(This page is soooo old! Interesting from a historical context though. Newer computers, portables and desktop units seen here are closer to current realities.)

What's digital and read all over? It's your laptop.

Freedom from place. A portable computer gives you the ability to take your second tier of image production with you into the Grampions or out to sea.

That means your digital darkroom is as portable as a laptop computer and the only thing missing from this formula is a high quality lightweight photo printer that runs on batteries.

So far, that last item isn't so easy to come by. But there are new and improved laptops with high quality image displays and you will need to see them for yourself.

Great images

The single most valuable part of a portable darkroom is the viewing screen. It needs to unambiguously show you the output from your camera. That means a long scale, high dynamic range display with millions of colors. This image on your computer screen will show you gross color and gray scale shading:

The top gray scale should look like each step is the same amount different from its neighbor. That larger black chip on the right, for instance, should NOT look like a big jump darker from the dark gray chip next to it. Same with the larger white box on the extreme left. If you can't see all 11 rectangles as easily-detected, progressively different tones, you won't be able to see the full effect of digital photography until you adjust your computer, monitor or monitor drivers.

The colors are revealing, too. Each is 30° farther around the color wheel than the ones to either side of it. The red/mid/magenta ones are the hardest to see as different, perhaps. That middle color between red on the left and magenta, two steps in from the left, should show easily as being different from red and magenta. What should we call it? Regenta? Med? Another area that may appear closer to similar shows on either side of the green chip which is fourth from the right.

Note: the chart here is larger than it displays on your monitor. If you download it and bring it up on your screen, you will see a bigger graphic. Or open it in another window (IE and Netscape let you do this) for the big view. Better yet, download the image and print it out. It will speak volumes about how well your whole printing system handles evenly spaced colors.

Now we get fussy:

This next one will show you subtle gray scale shades with 30 levels of differentiation. It should look like 30 steps on your screen, each within a pixel or two of the same width. If your display can't see the discrete steps, then it may not be able to serve the digital darkroom role.

Assuming that it looks pleated on top and completely smooth on the bottom, your next question should be, "Can I read each level from pure white on the left to pure black on the right?" Can your display show you the next to white and next to black zones unambiguously?

These issues are compounded by the practice of making computers center around a gamma adjustment. Alpha, beta, gamma... the Greek ABCs. Gamma is "C" or the third point in a gray scale--the MID point. Macs and PCs are set to different gamma points, generally 1.8 for Macs and around 2.2 for PCs.

Meaning... your digital images will print from each and look the same, but the screen image will be darker on a Mac than on a PC. That's not the way it IS, just the way it is displayed.

Sigh. You'd think they would sort this all out before they sold us the computers... Anyhow, the Nikon camera image is best suited to a gamma display of about 2.0. At least on my calibrated monitors, but it's up to you to tweak your own viewing to taste.

You can print an image without any correction, then compare it to your monitor set at different gamma points and verify this for your own eyes. Your eyes may vary.

Need more gamma data? Check this out. Then go here.

And when you are ready to compare how your monitor looks next to a printed reference, another page on this site will help you make some adjustments.

How do you know what gamma point you are seeing? You go here and use the chart at the bottom of the page. Get back from your monitor and see which gray patch seems to match the stripe pattern the best. It could surprise you.

Since you own a Nikon 880, 950, 990 or 995, you may own the editing program equivalent, Photoshop. It comes with a gamma adjustment program and here are the instructions for that.

Seriously: If your laptop can't keep up with these images and you haven't had it for 30 days, you might consider upgrading while your money-back guarantee is still in force.

Size matters

Digital Darkrooms need real estate. Not plots of land; viewing surface.

The bigger the better. Apple's Cinema Display at 1600 x 1024 isn't "too" big. Panoram Technologies' three panel PV 230 (click for a link) isn't "too" big. True, it wraps around your head and gives you a view nearly four feet wide, but if you are already rich and thin, you still can't have too much monitor or RAM.

Both of these large-screen examples are costly and none too portable, but they do have the size thing.

Portable Digital Darkrooms are likely to be limited to the laptop computer they're attached to, so your most common size of viewing real estate will probably be XGA, 1024 x 768 pixels. Two from Dell's Inspiron series have 1400 x 1050 and 1600 x 1200 pixel images. Wow!

Speed matters. So does portability.

Many manufacturers would have you believe that their portables are the fastest for the money or simply "fast enough" for your needs. You will ultimately have to judge that for yourself. How much speed do you need on vacation where the clock is ticking slower than at your office? Of course, when the vacation is over, your portable will probably become the central tool of your computer activity in many ways, so the choice of laptop becomes a major decision, no matter how you slice it.

