Digital Help
Q&A For Digital Photography

This column will attempt to provide solutions to problems readers may have getting into and using digital cameras, scanning, and using digital photographic images with a computer and different kinds of software. All questions sent to me will be answered with the most appropriate information I can access and provide. However, not all questions and answers will appear in this column. Readers can send questions to me addressed to Shutterbug magazine, through the Shutterbug web site, directly via e-mail to: editorial or by US Mail to: PO Box 2830, Lompoc, CA 93438.

Q. I use my desktop system to scan, manage, and print from negative film in order to create 8x10 or larger prints. My current system includes the following equipment and software: a Dell Pentium II Processor 450MHz with 384MB sdram memory using a 17GB hard drive with Microsoft Windows 98 as an operating system; a 21" 26dp monitor; a Nikon LS 2000 scanner utilizing LaserSoft SilverFast Ai as a plug-in to Adobe Photoshop 5.5; an Agfa T1200 scanner also using LaserSoft SilverFast; an Epson Stylus Photo 1200 (purchased one month before the release of the 1270).

You have helped me quite capably in the past including recommending that I move from Microsoft PictureIt 99 to Photoshop. Since then, some additional questions have arisen for which I would appreciate your counsel: I'm not altogether certain as to whether I should be using negative or transparency film as media to process in my desktop activity given that my primary purpose is to create 8x10 or larger prints. My subjects are primarily landscapes, architecture, and wildlife. I have chosen negative film for its greater exposure latitude. In addition, it is my understanding that negative film has more detail that can be accessed by desktop systems such as mine than does transparency film assuming that the negatives are developed by a competent film lab. I notice that you have preferred using negative film during the past 20 years.

On the other hand, I believe that you have stated that transparency film has twice the dynamic range than does negative film. In addition, on page 130 of the July edition of Shutterbug, the "Photo Doc" states that "slide film will tend to be more accurate, vibrant, and sharper" than negative film. Please give me your assessment of the advantages and disadvantages of using negative film vs. transparency film given my setup and objectives.

Also, I have recently started using a large format (4x5) camera for photographing landscapes and architecture using print film. I would appreciate your assessment of the Agfa T1200 for purposes of scanning the negatives. I would also appreciate your recommendations on an alternative scanner costing less than $10,000 if such a scanner(s) would appreciably improve the scanning results. Finally, I noted Bob Shell's editorial comments on Epson's 2000P printer. Can you share with me your thoughts as to whether this printer will produce a higher quality print than the Epson 1200 and 1270 printers? Thanks so much for your assistance in the past and for help in addressing the earlier issues.
Jack McLeod

A. First of all, I use mostly color negative film for a variety of reasons. The exposure latitude factor being greater is just one of them. Addition-ally for a given film speed, at least professional quality color negative films are sharper, finer grained, and capture a greater range of color differences (gamut) than slide films. But even though scanning color negative films has its inherent difficulties and problems, the combination of long exposure latitude and a lower density range than transparencies supports capturing more information particularly in the highlights and shadows. For landscape and similar subjects this advantage can be considerable. So I disagree with the opinion of "Photo Doc." However, beyond personal opinion most film technicians will also support my contention. I have not used the Agfa T1200, so I can offer no opinion on its performance firsthand. But, its reputation and specs would support its doing a fine job of scanning 4x5 film at a sufficient resolution to produce quite sizable prints.

Under $10,000 there are a number of good scanners for film which can handle all formats. One I tested a few months back was the UMAX Power-Look 3000. A similar, upgraded scanner from Heidelberg in the Saphir line was announced that will replace the Saphir HiRes scanner, and should be excellent in hardware and software. Another is Polaroid's new SprintScan 45 Ultra model just announced which I expect to evaluate with their new Insight 4.5 software. I just did a report that is a couple of issues away on the Imacon Flextight Photo, which is just under $10,000 and handles all film sizes from 35mm through 120. I am just beginning my tests and evaluation of the Epson Stylus Photo 2000P. The main difference in this new professional printer is that it uses an exclusive new pigment ink technology and matched papers providing archival print life of up to 200 years. The print color quality is quite comparable to the dye-type ink Stylus Photo 1270 printer, which is very good.

Q. I have a friend using the Mac platform with an Epson 1200. He's currently using Photoshop LE and therefore cannot utilize CM profiles. I use a PC and am not familiar with ColorSync and was trying to get some decent prints for him on his 1200 using a couple different printer settings which resulted in some ghastly looking colors. These were with the standard Epson color inks.

Can you utilize ColorSync on the Mac with Photoshop LE? If not, can you recommend printer settings that can be used to get satisfactory colors using Epson Photo paper. We were trying to print images scanned from color slides and trying to at least get close to what the original slides look like. Thanks for any help. This will save me a lot of time and wasted ink experimenting without profiles.

A. If using a Mac and Mac OS 8.6 or 9.0, ColorSync will work very well with Photoshop 5.0 LE. There is plenty of information on how to do this on the Adobe web site as well as the Apple/ColorSync web site. There is a ColorSync control panel accessible from the Apple menu. In this dialog, you can select input, monitor, and both RGB and CMYK output profiles. In addition, the Epson printer software dialog provides the choice of using ColorSync, and when selected, supports choosing the specific profile for print output, which should be usually Epson Standard. And, if there is any doubt about the printer part of it I think you will also find support on the Epson web site.

