Digital Innovations
Looking At The Past, Looking Into The Future

Fuji's pocket-sized MX-1700 delivers 1.5Mp resolution in a package the size of a deck of cards.

"Who would believe that so small a space could contain the image of all the universe?"--Leonardo da Vinci's comments on the Camera Obscura

Like many digital imagers, I'm occasionally frustrated by problems with software and hardware with my Macintosh and Windows computers. When this happens, I try to put it in perspective and remember how Mathew Brady and company photographed the American Civil War. These intrepid photographers used horse-drawn wagons (not minivans) to carry large format cameras, chemicals, and glass plates across a country that had few accurate maps, fewer roads, and no auto club to call when a wheel fell off. When Brady's photographers got ready to make a photograph, they had to coat a glass plate with emulsion, stick it in a camera, make the exposure, then process it before the plate dried. If the image was exposed properly--using only the lens cap as a shutter--they would have to deal with the likely prospects of these hard fought negatives being cracked or broken on the trip back to Washington. All this was going on during a shooting war when both sides' artillery liked to use the wagons for target practice. Even back then, it seems, nobody liked the media. A tough life, sure, and frustrating too, but William Henry Jackson used the same techniques to photograph the American West long before Ansel Adams knew what a camera was. Think about all of this the next time your computer crashes and you're feeling sorry for yourself.

LCDs On My Mind. I've become a fan of LCD monitors. In addition to the AcerView F51 connected to my G3 PowerMac, I've been testing a Panasonic PanaFlat LC50SG with my Windows computer. This is more than just a monitor. The "S" in the serial number tells you it's wired for sound. There are speakers located in the lower right and left-hand corner of the monitor's dark gray housing. That's what the "G" stands for. Traditionalists can get a monitor without sound and in the light gray that Apple Computer calls "platinum," but the dark gray housing seemed to enhance the experience when working with digital photographs in Photoshop and other image-editing programs. There's much to like about the PanaFlat LC50SG. In addition to its 1024x768 resolution and .297 dot pitch, it has a USB (Universal Serial Bus) hub, allowing you to connect up to four devices. Instead of having to crawl around the back of the computer looking for a connection--you never know what's lurking back there--it's conveniently located in the monitor's base. Unlike other LCD screens I've used, including Acer's and Apple's, there's no separate power transformer to deal with. The power cable connects to the back of the monitor and goes straight to your power strip without detour. Setup was simple with an Auto-Size function that's part of the on-screen menu controls and I was up and running in less than 10 minutes. The only hitch was that I couldn't find the power switch. I even looked in the Owners Manual to find where Panasonic had hidden it. I eventually found the switch tucked into a recessed area behind the right-hand edge of the screen. For more information on Panasonic displays, visit their web site at: www.panasonic.com/office/display/disp.html.

Big Monitors, Little Prices. While I may be infatuated with LCD monitors, I also know a bargain when I see one. During the mid-1990s 17" monitors started replacing 15" monitors as the standard screen for desktop computers. Now 19" monitors are rapidly replacing 17" ones, especially in graphics and digital imaging applications. One of the biggest problems with 19" monitors is not just their physical size, but also their big price tags. For bargain hunters, MGC Technologies is offering a 19" monitor for Mac OS and Windows computers for $389. Until now, the lowest price I'd seen for any 19" monitor was $459, with most priced much higher. The MGC-9107 has a maximum screen resolution of 1600x1200 pixels with an 85Hz refresh rate. It has a dot pitch of .26mm. Dot pitch is the distance between the red (center) dot of two adjoining pixel triads. The smaller this number is, the sharper the picture will be. A good monitor has a dot pitch of .28mm. Anything larger and the quality suffers, any distance smaller and the quality improves. The monitor base houses a multiple outlet USB hub, allowing digital cameras, digital film card readers, printers, and scanners to be connected without dragging the computer out and plugging cables into its back. The MGC-9107 has an on-screen menu that allows you to fine-tune the screen's brightness and contrast, and since the monitor is plug-and-play it should work with whatever graphics card is already installed in your computer. To locate the nearest retail outlet for the MGC-9107, call the company at (877) 428-9642 or visit their web site at: www.mgcusa.com.

