from Kitimat BC Canada
My dad sent along photos taken by friends living in the northern seaport town of Kitimat, where I recall growing up with (as much as) 40 feet of snowfall in winter. What Buffalo residents residents experienced once is what we experienced every winter.
The bus stop sign is shown for scale
And finally, a photo showing the raw material from which these snowmen are constructed:
Most any digital camera takes a decent picture under ideal conditions, bright light and no zoom. It's when the light is dim and the zoom long when cameras buckle under my demands.
This is the situation in which I take photos at conferences to illustrate my live blogging. Room lighting is dimmed to let the slides stand out, the presenters are moving about, dozens of feet away. And I want a great action pic, close up.
Earlier in Three reasons I can't stand my new Canon camera; three reasons why I love it, I wrote that a year ago I bought Samsung's EX2f camera with its incredible light-gathering f1.4 lens -- but then I found it did a poor job. Then last summer I snapped up Canon's SX500is as it was being discontinued, because it gave me a 30x zoom in a relatively compact package. I do love my zoom.
At last week's Bricsys International Conference, I finally had the chance to put the new camera and its dim f3.4 lens to work. The photo below is typical of the results I obtained:
Pretty amazing, eh? According to the picture's EXIF data...
So, now I love the SX500, despite its other drawbacks.
My new Samsung EX2F point-and-shoot camera has seven ways it can communicate over WiFi. Some are direct WiFi links, some are indirect:
Direct WiFi means that the camera communicates directly with another device, like an Android tablet or a smart tv. It's as if there were a USB cable or Bluetooth connection between them.
Indirect WiFi means that the camera communicates with the Internet via an WiFi hotspot, just like a laptop computer or Android tablet.
Since this camera does not run Android, it cannot be be enhanced with new apps. (Samsung has another camera that uses full Android, complete with touchscreen.) This means its indirect WiFi modes are extremely limited.
For instance, the Social Sharing mode works only with Facebook, Picasa, YouTube, and PhotoBucket. I cannot add Twitter, TypePad, or another social service I might prefer. (I don't use any of the four provided by Samsung.)
The same problem occurs with Cloud, where SkyDrive is the only option. (This is puzzling, because Samsung in January signed a deal with Dropbox.) I use Dropbox, but if forced to I can access SkyDrive through my wife's Hotmail account.
Users of the EX2F are at the mercy of the whims of Samsung's camera group. This sort of statement would have been unthinkable two years ago, complaining that "my camera can't access Dropbox." But that's how the technology scene changes, and how slowly camera design departments catch on.
Samsung's EX2F offers many WiFi modes, but none of them work on the camera while taking pictures. (There is one exception.) It won't transmit photos to my nearby laptop computer as I take photos at a seminar, for instance. I wish it would, and maybe a future update to the firmware will allow this. Or maybe the camera's computer architecture makes this function impossible.
Samsung EX2F WiFi Modes
Here is a summary of the modes available when the camera's Selector dial is set to WiFi:
WiFi modes displayed by the screen;
I reach a mode by pressing the camera's control wheel.
MobileLink - camera sends via WiFi selected photographs to an Android or iOS device running the MobileLink app
RemoteViewfinder - allows an Android or iOS device running RemoteViewfinder app to control the camera via WiFi; low-resolution versions of photos taken by camera are saved on the phone/tablet
Social Sharing - camera sends selected photos via WiFi to your Facebook, Picasa, YouTube, or PhotoBucket account
Email - camera sends selected photos to anyone by email through WiFi; it has simple built-in email software
Cloud - camera sends selected photos through WiFi to Microsoft's SkyDrive; it has a rudimentary built-in Web browser
Auto Backup - camera sends photos not yet copied to a computer running the Auto Backup software over WiFi; this function is also available when the camera is connected to the computer with a USB cable
TV Link - camera displays via WiFi up to 1,000 photographs on DLNA devices, such as smart tvs
In addition, I can assign one of these functions to the dedicated WiFi button as a shortcut.
Those are the options. I've used some of them, and so let me give you an summary of my experiences of (a) connecting to the WiFi, (b) using MobileLink and (c) using Remote Viewfinder.
Connecting the Camera to WiFi
Before the camera can do any of these functions, it needs to connect to a WiFi network. If I have not yet connected it to a WiFi netowrk, it displays a screen automatically from which I can pick from the networks available around me. See figure below, at left.
If the network is secure, I need to enter the password, which on this camera is as painful as using a remote control to enter text in a smart tv: pushing the cursor keys and then selecting individual characters from the on-screen keyboard. It is at this point I start desiring a touch screen model!
Left: Choosing a WiFi network from the camera's screen
Right: Entering the password, painfully (image credits: Samsung Ex2F user manual)
Fortunately, the camera remembers passwords. The next time I need to use WiFi, the camera attempts to connect to the most-recently accessed network. I find it is a bit slower than an Android in connecting to WiFi, about 10-15 seconds.
Using MobileLink and Remote Viewfinder
Here is how useful/useless I found the first two of the camera's WiFi modes:
MobileLink. After installing the MobileLink app on my Android devices, I start put the camera into MobileLink mode, and then start the MobileLink app on the Android. (The app refuses to run if the camera is not already in MobileLink mode.) After a half-minute or so, the two devices find each other.
The camera prompts me to select the photos I wish to send to the Android, or I can send previews of all photos and then select them on the tablet's touch screen. The files are saved in the MobileLink folder. A recent update to the app means that images are saved in full resolution, fortunately.
This system works alright, except that on tablets the software insists on running in portrait mode, which is annoying, because I always use tablets in landscape mode.
MobileLink software running on Android, as I view it
(I've blurred the faces of people)
WARNING The limitation to WiFi on most devices is that it can handle just one connection at a time. When MobileLink sets up the WiFi connection between the Android and the camera, the Android's other WiFi connection (to the Internet) is disabled.
This means, for example, that I cannot use Dropbox to upload photos via WiFi while the Android is connected to the camera. iOS devices suffer from the same WiFi limitation.
RemoteViewfinder. This app sets up a WiFi connection between camera and mobile device, just like MobileLink. While waiting for the two to connect, the following screen appears on the Android, and a similar one on the camera:
After the connection is made, the app lets me control the following functions on the camera (see figure below). From top to bottom, left to right:
Remote Viewfinder app running on Android
I could use this system to have pictures appear on my tablet as they are taken with the camera, but there is a serious flaw: the photos saved on the tablet are of low resolution, just 640x3o0! Even 800x375 would be acceptable for blog use. I would need to use MobileLink to move full resolution photos, and so I might as well use it instead of Remote Viewfinder.