Small, light, fast.

I had been very favorably impressed with the speedy, lightweight Sony Vaio computers until the president of a company I helped start told me that ALL the Sony Vaios in the place had failed in major ways over the last year. They had many of them and take them literally all over the world. Only one didn't fail. The one in the hands of the gentleman who rarely uses it outside his office. Dang. And they are so cute, too. Perhaps the 2001 models are more rugged.

Small, light, extremely fast, tough.

(note the update at the end of this article)

Recent developments have revealed some genuine hope for the computer-intense users and this time it showed up on the Mac side of the equation. The latest Titanium G4 from Apple is the portable equivalent of a 1.37 Gigahertz Pentium (the 500 MHz model is some 137% of the speed of a 850 MHz Pentium and the 667 MHz model is 25% faster). But everybody is catching up to everybody else, so these numbers change almost daily.

(In fact, today's --fall, 2002--TiBo has nearly twice the speed of the one that prompted this review. The 800MHz Titanium PowerBook with its 1280 pixel wide screen has joined the product line.)

The Titanium G4 has on-board AltiVec optimization of certain Photoshop code that speeds it up to about double on select operations, giving it equivalent performance compared to the Pentium machines of 2.25 GHz+ on things like Gaussian Blur and scale changes.

Through all that it still runs "relatively" cool because the CPU draws so little power even though it's little heart is pumping out the digits like time was standing still. Still, it can get warm on the bottom and cause the tiny internal fan to kick on if it's sitting on a desktop without air circulating under it.

(In comparing the raw speed of the G3 and G4 Motorola/IBM processors found in the Apple machines, one must not fall into the "I've got a GigaHertz and you have only 500 Megahertz" fallacy. These processors, cycle for cycle, do more per processor cycle than the speed of Pentium numbers. Depending on the operation, it's from 1.1x to a more common about 1.85x.)

The AltiVec technology on the CPU cuts through Photoshop (or any other AltiVec-optimized code) like a chainsaw on steroids. (However, actually putting steroids into your chainsaw tank is not recommended.)

It also doesn't hurt that it

  • is literally made out of Titanium,
  • is one inch thick,
  • has an on-board CF/PCMCIA slot,
  • has a 2:3 aspect ratio screen 1152 x 768 pixels big (now 1280 x 854) and 15.2 inches in diagonal, killer display with 16 million+ colors,
  • runs on a 5-hour battery,
  • has a front-loading DVD/CD-ROM or CD-R/RW drive internally,
  • contains up to 60 Gigabytes of hard-disk space,
  • works up to 10,000 ft.,
  • loads up to a Gigabyte of RAM,
  • supports AirPort™ wireless data Ethernet and Web connection,
  • passes info in and out on an infrared IRDA transceiver,
  • has USB and FireWire (IEEE 1394), 10/100Base-T Ethernet, built-in 56k V.90 modem,
  • and weighs about 5.3 lbs (2.4 kg).

Whew. All for the price of everybody's high quality notebook. It starts at $2,100.

The top portable darkroom du jour:
Apple's new Titanium PowerBook. I have only two words for it: Mmm-mm.

image by Peter iNova                                                                                  

Click on the picture for details about the new PowerBook. And if you are curious about titanium, this may answer some questions.

Bonus: Until the salivation dries up, this XGA-size download may be used as a laptop screen background on your computer.

Titanium User Report: After slamming images around on one for several months, I can only say that the hype is mostly deserved. The refinements to prior PowerBooks is very high, the complaints and work-arounds are few.

General: The TiBo, TiPowBo, or simply the Ti cuts a different slice out of what we think a laptop should be. This one has major improvements in screen, speed and size in a package that looks like the Mercedes design team carved it out of a brick of metal. All metal surfaces are Titanium but don't feel cold to the touch. The bottom gets a little warm on a desk but in your lap never gets uncomfortable. Two shades of finish, one a micro satin silver, the other an oxided white satin, enclose the body with fit and execution carried to a high standard.

Screen: It's amazing. About a stop brighter and quite a bit cleaner than the previous large-size G3 PowerBook screen, the wider aspect is only 128 pixels more image, but that is 12.5% more, and oh, what a difference! It means that your web browser is wider by enough space to put the list of bookmarks on screen without compromise, for instance. Photoshop is now wider by its right-side column of tools, too. And when using the screen to display DVD, you have several options to fill it or fit it with video.

Like virtually all LCD screens, its angle of view causes a bright/dark effect, but it seems more evenly lit than previous Mac portable screens. At this rate, in two more generations, the screens will beat tube type monitors.

