CamerAgX

January 28, 2013

A photo scanner for $12?

Filed under: Gear, How to, Smart Phones, Weird cameras — Tags: , , , , , , — xtalfu @ 12:09 am
ION iPCS2GO - the iPhone 4 and the 4x6 drawer are in place

ION iPCS2GO – the iPhone 4 and the 4×6 drawer are in place

$12.00, really?

I was at Barnes and Noble’s the other day, when I saw this ION iPICS2GO pseudo-scanner in the bargains bin. Not really a scanner, though. It’s a sort of light box. There is no lens or imager inside. It’s just a stand where the iPhone actually taking and processing the pictures will be set.

Coupled with an iPhone, it can scan 3×5 and 4×6 prints, and, more interestingly, 24×36 negatives or slides.

The iPICS2GO was boxed, so I could not see it. But it was only $12. And even if it was a piece a junk, it was worth trying.

Unboxing

The whole thing is rather bulky (the size of a toaster), but it looks solid and well built. The negative holder and the 4×6 print holders are made of plastics of good quality and will not damage the originals, and the iPICS2GO will just needs four AA batteries to work. The print or the negative being scanned is lit by LEDs, which seem efficiently color corrected.

There is an iPICS2GO app on Apple’s app store, that you can download for free and use to control the camera of the iPhone. Although Apple’s built in Camera and Photos applications will give the same results if you “scan” a 4×6 print, you will need the ION application to enlarge and invert the 24×36 negatives. You could do it with Photoshop, but if you had a laptop and Photoshop, you would probably also own a real scanner and would not be interested in this product.

The core audience

As mentioned earlier, the iPICS23GO is not a scanner on its own. But paired with an iPhone 4, it forms a cheap and portable scanner, and its bundled application makes it easy to edit and share the scanned images, via e-mail or through Facebook. I can imagine a situation where you visit old friends or relatives, and they end up opening the proverbial shoe box where their favorite Kodak prints are stored. You scan a few pictures for immediate consumption on the iPhone, or share them around via email or on Facebook.

In this situation, the results are pretty good. IN order to benchmark the iPICS2GO, I scanned a 4×6 color print (the picture had been taken by a good 24×36 camera 10 years ago) with the ION box and with the real scanner of an all-in-one photo printer from Canon. Both images were transferred to a Mac, uploaded in Photoshop, and printed again. The Canon scan is a bit better (wider tonal range), but not that much. If the goal is just to casually look at old pictures on a smartphone, share them on Facebook or even print them again (4×6 prints, please, nothing larger), the ION iPICS2GO fits the bill.

4x6 color print scanned by an iPhone 4 on the iPICS2GO "scanner"

4×6 color print scanned by an iPhone 4 on the iPICS2GO “scanner”

Scanning negatives, on the other hand, is a much more difficult challenge.

The app does a good job at converting the negative into a positive image, whose quality is acceptable as long as you look at it on the iPhone (the original 24x36mm negative has a diagonal of 43mm; the screen of the iPhone has a diagonal of 3.5in, or 88mm – Th enlargement ratio is roughly 2:1). But don’t try to export it to a PC, or even worse, to print it. As soon as you enlarge it, the quality becomes unacceptable, as can be seen on close-up (below, on the right).

Screen capture of the ION app scanning a negative

Screen capture of the ION app scanning a negative

Screen Copy of the ION iPICS2GO app (here, processing a negative)

Screen Copy of the ION iPICS2GO app (here, processing a negative)

Close up of the image created by the ION app (size: 376x240 points at 128ppi on an iPhone)

Moderate enlargement of the central part of the negative

I have to admit that the ION iPICS2GO is much better gadget than I expected. If your goal is to take snapshots of your favorite prints every now and then in order to have them always with you on your iPhone, it’s perfect. You can also email your images or post them in Facebook directly from the ION app.

