Digital Help
Q&A For Digital Photography

This column will attempt to provide solutions to problems readers may have in 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 the column. Readers can send questions to me addressed to Shutterbug magazine, through the Shutterbug web site, directly via e-mail to: or by US Mail to: PO Box 2830, Lompoc, CA 93438.

Q. I'm just getting into digital imaging in what you might call a "serious amateur" way, and I have a question that I think would likely be of interest to a large subset of the growing number of people interested in this subject generally. Can you recommend, or at least list, some specific products for use by people (like me) who are in, let's say, the upper end of the consumer space and want to produce the highest possible quality (that they can afford) in black and white prints? I'm working from a decades-long accumulation of color slides and black and white negatives. What I seek is a recommendation for a film scanner and a printer optimized for black and white work. If no scanner and printer exist in the consumer space that are so optimized, which of the color-optimized products does the best work in black and white? I need a scanner that will scan, at a minimum, 35mm film, and a printer that will produce at least 8.5x11" images. If the scanner can do bigger film and the printer bigger prints, fine. The 35mm/8.5x11 are the two musts. Ideally, these two devices together wouldn't cost over $1,500. I use a 400MHz Pentium with parallel and USB connectors, but I suppose I could install a SCSI card if need be. (I already have a useable flat-bed scanner, so that's not an issue in this query.) Can you offer any guidance for us would-be digital Ansel Adams out here? Thanks.
Stan Jones
Anchorage, AK

A. Thank you for your interest, your suggestion (it's a good one), and your question. Yes, for many of us, especially somewhat older photographers moving into digital the ability to scan and print black and white successfully is of special interest. I'd be pleased to do an in-depth article with Shutterbug's approval.
For now let me address your question briefly, particularly about whether the equipment is optimized for black and white in the choice of a scanner and a printer. For the price range you specified the answer is no. None of the scanner products in a cost range affordable by individual users are optimized for black and white, nor are any of the current "photo-realistic" color ink jet printers.
However, you can make a better choice by paying particular attention to the features and specifications of color scanners which will affect their ability to scan black and white negatives. In this regard, pay particular attention to the dynamic range specification, which should be at least several points above 3.0. With the most recent 35mm film scanners and flat-bed scanners with transparency adapters for scanning film, the usual light source is a diffuse cold light tube, which works well with silver black and white negatives. Older model film scanners with a less diffuse light sources, like the Nikon 3510, tended to have difficulty with blocked highlights. Also, most important, the scanner software should support full manual color correction, including gamut adjustment and curve adjustment in gray scale mode.
Based on these considerations I've mentioned, I would currently recommend the Nikon LS-1000 with the Lasersoft SilverFast software option for 35mm film scanning, or the LS-2000 when SilverFast becomes available for it. Anyway, with two new scanners recently released by Nikon, there should be some good prices now on the LS-1000. Another 35mm scanner I've used which produced good results with black and white negatives is the Polaroid SprintScan. If you want to scan larger black and white film sizes, within the price range you specified, I'd recommend the Epson Expression 636 with TPU or the LinoColor Saphir because they have good physical specifications and performance, and the necessary manual controls in their software needed to get the most out of a black and white scan of a silver-based negative.
At the present time the recommendation of a photo-realistic ink jet printer is easier. Although the HP photo- realistic six color ink jet printers and the Canon BubbleJet BJC 7004 produce quite good black and white prints, the software drivers for these printers do not offer any serious manual control. Used with a Mac and ColorSync 2.5, this is not too much of an impediment, but until ICM 2.0 color management in Windows 98 is more fully supported by third party software and image-editing applications, I would be less inclined to use these printers. My bottom line for a printer choice would be the Epson Stylus Photo 700 (for 8.5x11" size) or the Stylus Photo EX (for up to 11x17" print size), both of which offer full manual print quality control. The Epson printers at 1440dpi reproduce black and white quite sharply, and at $279 the Stylus Photo 700 is a very good buy. Additionally, the Epson has a separate and relatively inexpensive black ink cartridge, which will keep material costs down.

