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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2005-07-05

Fighting Noise, Transmitting PDAs and Storage in your Pocket
By Vincent Laforet, The New York Times

Photo by

Noise Ninja
Here are a few interesting and cool tech tools that might help you in the field and behind the computer

NOISE NINJA
Noise Ninja by Picture Code http://www.picturecode.com is wonderful piece of software that I would recommend every single digital photographer take a serious look into - especially sports photographers.

I was very impressed with the software when it came out and got in touch with Jim Christian at PictureCode a few months ago to let him know that I could only see myself using the stand-alone software as part of my everyday deadline workflow if he made a plug - in for Photoshop.

Within less than a month the first plug - in beta was out and I've been using the software on all of my deadline work. In fact we're now including the software as part of our regular workflow on all of our staff's laptops at my paper. I have created an action with pre-determined settings that can be applied to each photograph. We've traditionally had a series of sharpening macros in Photoshop - but those were far from perfect: you obviously don't want to sharpen an image shot at 1600 ASA with the settings you'd use for an image at 100 ASA (You would end up accentuating noise.)

The beauty of Noise Ninja is that it profiles the image before you apply an unsharp mask and therefore will apply that sharpening filter on a image that has already been "treated" for digital noise. (I should point out that applying any sharpening within Noise Ninja is an option and can be turned off.)

Photo by

Noise Ninja - Nikon D70 at ISO 1600
You should know that Noise Ninja does a great job with two things: First it obviously minimizes the noise (digital grain) you shoot at higher ASAs and in my experience it will make a 1600 ASA image look like it was shot at anywhere from 400 ASA to 800 ASA depending on the body you use and how well exposed your image was (I always tend to overexpose images that I shoot at high ASAs to get a good file - I'd rather shoot something at 1600 ASA that has good detail in the shadows then shoot a dark image at 800 ASA - in my experience the 1600 ASA image will always turn out better.)

Second - it actually will help you save an image you shot at say, 100 ASA, that was either underexposed or has some natural digital noise/aberration which is common with all digital cameras even at very low ASA. All chips tend to have regions where the red, green, or blue channels bleed a little or clump together - and Noise Ninja does a superb job of correcting for this. In fact I've found myself post-processing images that I had already worked on in the past with the software (when I no longer have the raw JPEG file easily accessible - working off the RAW image is always the way to go,) I've found that even if you've previously worked on a image and sharpened it, then JPEGed it, Noise Ninja will still do a good job of removing noise, and may also help a big with the JPEG compression artifacting. I've found myself using the software on large sized files that I print from.

Photo by

Noise Ninja - Canon 20D at 3200 ASA - before and after.
As I said: This software is one I've come to depend upon for almost every single image I now produce as I find it beneficial to both images shot a low ASA as well as higher ASAs. I now no longer user the Unsharp Mask filter in Photoshop - but do my sharpening within the Noise Ninja Dialogue as a one step action in Photoshop. The only downside is that depending on the size of your file- the processor-intensive plug-in may take 20-45 seconds or more with slower laptops - time well worth sacrificing even when on deadline given how much better the images look in print. In fact since one of our photographers has begun using the software as part of his regular workflow - the desk has told me that it looks like he's a different photographer given how sharp and clean his images now are (as opposed to sending in RAW Jpeg files out of the camera.)

The settings I use in the macro for our Canon 1D Mark II cameras are: Strength 9, Smoothness 10, Contrast 10, USM Amount 200, USM Radius 1.1, Colors all set at 10 with Turbo Mode checked. To create an action, start recording your action within Photoshop, open up the Noise Ninja plug-in, go to the "Action" submenu in Noise Ninja - and set the Profile Policy to: Auto Profile, and the filter policy to "Use Specified settings."

On as side note: After a lot of testing with our Canon 1D Mark IIs, we've decided to set the in camera sharpening to a level or 3 or 4 and this has helped to overcome the slightly softer images these chips tend to produce relative to other types of chips. We're happy with the results and don't see much downside to doing this even though we shoot all of our files in JPEG format (if you shoot in RAW format - all in camera sharpening is not applied to the RAW image permanently unlike JPEGs.)

