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This article was written by the New York Institute of Photography, America’s oldest and largest photography school. NYI provides professional-level training via home study for photographers who want to give their images a professional look, and perhaps earn extra income with their camera.
By Ronald Johnson
On the Tarmac, Deicing --There’s nothing like $110 billion in annual sales to bring out a crowd. And that’s what happens every January in Las Vegas at the Consumer Electronics Show, attended by over 125,000 souls driven by the hope of grabbing a hunk of that pie. While there’s the usual share of giant boombox speakers for lowriders and giant TV screens that might actually convince you you’re doing more than staring at the furniture each night, the digital photography sector is getting some very respectable space, although most of the goods shown here are the stuff packaged in hard plastic that you can never open without shearing off the tips of your fingers. In fact, digital photography actually got a big tent this year, and that’s no metaphor. A large, plastic, strut-built tent sat right outside the main hall of the convention center with a “Flash Forward” sign on it, a somewhat cryptic reference but one clearly identified as the place where those into digital photography could gather. We’ll enter that tent soon, but first some words about the Zietgeist evident here, as witnessed by a series of corporate pep rallies held before the great unveiling.
I will attend press luncheons when hungry and generally enjoy meeting colleagues from obscure journals whose expense accounts do not allow for more than a miserly daily meal stipend. While heads nod during the speeches, some in affirmation but most for lack of caffeine, I listened up during this rousing session, the names of speakers being deleted here for the reason that I forgot to take them down. But take it from me that they were suits touting the corporate line. This is not said in any way to denigrate their humanity and I am sure upstanding life style, but when these cats hit the lectern they seem to leave all that at the base of the proscenium.
Having dined on some cream laden chicken I was primed to take notes. What follows is sort of a scattered and random impression, but as the speech went on my pen went faster, so forgive the lack of smooth transitions. Here are the main points:
1) This is becoming an “all-digital” world. The goal of all good consumers is to get control over their digital content. They want to watch what they want to watch when they want to watch it and listen to what they want to listen to when they want to hear it, etc. This show is all about “personalizing” digital content, with verbs such as “podding” (reference to i-pod) being used liberally.
2) One of the reasons we are here is to assert the power of consumer technology and (this is a direct quote) “give consumers a diversion from the horrific images from the last few years.” Yikes. First off, I wasn’t convinced that horrific images were limited to the last few years, but then again we didn’t have personalized control over our digital content to create sufficient diversion from most of history. Too bad for those poor saps who didn’t.
3) Consumers “love and have great passion for the products we offer.” This horrible truth only sinks in if you keep repeating it over and over and see just what’s being offered.
4) Here’s another direct quote: “With many products becoming commodities (read knockoffs abound) the only way to protect profit margins is through innovation.” Sounds reasonable, until you realize that those upgrades you’ve been told will be necessary and all that obsolete equipment in your closet is the result of a fairly rational, and some might say cynical, manipulation of your pocketbook and your mind. Have Photoblatz 5.5 and good lord here comes version 7, and if you don’t have 7 you just can’t be correctly creative, or so you’re told. Have a five megapixel digicam and here comes the 7’s, and how can you think of making a picture with that lowly five? Have a USB 1 jack on your computer and the new camera you want only works with FireWire? It ain’t progress, friends, it’s protecting profit margins. Indeed, most of these folks know what’s happening in 2007, and they’re just leaking out bits and pieces of advances to keep that innovative profit margin machine working. Which brings us to point 5:
5) Consumers are confused. We have to make innovation simple for them to understand it. Most consumers only use 30% of the technology a product might make available to them. (That’s probably optimistic, because I know I use about 3% of Photoshop.) The problem is “each consumer uses a different 30%.”
6) Here’s one for you photographers wondering about who and what might be using your images. “With the democratization of content digital provides, consumers feel they have a right to access whatever content they want. One of the issues that will arise is the ‘napsterization’ (another great new coinage) of content. As an industry, we should address how that might impact creativity.” I don’t know about you, but fear of being napsterized hasn’t stopped me from putting my pictures on the Web or in magazines, but I now will give it more thought. Indeed, a coming battle, our speaker admits, will be that of intellectual property versus the ability of manufacturers to provide, and consumers to use, digital content copy machines. This is a well-worn point, but one that bears more than occasional repeating, especially if you’re one of those content providers and like to pay the rent.