Of course, Apple refers to the 112.5%-width screen as a "MegaScreen" with all the marketing hype one can bring to this sort of incremental improvement, but given the constraints of a 13.5-inch wide notebook, somewhat wider than the majority of notebooks, the narrow frame all around the screen makes the proportion of it more Mega than not. The active surface is over 12.7 inches wide and about 9.5 inches tall. That gives it a native resolution of 91+ pixels per inch and the contrast and dynamic range of the image feels about double that of previous LCD images I've seen.

Keyboard. If you touch-type, it's a dreamboat of feel and speed. Just the right amount of silence, bite and tactile feedback.

Like previous Mac portable boards, it unclips and opens to expose the memory and components below. Unclipped, it reveals its high-tech novelty because it is quite flexible, like it was fabricated on a thin sheet of springy plastic, which it is. Some people have reviewed this as a "weakness" but they miss the obvious: Once in place on the computer, it's as solid as any keyboard needs to be. It's held in place with magnets! Eight magnets and four clips pull the keyboard into place against the structural frame beneath. The only time its flexibility ever is witnessed is when things below are being serviced.

I/O: Two USB and one FireWire port serve things like external hard drives, mice, etc. Power, modem, monitor, S-Video and 10 base 100 network ports are included. To the left side, a single PCMCIA card slot. A track pad of generous size and single button for mouse-click functions complete the work surface. All have the same fine satin silver finish of the surrounding Titanium surfaces.

The built-in DVD/CD-ROM drive operates differently from ones you may be used to. The front of the computer has a 2mm slot into which you slide the CD. With about 20% of its diameter inserted, the CD engages the load mechanism and is pulled in the rest of the way. On eject, the mechanism slides the CD out toward you, perfect for loading on airplanes where adjacent tray tables may have other functions at any given moment. After actually using it on airplanes, I can recommend it over all the previous laptops I've seen in this environment. A small double gang of soft brushes keep dust out of the CD slot and clean the CD on each insertion. New machines can be built with CDR/RW burning ability as an option.

An Airport link to a local ethernet network Base Station or other nearby Airport-equipped computers is available. Through walls in my office its purported range of "up to 150 feet" is cut to a third of that, but it is very handy to not have to be physically connected to the wall for Internet, E-mail and printer access. Overall, its reach to the base station and back is reported to be somewhat less than PowerBooks with all-plastic bodies.

In our office we have several TiBo's working, and two Airport hubs cover the whole place. Setup is as close to a breeze as you can get. At every corner of the place (an L-shaped 8000+ sq. ft.) the computer wakes up on the office network and Internet, and can access all the wired computers, servers and printers in the shop. Major thumbs and toes up for that!

Storage: The body of the computer hides a 12.7mm high (meaning its thickness) multi-gigabyte hard drive with options of 20, 30 and 48 gigs available. The drive is much quieter than in previous PowerBooks probably due to its physical placement behind solid metal. In October, 2001, they started shipping with a CDR/RW burner behind the thin-slot. Or, you can get it with a read-only DVD/CD-ROM player. I think the recording capability is more useful than playing DVDs, but that's just me.

Audio: Well, it IS stereo, but the on-board audio is on the same par as that of most laptops--low fi. Fortunately there is an earphone jack at the back of the left side of the body which pumps your headphones into full CD quality audio. The enclosed MP3 player/organizer, iTunes II, has a trick that is head and shoulders above other MP3 sources--the abstract visual generator that triggers off the music. You'll have to see that one for yourself.

Performance: If speed kills, then this is a maimer. You probably wouldn't notice the speed increase in many kinds of operation since typing and the Internet don't speed up appreciably. But set Photoshop 6 to a difficult task and it devours the job in a gulp. iNovaFX filters aren't particularly slow, but now they seem more like click functions. (tests done with a 500 MHz machine)

For example: The entire sequence of events for an iBC24@W.990 debarrel filter that used to take 10 seconds on Photoshop 6.0 in a PowerBook G3 running at 400 MHz now takes around 4.5 seconds in Photoshop 6.0. in the TiPowBo using the same image.

In another test, the new 35mm iFilmBorder filter builds the entire complex effect in just 12 seconds on the Ti versus 31 seconds on the older G3 PowerBook, both running Photoshop 6.0. The older laptop took 42 seconds and the newer Ti just 16 seconds using Photoshop 5.5. This border effect uses a different mix of AltiVec enhancements than the iBC filter.

Perhaps as telling is the speed with which the entire program loads into the Ti. PS 5.5 is up under 7 seconds! On the previous PowerBook it took over 15. When a program is up and running in under ten seconds, it feels less like a wait . Better yet, Photoshop 5.5 now shuts down in about two seconds but took sometimes 20 seconds to close down on the previous G3 PowerBook. In all, the speed increases are very much appreciated.

