Digital Innovations
Change Is The Name Of The Game

"If we don't change direction soon, we'll end up where we are going."--Professor Irwin Corey

If there is one constant theme running through the complaints I hear from photographers contemplating becoming involved with digital imaging it is that there is too much change. I hear some of these same grumbles from people already working with digital media. I believe that it isn't the never-ending parade of new product introductions that bugs them, but the pace of these changes. Just about the time you think you finally got a handle on all these digital doo-dads, along comes something new to add confusion and indecision to the direction you thought you were heading. Believe me I understand; sometimes it seems that when it comes to new digital imaging hardware and software, we are traveling at warp speed to, who knows where.

Many years ago I remember advising a young wedding photographer to switch to 220 film instead of the 120 she had been using. The thought of making this one small change freaked her out, but after her employer gave her a few 220 backs to use on her Hasselblad and she shot one wedding with them, she was hooked. "I wished I had done this sooner," she later told me.

It is like that with removable media or digital film for digicams, too. The PC card begat CompactFlash and then SmartMedia came along and everybody was happy with them. Then Sony tossed their Memory Stick into the mix and things started to heat up with the announcement at this year's PMA show that more and more companies were beginning to use the Secure Digital (SD) memory card.

The SD card, jointly developed by Matsushita Electric Industrial Company a.k.a. Panasonic along with SanDisk and Toshiba, was designed with a flexible architecture and high capacity to accommodate all kinds of digital data including music, PowerPoint presentations, video, and (yes) JPEG image files. Unlike Smart-Media, which seems to have plateaued at 64MB, SD cards have the potential to offer a maximum capacity of 4GB--although you can't purchase that size yet--which should be enough camera image storage for most of us.

I often refer to SmartMedia cards as Wheat Thins, because that's what they look like to me, but what about these small SD cards? Well, they're tiny and they used to be expensive. All that changed when Panasonic announced recent price cuts in the suggested minimum price of their SD cards. For example, a 16MB card has a SMP of $39.95 making it less expensive than a typical Smart-Media card of identical capacity. So as you can see, not all change is bad.

Plug-In Of The Month
Andromeda Software has won more Plug-in-of-the-Month ratings than any other company, and they now offer a multi-platform, Photoshop compatible plug-in called EtchTone. Beginning with a gray scale or color photograph or illustration, EtchTone combines a black and white etching pattern with your original image to create a continuous tone screen that produces a classic old printing look. Depending upon the effect desired, the filter will either overlay or blend the etch into your color or black and white photograph and convert it into a gray scale image. The dialog box for Andromeda's EtchTone Filter features sliders and pop-up windows that let you produce the right amount of etch for your finished image. Controls are provided for tweaking the original image's sharpness, brightness, contrast, as well as varying the mix of original image and the etching pattern. A preview window in the EtchTone dialog box includes navigation and zoom function to view the amount of etchtoning up to 1:1. Andromeda Software suggests that is a useful tool for product illustrations, but I think it's a fun plug-in for adding a weathered, old-fashioned look to your photographs. For more information about EtchTone and all of the rest of Andromeda's amazing collection of plug-ins, visit their web site at: www.andromeda.com.

Color Checker For Digicams
Many photographers own or are familiar with the Macbeth Color Checker card that can be extremely useful when testing film emulsions or working with film when color is critical. Now, Gretag-Macbeth offers ColorChecker DC for digital cameras. Much like the original, the DC version provides a method for making visual comparisons between a color standard and the output of your digital camera. The chart can also be used along with GretagMacbeth's ProfileMaker professional color management software to create an ICC (International Color Consortium) profile for the digital camera and ensure consistent color reproduction from image capture to output.

The DC chart appears similar yet is different from the original. It is letter-sized and corresponds to an aspect ratio of 2:3, although not every digicam's imaging chip matches that ratio. The chart includes 237 color patches representing 177 colors. These colors originated in GretagMacbeth's Munsell lab and are highly saturated, lightproof matte swatches. To expand the gamut, glossy swatches of blue, green, yellow, magenta, cyan, black, and white are also included on the card. ColorChecker DC comes in a mondo cool case, something the original lacked. Visit GretagMacbeth's web site at: www.gretagmacbeth.com.