On the other hand, if the only source document you have is a negative, don’t expect miracles. In the best case, the resulting image will be somehow acceptable as long as you look at it on your iPhone. Beyond that, it’s hopeless. If you love the picture, bring the negative to a minilab.

But in any case, an old picture reborn on an iPhone is better than any image forgotten in a shoe box.


Bridge over the Verdon river (Provence). Scanned from a 4x6 print on a flatbed scanner

Bridge over the Verdon river (Provence). Scanned from a 4×6 print on a flatbed scanner

The original images were shot in France in “les Gorges du Verdon”, a small scale version of the Grand Canyon, in 2001. I don’t remember which camera I was using.

October 1, 2012

Welcome

Filed under: Welcome — Tags: , , — xtalfu @ 11:04 pm


Welcome


Paris- Garden of the Pont Neuf - April 2009 - Nikon F3; Nikkor 24mm

Paris- Garden of the Pont Neuf - April 2009 - Nikon F3; Nikkor 24mm

This blog is about photography. About old film cameras, and the pictures you can still make with them.

Like anybody else, I use digital cameras. They’re convenient. But I also love shooting with film cameras. It’s a different experience, and using different tools make you see the world differently.

Nobody makes new film cameras anymore. But there is such an ample supply of nice second hand cameras that finding one you like is not a problem.

Film cameras are now extraordinarily cheap, and as long as you’re in no hurry to see your images and don’t take too many pictures, using SLRs or rangefinder cameras from yesteryear is a rewarding experience.

In the nineteenth century, photography did not kill watercolor painting and cars did not drive horses to extinction. In the nineteen eighties digital watches did not kill mechanical watches, and vinyl records are making a comeback 20 years after CDs were launched.


People paint, ride horses, wear mechanical watches and play vinyl records for a multitude of reasons, some of them unsuspected 150 or 20 years ago. And they will still be shooting film 10 years from now.

I love taking pictures, I love old cameras, and that’s all it is about. If you’re in the same frame of mind, welcome.


September 23, 2012

Pictures of Venice on Kodak film processed by Ritz-Camera – Thomas Mann’s “Death in Venice” revisited?

Filed under: News, Pictures — Tags: , , , , — xtalfu @ 8:21 pm
The last time I used a Kodak film - so far

One of the many canals of Venice. Nikon FE2 – Kodak CN 400 film

I was in Venice during last year’s holiday season – a family reunion of sorts. I did not suspect that it would be the last time that I would have Kodak film processed by Wolf Camera (a local brand of the Ritz Camera empire). Admire the irony. Is there a better subject than Venice to illustrate the decline and fall of the glorious.

Venice - Nikon FE2 - Fujicolor 400

Venice – Nikon FE2 – Fujicolor 400 – Dec. 2011

The weather in Venice was absolutely splendid, except for a few days of rain and fog at the end of our stay. There was so much to shoot that I felt I had no time to lose fiddling with manual (film) cameras, and I shot primarily with digital cameras and with my smartphone. After one week of robotized photography, though, I felt like using a “real” camera again, and loaded my beloved Nikon FE2 with Fuji color film and with Kodak’s chromogenic B&W film, the CN400.

After heading back home, I was immediately absorbed by the daily routine, and forgot about the rolls of film from Venice. A few week-ends ago, I finally cleaned my desk and found the unprocessed film cartridges. The following day, I stopped at a rather large Wolf Camera store which still processed film, and generally did a decent job at scanning the negatives. The day after, I heard on the radio that their parent company, Ritz, was being liquidated. I was a bit concerned for my film.

In the evening I stopped at the store (which had yellow liquidation posters all over its windows). The guys said they had not processed my film yet (by the sad look of it, it was obvious that their film processing machine had some sort of problem) and they promised they would call me when the job was done. Three days later, they had not called. I stopped by again and I was decided to ask them to give me my film cartridges back. To my surprise, the processing machine had been fixed, and my CD was ready.

