Digital Innovations
New Operating Systems And Products For Pixographers

Microsoft Windows XP has a different look than Windows 98, Me, NT, or even 2000 and is completely customizable. This Home version of XP may be further customized so that different users, when logging on, have interfaces that are customized for each of them.

One of the biggest challenges facing many digital imagers is the constant introduction of new hardware and software products. Decisions about upgrading software is not much different than when your favorite camera manufacturer introduces a new model loaded with mouth-watering features that will enhance your ability to make creative images. When asking for advice about what to do, you'll find that there are two different schools of thought on upgrades.

To Upgrade Or Not To Upgrade€
One approach suggests that if a program is working fine, don't spend money for an upgrade. The reasoning is that sometimes upgrades create more problems than they solve. While some Macintosh users are debating when and if to update to Mac OS X, I recently received a disc containing the OS 9.1 system software update. This latest and probably final update to OS 9 has a number of improvements designed to ease the transition to OS X. The update can be also downloaded from the Software Downloads section of www.apple.com, but this is 70MB download and may take eight hours on a 56K connection. A friend who downloaded it on a T-1 line said it took just a few minutes. Registered owners of OS 9 can order a CD from Apple for less than $20.

I initially tried using the download version of the updater, which locked up my system before finishing the installation. Because I'm a fanatic about back-ups, I was able to recover from this disaster, but it took me most of a day. When I got the official update disc from Apple I tried again, with identical results. My system crashed and burned. This time I wasn't so lucky and "all of the king's horses and all the king's men" couldn't put my Power Macintosh G3 back together again. What did Apple Computer have to say when I asked? They asked me to list my system configuration and tell them what happened but I never heard from them again. It's nice to know they care.

When I called a local Mac consultant specializing in the graphics industry, he took pity on me and came out on a weekend to get my system up and running. In talking with the consultant, he told me that my experience with the OS 9.1 update was far from isolated and many of his clients encountered installation problems. A computer magazine I write for told me that some of the "main programs we use, such as Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, wouldn't work under OS 9.1" and went back to OS 9. Others, such as Vivid Details' Kirk Lyford told me he experienced no difficulties installing the system upgrade using the download version, so these experiences are far from universal.

A second philosophy is always upgrade to the latest version. The theory behind this approach is that software is so complex that bugs are inevitable and upgrades always include bug fixes even if that isn't the stated reason. I felt like this when Adobe Photoshop 6.0 was introduced. Like most users, I've anxiously awaited every new version and eagerly installed it when it arrived. While I was excited by the interface changes and new capabilities, I was less thrilled with the performance and kept Version 5.5 on my hard disk and often used it instead of the newer version. Adding another 128MB of RAM, bringing my system up to 256MB, helped a lot. Photoshop clearly thrives in an environment where you throw memory at it and I have come to genuinely love working with the latest version.

The Horseman DigiFlex 24x36mm SLR accepts any lens with a Nikon F mount along with 24x36mm digital camera backs from Phase 1 and others. Schneider Optical now distributes it in the US.

Not many of us have the luxury of having a system specifically for testing purposes; where you can try a new OS upgrade or new version of a program without endangering your "working" computer. The secret for upgrade survival is twofold:

  • Make sure you have a back-up regimen and stick to it. The time it takes to back up is minuscule compared to the pain and cost of recovering lost data when disaster strikes.
  • Build a library of device drivers. Save those CDs that install printers, memory card readers, CD-RW drives, scanners, digicams, and other devices connected to your computer. Get a CD wallet and keep these discs together so they are available in one place when you need to set up a new computer or recover from a crash.

On The Windows Side Of The Street
In case you think Bill Gates was preoccupied with antitrust lawsuits while Apple Computer was rolling out its new operating system, rest assured the Redmond gnomes were hard at work on Windows XP, code named Whistler. For the past several weeks, I've been testing a beta version of Windows XP on my wife's computer (she was kind enough to let me experiment) and would like to share early impressions.

The first thing you'll notice about either the Home or Professional version of Windows XP is that the user interface is different, but not so different that experienced users won't be able to get around after just five minutes. Microsoft's goal in this redesign is to improve usability through adopting a more task-oriented approach than previous versions. They appear to have succeeded. Every folder contains commands that allow you to "do something" with the files and applications inside.