Another flaw is that Samsung has not adapted the software to tablets, and so RemoteViewfinder appears in a small area in the center of my tablet. I can switch to Zoom mode which fills the screen, but then the app looks blurry. iPad users know what I am talking about.
Below is the interface of this app's View mode:
In part iii: communicating photos via SkyDrive
(I've merged the content from my Gizmos Grabowski blog into this one, and this is the first Gizmos Grabowski-style posting.)
I've been spoiled by how well Dropbox integrates with my Android phone and tablet. I take any number of pictures, and the next time I am at my desktop or laptop computer, the pictures I took with the Android devices are already there. Very slick.
(DropBox running on the Android device automatically uploads the image files to the DropBox servers, which then download them to my computers. This works best when preset WiFi connections are present.)
Late last year I bought a new digital camera, Samsung top-of-the-line EX2F compact point-and-shoot. I bought this handsome camera primarily because it has the largest lens among all point-and-shoots on the market, an astounding F1.4. A lens this bright is rare even among DSLRs. I bought it, because I don't use a flash; the bigger the opening in the lens, the easier it is to take shake-free photos in low-light situations.
The camera also has WiFi, and so I was eager to try it out. In brief: it is disappointing. Here is what I was hoping for: as I take pictures, they are automatically transferred to my nearby laptop. I gained that expectation from the Android-Dropbox combination. But the EX2F doesn't.
Now, Samsung over the last half-year has slowly improved the camera's software through a series of updates, and so it is not quite so awful. But it still isn't Android-Dropbox slick, a surprise, given that my Android phone (Google Nexus) is made by Samsung. They should know how these things ought to work.
Next in part ii: the many WiFi functions of the EX2F
CNET's Stephen Shankland describes an experimental camera lens for taking 3D pictures.
Fife's 3-megapixel sensor prototype breaks the scene up into many small, slightly overlapping 16x16-pixel patches called subarrays... After a photo is taken, image-processing software then analyzes the slight location differences for the same element appearing in different patches--for example, where a spot on a subject's shirt is relative to the wallpaper behind it. These differences from one subarray to the next can be used to deduce the distance of the shirt and the wall.
Olympus now has a digital camera with 20x zoom, which works out to a 26 - 520mm range. Remember, though, that 20x is not as nice as it sounds, because part of the range goes down to wideangle.
The reference point is 50mm: this is the normal view, no zoom, no wide angle.
* Wideangle -- from 50mm to 26mm.
* Zoom -- from 50mm to 520mm.
Thus, the actual magnification is 10.4x (= 520 / 50).
Still, that's pretty good. All those common cameras with their 3x "zooms" provide just 2x, because of the wideangle factor.
Many binoculars enlarge the image by 7x, so this camera dispenses with the need for binocs, and has the added benefit of recording what you see closeup. With one exception: binoculars provide stereoscopic vision, not done by digital cameras.
But this new Olympus is still not as good as camcorders, which now have optical zooms of 35x. How can camcorders do what still cameras cannot? Smaller lens and image size allows for larger zoom ratios.
You can read more about the Olympus SP-570 UltraZoom digital camera at The Imaging Resource. It's just $500; the primary drawback, however, is that it uses xD memory cards, instead of today's standard SD memory cards. Since xD is smaller than SD, you can't even use an adapter to reuse your existing collection of SD cards.
When I helped my mother-in-law buy her first digital camera last Christmas, I also got her the de-rigueur 2GB memory card. "How many pictures can I take," she wondered. 1,500.
Her camera, a Canon SD100, also supports SDHC (secure digital high capacity) cards, which can now be purchased in 8GB capacities locally for just over $100.
One of those 8GB cards would hold six thousand photographs. With the large LCD screen, I suddenly realized that her greatest worry (how to get the photos from the camera onto the computer) was rendered moot. She didn't need to deal with her computer and its mysterious ways.
The computer is no longer required:
-- keep all photos you've ever taken on the camera's memory card(s).
-- print direct from the camera to a 4"x6" printer, which are now under $100.
-- backup the photos by getting a dedicated device that combines a portable hard drive with a card reader.
Now I read that Samsung has shipped a CompactFlash memory card that holds 40GB. That's 30,000 photographs. Or twenty hours of high-definition video.
How much does that represent? I've been taking digital pictures since the summer of 1999. I now have 60,000 photographs taking up 56GB of disk space. But then I typically take 100 photos on days when I am active in picture taking, like on vacation. My mother-in-law tends to take a few photos at a time.
Sony now has a camera with 4GB memory built in. Maybe 40GB will be the future.
Pinnacle Systems is offering its VideoSpin software free -- or nearly so.
(I figure the software is a long-delayed reaction towards MovieMaker which Microsoft includes free with Windows XP and Vista. And it is pretty good software; I've used it myself.)
The basic software is free from www.videospin.com . The download consists of two parts: (1) first a 2.3MB setup file is downloaded; which then (2) downloads the rest of the software to a folder on my computer -- 146MB worth.
Install was not without its problems. It requires shutting down all apps, following which they are relaunched automatically. Following the restart, I found these problems:
-- a randomly-selected image was displayed on my desktop.
-- my mouse lost its definition for the middle button (double-click).
Changing the background in Vista is tedious:
1. Right-click desktop, and select Personalize.
2. Click Desktop Background.
3. Click the wrongly-named Picture Location.
4. Choose Solid Color.
5. Click More.
6. Choose the color.
7. Click OK.
8. Click OK.
9. Click X.
All those steps because VideoSpin chose to change the background without asking me for permission. I wonder what it does on the sly?
Oh, and then the hassle of getting the mouse's center button to work correctly again...
Not Entirely Free
But there are numerous codecs that require royalty payments, and so you have to pay if you want to work with files that use the following formats:
-- MP3 (in DivX files)
-- Dolby Digital AAC audio
The codecs are included free for two weeks; by then Pinnacle hopes you'll have worked them into your productions that you'll have to pony up US$15, which isn't very much at all.
(Codec is short for "code-decode." This is software that converts your videos from and into formats used by specific recording/playback devices. MPEG-4, for example, is very popular for small devices, such as iPods, PalmPilots, and PSPs.)
