she's not checking her voice mail; this young Japanese
woman is photographing the entrance gate to the Senso-ji
temple in Asakusa. And she wasn't the only one there
making photographs with her cell phone. Does she know
something that digicam manufacturers seem clueless about?
Photos © 2003, Joe Farace, All Rights Reserved
"Is this the party
to whom I am speaking?"--Lily Tomlin as Ernestine
There was some concern in
various corners of our industry that not enough young people were becoming
interested in photography, but it turns out that 18-22 year olds are
happily snapping digital images; the only difference is that they're
using their cell phones. Everyone agrees it's a good idea to take
a camera along because you never know when a photo opportunity is going
to present itself and these days nobody goes anywhere, especially young
people, without their cell phones.
For the last two years, cell phones/cameras have outsold digital point-and-shoot
cameras and as these phonecams' megapixel count grows so will
their numbers. eDigitalPHOTO contributor John Rettie and I agree on
few things--OK we don't agree on anything--but the one
point on which we are unanimous is that cell phones/cameras are going
to take over the lower end of the digital camera market in the next
I can hear purists choking on this now. "The quality is horrible,"
which is the exact same thing they said when the first digital cameras
were unveiled and now we have choices such as the Kodak DCS Pro 14n,
whose output rivals and maybe exceeds 35mm film. With the introduction
of desktop ink jet printers, such as the Epson Stylus Photo R300 and
300M, that allow direct printing by beaming image files from cell phones,
the handwriting is spray painted on the wall--in bright red.
The ease of entry into the low end of the digicam market makes it possible
for cell phone makers to use economies of scales to ultimately dominate
this segment. It's already too late for camera manufacturers who
placed all their eggs in the entry-level digicam basket. Some marginally
profitable companies have already folded and this trend is sure to continue.
What about the major players who derive a large percentage of their
profits from digital point-and-shooters? Well boys, you're playing
in a different ball game. You started in a semi-civilized game of football
but it's turned into rugby where there are few rules and roughing
the players is the norm.
What's left for Canon, Konica-Minolta, Nikon, Olympus, and Pentax?
One obvious solution is offering more high-end cameras, including digital
SLRs and something nobody seemingly has the will to build, an interchangeable
lens digital rangefinder camera. (First one to do so claims the high
Smart companies should study the Swatch business model and see how it
radically changed the marketing of wrist watches. Swatch turned watches
from a commodity into a fashion statement, so consumers needed to have
more than one or two depending on the occasion. Camera makers must follow
suit. Canon's PowerShot SD10 Digital ELPH designed by Sex and
the City's Patricia Field is a start in the right direction, as
is the Minox disco volante DD1. The other guys should start lining up
fashion or car designers such as Italdesign's Giugiaro, Porsche
Design, or Pininfarina to craft cutting-edge digicams. (Skip BMW's
Chris Bangle, please.) Me, I want a funky, Betsey Johnson digicam.
PowerShot SD10 Digital ELPH family of stylish digicams is
designed by Patricia Field. The SD10 comes in your choice
of four different colors to match your outfit or mood, delivers
4-megapixel resolution in the tiniest package currently available,
and costs less than $450. Want one? I do.
Plug-In Of The Month
Kodak's Austin Development Center (the company formerly known as
Applied Science Fiction) has kicked up its DIGITAL SHO plug-in a notch
with the introduction of DIGITAL SHO Professional. This Photoshop compatible
plug-in adds new features and functionality giving more control and, Kodak
promises, better results. In its default mode, DIGITAL SHO Professional
reveals hidden detail in an image's highlight/overexposed areas,
as well as detail in shadow/ underexposed areas.
Proprietary algorithms analyze and adjust gradations of dark and light
image areas to reveal unseen details and DIGITAL SHO Professional accomplishes
this much, much better than the rather limited original plug-in. The interface
offers sliders that let you adjust the boundary that determines how much
of the image is defined as shadow or highlight and provides controls over
the amount of detail that can be revealed in each area, including color
saturation. It's available for $99.95 via online purchase at www.asf.com.
The question of the day has to be: Is this product better
than Photoshop CS' built-in Shadow/Highlight (Image>Adjustments>Shadow/Highlight)
plug-in? I think so, but just by a nose. DIGITAL SHO Professional is certainly
faster, simpler to use, and has a better interface. (It has Before and
After windows; Photoshop CS doesn't.) If I already owned Photoshop
CS I probably wouldn't spring for a copy, but DIGITAL SHO Professional
is a must-have plug-in for users of any older version of Photoshop.
Mac OS X Plug-Ins
Andromeda Software (www.andromeda.com)
continues its rollout of native Mac OS X versions for some of its cleverest
Photoshop compatible plug-ins. The latest plug-ins to get the treatment
include Andromeda's Artistic Screening Tools Collection consisting
of Series 3 Screens, Cutline, and EtchTone. Series 3 Screens converts
gray scale photographs into a wide variety of different line art screens
15-400 lines per inch featuring mezzotints, sharp contrast mezzograms,
mezzoblends, ellipses, lines, circles, spokes, waves, or any combination
of the above. Cutline recreates digital engraving and woodcut effects
and includes four screens for hand engraved and woodcut effects. Built-in
tools let you position the adjustment of directional screen lines.
Working from a gray scale or color photograph--or even an illustration--EtchTone
simulates the look of a steel etching. The resulting continuous tone output
resembles old-time printing that softens the harshness of typical black
and white etching. Upgrades are available on CD for $19.95 plus shipping
and handling. Registered customers who purchased the full version of any
of these filters during the past 30 days are eligible for a free upgrade.
Perfection 4870 Pro delivers 48-bit color depth with a dynamic
range of 3.8 for transparencies, can scan a maximum resolution
of 9600x4800, and has FireWire and USB 2.0 connectivity
to speed data to your computer.
Scanner: Take Your Choice
A friend of mine at Kodak told me today that, "film will never die...I
am sorry if this surprises you but it won't." My opinion is
that film is heading fast toward Daguerreotype City, but that won't
change the 40 years worth of images that are already in my archives. Heck,
maybe one or two of them might be pretty good. So while the number of
scanners continues to drop each year that I've worked on Shutterbug's
Photography Buyer's Guide (if you don't have a copy, what's
holding you up?) the need for scanners will be around for as long as film
is being exposed and processed.
To me, hybrids such as Epson's Perfection 4870 Pro (www.epson.com)
make the most sense, but in the past while these film/flat-bed scanners
did a pretty good job with prints and medium and large format film, they
let us down on critical work with 35mm. No more. Epson told me the dog
is now wagging the tail of the 4870. It's a film scanner that will
also digitize prints, not vice versa. And certainly the specs seem to
indicate that. Epson's Perfection 4870 Pro delivers 48-bit color
depth with a dynamic range of 3.8 for transparencies and can scan a maximum
resolution of 9600x4800. It has FireWire and USB 2.0 connectivity to speed
the data to your computer.
But the big deal is that built into the scanner's, just slightly
fatter, lid is a 6x9 transparency adapter with a moving cartridge and
lamp that's optimized for film scans. See, there are two scanners
in one box. It doesn't get any funkier than that. Epson bundles
a copy of Adobe's Photoshop Elements (yawn), LaserSoft's SilverFast
Ai 6.0, and Monaco's EZcolor software to get your scanner and printer
on the same page as your computer system. There's also an OCR (Optical
Character Recognition) package that you may or may not care about but
the first time you use it you'll be in love. All this wrapped up
in a footprint no larger than the impressive Perfection 3200 scanner for
a mind-boggling price of $599 for the Pro version and $449 for the PHOTO.
What's the difference? Less software.