Microsoft says that, "Windows XP is designed to work with a huge range of the most popular software, from business applications to home entertainment and education titles." On the computer I installed the Home Edition of Window XP, and I had no problem running any program, including Adobe's new Photoshop Elements. One of the biggest problems with any new operating system is compatibility with software drivers. Windows XP's Auto Update feature automatically detects new driver software and then downloads and installs it on your system.

The most controversial feature of this new operating system is activation. While you can use Windows XP immediately after installation, it must be activated to function past a certain date. Activation is a form of copy protection, plain and simple. By requiring that users log onto a Microsoft web site and register their copy, there can't be more than one version of Windows XP activated with a given serial number.

My problem was different; Mary's computer didn't have a modem to activate my copy. I purchased a modem and tried to install it. Oh, the installation went fine. There are two slots on the motherboard and I plugged the modem into one of them, hoping Windows' plug-and-play feature would guide me through the installation process, but the operating system refused to recognize the modem. I tried all the tricks I know, and had to activate it through a toll-free voice number. All of the Macintosh users out there and some Windows users will admit that this kind of problem is common in the Windows environment. I'm no apologist for Microsoft but this is still beta software, so I'll give it the benefit of the doubt. If you want to learn more about Windows XP, visit the official web site at: www.microsoft.com/windowsxp.

Horseman Digiflex Distributed By Schneider
Schneider Optical will now distribute Horseman view cameras in the US, including the DigiFlex 24x36mm SLR. The DigiFlex is an SLR body that accepts any lens with a Nikon F mount along with 24x36mm digital camera backs from Phase 1 and others. The DigiFlex has a metal focal plane shutter and, when used with Horseman's View Camera Converter, can provide rise, fall, shift, swing, and tilt operations with focal length lenses longer than 80mm. You can get the scoop on the DigiFlex as well as other Horseman cameras, including the way-cool SW612 Ultra-Wide Angle Panoramic view camera, at: www.schneideroptics.com.

New Kodak Digital SLR
At the recent CeBit event held in Hanover, Germany, Kodak introduced their DCS 760 digital SLR. Built around the Nikon F5, the DCS 760 offers true 6-megapixel images along with a burst rate of 1.5 frames/sec into a buffer that holds 24 frames. Sport shooters will love this camera. The DCS 760 uses Kodak's Indium Tin Oxide (ITO) CCD sensor that Kodak claims is more transmissive than the polysilicon sensors found in other digicams. The ITO sensor increases the camera's spectral response that shows up in improved color accuracy, better skin tones, and reduced noise. The camera also has video out capabilities for review on a remote monitor. More information can be found at: www.kodak.com/go/professional.

Kodak's new DCS 760 pro digital camera is built around Nikon's F5 body and offers 6-megapixel resolution along with an ISO equivalent range from 80-400mm. The camera can fire at a rate of 1.5 fps into a buffer that can store 24 frames.

Digital Images For The Web
Bigger is always better when it comes to digital imaging, right? Except when it comes to files you want to attach to an e-mail message or send over the Internet. That's when you need to reach for something that's going to compress that file as small as possible while making sure image quality is maintained. Spinwave produces a suite of easy to use image compression tools that are effective for reducing file sizes and download times for JPEG and GIF images. The people who developed HVS plug-ins at Digital Frontiers founded Spinwave in 1998. HVS is an acronym that stands for Human Visual System, and consists of proprietary algorithms that filter out information from GIFs and JPEGs that can't be seen by human eyes. HVS technology takes advantage of the eye's nonlinearity to preserve only visual information that's easily seen. Using their products, you can create GIF and JPEG images with size reductions of more 50 percent of the original image file without serious loss of visual quality.

HVS JPEG is a $50 Photoshop plug-in that's useful for photographers as well as web designers. HVS ColorGIF is a $50 Photoshop plug-in that offers control over all aspects of GIF optimization, including Exact Palettes, dithering to existing palettes, HVS Adaptive Palettes, dither percent, transparency control, and compression of high and low luminance. Both plug-ins are available for Mac OS and Windows computers.

Spinwave's JPEGCruncher Pro 2.0 is a Windows application that costs $49.95 and lets you optimize JPEGs from existing JPEG files and 50 other graphic file formats. It includes batch features, so you can automatically crop, resize, optimize, and filter folders of images in a single operation. GIFCruncher has a similar price tag, is available for Mac OS and Windows computers, and can optimize any static or animated GIF, including web interface elements such as banners, icons, and thumbnails. GIFCruncher includes a batch function that determines the best level of color reduction for each image individually based on a visual error assessment algorithm.