Q. We have no experience yet with digital photography, but as you will see from our URL, are quite computer and HTML literate. We will often take pics of clients and their properties, and put them on their web site. The floppy disk feature seems worthwhile. We are beginner users of Photoshop 4.0. I am not mentioning budget considerations but want to only pay for what average talent is likely to be able to work with. Thank you.
George Bentley

A. Considering the needs you describe relative to using digital photographs in web sites, it would seem the smaller VGA (640x480) resolution digital cameras might be appropriate. However, from my experience, there are two reasons at least to choose a megapixel camera (higher resolution). The first is the fact the smaller cameras just about all use an optical viewfinder that is not all that accurate. Thus if framing of a picture is not tight and precise, and seldom will be, cropping makes the image resolution often too small. Second, if other uses like publication are a consideration for the pictures produced, the VGA resolution will not afford adequate quality. The bottom line is that you can size a digital image down without ill affect, but to make it bigger the lack of information contained soon shows up as poor image quality.
My number one and two recommendations would be the Olympus D-600L or D-500L and the Canon PowerShot P-70. Another megapixel camera with somewhat similar features is the Kodak 260 recently put on sale. The first two model choices have accurate SLR framing and focusing, combined with a built-in zoom lens. This assures picture framing that is accurate and contains little or no wasted space. The Kodak 260 also has a built-in zoom, but with optical viewfinder.

Q. I'm switching from Apple to PC next month (Dell with 128MB of RAM, 16 Gig hard disk, 19" monitor and PentiumII 450MZ). Can anyone recommend "starter" imaging programs costing a lot less than Photoshop ($1000 here in Canada), but allowing easy manipulation of image color, contrast, cropping, and removal of unwanted picture elements. I know I will likely graduate to Photoshop some day but for now want to do mainly the basic manipulations (and others that the software may allow) outlined. I'm a keen traditional darkroom worker and still not persuaded about digital as a cost effective way to do photography for the low volume enthusiast (I do enjoy gadgets and look forward to playing with the computer but I'll still likely make my gorgeous color 16x20s and 20x24s on Saunders, Nova, and Jobo). I will be scanning prints from an Agfa Studioscan II belonging to my son (to see if buying one of my own is in the cards). I also would welcome views on suitable, low cost photo quality printers, such as Epson EX, and similar HP and Canon models (six color printing).
Fred Phillips

A. I have just reviewed and written up most of the available photo image editing software for Shutterbug's annual December roundup of products. So, I believe I can make some recommendations. Being you're inclined to eventually move to Photoshop, you may want to get the soon to be released Adobe PhotoDeluxe 3.0, which has many of the tools you mentioned, a somewhat simplified version of Photoshop, available in the "advanced" section, as well as easy to learn guided activities.
There are a number of inexpensive, easy to use applications including LivePix, Microsoft PictureIt 99, and MGI PhotoSuite II. Then there are some intermediate applications that are also affordable like Picture Window and PaintShop Pro. Photoshop also has a number of direct competitors at much lower than Adobe prices, including Corel PhotoPaint 8, Micrografx Picture Publisher 8, and Ulead PhotoImpact 4.2--all of the latter I would highly recommend and I believe they will serve you as well as Photoshop in most of what you want to do.
As for printers, including those you have mentioned that I have tested and reported on in Shutterbug magazine, I believe the Epson Stylus Photo EX offers the best performance for the money.

Q. Can anyone give me some information on the LivePix Version 2 Deluxe software. I need something quick and easy to use to compliment Photoshop 4 LE. I believe LivePix is faster than Photo Deluxe at processing certain tasks. Does LivePix run slide shows from its gallery? Many thanks.
Paul McCullough

A. LivePix, as well as Microsoft PictureIt, are applications based on the FlashPix file format and its resolution independent structure. If you want to use this format, which has many advantages, both applications in current versions offer a great deal of value in an easy to use interface. Color Correction is limited, but that would be offset by having Photoshop. You would have to acquire the plug-in for Photoshop 4 to be able to access FlashPix files, but that is a free download.
PhotoDeluxe with Version 3.0 now available, is very similar in concept and applicability to both LivePix and PictureIt, but does not have the speed advantage because it is not based on the resolution independent feature of FlashPix, although it will open and save to the format.

