Digital Innovations
Perfect Digital Exposure

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Looking all the world like a chubby fountain pen, Belkin's new USB Flash Drive is a pocket-sized storage device.

The number one question I hear from students at the film-based workshops I teach and one that usually permeates the entire event is a quest for perfect exposures, "How to determine a consistent approach that will guarantee perfectly exposed slides or negatives?" At Howard Community College in Maryland I used to tell my Basic Photography students that the perfect exposure was the one they liked. I then suggested that they shoot tests using their favorite film, making notes on how each film stock behaved under different lighting conditions such as cloudy days, backlighting, and sidelighting--even electronic flash. In digital workshops, getting perfect exposures seems to be the last thing students ask about. I guess they expect to fix any mistakes with Adobe Photoshop or their favorite image-editing program.

Part of the confusion is that digital gurus of all stripes have compared exposing digital images with shooting slide film (be careful not to blow out the highlights, all the pixels will evaporate) or negative film, advising that there really is a 2-3 stop latitude in over and underexposure with digital sensors. What's the truth? Depending on the lighting conditions and type of chip, digital cameras behave like slide and negative film at the same time. To answer the question, I took my own advice and made a few tests.

One of my favorite models was interested in updating her portfolio and needed some new images with moody lighting, deep shadows, and warm tones. Since she wanted me to create images that would have extreme contrast I picked a tall, thin south-facing window in my living room as the main light source with no reflectors or supplemental lighting being used to fill in shadows. Using a Canon EOS D60 with the ISO set at 400, I shot a bracketed series underexposed in 1/3 stop increments. (You can set 1/3 stops using the D60's custom functions.) White balance was set at "daylight." When I reviewed the images on the camera's preview screen with the model, it was obvious the images capturing the mood we were trying to achieve were produced at 2 stops or 12/3 stops under what would be considered "normal." Try that with slide film and you could have mud, but negative film can handle it and so apparently can the D60's CMOS imager. We settled on the 12/3 under images but as we worked I constantly reviewed images on the preview screen and made a few exposures at 11/3 under as well.

Adorama's Pro Optic Fisheye lens attaches to the front of your lens with a Series 7 adapter and can add wide angle capability to your digital SLR that is the camera's "multiplication" factor. For less than $40, it even comes with a nice case, and adds much more fun per dollar than any accessory I've tried recently.
That doesn't mean that these photographs were "perfect." Far from it. As you underexpose digital images, noise becomes a problem, but that is one problem that can be minimized using noise reduction [Photoshop compatible] plug-ins from The Imaging Factory (www.theimagingfactory.com) or Visual Infinity (www.visinf.com) or you can just let it add to the mood, much like film grain. In this series of photographs, I also noticed an increase in overall warming of the tones in the images caused by the same kind of "cross curve" effect that affects film emulsions under similar conditions. That could easily be fixed by using a custom white balance setting, but I think that, in the case of these particular photographs, it adds to the overall mood. Much as a Kodak Gray Card (www.silverpixelpress.com) can be useful in determining film exposure, the flip side of the card is white and makes an excellent tool for creating custom white balance under difficult color temperature or exposure situations. Give it a try.

So what's the perfect exposure? It's the one you like. Go make a few tests and find out for yourself. One of the advantages of using digital is that it won't cost you any money to find out.

Digital Prints
Pssssst. I want to tell you a secret if you promise not to tell my wife. One of the reasons I've discouraged Mary from getting a digital camera is that I didn't want to be her photo lab. Walgreens is perfectly happy making prints for her from her Canon Sunshine APS camera and so was I. Some of my pals have been telling me about budget-priced digital prints made directly from memory cards from local discount stores, but to be honest the prints just didn't look that great to me.

I attached Adorama's Pro Optic Fisheye lens to my Canon 22-55mm EF zoom lens with a 58mm adapter and had more fun than I've had in a while photographing automobiles such as this vintage Thunderbird with my EOS D60.
Photos © 2002, Joe Farace, All Rights Reserved

Then I tried Adorama's Digital Photo Print services (www.adorama.com). As a test I sent them an 8MB CompactFlash card containing 26 images from Shutterbug's Miami Digital Photo Workshop Series (www.shutterbug.net/workshops). The images were smaller than 300K JPEG files made using an Olympus Camedia E-20N (www.olympusamerica.com) at diverse locations under different kinds of lighting conditions, including electronic flash in a studio and the rainforest-like environment of Parrot Jungle.

The 4x6 prints were perfect: Clean, dust-free prints with sharp, bright colors that were as good as any print made from film from any good professional lab I've ever used. In Adorama's lab, your image data is digitally transferred onto photo paper that's developed in a traditional chemical process, washed, and dried like a "real" photograph. The cost is as low as 29 cents for a 4x6 print, and you can get a matte or glossy finish and a choice of bordered or borderless prints. Need something bigger? Their 5x7 prints are 69 cents and 8x10 prints are $2.95 each. I mailed the CompactFlash card in a padded envelope insured ($2) for the value of the card, but Adorama accepts images on CD-ROM as well. Local New York customers can use the company's "digital media transfer workbox" and transfer the files to their system and take their card with them. An online system to upload images from the Internet is also available. Check the Adorama web site for details.

