Year End Wrap Up
Digital Photography

According to IDC Inc., the number of digital images captured is expected to grow from 3.5 billion in 1999 to 34 billion in 2004. So it's no wonder that the computer world's mantra of "bigger, faster, cheaper" was never more obvious than in this year's crop of digital imaging hardware and software.

Sometimes, "bigger, faster, cheaper" can work against a company. This year computer manufacturers were squeezed as sales lagged and profits narrowed. Some companies were reporting a $200 profit per computer as prices dropped and sales slowed. As I was completing this article Hewlett-Packard and Compaq announced merger intentions, although it is far from certain what shape the new company will take. IBM only sells its personal computers direct now, but continues with its innovative designs, such as the sleek, black NetVista M computer powered by an Intel Pentium 4 processor.

Apple Computer, still suffering from processor MHz envy with the galloping speeds of Intel's 1GHz and faster chips, rolled out new models that were (surprise) bigger, faster, and cheaper. The new Silver Power Macintosh G4 machines have faster 867MHz processors--even dual 800MHz processors on one model--along with built-in recordable CD-RW and DVD drives. Even the ubiquitous and not so colorful anymore iMacs were improved, providing speeds of 700MHz, although they still use G3 chips.

The biggest software news of the year was that both Apple and Microsoft announced brand-new operating systems. At the beginning of the year, Macintosh OS X was introduced and is now installed on all new Apple computers. What all this means for digital imagers is hard to say. One thing's for certain, Windows XP is a better replacement for the flaky Windows Me, which means digital imagers will have a more stable platform for their image-editing software. Mac OS X is another story. As I write this, most digital imaging programs, especially Adobe Photoshop, have not been "carbonized" to take advantage of OS X's new features and run in "Classic Mode," meaning there is no clear advantage of running Photoshop 6.01 under this operating system. This will surely change--the question is when.

The biggest software news of the year is that Adobe launched a kid brother to Photoshop called Photoshop Elements. This is the answer to the perennial reader question of, "I'd like to use Photoshop, but it's too expensive; what else can I do?" At $99, Elements includes most of the features non-professional users need--there's no CMYK capability--and features an enhanced interface that echoes Photoshop without copying it. Plus there are a few features not found in Photoshop, including redeye reduction and the best panorama-stitching feature I've seen in any image manipulation program.

My first thought was thJASC's Paint Shop Pro has been around for some time and each new version gets better and better. The newest version, Paint Shop Pro 7.02, features multiple color gradients, and a seemingly endless array of special effects tools and filters, color layers, and a Print Multiple Image command that offers a touch of desktop publishing. Text capabilities are impressive and function in a logical manner. This latest version features expanded file format support, allowing you to save and read files in formats as widely diverse as Amiga, Macintosh PICT, and MacPaint. With a download price under $100, Paint Shop Pro 6 is one of the best ways for Windows users to get acquainted with the art of image manipulation.

There's more to image handling than just beating up on a bunch of pixels. Programs such as ACD International's ACDSee 4.0 has almost 40 new features, including a redesigned user interface that creates a comfortable environment for digital newcomers. ACDSee 4.0 supports over 50 image and multimedia formats and lets you organize images and thumbnails into albums, folders, CD-ROMs, and other off-line volumes. Search capabilities include a wide range of characteristics including image attributes, digital camera information, and duplicate content. You can also capture images from a number of sources including screen captures, USB storage devices, and digital cameras. The Mac OS version will be updated to Version 1.6 by year's end to be compatible with Mac OS X, and the next major Macintosh update should be available by Summer 2002. In the meantime, Mac-heads might want to check out iView Media Pro as an alternative.

Megapixels? You want 'em, we got 'em and, in fact, they're bigger, faster, and cheaper. Nowhere was this more evident than in new flagship products from Nikon, such as the D1X and D1H. While the D1X is optimized for image quality, the D1H is designed for action photography and can capture images at up to 5 frames per sec in a buffer that holds up to 40 7.9MB image files. The D1X features a 5.47 megapixel CCD (Charged Coupled Device) and with interpolation can produce 17.7MB TIFF files. Both cameras include advanced capabilities for color reproduction, white balance, and exposure control.

