Editor's Choice 2007: Imaging Essentials

Editor-s-Choice-2007-Imaging-Essentials
Editor-s-Choice-2007-Imaging-Essentials

Here's where we mix it up, and where you'll find all the new photo products that didn't fit into our standard Editor's Choice categories - plus a few late-breaking cameras. Among the items you'll find here are the Epson Perfection V-750-M Pro flatbed scanner; Colorvision's PrintFIX Pro color calibration suite; and even some film, including Kodak's new, improved Professional Porta and Fuji's old-is-new Velvia 50 revival. You'll even find a sidebar on some of the most interesting new inkjet papers.

Colorvision PrintFIX PRO Suite

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This powerful color-management package incorporates the Spyder2PRO monitor calibration system with its spider-like reader that attaches to your computer screen (a 2006 Editor's Choice selection), and its companion RGB-based print-matching system. In addition to software, the system includes a handheld Datacolor 1005 spectrocolorimeter and patch-reading hardware. Unlike monitor-only calibration, this pairing gives you monitor-to-print consistency out of one box, and at a price way lower than what you'd pay for lab-level systems. Yet the PrintFIX PRO Suite is designed so that you can follow every step if you're a color novice (teaching you in the process), or skip ahead to profiling if you're experienced. Its sophisticated patch reader saves data from calibration targets in LAB format, allowing you to get consistent results with a wide variety of printer, ink, and paper combinations -- not always possible with downloaded ICC profiles. About $600.

Fujichrome Velvia 50

The transparency film that redefined color photography is back after a short but painful absence. And to our eyes it looks pretty much the way it always did, with intense color saturation, practically invisible grain, and an eye-popping, hyper-real sharpness. But Fuji couldn't just resort to the film's original formula: Its engineers had to match the old nature photographer's standby with a different mix of chemicals, one more environmentally friendly. What can you say about a film that died? That it has an RMS granularity of 9? That's it's available in sizes up to 4x5 sheets? How about, we're glad it's back? Compare prices.

Kodak Professional Portra films

The Portra family was already one of the best-ever lines of color negative film in our view. With this latest generation Kodak has re-engineered the grain to make it visibly finer. That makes a good thing a little better with Portra 160 and Portra 400, both still available in Natural (NC) and Vivid (VC) color versions. But it makes us love Portra 800, the fastest member of the family, all the more. There's really no better choice in the color-negative world for high-quality available-light photography, whether you're doing portraiture or not. Compare prices.

Imaging Essentials: Colorvision PrintFIX PRO Suite | Fujichrome Velvia 50 | Kodak Professional Portra films | Digital Foci Photo Safe | Kodak EasyShare 5500 | Sigma SD14 | Epson Stylus Photo 1400 | Epson Accolade Duet projection screen | Epson PowerLite S5 projector | HP Scanjet G4050 | Pantone huey PRO | Made Products Camera Armor | Epson Perfection V750-M Pro | Sigma 200-500mm f/2.8 EX DG APO | Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX100 | SmartParts Digital Picture Frame | Fujifilm FinePix S3 Pro UVIR | MediaStreet eMotion Bluetooth Digital Picture Frame | Delkin SensorScope | Canon DC50 | Adorama Belle Drape Muslin Backgrounds | Logitech 3Dconnexion SpaceNavigator | Kodak EasyShare Z1275 | X-Rite i1 DisplayLT | Sanyo Xacti E1 | Duracell PowerPix batteries

|||| |---|---|---| | American PHOTO Editor's Choice 2007| | Intro | Entry-Level DSLRs | Advanced DSLRs | Professional DSLRs | Digital Rangefinders | SLR Lenses | Camera Cellphones | Imaging Software | Fine-Art Printers | Superzoom EVFs | Digital Compacts | Ultrathin Compacts | Storage and Display | Computers | Snapshot Printers | Lighting | Tripods | Camera Bags | Imaging Essentials| Thanks to all the staffers and contributors who worked on this extensive product roundup, including Russell Hart, Marvin Good, Jonathan Barkey, Steve Pollock, Pete Kolonia, Jack Howard, and Theano Nikitas.

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The best vacation accessory for your digital SLR is probably not that monster zoom but, rather, a compact digital storage unit that lets you safely offload images from your memory cards while you're still traveling. Then, once you're home, you just copy the unit's contents to your computer. Digital Foci's rechargeable battery-powered Photo Safe is among the most affordable and convenient devices in this category. It incorporates a capacious hard drive (up to 120GB) and two memory card slots in a small (4.6x3x0.8-inch) rugged plastic case. Unlike costlier units (such as Digital Foci's own large-screen Picture Porter Elite multimedia player), the Photo Safe is strictly for backup, not image viewing. Its 1.8-inch monochrome, alphanumeric display indicates remaining disk space, copying progress (from zero to 100 percent), battery status, and other key information. Using two buttons you can backup a memory card, erase it completely, or transfer files from a smaller format (SD, xD, or Memory Stick) to CompactFlash or Microdrive. When connected to your computer via Hi-Speed USB 2.0 (which also charges the unit), the Photo Safe behaves like an ordinary hard drive as well as a memory card reader. About $135 (40GB), $160 (80GB), and $200 (120GB).