Desperate to distinguish itself from the all too me-too world of SD memory cards and their plunging prices, SanDisk has relabeled some of its SDHC cards with a "High-Definition Video" sticker. (How plunging are the prices? Our local Wal-Mart has three 2GB SD cards for $44 a pack -- $14.67 each.)
The only difference on these "new" cards: the label, which shows how many hours of high-def video fit on. For example, an 8GB card holds 2 hours of HD video. But in fact, the memory cards can be used for any device that supports the SDHC format -- newer cameras, camcorders, digital VCRs, and computers. The 8GB card's price of US$140 is a $10 premium over the non-HD labeled SDHC card's price ($130).
But then, what do prices mean anymore? SanDisk's Web site lists its 4GB SDHC card at $80, but I picked one up at the London Drug's Boxing Week sale for $30.
What do prices mean? SanDisk lists the 4GB card without card reader for $80, but with the card reader it's $80. (You'll need that card reader if your computer can't read SDHC cards.)
Also available in Sony's MemoryStick PRO Duo format.
Using timelapse photography lets you notice things that you might not otherwise; same with slow motion photos.
Casio is blowing us away by showing their new $999 super-high-speed digital camera, the EX-F1. It is capable of the following speeds:
-- 1200fps at 336x96 resolution.
-- 300fps at 640x480 (VGA)
-- 60fps at 6 megapixels (full resolution).
-- 30fps at 1080i in H.264 movie format.
Engaget has photos and video here.
My in-laws are staying with us over Christmas, and my mother-in-law asked which digital camera to buy. "Everyone seems to have one these days," she used as her excuse. No kidding; two strips in last week's color comics featured digital cameras.
By coincidence, FutureShop has one on sale that I would recommend for her: Canon SD1000 for $189. On top of that price, she'll have to add 13% sales tax, an environment levy, and another $25 or so for a 2GB memory card.
Here's why I picked it:
-- small size, but not as small as the ELPH series, which are too small. And thinner than Canon's A-series.
-- relatively large LCD screen (2.4 inches), important for aging eyes.
-- 3x zoom, the minimum acceptable level. 6x would be better, but then she'd be getting the larger A- or PowerShot series.
-- quality by Canon. Low-cost cameras from other companies can have image problems or difficult user interfaces.
-- optical viewfinder: important when it is too sunny to use the LCD screen.
-- LiIion battery. It gets charged in the camera, so swapping AA batteries is not an issue.
"How many pictures will it hold?" she wondered. About 400-600, depending on the settings. She could take pictures all year long, and then the next time I see her, I could put the pictures on the computer for her.
And that's the problem with digital cameras. She has an old Windows ME computer, and I don't even know if this Canon will work with it. Does the computer even have USB ports? If so, they'd be the slow v1 type. Privately, I worried that her digital camera might end up like the DVD player we gave her one year for Christmas: unused, because it is too hard to figure out -- all those wires and tiny buttons.
Film cameras don't have that problem. She could bring the entire film camera to the photo processing place, they can take out the film for her, and in an hour hand her back the prints. Negatives are filed in a shoe box. On that thought, I suppose she could bring the entire digital camera to London Drugs, and let them get the JPG files off the memory card, place them on a CD, and/or print them out.
(One of last week's cartoons features Cathy ready to make Christmas gifts from her digital photos. Except then she gets frustrated by having so many digital photos on her computer that she can't find the right one.)
"Well, I might need a new computer then," she said. "I'd just have to replace the monitor, right?" Um, no. The monitor was one of the parts she'd keep. "It's this box" -- I pointed to a computer case in the FutureShop flyer -- "that you need to replace. They're $400-$600." On the other hand, there are some pretty cheap computer packages with nice big LCD screens.
"And I can erase the pictures I don't like?" Yup.
"It's so handy to be able to see your pictures right away," she concluded.
I used to insist on buying cameras that used rechargeable AA batteries. Replacements are universally available, relatively cheap, and it's easy to take along several spare sets for extended trips.
In contrast, I used to not like proprietary batteries, because (1) the expense and difficulty of getting spares; and (2) if the battery quit, but no replacement could be found, the entre camera would be wasted.
No longer. I've changed my mind, because proprietary batteries:
1. reduce confusion for the neophyte. Need to recharge the battery? Just plug the entire camera to the charging cord. The battery never need come out of the camera. In contrast, buying AA-based cameras means also buying a trickle-capable battery recharger and spare AAs -- which can cost as much as the second proprietary battery.
2. last longer between charges than do AAs -- roughly twice as long, in my estimation.
3. last the lifetime of the camera. We used to think of the camera purchase as a lifelong investment. No longer. With the low price of digital shooters and low manufacturing quality, by the time the proprietary battery wears out, the camera is ready to be replaced.
4. allow for slimmer cameras. Simmer cameras are easier to take with you, and so you're more likely to capture those really special pictures.
And the most important reason of all:
5. reduced consumer confusion. Remembering to swap AA batteries, having spares on hand, not using alkaline, knowing which kind of charger to buy, remembering to have spares in the charger, having to open and close the battery compartment, inserting the AAs upside down -- it is just too much hassle. With the proprietary battery kept inside and charged by the camera, there is none of the hassle associated with AAs.
Don't mind me being late getting over AAs. I was the last on the block to buy a CD player.
As digital photography became popular, Kodak, Fuji, and stores that print photographs became scared, because photo buffs no longer needed to have their photos printed.
What to do? How to turn around their fading market?
They decided to turn their fears back onto their customers. Kodak is running ads with the headline, "Mothers don't let your babies grow up to become pixels" urging mommies to print out all digital photographs of their precious darlings.
And last week, London Drugs sent out a glossy 20-page booklet to reinforce the fear:
Print Them So You Can Count On Them
Unfortunately, computer memory is subject to damage and loss. Magnetic memory is more fragile than it seems and you just don't want to leave your valued memories to chance or accidents. To ensure that your treasured photos are always safe and at your fingertips they should be printed, not just stored away in bits and bytes.
You don't know what you got until it's gone.
Scarey stuff, and filled with half-truths. London Drugs (and Kodak) ought to be ashamed of themselves.