I was glad to get it, but I was sad for the staff of the store. Those guys were more competent and more helpful than the average of their colleagues working in smaller Wolf stores, and I don’t know what they’re going to do now.

I live in a rather big metro area – 4 million people call it home – but with Wolf going out of business in a matter of days, we’ll be down to one single walk-in, full service camera store for the whole area.

As for Kodak, they announced a few weeks ago that they were planning on selling their consumer film business. It’s likely the buyer will have the right to use the Kodak name – at least for a few transitional years, so there will still be Kodak film on store shelves for a while, even if it will only be very remotely connected to the Yellow Grandfather.

I love Venice. It’s beautiful and weird, a world in itself. The city used to rule the Eastern Mediterranean world but today it has lost all of its influence and most of its inhabitants. It is primarily a tourist destination. But it still lives and keeps on inspiring writers, musicians and all other sorts of artists.

May film photography follow the same tracks.


Venice - gondoliers

Venice – Gondoliers in the sunset. Nikon FE2. Fujicolor 400 film


And now for something completely different. My father in law gave me his old Canon A1 (pristine) as well as battered Canon FT, with an incredible 55mm f:1.2 lens. As strange as it may sound I had never owned – or even used – a Canon SLR before. I’m planning on testing them in the weeks to come. Stay tuned.


January 17, 2011

Happy New Year

Filed under: Gear — Tags: , , — xtalfu @ 12:49 am
Triel s/Seine - Dec 25th, 2010

Triel s/Seine - Dec 25th, 2010 - Nikon F3 - Nikkor 135mm F:3.5 - Kodak CN 400

On December 25th, I was testing my latest acquisition: a second hand Nikkor 135mm lens (the f:3.5 AI model). I had bought it the day before, in the most incredible store – Photo Cine Gobelins, in Paris. I would have probably paid less on eBay, but the lens was nice, and the purchase experience really unique.

Imagine a store – minuscule even by French standards, maybe 10 feet wide and 6 feet deep, filled up to the ceiling with lenses and cameras. The store may be deeper. There’s no way to know. It’s so packed with stuff. There’s only enough room for one chair, where the owner of the place, Mrs Vu Dihn Hahn, is sitting.

You enter the store. There’s hardly room for two standing people. You look rapidly around you, and, surrounded by this mountain of old equipment, you’re pretty sure Mrs Vu will never be able to locate the Nikon telephoto lens you’re asking for. You could not be more wrong. Obviously Mrs Vu does not need a computer to keep track of the inventory. She says she has two telephoto lenses, one pre-AI modified, one AI, and she announces the price. You’re surprised she could answer that fast, and you ask to see the AI model. In 10 seconds, she has escalated the north face of the mountain of equipment, and brought back a very nice Nikkor 135mm f:3.5. Its price is still labelled in French Francs (the French Franc was replaced by the Euro in 2002) so it must have been in Mrs Vu’s inventory for quite a while. But Mrs Vu accepts Visa, writes an invoice, and a few minutes later you’re the proud owner of a relatively expensive but nice Nikkor telephoto lens.

Out of curiosity, I asked Mrs Vu a few questions about the rest of her inventory. She has a few bodies (from Nikon and other well known brands), lots of pre-AF lenses, but nothing really exceptional. Don’t expect a miracle, she knows pretty well what’s in store and how valuable it is, and you will not fool her. But she may have the lens or the accessory you have been looking for for so long, and it will likely be in a very good shape.

I did not take a picture of Mrs Vu’s store, but Alain Bachellier did it last year and posted a few pictures in Flickr.


The Photo Cine Gobelins used equipment store (Paris)

The Photo Cine Gobelins used equipment store (Paris) From Flickr - Alain Bachellier


October 25, 2010

The Olympus OM-2 series – a revolution followed by 12 years of limited evolution

Filed under: Gear, Olympus cameras — Tags: , , , , — xtalfu @ 2:59 pm
Olympus OM-2s and Olympus OM-2n

Olympus OM-2s and Olympus OM-2n

Look at the picture at the left – showing side by side the OM-2 (produced from 1975 to 1984) and its short lived successor, the OM-2s (also known as the OM-2 Spot/Program or OM-2s/p in other parts of the world), which soldiered from 1984 to 1986. They look so similar.