Kodak EasyShare 5500

An "all in one," or AiO as the category has been dubbed, isn't a viable alternative to a photo-quality printer. We've found it handy to have one, though, and the output is entirely serviceable whether you're printing from memory cards or scanning prints for copies. Kodak's top AiO does both, using inks (and paper, though that's a matter of contention) that are considerably less costly than name-brand competitors. Kodak says 4x6 color prints from the EasyShare 5500 cost 10 cents apiece, which is as cheap as the cheapest retail photofinisher and way below the typical 25 cents or more of dedicated 4x6 snapshot printers.

The EasyShare 5500 includes a copier, fax, automatic document feeder or duplexer attachment, and a 2.4-inch LCD screen for picture-review. The bottom line is that a pair of 10ml cartridges, one a dedicated black for text printing and one CMY and a photo black (which also includes a clear overcoat) will set you back as little as $21, less expensive than inks for most competing four-color models. (The AiO itself is a little pricier than some comparable models.) So you can let your kids burn through ink and paper on the 5500 and keep the photo-quality printer to yourself. About $300.

American PHOTO Editor's Choice 2007
Intro Entry-Level DSLRs Advanced DSLRs | Professional DSLRs | Digital Rangefinders | SLR Lenses | Camera Cellphones | Imaging Software | Fine-Art Printers | Superzoom EVFs | Digital Compacts | Ultrathin Compacts | Storage and Display | Computers | Snapshot Printers | Lighting | Tripods | Camera Bags | Imaging Essentials
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This innovative camera is unique among its peers -- the only digital SLR with an image sensor that works essentially the same way as film, recording color with separate red-, green-, and blue-sensitive layers. That proprietary chip design allows the SD14 to record a full spectrum at each pixel location, rather than having to interpolate color as other cameras do. The payoff is purer hues, sharper per-pixel detail, and the absence of moiré patterns produced by conventional CCD and CMOS designs. The SD14's second-generation Foveon X3 sensor has 4.6 million pixels per layer, capturing 35 percent more than its predecessor, the Sigma SD10. Its resolution is comparable to that of a conventional 10-megapixel D-SLR. The SD14 also gets a much bigger, brighter pentaprism viewfinder; a new five-point AF array; a pop-up flash; a rechargeable Li-ion battery; and, perhaps the most useful improvement, the ability to shoot JPEGs in addition to Sigma X3F RAW files. We particularly like the removable filter protecting its mirror chamber and sensor from dust. Take it off and the SD14 becomes an excellent tool for infrared photography. Now reduced to $1,199.

Epson Stylus Photo 1400

This is the new dye-based model in Epson's lineup of 13-inch, wide-carriage printers. Compared to its predecessor, the long-lived Stylus Photo 1280, the SP1400 offers three big advantages: faster printing, higher maximum definition (5760x1440ppi), and longer print life (rated at 98 years displayed under glass). Its image quality is very good, thanks in part to the use of six Epson Claria inks applied in droplets as small as 1.5 picoliters. Print sizes range from 4x6 to 13x19 inches, and an included adapter permits direct printing on CDs and DVDs. The SP1400 doesn't support the use of thick fine-art paper; for that you need the more sophisticated, pigment-based Stylus Photo R1800. But with a little TLC I was able to coax the SP1400 into printing fairly thick DVD inserts. Overall, this printer offers solid, mid-pack performance at a reasonable price that includes Adobe Photoshop Elements software. About $375.

American PHOTO Editor's Choice 2007
Intro Entry-Level DSLRs Advanced DSLRs | Professional DSLRs | Digital Rangefinders | SLR Lenses | Camera Cellphones | Imaging Software | Fine-Art Printers | Superzoom EVFs | Digital Compacts | Ultrathin Compacts | Storage and Display | Computers | Snapshot Printers | Lighting | Tripods | Camera Bags | Imaging Essentials
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Multimedia projectors are becoming the new slide carousel -- an easy way to show digital images, even without a computer. The problem, more often, is finding enough white wall to project onto. The Accolade Duet is Epson's clever update of the clunky, metal retracting screens of yore. Made of tough plastic, the Duet incorporates a vertical channel that slides onto a substantial, tripod-style floor stand. (The folded stand fits neatly into the channel when reversed, for storage and transport as a 43-inch-long unit.) Once the screen is mounted, it doesn't pull up or down out of a tube; instead, its two sides spread smoothly apart horizontally to expose a bright, matte-finish fabric surface. Extended all the way out, you get a wide-screen 16:9 aspect ratio with a huge 80-inch diagonal. The Duet can also be wall mounted with a supplied bracket. About $250.

BEST BUY: Epson PowerLite S5 projector

Pair this affordable multimedia projector with the Epson Accolade Duet screen, and for about $850 you're all set for a slideshow -- a digital one. Yet the six-pound S5's specs are respectable, including HD-enabled SVGA resolution, 2000 lumens of brightness, and, perhaps most important for photo purposes, three-chip imaging technology that improves color rendition and sharpness. A 1.3X digital zoom gives you some flexibility in projector positioning and projected image size. There's even a high-brightness mode for gaming, for which you plug the projector directly into your console. About $600.

