Digital Innovations
Film Photography Meets Digital Imaging

Pentax's Optio 430 digital camera offers 4-megapixel resolution in a package that weighs just 7.2 oz.

"Life is a series of dogs."--George Carlin

As regular readers know, most of my photographic output is in some kind of digital form, but only a portion of those images were originally captured using digital media. Over time, my ratio of film vs. digital capture has decreased and will change drastically when I find the "digital camera of my dreams," but who knows how long that will take. My point is that even those photographers who only shoot film can benefit from some kind of digital intervention because if you want to make prints, only you know how they should look. This goal can be accomplished in a traditional darkroom, but is more easily attained in the digital one, especially when you want to make lots of small color prints.

Recently, I photographed a Hallo-ween costume contest for dogs. It was a fun day at the mall and I enjoyed "going to the dogs" and trying to make portraits of them in their costumes using a Canon Elan 7E and Fuji color negative film. I dropped the film off at a minilab that just opened in town and while the prints the shop gave me back were OK, they weren't as good as I thought they should be.

The Stylus Photo 820 is Epson's latest low cost, high quality photo-realistic printer. It's a true six-color printer that can print 2880x720 output on Epson Photo papers, and 1440x720dpi on specialty papers. It costs $129.

Since the negatives looked great, I scanned one of them using a Nikon CoolScan IV ED. After opening it in Adobe Photoshop 6.01, I slightly adjusted Levels (Image>Adjust> Levels) before printing on 4x6" Epson Photo Paper using the new Epson Stylus Photo 820 I'm testing. The entire process from inserting the film holder into the scanner and making the print took less than 10 minutes. I was not surprised that the digital print was sharper and more true to subject matter in color density and accuracy than the ones from the minilab. All three are darn good reasons why you should consider a plunge into the digital darkroom. Even more important, if I wanted to make 100 4x6" prints of this file, I could attach the roll adapter that Epson bundles with some of their photo printers, load a 4" roll of Photo Paper, and crank out as many snapshot-sized prints as I needed.

Plug-In Of The Month
Color correcting digital images can be a pain and I've got lots of software doo-dads that I've used over the years to clean up an image's color and contrast. Editor At Large Bob Shell introduced me to a Photoshop compatible plug-in that takes the agony out of color correcting image files. iCorrect Professional from Pictographics (www.picto.com) is available in both Windows and Mac OS versions and I put it to the test with my Power Macintosh G3 and Adobe Photoshop 6.01.

Just as I recommend you have an image test file for evaluating new printers, inks, and media, I think you should also have a test image for evaluating color. My test file came to me inadvertently with a photograph made by eDigitalPhoto.com contributor John Stewart inside the FAO Schwartz toy store in Orlando during last year's PMA show. I always test color correction software using this digital camera file that was made under all kinds of mixed lighting conditions. Although Stewart used the camera's built-in flash, skin tone and every other color in the photograph was out of kilter.

eMachines' T4155 Windows XP computer has an Intel Pentium IV 1.5GHz processor, 256MB RAM, 12x CD-RW drive, 12x DVD drive, 60GB hard drive, internal V.92 ready fax/modem, and Ethernet connection for broadband Internet access. It costs less than $800.

To see how it would fare, I opened iCorrect Professional (Filter>Pictographics>iCorrect Professional). Using its simple interface, I selected the skin tone "Memory Color," clicked on my face in the preview windows, and instantly produced a corrected file. Previously I had spent more than 20 minutes working with this same file and another plug-in along with some manual tweaking. What was impressive to me was that the overall color, including skin tones, was better with iCorrect Professional than the file that all my hard work produced and took significantly less time. Other Memory Colors include Neutrals, Sky, and Foliage, and you can add your own or customize the built-in ones to match your preferences. iCorrect Professional clearly deserves to be Plug-in of the Month, and maybe even Plug-in of the Year.

Color Me Plug-In
Digital Light & Color, the Massachusetts firm responsible for the innovative Picture Window image- editing program, has entered the Photoshop compatible plug-in world with Color Mechanic. This Mac OS or Windows plug-in provides additional control over an image's color and lets you pick any color within an image, then change it without affecting any other color. Color Mechanic lets you choose any number of points and lets you adjust the brightness of each selected color. It works well with Photoshop's selection tools to provide even more points of control.

