Digital Innovations
Imaging And Your Health

Because of the huge amount of equipment photographers lug around some of us are cursed with back and feet problems. Since digital imaging, especially the postproduction aspects, seems more passive you might think that there are no similar health dangers lurking around the corner, but you would be wrong.

Sometimes digital imagers find themselves so mesmerized by a monitor filled with high-resolution images, they lose track of time. It's easy to get lost in a project while trying to create "the ultimate image," but too much of anything--even your computer--can be hazardous to your health. I'm not a doctor and don't even play one on TV, but I'd like to pass along a few tips to make using your computer a more healthful experience.

The Eyes Have It. One of the most immediate health issues facing computer users is their vision. When was the last time you had an eye exam? An outdated eyeglass or contact lens prescription that blurs your vision, even slightly, can cause difficulty when working on your computer. If you have a previously undiagnosed vision problem, it will only become worse with increased computer use. Due to the natural aging process, you may have presbyopia, which causes your eyes to lose their ability to focus on near objects--such as a monitor. If you're farsighted, computer use forces your eyes to work harder than normal in order to focus and that additional work can cause eye strain and fatigue. Even with a current prescription, contact lens users face dry eye problems with extended computers use. To keep your eyes moist and healthy, you should consider using products such as artificial tears or other moisteners.

Here are a few tips about the ergonomics of vision and computer use that have been suggested by the American Optometric Association (AOA) and other medical groups:
· When viewing computer screens with dark backgrounds, it's a good idea to use low-level lighting in your workspace. The AOA suggests 20 to 70' candles which is about one half the typical office lighting conditions.

· One of the biggest environmental problems facing digital imagers is monitor glare. Eyestrain, headaches, and fatigue caused by monitor glare can create symptoms known as Computer Vision Syndrome. The best solution is to place your monitor where glare is not a problem, but an anti-glare filter can be a big help, too.

· Where you sit in respect to your computer's screen is important, too. Your screen should be between 18 and 31" from your eyes. When looking at the center of a screen, your head should be angled slightly downward. If you need to refer to another document as a point of reference, place that document at the same height and angle as the screen. That's where one of those document holders you see in computer stores can come in handy.

iMac Glare Shield. Sometimes the simplest, least expensive computer accessory can make a big difference in your working conditions. The company 3M introduced a new custom computer filter to reduce screen glare and radiation for iMac users. The curved surface and ice-colored frame compliment the iMac's styling and all of the computer's standard colors. It is part of 3M's Expressions line of anti-glare filters and features Scotchgard protection for easy cleaning. It also has an anti-reflective coating on its glass surface to reduce glare that can lead to eyestrain, headaches, and fatigue. The iMac filter is part of 3M's line of office ergonomic products and is endorsed by the American Chiropractic Association. It sells for $60 and reduces static charge and dust build-up. For more information about 3M's computer filter products, contact 3M Optical Systems Division at (800) 553-9215.

New Agfa Camera Uses Clik! Media. The first digital camera to use a built-in Iomega Clik! drive is Agfa's ePhoto CL30 Clik! The camera operates on four AA alkaline batteries and ships with one Clik! disk which provides enough capacity to store between 60 and 360 images, depending on the camera's resolution setting. The Clik! cartridge provides the camera with 40MB of image data and unlike other forms of "digital film," the prices are decidedly user friendly. When purchased in a 10 pack, 40MB disks have an estimated price of under $10 each. Images can also be downloaded to your computer via the camera's built-in USB port. The ePhoto CL30 Clik! offers 1152x864 pixel resolution that can be enhanced to 1.5Mp (1440x1080) using Agfa's PhotoGenie interpolation technology. PhotoGenie does more than puff up an image. It removes JPEG compression artifacts, jagged edges, and the posterization that you sometime see in captured images. Other resolution options include Medium (1024x768) and Low (640x480). A Text mode is available for capturing 1152x864 images in gray scale mode. The ePhoto CL30 Clik! ships with Agfa's PhotoWise software for acquiring, enhancing, and managing digital image files. The camera will initially be available as a Windows-only version, but should be available for Macintosh users by the time you read this. The ePhoto CL30 Clik! has a suggested list price of $549, which includes cables, AC adapter, software, Clik! disk, batteries, and a soft case. For more information on the camera, you can visit Agfa's web site at: www.agfahome.com.