American PHOTO Editor's Choice 2007
Intro Entry-Level DSLRs Advanced DSLRs | Professional DSLRs | Digital Rangefinders | SLR Lenses | Camera Cellphones | Imaging Software | Fine-Art Printers | Superzoom EVFs | Digital Compacts | Ultrathin Compacts | Storage and Display | Computers | Snapshot Printers | Lighting | Tripods | Camera Bags | Imaging Essentials
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Along with its companion G4010, this model brings something new to the static world of flatbed scanners. It features HP's "six-color" technology, which uses two lamps for scanning instead of the usual one. By sampling each red, green, and blue pixel a second time with the second, complementary light source, the G4050 captures colors that might exceed the gamut of competing models. The scanner's resolution is an impressive 4800x9600ppi, which yields excellent sharpness, and its 32 bits per color provide exceptionally fine gradation. (That 96 bits of total information is consolidated into a 48-bit file.) Its scanning surface can handle reflective originals up to 8.5x12.3 inches; you can batch-scan up to 16 slides or 30 negatives using the transparency adapter; and the dust- and scratch-removal system is hardware-based. Software tools restore faded color, remove red-eye, and enhance shadow detail; four one-touch buttons let you quickly organize, edit, share, and save your scans. About $200.

Pantone huey PRO

Featured in last year's Editor's Choice, Pantone's original huey is an affordable, easy-to-use monitor calibration tool designed to improve the way your pictures look on screen and in prints. It's also the first such device that automatically adjusts monitor output to match the ambient light in your room. The tiny, pen-shaped huey connects to your computer via USB. In calibration mode it works by measuring software-generated color patches directly off your screen, adjusting monitor tones and colors to achieve a neutral standard and saving those settings as an ICC color profile. Once the job is done, the unit sits in a small base by your computer to measure room light so that the software can adjust the monitor as needed. The new huey PRO is functionally identical to the original but comes with different software that adds extra user controls. These include the ability to manually control monitor contrast and brightness, to select color temperature and gamma independently (rather than with activity-specific presets), and to calibrate multiple monitors on the same computer. You can also save calibration settings with user-defined names and tell the software to remind you when to recalibrate your screen. About $130 (PRO upgrade software costs $40).

American PHOTO Editor's Choice 2007
Intro Entry-Level DSLRs Advanced DSLRs | Professional DSLRs | Digital Rangefinders | SLR Lenses | Camera Cellphones | Imaging Software | Fine-Art Printers | Superzoom EVFs | Digital Compacts | Ultrathin Compacts | Storage and Display | Computers | Snapshot Printers | Lighting | Tripods | Camera Bags | Imaging Essentials
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Digital SLRs are generally built to take hard knocks, but shooting while you're rock climbing or biking, or carrying multiple bodies that can bang against each other, can cause cosmetic damage, or worse. These clever, snug-fitting jackets protect your camera against such injury while providing full access to its controls and buttons, with openings as well for its viewfinder, LCD screen, and accessory ports. Unlike conventional rubber, the elastomeric silicone rubber used in Camera Armor is stable in heat up to 420 degrees Fahrenheit; it also protects your hands from cold metal, provides a secure grip, and doesn't trap condensation. Different versions are available for Canon's EOS Digital Rebel XTi, EOS 20D, EOS 30D, EOS 5D and EOS-1D series; Nikon's D40/D40X, D70/D70s, D80, D200, and D2X/D2Xs; and Sony's Alpha A100. Each kit includes a transparent LCD shield, a flexible protective lens hood, and a lens cap lanyard. They're all available in black or "smoke." From $50 to $80.

Epson Perfection V750-M Pro

Even if you shoot digitally you probably have a pile of prints, slides, and negatives from the not-so-old days. Epson's top flatbed offers one-stop digitizing for those analog images. The scanner has similar specs to the V700 Photo (included in Editor's Choice 2006) but incorporates pro-level features. It scans reflective art up to 8.5x11.7 inches and film from 35mm up to 8x10, doing so with a huge 6400ppi maximum resolution, high 4.0 optical density, and 16 bits-per-channel color reproduction. Like the V700, the V750 has two separate lenses, but it adds improved sensor optics. LaserSoft SilverFast and MonacoEZcolor software are also provided. Although the V750's Digital ICE system automatically retouches defects in color film and prints, ICE won't work with black-and-white film. Its impressive solution to this problem is a fluid film-mounting holder -- the first in a flatbed scanner, and something the V750 shares with high-end drum scanners. The system allows you to "wet scan" your black-and-white film, reducing scratches, grain, and Newton's Rings the old-fashioned way. About $800.

