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.

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 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


    July 13, 2010

    Underwater adventures – digital cameras make more sense


    I recently had the pleasure to spend one week snorkeling and scuba diving in the Caribbean. True to my calling, I had decided to bring a film camera, and purchased a Nikonos V on eBay a few weeks before the departure.


    The Nikonos V


    Nikonos V

    The Nikonos V (source: eBay)


    The Nikonos V, launched in 1984 and sold until 2001, is an underwater viewfinder camera with interchangeable lenses. It can operate at depths of 50m (150ft), beyond what is considered the limit for recreational scuba diving. Some lenses were specifically designed for underwater use, but the “standard” lens (a 35mm W-Nikkor) could also be used above the water, for white water sports or for photography in all sorts of very humid environments. A special “camouflage” version was even manufactured by Nikon for war correspondents following conflicts in some remote jungle.


    Technically, the Nikonos V – which is a viewfinder camera – is more or less aligned on the Nikon SLR bodies of the mid eighties: Through The Lens (TTL) exposure, aperture priority automatic shutter, and – importantly for an underwater camera – Through the Lens flash metering. I uses the same W and U/W Nikkor lenses as the previous Nikonos bodies, and provides no focusing assistance to the photographer, who has to guess the distance between the camera and the subject, and set the lens accordingly.


    I could not test the Nikonos V in its element. The one I bought on eBay happened to have a defective metering system, and the seller did not know enough about the camera to understand it did not work as it should have. I returned it and go my money back, but I was back to square one, with no camera for my vacation.


    Lesson #1: if you really want to buy a Nikonos V, buy it from a store specialized in underwater equipment. You will pay more (a good Nikonos V costs between $250.00 and $350.00) but the seller will be able to certify that the camera really works, and has not suffered from an unplanned bath of salt water in the past.


    The Nikon Action Touch


    Nikon Action Touch (source: eBay)

    Nikon Action Touch (source: eBay)


    When I bought the Nikonos V, I decided I needed a backup camera. I found (on eBay again) an old Nikon Action Touch, an autofocus Point and Shoot from the eighties, designed for use in depths of 10 ft (3 meter) or less. I had read good reviews of the camera, and since I could have it for less than $8.00, the risk was minimal. I tried it in a swimming pool. It seemed to work. On the first dive in the ocean, it died. Salty water had found its way in the film chamber, making the camera unusable.


    Lesson #2: old waterproof cameras do not necessarily stay waterproof over time, and a dip in a swimming pool can not be compared to a dive in the ocean.


    Lesson #3 is to take the claims of the manufacturers regarding the water resistance of their products with a grain of salt (no pun intended). Cameras manufacturers now use the IP code (International Protection Rating) to define the water resistance of their products in different circumstances (sprays, water jets, immersion, for instance), but the performance of older cameras was more loosely defined, and important safety margins have to be taken.


    The Canon Powershot D10


    Canon D10 (source: Canon)

    Canon D10 (source: Canon)


    With two old film cameras out of commission, I had to admit that underwater cameras do not age well, and that buying a new digital Point and Shoot camera was the safest solution if I wanted to bring back at least one picture from my trip. The Canon Powershot D10 was the winner of a dpreview test last summer. It is rated “IP8X” equivalent at 10m (33 ft), making it appropriate for beach activities and for snorkeling. The Canon D10 is a typical middle of the range digicam – with a 12 Mega Pixel sensor, a 35-105 equivalent zoom, and 18 different “special shooting modes”, including “underwater” and “beach”. Selecting a special shooting mode is the only thing the photographer can do: the camera will take care of the rest. It does a good job at it – most of the time – but the inability for the photographer to really control the exposure parameters can be frustrating in complex lighting situations (sunsets, for instance).


    Rated for depths up to 10 meters, the Canon D10 can not be used for scuba diving, but can be brought along when snorkeling. Its “underwater” special shooting mode is very good at finding the right color balance, but the shutter lag is typical of a point and shoot camera (far to high), the autofocus reacts too slowly – or not at all, and pictures of mobile subjects are very difficult to take. The LCD monitor has to be “on” all the time, which drains the battery rapidly. That being said, a good diver should be able to bring back decent pictures of relatively static subjects located in shallow waters.


    Lesson #4: even dpreview comparative test winners can not overcome the limitations of their middle of the range point and shoot origins. Waterproof digicams are small and light, and will be faithful companions of white water or snorkeling adventures. But they offer little control over the pictures and are limited to a few feet of depth, which explains why dedicated diver-photographers use high-end digicams or SLRs, that they protect with massive (and often massively expensive) underwater housings.