The new threat, however, is Facebook. My daughter just got back from her high school band trip to Northern Canada. She was in charge of taking photographs on the trip, and she took over 900 pix in the seven days. She won't be printing any of them. For classmates who want the whole batch, she'll burn a DVD. For everyone else, they can view the photos on Facebook; she spent yesterday evening uploading the best several dozen pictures.
It's common for coaches to video tape athletes, so both can examine the style and progress of training.
The son of a friend is into the Triple Jump, and he took the process a step further. He used a digital camera to video tape his son doing the triple jump about ten times in a row. In this case, he borrowed my Samsung NV-3 digital camera, which records movies at 720x480 at 20fps or 640x480 at 30fps.
("How long a movie can this take?" asked my friend. About 1.5 hours on the 2GB memory card.)
By using the digital camera instead of a movie camera, he could immediately copy the video file onto his computer, and then go through the jumps frame by frame.
("How do I get the movie file onto my computer?" asked my friend. Take the memory card out of the camera, and plug it into this USB memory card reader. That's easier that using the camera's cable and having to install camera-specific software.)
Next, he went to YouTube, and downloaded videos of famous triple jumpers, such as Jonathan Edwards. He compared his jump style with those of the famous ones.
This seems so normal today, and we tend to forget that this was not possible just a few years ago -- when digital cameras did not have DV-quality movie recording, and YouTube didn't exist with its rich resource of scholarly information.
My friend returned the camera the next day, enthused. "It worked really well." The only negative, which I had warned him about, was that the NV3's screen is not particularly bright outdoors. He agreed: "Even through it was an overcast day, we had to hold the camera inside my coat for viewing. People must have been wondering what we were doing in my coat!"
Research firm IDC says that Canon remains #1 in the digital camera market. For all sales, they were up 14% to to 106 million units last year. Digital SLRs sold 5.2 million cameras, up 39%. Worldwide rankings were:
For digitalSLR sales:
3. Sony (sells the fomer Konica-Minolta camera)
Kodak stopped selling its digitalSLR. More details here.
I am not surprised. There are a lot of dreadful cameras out there, and it appears that the best are made by those who know optics -- ie, traditional camera makers, like Canon and Nikon. My dad's new Canon SD-700 is a beauty; the Samsung NV3 that he gave up on (after two days) sucks, in terms of photographic quality and feature set.
That pretty much sums up the market.
You print out digital photos of loved ones, pin them up on the bulletin board, and a year later the colors look yellowish. One solution is to print out another copy.
Another solution is to use a printer, printer ink, and paper that resists fading. Engaget reports on an 11-month trial, where photos were printed with several brands, posted in a sun-facing window, and copies kept in the dark for comparison.
The winner was the HP PhotoSmart 385. You can read the full story at Fade resistance test takes a look at photo printers / paper. Especially read the comments section, where the tests are critiqued; for example, one writer says airborne pollutants do more damage than does direct sunlight. Another notes that long-image-life paper makes prints look worse.
So, maybe my original solution is best: just print out another copy!
We are now used to paying $1 per GB of hard disk space, and I supposed flash memory may get that cheap too.
Today I noticed that Wal-mart was selling 512MB SD memory cards in bulk: 4 in a blister pack for CDN$40 (about US$34). Ten bucks each! Makes me weep to recall paying $330 for a 64MB card back in 2000 -- though mail order, because the local electronics stores couldn't understand why anyone would need more than 16MB for their digital camera.
But now I think the same thing: why would anyone want four 512MB cards instead of one 2GB card? Especially with Future Shop this week selling two 2GB cards for $80.
I suppose I could think of a couple of reasons:
* Backups: you stick your pictures on one card, and use a second card to keep backups -- faster and easier than burning backups on CDs, especially when you're on the road.
* Archiving: take pictures of your home and its contents, and then store the card in the safety deposit box.
* Sorting: you label the four cards for different purposes, such as photos of your daughter's figure skating or your collection of jazz MP3s.
* Sharing: buy the blister pack with friends, and split the four between yourselves.
Lexar is now selling a CompactFlash memory card rated at 300x speed -- meaning it is 300x faster than the speed of a standard 1x CD drive (150KB/sec). In theory, this card moves 45MB of data per second.
Is it worthwhile paying extra for this theoretical speed? The short answer is, No. You can read the long answer at Imaging Resource: Testing the Lexar 8GB 300x Card.
On most cameras and computer equipment, the read and write speeds differ little from the 60x card that was also tested. Only when the tester used it with extremely fast computers and very high end cameras did the card fulfill its promise.
Save a few bucks; buy a slower card.
My daughter's digital camera had been acting up recently, and now doesn't work at all. I think the problem is with the on/off switch being worn out. I decided to buy her a new one as her birthday present. Digital cameras have improved so much since she bought the Pentax 2.5 years ago. How old is it? Pentax doesn't even have XP drivers for it.
I began looking for a digital camera with these specs :
- uses the memory card she already has (SD). That cuts out Olympus, Fuji, and Sony.
- has a large 2.4" LCD screen on the back. That sets the price to $159 or higher.
- is slim.
- costs under $200.
Saturday morning I went to most of the local stores that carry cameras: Wal-Mart, Zellers, Sears, Superstore, London Drugs, and FutureShop. I did this run to see what is available on the market.
Wal-Mart -- To my surprise, Wal-Mart had the worst cost-effective range. I was surprised, because I got my other daughter's camera there, an extra slim, large-screen Casio for under $200.
Zellers -- had a cute Olympus, but it uses the xD memory card, so I struck that one off the list.
Sears -- had nothing that matched my specs.
Superstore -- had a pink Samsung S500 digital camera, which I suspected my daughter would fall for.
FutureShop -- had a Pentex for $159; her old one is a Pentax, and that means the menu system is already familiar to her, a benefit.
London Drugs -- had two models that fit the spec.
In the afternoon, I returned to Superstore with my daughter. She loved the pink camera. She didn't care for another Pentax, so we only checked out London Drugs. With several customers hogging the glass counter, it was hard for her to see the models. But the Canon looked too fat for her liking. Back to Superstore.
The Superstore Experience
In Superstore's electronics department, I asked the young man to get me the specs for the camera. For that, he needed to get the camera's box (no spec sheets on hand), and the box was in a locked closet. He paged for the manager. We waited.