7) And just for fun: With the coming change in broadcast standards that will obsolete every TV set due in a few years, “We have to wonder what we’re going to do with those over 250 million TV sets. There is, you know, an environmental issue here.”
With that framework I merged into the great crowds and ogled my way through the aisles, seeking innovation, simplicity and the great way forward that digital will, I am assured, provide. If you note a lack of the usual host of photo products here it’s because most folks told me they are holding off announcements for PMA in mid-February. It might also be from the fact that we just got overwhelmed with new stuff at Photokina (see my report in the NYI Reference Shelf.)
The Big Tent
Inside the Flash Forward tent (sorry, pavilion) Kodak held their very-hyped CES press event, which did turn out to have some interesting news. It was, in their words, a redefinition of the digital camera genre. Well, not quite, but some might call it Kodak’s picture phone; we’ll call it Kodak’s silent picture phone. Dubbed the Easyshare-One, it is sort of an all-purpose device that allows you to store up to 1500 pictures (compressed JPEGs) as well as e-mail directly from the camera. A sort of point-and-mail device. It’s also hooked up to deliver wireless transmission for home printing.
The big screen on the Kodak E-1 is quite nice, being 3-inch diagonal. It’s not the OLED screen Kodak had been working on, the one that you could look at from any direction and still get a bright, crisp image. Last we looked that was on some game goggles over in booth 2209J (or some such place in the corner of the show.)
Once you make an image with the 4-megapixel camera you can store it in the albums on the camera or send it to a wireless printer (like the Kodak dockable printer now with wireless capability) or instantly e-mail it to family, friends etc. Well, almost. Actually you e-mail it to the Internet picture server formerly known as Ofoto, now called Easyshare Gallery. Then the folks you ostensibly e-mailed it to get an e-mail from the Gallery, which offers simple viewing or prints or other services.
This rather amazing setup is thanks to a Wi Fi card (optional, $199) that you use with the camera. Thus you can connect to the Gallery via a hotspot (like the airport terminal in which I hook up to the Internet free with my laptop) or from your wireless setup at home or in the office. Another fairly amazing thing about the camera is that it has 256 MB of memory built in, plus you can add more with an SD card. But as far as I can tell you can’t send the images from the camera unless you have them on the camera’s album, i.e., the internal memory. Oh, and you can shoot videos at 30 frames per second and share them online as well, right from the camera. The camera will retail for about $599.
PS: This tech note could be important to you:
At launch, the Kodak Easyshare-One camera will be compatible with most in-home and public WiFi networks that support 802.11b technology. A firmware update to permit direct connections via hotspots that require WEP key authentication or acceptance of terms and conditions is planned for Q3 2005
CES is not a high-end scanner showcase, like a pro photo show might be, but I did find a scanner that should appeal to those who have massive amounts of slides and want to use them to create shows or average size (8x10 inch) prints. The Pacific Image Electronics PowerSlide 3600 is a unique scanner that batch scans mounted slides automatically utilizing the PowerSlide 3600 slide tray. The tray, which is included with the product, allows you to scan up to 50 35mm slides per batch run. It operates at 3600dpi optical resolution, which produces a digital image of approximately 28-megabytes.
Of course I didn’t have a chance to test this unit, but it seems to me that it’s probably a good tool for lecturers, teachers, workshops, camera clubs and other orgs that might have a need to switch from analog to digital projection and who are tired of sitting around scanning hundreds of slides individually, or even in sets of five or six. According to the specs, the PowerSlide 3600 includes USB 1.1 and 2.0, as well as FireWire (IEEE 1394) compatibility for Windows and Macintosh systems. Personally, I’d make sure to use it with a USB 2 host, or at least FireWire, just for the sake of not watching it work all day on one tray.