New Fuji Digital Cameras. While we were still in the '90s, Fuji announced the MX-1700 digital camera that combines 1.5 megapixel resolution with a new aspherical zoom lens. Measuring 3.1x4.75x1.25" the camera is roughly the same size as a deck of cards and fits easily in a shirt pocket or purse. The CCD imaging chip produces images at 1280x1024 resolution or the ubiquitous 640x480, and the zoom lens delivers a 35mm equivalency of 35-114mm. The MX-1700 also has a 4x digital zoom and digital 2x telephoto mode. The camera is equipped with an optical viewfinderas well as a 2" color LCD preview panel. The built-in electronic flash has a slow-synch mode for fill or nighttime flash operation. The new camera uses SmartMedia for storage. Depending on the compression selected (fine, normal, or basic), the 8MB Wheat Thin-sized SmartMedia will store 11, 23, or 44 images. The camera includes the new standard Digital Print Order Format (DPOF) for attaching print ordering instructions to the image's files for commercial digital output. Lithium ion batteries are provided and should deliver up to 250 shots with the LCD preview panel turned off and 80 with the screen turned on. Price of the camera is $599.

Fuji also introduced the MX-1200, an under $300 camera designed for the photographer who wants to try digital imaging without spending lots of money. The camera can create images with a resolution of 1280x960 and has a (35mm equivalent) 38mm lens with macro capabilities. A 2x digital telephone mode is also available. The MX-1200 has a 1.6" color LCD preview panel and an optical viewfinder. A 4MB SmartMedia card is bundled and allows you to make up to 23 images at the camera's highest resolution setting. More information about both of these cameras can be found by calling (800) 800-3854 or visiting the company's web site at: www.fujifilm.com.

The Computer In Your Camera Bag. Laptops may be fine for many applications, but for many photographers the future of on-location computing is clearly with handheld computers, such as Casio's Cassiopeia (www.casio-usa.com/hpc/), that use the Windows CE operating system. Since the revitalized Apple Computer deep-sixed the Newton, Windows CE seems to be the choice for many mobile computing users. Sierra Imaging has launched Image Expert CE software to act as a communications interface between your digital camera and the rest of the world. The program lets you acquire images from supported cameras and is compatible with any digital camera that stores images in JPEG or BMP formats. You can create albums to store those images and move images from one album to another just by dragging the thumbnails. These images can be displayed on your handheld device's screen, zoom, and even annotate images with voice or text. The program lets you send the images as e-mail or transmit them via IrDA (Infrared Direct Access) to another computer. Image Expert CE costs $39.95, and you can download a free demo from the company's web site at: www.sierraimaging.com.

A Photoshop Bargain. When I am speaking to groups of photographers about digital imaging, one of the most common questions I'm asked is, "I can't afford Photoshop. What are some inexpensive alternatives?" I tried to answer this question in the October issue with my story called "Digital Imaging on a Budget" that showcased several programs that cost less than $100. This month I'd like to add another program to that list: Adobe Photoshop LE. The concept of a limited edition version of Photo-shop is not new and for many years Photoshop LE was bundled with printers and scanners, but was never offered for separate sale until now. For $99 you get Photoshop Lite, a program that provides many of the features of the latest version of Photoshop but which lacks some of its appeal to print and web designers. Photoshop LE offers the essential tools for correcting and enhancing photos, compositing multiple images, creating original artwork with a variety of special effects, and outputting to desktop printers and common web file formats. So you'll find all of the tweaking controls, like Variations, that make Photoshop such a powerful image editor along with all of the standard plug-ins and support for third-party plug-ins. What's missing? For a direct comparison of features, check out the chart "Adobe Photo-shop LE vs. Version 5.5." Registered PhotoDeluxe users can upgrade to Photoshop LE for $79 direct from Adobe and North American Photoshop LE users can upgrade to the full version of Photoshop 5.5 for $499. For more information call (800) 492-3623 or visit www.adobe.com/prodindex/photoshop/main.html.

