Digital Help
Q&A For Digital Photography

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. There was an article in Shutterbug about the fast connections using SCSI. Parallel port use: .115 M/bs and Wide Ultra 3SCSI: 160M/bs. If I use a SCSI scanner does that mean that I will see an enormous difference in scanning time, compared to a normal parallel port one? Or are there other parameters to consider? Thanks as always.
Perry Joseph

A. Most middle to upper level consumer scanners have been configured with a SCSI connection. Some of the least expensive flat-bed scanners, now under $100, use a parallel port interface, and some of the newest small office and home market scanners are now being offered with USB. The very high-speed Ultra160 SCSI-3 and Wide SCSI is an interface that is primarily used with SCSI hard drives in high-end workstations. Scanners cannot take full advantage of the data transfer rate of even the now standard SCSI 2 specification. This is because the scanners themselves do not run or process data all that fast. Just using a faster connection would not appreciably speed up scanning, although the Epson Perfection 1200S (SCSI) is somewhat faster than the 1200U (USB).

Q. In the January 1999 issue of Shutterbug, you wrote an enthusiastic and helpful review of the image cataloging program PhotoExplorer by PhotoSoft. In the December 1999 issue, you gave a favorable review to Extensis Portfolio 4.0. I have about 20,000 slides that I shall begin to catalog in the next year using a PC and the Windows 2000 OS. When cataloged, the images will be selectively manipulated in Photoshop and printed or transmitted electronically to image banks and magazine editorial desks. I would also find it useful to stage computer slide shows directly out of the catalog program. I expect to add 1000 or more new slides to the collection annually.
What criteria should I use to choose between the PhotoExplorer and the Portfolio 4.0 programs? Are there any other image cataloging programs that I might consider? Many thanks for your help.
Ron Roberts

A. PhotoExplorer and Extensis Portfolio provide comparable thumbnail database functioning. Portfolio has the advantage of being cross platform and capable of functioning from a server over a network. Portfolio also has a long history in the field and has a large user base. PhotoExplorer is limited to Win-dows, but as long as that is your only OS, I would recommend it as it provides good functionality for its cost. I would not necessarily use a thumbnail database for producing slide shows for screen presentation. There is no advantage because the images have to be processed and sized appropriately, quite distinctly from what is done by Portfolio or PhotoExplorer. In addition there are numerous inexpensive applications from Enroute, Ulead, Ixla, MGI, and Adobe which provide very effective slide show programming with a wide variety of transition affects, timing, music, and audio inclusion.

Q. In your opinion, is final print quality substantially improved by scanning medium format or even large format film and then printing on an ink jet as opposed to using 35mm film? It seems that the scanners that scan larger film sizes do so at a lower resolution thereby negating the advantage of the larger format. Am I missing something? I'm at the point where I have to decide if I'm going to be happy with the print results with 35mm equipment (scanner, printer, etc.) or if I should be thinking of getting digital equipment that enables me to scan larger pieces of film. The biggest that I'll want in the way of print size is probably 16x20. Thank you for your help.
Lewis Brown

A. What you can expect in print quality from scanned film is pretty much proportional to what you can expect making a print directly from the film. With digital of course you do have ways to enhance some image qualities like apparent sharpness, but that is not something you want to necessarily rely on. Currently the maximum size of affordable desktop printers is a width of 13". I regularly take scans of 35mm to that print size. But, I would not go much larger on a normal basis, only with the occasional image that is exceptional where all the quality factors are optimum. Scanners for medium and large format film are not limited in resolution, but those which offer higher resolution are somewhat costly. Also when you get into these large print sizes like 16x20 if you scan at an appropriate resolution to produce an image to print at 300ppi, the image is then 6000x4800 pixels, or 28,800,000 pixels which produces an 82.4MB file. That's something to consider.

Q. I've only recently become interested in digital darkroom work, although I've been a photo hobbyist for about 10 years, shooting mostly black and white landscape, lighthouses, and so forth, with an ancient Rolleiflex, and more recently an obsolete Bronica S2A. In trying to catch up on the digital articles, I read your review of the Epson Perfection 636 SCSI and became very interested, however no one seems to have them. They all seem to list the Epson Perfection 1200 at the same price but it doesn't seem to include the LaserSoft Perfection 636 Scan Software. It lists Adobe Photo-Deluxe; NewSoft Presto PageMana-ger; Broderbund The PrintShop PressWriter; ArcSoft PhotoPrinter 2.0; and Epson Instant Photo Print Software. Do you happen to know how this model compares with the 636, or is it aimed more at businesses?
I'm a 70-year-old retired factory hand, so my budget is a bit limited (a familiar refrain, I imagine), but the 636 sounded like one I could manage. Any advice you could give me would be much appreciated.
Morton Rupp

A. The Epson Perfection 636 has been replaced by the Epson Per fection 1200. I have tested and reported on this new model and that report was in the March issue of Shutterbug. The Epson Perfection 1200U Photo at $349 provides a significant advance in performance with twice the resolution and faster, better scanning over the previous 636 model. However, the LaserSoft SilverFast full Version 4 is now an extra cost option available from LaserSoft at $155. I highly recommend this addition for scanning film.