New Epson USB Scanner. Both Power Macintosh G3 and G4 computers, like many Windows-based PCs, lack a SCSI (Small Computer System Interface) port, although you can add one with an optional circuit board. I have been trying to make sure that all of my new peripherals use the USB (Universal Serial Bus) and FireWire (IEEE 1394) ports that my G3 has. Take scanners, for example. While a SCSI connection is faster than USB, I like the fact that the scanner cable can be unplugged while my computer is running and I can then plug-in a printer like the Epson Stylus Pro 5000 to output large format images. For the past several weeks I've been working with Epson's new Perfection 1200 scanner. It is available in three models: The $249 1200U features plug-and-play USB installation for iMac, Power Macintosh G3 and G4 as well as Windows 98 systems. For users demanding higher speeds, the $299 Perfection 1200S connects via a SCSI port to Windows, Power Macintosh or G3 and G4 systems with a SCSI card. The Perfection 1200U Photo offers USB connectivity along with a bundled Transparency Adapter that will let you scan 35mm slides, negatives, or 4x5 transparencies. The 1200U photo has a retail price of $349, but the transparency unit is optional for the other 1200 models and when used with the scanner, the transparency unit can provide 2400dpi film scans. The Dynamic range of the transparency unit is 3.0, which is impressive at these price levels. On all models, Epson's ColorTrue II Imaging System delivers a hardware resolution of 1200x2400dpi and each 36-bit (internal) scan recognizes more than 68 billion colors. Software bundle includes Adobe PhotoDeluxe, NewSoft Presto! PageManager document management software, and Broderbund's PrintShop PressWriter entry-level desktop publishing program. For information about these or any of Epson's other scanners call (562) 276-4382 or visit their web site at: www.epson.com.

Plug-In Of The Month. The creative use of lens flare has always been one of my favorite photographic techniques. Since even the earliest versions of Adobe Photoshop, digital imagers have had access to the Lens Flare plug-in (found in the Render submenu of the Filter menu) where the only choices have been an emulation of flare produced by 50-300, 35, and 105mm lenses. This month's Plug-in of the Month is Knoll Lens Flare Pro from Puffin Designs. The plug-in was created by John Knoll a visual effects supervisor for George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic and the man behind the "pod race" sequence in Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. In addition to providing control over flare placement and intensity, it contains a library of 39 Custom Flare effects. The plug-ins' Lens Editor will display a list of all of the elements that comprise a flare including "glow ball," star filter, "polyspread," and "stripes." Each element can be individually manipulated producing an unlimited number of flare effects. In fact, the Lens Editor has more controls than the plug-in's main dialog box, allowing newer users to gain experience before going deeper into the plug-in and unlocking its secrets. In addition to using Lens Flare Pro to add flare effects, I've found it useful to enhance naturally occurring ones, already in an image, to create more dramatic effects. If your image-editing program accepts Photoshop compatible plug-ins (and most do) you'll have lots of fun producing lens flare effects. Knoll Lens Flare Pro costs $95 and is available for Macintosh and Windows computers. For more information about February's plug-in of the month, call Puffin Designs at (415) 331-4560 or visit their web site at: www.puffindesigns.com.

Fast Canon Ink Jet Printer. Canon's new BJC-8200 Color Bubble Jet photo printer has 1200x1200dpi resolution and four picoliter droplet size. The BJC-8200 uses a six color bi-level ink tank formulation that produces 33 distinct gradation levels per pixel, which is double the level of any previous Canon printer. This increase in gradation allows for more subtle transitions between colors and produces photographic output that's free of graininess. I especially liked the printer use of a separate ink cartridge for each color, which eliminates waste and reduces operating costs by letting you replace only empty color cartridges. This enables the BJC-8200 to produce photographic output for $1.50 per 8x10 print including the costs of ink and photo paper. The printer is compatible with Windows and USB-equipped Macintosh computers, including iMac and G3/G4 machines. A parallel port connection is available for older Windows computers who don't have a USB port. The BJC-2000 has an estimated price of $399. The print head can be replaced with the optional ($99) IS-52 Color Image Scanner Cartridge which turns the printer into a 600dpi color scanner. For more information, call (800) 652-2666 or visit the BJC-8200's own web site at: www.bjc-8200.com.

