Digital Innovations
Visiting The Law Of Unintended Consequences

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One of the most interesting facts about digital image capture is that we pixel pushers seem to shoot more images during a typical session than we did when using film for the same kind of project. For a typical model test shoot, I used to expose two to three rolls of film through my Contax or Canon EOS 35mm gear. Sometimes these were 24 exposure rolls, so a model test shoot might normally consist of 72-108 photographs, some of which would be scanned and 8x10 portfolio prints made.

Now that I am shooting these tests using a Canon EOS D60, I'm making a few more shots than normal. How many? A typical shoot now consists of 180-200 photographs, double my normal session. (Are they better? That's a question for another month.) My guess was that not having to worry about the cost of film or processing plus the EOS D60's speed of operation lets me produce more images faster. At least that's my theory, so I asked a few friends.

Bob Shell (www.bobshell.com) told me that it "could be true. I did a shoot with a model recently. I shot three rolls of 120 film, two rolls of 35mm, and 600 digital shots with my Canon EOS D30! I tend to shoot a lot faster when working with digital and go ahead and take shots I would have passed on with film." My pal photojournalist Barry Staver (www.barrystaver.com) told me that the "theory holds up in my opinion, with a couple of exceptions. Just thinking about the film and processing cost savings eases the resistance to pressing the shutter button." But it's here where that the law of unintended consequences begins to peek its head out of the water like the Loch Ness Monster. Staver then told me, "At a wedding I did Sunday I found myself holding back toward the end--I was just about out of storage cards! I went back through images, deleting a few that wouldn't make the first edit."

In Pre-Digital Days
According to legendary camera repairman Vern Prime, one of the longest-lived camera shutters was the Seiko used in "the old Nikkormat with a vertical shutter." He told me that some of these cameras were used in copy machines under controlled conditions and Kodak kept track of them recording 250,000-400,000 exposures before the shutters finally failed. "I never thought that any of these electronic shutters with magnetic releases would last," he told me. But Prime did estimate they should do "at least 100,000 exposures." That is borne out by what manufacturers claim for some digital SLRs. Canon rates the shutter life of the EOS-1D at 150,000 exposures and this information is published in the camera's brochure. They do not publish a corresponding figure for the D60, but, according to sources at Canon USA, "It's quite likely that the shutter life would be lower for that model." A Nikon spokesperson told me that "the shutter life of the D1X and D1H is over 100,000 cycles as it is a `Pro' camera similar to our F5 and other professional film SLRs." They estimate that the "D100 would be less because it does not use the same shutter due to its price point and intended market segment..."

Glen Sparks (www.dreamstokeep.com) a Michigan-based free-lance and fine art nude photographer who works with Olympus E-10 cameras told me that "my second Olympus E-10 is coming back from the shop tomorrow; mailed it in 21 days ago for some sort of seizure in its little electronic brain pan after three weeks of use." What happened to his first E-10? He told me, "About two hours into the shoot, my first Olympus E-10 suffered sudden shutter lock--it simply does not function." The repair cost is $380.

I checked the E-10 forum boards and sudden shutter death seems to be happening to E-10s at about 20,000 shutter releases, although one photographer reported that one of his cameras failed at 12,000 exposures while another is "going strong" after 25,000. Olympus reports that there is "no documented history of sudden shutter failure with E-10 cameras." A spokesperson told me that the repair rate for E-10s is less than 1 percent per month for any kind of repair for the 40,000 cameras in use in the US, and that includes all kinds of repairs, including user errors, not just shutter problems.

Some digicam users are more sanguine and feel that in "real life," 20,000 exposures made with a film-based camera is their estimate of the life expectancy for a mechanical shutter but that doesn't track with my own inquiries on this subject with repair people. Once again the culprit is the idea that was expressed by another digital camera forum visitor that "digital just lets you shoot away without film costs so you hit the 20k mark much sooner."

Lost Your Image Files?
At Shutterbug's Digital Photo Workshop Series (www.shutterbug.net /workshops) in Taos, New Mexico, one of my students ran into an interesting problem. When making index prints using an Epson 785EPX printer with its built-in memory card reader, he removed his card before the printer was finished working with it, causing the images on the card to become unreadable. It was another one of my students, Ira Gelfman a true gentleman of the old school who is skilled in both computers and photography, that came to his rescue using some of his old DOS computing tricks and rescued the images for his fellow student. Many thanks, Gelfman. It was also Gelfman who introduced me to software from DataRescue (www.datarescue.com), which can restore images that were accidentally deleted from memory cards. PhotoRescue is a Mac OS and Windows program that can recover "erased" photographs from Smart-Media, Compact-Flash, Memory Stick, and IBM Microdrive media. The software is available only for Mac OS X 10.1.3 and Windows 2000 and XP. The price is $29 for either version, with a bundle including both Mac OS and Windows versions available for $49.

Plug-Ins Of The Month
One of the first shocks that new digital camera owners have is the image noise that's created by long exposures, high ISO equivalent speed settings, and too high JPEG compression ratios. The Imaging Factory (www.imagingfactory.com) offers two different Mac OS and Windows Photoshop compatible plug-ins that will reduce noise levels in digital camera files without turning the images into mush. Noise Reduction is a $39.95 plug-in that's designed to remove or reduce high ISO noise as well as CCD color noise, JPEG artifacts, and color fringing. Need more noise power? Download Noise Reduction Pro, a $99.95 plug-in that has additional sliders and controls for luminance noise and color noise. While the interface for the Pro version is slightly more complex, I was pleased with how well both of these plug-ins worked on some of my noisy digicam files. Which one do you need? You can download fully functional 30-day demo versions of both plug-ins and try each one of them on your noisy files and make your own decision. While you're visiting The Imaging Factory's web site look around at all of their other interesting plug-ins. There's lots of cool products designed specifically for digital photography enthusiasts, including color correction, lens correction, and image enhancement.

Monochrome Conversions
One of the most common questions I get from black and white film photographers who want to switch to capturing images digitally is how to convert color digital camera image files into black and white. Convert To B&W is another plug-in from The Imaging Factory that's available in standard and Pro versions and approaches the conversion of color images into monochrome from a new direction. Most similar plug-ins (you can forget Photoshop's lame Image> Mode> Grayscale command) I've tested begin the process from the input side showing a black and white film interpretation.

Convert To B&W Pro approaches the concept from both a film capture and printing perspective and provides more user controls than similar conversion filters. This plug-in is the most comprehensive I've found and not only lets you apply a filter color of your choice to the image, but audio mixer-like sliders let you fine-tune translation of the original's color into monochrome tones. Using a pop-up menu, you can emulate five different monochrome films including Kodak's Tri-X and T-Max, Ilford's FP-4 and Delta, and Agfa Pan APX. To complete the digital darkroom experience, there's a Multigrade slider that mimics various hard or soft paper grades. If that's not enough, there are sepia (or blue) toning controls that go far beyond similar controls available in plug-ins or Photoshop Actions. Convert To B&W Pro may just be the ultimate black and white conversion power tool. You can download a fully functional 30-day demo of both versions of this fantastic plug-in to try for yourself.

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