Secrets of Digital Photography

PMA 2003! 03-05-03



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PMA 2003

2003 seems to be a year of evolution, not revolution. Oh, heck. There were some revolutionary things this year, but not for the digital still photographer.

Lots of things... how to put this... "matured." Yeah, that's the ticket.

Velbon showed how the light weight, small size tripod could become more of an engineering marvel.

And at $160, it set a new price/performance standard for a nearly miniature tripod. High in price, but still just three legs.

I jest, but the cute Ultra Maxie has features we need, just not for prices we want to pay. Its unique single lock control lets you "feel" how many segments you wish to deploy (up to five) and pull them out unambiguously. Then a quick twist locks the whole leg. It takes longer to describe than to do.

Two models exist. This is the one I would recommend with its photographically friendly pan-head, but a slightly less expensive ball-top version is also available.

Fuji is introducing a 6 megapixel pocket cam, the F410.

Really it is a 3.1 megapixel camera with 3.1 MORE mega pixels inside each of the other pixels.

Dual sensors at each detail point make sharper, longer scale images. In theory. We shall see. We hope to review it soon in our own inimitable style.

Canon showed a battery operated, portable color printer of very high quality. the i70 produces color glossy prints up to letter page size, plus the expected 5x7 and 4x6 pass-around prints we want to generate while traveling.

And it is as cute as a bug's ear. If you are into that sort of thing.

Pentax's Optio S is so small that it fits inside a curiously strong carry case. Got Altoids? Keep the tin. Clean out the mint crumbs, because you can sell it on eBay to an Optio S owner.

Kidding. But the camera does indeed fit right inside the Altoids tin. 3.2 megapixels and 3:1 zoom included. Very cute. It looks like a slab of metal, or perhaps an 18mm thick platinum credit card, and if you saw it in half, some of its secrets are revealed.

The lens folds into an impossibly small space. With so little thickness, collapsing the optics is a major issue. They solved it by yanking the rear elements up out of the way while the forward elements squish down into the available remaining space.

Nikon is going to have a... Shh. Can't talk yet. But I can say that their designers have not been on vacation.

JVC took me by surprise. They are introducing the first consumer HDTV camcorder before summer. The GR-HD1 points in a new direction. Near movie film quality images in a relatively small package.

It has the ability to shoot relatively decent 3:4 aspect stills or 9:16 aspect HD and it feeds its images out as HD or downconverted regular video.

All while recording onto standard DV videocassettes. Notice the boom mic/handle on top. The lens is 10:1 and sports optical stabilization. One of its coolest features is the rotating grip (other side) that contains the tape transport while facilitating many grip angles.

Sign me up! It's not cheap at $3,500, but it does shoot HD with a 1280 x 750 "30P" (progressive) frame rate. That's one of the lower HD video standards, but when you see it, your jaw will end up on the floor. Every frame is about 3X network regular-video quality and it comes with MPEG Edit Studio® Pro 1.0 LE software for editing on your fast PC. Available in May (ish).

Also by summer NixView (makers of the Vista storage vault) will release a CD burner/CD ROM player for your digital camera cards called the Visor. Insert your favorite card and transfer it to your CD R media a card at a time. Eventually you will fill the CD, but those cost a lot less than extra high capacity memory cards. Compact Flash, Memory Stick, MultiMedia, SmartCard--they all fit. It even has an optional color screen so you can review shots from the CD.

Kodak showed their 13.8 megapixel full frame DSLR and Canon showed their 11-megapixel full frame DSLR and the crowds went, "Woo!" The images from either of these cameras pop your eyes out. 35mm is dead. Officially.

Sigma showed their Foveon X3-powered DSLR, the SD-9. Nice (yawn), but very hard to work with a camera that is strictly for the purist. Did you realize that the great American photographer, Carver Meade*, insisted that the Sigma camera, which houses his Very Important Chip, not be allowed to support JPEG?

