Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Photo: Epson Picturemate Review

I've been shooting with digital cameras for many, many years and have had dozens of photo printers of various makes and models. But, none have impressed me in terms of convenience and usefulness as much as the Epson Picturemate Deluxe Viewer Edition.

While I feel that HP printers are good general purpose printers and have had virtually every HP Photo Printer from the original PhotoSmart that used dyes to the HP 7550 series, I have come to appreciate the color qualities of the Epson line of printers for photos. I have come to depend on Epson printers for my more serious photo work.

So, it was natural for me to be interested in the PictureMate. But, I wasn't prepared for just how much I was going to like it or how versatile I've found it to be.

The quality of the printed photos are excellent. But, what really makes this my favorite printer is the fact that it's portable enough to take on trips and to family events. It can even be battery powered!

We have two grandchildren and enjoy taking them on outings fairly freguently. This past summer we visited Sesame Place for a few days. We've found it wise to take breaks in the middle of the day on excursions like this. So, at each break we would print out the pictures taken while we were in the park. The children could relive their experiences immediately. This was not only extremely fun for them; but, it helped to crystalize their thoughts concerning their activities of the day and plans for repeating favorite rides and activities.

Another application that I've come to appreciate is to use the PictureMate to proof photos as they are being taken. This is particularly great for shooting on location. It's very difficult to see the true quality of an image in the camera's small LCD screen. Before leaving a location I print out photos to ensure that we got what we think we got. This is true whether I hire a professional photographer or do the shoot myself.

Before buying my daughter a PictureMate, she was good about shooting digital photos but not so good at printing them. Now, she is good at both. The fact that the ink and paper come in the same package makes it easy to keep both on hand. There is no fussing with slecting paper sizes in a software application so every print is the correct size and orientation.

She especially appreciates the ability to easily crop photos right in the printer. The cropping guide in the Deluxe Viewer Edition's screen leaves out all the guesswork and the results are excellent.

We generally print directly from the memory cards; but, the printer does have the ability to print from a camera via PictBridge or from the computer via USB.

My one complaint is that while you can print the data and time on your photos, you can not print the name of the image file. While it's not a 'show stopper' it is a serious oversight in an otherwise wonderful product. Digital photo names are so cryptic that it would be helpful to be able to instantly see the file name of a favorite shot for printing larger or sending via the internet to friends. Hopefully this will be corrected in future models.

Video\Photo: Ambient Light Impact

You don't have to be shooting video for very long before you begin to realize that room lighting, windows and even the time of day outdoors can really change the color fidelity of your video.

Here's why.

Today's video cameras capture images in three colors-- Red, Green and Blue. These separate color channels are combined to form a final image. To produce true white the red, green and blue values must be equal in intensity.

The light that a camera captures is either reflected light or direct light. The bulk of the image is usually reflected light. But, not all light sources are created equal. Every light source is comprised of wavelengths of light at various intensities. The wavelengths generated by different light sources can be measured with something called the Spectral Power Distribution Curve.

Here is a sample of a normal incandescent bulb:

Notice that the highest power output for this type of bulb is in the red and yellow wavelengths and that there is very little blue light generated. What you can't see is that most of the light generated by incandescent bulbs is in the form of heat. When this light is reflected off of a white card and is captured by the CCD in your video camera the result is a very orange image. That's because the blue capture cells might have a value of 1o%, the green a value of 50% and the red a value of 100%. To make the captured image look white, the blue value must be boosted 1000% and the green value must be boosted by 200% just to match the value of red.

This is called "White Balancing" and it can be performed automatically or manually in most video cameras.

If you White Balance your camera manually and take it outside, everything that you shoot will appear to be blue. That's because daylight has a very different Spectral Power Distribution Curve than incadescent bulbs. Here's what it looks like:

Notice that daylight has a lot more blue than it does green or red. So, if you boosted the blue value 1000%, the green value by 200% and left the red value alone as we did with the White Balance for incandescent then the blue value would far outweigh all the other values resulting is a very blue overall image. To correctly White Balance for this light source we actually have to boost the red values and leave the blue values as is.

So, you can see why a person standing beside a window with one half of their body lit by incandescent bulbs and the other side lit by the daylight coming through the window would never be able to be entirely color corrected. One side or the other would show up incorrectly.

But, there is another type of bulb that really gives videographers and photographers fits. That's the flourescent bulb. It has an entirely different pattern to it's Spectral Power Distribution Curve. And, to make matters worse there are several different types of flourescent bulbs commonly in use. Here's a typical 'Cool White' bulb:

The most notable thing about flourescent lights is that the bulk of their light output is in the form of spikes at particular color wavelengths. Look at that massive green spike. That's why when you shoot in a room having standard Wool White flourescent bulbs that faces tend to look greenish. Again, you can color correct this using White Balance; but, if you have mixed lighting in a room something in the image is going to suffer.

In recent years, the manufacturers of flourescent lighting have developed tri-phosphor 'Daylight Balanced' bulbs that generate total light output that mimics the great outdoors. While these bulbs don't have the continuous power distribution of natural sunlight, it doesn't really matter much, since your camera's CCD doesn't capture light continuously either! It can't directly capture magenta wavelengths. It synthesizes them by combine blue values and red values. Here is the Spectral Power Distribution Curve for Daylight balanced flourescent bulbs.