    What good diver-photographers do


    While on vacation, I had the pleasure to meet Dr Alain Feulvarc’h – he’s an MD, a passionate diver and amateur photographer who was volunteering as the scuba-doctor of our little group.


    He was not on the boat to teach underwater photography, but he shared a few tidbits of information: like most of the diver-photographers, he’s using a digital SLR enclosed in a metal underwater housing, and equipped with a very wide angle (10mm) lens. He also uses a 100 mm macro for close ups. Most pictures are taken with a flash (one strobe at least), and at close distance from the subject. He does not rely on the automation capabilities of the camera, and operates in manual mode. Underwater photography is a fairly complex activity, and using digital technologies improves the learning curve dramatically. I was surprised to see that even underwater, some photographers took the time to check the histograms of their images, and to adjust their settings accordingly; this trial and error process would be impossible with film.


    You can watch Dr Alain’s stunning pictures on Flickr.


    Star Fish - Turks and Caicos - Canon D10

    Star Fish - Turks and Caicos - Canon Powershot D10 - The star fish was lying on the sand, at a depth of 2m. (6 ft) approximately. It was well lit and static, and the camera had no difficulty capturing its image.




    More about underwater photography


    The excellent Photo.net published an interesting Underwater Photography Primer more than 10 years ago. At that time film photography still reigned supreme, but most of the principles exposed in the article still hold true.


    The pictures of Alain Feulvarch are on Flickr (aka Alain76 on Flickr)


    The characteristics of the Canon Powershot D10 are on Canon’s official site.


    The Nikonos family on Photography in Malaysia‘s web pages


    And for geekiest of us all, the detailed description of the IP ratings


    March 18, 2010

    An alternative to eBay? shopgoodwill.com

    Filed under: Gear, How to — Tags: , , , , , , , — xtalfu @ 12:01 am


    eBay has been here for 15 years now. Buyers and sellers had ample time to learn all the tricks of the trade, and if reasonably careful, they face little risk of a really bad surprise.


    A significant percentage of the sellers on eBay are professionals, or experts in their field. Others have been using a product for years and can write about its history. Most know the value of the products they’re selling, and how to attract the attention of their audience. They take good pictures of the items they want to sell, and because they want to preserve their hard earned feed-back, they won’t provide blatantly misleading product descriptions.


    But if the risk is somehow limited, the odds of scoring big are also getting pretty slim. With more than 200 million registered users, 2 million new auctions a day, and all sorts of search and reporting options, eBay is as transparent as a market can get. If the seller did his home work and followed the rules of the game when posting his listing, more than one buyer will notice, a small bidding war will take place, and the final price of the item will be very similar to the average of what similar items sold for during the weeks preceding the auction.


    Shopgoodwill.com – the online auction site of Goodwill Industries – is a much smaller marketplace. Founded in 1999, it “provides a safe and secure venue for Goodwill® member organizations to sell donated items through an online auction“.


    The photography related auctions of the day

    The photography related auctions of the day


    On Shopgoodwill, the cameras and lenses presented for auction have been donated, and the people describing the products know very little about their past. Most of them are not specialists of photographic equipment, either. They do not want to raise false expectations, and will stay extremely conservative in their assessments. In the best case, they will write that the product “appears to be in a good condition” or that it “appears to be working”, but all items are sold as is.


    The item descriptions are sometimes very generic (“Nikon Camera”) or written by someone who can’t tell the difference between a filter and camera (“Hoya 49mm camera made in Japan”). The quality of the pictures of the items improved significantly lately, but they are still low res, and it’s often difficult to find out what’s really being sold.


    While not as large as eBay, the number of potential buyers is far from small, and the odds are that a rare and valuable item will be discovered by more than one buyer. I’ve seen a few Leica cameras for sale on Shopgoodwill, and they all fetched good prices. But I’ve also seen nice vintage cameras stay unnoticed.


    So where is the fun? Shopgoodwill is like a garage sale or a flee market. Tonight 27,000 film cameras were listed on eBay. Less than 300 were listed on Shopgoodwill. You have relatively few items to look at, and you can go rapidly through the list of cameras or lenses being auctioned. The product descriptions are not always very good, but lovers of old equipment will raise to the challenge and put their geekiness to good use, with the hope of discovering a true gem.


    Example of a listing on Shopgoodwill.com


    Buying a camera or a lens at Shopgoodwill is a bit of a gamble. The intentions of the sellers are undoubtedly good, but their expertise is somehow limited, and the buyer will know little about the true condition of the item he’s bidding for. I never had the guts to buy a really expensive camera or lens on Shopgoodwill, and I never spent more than $30 on an item.