Q. I was in the market for a digital camera, although I knew I would be hard pressed to match the versatility of an SLR, with affordable lenses ranging from 28-600mm. Then I happened upon ads for scanners of 35mm negatives, such as Minolta's Dimâge Scan Speed. What caught my eye was the resolution achieved, 2850dpi, which this ad equated at 10 megapixels! If this is the case, I can theoretically get much better digital result from using a quality film scanner with a standard negative, than by using a top of the line professional digicam. I figure there must be more to the story then this. If so, please fill me in. Also, is there a recommended film brand or type to achieve maximum results with a scanner? Thank you very much for your attention.
Josha Nunez

A. The choice that you found is a very appropriate and practical consideration. Currently you are right: the use of a 35mm SLR and then scanning the film does provide the advantages of what is available to a 35mm SLR system in features and optics, as well as the ability to scan to a higher resolution than is currently supported by digital cameras. So, to a very large extent the question is are the convenience advantages, and not having to deal with film, sufficient to choose a digital camera. Also digital is clean and direct--you have immediate access to the image and know right after taking it if it is a good image.
With scanning you can go to 4000dpi optical, which supports making 12x18" prints of very high quality, with the Polaroid SprintScan 4000 or the Microtek ArtixScan 4000t. However scanning is extra work, and even with fresh film there is usually some dust, scratch and film defect cleanup to do as well.
As to films best for scanning, slide films are easiest to scan, but color negatives provide more image information, as well as less of a problem getting good highlight and shadow detail. However, color correcting a color negative scan often demands more skill and time, as well as it requires having the best scanner software available. As to a film brand choice, my personal one for all subjects other than people is Fuji Reala, and for people Agfa 100 speed.

Q. I have just purchased a Canon PowerShot S10 and think that it is great! My only problem is that I would like to take all of the picture files directly from the camera to a file folder immediately. The software system seems to want me to view each file and save it individually. I revisited my local vendor (Best Buy) and they say it can't be done. I am hoping you can direct me to a solution.
Bart Beaudin
Fort Collins, CO

A. The limitation of having to view and then save each image one at a time is pretty typical of digital cameras when the camera is connected, usually via a serial interface, to your computer. If your camera uses either of the two popular memory cards like SmartMedia, and your computer supports USB, then you can obtain a USB digital camera memory card reader which is then like just another drive on your computer. In other words, remove the memory card from the camera, put it into the USB card reader, and download the files directly without having to view them. I think you will find most of web and catalog computer supply outlets will carry at least one brand or another of a USB digital camera memory card reader.

Q. I have recently started working with digital photography. I acquired an Epson PhotoPC750Z camera as a learning tool with the hope that I would one day become sufficiently skillful that I could supplement my retirement income as a professional photographer. However, the learning process is the rub. One of the skills I knew I needed for studio work was lighting.
After thoroughly perusing your issue that featured lighting, I purchased two slave flashes to experiment with and found that the more flash I added to the on-camera flash the worse my shots were underexposed!
I assume that the camera, in its wisdom, has detected the brighter flash and cut its exposure back to compensate. Since the Epson 750Z has no shutter priority, I can't control the exposure manually other than to increase the exposure by up to two stops--which the camera immediately counteracts, apparently by shortening the exposure time.
My question is not so much why does it happen as, is there some way of circumventing the problem without buying a new camera? (I stopped at my local shop and tried the flashes with a Nikon CP950 and we were able to make things work correctly by setting the shutter speed manually. Other cameras without manual settings, however, exhibited the same problem as the Epson.) Buying the new camera is an option but I would rather use the money to set up a small studio. Using my old Minolta SLR is possible, but the freedom to take literally hundreds of shots that I can immediately judge in Photoshop without the additional cost of film and processing is too good to pass up.
Joe Longo
Lebanon, NH

A. Although from what I understand the Epson Photo PC850Z does have the features providing the necessary manual control for multiple flash photography, as does the Fujifilm MX-2900 and the Olympus 2020 Zoom, I appreciate you not wanting to trade up at this time. The problem with most other digital cameras like yours is that because the chip is small in physical size, the lens is short and the shutter/aperture is also small. For this reason the shutter and aperture control are usually combined into one function, which makes the provision of manual, or semi-manual, controls like traditional cameras difficult.
Just as well however, from your perspective and desire to learn lighting. You can do this more effectively by trading in your slave flash units and getting some quartz-halogen tungsten lighting. This is a distinct advantage to learn lighting because you can see what you are doing and visualize the effect of light direction and light contrast ratio as you work. Also, the small size of the digital camera chip provides an advantage making this practical because you can get good depth of field and sharpness at relatively wide apertures even with the relatively low-light levels of tungsten, and the camera can automatically balance for the color temperature of the light.
For economy I would suggest looking at 1000w quartz-halogen work lights that can be purchased at most home-improvement discount stores. Three or four should be sufficient. Also get a couple of lighting umbrellas and light stands. Put one light with one umbrella, and fit two with the other and use this double one as your main light, and the single as your fill. The fourth can be lower wattage; like 250/500 and used as a background light. Finally, turn off the flash on your camera when using this tungsten lighting!