American PHOTO Editor's Choice 2007
Intro Entry-Level DSLRs Advanced DSLRs | Professional DSLRs | Digital Rangefinders | SLR Lenses | Camera Cellphones | Imaging Software | Fine-Art Printers | Superzoom EVFs | Digital Compacts | Ultrathin Compacts | Storage and Display | Computers | Snapshot Printers | Lighting | Tripods | Camera Bags | Imaging Essentials
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When Sigma showed us a prototype of this monster zoom -- a telephoto optic that promised the fastest 500mm focal length in photography -- we thought to ourselves that there was no way it would ever be a commercial reality. We were wrong: Manufacturing starts this fall. Sigma's remarkable 200-500mm f/2.8 is almost 26 inches long, and, at 28 pounds, weighs nearly three times more than a 600mm f/4 Nikkor. That's without its seven-pound lens hood.

But enough about its scale. In other respects it's very much a modern zoom. It features a rotating lens mount that easily flips the camera between horizontal and vertical orientations. It has a rear-barrel, drop-in filter holder that accepts standard 72mm circular filters, and rotates for accurate positioning of polarizing, split, and graduated filters. It even comes with a matched 2X teleconverter that turns it into a 400-1000mm f/5.6 zoom. More unusual is that both focusing AND zooming are motorized -- neither can be manually adjusted -- and that focused distance and focal length settings are displayed on an LCD panel built into the barrel, rather than with the usual scale of hash marks.

If its built-in motors are responsive enough, the new zoom could make for some amazing sports photography, allowing faster, action-stopping shutter speeds in lower light and throwing background clutter into deeper defocus. On the other hand, sports shooters will have to deal not only with the lens's backbreaking weight, but also with its power demands -- keeping more batteries on the sidelines. About $10,000.

SmartParts Digital Picture Frame

Digital picture frames are the consumer photo product du jour, purchased not just for home display of digital images but, increasingly, for business point-of-purchase displays. Most such frames can show still and video files, as well as all the standard audio formats, but the SmartParts frame is especially capable. The line is distinguished by the variety of its available colors and sizes (screens run 5.6, 8, 10.5, and 11 inches diagonally) and by its valuable SyncPix software. Unlike most digital picture frames, which for smooth function require you to downsize your camera's full-res files separately in image-editing software, SyncPix automatically downsizes and compresses image files transferred from memory cards (the frame has slots for most formats) to make the most of the frame's 256MB of internal memory, and to produce smooth and rapid image turnover in slide shows.

In addition to a remote control and built-in speakers for video, the solid-birch, XGA-resolution SmartParts frame offers other unusual features. These include a built-in motion detector that automatically turns the frame on and off; built-in slide show resequencing; and an in-frame albuming feature that permits multiple individual slide shows. It even supports 24-bit color files, rendering 16.7 million colors!

American PHOTO Editor's Choice 2007
Intro Entry-Level DSLRs Advanced DSLRs | Professional DSLRs | Digital Rangefinders | SLR Lenses | Camera Cellphones | Imaging Software | Fine-Art Printers | Superzoom EVFs | Digital Compacts | Ultrathin Compacts | Storage and Display | Computers | Snapshot Printers | Lighting | Tripods | Camera Bags | Imaging Essentials
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Given the massive pixel counts of today's compact cameras, more megapixels is a debatable advantage. But Panasonic's new Lumix is the only such camera to combine the highest resolution in its category, 12 megapixels, with a true 28mm-equivalent focal length (in 35mm terms) -- wide-angle capability sorely lacking in most compact models. Yet the camera's 28-100mm f/2.8-5.6 optical zoom, a Leica DC Vario-Elmarit with five aspheric surfaces among its seven elements, goes long enough for undistorted tight portraiture. And the lens has optical image stabilization, which, along with its fairly wide maximum aperture and the camera's top sensitivity of ISO 1600, allows you to shoot very effectively without flash in low existing light. (In a pinch you can boost speed to ISO 6400, with resolution reduced to two or three megapixels.) Some action-oriented subject modes even feature an "intelligent ISO" capability that automatically raises the ISO when it detects motion in a scene, to help keep moving subjects sharp.

All that speed and resolution might seem like a recipe for noise, but the FX100 keeps it well under control thanks to improved image processing and a larger-than-usual CCD image sensor (1/1.72 inches), which lets all those pixels stay bigger. (The camera can shoot in 16:9 HDTV proportions, the better to show pictures on your wide-screen TV.) The slim, metal-bodied camera is extremely compact, and comes in black and silver. Plus, it's unusually versatile in its video capability, allowing you to shoot 1280x720 pixels at 15 frames-per-second, or 848x480 (wide-screen) and standard 640x480, both at 30fps. It saves files to ever-bigger SD/SDHC memory cards. Other outstanding features include a more powerful flash and bursts at up to eight frames-per-second. That's also with reduced resolution, but who's counting pixels anymore? About $400.

American PHOTO Editor's Choice 2007
Intro Entry-Level DSLRs Advanced DSLRs | Professional DSLRs | Digital Rangefinders | SLR Lenses | Camera Cellphones | Imaging Software | Fine-Art Printers | Superzoom EVFs | Digital Compacts | Ultrathin Compacts | Storage and Display | Computers | Snapshot Printers | Lighting | Tripods | Camera Bags | Imaging Essentials
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This digital SLR isn't really new; it's a 2004 camera with one minor tweak. But we include it here because that tweak has a major impact on the kinds of images it produces. By removing the usual IR/UV cutoff filter in front of the camera's Super CCD SRII sensor, Fuji has made the UVIR photosensitive to wavelengths from approximately 350nm-1000nm, well into the IR and UV spectrum. The average human's visual sensitivity is approximately between 400nm-700nm, and most consumer digital cameras mirror this sensitivity range with cutoff filters.