While waiting, I noticed boxes for a similar, but silver model of camera. The young man handed me the box so that I could examine the specs. I mentioned to him that I wanted to ensure movie mode had audio, because my daughter was so disappointed that her old Pentax had no microphone. "When I want to take movies," announced the young man, "I use my video camera, because it's so much better." Thanks for the advice, I thought to myself, but that's not the point. Teenage girls don't haul video cameras around in their purses.
We continued waiting. Eventually I told the young man that we'd buy some groceries, and then come back. Could he make sure he had the box by the time we got back?
We returned after 20 minutes, and as we entered the electronics department, I heard him again paging his manager. Clearly, he had forgotten about us. After some more waiting, the keys arrived. The young man slapped them onto the counter, and told another employee, "These are for them," motioning vaguely in our direction. He left, being too cool for us.
We waited. The young lady smiled. After a while, she asked, "Can I help you?" I again explained about buying the camera. She looked briefly in the now-unlocked closet, and then announced they had none in stock.
"Can I buy the demo model," I asked, knowing that (1) stores are keen to clear out lone models; and (2) often give a discount. That's how I got my other daughter's Casio camera cheaper.
"We don't sell demo models, unless they are discontinued," she announced. I failed to follow her logic: "You don't have any in stock, and this camera is not discontinued."
Disappointed, my daughter and I went home. She pined for the pink camera.
A Rare Model
I looked on the Internet. This was one rare model! No longer listed at Samsung's Web site (thus discontinued); CNET listed it, but reported that no stores in the entire USA carried it; eBay only had listing from people wanting to BUY the camera. Huh!
Could I still get it somehow? Not only would my daughter have her pink camera, she would have a rare pink digital camera.
I wondered if one of the other Superstores might still have one. On a hunch, I drove to another store located about 20 minutes down the freeway. There it was, in the glass case. I told the employee that I wanted to buy it. She got the keys, unlocked the cabinet, and then looked puzzled. "We don't seem to have any."
I let her do some more looking. I offered to buy the demo model. She responded that she would sell it to me, but she wouldn't, because it might not have the cable. That would be semi-serious, because I had noticed earlier that this camera uses a proprietary USB connector. But only semi-serious, because my daughter could still get the pictures off the memory card using an SD adapter.
Fortunately, the manager was working that Saturday evening. The employee asked him about the camera. He got another set of keys for another locked cabinet. Tumbling out came the box for the camera, with DEMO written in large red letters.
We checked the box. It had the cables, the CD, everything. "Can I buy it?" She checked with the manager, who I knew would be glad to get rid of this one-only item. "Sure."
A middle-aged shopper noticed the pink camera I was holding. "Who's it for?" she asked. When I told her, she replied, "We girls."
As the employee was ringing up the sale, she commented, "The only problem with demo units is that I don't think they have any warranty." Not a problem, because I knew they had the full warranty. She disappeared into the back to ask her boss, and returned a moment later: "Hmmm." She learned something new.
At this point, I'd normally ask the salesperson for a discount on the demo unit, typically 10%. But this pink camera was so rare, I didn't push my luck.
When I returned home, I came into the house yelling, "Who da' man? Who da' man!"
My 19-year-old daughter is thrilled with her new pink camera, today returning to university. "It's pink, it's pink!"
The Register has an article of interest to us photo buffs: Samsung says it will be able to ship 64GB memory cards in 2008, because of a new process that crams more memory into the same amount of space. Shown are CompactFlash memory cards.
It's of interest, because I wonder if there is much of a market for such a card. I could see professional photographers taking high-rez RAW-format photos at sporting events -- where there isn't time to repeatedly take out and plug in lower-capacity cards. OTOH, wouldn't such an event be better served by transmitting photos from the camera back to the editing room wirelessly?
As for consumers, I think that 512MB and 1GB capacities are sufficient. On recent trips made by family members to Europe and Asia, 512MB was sufficient for all photos taken for trips that lasted 10-14 days. I suppose the sole benefit of 64GB might be for storing long segments of video footage.
Not that your camera can take such memory cards. Most cameras sold today take SD or smaller formats, and they will always lag behind CompactFlash capacities, simply because they are physically smaller.
Even if your camera uses the CompactFlash format (as does my Canon S1is), it's doubtful that its built-in CPU can address 64GB of RAM.
From the many trips my parents made with me to Germany (during my youth, because all our relatives still lived there), the Agfa brand name became as special as other brand names that dominate Germany, like Cafe Hag coffee and Ritter Sport chocolate.
Like Polaroid, Agfa didn't survive the switch to the digital era, and is now being liquidated. Like Polaroid, another company has bought up the brand-name and hopes to profit from sticking Agfa and its red logo it on mundane digital cameras made by third-parties in Taiwan. More coverage by Imaging Resource.
I didn't even know this memory card existed until my son bought a new Sony cell phone. It's a cell phone, text messenger, MP3 player, still camera, movie camera, sound recorder, games player, Web browser, and more.
For storage, the phone uses Sony's new M2 Memorystick memory card -- 512MB on a chip about the size of my thumbnail. Easy to lose, eh? To transfer data, it comes with a Memorystick adapter to fit card readers.
Naturally, the week after my son buys the 512MB phone, the 1GB model comes out.
Naturally, the next thing my son wants to buy is the 1GB memory card to hold more music. (Apparently, his year-old 512MB MP3 player is insufficient.)
This morning I searched around to see how much M2 costs. At this point $0, because neither Sony.ca nor FutureShop.ca nor BestBuy.ca carry it. From Sony's press release, I see that (1) the 1GB card began shipping in May, 2006; (2) it's priced similar to the Memorystick PRO Duo; and (3) "Availability and prices will vary from country to country."
FutureShop.ca prices the Memorystick PRO Duo between CDN$60 and $80 for 1GB, depending on the vendor: SanDisk $60, Lexar $70, and Sony $80.
So now you know about Yet Another Memory Card Format, and that it's not (yet) available in Canada, even though devices that use it are sold here. Thanks, Sony.
Some cameras have WiFi built-in. Specific models of camera from Nikon, Kodak, and others can transmit their photo files to your computer through wireless networking.
Problem is that some photo Web sites are now reporting that this represents a security risk. More details are to come, but I suspect the problem is that the camera makers did not implement WiFi encryption, which prevents outsiders from hijacking the wireless stream of data.
I think the risk is low, because of obscurity. Hijackers are not looking for wireless cameras to intercept because they are so rare -- just like very few viruses affect Macintosh computers. Still, it's a news item to be aware of.
