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Bits Rule!

Paper is dead. Yes, I know I’m writing this article with the help of a few paper handouts, but paper is dead. Easily half the booths at Macworld Expo featured products that do not assume your final creation will be paper output. In particular, several products revolve around the idea of photos as bits. Back in the old days, photos existed as atoms – physical objects that you pass around, arrange in albums, or archive in shoe boxes. Here in our wired world, photos exist as bits on hard disks and albums live on the Web, where friends and relatives from around the world can view them.

Adam and I have experienced this transformation first hand, as proud owners of a no-longer-new QuickTake, and we’ve found the QuickTake and its output far more compelling than the 4 by 6 color glossy photos that my not-so-old analog camera can produce. (See Adam’s article about the QuickTake in TidBITS-297.)

Cheap and Easy — If you have a digital camera or scanner, it’s easy to put your photos on a disk, but if you don’t, you might use Storm Technologies’ EasyPhoto Reader, a $259 scanner designed to make it simple to digitize photos. The scanner can accept photos up to five inches wide, and as long as you like. It has a resolution of 200 dots per inch, and scans at 24-bit color. The software comes on CD, but the package includes an offer for ordering floppy disks. Normally, you’d feed photos through it, but you can pop the unit apart and use it to scan something that can’t feed through (like a book page), though it looked to me like it would take practice to use the device in this mode. TidBITS reader Steve Maller <[email protected]> recently sent me comments about EasyPhoto Reader, and here’s his real life story:

"I was looking for a good, low-cost way of scanning photographs into my Macintosh. I have an older, 8-bit, grayscale Apple OneScanner, which works fine for documents and line drawings, but I’ve longed for color scans. I considered purchasing another flatbed or a slide scanner, but EasyPhoto Reader was cheap, so I decided to give it a try – 30-day return policies are great!

"Installation couldn’t have been easier. I attached the EasyPhoto Reader to a Power Mac 8500, a computer that I’ve found to be a compatibility challenge for many products. The scanner connects to the one of the two serial ports, and you don’t need to specify which. I had my first scan in about five minutes, including the 45 seconds it takes the scanner to warm up.

"The scanner’s software provides two ways of acquiring images: a stand-alone application called EasyPhoto and a Photoshop plug-in. I found no difference in the images acquired in these two ways, although the Photoshop plug-in seemed slower.

"EasyPhoto uses a gallery metaphor for organizing images. As you scan photos, they’re added to a scrolling window. They’re also saved to JPEG files on your hard disk, although that’s not obvious. [As a user, you have no control over the level of JPEG compression -Tonya.] EasyPhoto has limited (but effective) image-processing tools in its workshop. When you double-click a gallery image, EasyPhoto opens it in a window and displays a small suite of editing tools, including brightness and contrast adjustment, color balancing, and a nifty tool that removes red eyes. I was skeptical, but the red eye filter works. You can also rotate, scale, and crop pictures. In my experience, the file sizes are always less than 100K, and generally as little as 50K after fussing and cropping. Storm’s expertise in photo image processing shows in the power and simplicity of the tool set. Nevertheless, most Photoshop users will be more comfortable using the plug-in and relying on Photoshop’s vast array of tools.

"The bottom line with any scanner is: how do the scans look? As with any pursuit, the quality of the output is constrained by the quality of the input. I did most of my scans from ordinary photographic prints from my neighborhood one-hour processor. I’d rate the quality of the scans as good, with some better and some worse. The results were clearly inferior to the quality I’ve seen in Kodak’s PhotoCDs. Nevertheless, this product has a bright future. As more people clog the Internet with Web pages filled with pictures of their children and email enclosures of their family vacations, EasyPhoto Reader will provide an effective way of keeping those pipelines filled."

Steve suggests checking out Storm’s Web page for more technical details.

One way or another, once your photos are digitized, you’ll want to fuss with them. If you don’t spring for EasyPhoto Reader, or want to go further with another piece of software, you might use two products that debuted at the Expo: Adobe’s PhotoDeluxe or QuickMedia’s Living Album/Web.

Photoshop Made Easy — PhotoDeluxe is Photoshop for the rest of us (or at least those who have the hardware to run it; see below). With an estimated street price of $90, PhotoDeluxe is (in the words of an Adobe representative), Photoshop with a new user interface. Although PhotoDeluxe doesn’t offer high end features like help with color separation, it does support Photoshop plug-ins. PhotoDeluxe has two modes: in the Guided mode, it steps you through basic procedures, and helps you think the way a professional image editor would think. Guided activities range from basic scaling and cropping to projects such as calendars, greeting cards, Acrobat pages, and coloring books. You can also switch out of Guided mode and do your own thing in a more flexible environment.

PhotoDeluxe requires a 68040- or PowerPC-based Macintosh, System 7 or later, 8 MB of application RAM on a 68040, 12 MB total RAM on a Power Mac with 5.2 MB allocated to PhotoDeluxe, 45 MB of disk space, a color monitor that supports at least 256 colors, and a CD-ROM drive.

Online Albums — The $130 Living Album/Web 1.0 helps you store images online in what QuickMedia terms "multimedia albums." Such albums can include graphics, sounds, and video. It can also create Web pages that mimic analog photo albums, and users need not know any HTML to create what look like reasonable Web pages. A demo version of Living Album/Web is available on the Internet; according to a QuickMedia representative, the demo is fully functional, except it only lets you place six images in an album or Web pages. Living Album/Web comes on a CD and requires System 7 and 8 MB RAM.

Adobe — 800/411-8657 — 206/628-2749 — <[email protected]>
QuickMedia — 800/957-0009 — 415/508-1757 — 415/596-4643 (fax)
Storm Software — 800/275-5734 — <[email protected]>

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