This increased spectral sensitivity is appealing primarily to two very different kinds of photographers -- fine artists and forensics investigators. With specialized filters and/or alternate light sources, the photographer can isolate specific wavelengths beyond normal human vision. At the IR end of the spectrum, for example, organic materials typically appear much brighter, even to the point of glowing. If you're shooting in black-and-white, the effect is similar to that of Kodak's High-Speed Infrared film.

I ran the S3 Pro UVIR, which is based on a Nikon chassis and accepts almost all Nikon F-mount lenses, through its paces. I shot in full color and black and white without filters, in color and black and white with an 89B IR filter (50 percent transmission at 720nm, near IR), and with a consumer-model Philips A-type Black Light bulb, which transmits from roughly 300-600nm with its peak at 350-400nm.

In full color, without filters, many objects captured with the S3 Pro appear almost normal, sometimes with just a bit of a red tint. The big exception is organic material: leaves and grasses are a rich orange to red under daylight conditions. Certain fabrics may show a color shift as well. Full range shooting in black and white is similar: With the Cokin P 89B filter in place to limit light to near IR, through-the-viewfinder framing is impossible. However, a thoughtful feature of this camera is a grayscale 30-second preview that makes the IR world visible. This is helpful for framing a shot and to gain an understanding of what the image elements reflect in IR. In-camera metering was not very effective, so experimenting and checking the playback histograms helped me dial in on exposures.

All in all this is a very important camera, making crime scene analysis and forgery detection much easier for investigators. Perhaps more important for American Photo readers, it affords a pictorialist rendering of the world that you simply can't get, at least in-camera and out of the box, from any other D-SLR. About $1,800.

American PHOTO Editor's Choice 2007
Intro Entry-Level DSLRs Advanced DSLRs | Professional DSLRs | Digital Rangefinders | SLR Lenses | Camera Cellphones | Imaging Software | Fine-Art Printers | Superzoom EVFs | Digital Compacts | Ultrathin Compacts | Storage and Display | Computers | Snapshot Printers | Lighting | Tripods | Camera Bags | Imaging Essentials
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If you shoot nonstop with your Bluetooth-enabled cell phone but are frustrated by its skimpy display screen, here's a solution: Beam your photos to MediaStreet's eMotion Bluetooth Digital Picture Frame. Its screen is a big, bright seven inches, its built-in memory an ample 256MB. If your phone doesn't have Bluetooth but does have a removable microSD card, you can transfer images to the frame with an adapter using its slots for xD, SD, and CF cards, as well as a port for USB (2.0) flash drives. (The removable outer frame of real wood pops off to reveal a second, acrylic frame underneath.)

The frame also plays compressed MPEG video files (with audio) at full 640x480 VGA resolution, and, through a set of built-in speakers, MP3, WMA and other music formats. Operated via built-in control buttons or the supplied remote, it even includes a built-in calendar, alarm clock, and basic image-editing functions. And it is one of the few digital picture frames to offer updateable firmware through its USB connection. The eMotion Bluetooth frame displays most still image formats, including JPEG, TIFF, PNG, and BMP -- it can even be used to read eBooks. About $160.

Delkin SensorScope

Sometimes a modest idea can make a big difference. A case in point is this deceptively simple illuminated magnifier. It helps cure one of D-SLR photography's biggest headaches: dirt and dust on the sensor, which leave spots in the image that require labor-intensive retouching. Many D-SLRs now have some form of automatic sensor cleaning, but none are foolproof, and older models all require manual cleaning. The SensorScope makes this job much easier, with four super-bright LEDs that provide abundant light and 5X magnifying optics that reveal every speck of debris. Just put your camera on its back in sensor-cleaning mode (which raises the mirror and opens the shutter), place the SensorScope on the lens mount, press the scope's power button, and look through the eyepiece. If you see dust you can clean it with Delkin's own DigitalDuster Kit (which uses a mini vacuum and cleaning wands) or systems from other manufacturers. Then inspect again to make sure the sensor is clean. A carrying case and two CR2025 batteries are included. About $90.

American PHOTO Editor's Choice 2007
Intro Entry-Level DSLRs Advanced DSLRs | Professional DSLRs | Digital Rangefinders | SLR Lenses | Camera Cellphones | Imaging Software | Fine-Art Printers | Superzoom EVFs | Digital Compacts | Ultrathin Compacts | Storage and Display | Computers | Snapshot Printers | Lighting | Tripods | Camera Bags | Imaging Essentials
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As with Canon's other DC-series camcorders, this model doesn't use videotape at all; instead, it records digital video directly on Mini DVD disks, three-inch-diameter versions of the familiar, full-size DVD disk. Once finalized in the camcorder (a one-button process), the disk can be removed and played immediately in a tray-style DVD player or computer drive. (The disk fits inside the tray's smaller concentric inset.) There's no need to go looking for, and hooking up, AV or DV cables. What's more, when you slip one of these disks into your computer, the video it contains can be downloaded directly to your hard drive. A dual-layer Mini DVD can hold up to 108 minutes of video. Yet the Canon DC50 is extremely compact despite accommodating that three-inch disk.