* Carver Meade is the inspiration and head of the design team on the fabulous Foveon X3 technology, but what I think I'm seeing here is an advanced case of "inventor hubris," to coin a phrase. Carver: Let go of it. Allow it to evolve into the mainstream! You had a baby. Now stop insisting that it grow up to be a doctor!

...meaning, operation is slow and you have to use thousands of dollars worth of CompactFlash cards and /or MicroDrives to shoot a hundred images. An example of how to take the Best Idea Yet and turn it into the Turkey Award Winner.

Minox showed 2 megapixel miniature Leica and Contax digital cameras. Fixed lenses, they hide in your hand, but take quite decent images. Providing that good 4x6's is your target print, you're in good hands with Minox.

And they are THE cutest digital cameras ever. It's that bug's ear thing coming around again.

Do you suppose digital photography has at last advanced to the "cutsie" stage?

Sony's new DSC-V1 is to die for. It's capable, intelligent, well designed, full-featured and 5-megapixels of image in your pocket.

Metal body, hogram focus projector, NightShot, contrast and saturation control, small size, 4:1 zoom.

There's not a lot that this camera doesn't achieve. Plus, it looks like it's doing 60 sitting still.

Sure, it's the rangefinder style body, but most of the 717 is in there.

The price is right, the features are great. Dang, I have to wait until April?

Olympus makes great cameras. Now they are introducing the E-System, a 4/3 (named after chip nomenclature conventions) DSLR with a cluster of lenses this year. It's smallish compared to some of the other DSLRs, but is a serious camera designed around smaller image chips.

While Canon and Kodak make their full-frame cameras, the E-system theory shrinks the optical path down to accommodate the intermediate-size sensor chips. Now THIS is where I want to see a Foveon X3 chip, but Oly has other things in mind.

Adobe showed Photoshop Album, a program that helps newcomers and experienced users collect, fix and access their myriad of digital shots. We'll review this soon, too. Basically, it does simple fixes to images, and as the illustration suggests, cropping is one of them.

The interface is initially Windows only. Mac folk, go stand in that growing line on the left, please. (Or use Virtual PC from Connectix [now owned by Microsoft] inside your Mac OSX system to run anything PC.)

This is the year in which every camera shop in the world will have its digital printing center where you can plug your memory module or CD into the self-serve print maker. Quality is up. Fear factors are fading. And Fuji Film's Frontier printer still seems to be the one to beat.

The Mini-Lab concept has gone completely digital. Good bye, chemicals, hello, wax. I know some serious photographers who are looking at these killer print makers with an eye to "owning" one.

And last, and biggest: How about a high resolution ink jet printer that makes pictures 16 feet, four inches wide? The Scitex Visioa is seen here making three five-foot wide prints at the same time.

Yep. Only $330,000 and ready to go today. About 700 dpi (so you will have to view the images at reading distance or farther) and any length of print you want.

Want a 2 mile long print? Sure, it's roll-fed, so no problem except time and money. Scitex had it running in their booth. So how hard could it be to set up? Ink and Paper extra.

Actually, I could have used one of these a couple of years ago for the huge mural we made for the Kennedy Space Center's attraction, Exploration in the New Millennium.

Apart from the show, the Las Vegas sushi was the real star. It could be enjoyed in the Fuji, Adobe and Nikon receptions, among others. An endless stream of fish was flown in daily just to sate the appetites of show goers from the world over. My only question was how do they keep it fresh? It doesn't look like they cooked it...

The Internet Rat Pack held its informal gatherings at various places around town between press conferences. That would be top folks from the major digital camera sites (who hang out together, oddly) all coordinating the latest buzzes over Fosters in dank hidaways late into the evening.

I got to play the part of Joey Bishop. Not the Sinatra figure, by far, but there, none the less. Who are the others? Shh. That's a digital secret.

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© 2002 Peter iNova. All rights reserved. All photos by Peter iNova.

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