The unit will set you back around $699.
DXO LABS Update
I’ve talked about DxO Labs in other dispatches from these trade show fronts, especially their software that processes images from most digital SLR cameras to improve various aberrations caused by lens and perhaps even high ISO settings. It’s impressive stuff, if only from the standpoint of how obsessive these folks must be to work through all these algorithms. Well, now they’ve updated their own software, now known as DxO Optics Pro version 2.0 and DxO Raw Engine.
The combination of DxO Optics Pro 2.0 and DxO Raw Engine creates yet another new RAW file format conversion solution. This is a big step for these folks because in the past you could only use the DxO fix on JPEG files. According to the company, the new RAW converter produces sharp, detailed images and dramatically minimizes conversion artifacts while the V2 of DxO Pro corrects distortion, vignetting and image softness in most digital SLR files. I’ve watched this stuff at work quite a number of times and am always quite impressed with the correction of their sample images at trade shows and somewhat impressed when I tried it at home on my own. It does work and seems to help just about any image I’ve tried it on, but is finicky and quite specific to camera and lens combinations. If you’re really, really into RAW you should give it a try.
RAW support is now available for the following D-SLRs: Nikon D70, Canon EOS-1D Mark II, Canon EOS-1Ds, Canon EOS-10D, Canon EOS-300D/Rebel and the Canon EOS-20D cameras. All DxO Lens Correction Modules for these cameras immediately work in both RAW and JPEG mode. They say they are already working on further releases to support the RAW file formats of the Canon EOS-1Ds MKII and the Nikon D2X.
An upgrade from DxO Optics Pro versions 1.0/1.1 to 2.0 is free of charge. Also, DxO Raw Engine - valued at U.S. $119 will be included free of charge until January 31, 2005. A fully functioning, 21 day trial version of DxO Optics Pro 2.0 and DxO Raw Engine are available for free download at http://www.dxo.com .
The industry seems convinced that the next wave in printmaking is going to be in snapshot –size images direct from digital cameras. We’ve recently seen a host of 4x6 printers that can spit out prints in about a minute. Of course, there are still plenty of options for getting prints from kiosks, through the Internet from places like Ofoto (oops, now Easyshare Gallery) and Shutterfly or by just dropping off your memory card, like a roll of film, at your local mass merchant or, if you can find one, a camera store. One such model, the oddly-named (or, if you take it phonetically, oddly-spelled) Canon Selphy runs under $150 and is said to be able to kick out a 4x6 four times faster than the previous Canon model, or in about 81 seconds.
The Selphy runs on AC power and can be connected directly to a PictBridge compatible camera, or one that uses DPOF, for Digital Print Order Format. You typically find the print order setups in the Playback menu on your camera.. Aside from standard snapshot (4x6 inch) prints it can handle credit-card size photos, photo stickers, photo labels and 4x8-inch photo greeting cards. According to Canon, this dye sublimation printer creates water and fade resistant prints that last up to 100 years. Note that dye sub means a proprietary ribbon and paper that can only be used on this printer.
The Compact Photo Printer SELPHY CP-400 provides further PictBridge support with two added features; N-Up printing, which allows you to create more than one smaller version of the same image on a sheet (2,4,6,9, etc.); and Fixed Size Printing, which allows you to pre-select a dimension for the print, even though it may be a different size from the paper it will be printed on. For example, consumers can print a 3 x 5-inch photo onto a 4 x 6-inch paper.
Another printer is this genre is the lightweight HP Photosmart 375 Compact Photo Printer. The unit is geared toward producing 4x6 prints and can be used for direct printing from a camera, from memory card slots or from various camera phones, PDAs or other Bluetooth wireless devices. Unlike the Canon, however, this is an inkjet printer, and that’s where things become interesting. The inks used are a new generation of dye-based inks dubbed “Vivera” by HP, and through independent testing the inks are found to last “generations”, which is a very long time. We always look at these extrapolated aging tests with a somewhat jaundiced eye, but with this new set of inks, and the ones found on the previously announced PictureMate personal (read small print) printer from Epson, it seems that the 4x6 printers are the ones that will offer the longest print life of all.