Unlike tape-based camcorders, the DC50 and the disk it produces provide true random access to your video "footage." (Of course, that term really doesn't apply to disk-based video!) In fact, the DC50 generates a "visual index" of the disk's contents, displaying thumbnails of each scene's beginning; you simply click on the thumbnail to review or play that particular scene. You can even rearrange shots into a "playlist" in the camera itself. And there's never any risk, as there is with tape, of mistakenly overwriting existing video because the DC50 automatically records only to a blank area of the disk.

The Canon DC50 shoots in movie-style "wide screen" format. That 16:9 aspect ratio is seen not only in the camcorder's 2.7-inch flip-out LCD monitor, but in its eye-level electronic viewfinder as well. And unlike many other camcorders, which achieve a wide-screen effect by "cropping" the top and bottom of a standard-format (4:3) sensor -- and thereby sacrificing resolution -- the DC50 uses the full area of its 16:9-format image sensor. If you want to switch to standard 4:3 format, you just push a button on the screen.

The excellent picture quality produced by the DC50 is due both to the 5.39-megapixel sensor's 2716x1983-pixel resolution and to its sharp 10X optical zoom. The smooth-zooming lens's focal length range is about the equivalent of 44-440mm in the 35mm format, when you're shooting in Widescreen Video Mode. When you have access to focal lengths that long, image stabilization is a virtual necessity for smoothing out the distracting jiggle that would otherwise be caused by shaky hands. Unlike models using electronic digital stabilization -- which does its job by stealing pixels from the image, reducing resolution -- the DC50 features optical image stabilization, which works the same way as in Canon's IS (Image Stabilized) lenses for its SLRs. And photographers take note: The Canon DC50 can even shoot five-megapixel stills, saving them to a removable SD memory card. About $600.

American PHOTO Editor's Choice 2007
Intro Entry-Level DSLRs Advanced DSLRs | Professional DSLRs | Digital Rangefinders | SLR Lenses | Camera Cellphones | Imaging Software | Fine-Art Printers | Superzoom EVFs | Digital Compacts | Ultrathin Compacts | Storage and Display | Computers | Snapshot Printers | Lighting | Tripods | Camera Bags | Imaging Essentials
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Background materials are among a studio photographer's biggest ongoing expenses, especially if a wide variety must be kept on hand. This inexpensive range of more than 80 different cotton-fabric backdrops can cut that cost in half. In the Belle Drape 10x12-foot size, for example, prices range from about $40 for solid colors -- 16 different ones are available -- to $100 for more elaborate hand-painted patterns. The huge 12x24-foot size is equally well-priced. Created with fade-resistant paints and dyes, Belle Drape backgrounds feature a four-inch hemmed loop with heavy-duty stitching for hanging them on a crossbar. To view the range, visit adorama.com and enter "Belle Drape" in the search box.

Logitech 3Dconnexion SpaceNavigator

If you think you don't need another desktop navigation device to add to your mouse, pen tablet, or even your Logitech NuLOOQ, you may think again when you discover what your non-mouse hand can do with this remarkable joystick. Basically a 3D mouse, the fixed-position SpaceNavigator brings a third dimension to onscreen computer manipulation. In Photoshop CS3 Extended it allows you to fully manipulate 3D "objects" -- flat, bitmapped patterns for CAD-style models that can be downloaded from the Web and added to photographs, where by pushing, pulling, and twisting the SpaceNavigator you can instantly rotate, flip, reposition, and resize them with an ease not possible from mouse and keyboard. You can use Google SketchUp and get free models from Google's 3D Warehouse. For more fun, the device turns Google Earth and NASA World Wind into interactive video games, allowing you to lower yourself into a landscape helicopter-style, then fly horizontally over 3D mountains and through 3D cities. About $60.

American PHOTO Editor's Choice 2007
Intro Entry-Level DSLRs Advanced DSLRs | Professional DSLRs | Digital Rangefinders | SLR Lenses | Camera Cellphones | Imaging Software | Fine-Art Printers | Superzoom EVFs | Digital Compacts | Ultrathin Compacts | Storage and Display | Computers | Snapshot Printers | Lighting | Tripods | Camera Bags | Imaging Essentials
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It wasn't long ago that each extra megapixel in a digital compact cost you a hundred bucks more. The 12.1-megapixel EasyShare Z1275 lowers that premium to around $20 a megapixel. Its compact body accommodates a 35-175mm f/2.8-5.1 (35mm equivalent) Schneider Variogon zoom and a 115,000-pixel, 2.5-inch LCD monitor. (There's no optical image stabilization, only digital.) As with all EasyShare cameras, the Z1275 is compatible with Kodak's docks and portable printers.