If your camera has WiFi, check if it has security and encruption settings, and then set them up for the same system your office/home WiFi system uses. Your home/office WiFi does have security set up, doesn't it?
Did you know that...
... SD [secure digital] memory cards are limited to a maximum capacity of 2GB? That's why a new standard had to be developed to extend the memory capacity -- called SD-HD [high density]. Initially you'll see 4GB SD-HD cards, but 32GB SD-HD cards are being promised. Warning! These new cards do not work with your digital cameras and other SD devices. They only work with new hardware built to the new specification.
...memory cards from Sony were even worse off. The initial spec allowed a max of 128MB. Sony has since had to twice re-engineer their MemoryStick cards to handle the boom in increased memory card size. Talk about short-sighted! I continue to use CompactFlash cards, which don't suffer from these limitations.
...the PNY and Dane-Elec brands are owned by Toshiba? Using different branding allowed the Japanese company to sell memory at lower prices without undercutting the Toshiba name.
I generally don't care for online photography tutorials, because I find them, well, not concise enough. A lot of talking, not much useful detail.
Don Beaton alerted me to a tutorial by George Mann at the Digital Photography & Macintosh Computers site. Again, too much verbiage for my liking, and an emphasis on software I don't use (PhotoShop), but I was relieved to read his commonsense advice, such as:
+ "I have to confess that I myself do not often look at histograms and also leave the camera on full automatic in many cases..." but he recognizes that manual mode has its place. Maybe now camera companies will abandon all those useless "shooting modes" that nobody uses.
+ He tends to prefer JPEG over RAW, because JPEG is less hassle (hooray for convenience!). Actually, his Nikon camera stores pictures in both formats (JPEG+RAW), so he tends to use that mode, recognizing that each picture consumes 20MB on the memory card -- that's just 51 photos on a 1GB card.
I am glad to read of a professional photographer who understands that the camera is the tool with which photos should be made, and that the most important thing is to TAKE the picture! (He kind of negates that philosophy by having numerous tutorials on Adobe image processing software, but oh well...)
That's what I love about digital photography: it lets me concentrate on taking the picture far more than do film-based cameras. I tried going back to using the Zeiss Ikon Contaxflex I used as a teenager (and borrowed from my father, who bought it in the 1950s) -- a beautifully made piece of machinery that works without batteries. But I can't go back.
Digital Photo Newsletter describes a Media Day where Kodak showed off new products and described technology that they are working on for future release. Two of the items include:
+ A high-speed scanner that processes two prints per second. The scanner reads both sides of photos, and uses optical character recognition to attempt to collect any info it can, including hand-written dates. It attempts to also date photos by how they were made, such as rounded corners or serrated edges. (Fashion has a purpose after all!). And it attempts to group photos by color and backgrounds in the images, and measuring face metrics to identify people. The idea is to convert shoebox collections of print photos into digital.
+ Kodak already has digital cameras with wireless networking, and os one demo showed the camera being used for VOiP telephone calls -- the camera becomes the cell phone, instead of the other way around. Plus calls would be much, much cheaper than cell phone calls.
Sony engineers want to make digital photography as fast as video recording.
Right now, some digital cameras can take 60 frames per second, but at low resolutions, like 640x480 or less. That's good enough for moving video footage, but looks coarse for prints. Old-timers remember the early days of digital cameras, when the std resolution was 640x480 and return rates to stores were 50% or more.
What Sony hopes to achieve is to make digital camera chips fast enough that every camera takes photos at video speeds. That means 30 high-resolution photos per second and a heck of a lot of storage. The idea is that you leave the camera running, like a video camera, and then later extract the best shots.
The camera will have to be hooked up to a hard drive. Assume 400KB per picture:
30 frames per second = 12MB per second.
= 720MB per minute
= 43GB per hour
That last bit -- extracting the best shots -- I wonder about. Today, everybody keeps all their digital pictures, "just in case." Trying to distinquish between two or more photos taken 0.033 seconds apart...
...perhaps by then Google will have Picasa chosing the best photos for us.
Danit Lidor reports on Forbes.com that Kodak planned on increasing JPEG compression levels in order to save money, resulting in digital photos with lowered quality.
Kodak EasyShare Gallery is an online photo-sharing site storing one billion photographs -- taking up 380 terrabytes of diskpace (according to my quick calcs) -- the equivalent of 380,000 100GB hard drives. Maintaining that many drives gets expensive, not to mention the electricity needed to run and air condition them.
A director of engineering claims she was fired when she revealed plans by Kodak to increase the compression as photos were uploaded by customers. Increased compression = less disk space required = lower costs for Kodak = worse-looking photographs for customers. In the usual spin-fashion, Kodak apparently was going to call it "optimization." She says that Kodak was "going to take advantage of the fact that customers aren't going to understand."
A Kodak spokeshuman confirms this: "We have not compressed images that are stored in the Gallery without our customers' knowledge." Knowledge is one thing; understanding is another. The engineer reports that the EasyShare Gallery's EasyUpload option compresses photos to this day, without alerting customers directly.
It is a global scandal that digital cameras themselves use JPEG, because of the destructive compression algorithm used by the storage format -- known as "lossey compression," because image details are lost. There are lossless compressions available, such as JPEG 2000, PNG, and TIFF, but they all suffer from filesizes larger than JPEG, the compression king.
OTOH, memory is cheap today. I'd argue that lossless compression is more important than high resolution, which camera makers have no difficulty in implementing. TIFF would be an excellent compromise: it uses lossless compression and it is recognized by all software that deals with images -- it lacks all the drawbacks of JPEG and RAW.
Just as MP3 is the good-enough lossey compression for music, JPEG remains good enough for consumer-grade digital photography.
I've posted a new photo album on this blog. These photos are of trains and stations in northern Germany and The Netherlands, which I took on a business trip there last October.
Typead lists photo albumn in alphabetical order, so you need to scroll down and look for "German & Dutch Trains".
Before going on significant trips, I usually freak out over camera memory: do I have enough memory cards, and do I have a good enough backup system with me.
With memory cards becoming so common, one solution is to loan/borrow cards from friends.
A friend is going on vacation, has an older Kodak digital camera, wanted to buy a bigger memory card, but was also in the market for a new camera. I suggested that it didn't make sense to buy a new CompactFlash memory card when the new camera most likely would take a SecureDigital card. Then I realized, I've got lots of CF cards laying around. So she'll come by one day, and borrow a few for her trip.