Q. Can you just list the steps you usually go through in color correcting a raw image, in the order you usually do them? 2. Have you noticed any difference in the way various color films scan? Is one film better than another for scanning purposes? 3. Why is the scanning of color negatives often more difficult color correction? Once the negative mask is removed by the scanner, shouldn't a normally exposed negative be as easy to color correct?
Mike Wilmer
The Photography Forum, Compuserve

A. The first step in the color correction process is equalizing or optimizing the gamut using the Levels tool dialog window in Photoshop, to be sure the image information uses the entire RGB colorspace. The second step is making any needed curve adjustment to reproduce image tones at desired levels of brightness, like lighten shadows or darken highlights to make detail more visible. Only after these steps are done should any adjustment to Hue and Saturation or Color Balance be made.
2. From a purely logical perspective, different color film characteristics will reproduce different digital file information characteristics. The goal is to capture a scan which is true to the particular attributes of an image. In other words, if the original is an Ektachrome, the data file resulting from a scan and displayed on screen or reproduced as output, should look like an Ekta-chrome. The same goes for a Kodachrome. Unfortunately color management does not readily support this neutrality because there are not International Standard IT-8 film references for every different film emulsion, just a few. So, using such a profile as the Ektachrome IT-8 to scan different brand film images, and if the curve characteristics differ largely from the IT-8 reference, there will be some distortion of color resulting.
The manufacturers want us to think because all current transparency films are E-6, one profile will work for all. That assumption cannot work because different film brands have distinct characteristics even though processed by the E-6 standard. If that weren't the case there would be only one brand of film.
Is one film better than another for scanning purposes? Better in this instance is relative to subjective expectations to a much greater extent than it is to any objective difference in the scan ability of a particular film compared to another. However, for most users, even though scanning color negatives often involves more difficult color correction, the shorter density scale and greater exposure latitude of color negative films assures all of the information in highlights and shadows can be captured effectively, even with more modest scanners with even 10-bit capture and a limited scan dynamic range.
3. The reason scanning color negatives can be a problem is that it's not as simple as just removing the dye mask. The reason is because the density of the color negative mask varies relative to the density of the image densities, which is a result of development relative to the exposure. So just applying a single neutralizing counter color does not work. An algorithm filter that neutralizes the dye base relative to the distinct negative image densities is required, and a different algorithm is needed for each different kind of color negative emulsion. With some scanning software, like SilverFast and LinoColor Color Factory, a dynamic filter is created on the fly, based on an analysis of the pre-scanned negative image information. This works more consistently, in my experience, than using specific profiles for different brands of film because it compensates for differences in processing, as well as overall exposure.

Q. I often read the phrases, "Laser quality printing or laser quality text," in ink jet printer ads. From users of ink jets I hear of smearing and fading. Are there laser printers in the marketplace that can turn out photo quality prints? Do laser printers turn out non-smearing, non-fading text and images?
Joseph W. Milspaugh
San Jacinto, CA

A. The ink jet ads you refer to claiming laser quality text in ink jet printers has been the result of very substantial increases in ink jet technology, particularly much higher printing resolution--currently up to 1440dpi. The smearing you refer to has been with older ink jet printers and papers. The current ink technology is extremely fast drying and smear resistant using coated, ink jet paper stock.
There are now four color laser printers that reproduce photographic images quite well, with a look similar to photo reproduction in magazines. This image quality does not compare however to the photo-realistic, near continuous tone quality the "photo" grade ink jets made by Canon, Hewlett-Packard, Epson, and Lexmark can reproduce. In addition, four color laser printers which will reproduce photographs well are many times more expensive than ink jets, roughly about $3000. This is due to the more complex, physical, design features required by multicolor laser printers, as well as the fact they are intended for office, networked applications rather than for a single user.
To date neither four color laser or photo-realistic ink jets achieve the archival lasting quality of photographs. However, new ink jet papers and inks are being developed by the printer companies and independent sources which will provide comparable longevity to photographs. These should be coming available within the next few months.