    The camera I bought (a Praktica camera sold under the “Cavalier” name in the US) was cosmetically nice, and ended up working after some TLC, in spite of its old age. I also bought a lens, on a separate occasion. Although a bit dirty, it was in good general condition, and proved to be a very nice item once cleaned. A good experience overall. Try your luck too; it’s for a good cause.



    More about Shopgoodwill.com
    The presentation of the Shopgoodwill site by Goodwill Industries
    A review of Shopgoodwill by Time: 50 best Websites 2009: Shopgoodwill.com



    Olympus OM-1 / Praktica LTL - The Praktica (sold as a Cavalier in the US) was bought on Shopgoodwill.com.

    August 23, 2009

    Buying photo equipment on eBay

    Filed under: Gear, How to — Tags: , , , — xtalfu @ 4:23 am


    I bought most of my cameras and lenses on ebay.com, sometimes through auctions, sometimes at  “buy it now” prices. I never had a bad experience so far.


    If you buy on eBay, you will face three types of sellers:

    • on-line stores specialized in photographic equipment, new or second hand.


    That’s the low risk option. Some stores limit their inventory to a few brands, and only carry high quality, very nice to pristine cameras. Others are less restrictive, and also have cameras which have lived a more difficult life. If your intention is to really use the camera you’re purchasing, buying a comestically challenged camera may be a good option, as long as it’s in good mechanical condition. Specialized stores are supposed to know what they sell, and will not plead ignorance if the product does not work or is not completely similar to the published description. They will arrange for a free return, and a refund.


    A word of caution, though: the products are evaluated before being listed, and the obvious lemons don’t pass, but the tests are not always as thorough as one would wish: a lens may have looked OK when tested on a particular type of body, but will fail to operate on another one, which is in theory 100% compatible but is interacting with the lens differently. Always test the equipment you purchased as soon as you receive it, and contact the seller if there is any issue. Reputable stores will listen to you, and they have a good return policy.


    Over the years, I bought cameras or lenses from Adorwin (the eBay store of Adorama), Betteroffblu, Cameta and Shutterblade and could appreciate their professionalism.

    • Stores not specialized in photography


    That’s the riskiest option, in my opinion. The store could be anything, from a pawn shop to an antique dealer, the worst being a dollar store or a shady repair shops buying broken electronic equipment in bulk and making one sellable camera out of 3 broken ones. Even if they know a few things about the products they’re selling, they will generally plead ignorance, and will offer little or no support if there is an issue with the equipment. I never had a really bad experience on eBay, but it’s with this type of seller that I came the closest to being seriously disapointed. Buyer beware.

    • Low volume and non professional sellers


    Low volume sellers belong to multiple sub categories. You will see items sold by a person who pretends he got the equipment he’s selling from a friend but that he knows nothing about it, and  you will find the passionate amateur photographer who bought his equipment new 20 years ago, used it day in day out and took great care of it; he will take pride in providing a honest and accurate description of his equipment, and that’s the person you want to be buying from.


    Because of the way the auctions work, the prices tend to be highly variable and very unpredictable. Professional sellers tend to protect themselves with a “buy-it-now” price, and if the item does not sell this time, they just list it again. Non professional sellers tend to use the auction system more than professionals. With the number of people watching eBay listings every day, it’s difficult to find a real bargain, but some sellers (lazy or inexperienced) still publish unappealing listings (blurry pictures, ambiguous descriptions) that a trained bargain hunter will be able to interpret to his advantage: I bought my Nikon F3 this way, at 30% of what the action would have reached if the listing had been professionally layed out.


    As always, do your homework and try and understand the market first (ads in magazines, completed items list on eBay). Set a limit for the price of the equipment you want to buy second hand. In any case, read the ads very carefully, ask questions, and only place a bid if you feel confident enough.


    Other reputable sources

    • keh.com -


      I never had the opportunity to buy second hand equipment from keh, but good friends did. keh has the reputation of being very conservative in the way they describe the equipment they’re selling (if they say it’s in good condition, then it’s very very good). They only sell over the phone or on the Internet – no walk-ins.

    • bhphotovideo.com -


      B&H is a big photo video mail to order company, with a huge brick and mortar store in New York. I bought new equipment from them on multiple occasions. A very pleasant experience. I never had the opportunity to buy second hand equipment from them, though.



    Feel free to share your comments and experiences. Thank you.


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