During the same period, Canon went from the huge EF body to the AE-1 and finally launched the first SLR with a computer inspired interface, the T70 of 1984. Minolta evolved from the XE-7 to the XG before it changed the world of SLRs forever with the first successful autofocus SLR, the 7000. And the always conservative Nikon went from the massive Nikkormat EL to the compact Nikon FE2, which integrated most of the advances of the OM-2, and coupled them with a very fast aluminum shutter.


It is true that the OM series had a significant technological advance when it was launched. But by the end of the seventies the competition had more than caught up, taking advantage of miniaturized integrated circuits and micro-processors to offer compact and feature rich cameras. Olympus was slow to adapt to the micro-processor revolution, and had to face a lot of teething problems in the process.


The early years


Olympus OM-2n - Close-up (Front)

Olympus OM-2n - Close-up (Front) - Note the round rewind release button on the front of the camera.

Olympus OM-2n - Close Up (back)

Olympus OM-2n - Close Up (back). Note the screw-in flash shoe and the mode selector with 4 positions: Manual, Off, Auto and Battery Check


The OM-2 came a few years after the OM-1. The OM-1 had changed the world of SLRs by offering pro-level features in an incredibly compact body. The OM-2 was the automatic exposure declination of the OM-1. Interestingly, it still integrated the whole semi-auto exposure metering system of the OM-1 (with its two CdS sensors located in the prism housing), but in automatic exposure mode, it relied on blue silicon sensors located at the bottom of the reflex chamber, under the reflex mirror. Here was the true revolution: the silicon sensors measured the light reflected by the curtains of the textile shutter (and by the surface of the film) during the exposure itself. The capabilities of the camera in low light scenes are still unsurpassed, and with a compatible flash gun, the camera could control the duration of the flash exposure while the picture was being taken. Within a few years, all major competitors had adopted a similar system on a least a few of their models. In 1979, Olympus launched the OM-2n, a relatively minor update of the OM-2.


An attempt to catch up


Olympus OM-2s - close-up (front)

Olympus OM-2s - close-up (front) - the rewind release button is now on the top plate (marked with an R), between the shutter release button and the film advance lever.

Olympus OM-2s - close-up (back)

Olympus OM-2s - close-up (back) - The flash shoe is now integrated in the body of the camera, and the mode selector now has the following positions: spot/manual, auto, program and battery check.

The OM-2s is not an evolution of the OM-2n. In fact it’s a spec’d down version of the OM-4, which was launched in 1984 as the true successor of the original OM-2 series.
Inside a body which looks very similar, the OM-2s is much more modern than the OM-2n. On the OM-2 and OM-2n, the silicon light metering system, being located under the reflex mirror, did not receive any light when the mirror was in its usual (low) position, and could only be used during the exposure, if the camera was set in auto exposure mode. That’s the reason why the CdS metering system of the OM-1 had also been retained: not only to support the semi-auto mode, but also to provide an indication of the shutter speed that may be set by the automatic exposure circuits when the camera was set in aperture priority mode.


The architecture of the OM-2s is different. It introduces a second (and smaller) mirror under the main (now semi-transparent) reflex mirror, which redirects 20% of the light to the silicon sensor: there is no need for a separate circuitry for the semi-auto mode anymore. The Olympus engineers took advantage of their new setup to offer multiple exposure metering patterns: when configured as an aperture priority auto camera, the OM-2s uses a weighted average pattern, and, very logically, switches to spot metering when set in semi-auto exposure mode.