Plug-In Of The Month. Once again the Photoshop compatible plug-in of the month is from Andromeda Software. The Cutline Filter is Andromeda's new multi-platform, Photoshop compatible screening and woodcut effect plug-in. This plug-in emulates the engraved effect that was popularized by the Wall Street Journal and Barnes & Noble advertisements. Andromeda developed a combination line/dot screen that replaces the gray tones in a photograph or illustration with black and white lines that are crosshatched in the shadow areas as the lines become thicker or breaks up into dots in the highlight areas as the lines become thinner. The result is a digital engraving effect that emulates classic Old World engraving techniques. The Cutline Filter has a Stamper Tool that lets you change the engraving direction to emphasize the dimensionality or contour of the object being "engraved." The filter engraves selected parts of a gray scale photograph or illustration in 10 to 35 lpi (lines per inch) and offers wavy and straight lines and ellipses, making it easy to create an image with the effect. You can visit Andromeda Software on the World Wide Web at: www.andromeda.com for detailed information on all of their products or download a demo of the Cutline Filter.

New Epson Printers And Paper. While some printer companies have danced around implementing FireWire (IEEE 1394, for you pur-ists), Epson jumped into the fray by offering FireWire options for their new 900G and Stylus Pro 5000 color ink jet printers. Obviously aimed at PowerMac G3 users but compatible with Windows computers, the 900G is housed is a translucent case with "blueberry" cover. The four-color printer delivers variable droplet size down to three picoliters and outputs images at 1440x720 resolution. The 900G has a USB connection for Windows and Macintosh computers and Epson offers an optional ($199) IEEE 1394 Interface card for FireWire connectivity. The 900G can output pages at 12 per minute and has an estimated street price of $429. Epson also announced Matte Paper Heavy-weight, a new ink jet paper with a flat matte finish for photographic quality output. The new paper has the same look and feel as a traditional photographic print and its heavyweight base is designed to handle heavily saturated color images. Matte Paper Heavyweight will be available in three sizes: 8.5x11, 11.7x16.5, and 13x19 for users of printers capable of larger-sized output, such as Epson's Stylus Photo 1200 or Stylus Pro 5000. For information about these or any of Epson's other products call (800) 463-7766 or visit their web site at: www.epson.com.

Another new FireWire (optional) printer is Epson's Stylus Pro 5000. Previously aimed at graphics professionals, Epson has lowered the printer's price to $2995 and removed the expensive Fiery LC RIP (Raster Image Processor) as standard equipment. With the RIP, the Stylus Pro 5000 now costs $7495, down from its original $10,000 price tag. As you might expect for these kind of prices, the Stylus Pro 5000 is not your normal $199 desktop ink jet printer. It uses a unique Dual Density Droplet print head to produce output at 1440x720 resolution with a 11 picoliter dot size. In addition, Epson's proprietary ASIC (Application Specific Integrated Circuit) hardware is designed to ensure predictable color accuracy from one print to the next. The Stylus Pro 5000 offers connectivity via built-in USB, parallel, and serial ports along with optional FireWire and Ethernet connections. I recently received one of these printers for testing and hope to share some impressions on its use and output quality in a future column. For information about Epson's professional graphics products visit their web site at: http://prographics.epson.com.

A Complete Digital Imaging System? Hardly a week goes by without someone asking me to design a digital imaging system for them. I'm not a consultant, so I give these mostly professional photographers the following advice. Unless you are a sophisticated computer user, don't shop around for individual hardware and software solutions, then try to assemble them into a system by yourself. Why? What happens when the brand-new computer you bought won't work with the printer you purchased from someone else? The computer company tells you that it's the printer's fault and vice versa. After a month or so of this kind of finger pointing, the photographer longs for the simple joys of film. The best solution is to buy your complete system from a single source. One company's name that has come up in my discussions with professional photographers around the country is Desktop Darkroom. They specialize in converting pros to digital imaging and offer hardware along with on-site training and a year of telephone and diagnostic support. The majority of their customers are general service photo studios, but they also work with specialists who photograph high school seniors and youth activities, such as sports, dances, and school photography. If this describes what you do, give them a call at (904) 398-9934 or visit their web site at: www.desktopdarkroom.com
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