Digital Help
Q&A For Digital Photography

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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: editorial@shutterbug.net or by US Mail to: PO Box 2830, Lompoc, CA 93438.

In regards to the December 1999 issue, Flor Collins asked about scanning panoramic negatives (24x59mm) with sub $1000 scanners.
The Photosmart scanners can do this with third party software, Vuescan (www.hamrick.com). In fact the entire film strip (up to the four frame capacity of the scanner) can be made into one image. The raw scan of the film strip is saved as a TIFF file. I have no experience with the Nikon scanners, but I believe the CoolScan III will do it as well with Vuescan. Strips of slide film can also be so scanned.
Unfortunately (for Flor Collins) Vuescan does not currently support the Mac, however the developer states that a Mac version is under development.

I have also used a beta version of Yapscu (www.otopia.dial.pipex.com/ yapscu/index.html), it will also do panoramas, or any part of the film strip. Still no Mac support though.
Bob Wright

Q. I am a glass artist (fine mosaic art and architectural stained glass art). I am thinking of purchasing a digital camera to photograph my work in a timely fashion and to keep my web site updated. My husband is a photographer, and he suggested I contact you because of your expertise in digital photography.
We have been going the traditional route of photographing in transparency. Getting those shots developed, printed, and then creating the scans. All quite costly and time consuming.
My goals are these:
· Time efficiency (shooting the work)
· Cost efficiency (cutting out development, prints)
· Keeping my web site updated with my new work (ever changing style)
· Keeping the cost of a digital camera to around $1000 or less
Do you know of any digital cameras that can be connected to studio flash equipment? Or can we use tungsten lighting? Can I get printed images (8x10) produced from a digital image that will be portfolio quality? Does a digital camera need to be connected to a computer to save the image/s?
What about the Nikon CoolScan 950? (I think this camera is right around $1000.)
Looking forward to your help. Thank you in advance.
Robin Evans
Glowing Panels Studio

A. The Nikon CoolScan 950 is a possible candidate, but never having used it I cannot say that it is better or worse than anything else. The one camera that impressed me in many important categories relative to your needs was the Fujifilm MX-2900. First of all it produced, by a considerable margin, the best image quality I have seen in a digital camera under $1000, even better than much more expensive hybrid 35 SLRs with similar resolution. It also has the most effective manual exposure control of any of the affordable pro-sumer cameras, and I found it quite easy to use with a multiple light electronic flash studio lighting setup. (Incidentally I used a hot shoe infrared trigger to fire the studio flash.) However, you can just as well use hot lights of whatever type and use the manual white balance to set the appropriate color temperature Kelvin number. In the same category as the MX-2900 and the Nikon CoolPix 950 is the just announced Olympus C-2020 Zoom, which is expressly featured for serious professional-level use.
You would want two accessories in addition to the camera; first an A/C power adapter to run the camera instead of using the camera's battery, and a USB adapter that will allow taking the camera's memory card and directly downloading the images to your computer (downloading by connecting the camera to your computer via a serial connection is very slow). The price of these cameras is under $1000 with the accessories mentioned keeping the total about at your budget limit. The one disadvantage of digital cameras in this group is the optical viewfinder which is not particularly accurate. However, they do have a TTL LCD panel on the back which provides an accurate view of what the lens sees, and this works very well in a studio setting. You might also try using a large sized, low-power loupe with the LCD screen to visualize the image more acutely. Finally, I made 11x17" prints from the MX-2900's studio use and the images were quite competitive with prints made from 35mm film in the client's eyes!

Q. I am interested in getting a digital camera. I currently own Nikon 35mm gear. I have read several reviews of Nikon digital cameras, as well as looked at their various features on the Nikon web site. I would like to stay in brand on this, my first digital camera purchase, but to be honest I am confused about all the hype and hearsay concerning this emerging branch of photography. I consider myself an advanced amateur and am fairly skilled at PC use. My question is this, can you give me a basic review of digital cameras, their features and uses? If not, can you recommend any print material that would do the same? Are the second generation cameras coming on the market now worth the extra cost or should I try a model (any brand) with less features to get my feet wet? The most likely use this camera would get would be to e-mail current pictures of my daughters to their grandparents out of state, and probably some grab shots, point-and-shoot style. Any help you can give would be greatly appreciated. Additionally a recent question in your column in Shutterbug mentions your magazine about digital photography, any info on this would also help. Thanks.
Andy Tedtsen

A. A basic review of the almost 150 brands and models of digital cameras currently available would fill an entire issue of Shutterbug. Sorry I cannot accommodate your request literally. However, I can say any of the major brands, like Agfa, Fuji, Kodak, Nikon, Olympus, et al., in their lowest priced versions will serve the purpose you described. Being currently a Nikon user, their entry-level digital camera might well be as good a place as any to start to get your feet wet. The market is now on its fourth technology generation at least. All of the well-known brands at the same price level are quite close in performance, so you can be fairly well assured you will get as much value functionally as you pay for.