There are other differences between the OM-2 and the OM-2s. Two of them are of particular interest: the match needle in the viewfinder is replaced by a vertical LCD panel at the left of the viewfinder, which can be lit by a small lamp when the user presses a button on the right of the reflex chamber, and the absence of the “off” position on the big switch on the left of the top plate. The use of LCDs has no adverse impact on the ergonomics, and whether the photographer will prefer the LCD or the OM-2s to the needle of the OM-2 is primarily a question of taste.


The absence of an “off” position on the main switch is more of an issue: even if the photographer sets the speed ring on “B”, the OM-2s is never be completely off, and it needs new batteries regularly (every few months) even if the camera is not used. The situation is made even worse by a design fault in the circuit controlling the flash, which causes the battery of the body to be rapidly drained if a cobra flash is left in the flash mount. The LR-44 (1.5v Silver Oxide) batteries ued by the OM-2s are still easy to find and relatively inexpensive, but the poor management of the batteries was and still is a major issue for the occasional users, and it explains why this model is not as eagerly sought after as its siblings.


Using an OM-2 camera


In everyday use, there is very little difference between the OM-2n and the OM-2s. The ergonomics is almost identical, the viewfinders are very similar, and both cameras can be used alternatively on a photo shoot without any inconvenience. Both share the same qualities – small size, great ergonomics, large viewfinder, good perceived quality – and the same limitations – primarily the textile shutter, limited to 1/1000 sec, with a maximum flash synchro speed of 1/60. The performance of the shutter was in line with what the competition had to offer when the original OM-2 was launched, but in 1984 Nikon proposed much better with the FE2 and the FA, and the OM-2s was outclassed.


I used both cameras recently; I did not perform any scientific testing and my opinion is just based on my limited experience with a few rolls of film. I tend to trust the metering system of the OM-2s a bit more than the OM-2n’s, and the OM-2s is the camera I will chose if I can not bring both with me. I will just have to be sure that I always have a set of fresh batteries in my equipment bag.



More about the OM-2 family of cameras


Olympus is proud of its past, and presents the history of its cameras in its global Web site.


While not as detailed as the pages dedicated to Nikon cameras, Leo Foo’s “Photography in Malaysia” Web site still provides interesting information about the Olympus OM-2.


A long list of pages dedicated to the Olympus OM cameras is maintained by Wim Wiskerke. It is worth checking.

CamerAgX already published a blog entry covering the family of the Olympus OM bodies, and one about the differences between matrix metering and the multi-spot system of the Olympus OM-4.


Gull - Boston Harbor - Olympus OM-2s

Gull - Boston Harbor - Olympus OM-2s

October 4, 2010

Smart phones and photography – a follow up

Filed under: Gear, Smart Phones, Weird cameras — Tags: — xtalfu @ 4:50 pm


A few weeks ago, I was commenting that the market segment of low end digital cameras (let’s say anything not equipped with a zoom) was in danger of extinction, being superseded by smart phones.

Camera of the Nokia N8

The lens of the Nokia N8 - it bears the glorious Tessar name and as a true Tessar lens incorporates 4 elements, all aspherical this time. The Xenon flash is positioned above the lens.

Nokia’s previous high end models were already fitted with a “Carl Zeiss lens” and a 12 Mpixel sensor. A review of the new Nokia N8 by cnet shows that smart phone photography has reached a new level. With its 4 elements lens (all aspherical) and a Xenon flash, the Nokia N8 is in a class of its own, somewhere between the other smart phones and good point and shoot cameras. And Zeiss was obviously very proud of its contribution at the latest Photokina.


According to DPreview, Panasonic has started a teaser campaign to prepare the launch of “Lumixphones“, with a Lumix digital camera built in. Of particular interest is the fact that the camera section will include a mobile version of the “Venus” image processing engine. I suppose it is relatively easy to order and integrate a tiny image sensor and a small lens in a phone, but good digital images are created by good processing algorithms much more than by good lenses. The image processing section is the real differentiator and that’s where Panasonic may shine. When will we see smart phones with Canon Digic 4 or Nikon Expeed 2 image processors?


