You have lots of stuff ready for sale or that needs to be catalogued, such as jewelry, watches, pottery, tableware, glassware, figurines, coins, or maybe even an old camera. So how do you photograph these items quickly and affordably, while making them look their best?
For starters, we often need soft, largely even, and, for the most part, shadowless illumination to bring out all the salient features in the item. While a light tent or other diffusion enclosure can be used, getting lighting ratios just right can prove time-consuming. Using household lighting is often unsatisfactory if you want to make the item sparkle so that it beats out any competitive offerings online, and especially if you want the pictures to reflect an air of professionalism. Besides, color balance is often an issue, made even more difficult when available fluorescent lighting is used. And if you use flash, you’ll need more than one strobe, which becomes a costly and often time-consuming proposition.
It wasn’t too long ago when the use of a CMOS chip in a digicam was a sign of a cheapie camera. Well, the tide has changed, with CMOS today reflecting the highest level of capture in our newest digital point-and-shoots. Yes, there continue to be CCD holdouts even in innovative designs, but the writing is on the wall, spelling an eventual fade-out of the Charge-Coupled Device. And today, the Backside Illuminated (BSI, or simply “backlit”) CMOS sensor is slowly but surely moving into center stage—at least among small-sensor point-and-shoots, for improved light reception at the sensor, hence clearer, tonally fuller, and more detailed images. We’re also seeing quite a few long-zoom models and more GPS-enabled cameras, with a digital compass to boot, mostly in travel/outdoors-oriented designs. The “rugged” category continues to grow, as well as features such as sweep panorama mode (just swing around with your finger continually on the button) and touchscreen displays. But perhaps the new feature that stands out most is Wi-Fi capability. One camera is even Android-powered. The latter may not be smartphones, but they certainly appear to be the smart way to go for the wireless generation. With those trends in mind here’s our roundup of the digicam class of 2012. (Please note that this report contains both cameras on the market as of spring 2012 and those announced to be available when this article goes to press. Check with the various manufacturers for current availability.—Editor)
Attempting to make the HDR process more user-friendly, the newly updated HDR Expose and Photoshop-dedicated plug-in 32 Float, now both in Version 2, largely share the same features and enhancements. As I see it, the improvements center mainly on workflow—reason enough to upgrade, in my opinion, and reason enough to consider these as serious tools for HDR work. Both are available from Unified Color Technologies.
“My dad won a Nikon FM at a company-sponsored event when I was 12, and, the moment he handed the camera over to me, it was love at first sight,” Nels Akerlund recalls. Six months later, he’d built a darkroom in his basement and that love affair with photography has not abated. It carried him through the Rochester Institute of Technology, an internship with a White House photographer in the Reagan administration, and assignments for the National Geographic Society, The New York Times, and photo shoots worldwide. He shares this passion with his wife Anna, who is also his business partner and fellow shooter. Aside from weddings, Akerlund shoots architecture, food, small products, and of course portraits in his studio and on location. He and his wife operate a spacious, two-story, 2000-square-foot studio behind their home in Rockford, Illinois.
CES is not a big imaging software show as evidenced by the short list of new products, though we did find a new camera profiling tool, updated monitor calibration tools, an old favorite Raw converter brought back to life under a new name, and software for editing on the fly and sharing photos.
ArcSoft introduced a Mac version of Perfect365. This software uses advanced facial recognition technology for one-click portrait touch-ups, letting you effortlessly adjust up to 21 individual facial features. Perfect365 allows you to add creative effects such as eye shadows, blushes, lipsticks, colored contact lenses, under-eye circle removal, and blemish removal. The software is available as a free download (www.perfect365.com) or in a premium edition ($39).
The most recent speed gains have been in SD format cards, making us wonder about the larger CF card. But that concern has been to an extent dispelled by some of the recent developments in this very fast-changing field. One of the newest developments unveiled at the show was a card that sits between those two sizes, the XQD card. The first camera to accept the new memory card is the Nikon D4, although the D4 also features a CF slot.
XQD has a smaller form factor than CF, so they’re not interchangeable. Sony, the company that introduced the world’s first XQD card, notes that you can record up to 100 Raw image frames from continuous shooting mode using the card and obtain 125MB/sec read/write speed when using a PCIe port; new XQD card readers are available as well. The casing around the card is “robust,” with contact pins inside the casing itself, which Nikon says helps eliminate problems in the field.
DxO Optics Pro Version 7 is a Raw converter for Mac and Microsoft Windows with some nifty tricks up its sleeve. It offers its own brand of nondestructive image editing, with tonal, exposure, geometric, and optical corrections that make it stand apart from the crowd. As was true of Version 6.6, Optics Pro 7 supports the company’s new FilmPack 3 film emulator plug-in (see sidebar below). We will have a more complete review of the film emulator in a future issue.
Optics Pro Version 7 is a dramatic departure from earlier releases. The Select pane is gone, so you no longer have to deal with tedious Projects (unless you want to). Now you go straight to work after opening a folder. Double-click on an image and that takes you right to the nondestructive editing phase, in Customize. Beyond this point the Mac and Windows versions part ways in one key respect: the Windows version runs faster than the Mac version, which continues to be laborious.
Among the latest trends in lighting are the increasingly popular LED lights. While these lights were initially aimed at video, they serve a purpose in still photography as well, notably as accent or fill lights. In studio lighting, we have new monolight kits; and in speedlights, we have a new TTL ringflash along with a wireless TTL remote. We’ll also look at some interesting lighting accessories as well.
Camera bags and carriers come in every shape and style, from highly functional rollers to bags that make a fashion statement whenever you step out the door with your gear. Among the new products appearing this year are those that will fit every photographer for every photo excursion. There are backpacks for day hikers to trekkers, and rollers for making the transition from plane to city streets. Camera carrier makers are always improving product to keep up with the changing needs of photographers and their gear.
The trend in tripods is toward more compact and lighter-weight tripods, with an increasing number of entries in carbon fiber. Is carbon fiber the ultimate lightweight tripod? The jury is still out, although everyone seems to want one. And along with tripods, various ball heads grabbed our attention. We even found a portable copy stand.