Not to be outdone, as we went to press Canon announced the EOS-1D that includes many of the features and functions of its film-based EOS-1V camera, including a dust and weather-resistant magnesium alloy body, 45-point autofocus, 21-point evaluative metering system, 21 custom functions, and compatibility with EOS lenses and EX-series flashes. The EOS-1D has a 4.48 megapixel CCD sensor, not a CMOS sensor as found in the EOS D30, which uses RGB color filters and a 12-bit analog-to-digital converter. This CCD sensor has the largest imaging area currently available in an interchangeable lens digital SLR, making the effective focal length of any EF lens attached to the camera just 1.3 times longer than the indicated focal length (when compared to 35mm format). The EOS-1D has a single slot for Type I or II CompactFlash memory cards and is compatible with IBM Microdrives. It has a suggested retail price of $6499, but I'm curious if the street price won't be closer to Nikon's D1 family of cameras.

Minolta's Dimage 7 is a 5.2 megapixel camera that features a 28-200mm (equivalent) zoom lens built into an attractive package. Its look-alike sibling, the Dimage 5 has a similar form factor but offers 3.3 megapixel imaging capabilities.

Olympus' Camedia E-20N is a 5 megapixel camera that offers dual mode image capture capability: In Interlaced scan mode every other line is scanned (1, 3, 5, 7, 9, etc. and then 2, 4, 6, 8, 10) which produces 5 megapixel resolution with a top shutter speed of 1/640 sec. Selecting the Progressive scan mode cuts the resolution to 2.5 megapixels but gives users shutter speeds up to 1/18,000 sec while allowing a 4.5 fps burst rate for seven frames.

The E-20N features a 35-40mm (35mm equivalent) aspherical glass zoom lens and has Olympus' TruePic technology to capture smoother gradations. Night photographers will like the Noise Reduction System that produces clear, colorful images from 1/2 to 60 sec long in the Manual mode and 120 sec in bulb. The Camedia E-20N offers dual media card slots for compatibility with SmartMedia, CompactFlash Type I and II, including the IBM Microdrive.

The question on everyone's mind is: "When will this megapixel race end?" My guess is that the answer is never. Manufacturers will keep offering chips that are bigger, faster, and cheaper, even after they've reached a level that matches film pixel for grain in 35mm cameras. While we will continue to see bigger and better digicams, one thing we won't see next year is Silicon Film's EFS-1 system that lets you shoot digital images with a film camera. Evidently, the delay and financial strain caused by the need to make the device pass the FCC's interference test proved to be the final straw. It was a great concept and technical achievement that never saw fruition.

If you've been involved in photography for any length of time and want to move into digital imaging, you'll need a scanner; that's all there is to it. Scanners come in a wide price range to fit everybody's needs. At the Toyota Corolla end of the scale, you'll find Epson's Perfection 1650 Photo Scanner that delivers 3200x1600dpi scans of prints and 35mm film for under $250. On the Aston Martin end of the scale, you'll find Imacon's Flextight Precision III. With a price tag appropriate for an entry-level Hyundai, the $14,995 Flextight Precision III delivers 42-bit color depth and can digitize film up to 4x5 with a 4.2 D-max in a single pass. Connection to your Mac or Windows computer is via SCSI or speedy FireWire.

With Digital ICE3, you can restore images that might have previously been completely unusable because of fading, bad exposure, dust, dirt, or scratches. If you think all this is marketing hype, all you have to do is make comparison scans between scanners that don't have Digital ICE3 and those that do. Scans of 30-year-old Ektachrome slides convinced me that if you plan on digitizing some of your older film--and chances are that you're gonna do this sooner or later after you purchase a scanner--you should seriously only consider scanners that offer Digital ICE3. Some other scanners that offer one or more of the ASF technologies include the Acer ScanWit 2740S; Minolta's Dimage Scan Elite and Dimage Scan Multi II; Nikon's Coolscan 4000 ED, Super Coolscan ED, Coolscan II, and Super Coolscan 2000.