Q. When I was shopping for a decent CD writer, you related your experiences with the Sony. Your claim was justified and I went for the Sony CRX 120E. It is a superb machine. Your vast experience with scanners prompts me to ask one or two pertinent questions. As you are burning quite a few CDs a week, I would like very much to know what is the resolution you finally adopt to output your slides/negs on CD. The magic figure of 300dpi has been suggested, especially if you wish to archive your images. Do you subscribe to that idea? A slide scanned at 2400dpi will produce the same MB size, when reduced to 300dpi, all being equal. What is the reasoning behind that, since we are told to scan at the highest resolution?
Perry Joseph

A. Generally for the purpose of archiving many agree that it is wise to save an archive file that has as much information in all respects as possible. To me the logic of this is quite simple. If you are putting in the effort to make the scan why not do so at the scanner's maximum resolution, but also output the file at the scanner's full scanning bit depth of 12 or 14 bits per RGB channel. This provides a resource which you can edit for any purpose at a later date, and be able to edit that new copy of the image to any requirements needed without a compromise in any dimension of quality.

To clear up one confusion, if your scanner's maximum resolution is say 2400dpi, you can change the resolution to 300 for print purposes without any loss of data, if you do not check the ReSample selection box. For instance, a 1x1.5" slide image scanned at 2400dpi changed to 300dpi would then have an image size of 8x12".

Q. I'm a working photographer who's trying to incorporate more digital work into my business. Presently I produce 35mm and medium format transparencies for local property rental magazines and I do a lot of digital work for our newspaper advertising department using my 2 megapixel Nikon CoolPix 700 and 800. Property clients often prefer the detail I get from digital image test shots that I print on my HP PhotoSmart. I would like to offer them photo CDs from a digital camera.

While making a test CD on my HP CD writer I found that if I shoot in uncompressed TIFF I get usable images that are the 300 minimum dpi needed for good 8" newsprint photos and 5" photos for glossy magazines. While this will suffice for most jobs, can I get a larger, publishable image with more dpi by buying a camera that produces three or more megapixels? If megapixels have nothing to do with the resolution, are all larger published digital images made then by scanning transparencies or negatives exclusively? Thanks for your help.
Chuck Miller

A. Megapixel is just a cute shortcut to express the resolution total of a CCD chip, like a 10x10" square is 100 square inches. So, yes going to 3.4 megapixels, or Fuji's FinePix 4700 with 4.7 megapixels, will produce an image that is larger at your given resolution of 300dpi for printing.

Q. Can I get a digital camera to use as a photocopier? That is, I want to go to a library, shoot a page of a book, bring the camera home, print the page, and read it. In theory, 200dpi resolution should allow that. An 8.5x11 page would then require about 3.5MB. But that is theory. Will this work? Thank you.
Greg Welte

A. Theoretically at least what you propose is a possibility. However, in practical terms I think you'd be disappointed unless everything went ideally. A couple of the problems include lighting, which to photograph a page must be even and from an angle of about 45 to the page. And, then getting a correct exposure is also a problem because the large amount of white in the paper of the page will skew the camera's light meter to cause an underexposure.

A better solution would be a hand scanner connected to a portable computer. Then at least the capture method is designed for the characteristics of type on a white page of paper. However, most of the libraries I've visited recently have a coin operated copier so library researchers can make copies of select pages. Of course there are also limits to copying books based on copyright law, which should be observed.

Q. I'm a new digital imaging section reader, so you may have covered my suggestion before. There is a free program available from the Internet that does everything Photoshop does (some say more, but I haven't become that much of a power user yet). It's called "The GIMP," or GNU Image Manipulation Program. GNU is dedicated to distributing very high quality, free software. Some of their compilers, for example, are legendary (and free ).

The GIMP was originally developed for use with the LINUX operating system, but has been ported to WIN32 systems. It works great in that environment. Extensive support for layers, gradients, masks, curves, levels, filters, the whole ball of wax, as they say. Lots of plug-ins available from the web. Lots of books available from bookstores, as well as tutorials on the web. I personally recommend the book Grokking the GIMP by Carey Bunks. Dumb title, but very well-versed and easily understood author. Try it and you'll wonder why folks spend the big bucks for other imaging products. If you're interested, do a search (I used the Excite search engine) on the keyword "cygwin." Find the "software" selection on their homepage, and go there. Or, just go directly to cygwin/ported.html You'll see a download for GIMP for WIN32. Nine plus megabytes, took only about an hour on my 28.8 modem connection. Start the download and go eat dinner or something. You'll get a "zip" file. Unzipping it gives you a "setup.exe" file. Run it and follow the directions. A superb product, professionally done, in every way the equal of Photoshop. And, in case I forgot to mention it-it's free! Thanks.
Bill Martin

A. Thanks for the information and the link. I was aware of GIMP but had not looked into it because it was Linux. Now that it is ported to PC Windows, I'll take a look, and put an edited copy of your message in my column. Note: After receiving this information I checked the site. Yes, a Windows version of GIMP can be downloaded for use with Windows 95/98. However, at the time there was an advisory that the application is in beta and there are known bugs. So, at this time the less than finished condition of GIMP for Windows should be considered by potential users.

Q. I have a Kodak Photo CD player and I'd like to put some of my digital photos into this format. Is there a program I can buy that will let me make CDs on my computer in this format? I have Adobe Photoshop, business edition, and Camedia (by Olympus) and Flip Album CD maker, but none of them let me do this. Thanks for your help.
Andrew Fetchik

A. Some years ago Kodak was moving in that direction, first with Photo CD Portfolio. However after following their developments I eventually gave up as Kodak apparently didn't get enough user response and did not develop it further. So currently as far as I know there is not any software for the consumer that supports writing image data in the Kodak Photo CD format. In other words, Kodak is reserving this exclusively for the photofinishing trade through the purchase of Kodak processing equipment.