Digital Video
Apple Computer's (www.apple.com) $49 iMovie software that's preinstalled on every new iMac DV, iBook, PowerBook, and Power Mac G4 computer has created a renaissance in desktop video by offering an editing tool that almost anybody can use to create presentations and DVDs. This interest in producing desktop movies has produced more interest and more products aimed at this market. Interactive Solutions' MovieWorks Deluxe 5.1 is a suite of five multimedia tools that lets users produce web movies in QuickTime or AVI format, as well as videos, slide shows, and multimedia presentations. Users can incorporate analog or digital video along with photographs, graphics, animation, narration, and music. New features added to Version 5.1 include the ability to link to web pages and PDF documents as well as auto-load/auto-start when the presentation is distributed on CD. The Windows version now includes a QuickTime effects library, adding over 150 visual transitions, plus scrolling text that was previously only available in the Macintosh version. MovieWorks Deluxe 5.1 works with any Power Macintosh running Mac OS 8.1 or newer or a 200+ MHz Windows computer running Windows 95, 98, or 2000, Windows NT or Windows Me. At $149, MovieWorks Deluxe is affordable enough so that anybody interested in video can dive right in. Which brings me to a question: How many Digital Innovations readers are interested in digital video? I'd like to hear from you (jfarace@juno.com) to know if this is something you would like to see more of in future columns.

File Translation Essentials
One of the most important utilities for Mac OS users who work cross-platform--and that's most of us--is DataViz's MacLinkPlus Deluxe. Now this most indispensable of file utilities has been optimized for Mac OS X to take advantage of the new operating system features. MacLinkPlus Deluxe 13 includes support for the latest versions of Microsoft Word and Excel, as found in both Office 2001:mac and Office XP for Windows. The software has a new "Aqua" interface to match OS X and lets Macintosh users open, view, and convert files back and forth between a variety of Windows and Macintosh applications. This latest version provides access through OS X's Dock and provides increased stability in its protected memory environment. You can also install it on Mac OS 8.1 or later systems and open, view, translate, decode, and decompress files--even if they don't have the application that created the file. The program performs flawlessly on my blue and white Power Macintosh G3 running OS 9.04. For MacLinkPlus Deluxe 12 users contemplating the move to OS X, the application runs in Classic mode. The retail price for MacLinkPlus Deluxe is $99.95. Upgrades from previous versions, including versions bundled with Mac OS 7.5, 8.0, and 8.1, are $39.95. If you purchase the upgrade direct from DataViz, you will receive a free copy of Aladdin Systems' iClean software, which can eliminate Internet clutter, such as cookies, cache, and history files that clog disk space and threaten online privacy. For more information, visit the DataViz web site at: www.dataviz.com.

Print Me!
Those creative Canadians at ACD Systems International have released FotoSlate, a plug-in for their ACDSee digital imaging viewer, browser, and management application. FotoSlate lets you combine multiple images onto standard paper sizes to produce multiple-image print layouts with just a few mouse clicks. It lets you drag thumbnails from your image list on the left-hand side of the screen into each template, while providing a real-time preview of what the finished layout will look like. It includes more than 450 photo layout templates that allow captions so that you can include technical or personal information. The templates are available in contact sheet and album styles as well as portrait or landscape page layout. You can recall and edit saved templates as well as include file information in printouts.

FotoSlate's printing software includes tools that let you modify the presentation of images as well as edit pictures before inserting them into your templates. These tools include zoom, shrink to fit, rotate, flip, color and light levels, crop, blur, sharpen, despeckle, sepia, and colorize. Once you've dragged a picture into a template, a right-click lets you shrink or rotate as well as use ACDSee's built-in image editor. When you modify an image, the changes are only applied within FotoSlate--your original image file is not altered. Image files supported include 40 popular graphic file formats including Multipage TIFF. You can download a demo version to try it yourself from www.acdsystems.com/english/products/fotoslate/index.htm.

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