Q. I read and immensely enjoy your column. I am attempting to put together a digital darkroom system and would like your advice. My projected system contains a Mac G4 400MHz, an Epson 5000 printer, and an Epson 800 professional flat-bed scanner. The item in question is a 35mm film scanner. Based on your reports, I have narrowed down the choice between the Polaroid 4000 and the Nikon LS 2000. I realize that both items have pros and cons associated with them. The majority of material to be scanned will be slides, some with varying degrees of exposure and physical condition. I need to make a decision as soon as possible and your prompt reply would be greatly appreciated.
Albin Ory

A. From what you have listed you have made good professional-level choices. However, if it is not essential you obtain the Epson Expression 800 scanner immediately, you may want to wait just a bit as a new model Epson Perfection 1200 just released actually exceeds the resolution of the Expression 800, which is indicative the 800 will probably be replaced very soon with a new model. As to a choice between the Nikon LS-2000 and the Polaroid 4000 scanners, both have as you say pros and cons. Until recently I have favored the Nikon LS-2000 if the Lasersoft SilverFast software is added. However, recently ArtixScan, a division of Microtek released the ArtixScan 4000t, which I have just begun testing. It has the 4000dpi resolution advantage and a quite straightforward software driver, and one which supports custom profiling the scanner with Kodak software which is an included part of the package. Unless the Digital ICE ImageClean dirt and scratch removal feature of the Nikon is required, I would suggest seriously considering this new ArtixScan 4000t.

Q. I hope that you could answer a question for me. When scanning a photo to your PC, is it important that your scanner be of high quality to get the best print out, or is it more important that the printer you use be of high quality? I understand that Hewlett-Packard is tops in printing and scanning photos. Is this true, and why so much money? Thank you for your time.
Sona Manuelian

A. The quality of printed output is directly related to both the quality of the scanner and printer. Hewlett-Packard does have good scanners and printers for photo purposes in their PhotoSmart line. However, there are many other brands equally as effective and possibly more appropriate depending on your specific requirements for scanning and printing. As to the cost of digital photo capable scanners and printers, the prices are just a fraction of what they were a year or two ago, and a small percentage of the costs involved five years ago.

Q. I read and use the information in your column every month. I started digital photography with the Olympus D-340 R and recently moved up to the Nikon Coolpix 800. I have the A/C adapter for the Olympus, but am reluctant to spend for another adapter for the Nikon unless I have to. Both adapters put out 6.5v D/C. The Nikon uses a "ferrite core" that fits on the Olympus adapter wire. Would using the Olympus adapter, with or without the ferrite core, on the Nikon damage or impair it in any way? Thanks for your help.
John McLaughlin

A. I would not recommend using the A/C adapter from one camera with another even though the voltage may be the same. Other factors like polarity and amperage may be different and it's not worth risking damage to the camera.

Q. I've been using an acquaintance's Mac with the Nikon CoolScan scanner (older model). It's almost not worth it! When he scans in one of my photos, the color and brightness (everything, basically) is so far off that it takes me an average of 30 minutes to fix each one in Photoshop. Granted, I'm pretty new at using the program, but trust me, they are way off! I think he doesn't have things calibrated correctly. He says that it's like that on everyone's computer. That's really hard to believe.
Beginning soon, I'll be cataloging about 2000 35mm slides into a web stock database. I'll be using a PC and currently have no digital imaging equipment or software. A couple of years ago, I swore I'd never buy a scanner until they made one that removed dust and scratches. That day has come. Now, I'd rather shoot myself than spend 10 to 30 minutes correcting wackily scanned images.
I'd appreciate some fundamentals on the calibration question, using the following questions as a guide. 1) Is it possible for a scanner to scan the slide and show the image on the monitor that matches the light table? If so, how is this calibration done? 2) Now, assume a picture being viewed on the monitor is sent to the printer. What does it take to get it to look like what's seen on the monitor? Do you tell the printer software what kind of monitor you have? Or does it let you tweak the colors, etc. until it matches and then saves this information for later use? 3) I own a PC and run my business with it. I have no interest in buying a Mac. Is monitor calibration really necessary and, if so, how is it done on a PC?
Mike MacDonald

A. What you are asking is a subject that has far more depth than can be delved into in this context. First of all what you are referring to in the way of "calibration" questions is what is referred to as Color Management. It is a system level method of matching the color characteristics of devices like scanner, monitors, and printers so color can be processed in a consistent predictable manner. To use a light table so it is matched with your monitor, it must also be a part of the system. In other words, its light output has to meet particular standards established for use in conjunction with a computer system. For professional purposes the requirements include having a reasonably new, high-quality monitor that is specifically intended for graphics use, and supported with an equally professional graphics card, as well as software to calibrate the monitor and preferably a hardware monitor sensor, and software to characterize and profile your scanner and printer. This demands at least a moderate flat-bed scanner in addition to a slide scanner.
At present, effective color management with a PC and Windows is much more difficult to achieve and less reliable than on a Mac. However, Windows 2000 due out February 17, 2000 has much more robust and controllable ICM color management. I personally have worked on PCs mostly over the last 12 years, but bought a Mac a little less than a year ago. I find if I want the best control of color I process it on the Mac. I hope to be able to report I can do as well with Windows 2000 when it is available.
Regarding built-in scanner dirt and scratch removal, I have used two different systems so far, and find that its application and effectiveness can be limited. Some systems do not work well except with E-6 films. In addition I found that using dust and scratch removal does affect the overall image, and enough so that I would not use it with finely detailed images. So even though available, I still use manual retouching to clean up most of my scans.
As to matching between monitor and print output or what the original looks like, even with a perfectly calibrated system and effective color management, the appearance is not the same simply because of the inherent differences between transparency film, a CRT display which uses phosphors and projected light, and a reflective print on paper. These differences must be compensated for perceptually, to achieve in calibration the objective of color matching consistency and predictability in the final output.
Finally, some of the problems of inconsistency you cited may be also due to operator inadequacy. Using a scanner and graphics computer involves knowledge and skill. That's why professional scanner operators for commercial, high quality, service bureaus and pre-press shops are very highly paid.

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