Digital Innovations
Reach Out And Photograph Someone...
By Camera Or Cell Phone

Nope, 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? Maybe.
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 few years.

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 ground.)

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.

Canon's 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 from
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.

Epson's 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.

Film Scanner/Flat-Bed 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.

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