Digital Innovations
USB & Fire Wire Voodoo
Make The Right Connection

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If you want to get real hands-on, you can use the Expert mode shown here, but the results produced by the presets for the different classes of soft focus, diffusion, and fog filters that are built in Andromeda's new ScatterLight Lenses make it the best digital soft focus filter available.
Photos © 2001, Mike Davis, All Rights Reserved

"You do that voodoo that you do so well"--Cole Porter's "You've Got Me Under Your Skin"

When USB and FireWire were first introduced, manufacturers promised us a more stable connectivity environment and while both technologies are big improvements over serial, parallel, and especially SCSI ports, there is still some voodoo involved in getting peripherals to connect and stay connected. Every now and then my old SmartDisk USB memory card reader would "forget" that it was connected to my Power Macintosh G3 and after searching and not finding solutions to the problem, I found the best thing to do was disconnect then reconnect the cable from the back of the computer. This problem disappeared when I started using a G4 for most of my work, but now my USB-based Imation SuperDrive, which worked perfectly on the G3, exhibits intermittent connectivity. Unplugging and re-plugging the cable solves the problem but it's still annoying. FireWire is not immune from its own set of idiosyncrasies. One photographer told me the only way his computer would recognize an external FireWire hard disk and CD-RW drive at the same time was to connect the hard drive first, the CD burner next, and finally everything else in his FireWire device chain. Any other combination wouldn't work and caused the computer to "lose" either drive! Kevin Elliott of Mac MDs (www.macmdcare.com) tells me FireWire is especially problematical on early "blue and white" G3 Power Macs. I didn't have many problems with my G3 until I installed an external FireWire drive but since then all kind of hard drive problems surfaced that drove me crazy. If you're having problems with your USB and FireWire devices, start by looking at how and where the devices are cabled. When connecting any kind of device, always use high quality cables such as Belkin's gold (www.belkin.com) or cables from Granite Digital (www.scsipro.com).

Plug-In Of The Month
For a long time, I've been looking for the perfect digital soft focus filter for glamour and portrait photography and Andromeda's new ScatterLight Lenses may just be it! There are four separate diffusion categories, each with its own pop-up menu of presets available in the interface. Depending on the settings, DreamOptic filters range from subtle to dramatic, adding a soft glow to landscape and portrait images. The SoftFocus lens produces effects similar to lens mounted, commercially available soft focus filters. The StarLight lens effects place light over the brightest areas of an image to create "starlight" effects and, much like an on-camera star filter, produce the most dramatic effects when used with images containing focused points of light. The Soft Diffuser lets you create more extreme fog and mist effects. The ScatterLight Lenses plug-in has Expert and Novice modes so you can dig into it as deep as you want. The Novice mode is the place to work until you think you need more soft focus power; then click the Expert mode check box and grab the five sliders to produce an unlimited number of diffusion effects that can be tailor-made for your specific image. Download a demo from their web site at www.andromeda.com to try it for yourself.

Extensis Portfolio
One of the most useful image management tools available was just upgraded. Extensis' Portfolio 6 (www.extensis.com) includes a suite of new features that makes it the easiest and most effective way for professional and aspiring pro photographers to organize, retrieve, and distribute digital image files. Available for Mac OS and Windows computers, an OS X version should be available by the time you read this. (The current version operates in the Classic environment allowing Mac OS X users to use the program's cataloging and file management features right now.)

New features include FolderSync, which links Portfolio catalogs to folders on your hard disk, and keeps them synchronized. The new Express Palette provides instant access to files from anywhere on your system. Need web? Using built-in templates, you can create web pages based on a catalog's contents in a few steps. The program's Collect and Publish feature automatically collects images, links them to a new catalog, and generates a browser to view the catalog. A new cataloging option lets you rename files, add keywords, and fill in other field values--on the fly--as items are catalogued.

The program supports Exif (Ex-changeable Image File) and imports data captured by digital cameras. Portfolio has always been known for its cataloging capabilities, but the new Instant Cataloging feature lets you select any file, folder, or disk and instantly capture the image's files. Portfolio 6 sports a new streamlined, revamped toolbar and costs $199.95. Upgrades from previous versions are $129.95.

Digital Templates
Eye Heart (www.eyeheartco.com) has produced a series of charming and easy to use templates that are must-have digital tools for anyone who photographs children. The template designs focus on children's and infants' portraits as well as sports magazine covers. A professional graphic designer created these 300dpi templates, and they show it. For children's portraits, the designs vary from soft pastels to bright, clever montages that allow you to place from one to four different photographs. Using the templates is a snap: You drag your image files into the template and it's finished. That's it.

