Digital Help
Q&A For Digital Photography

Digital Help

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@shut or by US Mail to: PO Box 2830, Lompoc, CA 93438.

Q. I am making the transition from the traditional dry/wet darkroom to a digital one, and have a question regarding the equipment I should use to accomplish this.
I have mostly 35mm negatives and slides, plus 645, 6x7, and 4x5 negatives and slides. My initial interest is to digitalize the 35mm, primarily dozens of sets of separate panoramic series on color print film. Each series consists of from four to 10 overlapping shots, which I want to manipulate/stitch together and print out (e.g., a 4x24" or a 4x40"). Would I get better quality by scanning the color negatives, or by scanning the prints? Would one way be much easier? To save these rather large files, I plan to use a CD-RW, but is there a better way? Thank you.
Joe Muska

A. One part of your question can be answered simply, and that is the easiest way to make your panoramas is to scan the prints with a flat-bed scanner. Of course you'll not get any more out of these scans than is in the prints, probably quite a bit less information than is in the negatives. Generally what I am recommending for scanning 120 size film is a flat-bed scanner that has a transparency unit with at least 1200x2400dpi optical resolution and scanning at 36-bit color depth. For 35mm a dedicated 35mm slide scanner is best by a considerable margin. CDs are the most efficient and cost effective method of archiving image files. Use CD-R rather than CD-RW as the former is cross platform if it is recorded in an ISO 9660 format.
Also, CD-R blanks are much less costly than CD-RW and there is some indication they may last longer, especially the "gold" type.

Q. I have a Nikon N90s and I'm thinking of buying a medium format camera, but I would like to get a film scanner that is capable of scanning medium format film at a higher resolution like that of the 4000dpi Polaroid scanner or the ArtixScan 4000t scanner that you mentioned recently. Since neither of these will accommodate 120 film, do you know of any scanners available today or any that are coming out soon that can? Also, what is the minimum dynamic output range that I should accept in a film scanner for the best quality prints? Thank you.
Dennis Davis

A. There are several flat-bed scanners which offer effective medium format and 4x5 film scanning. Prices and specification vary, so it's very hard to recommend anything in particular. But if you are looking for something that will provide "print size" comparable to a 4000dpi 35mm scan, then maybe the new Epson Expression 1600 might just be the ticket. Higher resolution, e.g., 3000dpi is available, but this class of scanner gets expensive. Dynamic range is much less significant on a practical level than most people think. The reason is that few transparencies actually utilize the full density range of the film, and negatives are well within the range of nearly any scanner. A good target number is 3.3.

Q. I recently purchased an Epson Stylus Photo 1200 printer. I am very happy with the results from it. However, the special paper they sell for it is a drag to have to purchase. I have heard that they are unique from regular coated stock that you may find at a paper and graphics store, in that the ink adheres to the paper; where regular coated stock will smear. Do you know if this is true? What is it that they do to these papers? Can I spray something on a regular sheet to give the paper these adhesion qualities? Perhaps "sizing," "Iris Print Seal," or "workable fixative."

A. The characteristics of ink jet papers are indeed quite different than other papers. This is quite evident when you compare the print appearance between output from your printer on plain paper and then the same image printed on Epson Glossy Photo paper. The coatings used in making the quality ink jet papers is specific to matching the characteristics of the ink that is applied. That is also why there are specific settings for all the different papers in the Epson print driver, just as there is in any brand of ink jet printer. The printer is then applying ink in a specific manner that matches the characteristics of the paper.
If the paper is an unknown in its characteristics then the most effective ink application cannot be selected, at least through the paper selection options in the printer driver. There are a number of independent paper producers which make paper for ink jet printers. These papers run the gamut from very inexpensive plain stock much like copier paper to super high quality 100 percent rag certified archival fine arts papers. All of the better "ink jet" papers are formulated and treated to favor the characteristics of the inks used by ink jet printers. These treatments and coatings are quite specific and can or do vary markedly with papers made for other purposes.
Unless you are interested in using specific ink jet papers not available from Epson like 100 percent rag fine-art watercolor-type paper coated for ink jets, you will obtain the best results from your printer by using an Epson paper designed for the intended purpose. This is simply because the ink, paper, and printer are designed to work together.
If you want to use special papers, to even obtain well-balanced and accurate color, you need to use color management software like Monaco EZ Color or Praxisoft WiziWYG to characterize and create custom ICC/ICM profiles for the paper. This tells the printer exactly how to apply the ink to that particular paper.

Q. First of all, I enjoy reading your monthly columns and articles. I've learned a lot in regards to digital imaging.
I have a few questions which I hope you can answer. I have been looking for a flat-bed scanner in the $1000 range. After lots of searching I was pretty much prepared to go with the Linotype Saphir Ultra 2. By the way, I will be scanning mostly medium format and 4x5 transparencies. However, I have now heard that Epson is coming out with the Expression 1600 scanner. I know you wrote a favorable review regarding the Expression 800 scanner and thus was wondering if you've had a chance to look at and play with the 1600? Should I wait before purchasing the Lino to see how the 1600 compares to it? Do you know if the 1600 has a better film holder than the 800? That is a concern because I want to eliminate as many problems as possible with Newton Rings. Finally, of the color management software that comes with the Saphir Ultra 2 and the Expression 1600 scanners which will be easier to work with? I will not be doing pre-press work, only scanning to upload images to my web sites and to print on my Epson 1200 ink jet for portfolios. Thank you for your help.
Tony Arruza

A. At this answer all I have seen of the Epson Expression 1600 is a picture and a brief news release. Sample copies of the scanner have as yet not been sent to members of the press, although I am told to expect one in the next few weeks. The Expression 1600 has some specification advantages over scanners like the Umax PowerLook III and Saphir Ultra 2. For film scanning it has a dual focus mode that moves the focus level above the flat-bed glass surface. I would assume the film holders are designed accordingly and will be an advantage to avoiding Newton Rings. The Expression 1600 will also ship with the full Monaco EZ Color 1.5 color management software package. I have found the Monaco color management easy to work with and quite effective. Considering the Expression 1600 is an improvement on the Expression 800, I am expecting it will provide a high level of scanning quality and efficiency for its rather modest cost.

Q. I am looking forward to purchasing a digital camera in order to obtain fairly good quality images to put onto auctions on the Internet. I would like to keep it as simple as possible without spending a small fortune. I am not that knowledgeable about computers thus far, but hope to be soon.
I would like to have a camera whereby I could plug it into my computer and send it to an auction supplier where they could size the photo and place it on the ad. I don't even know if this type of operation is even available. I'm interested in an Olympus-340R with 1280x960 resolution, which will get me started, later I anticipate buying an Olympus C-2500L to use as a studio camera for my business.
Please advise to your expertise as what you would recommend, as I need one that will take close-up as well as shots that are 5-10' away, for the time being.

A. The Olympus-340R is a good choice for the purpose described. I think you will find that you need to find out within each web site what their photo size, resolution, and format requirements are and then process a copy image file for that particular web site. Most will not re-size for you. It is just a guess, but I would assume that there will be a supplementary "pro" model of the C-2500L Olympus before long with better manual control that will make studio work really viable. Just hang in there.