We find this somewhat ironic, as the fine art folks, those making big, Gicleé images, are finding that their prints fade in relatively short order, even when stored in hermetically sealed vaults. But the humble 4x6 print (and note that it’s always ink and paper combinations, not just ink) will outlast them all, at least when printed on this new HP and the Epson and Canon entries. I can’t help but think that this technology will migrate up in very short order to larger size printers. (Note: For more on digital print longevity, the www.wilhelm-research.com site is quite illuminating.)
This little printer has an estimated U.S. street price of $199.
Though rumors abounded about new digital SLRs from a major manufacturer it was one of those “if I tell you I have to kill you” deals. I find this awfully silly and just part of building the gate. But I will abide by the rules and only tell you that at PMA, (the Photo Marketing show, next month) we’ll have lower-priced, higher feature models. Surprise, surprise.
Another surprise was that Konica Minolta Photo Imaging U.S.A. just couldn’t restrain itself and has introduced two new digital-dedicated lenses for their just-available Maxxum 7D digital SLR. The story on this camera was that it finally opened the digital SLR gates for all those owners of Minolta AF lenses for Maxxum and other Minolta film SLR cameras. While a very good camera, it was a bit late for Minolta to get into the game, but we’re glad they did. But the whole pitch of making digital available to those heavily invested in Minolta glass is now supplanted somewhat by the introduction of two, and I’m sure more to come, digital-SLR only lenses.
These lenses differ from their 35mm SLR counterparts in that they have a smaller imaging circle so they cover the CCD sensor fine but would vignette on 35mm film. They are highly corrected and lighter, and are aimed specifically at digital imaging sensors. The two new models are the Konica Minolta AF ZOOM 17 – 35mm F/2.8 – 4 (D) lens and the Konica Minolta AF ZOOM 28 – 75mm F/2.8 (D) lens. These lenses also incorporate Konica Minolta’s Advanced Distance Integration (ADI) flash metering, which works with the Maxxum 7D and Maxxum Flash 5600HS(D), Maxxum Flash 3600HS(D), and the Maxxum 2500(D) Flash units.
If you’re an underwater photo fan, or just like to photograph in all sorts of weather, or when surfing, etc. you are probably going to be interested in the Pentax Optio WP. This small, 5-megapixel camera has a 3X zoom, a 2.0 inch low reflection LCD, 10MB built-in memory, quick start-up, a nine point autofocus system and captures movies at 30 frames per second in JPEG format. Every seam in the camera is protected with rubber sealant and an interlocking design to resist what Pentax dubs “the enemies of all electronics”, an interesting turn of phrase in this day and age. A special water-tight locking mechanism fully secures the camera’s rechargeable Lithium-ion battery and SD memory card slot. The camera is slated to sell for less than four hundred bucks.
The Olympus C-7070 Wide Zoom joins the 7.1-megapixel CCD gang with a 4x optical zoom that the folks at Olympus dub an ultra-wide-angle lens. It’s actually equivalent to 27 to 110mm, which last time I looked through a finder isn’t ultra wide, but I guess in the digital world it might be so. The wide angle on digital has been a problem ever since the medium began, mainly because of 1) the conversion factor on most digital SLRs, which turns a 28mm field of view into a 42mm or more equivalent field of view and 2) the fact that even if you did stick a super wide on a digital camera you would likely have light falloff on the edges. Having a 27mm equivalent is nice though, and at first handling and glance it seems like a great camera to carry when traveling. But I just didn’t want any of you who are growing up with digital to think that 27mm is ultra-wide. One day, saunter into a camera store and put a 17mm rectilinear on a film camera body and take a gander—now that’s ultra-wide. (I know, I’m getting cranky, but they’ve just de-iced the plane for the third time.)