All of these images came from GE's web site. It's well worth visiting the site and comparing the Spectral Power Distribution Curves of all the various type of lighting you might encounter.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Video: Store tapes on edge

Video tape should not be stored laying flat. While it's OK to do so for a short while, it's important to stand them up on edge for storing them for long periods of time. Extended periods of laying flat can warp and flatten the down-side edges of tapes... which is NOT a good thing.

Make sure that any video storage racks that you buy orient the tape so that it is not laying flat. Here is a link to a site that carries MiniDV racks that orient the tape both correctly and incorrectly.


The storage product that I would choose would be one of the 'Turtle' cases, not the racks at the top of the linked page.

Video: Don't forget the old folks!

When you are shooting family events it's natural focus on the children. But, please, don't forget the adults... particularly the old folks.

I regret that someone didn't give me that advice when I been shooting video more than 30 years ago. Our generations are the first to be able to capture the personalities of what will be the ancestors of your granchildren. Now that my own grandparents are gone, as is my father, I realize what a precious gift that is.

When I began shooting, my children were just babies. 1/2" portable recorders could only record 20 minutes per reel and it was relatively expensive. (A 20 minute tape cost about $15 in 1968 dollars.) Taping was generally reserved for special events like birthday parties and Christmas. There were plenty of older people at these events; but, the only way you'd know that is by shots of their legs as a child walked past or a fleeting glimpse as the camera panned from one child to another.

Through sheer luck I managed to capture my maternal grandparents; but, I cannot find any footage of my paternal grandparents. That's a great lost for my own grandchildren. Fortunately, my father shot some 8mm films that include images of all of my grandparents; but, it's just not the same as having a video.

But, as recording times became longer, tape became cheaper and I wised up, I determined to deliberately find opportunities to video tape older members of our extended families. As a result, my granddaughters not only see their mommy as a baby; but, they can see my own father and mother and my wife's mother and father playing and interacting with her. They and their children have the opportunity to appreciate the wonderful legacy of our parents and their great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents.

In an earlier post, I mentioned that my brother-in-law lost the only videotapes he had of his father due to a theft. In making some copies of my own tapes, I ran across one that included his father and gave him a copy. By the time I ran across these tapes his father had died. I'll never forget his reaction as he watched the tape for the first time. "I can hear his voice, I can hear his voice..."

I urge you to make sure that you and your children's children will be able to have that same experience as your own older generations pass away. Don't forget the old folks.

Video: Copy, Copy, Copy!

I shot my first videotape more than 37 years ago. For a few of those years (13+) I shot video professionally, creating documentaries, training videos and news footage. But, the bulk of these years of video production have been dedicated to capturing my family's memories for future generations.

When I see a young couple in the electronics department of a store, picking out a video camera, I can't resist giving them at least one piece of advice.... Copy, Copy, COPY your videotapes or DVDs as soon as you can. The reason is that I know, from firsthand experience, that all video media is fragile and that important family memories can and will be lost over time if copies are not made as quickly as possible.

Video tape is made by marrying a layer of oxide with a substrate to a backing of plastic. The plastic can stretch and warp and the substrate can deteriorate, releasing the oxide particles resulting in 'dropout'. DVD's are made by encapsulating a layer of photosensitive material in a plastic sandwich. Many people mistakingly believe that DVDs will last forever. But, many things can cause them to fail prematurely. Even the color of the material makes a difference in the lifespan of the DVD. Scratches, fingerprints and other abuse compound the problem.

In the years that I've been shooting video many formats have come and gone. I first shot on 1/2" reel-to-reel black and white equipment. Then came 3/4" U-Matic, VHS, VHS-C, 8mm, Hi-8, Digital-8 and MiniDV. (I do not intend to use a DVD camera for a variety of reasons.) Of all these formats, the most robust has been the VHS and VHS-C tape. The least robust has been the digital formats. 1/2" Reel-to-reel tape decks are hard to come by these days; but, I have one that will play back some of my original recordings. However, they are in pretty back condition and are deteriorating rapidly. I do not expect my digital video recordings to last anywhere nearly as long. And, in fact, have lost some portions of digital tapes in a remarkable short time.

But, tape deterioration isn't the only thing that can rob you of your memories. Theft, fire and flood are other causes of loss that are eaully devastating. My brother-in-law returned from a vacation and as he was going back and forth between house and car unloading someone managed to steal his video camera. The camera could be replaced. But, he also had left some recorded videos in the case with the camera and those could not be replaced. Among them were the only video recordings of his father in his possession.

So, I copy.

These days I like to use a standalone DVD recorder to make my backup copies becuase it's fast and convenient. But, it doesn't really matter whether you copy to a VHS tape, capture them onto a computer harddrive or copy directly into DVD format. The important thing is to make a backup of your precious videos as soon as you possibly can. I further suggest that you make multiple copies so that you can send some of the copies to members of your family that do not live in your home so that all is not lost if disaster should hit your home.

Finally, have a plan to make new copies at least every five years. This is becuase the copies, whether on DVD or videotape will, themselves, begin to deteriorate over time. Even though my current direct copies of my 1/2" tapes are sometimes barely visible, the copies I made from the VHS backup tapes and VideoCDs over the years are still in pretty good shape. Now that they are on digital format, I shouldn't have any more visual degradation as long as I remember to copy my copies to ensure that if a DVD copies begins to deteriorate all is not lost.

You bought your camera with the future in mind. Make sure that what that camera captures is there to enjoy in that future. Copy, Copy, Copy.