Q. I have an Epson Photo 700 printer and a Mustek 1200 111 EP scanner. I have Microsoft PictureIt and Picture Publisher 8 software. I am just scanning in photos (people), changing the size to 8x10, and printing them out. The problem I am having is that when there are dark areas of clothing, hair, etc. those parts of the photo look painted and almost glossy like. I scan at 300dpi and choose the 14,400dpi setting on the printer in Picture Publisher. I print on photo paper. Any suggestions appreciated. I am a novice so please don't get too technical.
Jack Casey

A. It sounds like the file you are printing needs a little adjustment, generally referred to as color correction. From what you describe I'd guess the information in your image file is not utilizing all of the space the 256 RGB levels in computer colorspace permit. In other words, the information in your image file covers a smaller range than the 256 RGB levels, referred to as the gamut.
With the software you have, choose Picture Publisher to open and adjust your images. Select from the main menu bar on top of your screen Map, which will drop down a selection of functions. Click on Tone Map.
This tool provides a charted view of the file information in an open image called a histogram. The vertical "bars" indicate image information. If there is a space on one or both sides of the Histogram chart where it is at base line and no information is indicated, you need to adjust, usually little arrows at the bottom of the Histogram chart to coincide with where the image information starts and stops. This spreads the image information out to fill the entire gamut and will optimize screen appearance and printing.

Q. I've been playing around with arithmetic operations on two images, using Photoshop 3.0 on a PowerMac 8500. They all have an option to check a mask box. When you do so, there is a further option to check "invert." What exactly does this do? My impression is that it makes a positive mask (or inverted mask, if you check "invert"). If so, how is this "mask" applied during the operation. (I'm guessing it's a multiple operation, since this would simulate "physically stacking" a mask over a negative in the darkroom/enlarger.) I did an Apply Image to a low-contrast subject with wide tonal range. Lots of shadow detail and highlight detail, to itself. It boosted the contrast of the low/medium tones (shadow detail) and maintained contrast in highlights (no blow out to white). It kinda behaves like an adaptive filter, i.e. behavior dependent on brightness-value. Anyone else run into this or have another way of achieving this effect?

A. Inverting a mask changes the application of the mask to select the opposite of what is masked or was originally selected to include. For instance, if you select an object and make the selection a mask, inversion changes the area selected to exclude the object and include everything else. In other words, invert means making the mask "inside out." If data is included inside the mask in its new mask layer, invert will apply to the image values providing a negative of a positive image.
Another more direct method is to use Photoshop's Curve tool. With the Curve tool you can change the overall gamma or you can lighten or darken any range of values by altering a portion of the curve with convex or concave shaping. Some variations and examples of what can be accomplished with the Curve tool are included in an illustrated article, Shapely Curves: in the August issue of Shutterbug.

Q. I'm seriously considering the purchase of a film/slide scanner (35mm, possibly API) for use with a Mac G3. I am looking in the US $1000 or lower range. My primary application will be black and white and gray scale, for newsletter work (600dpi output). Color may become important in the future, but at the moment I can't think of much use for it--personally--certainly nothing at the high-end glossy publication scale. Maybe some web page or PDF file work.
In the Mac media, information on film scanners is very rare. I know of the following models that may be of interest to me: 1) Nikon Coolscan III, 2) Minolta QuickScan 35, and 3) Polaroid SprintScan 35LE.
As far as I know, the Canon and Olympus products have no Mac software. Can you offer any opinions on these scanners or suggest others? Software quality will be a definite concern. Are there any magazine reviews I can read?
Howard Allen
Calgary, Canada

A. Considering you are aware of the fact the Canon CanoScan 2700f is available, you should know Mac software can be obtained as a download from Canon's web site. In addition, I have had one of these Canon 35mm scanners as I've been working with it off and on, testing it for a user report for Shutterbug. On the basis of the specifications relative to cost, it is a step above the competition relative to cost (under $700), providing fully professional level performance except in color depth, which is 30-bit compared to 36-bit for higher priced 35mm scanners. It is also very well constructed and its mechanical functioning is exceptionally smooth and reliable. The software is designed for ease of learning and use, providing largely automated color correction with adjustment selection based on thumbnail previews of optional changes to brightness, contrast, and color balance. My only criticism is that the hardware and performance of the CanoScan 2700f really justifies the addition of fully manual, color correction tools for those who might choose to learn and use them.