It seemed like every time I turned around during 2001, another photo quality printer was announced. This was a year that ink jet printers got better and better, meeting the standard of producing image quality and durability of conventional lab-produced C-prints. Many new printers were introduced this year, including Canon's six-color S800 Bubble Jet printer that delivers 2400x1200dpi output at 15 pages per minute (ppm) in black and 10 ppm in color. Canon's big news is the use of individual ink tanks--one for each color--that have an optical sensor detecting when a tank is low and gives an on-screen warning when ink is running out. At deadline, Epson introduced their six-color Stylus Photo 820 printer that has a $149 price tag. (As I write this there is a $50 rebate.) The 2880x720dpi printer has a maximum printable area of 8.5x11", allowing it to print 4x6, 5x7, and 8x10 borderless prints. Windows and USB connectivity offer compatibility with Mac OS and Windows computers. Hewlett-Packard's $399 PhotoSmart 1215 photo quality ink jet printer provides built-in CompactFlash and SmartMedia memory card slots enabling it to print directly from a digital camera--with no computer required. Although what will happen to this popular line of ink jet printers in light of the Compaq merger won't be revealed until 2002. Lexmark's Z53 Color Jetprinter looks much more expensive than its $139 price tag and offers parallel port and USB connections as well as drivers for Linux, Mac OS, and Windows owners.
All six-color photo-realistic printers are not created equal. For example, the black ink used in some six-color photo printers may be pigment based while the color inks are dye based. Since you can't mix dye and pigment-based inks, these printers produce black and gray tones by blending colors from the CMYK ink set, which can produce less than satisfactory or dense-enough blacks. What this means to the serious pixographer is that some six-color printers are really five-color models. Be sure to ask before you buy. Of course, the best recourse is to create a standard image test file that you can use to test printers, ink, and most importantly papers.

Ink, paper, and accessories also made 2001 a banner year for digital printing. Luminos Photo Corp's LumiFlo Fluidic Ink Delivery System eliminates the use of ink cartridges for Epson's Stylus Photo 1270/1280 printers. Their system includes the LumiFlo Fluidic Ink Delivery Device; six 4-oz bottles of Preservation Series LumiFlo Gold Ink; a Preservation Series Sampler Pak that includes 10 sheets of five Preservation Series fine art paper; and a CD-ROM with 1270/1280 ICC (International Color Consortium) profiles for color management. Since there are no cartridges to replace, the system reduces the amount of time spent changing cartridges and running repetitive nozzle checks and clean cycles. Replacement ink will be sold separately in individual 6-oz bottles. Luminos claims that their LumiFlo Fluidic Ink Delivery System can reduce ink costs up to 60 percent.

Epson's gelatin-coated ColorLife Photo Paper has a rated lightfastness of 25-27 years before noticeable fading is expected. ColorLife's surface has a light texture and a 1440dpi limit even if your printer, like the Stylus Photo 820, can output at 2880dpi. It's not compatible with borderless printing like other Epson paper offerings, but is an ideal media to use when longevity is your goal. I make wallet-sized prints using Adobe Photoshop's File>Automate> Picture Package command to produce archival snapshots to mail to family members.

Are you tired of dragging printer cables all over the house? Want to use an Epson Stylus Photo 2000P but don't have space in your digital darkroom? Epson's Wireless Printer Server lets you place your printer anywhere within 300 ft of your computer and will even transmit--it uses radio--through walls and floors. Apple fans will recognize the 802.11b technology Epson uses as AirPort. The server costs $249 and ends forever the hassle of "where do I put that printer cable?"