The templates are compatible with Adobe Photoshop 5 and later and worked great with Version 6 and the beta of Photoshop 7 I'm currently using. The infants' CD includes 27 templates that are appropriate for newborn portraits, but seemed to work great with any photograph I tried of really young kids. The instructions are found in a PDF (Portable Document Format) file on the disc, but I just opened and started working--and so will you. There are currently two discs for children and four sports CDs. Prices are $99 each and collections are available to save you a few bucks. The company intends to offer a new CD each month, so check their web site for the latest templates.

The availability of generic paper profiles from Legion Paper's web site makes it possible to take advantage of their lush Somerset Photo Enhanced Textured (Radiant White) paper to print this South Beach image captured with an Olympus E-20N.
Photos © 2001, Joe Farace, All Rights Reserved

Fine Art Paper Profiles
One of the most fun and creative ways you can use your ink jet printer is to experiment with different kinds of papers with interesting textures and ink absorption characteristics, but judging from the questions I get during Shutterbug's Digital Workshops, this is often the time when the fun goes out of the process. The stock answer to this problem is that you should create a custom profile that is hardware, ink, and paper specific. Many new digital imagers don't want the hassle involved, but some forward-thinking paper companies are taking steps to put fun and creativity back into printing. This month I want to give props to Legion Paper (www.legionpaper.com) who has created a series of generic profiles for each of their various kinds of papers and different kinds of Canon, Epson, and (soon) HP printers. Legion claims that "these profiles yield very satisfactory results but are not as precise as the custom profiles" that can be purchased from online resellers such as GalleryPrint (www.galleryprint.com) and InkJetMall (www.inkjetmall.com). Instructions for using the generic profiles with Adobe's Photoshop (www.adobe.com) are available online at Legion's web site. It's a good idea to print the instruction page and save a copy in your "test print" file that I've long advocated in this column.

Lumijet's Monochrome Plus is formulated specifically for the company's 1270/1280/870/890 LumiFlo Fluidic Ink Delivery System and produces many different hues ranging from cool to warm, exhibiting characteristics of traditional sepia or selenium-toned fine art prints.
Photos © 2001, Robert Lindholm, All Rights Reserved

Monochrome Ink System
Lumijet's Monochrome Plus (www.lumijet.com) is formulated specifically for the 1270/1280/870/890 LumiFlo Fluidic Ink Delivery System and provides the experienced digital printmaker with an almost infinite range of options for monochrome imaging. The black and white print can be pure neutral or digitally "toned" in hues ranging from cool to warm, while exhibiting characteristics of traditional sepia or selenium-toned fine art prints. The package includes a set of six black inks of varying densities that are the equivalent to the density values of the colors they replace, which enables printmakers to use their currently installed color management system to control tonality from highlights to shadows and all of their normal photo-editing software tools to tweak an image's tonality.

Printmakers will also enjoy (at least) a 70 percent savings in ink cost compared to the monochrome inks that are sold in cartridge form. Refills are available separately in 6 oz bottles. The system also includes the ink delivery hardware and a CD containing instructions for installation and use.

Sony's Micro Vault is the length of a car key and the thickness of a highlighter and plugs into any USB-enabled computer--you just drop it in your pocket and go.

Micro Vault
If you have to transport data from place to place, I've got good news. Sony's Micro Vault (www.sonystyle.com) makes carrying data a painless proposition because you can drop it in your pocket and just go. About the length of a car key and the thickness of a highlighter pen, the Micro Vault plugs into any USB-enabled computer. Unlike other storage media, you don't need a card reader. You simply remove the Micro Vault's end cap and insert the built-in USB connection into your notebook or desktop computer and go to work. These pocket-sized devices are available in four color-coded models according to capacity, including 16MB (orange), 32MB (red), 64MB (blue), and 128MB (black) models with suggested list prices of $49.99, $69.99, $99.99, and $149.99. You can store all kinds of data, including digital images, PowerPoint presentations, as well as audio and video files. Micro Vault is perfect for moving files from floppyless laptops, like Apple's iBook and some of the tiny Sony models, to desktop machines. What's more, they are Windows or Mac OS aware and let you transfer data without cables, adapters, or driver software.

This latter feature only works with Windows 2000, Me, and XP or Mac OS 9 and higher, but if you're working with another operating system, driver software is provided on an 80mm Pocket CD. The Micro Vault is bundled with Sony's Zone software, allowing you to create a "security zone" and any data stored within this zone is password protected, ensuring the file's privacy if the Micro Vault is shared with others or is misplaced. One word of caution: Take it out of your pocket before going through airport security. While it's unlikely that x-rays will damage any information stored on a Micro Vault, metal detectors may cause data errors in any kind of magnetic storage device.

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