Q. I just got back a roll of Kodachrome slides and while viewing them on my projector, noted that (as usual), the cardboard-mounted slides are amazingly warped. As soon as they warm up in the projector beam, you can see (and hear) them pop into focus.
As I've been shopping for a slide/film scanner, I'm curious to know how scanners handle this problem. Do you have to remount cardboard slides into glass mounts prior to scanning and deal with the inevitable problems that entail (four more dust-catching surfaces, Newton's rings, labor, etc.), or do the optics have enough depth of focus to compensate for unflat surfaces?

A. Yes, I would suggest remounting. You might consider a hinged, glassless, plastic mount like the one I use made by Wess Plastic, model #GP GLSLS--041195 105/121. The company is located in Long Island, New York.
These mounts are very easy to use, and hold the film unusually flat, while the mount is also thick enough to not warp keeping the film plane flat at all times. For scanning I definitely would recommend not using a glass mount. The extra four surfaces can possibly add to light refraction and also possibly interfere with the autofocus function of some scanners.
I particularly recommend this model mount because it has an additional advantage of a frame window size that is larger than standard (paper/cardboard) slide mounts, that reveals and allows scanning the entire 35mm image frame. I have used this mount successfully with most brands of 35mm scanners currently available.

Q. I've been trying to figure out how to calibrate my HP PhotoSmart scanner and Epson EX printer with Picture Publisher 8, and I need some help.
As I see it, there are at least two ways to go about calibration with Picture Publisher. I can pick the right ICM profiles for the scanner and printer, plug them into PicturePublisher's CMS profile selection boxes and go. Or I can build scanner and printer color maps, which get applied in place of ICM profiles. The first problem is that I don't think I have a profile for the scanner. I have a couple of Photosmart printer profiles in Windows 98, but the only other profile I have that might be close is an HP ColorSmart profile; don't quite know what that's for.
So if I go under the assumption that I don't have all the profiles I need, I should then go about building color maps. Sounds easy enough. The problem is I don't believe the scanner map is right. In theory, once I have a scanner correction map, I should be able to rescan the test RGB image and with the map applied, the scan should come out looking like the source RGB file. Thing is, it doesn't look anything like the source. So where do I go from here?
Tony Patalano

A. What you are attempting to do is essentially create your own characterizations of your scanner and printer and then use Picture Publisher's mapping ability to function as color management profiles. This would be possible if you had the measurement tools to accurately read an IT-8 International reference to plot the mapping. If you had these devices, you'd also have the software that goes with them and you could then generate ICC profiles which would work with Windows 98 ICM 2.0 color management. However, the cost of those color management devices and software is probably more than your entire system, so that's not a practical option I'm sure. Second, I don't believe your scanner's software can provide you with a raw scan necessary to create a profile from which to create a characterization.
I believe the ColorSmart reference you made is likely connected to the HP PhotoSmart scanner and printer, and functions as a closed, proprietary color management system in conjunction possibly with Windows 95 ICM 1.0. It may be your best option for reasonable success to use your scanner and printer without any modification of Picture Publisher's mapping, and then if your prints of your scans are off in color, make manual corrections to a copy of the image itself.
In the meantime, we must all wait until each manufacturer provides profiles for scanners and printers that are designed and configured to function with Windows 98 ICM 2.0 color management. This includes obtaining ICC profiles for your monitor, which is the essential middle link in the color management triad.

Q. I am an advanced amateur black and white shooter in 6x7 format. I do all my own printing and wonder if the time is right yet to pursue digital printing. My custom lab will do CD scans of my film processing, but at 42 MB--costing a fortune. Scanners for my PC also are probably too expensive for my print standards (I print 11x14 size). Should I wait and continue my present methods?
Jim Bonner

A. The time is as right as it needs to be, considering the cost of flat-bed scanners with 1200dpi optical resolution and a transparency unit, all for about $1000 or less. Try Epson Expression 636 or the Umax line, both companies are now offering very good scanners at excellent prices. The Epson Stylus Photo EX will print very fine looking 11x17 inch prints for under $500. By the way, you don't need a 40MB file to print an excellent 11x14. About half that will do fine. Plus, sometime between now and the '98 holiday season you'll probably see even more to choose from.