Optix Ink Jet Papers. It's worth repeating that the single most important step you can take to improve the output quality of your ink jet printers is your choice of paper. Sentinel Imaging designs and produces over 40 types of media that are compatible with Epson, Encad, LaserMaster, HP, and other ink jet printers. Papers are available in letter, 11x17, 13x19, and 17x22 sizes. To see for yourself what textures are available, the company offers a Variety Pack containing two sheets of Photo Glossy and Coated Matte papers, and one sheet each of Synthetic Silk, Artists Canvas, and WeatherWeave. I've been testing the papers with Epson Stylus Photo 1200 and Epson Stylus Pro 5000 printers and have been impressed with the results, especially the Coated Matte paper. I sense a trend here. For some time, photographers have been using the glossiest papers possible to extract the maximum image quality out of their ink jet printers, but portrait images work quite well on Optix Coated Matte material. Sentinel Imaging also offers inks containing UV resistant inhibitors for indoor and outdoor applications. Optix paper is available through mail-order catalogs from Tech Square, PC/Mac Connection, PC/Mac Zones, and Charrette Corporation. For more information about the company's products, visit their web site at: www.inkjet.com.

ArcSoft Photo Software For The Mac OS. ArcSoft has always been one of the most innovative photographic software companies around and they've expanded their products' availability by introducing cross-platform versions of PhotoPrinter 2000, PhotoMontage 2000, and PhotoFantasy 2000 for Macintosh and Windows. The software, whose previous versions were available only for Windows users, offers new features for Macintosh and PC platforms. With a suggested retail price of $19.99, ArcSoft PhotoFantasy 2000 lets you add fantasy backgrounds to your images and features live video preview that lets you capture your picture live directly into a fantasy template using a desktop video camera, digital camera, or other compatible video devices. You can even put your face on someone or something famous, such as Mt. Rushmore or Miss Universe. You can choose from more than 200 fantasy templates or create your own with PhotoFantasy's masking feature. One of my favorite programs is ArcSoft's PhotoMontage which lets you create a montage made up of thousands of micro images. You can personalize it by including digital photographs of pets, friends, or family. PhotoMontage 2000 includes a new Color Variation feature that automatically adjusts the color of each micro-image to match the color of the original. To create a unique looking montage, you can use a single photograph rather than the collection found on disc by repeating that image. PhotoMontage has a suggested retail price of $39.99. PhotoPrinter 2000 is a program that lets you customize the way you print your photographs. You can add frames or borders, personalize a calendar, or make stickers, photo labels, post cards, and note cards. PhotoPrinter provides new templates for the year 2000 and has a suggested retail price of $19.99. For more information about ArcSoft, call (800) 762-8657 or log onto www.arcsoft.com.

Adobe Imaging Software For $20. No that's not a typo. Last month I showed you a comparison of Adobe's $99 Photoshop LE with their flagship Photoshop 5.5 image editor. This month, I'd like to introduce Active-Share, a bargain-priced program that combines the ability to capture images, perform basic image editing, and share digital photographs via the World Wide Web. The program helps you organize and store your images into digital "albums" and share them in personalized Internet communities using the ActiveShare.com web site.
ActiveShare is compatible with many popular image file formats including Kodak's Picture CD but not FlashPix or Photo CD. The interface is a far cry from the conservative styling you usually see in Adobe's PageMaker, Photoshop, and even PhotoDeluxe. The interface is attractive, intuitive, and fun to work with. Sharing photos or even albums online is a drag-and-drop operation from within ActiveShare to e-mail or the ActiveShare web site. Multiple language versions are available and the program can be downloaded from the www.adobeactiveshare.com web site. Users of Adobe's new PhotoDeluxe Home Edition 4.0 will also find a direct link to ActiveShare.com.

3M Optical Systems Division
3M Center, Building 225-4N-21
St. Paul, MN 55144
(800) 553-9215
www.3M.com/cws

Adobe Systems Inc.
345 Park Ave.
San Jose, CA 95110
(408) 536-6000
fax: (408) 537-6000
www.adobe.com

Agfa Corporation
200 Ballardville St.
Wilmington, MA 01887
(978) 658-5600
fax: (978) 658-6285
www.agfahome.com

ArcSoft, Inc.
46601 Fremont Blvd.
Fremont, CA 94538
(510) 440-9901
www.arcsoft.com

Canon Computer Systems Inc.
2995 Redhill Ave.
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(800) 848-4123
(714) 438-3000
www.ccsi.canon.com

Epson America
3840 Kilroy Airport Way
Long Beach, CA 90806
(800) 463-7766
www.epson.com

Puffin Designs, Inc.
80 Liberty Ship Way, Ste. 7
Sausalito, CA 94965
(415) 331-4560
fax: (415) 331-5230
www.puffindesigns.com

Sentinel Imaging, Inc.
747 Portsmouth Avenue
Greenland, NH 03840
(800) 262-3343

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