The C-7070 does have some other good things going for it, like a Super Macro mode that lets you focus as close as 1.18 inches and a very bright swiveling LCD. The camera body is constructed of magnesium alloy with a rubberized grip. I also liked the camera’s Direct Histogram function, which lets you check exposure before snapping the picture. A histogram displayed on the LCD makes detection of over- and under-exposed areas simple, with red and blue highlighting showing you the way.
And very thankfully the camera accepts two types of memory media – the xD-Picture Card or Compact Flash Type I or II including microdrives – and can hold both media cards simultaneously. Personally, I think that the xD card, which Fuji and Olympus only feature, is a bit too proprietary for its own good, and I haven’t seen anyone else adopt it for use in their digicams. This to me is the kiss of death to a format. This dual slot deal looks like Olympus is finally if not moving away from xD at least softening their xD-only stance.
The price is slated to be about $699.
The Duocam Comeback
They keep trying to convince us that one thing can do two or more things better than one thing alone. You know, printers that are faxes and copy machines, phones that take pictures and download games (how lame) and the inevitable still/video combination. If you’ve worked with a recent digital still camera you might have tried the video clip or motion video features, and been perhaps as unimpressed as me with the quality. It’s fun to grab a quick motion shot but it hardly compares with working with a dedicated video camcorder. In the past, camcorders have tried to play the same game, with mainly video being the forte but a still image capture device installed as well. Most digital camcorders have it, and now work with memory cards as the capture medium rather than the tape or DVD.
The stakes have been raised a bit with the Samsung SC-D6550 DuoCam. The palm-sized SC-D6550 features Samsung’s dual-lens system, which can switch modes to produce digital video or still images. The DuoCam has a 10x optical Zoom and 900x (!) digital zoom for video and a five megapixel CCD still lens that delivers 2592 x 1944 pixel image resolution.
Features include Slow Shutter and Nite Pix options, which allow you to compensate for poor lighting conditions. There’s also a Digital Image Stabilizer system and a built-in flash. You can record images using a built-in Multi-Card Slot that handles Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro, Secure Digital Cards or Multi-Media Cards. It’s also got USB 2.0 and PictBridge, which allows you to connect the camera directly to a compatible printer via a standard USB cable.
The SC-6550 Compact DuoCam will sell for about $799.
CDs and DVDs
Have you ever seen the door-to-door salesman bit about the vacuum cleaner salesman who comes to the house and gets his foot in the door and starts pouring cement dust and peat moss all over the rug and then viola, the handy vac does the job? That’s pretty much the schtick I got at the Imation booth when the folks there started showing me their new ForceField discs. It’s a proprietary scratch resistant coating for Imation CDs and DVDs that seem to handle scratches, dust, smudges and everyday wear and tear that can make the disc unreadable. They rubbed the disc, scuffed it, even put buffeted fingertips all over it. And when they reached for the salt to rub into the CD’s wounds I cried “enough, I believe you.” In any case, aside from the drama this is a good thing that seems to be worth the few extra pennies for disc this protection affords.
You could always connect a digicam to a computer for fairly easy downloading, but that tied up the camera and made a busy desktop area even more crowded. Then came along card readers, which handled a number of card formats and eliminated the need to patch the camera to the computer. You could just leave the card reader set up and place your card in the reader and download away. But then the card reader became somewhat threatened with wireless downloading, an admittedly slower process but one that will certainly gain more popularity as they crank up the speed.
Now, however, we have another great leap forward in downloading with SanDisk’s USB 2.0 SD card. That’s right, you can just plug the SD card into any SD card slot such as is used in most digital cameras, and then plug it into any USB port without needing an SD card reader to transfer data, images, audio or video between computers, digital cameras and other electronic devices.
The company developed a new mechanical design that allowed them to fully contain a high-speed 2.0 USB flash drive within the SD form factor. The mechanical design eliminates the need for a removable cap, which can be lost, and results in a dual functionality card that is fully SD compliant. The device also features an LED that blinks when data transfer is taking place to indicate that the card is being used as a USB flash drive.
Hey, now your card reader is joining all the other obsolete stuff in your closet! Welcome to the age of innovation.