At the same time, Motorola and T-Mobile started releasing information about the DEFY, a rugged smart phone using the Android operating system. Scratch and water resistant, it boasts a 5 Mpixel camera with autofocus capabilities. It is not suitable for underwater photography, but another model may be in a few months.


The iPhone 4, with a 5 Mpixel sensor coupled with an autofocus lens (focal length: 3.5mm, equivalent to 28mm on a 35mm film camera), gives surprisingly good results on close-ups and when shooting relatively well lit interiors. It is also very good at taking pictures of big objects like cars and trucks. It is more difficult to get good results when shooting people – it is not as good as a regular camera at finding the right color balance; getting decent action shots is even harder. As for landscapes and low light situations (the “flash” is a joke), it’s bordering the impossible. Dedicated and talented iPhone users like Xeni Jardin can take incredible action shots with an iPhone 4, though, so the limit is obviously the photographer.


The focus of this site is film photography, and I will keep on shooting film and writing about film cameras. But using a film camera (or a regular digital camera) is not always a practical proposition, and sometimes a smart phone’s camera can save your day.



The Pool Table - Graceland (Memphis, TN)

The Pool Table - Graceland (Memphis, TN). Shot with an iPhone 4 - HDR activated

Hood ornament - Chevrolet - 1954

Hood ornament on a Chevrolet Police Car from 1954 - Shot in Tunica, MS with an iPhone 4 - HDR activated.


September 28, 2010

Browsing CamerAgX from the iPhone

Filed under: How to — Tags: , , , — xtalfu @ 12:58 am
Cameragx blog page

Cameragx blog page


No. I did not write an iPhone app.


I’m just suggesting that you take advantage of a great function of WordPress, the blog engine behind this site.


The “appearance” of a WordPress blog is controlled by “themes“. WordPress developed a “theme” for small form factor devices like the iPhone, and automatically translates blog entries designed for full size devices into pages adapted to a small screen. Just launch the iPhone browser (Safari) and enter Cameragx.com in the address bar. The most recent posts of this blog will be displayed. If you want to see one page in particular, select it with a touch of a finger, and you will get it. Cool!


Now even better.


Let’s say you’re a fanatic supporter of CamerAgX. You can ask the iPhone OS to create a new icon, which will link directly to the CamerAgX web site. Press the + sign at the bottom of the browser screen, and select the “Add to Home Screen” option. A new icon will magically show up on the Home Screen.


By default, the stylized W of WordPress will be displayed – as is the case for www.techandsimple.com (shown in the third screen shot)


If the administrator of the blog created a logo for his/her site and uploaded it on the WordPress server, the Home Screen’s icon will be the site’s logo, as is the case for CamerAgX on the third screen capture.


Tools anyone?


Interestingly, no weird tool or utility was needed to create this blog entry. The screen copies published in this blog entry were captured directly on a regular (non jailbroken) iPhone, using a function of the iOS: to capture a screen copy, you just have to press the Home button, then press briefly the on/off switch at the top of the phone. The screen copy will be saved as a PNG file, and will be presented in the Photo Roll of the Photo application. From there it can be emailed to a PC, or transferred through iTunes.


WordPress also publishes an iPhone app for blog administrators, who will compose new entries, moderate comments and perform edits from their iPhone or iPad, but it is not necessary to download it to visit a WordPress blog (a similar application has also been published by WordPress for Android phones).


One last thing…The CamerAgx logo is a close-up of the top plate of a nice camera. If you’re a regular visitor of this site, you will have recognized it.

Cameragx iphone page

a Cameragx blog entry rendered on an iPhone

Wordpress home screens

The home screen of the iPhone - how WordPress sites are represented

Cameragx icon

The icon of CamerAgX in WordPress

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 



More about WordPress at www.wordpress.org


More about the iPhone at www.apple.com


There are thousands of books about the iPhone, and probably hundreds of thousands of blogs about the same subject. “iPhone 4 Portable Genius” from Paul McFedries is a good book, and I check The iPhone Blog regularly for updates about the iPhone and the iPad.

