Friday, November 28, 2008

Black Friday

Last night after Thanksgiving I tuned into the news and caught an ad that really grabbed me. A local retailer was offering a major brand 8 megapixel point and shoot digital camera for $88, that’s $11 a megapixel! That really lowers the bar for anyone who wants a digital camera.

But I suspect the advertising offer was to lure people into the store at some unholy hour of the morning, really early and after eating too much turkey too!

Then on the news Thursday night there were pictures of people lined up already waiting for the stores to open wanting to be the first to get in to pick off the choice bargains. There were also other lines of people on video earlier in the day of those queued up in longer lines than ever to obtain a free Thanksgiving dinner. The too kinds of lining up in a single news broadcast had a disparate visual dissonance because although the purposes were worlds apart, the people did not look that different. In other words people that look like just about any other American in a crowd are lining up to spend money while others are lined up because they don’t have the price of a meal. This is a very different “hard times” from the Depression era photo’s we saw from the 30’s.

Speaking of which there is now access to much of Life Magazine’s photo archives that have been scanned and made available on Google. Anyone interested in history in photo’s, photo-journalism, or just great photography, it is all there in the images from the Life Magazine archives including the photos from the Depression like those made by Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

An LCD Display For Christmas?

If you are buying yourself a Christmas present or someone is that needs some guidance, a new LCD display for digital photography selection is getting better and more affordable this season. Among the prime manufacturers NEC is sporting a new, high performance “P” Series, with the new 22 inch Multicynch P221W model. It is designed for professional graphics users and is built on the success of the highly rated 90 series NEC displays. This new model is sold with a kit including a calibration and profiling sensor based on the the X-Rite i! Dispaly 2 hardware and software. The NEC Multisynch P221W LCD display is slated to be available in store in December 20008 at a street price of $636.

At the other end of the price spectrum for an LCD display suitable for digital photography is the LG Electronics 22 inch W2252TQ with an MSRP of $339,95. This is a new model LGE display with specifications similar to the Flatron L2000C I tested awhile back, I have no reason to doubt this new model will performa as well or better. Check out what LG has to say about this new model line at:

The big bang for the buck in professional graphics LCD displays in Samsung’s Syncmaster 245T model. Originally with a retail list price well over a $1,000.00, this large 24 inch widescreen display is currently listed for sale by B&H Photo-Video for $619.95. That’s not at all bad for one of the best brand-models I have tested for use doing digital photography.

Finally at the very pinnacle of display performance is the Eizo ColorEdge, and the CE210W model I tested with great satisfaction. I was particularly impressed using the Eizo software and direct computer to display control via a USB connection from computer to display, I was able to achieve the most precise and effective calibration and profiling compared to any LCD display I have worked with. the Color Management specialists are currently offering the Eizo ColorEdge CE 210W 21 inch LCD display for $1149 after instant rebate.


I am thankful for three days of gentle rain here in southern California ending a wildfire season that has been one of the worst.

I am thankful for an end of two years of often embarrassing political campaigning.

I am thankful for $4.00 gasoline that made people learn they can really drive their cars a bit less.

I am thankful for a slowdown in our economy that has awoken some to the fact we have become much too materialistic.

I am thankful for a financial crisis that has informed us we are too dependent on credit as the fuel for an excessive lifestyle.

I am thankful more Americans chose hope and change in their voting over more of the same politics of the last 30 years.

And I am thankful for having this new blog venue to share what I am thinking about digital photography.

Although the daily news keeps reminding us of bad times ahead there is really much to be thankful for if you just look for it.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Back To The Future

I am not thinking of a series of movies and time machines, but this week’s address by Barack Obama announcing his plans and intentions to put millions of Americans back to work. Of course newspaper columnists and TV pundits have already harkened back to the days of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the new Deal and its WPA organization to get people working during the Depression. But for me it recalled a very small part of the WPA that produced a lasting memorial to those times by a small team of photographers including Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange. Their photographs, many of which have become well known are now in the Library of Congress and anyone can order prints for a very nominal fee. Considering what an Ansel Adams print fom the same era would cost today, in many respects what the WPA photographers and the Library of Congress catalogue of images has provided the American public, I believe is really more “American”.