This portfolio photograph of Megan Textor was made with my Canon EOS D60 and 22-55mm EF lens and 12/3 less exposure than the in camera meter determined to be "normal."

Photo Explorer For The Mac OS
Ulead Systems (www.ulead.com) introduced Photo Explorer 2.0 for Mac, a software tool for capturing, organizing, and sharing image, video, and other digital media files. Based on Ulead's Photo Explorer 7.0 Pro for Windows, Photo Explorer 2.0 for Mac includes image enhancement features such as hue, saturation, brightness and contrast, color balance, and blur tools. It also includes image sharpening tools as well as the ability to add captions or text to photos. Photo Explorer includes a set of management tools specifically designed for digital camera owners and reads EXIF (Exchangeable Image File) metadata so you can find information such as date, exposure, and other camera settings. Its Auto Conversion features let you convert multiple images from one format to another, while Auto Function will rename files after transferring them from a digicam.

You can share photos through automated e-mailing features or the program's web creation tools as well as create on-screen slide shows complete with video and audio clips. Photo Explorer can output thumbnails and slide shows as HTML web pages to upload to a user's web site. For those without a web site, Ulead offers a free photo sharing web site (www.iMira.com) where members can upload, share, and print digital images with a 20MB limit. Photo Explorer 2.0 for Mac is carbonized for Mac OS X, supports OS 8.6 or higher, and is available from Ulead's web site for $24.95.

Wide Angle Digital
I love my Canon EOS D60 but hate the so-called "multiplication" factor that deprives me of the full angle of view of all of my wide angle lenses. The D60's 1.6 factor means that my favorite lens for photographing automobiles, the Canon 22-55mm EF zoom, is really the equivalent of a 35-88mm. Recently, I've been using Adorama's Pro Optic Fisheye lens that attaches to the front of any lens with a Series 7 adapter. Using a 58mm adapter I attached it to my 22-55mm EF lens and had more fun than I've had in a while photographing automobiles. Using the zoom controls, I can go from an almost circular image to a full frame fisheye look that lets me focus within inches of a car bumper. At $39.95 these optics are no match for any of my Canon lenses, but the final images can be noticeably improved by using nik Sharpener Pro! (www.nikmultimedia.com).

This is the histogram for the RAW JPEG file that was made at 12/3 less exposure than the in camera meter determined to be "normal." Typically, I would move the right-hand triangle and slide it to the left, but that would change the mood of this image, so I left it where it was.

Photo Scanners
Scanners continue to be an important part of a digital darkroom and although the overall number is smaller than in year's past, prices are more affordable as the ability to provide higher quality scans continues to improve. Epson America Inc. (www.epson.com) introduced three new scanners that answer the needs of many entry-level or advanced users. The Perfection 2400 PHOTO, 1660 PHOTO, and 1260/1260 PHOTO scanners deliver hardware resolutions of 2400x4800dpi, 1600x 3200dpi, and 1200x2400dpi, and feature 48-bit color depth. In addition, they offer faster scanning times than previous Epson scanners when scanning photographs, text, and graphics. These new models are equipped with four-button automated scanning for transferring images directly into preprogrammed applications. The Perfection 2400 PHOTO offers Epson's ColorTrue II Imaging System, which is designed to achieve accurate color and reduced noise. This USB 2.0 scanner is equipped with a built-in 35mm adapter for scanning slides and negative strips and has an estimated street price of $229. The Perfection 1660 PHOTO scanner includes a built-in 35mm filmstrip adapter, is USB 2.0 compatible, and has an estimated street price of $179. The Perfection 1260 PHOTO comes standard with a 35mm slide adapter unit for scanning negatives and slides, which is optional with the Perfection 1260 model. The Perfection 1260 and 1260 PHOTO scanners have estimated street prices of $99 and $129.

Portable Pix
Belkin's new USB Flash Drive (www.belkin.com) is a pocket-sized storage device that easily stores documents, MP3 tunes, high-res photos, and whatever else you need to carry around. The line-up features a number of storage capacities: from 16-128MB with prices ranging from $49.99-$124.99. The Belkin USB Flash Drive takes advantage of USB's plug-and-play capability, so all you need to do is plug the unit into a USB port and your computer automatically detects it as a removable disk drive. A built-in write/delete protection switch ensures that no data can be lost accidentally. The USB Flash Drive doesn't require a battery or special software and is compatible with Windows Me and 2000, Linux kernel Version 2.4, and all Mac OS programs. Drivers for Windows 98 and 98 SE are included in the package.

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