You can use Color Mechanic to adjust skin tones without disturbing a photograph's overall color balance or change the color of a particular item in a picture, such as clothing, house color, or making the grass a little greener. You can also use Color Mechanic to separate objects that have closely related colors by shifting the color of one or the other. This plug-in is available in standard and Pro versions. The Pro version supports 16 bit/channel image formats and CMYK while the standard version is 8 bit/channel RGB only. Prices are $49.95 and $29.95, respectively. You can find more information at www.colormechanic.com, including documentation, sample images, a message board, and free demo downloads.

B&W Plug-In
In other plug-in news, SilverOxide released the Mac OS versions of its 16-bit plug-ins for converting color digital files into images that appear as if they were shot with specific kinds of Agfa, Kodak, Ilford, and black and white film. These new versions include the ability to make it appear as if these images were originally photographed with yellow (8), green (11), or red (25A) filters and have been written to take advantage of Photoshop's floating point calculations to produce smoother tone transitions. The most obvious difference in these new 16-bit versions is a new, improved interface with a much larger preview window. Before using, be sure to convert the image into a 16-bit file (Image> Mode>16 bits/channel). Bill Dusterwald, creative genius behind these cool plug-ins, tells me that future versions will do this automatically. For more information about these useful plug-ins, visit www.silveroxide.com.

Big Pixels, Little Package
Pentax, whose US quarters were around the corner from my old studio in Englewood, Colorado, has wrapped a 4-megapixel digital camera into a compact 7.2 oz package. Its 3x zoom lens has a 35mm equivalency of 37.5-112.5mm. The camera also offers a 2x digital zoom, but regular readers of this column know digital zooms are more a case of "featureitis" than something useful for capturing images. Just use the Crop tool.

Of more use are the 2240x1680 resolution images that can capture images at ISO equivalencies of 100 and 200. You can squeeze up to five "Best" quality images out of the bundled 16MB CompactFlash card. In the ubiquitous web format of 640x480 you can store 200 of these puppies on a 16MB card. The built-in flash offers redeye reduction and a Night mode. For more critical applications, the Optio 430 allows light levels to be checked by displaying exposure in histogram format on its 1.6" LCD screen during shooting and playback, which is unusual for a camera in this class. The camera also offers PRINT Image Matching compatibility to make sure the finished prints look like the pictures you thought you were making--something mentioned at the top of this month's column. For more information, visit www.pentax.com.

Archival Ink & Paper
MediaStreet.com received certification and verification from the Wilhelm Research Institute (www.wilhelm-research.com) that its Generations Micro-Bright Pigmented ink jet ink and media should last more than 100 years. Wilhelm tested MediaStreet's Royal Plush fine art paper printed using their Enhanced Generations ink. According to Wilhelm's report, the stability data for the improved Version 4 Generations inks printed with an Epson 3000 four-color printer and the Epson 5000 six-color ink jet printer using Royal Plush paper are rated at "greater than 100 years" and are expected to have very good humidity-fastness properties. The display life figures assume no reciprocity failure and were derived from accelerated glass filtered and bare-bulb fluorescent light fading tests conducted at 75F and 60 percent relative humidity and based on the "standard" indoor display condition of 450 Lux for 12 hours per day. Illumination conditions in homes, offices, and galleries will vary, and color images last longer when displayed under lower light levels, and print life will be less when displayed under illumination more intense than 450 Lux (see sidebar below). More information about Media Street archival printing materials can be found at www.mediastreet.com.

How Much Is That Digital Darkroom In The Window?
If you buy a digital camera just to save money on film and processing you may be in for a surprise. One of the biggest differences between film and digital photography is start-up cost. After you buy a film camera you can take the film to any minilab and they'll be glad to make prints for a modest charge, but when you purchase a digital camera you also buy into the concept of the digital darkroom.

For some computer owners this may just mean a few hardware or software upgrades along with adding a few peripherals, but if you're starting from scratch MacWorld magazine estimates the cost can go as high as $6500, depending on your digital imaging goals. It doesn't have to cost that much. I've been using a budget-priced Windows XP computer that has better features and performance than more expensive systems. eMachines' top of the line T4155 computer uses an Intel Pentium IV 1.5GHz processor and has 256MB RAM, a 12x CD-RW drive, a 12x DVD drive, a 60GB hard drive, fax/modem as well as an Ethernet network card for DSL/cable Internet connectivity. The T4155 comes pre-loaded with Microsoft Windows XP along with a bundle of non-imaging software and costs less than $800. I connected it to a Samsung 15" flat panel screen and am putting it through its paces here at the Pixel Palace. I'll let you know how it goes. For more information on eMachines, visit www.emachines.com.

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