September 19, 2010

Gone fishing?

Hilton Head (SC) - Labor Day Week-End

On the beach - Labor Day Week-End. Hilton Head, SC - Olympus OM-2 - 28mm f:3.5 - Fuji Superia X-Tra 400 ISO


Well, not really. I’m working on the next series of blog entries: evaluations of the different options for having film processed and scanned, now that the minilabs around the corner don’t “do” film anymore. I didn’t reach a definite conclusion yet, but I already know one thing for sure. It’s not going to be cheap. It will for sure change the way I use film.


As long as processing and scanning were relatively inexpensive, I tended to take some risks – testing old cameras of unknown quality and bracketing a lot. Expensive lab services will bring me back to a more prudent approach – using better equipment, and paying more attention to my images while I’m shooting.


I started testing my latest acquisition, a very nice Olympus OM-2n, on a quick trip to Hilton-Head (South Carolina) a few weeks ago. But I have very few pictures to show at the moment, because of issues with the quality of pictures coming back from the labs I’m trying to evaluate.


The Photokina is about to open in Cologne. The most interesting innovations are coming from Sony and Fujifilm. Sony’s SLT-A55 still looks like an SLR, it still uses the Sony-Minolta-Konica A-mount lenses, but its conventional reflex mirror has been replaced with a semi transparent film. Reflex cameras with a semi transparent mirror are no news: Nikon and Canon have used this type of design on multiple occasions, when they wanted to propose high speed cameras (up to 13 images per second for the Nikon F3 High Speed) while getting rid of the finder black-out during exposure. But the motives are different this time. It’s about adjusting the focus when shooting videos.


Sony SLT-A55 Pellicle Mirror

Sony SLT-A55 Pellicle Mirror


There are currently two ways to control the focus on a digital autofocus camera. The simpler and cheaper way is to measure the contrast of the image directly on the sensor. The contrast of an image is supposed to be at its maximum when the image is in focus. So the camera moves the focusing elements of the lens forward and backwards until it finds the focusing distance which maximizes the contrast. This method is used primarily on Point and Shoot cameras, because the focusing process tends to be frustratingly slow and unacceptable for action photography.


Autofocus SLRs have been using another method, named Phase Detection. Specialized components (semi transparent mirrors, micro-lenses and dedicated sensors positioned under the reflex mirror) calculate the optimal focusing distance and then “ask” the lens to position its focusing elements for that distance. Focusing is much faster and less prone to errors, but it requires more hardware and – in the conventional SLR design – it can only operate before the photographer presses the shutter release and the mirror has started moving out of the light path – which makes it unsuitable for video.


Here comes Sony. The semi transparent mirror of the SLT-A55 camera is only used to direct enough light to the Phase Detection autofocus system, because there is no conventional optical viewfinder anymore. It is replaced with a good (by current standards) electronic viewfinder, fed directly by the camera’s main image sensor. Of course, the semi transparent mirror is taking 33% of the light from the main imaging sensor, but it’s an acceptable drawback in the current state of technology.


There is an even better way to solve the problem tough. A few weeks ago, Fuji presented a new point and shoot camera, the FinePix F300EXR, whose Hybrid Autofocus system operates most of the time in Phase Detection Mode, with the option to roll back to Contrast Detection in low light situations.


dpreview wrote a very well documented subject about Fujifilm’s Hybrid AF. To make a long story short, some of the photodiodes of the FinePix’s imaging sensor serve double duty: they contribute to the production of the overall image, but they also feed a Phase Detection focus determination algorithm. It may still need some work (read this review from AKIHABARAnews), but on paper it’s a simple and elegant solution. Not surprisingly, Sony has a patent for an equivalent technology, and Panasonic is rumored to be working on another variant of the same idea.