Offering both manual and program exposure modes, including nine "scene" settings, the Z1275 can shoot at a wide range of shutter speeds, and its equivalent sensitivity goes up to ISO 3200, for flash-free low-light shooting. Other notable features include spot and center-weighted metering, five color modes, voice annotation, and a 1.7fps continuous-shooting mode that captures three frames in one burst. There's also automatic exposure bracketing, a live histogram, and light-sensitivity settings as high as ISO 3200. About $250.

BEST BUY: X-Rite i1 DisplayLT

X-Rite's most affordable monitor calibration system borrows assets from the company's respected high-end offerings, providing high color accuracy at a price that won't bankrupt modestly endowed photographers. The colorimeter itself has a detachable head that takes ambient light into account, and offers one-button results for many common monitors. It works with both CRT and LCD monitors, of course, and can be used on multiple computers without any additional licensing fee. That makes it a good choice for home use. About $150.

American PHOTO Editor's Choice 2007
Intro Entry-Level DSLRs Advanced DSLRs | Professional DSLRs | Digital Rangefinders | SLR Lenses | Camera Cellphones | Imaging Software | Fine-Art Printers | Superzoom EVFs | Digital Compacts | Ultrathin Compacts | Storage and Display | Computers | Snapshot Printers | Lighting | Tripods | Camera Bags | Imaging Essentials
Click photo to see images of all the Editor's Choice 2007 products.

It's no substitute for an underwater housing, but this tiny camcorder takes the worry out of shooting in the rain. Snorkeling video (at 16:9 HDTV proportions if you like) should be fine too, because the Xacti E1 can handle depths of up to five feet for as long as an hour. The new model shoots in MPEG-4 format, allowing you to squeeze about five hours of VGA-quality video on a stamp-sized 4GB SD memory card, which can now be had for as little as $50. And though it's a little more than four inches high and weighs a mere half pound, it has a 2.5-inch flip-out color LCD and a 5X optical zoom -- just as useful for stills, which it can shoot at a resolution of six megapixels in JPEG. About $500.

Duracell PowerPix batteries

If you must use conventional AA batteries in your photo gear, you really should be using rechargeables -- a topic covered in American Photo's September/October conservation issue. But this battery may be the next best thing in a disposable, because like a lithium AA cell (available from Energizer) it lasts much longer than a conventional alkaline battery. It owes that performance to its newly-developed, mercury-free NiOH (Nickel Oxy Hydroxide) formulation. About $9 (pack of four).

American PHOTO Editor's Choice 2007
Intro Entry-Level DSLRs Advanced DSLRs | Professional DSLRs | Digital Rangefinders | SLR Lenses | Camera Cellphones | Imaging Software | Fine-Art Printers | Superzoom EVFs | Digital Compacts | Ultrathin Compacts | Storage and Display | Computers | Snapshot Printers | Lighting | Tripods | Camera Bags | Imaging Essentials

The variety of inkjet papers available to photographers these days is a far cry from the limited choices offered when the first desktop photo printers were introduced in the mid-1990s. In an effort to convince us that we could make "photo-quality" prints at home, manufacturers initially provided mostly glossy and semi-gloss inkjet papers that matched the look and feel of commercial prints. The addition of matte-surfaced paper made inkjet output much more appealing to the artistically inclined, and Hahnemuhle was ahead of the curve when it introduced the first fine art media for inkjet printing in 1997. As the quality and longevity of inkjet output has improved, so has the range of inkjet papers.

While most printer manufacturers now provide a decent selection of inkjet media, many of the more interesting papers come from independent makers such as Crane, Hahnemuhle, Legion, and Moab. In fact some of these papers are simply rebranded by printer companies. Epson offers Crane's Textured Fine Art Paper and Legion's Somerset Velvet, for example, and a few Hahnemuhle offerings are also available from Canon and HP.

The recent surge of interest in black-and-white digital printing has resulted in printers equipped with additional black and grey inks, providing photographers with improved monochrome results that are ideally suited to fine-art papers. A new twist is that the desired look and feel of photographic fiber-based papers is achieved with coatings (given that current fine-art papers are already made of paper or cotton fiber). The big news this year, though, is that black and white's popularity has brought back an old idea: fiber-based paper. In particular, paper companies have been touting the term Baryta, which will be familiar only to those of you for whom the smell of hypo triggers fond memories of the chemical darkroom. It's part of what brings the look and feel of old silver halide papers to digital printing. Baryta refers to a barium sulphate coating that's applied to traditional fiber-based paper to control the way the emulsion interacts with the paper. While not all the new fiber-based papers are coated with real Baryta, they incorporate layers that mimic its effect. Some of the benefits claimed for the new media include deeper blacks, sharper detail, and longer print life for both black and white and color.

Thanks to the evolution of pigment ink formulations, the selection of pigment-compatible papers also has broadened. Many papers can be used with either dye-based or pigment inks. Not all papers are cross-compatible, however; some are still recommended only for dye-based printers. The good news is that it's now easier to base your choice of paper on aesthetics rather than ink type.