With the Mac Energy Saver control set to reduce the clock rate of the G4 processor, the 500 MHz computer seems to slow down to about 80% of maximum speed. No feeling of sloth there.

Battery life: They say 5 hours. They mean with screen at the dimmest setting, AirPort card turned off, processor cycled down and no disk activity to speak of. Optimum power-savings so the claim would have a basis in fact. At the dimmest setting, the image works in a very dark environment, but that's good for typing and organizing only, since it isn't bright enough for image work.

Still, you don't need the speed for simple writing so you conceivably could fly across the country using the computer on a single charge. Best advice: get a second battery.

True and askew: The tight Ti body plan is more formal and cooler looking than the curved plastic bodied G3s of the last three iterations. It's lighter and thinner by far, giving the screen portion an impossible 6mm thickness. The main body of the computer is only 3/4-inch thick. People go nuts over it the instant they see it.

The only minor gripe I had so far has to do with the click pad below the track pad. It isn't as convenient to the side of my thumb as the previous body plan's curved contours produced. Some things just take a bit of getting used to. I doubt this affects many people at all and after getting used to it for two months the issue has faded from my horizon.

Overall: I give it an A. It's a slab of super-computer, no doubt. More power per cubic inch than previous laptops. With better audio, less angle-dependent screen and lower price it would get an A++.

Next step: OSX, Apple's newest and coolest operating system that is fully born (October, 2002). At its heart, OSX is Unix overlaid with an amazingly dynamic and intuitive graphic user interface. That's what most people will see and work within. OSX is extremely fast acting and is built to understand digital images better than anything from the windows camp. Don't believe me? Go visit an Apple store and bend the ear of a knowledgable salesman. Unix is fabulously better as a starting place for a flexible OS, and OSX is blowing former windows folk away by the hour.

For those who wish to operate at the command-line level, it has many times the power of any other operating system alive today. Linux included. The reason being that programmers all over the world have been inventing and refining things for Unix for decades (of course Linux inherits this idea quite well) and even includes the potential of being ported to the PC platforms now running Windows variations.

But wait! It gets better!

Apple introduced a somewhat slimmed down version of the Titanium PowerBook without the G4 processor or the Titanium. In October, 2001, they bumped its speed to 600 MHz and added a bigger screen.

In 2002 they introduced a slightly larger, faster model with a 14.1 inch screen! And the speeds keep climbing. Will it never end?

With fully 88.9% of the Titanium's screen pixels at about half the cost, it may find its way into the travel bags of many a world traveler.

It may just be plenty enough power for your dimroom activities in Marakesh.

Sure it's a third of an inch thicker, but the FireWire, USB, Ethernet and modem don't cost extra. And it runs the new OSX! There's your visual treat. (And your Unix command-line experience all rolled into one. Yes, the new Macintosh operating system is Unix at the core and fully capable of all those things one could stuff into the big supercomputers that also use it.)

It's the iBook. But you can call it the iceBook. Because it's made of iceTanium.

  • 4.9 pounds.
  • G3 at 700-800 megahertz.
  • 1024 x 768 pixel screen.
  • Up to 40 gigabyte internal hard drive.
  • Quartz Extreme fast graphics system.
  • Video out in S-Video or composite in both PAL and NTSC.
  • AirPort wireless ethernet connection option.
  • USB and FireWire plug and play direct connect.
  • CD, DVD or CDR drive internally (cut your own CD's in Kenya).
  • Titanium PowerBook-like styling.

It may not have the partridge in the pear tree, but it gets major whistles when you see the price: $999 on up. (Set aside another $40 for a CompactFlash Card reader.)


Another iBook? You bet. With a bigger 14.1-inch screen and a 800 MHz G3 processor. Yikes! Will it never end? I hope not. Check the Apple pages for details.

Plus Even More: Summer of 2002

In 2002, the G4 Titanium has bumped clock speeds up over 800 megahertz (equivalent in raw horses to roughly a 1.5 gigahertz Pentium cpu). And they've boosted screen resolution up to 1280 pixels by 854 without increasing its size.

In November, 2002, the G4 Titaniums did two things at once. Accelerated the portable up to 1 GHz and made it run cooler than the 500 MHz model. How do I know? I'm typing this on one even as we speak. Oh, baby.

The iMacs have gone into hemispheres of computer with flat screens of imagery, and the iBooks have two sizes, 12.1 and 14.1 inch, for easy fitting into your backpack of choice.







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