So the question is, will the Obama administration follow the precedent of the 1930’s WPA and put photographers to work documenting American life in this time for future generations to see and enjoy? It does not seem likely today’s politics and practical challenges will call for an exact repeat, a new New Deal or a WPA, but we can hope can’t we? Isn’t that the theme Obama won on? Of course if enough of Americas millions of photographers launched a letter and e-mail campaign via the Barack Obama web site ( who knows. He is our first “connected” President elect, although security concerns are threatening to turn off his Blackberry.

Interesting though there is a modern technology precedent that might add weight to the concept of a WPA photographer II project. It is maybe prescient that the Democratic wife of California’s Republican Governor, Maria Shriver recently unveiled the California Legacy Trails. This is a new Adobe software based interactive featured web site of the California Museum web site. It could very well be a model for a US national web site project that would be a perfect venue for the photographs (and video) if such a project as the WPA photography team should be revived by the Obama Administration.

Although I am just dreaming out loud of course, this new California Museum web site is an ideal model for how the American story can be told in a way anyone can relate to in words, photographs and video. The reason I find it ideal is that it is not just one story but many, as the American dream is not just one vision but many, as many as there are individuals who make up all of America. Take a look at this web site and I think you will find why I am inspired that it is a model, not just for the work of a new WPA photography team should that come about, but more importantly as a way to tell the American story to the children and even adults who could benefit by a broader understanding of what it is to be a human being in America.

View the video at:

Whether you agree with me or disagree, or have another thought, comment; or if you prefer, please write to me by e-mail at: I would like to hear from you.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Casualty Of The Economy

A well established name in scanners, Microtek will no longer have an independent American Company representing its products in the US. Their offices in California are scheduled to be closed on December 12 of this year. However in compliance with US law warranties, repair and parts will be available for Microtek owners and users through a website portal at:

Microtek International will continue to offer scanning solutions through partners and OEM relationships in the US from its headquarters in Taiwan. Whether models like the recent and popular ArtixScan M1 will continue to offered for sale in the US through other venues remains to be seen.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Best Of Both World’s

The popular phrase that acknowledges differences in “worlds” that may have particular advantages unique to each, took on new meaning to me today. I was upgrading an Apple Mac application called Parallels from version 3.0 to version 4.0, and realized the extent to which this software that supports running the Windows operating system on an Apple Mac seamlessly has changed the old concept of Apple vs Microsoft as an ether/or proposition to something else. I used to run both Apple Macs and a PC with Windows, but since Apple switched to Intel processors and became capable of also running other operating systems like Windows, I took advantage of this possibility and instead of replacing my old PC with a new one, just upgraded my Apple Mac and installed Parallels.

I chose to install Parallels Desktop, which is a software virtual machine, because unlike using the Apple Boot Camp solution to run Windows, you don’t have to re-boot to go from the Apple operating system to launch Windows. I often make screenshots for articles, or just make a quick reference to a Windows application to answer a reader question, so being able to switch from the Apple OS I do my work with to Windows seamlessly is a great convenience for me.

However my necessity to have a PC/Windows system to run applications that are exclusive to Windows to do my job writing about digital photography computing for an audience that is more Windows than Mac, obscured some advantages of having both operating systems on an Apple Mac I had not considered. The first awakening to these other advantages was when after obtaining a Kodachrome K3 IT-8 target slide I could use to profile my scanners specifically for scanning Kodachrome slides. I found none of the Apple Mac scanner profiling software I had was able to read the old “marilyn” style of IT-8 references Kodak used to produce the Kodachrome K3 targets. However remembering that some years back I had used Monaco Systems EZ Color profiling software on a PC, I dug through my huge stack of old software applications and found up a copy of version 2.0 of EZ Color. I installed it in Windows running on my Mac under Parallels, and found it worked fine, after also installing the original Windows driver for my now discontinued Minolta DiMage Scan Elite 5400-2 scanner.

This experience was useful a short time later when answering a reader’s question about a problem with an even rarer Minolta scanner the Multi-Pro model. This reader had just upgraded his Mac to Apple OS 10.5 and found that the SilverFast driver for his scanner would not work, and Lasersoft had not upgraded it for Apple version 10.5 and was not sure if or when that might get done. So I suggested he get and install Parallels and a copy of Windows XP Pro on his Mac. Then he could install the original Windows driver from the CD he got with the scanner and run it from Windows on his Mac.