One thing that makes such creative freedom possible is the proliferation of free ICC paper profiles from independent manufacturers. These can be easily downloaded from those companies' Websites and installed on your computer, eliminating the hassle of creating your own profile. If you stick with media from the printer manufacturer, of course, profiles are built into their printers' drivers, and also can be downloaded from their Websites. But with intriguing new papers such as the ones we've chosen here, and the easy availability of third-party paper profiles, there's every reason to ink outside the box.

Crane Museo Portfolio Rag

Crane is best known for its stationery products, including letter/envelope combinations and notecards. In response to the growth in inkjet printing, the company developed Museo fine-art digital printing papers. The latest of these is Museo Portfolio Rag. This heavy 100 percent cotton rag paper has a smooth surface and, unlike some lesser papers, does not contain optical brighteners, additives that brighten whites under certain lighting but that may also accelerate fading. As a result it has a warmer-looking tone. In addition to standard-sized and metric-sized sheets (8.5x11 to 35x47 inches, plus A4 and A3), the stiff, hefty Museo Portfolio Rag is available in rolls. Roll widths include 17, 24, 36, 44, and 50 inches. Other Museo papers we like include a new water-resistant Canvas paper for pigment inks that's available in both glossy and matte surfaces.

Other Museo papers we like include a new water-resistant Canvas Maestro paper that's available in both glossy and matte surfaces and the Museo Silver Rag, a semi-gloss paper that, although it's the same 300gsm weight and 0.015" thickness as the Portfolio Rag, feels a little more supple but produces rich blacks and saturated colors. All three papers are optimized for pigment inks. Additionally, Portfolio Rag is designed to work with matte black inks, whereas Museo Silver Rag is compatible with photo black inks.

Hahnemuhle FineArt Baryta 325

Although Hahnemuhle already offers fiber-based papers, the big news is its upcoming FineArt Baryta 325. Made from 100 percent alpha cellulose, this nicely weighted and bright white paper has an ultrasmooth, glossy surface. Also new from Hahnemuhle and available now is Photo Rag Pearl 320. This smooth surfaced paper is 100 percent cotton fiber linters, which gives it additional stability and longevity as well as the look and feel of traditional Baryta paper. Photo Rag Pearl contains no optical brighteners, so it produces slightly warmer-toned prints. While our color test prints look very good on this paper (and on its sibling, Fine Art Pearl), its pearl surface seems to beg for black and white. The 320gsm paper is available in 17-, 24-, 36- and 44-inch rolls as well as standard cut sheet sizes.

Harman Photo Matt FB Mp

Although U.K.-based Harman Technology now produces Ilford's silver halide imaging products, the company has its own line of inkjet papers. Two of these incorporate a true Baryta layer: Harman Photo Matt FB Mp and Harman Photo Matt FB Mp Warmtone. (Ilford always made the best matt-surfaced black-and-white enlarging paper, and the warm-tone version should be of special interest to those of us who loved Agfa Portriga-Rapid.) These fiber-based papers have a feel similar to double-weighted enlarging papers and are available in a variety of cut sheet sizes. We tested both on the Canon PIXMA Pro 9500. Maybe it's our penchant for black and white, but while the color prints looked good, we found these fiber-based papers work especially well for monochrome images, Ilford's old forte anyway. Both delivered on promises of a deep blacks. For fans of glossy prints, Harman also offers a fiber-based glossy paper.

Innova Fibaprint

Another U.K.-based company, Innova, offers perhaps the widest range of fiber-based papers we've seen. Available in a variety of surfaces, the latest FibaPrint papers include Warmtone Gloss, Gloss, White Semi-Matte, and Ultra Smooth Gloss. All but the Ultra Smooth Gloss, which is a little lighter at 285gsm, are weighted at 300gsm. The name of each paper clearly represents its surface and all are compatible with both dye-based and pigment ink systems. In addition to a variety of cut-sheet sizes, the Innova papers come in rolls from 17 inches to 60 inches wide.

Moab by Legion Colorado Fiber

Legion Paper is as well-known for its wide variety of art and decorative papers as it is for digital media like the luxurious Somerset Velvet. Last year the company acquired Moab Paper, and it's now retooling the combined product line. While some papers have been discontinued and others have undergone a name change, we think photographers will be pleased with its latest offerings.

Our favorite of these is a fiber-based paper called Colorado Fiber. It's available in two surfaces, Satine and Gloss. Although it's primarily designed for pigment inks, this midweight paper feeds easily into any printer but doesn't sacrifice that photographic feel. The Satine surface has an especially nice look and feel to it -- not quite matte but not semi-gloss or even luster. The Gloss, as promised by the company, is reminiscent of an F-surfaced silver paper. Both papers work well for color and black and white, and are available in sizes ranging from 5x7 inches to A4 in sheets, plus rolls from 13 to 60 inches wide.

American PHOTO Editor's Choice 2007
Intro Entry-Level DSLRs Advanced DSLRs | Professional DSLRs | Digital Rangefinders | SLR Lenses | Camera Cellphones | Imaging Software | Fine-Art Printers | Superzoom EVFs | Digital Compacts | Ultrathin Compacts | Storage and Display | Computers | Snapshot Printers | Lighting | Tripods | Camera Bags | Imaging Essentials
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