One of my daughters is on a school trip to Korea. I had figured that a 256MB SD card would be sufficient. After all, my other daughter went on a school trip to France for two weeks, and came back with room left on her 256MB memory card.
Back in Korea, however, #2 daughter reports that she has just 30 pix left after six days. So I told her to buy another card, which she did. Later, I realized she could've taken along #1 daughter's memory card; it would have fit.
She also reported that she and other members of the school group were cooperating in taking photos. If two people got a picture of something,there was no need for the third to also take the same picture. When they get back home, they'll swap CDs of their photos.
With my Canon S1is out of warranty and in the repair shop, I am casting about for my next camera. Problem was that the S1 is, for me, the near-pefect camera. OTOH, the big photo show is coming up soon, and we're starting to hear about new camera models, so I could be convinced to switch.
(Most cameras have pretty much uniform specs now -- high megapixel resolution, high-quality movie mode, 3x optical zoom, etc -- I can concentrate on extra special specs.)
+ For example, there is a new Sony with clean images up to ISO 1000. That would be nice.
+ I like my daughter's superslim Casio.
+ I really liked the 10x zoom on the S1, so 3x zoom is not good enuff.
+ Photo stitching is a must, either in the camera or externally.
+ Good optics are also a must, so that leaves out second-tier brands like Toshiba.
I'll keep looking while I wait to hear from the repair depot.
DC Views has a 10th anniversary review of the very first digital camera, the Kodak Digital Science DC50.
Some features from ten years ago:
- 756 x 504 resolution (0.3-megapixel).
- 1MB internal memory, with a PCMCIA card slot for more.
- Took about 5 seconds to record an image to the memory.
- Pictures transfered at a rate of about four images per minute to the computer through a serial port.
The review concludes with this 1996 quote from Eastman Kodak CEO George M.C. Fisher:
"Over time, consumers will be able to store and index images on a worldwide server and to send pictures to a friend halfway around the globe. We will even be able to interact with photofinishers to preview images over phone lines and select sizing and editing of the pictures we want."
Digital nearly killed Kodak, but the company managed to overcome its relience on film to become the #1 camera brand in the USA today.
I lamented yesterday that digital cameras have become boringly predictive with their uniform specs. What will vendors do towards product differentiations? Some answers today:
- Fuji's V10 has four games built-in, that run on its 3" LCD screen.
- Kodak's Z650 has married a 10x optical zoom lens with a 6-megapixel sensor, a tough job to accomplish.
- Pentax's Optio A10 has figured out how to remove lens elements during the zoom process, allowing for a thinner camera.
But not all new cameras progress. The new Pentax A400 and A500 regress, using xD-Picture Cards for storage (meaning you get to throw out your SD card collection) and AVI movie mode without audio. My daughter accidently bought a Pentax camera with the audio-less movie mode, and it is pointless!
The CES show is going on, which means lots of announcements this week about gadgets. What strikes me about the camera announcements is their uniformity. Digital cameras have become as predictable as MP3 players, in that the specs are nearly identical between brands and models; only the exteriors are different -- like American cars in the 60s and 70s.
Digital cameras now all seem to feature these same specs:
- 5 megapixel or better resolution
- SD memory cards
- built-in memory of 32MB
- 30fps VGA movie mode
- 3x optical zoom
- 2.4" LCD screen
- slim design
- sensor made by Sony
- grab frames from movies
- in-camera image processing
- long battery life
So what's the differentiator? Yesterday, there was the dual-lens Kodak, true, but here are the specs that matter, and the specs that are almost never mentioned in press releases:
* maximum aperture (f2.0 is decent, but f1.8 and f1.4 are better).
* maximum noise-free ISO speed (400 is decent but 800 and 1600 are better).
* lens manufacturer, such as Canon, Nikon, and the German names.
* maximum size of memory card (2GB is decent but more is better).
* weight _with_ batteries; use of non-proprietary batteries (ie, AAA or AA).
Kodak is showing a new dual-lens camera this week at the Consumer Electronics Show. The slim EASYSHARE V570 (US$400) has two lenses: the regular 3x zoom lens, plus a second fixed lens for taking wide-angle pictures. Software inside the camera corrects (or not) the fish-eye distortion created by the wide-angle.
No word yet on how effective the wide-angle lens is, but I could see this being a great idea for interior designers, etc, trying to get pictures of room interiors. Also, I wonder about switching between the two lenses: is it automatic (like pressing the zoom lever back one more notch), or do you have to enter a wide-angle mode from the menu (like macro mode in some cameras).
What I don't like is Kodak's PR firm, Ketchum, hyping the camera as having "a total 5X optical zoom range." It doesn't. The camera cannot zoom from 1x to 5x. Instead, it has the fixed 23 mm lens + the 3x zoom lens (39 - 117 mm). It is too bad Ketchum doesn't understand that there is 2x missing from the equation.
Imaging-Resource has the technical details on how this camera works.
After months of delays, Creative says it'll start shipping its Zen Micro Photo device in September. Specs include an 8GB hard drive and a 256,ooo-color screen made from OLED [organic LED] -- all in the same size package as the original Zen Micro. Oh, and it plays MP3s and has an FM radio.
Thing I can't figure out is how to get photographs from my camera to this device: there's no slots for inserting memory cards, nor is Creative mentioning any USB linkage to cameras. I guess I'll hang onto my 20GB PhotoTainer with its CompactFlash slot and USB v2 port.
Forbes.com is reporting that Konica Minolta sold 23% fewer digital cameras during the last quarter (three months), but that the average retail price rose 17%. How's that possible?
It's possible by selling more expensive cameras and fewer cheaper cameras, specifically digital SLRs. Tthe camera maker's quarterly loss was US$6.3 million, an improvement on the $18 million lost a year earlier.
This shows how brutish the camera business has become, where competition causes prices to plummet faster than companies can adjust.
Yesterday it was the iPod. Today, digital cameras in Asia. HP is rationalizing its business, getting rid of products that don't sell well. And HP-brand cameras sell very poorly in Asia.
Instead, the company wants to emphasize its printer business, specifically photo printers. More details by Michael Singer at CNET.
Kodak this week announced it was ending the production of black-white film. Hmmm... I always thought photographers used black-white film from Ilford.