Over the years I have collected software and most of the really old stuff is for Windows applications. I haven’t done it yet but as soon as I have the time I hope to have some old imaging resources available again I had given up on, but would still like to access. The reason is that as a for instance, an early version of Corel’s PhotoPaint had a marvelous collection of special effects filters that are not available in the current version or anywhere else for either Windows or Apple Mac. So I hope I can find the application CD’s for that old version of PhotoPaint. There are lots of such possibilities, like re-installing my very old copy of Lotus Notes address book so I can easily access the addresses of friends and acquaintances from years back from files I have stored on CD’s.

And, that reminds me - from the comments many people have made to me that they recognize an Apple Mac computer would be better(and definitely is) for their doing digital photography, but they don’t want to loose access to all of the Windows software they are used to. But by running Windows with Parallels on a new Intel Apple Mac they can still do all the computing things they did, and at no cost other than the time to re-install those programs. In addition I believe some of the intimidation caused by the idea of learning not just a new operating system but new applications too, would be lessened, and being able to go from the Apple OS to Windows, back and forth seamlessly, I know they would soon discover what I have learned, that doing computing on either system is not really very different.

The best of both worlds is having both with all the advantage of each. Check out Parallels 4.0 at

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Half Gone So Don’t Lose The Rest

A report on today says half of America’s photographic history will disappear. The research was done by a reputable company, GFK you can look up at, and it was underwritten by ScanCafe, whose business self interest is an obvious incentive to fund such a poll. But in this case their self-interest does not make me have any doubts, based on the information Shutterbug magazine readers have been providing over the last decade. The reports of home stored photographic images that have been lost to fading, fungus and mildew and just plain poor storage in a damp environment, would have me guess what is lost may be even more than half.

Photographers began using color film in ernest in the 60’s and as the 35mm SLR enthusiasm grew by leaps and bounds the total of accumulated consumer photographs people have stored in those ubiquitous shoe-boxes may be even more than the estimated 550 billion suggested by the research. I’ve been photographing and using color since the fifties and other than Kodachrome slides most of my color images from the first 15 years of my photography are not recoverable, and only the slides and very few color negatives from the mid 60’s through 1980 can be considered in good condition. And I am pretty careful about storage and live in a raltively dry climate. So any photographer with a library of film images in color if they want their images preserved, should think about scanning the film and then archiving the files, would be my recommendation.

But also from the e-mail I receive from Shutterbug readers I get the impression the cost of a good scanner is less of an inhibitor to scanning than a concern that scanning is an odious, boring task and is hard to learn. When I first began scanning film in the beginning of the 90’s the software was not user friendly and both scanners and computers were slow, so it was tedious. But as the technology has improved as well as what can be done in the scanning process to reproduce very fine photographic qualities sometimes from mediocre to poor quality film images, is a challenge that is both fun to do and extremely satisfying. It is every bit as interesting and engaging as old fashioned darkroom developing and enlarging was, but in a much more comfortable environment free of noxious fumes and squinting in the dim illumination of a safelight.

Of course some would rather consider having the scanning done for them and that’s why a company like ScanCafe exists. In fact for a period in my life I was too busy to do my own scanning and at the time Kodak offered scanning to a CD through a number of labs which I took advantage of. But like having color prints made, even by a top-dollar pro lab, I was seldom really satisfied the results were what I had in mind, and I really dislike being one of those difficult impossible to satisfy customers. So, now semi-retired I have been able to spend more time scanning, and the more I do the better I get at it, and the more enjoyment I get from making an image look even better than it did when I first made the photograph.

And today, when time may be easier to come by than money, at the affordable prices of a good scanner, it’s as good a hobby as taking pictures with a digital camera because other than a miniscule amount of electricity burned, it cost nothing to scan film, and almost nothing to archive the resulting files on Gold/Gold CD’s. I’ve now filled about 600 CD’s with scanned film images I made in the past, and I’m happy I’ll probably never finish scanning my entire library because I’m having more fun with photography than ever.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Visual Perception And Digital Photo Editing

Human vision is incredibly adaptive so you can see in bright sunlight on a ski-slope during mid-day and at night on the highway to drive home. But this adaptability being essentially automatic and subliminal can be a disadvantage because your perception of small brightness differences between screen and print is not obvious until the print becomes a physical reality that makes it apparent.

