CanoScan FS2710 at 2720dpi. At a probable under $1000 price tag in stores, it will make fine scans to an 11x17 print size with no difficulty. Both of these scanners have new software which besides their specifications puts them on top of my list at their price points. To then go to the 16x20 print size I'd have to recommend yet another new scanner model, the Polaroid SprintScan 4000. With 4000dpi and a very high 3.4 density range, it also features new and improved software along with its highest desktop scanning resolution. It will probably sell for a little over $2000.
When you put 4x5 film sizes into the mix, and you do not include any 120 sizes, I'd definitely recommend considering the Epson Expression 800 flat-bed scanner with transparency adapter. Large format, high-resolution (sufficient to make 16x20 prints from 120 size originals) film scanners like Nikon's and Polaroid's are definitely getting close to the drum scanner price range.
Printer. There are two affordable choices in ink jet printers which have greater than four color photographic printing capabilities. Epson with their Stylus Photo EX has led the way with 1440dpi print resolution which produces 11x17 prints that are in many ways equal to silver-based photographic prints. Canon makes the other choice and they have just announced a new BubbleJet 5100 model that will also print on 11x17" media with a multicolor ink cartridge option for photographic image quality.
For larger print images, like 16x20, unless there is enough volume of printing that is sufficiently profitable, the cost of wide format printers is probably too high to justify owning one. So, if the volume of large prints you require is modest, having them produced by a service bureau is the most cost-effective option.
Software. Adobe Photoshop 5.0.2 remains the one photographic image-editing application which is essential to doing quality photographic imaging. Although there are many applications to choose from that have competitive features (at least for the Windows platform), and some which have desirable features lacking in Photoshop, Adobe has implemented color management so thoroughly and effectively making it possible to input, edit, and output photographic images with precise control of the color qualities throughout the process. Competing image editors, like Corel PhotoPaint and Micrografx Picture Publisher, do include proprietary color management, but not with the comprehensive support and control afforded by Photoshop. Other applications like PaintShop Pro as yet do not support color management effectively. Eventually, sooner than later, on the Windows platform there will be more and more support by application developers for color management considering Windows 98 provides the basis for it. In addition companies like Monaco Systems, which specialize in color management, are beginning to offer affordable consumer level tools and utilities providing the means to achieve precise custom color management for individual Windows systems which will make producing consistent, high color quality images easier.
In addition to image editing, the software required will vary depending on how a photographer plans to use photographs and their computer for output. For instance, building a web site to support photographic image marketing will demand the use of a set of web publishing utilities. If you are designing and producing your own photographic publications for offset printing, then an application like Adobe PageMaker or QuarkXPress will be needed. On a more general level, in addition to Photoshop the one utility just about everyone will require sooner or later is an image file management utility, a database application which organizes, produces, and files thumbnails of the image you have in digital storage. One that I would recommend, and I reported on recently in Shutterbug, is Photo Explorer by PhotoSoft.

Q. I recently bought an Olympus D-400Z and stumbled onto one of digital photography's dirty little secrets. I photographed a lovely little violet flower and it came out blue. I did some investigating at local photo stores with a purple piece of paper and most of them did the same. The Agfa did better than the rest, but Kodak and Casio showed blue, the same as mine. Nowhere on the web have I seen mention of this, even on the sites that show comparison pictures. No salesperson mentioned it, not that I expected them to, until I mentioned it. Then they all agreed that digital had a problem. So what's the problem, why won't most digital cameras do violet? Thanks.
Paul Mancuso

A. I'm sorry I have to disappoint you in your "discovery," but the phenomenon you are describing is also shared by film. I ran into this almost 40 years ago photographing flowers for LA Home magazine, and taking pictures of California Lupin, which is a violet colored flower. What I found, with the aid of a horticulturist, is that flowers in the blue to violet color range have components in them which behave a little like fluoro-brighteners that are put into some fabrics, and to a more obvious extent into Day-Glo paints and inks. When illuminated by sunlight they generate a kind of light frequency modulation sending out more than just a simple reflection of the light illuminating them. Normal human sight is sensitive to these effects, but film and CCD sensors with UV cutoff limits apparently come into play, lessening sensitivity to capturing the perceived color. In addition, compared to fluorescent brightened fabrics and Day-Glo inks and paints, photographic reproduction materials, including computer monitors and digital printer media, do not have the ability to replicate that enhanced floral effect.
Simply put, what we see in a few rare instances is more than the light reflected from some unusual subjects, it is the light modulation they generate themselves biochemically. And, because color reproduction materials whether digital or analog do not contain these same properties, the colors are not reproduced as the eye sees them in reality. On the other hand, when the clothing industry first started using fluoro-brightners in fabrics, photographers began to notice white shirts illuminated by non-UV corrected electronic flash would photograph with a blue, violet, or even green color caste, and similarly for some wedding gowns. Now color negative films have UV cutoff coatings over the emulsion, and electronic flash units use UV coated tubes, so those specific application problems were eliminated. But it involved the same principle that you have noted, CCD capture devices respond to a shorter spectrum than the eye, and the subsequent reproduction media do not have the properties needed to replicate everything in nature which affects the perception of color.

Q. I desperately want a quality 35mm negative scanner that can do five or six frame negative strips to the computer in one load. Even multiple strips would be nice.
I have been using the HP Photo-Smart scanner very happily for over a year. It is, without question, the most "bang for the buck" in output image quality for the dollar invested. Its biggest shortcoming is having to fumble around reinserting a film strip for every single frame processed.
I am now deep enough into digital processing and have enough material (huge negative library) that I need a scanner with batch-load capability. It will have to have at least 3.0 density range and 30-bit color depth. Obviously, high MTF (optical) specs are mandatory as well.
My research to date indicates the Nikon CoolScan and Minolta Dimâge series might handle the batch frame loading I want. Are there others?
And, yes, I realize I'm going to have to spring more bucks for such as this. Out of all this, can you recommend a particular "best buy?"
Donald Mong
Ft. Lauderdale, FL

A. You are correct, both models of the Nikon CoolScan, as well as the Minolta Dimâge utilize a film strip holder in their 35mm scanners. In addition, this feature is common to nearly all 35mm film scanners also including Microtek, Canon CanoScan 2700, all Polaroid SprintScan models including the new 4000 which also features batch mounted slide scanning, as well as the new S-20 model of the HP PhotoSmart just announced. Each of these models varies one from another in their software support of batch scanning, however. And without a more detailed understanding of what your requirements and expectations are for batch processing it is difficult to say which is the best choice.
From your remarks about a best buy, and your experience with the original HP PhotoSmart, I would guess that the most likely candidate for your consideration would be either the new S-20 PhotoSmart or the new Canon Cano-Scan 2710 announced recently at PMA. Both should be available in leading stores now.

Share | |