Q. I read with interest the letter and answer in Shutterbug (October, 1998) regarding scanning from Rolfe Rieckerd of Tempe, AZ. I would like to contribute that my Minolta Dimâge Scan Multi uses a formula to establish input (for printing). It is (dpi of the printer)(magnification factor)=input dpi from the scanner. Thus, if one is using a 35mm or 6x6, the input scanning dpi is quite different for the same size of print. Because Adobe gives dimensions in pixels one can calculate the ppi and eventually the dots/pixel. I can also use the Minolta to enter numbers in pixels per inch, I believe.
I have a great deal of difficulty figuring out the information on page 51 and 53 of the Adobe Photoshop 5.0 user guide because on page 52 they are scanning to a screen and then on 53 to a printer. I also do not understand the interconvertibility of the units: dpi, lpi, and frequency. Can you enlighten me, please?
I thank you in advance. I find it very difficult to get a handle on all this and I think part of the problem is that sufficient care with units of measurement is not taken. I gather that the high-end printers (Epson Photo EX) vs. my HP 890 is that they print more dots/pixel. But is dots/pixel resolution? I thought resolution was pixels/inch and that the resolution needed was dependent on the output device. Is that about right?
Earle Hoyt
Flagstaff, AZ

A. To answer your question about convertibility of the three different resolution measurements, please understand that they apply to different kinds of devices. Therefore, the factors are not convertible on a purely mathematical basis--apples and oranges.
First of all, dpi (dots per inch) is primarily a measurement that is appropriate to printers. A dpi figure states how many dots per inch of ink are applied by the printer determining how fine the printing is. Second, ppi (pixels per inch) refers to the digital image resolution, including the output of a scanner and defines the fineness of the raster of a digital image. A higher ppi number indicates more, smaller pixels per square inch of image. If you change the size of a digital image, you essentially change the ppi count by increasing or reducing the size of each pixel.
Finally, lpi (lines per inch) refers to the resolution count of offset or lithographic printing and is based on the fineness of the screen used to make halftones. For most photographers, unless a digital image is intended for separation, CMYK conversion and halftoning, directly in preparation for making offset printing plates, lpi should not be a concern.

Q. My fiancée does stained glass and has been working on a web page for over a month now. As a photographer, I of course volunteered to be her default photographer to photograph her stained glass for the web site she's working on. I just finished doing four different pieces on 4x5 Fujichrome yesterday, but at this point I'm not sure what we should have the lab do with the images. They offer two choices. First, have the 4x5s duped onto 35mm copy chromes, then scanned for web site use, or second, have them drum scanned which is way more expensive per image as you must know. It just seems a little silly to go to the trouble of shooting in 4x5 just to have the images duped onto 35mm film and then scanned. Is there a third or fourth way to approach this? We tried making photographs on color negative film and then doing scans on our own scanner, but the results were very unsharp and unacceptable. One more question for you if you have the time. Do you know of a good book on the techniques of photographing stained glass? I have not been able to find anything dealing with stained glass photography anywhere. Thanks much for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.
Grant Evans

A. First of all, check those 35mm color negatives directly with a loupe and if they are sharp, have the "lab" scan them or have them scanned by a Kodak Photo CD service. Then using an image editor to open them, apply an Unsharp Mask filter, and I think they will have more than adequate sharpness for a web site. Web images need only be at screen resolution, which in VGA mode is just 72dpi. That's not very high-resolution, so don't expect a lot of highly detailed image information.
For other output your 4x5s may be useful. I would then suggest a scanned file size for a specific print size from a service bureau. To avoid the higher cost of drum scans of 4x5, shop around for a service bureau that has a good flat-bed with a transparency adapter like a Linocolor. They are a bit faster than drum scanners and the fee should be more modest, depending on the file size of the scan. For an 8x10 print, scanning at 400dpi should be adequate and 600 dpi is the minimum for a 11x14" print. Do not go to duped 35mm for the very reasons you stated, that would cost extra anyway.
As to your question about a book on how to photograph stained glass, I cannot recall one that has that specific coverage. However, some of the better studio photography how to books usually include glass photography. The principles involved are similar. First you want to use a clean white background that's evenly lit to provide backlight for the transparency of the stained glass. Then, to show the front surface texture, an additional soft light of a much lower level, and at an angle of about 45° is needed. Unless you need really big prints in addition to web images, 35mm is sufficient for your purpose. It is also faster and cheaper, so you can do some experimenting with the light balance, as well as some bracketing to assure getting an appearance that works.