How this possibly occurs even if your display is calibrated and profiled is because although the display profile is referenced by Photoshop or other color managed applications, whatever the display values are, they are translated to the parameters defined by the workspace profile. In other words the high range of brightness values that characterizes an LCD display are interpolated into the color values dictated by the Adobe RGB (1998) workspace profile for instance, which is static, and then those values are actually displayed in that longer brightness range of the LCD display, and nothing in calibration and profiling reflects the value differential and difference in midtone value that could be passed on through to a printer driver and printer profile in the process of making a print.

So that is where the Output Transfer adjustment function to produce a perceptually brighter print comes in I have suggested, or the alternative of incorporating the correction in a custom printer profile.The fact the midtone setting is based on the longer brightness range of the LCD rather than the shorter range for accurate print output has to be has to be estimated and assmed to adjust output manually. The alternate suggested custom profile for output brightness correction of course is a relatively expensive and sophisticated solution that is an advantage because it will work for all photographers who use Elements, Lightroom. Aperture or iPhoto and do not have Adobe Photoshop CS’ Output Transfer to adjust print brightness to print from.

What I have really said is that human visual perception is individually adaptive and therefor dynamic, but a color managed digital photo editing and processing system is essentially static and is not capable of accommodating the relative brightness range difference between LCD displays and print output. The result is the “ubiquitous” problem “my prints are too dark”, often caused by the brightness range of LCD displays influencing misplacement of the midtone setting to effect printing. So it should be evident the solution is to make the Color Management system dynamic and capable of sensing the differential between display brightness range and print output potential so the output matches the screen’s expectation of what the print should look like. Unfortunately that would demand a major overhaul of the ICC color management structure standards, and is not likely to happen anytime soon if at all.

The alternative is to get application software companies to recognize the problem and introduce an adjustment like the Output Transfer function that is more direct and as easy as an adjustment slider in the Print dialogue to facilitate making the print output lighter or darker. An adjunct to a slider solution could be a much more sophisticated and accurate print preview in the Print dialogue window. That would make the adjustment process perceptual rather than trial and error, as is the case using the Output Transfer function. Of course I will do what I can to get such a software solution made available, but the more input from reader/users there is, the more weight there is in the balance in favor of making such a change.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Nothing Remains The Same For Long In This Digital World

Today, November 23, in the New York Times, Circuits by David Pogue, he said “Pixels Are Like Cupcakes”. Cute, and a good analogy that a digital photo sensor chip is like a sheet that cupcakes are baked in, and that each cupcake holder is like an R, G, or B sensor site, but rather than cake dough it gathers light focused on it by the camera lens. Then he goes on to argue that the size of the cupcake or sensor site is determined by the overall physical size of the sensor chip and the number of megapixels it has. Further he argues that as the number of megapixels is increased for a given sensor area size, the smaller the size of each sensor must be, so it gathers less light and therefore functions less effectively.

On that basis he claims it is better to buy a two year old digital camera design with 8 megapixels than a new, current model with 12 megapixels because the older model with larger sensor sites will produce better image quality. That argument would make sense if everything involved otherwise remained static for that two year difference. But it doesn’t! In the last two years new sensor chip materials have been introduced that have greater light sensitivity and new and better micro-lenses for the image sensor sites (a microscopic lens in front of each sensor site to focus and concentrate light into each sensor’s center) are being used. In other words the sensitivity deficiency caused by smaller sensor site size between and 8 megapixel and a 12 megapixel sensor array, may no longer be a performance factor because the sensor material and design of the newer 12 megapixel is better, and maybe even superior in image reproduction than the older 8 megapixel model. Americans have a general tendency to think because something is bigger it must be better, but technology research and development proves that wrong-headed every day in this new digital world we live in if you consider products like Apple’s iPod or iPhone.

But even old film technology should if understood, argue in favor of the idea that the more image information the better the photographic quality, and a 12 megapixel digital camera captures and reproduces more image information than an 8 megapixel. Isn’t that the same principle as using a slow, fine-grain film to get better photo quality compared to using a fast, grainy film? The more grains of silver per square millimeter of film, with fine-grain film, would have to result in more information and therefore better image quality. Likewise photographers who wanted to improve the quality of their photographs would upgrade from 35mm to 120 size film, medium format cameras because the larger film size area recorded more image information, hence better photographic image quality.

