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Extending Digital Cameras

At Macworld Boston this August a number of companies exhibited add-ons to the QuickTake and its relative from Kodak, the Kodak Digital Camera 40.

Tiffen was showing a line of essentially identical accessories for both the QuickTake and the Kodak Digital Camera 40 (the QuickTake and the Digital Camera 40 were designed in a joint Apple-Kodak project). For either camera, with the addition of a Tiffen adapter for about $20, you can mount a UV Protector ($25), a Wide Angle Conversion Lens ($90), a Super Wide Angle Conversion Lens ($100), or a Telephoto Conversion Lens ($90) that zooms approximately 1.5 times. For close-up work, Tiffen offers a three-lens "stackable" Close-up Lens Set ($70) that enables you to focus as close as five inches (the QuickTake 150’s close-up adapter only enables you to focus between 10 and 14 inches). Finally, Tiffen offers the 812 Color Warming Filter ($30) to improve skin tones. Tiffen offers a number of other accessories such as a tripod, a table-top tripod, and a case, but they all look like standard photographic equipment, and might be more easily and cheaply purchased elsewhere.

DC Pro (Tiffen’s fulfillment house) — 800/522-7835
516/434-8800 — 516/434-9238 (fax) — <[email protected]>

Kaidan wasn’t content to let Tiffen provide the only accessories for the QuickTake and Kodak DCS 40. Like Tiffen, Kaidan offers a close-up solution and a wide-angle lens, and improves on Tiffen’s offerings with a ring flash that works with the close-up lenses. The CloseTake system comes in a number of different bundles, ranging in price from $80 to $260 and including +2, +3, and +4 diopter lenses and the CloseFlash unit. The wide-angle lens costs about $85, although various bundles with the close-up lenses are also available. Potentially more interesting to those of us who don’t have much of a background in photography is Kaidan’s $170 QuickPan Panoramic Tripod Head, an attachment for a standard tripod that enables you to use a QuickTake (or a normal camera) to take pictures at the strict angles necessary for stitching together a QuickTime VR movie. Along with five different sets of click-stops, the tripod head includes a leveling indicator to ensure a straight rotational plane and avoid oscillation in the resulting movie. A friend noted that such devices are common accoutrements for serious photographers, and may be cheaper from photography stores.

Unfortunately, having the tripod head to make sure you get the angles right won’t enable you to just knock off a QuickTime VR movie. First, you need the stitching software from APDA, and it’s not cheap at about $500. You can get a sense of the complexity of the process from a detailed paper Apple has placed on the Web at:

Kaidan — 215/364-1778 — 215/322-4186 (fax) — <[email protected]>

Printing digital images becomes more feasible with a small color printer from Fargo. Called the FotoFUN, the thermal dye-sublimation printer provides what seemed to be excellent output from the samples I saw at the show. It’s cheap too, at about $500, but the trade-off is that it only prints four-inch by six-inch pieces of paper. Actually, there’s another trade-off, and that’s materials cost. Supplies for dye-sublimation printers are expensive, and the FotoFUN is no exception at about $1 per print. You can buy a 36-print package with paper and a ribbon, but Fargo also sells a 36-print package with ribbon and postcards, and a FotoMUG Kit that includes four mugs and application instructions. 4" x 6" isn’t bad as for a snapshot, and that’s the main market for the FotoFUN. Although I’m enjoying the freedom of digital images tremendously, it’s hard to send good quality copies (or mugs, for that matter) to my grandparents.

Fargo Electronics — 800/327-4694 — 612/941-9470
612/941-7836 (fax) — <[email protected]>

The Kodak Digital Camera 40 (DCS 40) has come up a few times so far. I used one briefly at the show, and it differs from the QuickTake 150 in several important ways. First, it features exposure controls and has a threaded lens mount that accepts lenses without an adapter like the QuickTake. It’s good for up to 800 photos with its lithium batteries; Apple says the QuickTake can do 200 images before it needs new batteries, about half of which can use the flash. The Kodak DCS 40 has 4 MB of RAM, as opposed to the QuickTake’s 1 MB, enabling it to hold 48 high-resolution images or 99 low-resolution images. It also sports an image resolution of 756 by 504 pixels, higher than the 640 by 480 resolution used by the QuickTake. Finally, unlike the QuickTake, the Kodak DCS 40 has an option to erase the last image taken, which is useful at times when you have limited space left and just took what you know is a bad picture.

On the downside, the Kodak DCS 40 is several hundred dollars more expensive than the QuickTake, at about $1,000, and downloading the images to the Mac reportedly takes a very long time, perhaps because decompression is happening in the camera, not on the Mac. The QuickTake’s images download quickly, and download times of more than a minute or two would definitely get in the way of dumping the camera to a PowerBook while at an event. section=Capture&product=KODAK+ DIGITAL+SCIENCE+DC40+Camera

Kodak — 800/235-6325

Casio had a small booth at Macworld too, where they displayed a camera that in many ways puts the Apple and Kodak cameras to shame. The Casio QV-10 looks like a normal camera, not mutant binoculars, except that you immediately notice its 1.8" active matrix color LCD display. The display works in real time, so you don’t have to look through a tiny viewfinder – you look at the display to compose your picture. Composition is aided by having the lens move, so you can rotate it to shoot straight ahead while holding the camera at your waist, or even rotate it around to take a picture of your face. The camera stores 96 images at a time, although at a low resolution of 320 by 240. You can view one, four, or nine images on the LCD screen at a time, and you can delete any image at any time. You can control the exposure settings and even enlarge specific parts of pictures. You can download the images to the Mac, edit them, and upload back to the camera. Why would you want to? Well, since the camera can connect to a television to display the images, you could use it as a presentation device.

At about $750 in electronics stores, the QV-10 sounds almost too good to be true, and it does have a few problems. The low resolution is one – the QuickTake and Kodak DCS 40 take much higher-resolution images. Battery life is another problem. Since you have to run the LCD display while you use the camera, you only get about two hours of continuous use (although your images are safe even if you drain the alkaline batteries). Also, as far as I can tell, it has no flash, which limits its utility in low-light settings.

Finally, Mark Altenberg <[email protected]> comments that the software has problems:

I was excited about the QV-10 until I launched the Mac software and tried to download pictures to my Duo 280c. After numerous attempts and several passes through the horrible documentation, I couldn’t get the camera to connect (it does come with the necessary cables). Eventually, I learned I had to turn my Express Modem off – a simple mistake, but there was no indication anywhere (even from Casio’s tech support) that a user should do this. Furthermore, the software is flawed in a number of ways, the worst being the menu design: Copy, Cut, and Paste aren’t on the Edit menu where they belong, and frequently-used commands are on sub-menus with no command-key equivalents. There are also two Copy commands that work differently. (The difference is explained in the manual… if you can find it.) From the looks of the Windows manual, a ported version of the software would have been much better! Also, downloading images seemed slow; it takes about 20 seconds to download and view a single image.

Especially considering Mark’s comments about the software, my overall feeling is that this is a 1.0 product and that it’s worth waiting for the next version. If Casio can improve resolution and battery life, add a flash, and fix problems with the software, this camera could be a winner.

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