Then there's Optiverter, a Windows-based optimization engine that lets you convert to and from 50 graphic file formats. This $149 Windows program's primary use is for batch cropping, resizing, conversion, and optimization of JPEGs, and automatically produces thumbnails for each image processed. Spinwave offers 15-day full-featured trial versions of all of its products at: www.spinwave.com/demos.html.

Shedding Light On The Situation
If you go into any photo lab, you'll find an area set aside for viewing prints. This space will have test prints posted and fully corrected daylight lighting. If it looks good there, as the song goes, it'll look good anywhere. The output of some ink jet printers exhibit a characteristic called metamerism, in which the colors look one way under one lighting condition and different under another. There are a few steps you can take to minimize this problem, but the key is knowing what the color of your image was to begin with. Using Adobe's Gamma software is one way to go. An even better way is to calibrate your monitor with products like ColorVision's Spyder. Next, make sure you view your output under consistent lighting. Many average photographers can't afford the kind of viewing boxes professional labs have, but Ott-Lite offers inexpensive lamps that can bring color correct viewing to your desktop darkroom. The company offers a family of modestly priced VisionSaver lights that you can place near your printer to help see color more consistently. Their 13w Portable lamp will fit anybody's digital darkroom and is colored to match Apple's Power Macintosh G3 computers. A similar model is made in a more neutral Graphite (G4) color for $69.95. Need one to clamp onto a table and angle out over your printer? Take a look at the 18w Clamp-On lamp for $129.95. More information can be found at their web site: www.ott-lite.com.

Ott-Lite Technology's new VisionSaver series of lamps are specially formulated to match natural daylight, so you can correctly view output from your ink jet printer. The $69.95 Portable task lamp has a small footprint with a swiveling base and is available in graphite or blueberry. The 13w lamp is rated for at least 10,000 hours and replaces a 75w incandescent light for energy savings, too.

Plug-In Of The Month
From a company with the unlikely name of Flaming Pear Software comes the even more unlikely named Melancholytron filter plug-in for Adobe Photoshop and compatible image-editing programs. The plug-in's strange name comes from the creator's feeling that it "makes pictures moody, nostalgic, and somehow sad." Actually, nostalgia filter might be a better moniker, because Melancholytron lets you use old-fashioned vignetting and toning techniques to subdue hue and focus and direct the viewer's eyes where you want.

Flaming Pear's programmers may not be photographers; the cleverly designed interface doesn't use photographic terms in describing the sections or sliders that control the final effects. The vignetting section includes a pop-up menu that lets you determine the shape of the vignette and a slider controls the size of the clear section. The Focus sliders let you control the amount and sharpness as well as color of the out of focus areas. The Color sliders control the finished image's overall color and tone. One of the coolest features is a set of dice that when clicked randomly sets the sliders to different positions. The image of the railroad water tower was made just this way; I kept clicking the dice until I saw an effect I liked in the preview window.

This Melancholytron plug-in costs just $20, and Flaming Pear has a bundle that includes their incredible Flood filter--it lets you add water effects to dry land images--and others. Check the site for details, including a bunch of freebie plug-ins you should download for the heck of it. You never know when you're going to need something like Chroma-Solarize, one of the amazing filters offered in the free download section at: www.flamingpear.com.

System Requirements For Windows XP

  • 300MHz Intel Pentium II or compatible processor (or faster)
  • 64MB RAM (128 or more recommended)
  • 2GB free space on hard drive
  • SVGA plug-and-play monitor
  • Keyboard, mouse, or other pointing device
  • 12x or faster CD-ROM or DVD drive
  • Network adapter
  • Internet access

Horse Of A Different Color
If you look up "metamerism" in the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language Fourth Edition 2000 it says, "The condition of having the body divided into metameres, exhibited in most animals only in the early embryonic stages of development." What all this mumbo jumbo boils down to is that sometimes output from a color printer looks fine under one set of viewing conditions but not under another; when this happens, the match is said to be conditional. Other types of metamerism include geometrical metamerism and observer metamerism. Aren't you glad to know all this? But as the coachman said to Dorothy when taking her to see the Wiz, that is "a horse of a different color."

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