The New York Times Circuit feature with David Pogue covers every kind of electronic/digital gadget consumers are buying these days. That’s a pretty wide field, so if he isn’t entirely savvy about digital photography that’s understandable. That he has a critical eye for product shortcomings, like Apple leaving out the FireWire support in its new MacBooks is a legitimate criticism and useful to consumers. But over a long period of time, Pogue has tried to claim that more megapixels does not produce better photographic image quality. That seems to me to be pandering with false sympathy for the digital photographers who may not want to keep up with the manufacturer’s megapixel race and its forced obsolescence. Sure you buy a little reader empathy, even loyalty, but by misleading them?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Color Management - A Necessary Evil?

In this month's (December) issue of Shutterbug I have an article on page 68 initiated by a number of e-mail questions to Digital Help asking about various aspects of one problem: getting prints that match the image on your computer screen. Soon after the issue hit the newsstands I was informed that "prints too dark" was a big issue on the Adobe web site with over a hundred posts, and there were pages of references to it on Google. Some, and not just a few were a little angry that their printer manufacturer's support was helpless, and as far as I read there were few in the Adobe Forum who had any clues.

Fortunately a couple of years ago or so, doing some beta testing for color management products, I saw the possibility of this problem arising. But no one at the time was interested - they should be now! It's not your printer's fault, nor is it caused by the printer driver, or for that matter your operating system or the photo image editing application you are using. The cause of the problem "my prints are too dark" is your visual perception has been deceived by the nice bright new LCD display connected to your computer. I am not sure but I doubt any of those still using a big, heavy old CRT monitor, are among those reporting this print/screen mismatch problem.

Why LCD displays are at the root of this is they are half again or more brighter than a CRT, and a CRT's range of brightness almost exactly matches the range of reflective brightness in a print. Let me put it this way, imagine there are two ladders side by side, one 10 feet high, the other 15 feet. If you climb up half way on the 15 foot ladder and look across at the 10 foot ladder you will be looking at the top rungs of the 10 foot ladder, and vice versa, if you climb half way up the 10 foot ladder you will be looking at the lower rungs of the 15 foot ladder. This is the situation you have with an LCD display. When you color correct and adjust either Raw camera files or scans of film, one of the things you do to make it look ideal to your perception is to adjust the image brightness. This establishes the location of the image midpoint in Photoshop's Levels, or what you do with a slider in Elements or LightRoom to adjust image brightness. But when that information as to the location of the image's midpoint brightness value is conveyed to your printer it "assumes" the information is coming from a brightness range that is the same as the printer's, which reproduces a smaller brightness range, and there is a mismatch and the printer reproduces the image with its midpoint much lower than it should be. By the way, if the print is made so the printer driver manages color and not the application using Color management, too dark prints do not result because the driver is adjusting the image, but then usually the color does not match what's on your screen.

The workaround or fix I recommended in the Shutterbug workflow article is the Transfer Function Output option that is available in the Print (preview) window dialogue of all Adobe Photoshop CS versions, which supports compensating to output a brighter print. But what about photographers using Adobe LightRoom or Photoshop Elements, and Apple users printing from Aperture or iPhoto? There are ways to negate the misperception of image brightness with LCD displays so when you are adjusting images the midpoint will be set so the print output will be lighter. One is to adjust the lighting in your computer's environment so the area immediately behind the LCD display is much brighter. This will trick your vision to perceive the screen darker and to then set the image brightness higher. Another way to accomplish the same thing is to get a piece of neutral density gel (from a pro camera dealer like Adorama or B&H) that reduce light transmission 50% and put the gel in front of your display screen. You may ask, why not just turn down the brightness of the display? My answer is, to reduce the display brightness enough (and you would lower the contrast control to reduce the white luminance level), I think you will find the image reproduction quality will be muddy and probably unsatisfactory.

Finally, some of the reported problems may have different causes, like choosing the wrong printer profile or some other error in workflow. However, if your situation differs, or you have a solution to suggest, and if you don't have access to a copy of Shutterbug to read the article drop me a line by e-mail at: (or, the article will be archived at the first week of December.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Breaking Out Of The Herd

It has always been my nature to find what works for me regardless of whether most everyone else is doing something different. Since 1975 I have purchased and driven Saab cars almost exclusively, and still drive a Saab. When I was a freelancer in the 60's my colleagues used Nikons and I preferred the Topcon 35mm SLR camera system. And if I were not already very invested in another brand I think I'd probably choose and buy a Sigma digital camera. Not just to be different than the herd, but the technology and thinking Sigma employs I believe has positive image quality performance advantages.