10 years after the introduction of the first mass produced dSLRs by Canon and Nikon, digital photography has reached maturity. For the first ten years, manufacturers focused their attention on the sensors and on the processing algorithms, and retained the architecture of the AF SLRs from the mid eighties, which was itself derived from designs of the thirties. Now that the basic problems have been solved and that the consumers are happy with the equipment they own, manufacturers have to explore completely different routes if they want keep their production lines busy. Interesting times ahead.

Fujifilm Phase Detection AF (Hybrid AF)

Fujifilm Phase Detection AF (Hybrid AF) - Image Courtesy of Fujifilm


September 1, 2010

An update about film scanners: the Plustek Optic Film 7600i

Shutterbug-Sept 2010 cover page

Shutterbug-Sept 2010 cover page


Somebody in the PR department of Plustek must have done a good job: three leading publications, the paper magazine Shutterbug (in the September 2010 issue) and the on-line magazines Luminous Landscape and Imaging-Resource just published detailed reviews of the Plustek Opic Film 7600i scanner.


Now that Minolta (a few years ago) and Nikon (very recently) lost interest in 35mm film scanners, the Plustek 7600i and Epson Perfection V750-M are two of the few remaining options for amateur photographers looking for quality results in the $500 to $1,000 price range. Simpler and cheaper models are more gadgets than photographic tools, and the Nikon Coolscan 9000 ED currently sells for more than $2,000.


I’m not going to paraphrase the reviews. The best is to click on the links and read what the testers thought about the Plustek scanner and its software dotation:

  • Luminous Landscape: a review by Mark Segal. Mark published a short summary of his review in Luminous Landscape, and made a much more detailed review available as a downloadable PDF file. In his detailed analysis, he included a very interesting comparison of the Plustek with the Nikon Super Coolscan 5000 ED and the Epson V750-M Pro. A must read if you’re looking for a scanner right now.
  • Imaging-Resource offers a detailed review of the scanner, and also includes a comparison of two scanning applications, Vuescan and Silverlight.

  • Shutterbug is primarily a paper magazine, available in kiosks and in libraries such as Barnes and Nobles or Borders, but the guys at Shutterbug also make their archives available on line. They regularly publish reviews of scanners and tutorials about scanning. I recommend a very interesting article on how to scan Black and White film, published two years ago. As recommended by the author, I’m using chromogenic film (Kodak CN400) when I shoot in Black and White, and I’ve never regretted it. Interestingly the scanner used by the author, David B. Brooks, was a older Plustek model, the 7200.


    Luminous Landscape Plustek Scanner test

    Luminous Landscape Plustek Scanner test



    August 29, 2010

    It’s getting harder to have film processed around here

    Ferrari 250 GT Comp./61 SWB (1961)

    Ferrari 250 GT Comp./61 SWB (1961) - The Allure of the Automobile - Atlanta (Olympus OM-2s - Processed and scanned at Costco, in May 2010)


    So far, I was lucky. My local Costco warehouse was still processing film: I could drop a 35mm cartridge and have it processed, scanned and transferred to a CD in less than 60 minutes, for less than $5.00. The scanning was done on a good Noritsu machine, correctly tuned, which produced 3000 x 2000 digital images, equivalent to what a 6 Mpixel sensor would capture. The color balance was right, the accentuation minimal, and the saturation was kept within reasonable limits.


    Last week, the Noritsu was gone. The employee at the counter directed me to another Costco warehouse, in another part of town. They could develop the film, they could scan it, but could not transfer it to a CD because the CD burner was out of service. I had to come back two days later to get my CD, on which the pictures happened to be over saturated with a rather narrow dynamic range. Not encouraging.


    I’m afraid I will have to find another solution. I will try different options (other local minilabs, mail to order, pro labs), and I will report on my findings.


    If you can recommend a good lab in the Atlanta area or a good mail to order service, please feel free to do so.


    Thank you


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