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

Q. I am a 65-year-old man. My wife's kids gave her a Gateway Microsoft 98 computer for her birthday. Neither one of us know much about computers. The main use I would like it for would be to print photos.
I have had experience with black and white developing and enlarging, but not professional quality. I would like to use the computer for enlarging up to 8x10", and to make several pictures on one page with written information (for genealogy and such) to give to family, in black and white and color. I would also like to make a few changes such as being able to lighten or darken the pictures and light shadow areas.
I am writing to ask if you can give me some ideas about a basic scanner, printer, and software to accomplish this, but one that wouldn't cost me a fortune to buy. They would have to do pictures and printed material. I am thinking of something in the $600 or under range for both scanner and printer if that is possible, but I have no idea what would work the best and thought you might give me some ideas.
If you think it is too involved for my limited experience, let me know and I will forget about it.
I will be grateful for any help you might give me. Thanks very much.
Ray Searcy
Kamas, UT

A. You are one of a rapidly growing part of America's amateur photographers who are getting into using computers and want to use them as a "digital darkroom." In the last year or two a significant number of hardware and software companies have begun to offer a great range of choice that makes photographic activity with a computer easy and affordable. So, I will not list all that is available, but just what I think is probably best for your particular situation and what you might want to afford.
First of all, my recommendations are going to assume that you already have photographic prints of the images you want to put into this computer photo album. The option of scanning 35mm film originals to make 8x10 prints of a single image would take the cost beyond the $600 figure you stated is your budget.
Fortunately most of the software you will need in addition to what is already a part of the bundle supplied with your Gateway computer is included with the scanner and printer I'll recommend, with one minor exception. The scanner I would recommend is the one I reviewed in a recent issue of Shutterbug, the Epson Perfection 636. The printer to match to that scanner for photo quality output is the Epson Stylus Photo 700, which will soon be replaced by the Epson Stylus Photo 750. If you buy the 700 model while still available, I'm sure a little sharp shopping will get you a very favorable price on it. The 750 prints a bit faster and the quality is slightly sharper and smoother, plus it has a USB connection port.
The "album" software I think you might like is NewSoft's Album, which is offered through the Presto PageManager software which is bundled with Epson products. I believe the price is cheaper buying it as an add-on through the offer included with the Epson software bundle.
These products, hardware and software, are easy to install and use. However, for a beginner it does demand an investment in the time it takes to read all of the supplied documentation thoroughly.

Q. I bought the (Epson) Perfection (636) with negative attachment and have found it to be a great piece of equipment. Naturally, I have been using the light version of SilverFast that came with the scanner and have been considering the upgrade to 4.0.
When comparing the light version to 4.0, do you see enough advantages to warrant purchasing the upgrade? If so, what would you consider the major improvements? I hear from other photographers that there should be no adjustment to the image with the scanner software, just do all the adjustments in Photoshop. Hope you don't mind the questions, I just don't want to overbuy.
Ken Fox

A. The full version of LaserSoft SilverFast provides the tools to do very refined color correction. I have found this has made it possible to make scans of less than perfect originals that I would not otherwise expect a decent image from, and adjust them on perceptual basis in the SilverFast preview, resulting in a final scan with image attributes far superior to the original.
Those who have told you that you should make your color correction adjustment after your final scan, that's essentially a raw scan, are very misled. With a scanner like yours, the CCD reads at 36-bit color depth and converts that information down to 24 bits to transfer it to your computer's application. If all of the adjustments are made that are needed necessary to result in an ideal image directly from the scan, no post-scan adjustment is needed.
The advantage is this: the adjustments are made in the preview to image information that has 1/2 again as much detail and depth than what is transferred to your computer, so you are essentially working with the best of what is available, and what you specify by those adjustments are transferred filling your computer's 24-bit color space. If those same adjustments are made after a raw, unadjusted scan, you can lose as much as a third of the data in the image file, and end up with a much weaker image in comparison.
There is a simple way to check this. Do all of the adjustments in the scan preview of an image and scan it. Then go back and make a raw, unadjusted scan of the image. Next, make the adjustments after the scan in Photoshop so the image looks the same as the first scan. Then with each image open in Photoshop click on the Image menu heading and then drop down and click on Histogram. I think you will find the Histogram display will show solid black for the image corrected before scanning, and in the histogram of the one adjusted in Photoshop after scanning there will be vertical line spaces of white. These white spaces in the graph indicate image information that has been lost.
There is one exception to this, and that is with some higher-end scanner software you can transfer the full color depth up to 48 bits into Photoshop. Then color correcting in Photoshop (in 48-bit Mode), you'll have the same kind of result as doing the color correction previous to scanning. Once the Mode is converted to the computer's standard 24-bit color depth, the entire adjusted image will be intact and there will be no loss of data. These days many professionals who are archiving their images digitally store the raw 48 bit can data as a TIFF file so they always retain all of the data from their scans.

Q. I am a subscriber to your very good magazine. I have a Microtek scanner and the Adobe System. I am an 84-year-old novice at this. Does Adobe (Photoshop) 5 have a book which I can look at before purchasing? I live in Spring Hill, Florida. Would this book be available at a local store? Do you have any suggestions? Your March (issue) had some fantastic articles on digital. Thank you very much for any help that you offer.
Jack Patascher

A. There are a considerable number of after-market books written and published to supplement the user guide for Adobe Photoshop. Most, unfortunately, are not addressed to the photographic use of Photoshop, but are targeted at designers and artists. There is one exception which I have read and found valuable. It is, Real World Photoshop 5 by Bruce Fraser. To my knowledge this book is quite popular with photographers.
If your local bookstore does not stock this book, I'm sure they would be pleased to order it. Whether the bookstore policy will allow a special order on contingency that you will purchase it if acceptable may be subject to a fee or deposit on the special order, or they may be completely cooperative. I am glad that you are enjoying the digital articles contributed to Shutterbug.
PS: Since I wrote the above in a letter to you, I had a meeting with Adobe, and Photoshop's Marketing Manager was kind enough to recommend a book new to me: Adobe Photoshop 5 For Photographers by Michael Evening; published by Focal Press.