Today Sigma announced their company has purchased Foveon, Inc, the California company that developed the unique 3 layer Foveon X3 sensor technology that has been featured in Sigma's SD14 dSLR digital camera and the recent DP1 compact digital camera.

Along with the announcement of the purchase of Foveon Sigma also released news of these two Sigma models in improved and upgraded models, the DP2 compact, and the SD15 dSLR. The latter will now also offer the convenience advantage of JPEG output using the new TrueII image processing engine from the DP2.

I used and tested the first Sigma dSLR the SD10 when it was released some time back, and was very much impressed with the quality of images it produced. I will look forward I hope to an opportunity to try out the Sigma DP2 next year after it is released, as it would be nice to have a walk-around compact in my pocket that would be capable of producing more than typical snapshot quality and would complement a professional dSLR system camera.

I have found that the people I have known who have been seriously dedicated to photography are inclined to be a bit more individual and independent than most people. That may be a part of photography's appeal because going out and making photo graphs is a rather solitary activity rather than team sport. And that too may be why I have always had an eye for the unusual that stands out from the crowd, which Sigma surely does with their cameras. True some odd-balls should be viewed with some skepticism, but my experience with cars and cameras has taught me sometimes not following the same path as most are traveling leads to good places. It sure has as far as finding little jewels of scenery to photograph on seldom travelled back roads. I think the Sigma compact digital DP2 and dSLR SD15 should be considered too as exceptional standouts and taken very seriously if ultimate photographic image quality is a photographer's goal.

Saturday, November 8, 2008


On October 14 Apple announced new MacBook notebook models. One of the performance features was for both ends of the model spectrum, new more powerful and robust video processing chips, something that photographers using laptops in the field should welcome. But hidden and overshadowed in these MacBook announcements was an entirely new Apple LCD display that is configured specifically to complement these new MacBooks.

This newest Cinema Display is to me in many ways more significant than the new notebook models, if it portends a new line of Apple Cinema Displays which is very much overdue. The reasons I say this is this latest Cinema Display is a distinct and advanced departure from the current line of Apple LCD displays. Most significantly instead of CCFL backlight it uses LED's as the light source, which environmentalist will applaud as there is no mercury to dispose of when the display's life is over. Plus LED's also provide a more even distribution of light. LED backlight LCD displays wereintroduced some time ago by the major manufacturers like NEC and Samsung, but in very expensive usually 20 inch models. This new 24 inch LED Cinema Display has a list price of $899 which is competitive for a premium product clad fancilly in aluminum. And like the most recent iMacs this LCD has a glass front cover that although shiny and reflective does protect the screen from dirt and minor damage.

However that this new 24 inch Apple Cinema Display is not offered but for use with MacBooks (or possibly iMacs) limits its market potential, and that is curious. So of course the question is does this new model provide a look into the future of a new line of Apple Cinema Displays? What makes it a MacBook companion is the interface connector has a mini DVI plug to connect directly to a MacBook, and that cable is bundled to include a cord to provide power to charge and run the macBook as well as a USB connector with a powered hub in the display housing with UB outlets so printers, scanners and other accessories can be immediately available when the MacBook is connected to this new Cinema Display. This new Apple Cinema Display also has speakers, a microphone and videocam to support video conferencing for instance with a plugged in MacBook.

The one question I still have besides whether this new 24 inch LED Apple Cinema Display is a look at a whole new range of LCD displays, is whether the LED backlight uses just all white LED's or a mix of RGB LED's which could support a much higher color gamut performance. The RGB LED's seems unlikely though at the price point quoted. And I wonder could I get an adapter and run this new display off of one of my desktop Macs, or is it worth waiting to see if more new LED Apple Cinema Displays will be announced after the first of the year, along with a suggested new Mac Mini?Even more intriguing is the question will the LCD display manufacturers like Samsung. LGE, Eizo and NEC follow Apple's lead and offer affordable, large LED backlight pro-graphics LCD displays any time soon. My guess, depending on how bad the economy gets, is yes!