During my teen years, I shot with black-white film, because it was so much cheaper than color. The most fun I ever had was with a roll of super high speed (Kodak) black-white film, rated at ASA 1600 (ISO). I took photographs (sans flash) of university students' nighttime pranks, and then had the lab push the development to ASA 3200. Grainy, but legible.
The black-white era came to an end for me in 1976 when London Drugs came out with really low-cost color slide film. I think it was $1.80 for 24-exp, processing included.
With Seagate announcing its 8GB hard drive in CompactFlash II form factor, I really feel inadequate. Two years ago, I was so cool with the IBM 1GB drive for my digital camera, which holds about 2,500 3-megapixel photos -- meaning the 8GB drive holds 20 thousand! Price was not announced.
I don't know that I need my camera to store 20,000 photos while on vacation. In fact, I'd be nervous about trusting it. While on a band trip to Seattle, the 512MB memory card starting having corruption problems. Fortunately, I had a 128MB card and even several 32MB cards along as backup. (I suspect the corruption was due to the batteries dying, but it is nerve-wrecking!)
Instead, I see professional photographers using thes 8GB drives with the 12-megapixel, RAW format images. And it could be used as a mini-external drive for notebook computers (using a PC Card adapter). And I can see Palm upping the capacity of its new LifeDrive PDA from 4GB to 8.
An American drugstore chain hopes to start selling disposable camcorders for US$30 each, plus another $13 to put the 20-minutes of video onto DVD, a one-hour service.
The camcorder is designed by Pure Digital Technologies of USA and made in China, and has these specs:
- video stored on internal memory with 20 minutes max
- can delete scenes.
- 1.4 LCD screen, but no connectors for external viewing.
- five ounces.
- no zoom.
After you hand back the camcorder, the drugstore makes the DVD, and then erases the camera's memory. Would you pay $43 for 20 minutes of video?
Imagine you are a digital camera manufacturer. You're in the market, but prices are falling, affecting your profits and ability to stay in business. What do you do?
a. Think of new or improved features that make your product compelling (but that costs R&D money).
b. Cut costs internally.
c. Shift production to lower cost countries (but so do your competitors).
d. Shift production to higher cost products (but so do your competitors).
e. Get out of the business of making digital cameras, because the market is getting saturated.
Olympus is going for option b. after finding option c. no longer effective. Last year, its camera division lost US$121 million. To break-even this year, it plans to cut the cost of making cameras by 30% through the elimination of 4,000 jobs -- mostly in China. It will also try to get parts suppliers to cut their costs, and perhaps re-lable even more cameras made by Sanyo.
My daughters think their Verve cameras are very cool, but found them too expensive. "Our priority this year is profit in the digital camera business rather than market share,'' says the company president.
As for option e., I think non-camera companies, like HP and Epson, should get out of the business. More specifically, any company that does design the lens itself, because it is the lens that makes the picture, not the electronics.
Microsoft plans to add support for RAW photo files in Windows XP for Canon, Fujifilm, and Nikon cameras. Support would include:
* View RAW thumbnails in Windows Explorer (as happens now with JPEG)
* Preview and print RAW files from Explorer (not sure how that would work since printing from Explorer doesn't particularly work now).
* Support RAW formats in Microsoft's Digital Image Suite software (with help from Adobe, it sounds like).
(RAW is not a single image format, as is JPEG, but the generic name for the raw image data captured by digital cameras.) The news from Microsoft is good, but RAW support has its drawbacks, not mentioned in Infoworld's enthusiastic report:
1. Microsoft so far supports only three vendors; when will Kodak, Olympus, Pentax, and the others be supported?
2. Every camera creates a different form of RAW file; Microsoft is faced with continually updating its support (and users face the inherent delay) as new camera models are released.
3. Some portions of some RAW formats are encrypted, and even the most powerful company in digital imaging, Adobe, has complained about that.
4. Most cameras do not support RAW, so this feature is of interest only to serious and professional photographers, who already have the software needed to process RAW.
5. Even if digital SLRs become more popular with the general public (as camera makers hope), the RAW file format is uncompressed, meaning it takes up huge amounts of space on memory cards and hard drives -- especially in companion with very high megapixel camera sensors.
6. Conversely, very few RAW photos fit on memory cards and hard drives. Consumers are not going to take RAW photos while on their 4-week vacation to another continent, in the hopes of taking somewhat improved images.
It strikes me that RAW support in Windows is about as important as Microsoft supporting CAD (computer aided design) file formats.
Adobe last year tried to create a universal RAW format, hoping the industry would adopt it. Instead, we saw camera makers become even more proprietary.
Now Microsoft making a similar attempt by creating an API (applicaiton programming interface) for RAW codecs (coders-decoders). The concept is taht camera makers -- the Kodaks, Olympuses, and Pentaxes -- provide the software that lets their RAW formats work with Windows.
At least that's the plan. High-end camera makers, like Nikon, make a nice profit from selling software to process RAW files. I can't see them having to pay their own programmers to write an API for Microsoft, which is then used for free by customers.
The Associated Press reports:
Hit by the shift to digital photography, AgfaPhoto GmbH, a maker of film and disposable cameras, filed for bankruptcy on Friday. A court in the company's home town of Leverkusen, outside Cologne, opened bankruptcy proceedings that will determine whether the company survives. AgfaPhoto has 2,400 employees worldwide, 1,800 of them in Germany.
AgfaPhoto did not give reasons for its bankruptcy filing. In a statement, workers' representatives described it as "a development that is both surprising and painful."
I recall the bright red/black/white packaging of Agfa film on my trips to Europe. Interesting how the major film manufacturers chose contrasting colors from each other:
Afga (Europe) - red
Kodak (USA) - yellow
Fuji (Japan) - green
Konica (Japan) - blue
Ilford (Britain) - white
Earlier this year, Kodak dazzled us with a proposal for the first-comsumer grade digital camera with support for wireless networking. The idea is you plug in a wireless network card, and this camera transmits its pictures to your computer, or other wireless device.
Now the Wall Street Journal is reporting the camera's ship date has been delayed from June until November. The reason? "This represents a significant technological advance in the digital camera marketplace," says Kodak. The translation: marrying wireless to our camera is really tough to figure out.
By the time it comes out, the US$700 price may be too high for a 4-megapixel 3x camera.