Saturday, November 1, 2008


Dynamic range was not a term that was often used in film days for those subjects which had a subject brightness range in f/stops greater than could be squeezed onto film, especially the six or so stop range of color transparency films. But digital has introduced a relatively easier fix for taking effective photographs of a cityscape at night, the interior of an old European cathedral or in a rain forest. So now it is a bit of a rage, if it can be done, so let's all do it! I received a review copy of a book by Jack Howard titled PRACTICAL HDRI that should have been encouraging, and decided not to review it. Besides covering only Photoshop HDR and a few 3rd party odd-ball solutions, the results printed in the book would inspire me only to say why would I want to do this.

It seems like an eternity ago when I was on staff at Petersen's PhotoGraphic located in Hollywood and only motivated to take photos of the city at night because it was so ugly during the day. And of all extremely long brightness range subjects the city at night can measure usually at least 10 to 12 f-stops from shadow to highlight excluding the light sources themselves. There were solutions to this challenge with film before Photoshop, which I employed and wrote about in Petersen's PhotoGraphic for both black and white and color. But there really was not much interest, as they were difficult to use, but not much more so to get good results than the HDR utility Adobe put into Photoshop some time back. However the challenge was largely the same. How do you get a good image on a print when the range of the subject is so great when compressed to what will reproduce photographically that the image has so little internal contrast and tone separation so it looks flat!!!!

With black and white film many of us used some regimen of exposure and development like The Zone System to control subject contrast relative to the range of densities that could be printed. But ten or twelve f/stop range subjects were beyond even that. So the newest technique in the 80's was to use an extended range developer like what was made by Kodak for developing Tech Pan high contrast copy film to get normal contrast negatives of average scenes with super fine grain as well as superb sharpness in 35mm B&W photographs. This developer was formulated originally by the military for tactical photographic surveillance and consisted almost entirely of Phenidone and Sodium Sulfite, but without some added tweaking was even too soft a working developer. But used with a more standard fast B&W film like Kodak Tri-X with its film speed lowered by a factor of about 10X or more you could obtain a negative of a 10 plus f/stop cityscape at night and print it in #2 paper and get detail in the deepest shadows and the brightest highlights.

In the film days, long subject brightness range color was a bit more difficult with transparency films, but there was an option. Duplicating color reversal film in 35mm, 70mm and sheet sizes had a much lower inherent contrast response, to counter the contrast multiplication copying a color film image onto another reversal color film involved. But duplicating color transparency films were both very slow, balanced to a tungsten light source, and varied in color response from one emulsion batch to another. This meant a lot of filtration adjustment to achieve an acceptable color response in the result, including converting from a tungsten color temperature balance to daylight and Color Correction filtration to compensate for the peculiarities of each emulsion batch of film used. So pre-testing was required and then your stock of film had to be refrigerated to keep it the same over any period of storage time. But with this done, as long as you could deal with an effective film speed usually well below ISO 10 you could obtain good transparency results with extreme contrast subjects of many kinds, as long as they were stationary.

With digital the HDR solution is dependent on being able to make a set of exposure bracketed frames in Raw format with the camera on a tripod so the frames will register when layered and blended together. That the basics that were supported by the Photoshop HDR utility, which supports putting up to five bracketed frames together to make one photograph that has detail across a wide subject brightness range, like the kinds of subjects I mentioned above. First of al,l some experimenting is necessary to get the range of different exposures needed that will provide a blended image with good photo qualities. And the old bugaboo that when you compress a 10 or 12 f/stop range into a single image that is printed, the separation between the tones is decreased markedly and the image can look flat, and there may be insufficient tone differences in the print separating different parts of a subject that in reality were well distinguished in tone and brightness.

The failure of the Photoshop HDR utility is there is not a good method incorporated to optimize the image characteristic curve to enhance areas of internal contrast and tone separation. Maybe some of the third party utilities Jack Howard described in Practical HDRI, function better but I did not read anything that was encouraging, and his results were not convincing.

However for anyone who can run Microsoft Windows applications, the Corel PaintShop Pro X2 version I tested and reviewed not long ago in Shutterbug has an HDR utility that has an optimization function and it is a much simpler and easier utility to use than the Photoshop version, maybe because Adobe was first with an HDR solution and those that have followed have learned from that.

The bottom line is HDR, especially for landscape and architecture photographers and those who like to shoot nighttime scenes in the city, PaintShop Pro X2 is an under $100 solution that works well enough for any enthusiast, and the cost of effort and learning is also modest to obtain advantaged photographic results from photographing subjects with a much greater subject brightness range than any digital camera can capture in a single exposure.