TRANSMITTING ON THE FLY
Photo by

HP Ipaq 4700 with Pocket Phojo.
Bob Deutsch has already written some very good articles on the use of PDAs as a quick way to send your pictures on the go. I myself have played around with the HP Ipaq 4700 http://www.idruna.com/pocketphojo_pocketpcs_4700.html that has both a CF and SD slot, and supports Bluetooth. Although I truly wish the unit had more RAM, I end up using a 1 GB SD card as an internal virtual memory hard drive of sorts to process and store images, and edit files right off of the CF cards that I shoot with (you can have both cards inserted simultaneously.)

I've worked with Paul Nolan at Irduna software for close to a year now and we now have a very nifty way of getting files out with Pocket Phojo http://www.idruna.com I have the software set to watch the CF slot and do the following automatically: when I insert a card it will scan the disk for any images that I have tagged/locked in camera, it will then open the photo, apply a set amount of sharpening, add a little saturation, and apply either a blanket caption on one I've set fort he particular job. It will then save the file at a specified JPEG setting and then ftp them back to the office. All on it's own.

This is a real nifty way of very quickly getting images back to your office when you're in a location where you can't access your laptop. For example, were you to be shooting the NBA finals on the court - you obviously don't have any room on for a laptop. As long as you have a reliable WiFi connection (the Ipaq 4700 has built-in WiFi connectivity) you could foreseeable shoot a series of plays, and tag a few images during a pause. Simply pull out your disks and stick it into your Ipaq, and stick the Ipaq back into your pocket or fanny pack everything else is done automatically!

The software will find the tagged files, resize-them if necessary, sharpen them it you want and even apply a caption - and then transmit all via a macro action that doesn't even require to push a single button or tap on the screen - again the software is always live just waiting for you to stick a disk in.

The main caveat here is: You need to have a reliable Internet connection and that is always an issue no matter how you cut it at big events. The use isn't limited to sporting events either, I use this for news all of the time.

If you have a Bluetooth cell phone the software will also automatically connect to your phone and dial your ISP. We use the Motorola V710 http://www.verizonwireless.com which has Bluetooth and can connect to Verizon's high-speed wireless network and it works well I have found that connections can be somewhat unreliable and haven't been able to nail down the problem (while you get great connections at times - at other times the connection will unexpectedly slow down to a crawl) but I think that that is mostly due to the fact that the V710 only connects to the 1X or slower (relatively that is) wireless network - as opposed to the newer SIGNIFICANTLY faster EVDO or 2X network that Verizon now offers.

Photo by
With Verizon's "Broadband Wireless EVDO" service I've been able to send 1MB files in well under 20 seconds in a very good coverage area - most transmissions go through in less than one or two minutes on average (we used the PC5220 PCMCIA card with our Apple laptops and it's worked so well for me that I no longer use the Cable/DSL connections when I go to hotels and I've used the Verizon card across the country and been very pleased (there are of course regions that have zero coverage of course.)

So what I'm waiting for is a series of phones that Verizon is set to release in the next few months (I hope) that will support the new EVDO network then I can see myself using this workflow on a consistent basis. I know of others that are using this combination with great success - for me it's now quite reliable enough just yet. What's great is that with Bluetooth, you don't even need to take your cell phone out of your pocket or off of your belt-clip, just hit connect on your PDA and the cell phone is connected seconds later (or in this case let Phojo do it for you) and off your photo goes.

(As of the deadline posting of this article - Verizon is supposed to imminently release the Motorola 815 phone - the successor to the 710 - which fully supports EVDO - and something that I will definitely be looking into - stay tuned.)

This workflow is really pretty nifty and something photo departments across the country should look into especially when they want their photographers to somehow shoot and transmit at the same time. I can see this as a good way to send photos on deadline even when you're on the move at any news/sporting event where there is someone on the other side to help with captions (assuming you don't have time to enter captions in the PDA of course and are using a purely automated workflow).

The PDA and software have worked close to flawlessly for me, the only X factor is making sure you have a reliable connection to the Internet. The software allows you to transmit via ftp or e-mail by the way. Although it's not meant to replace a laptop and in fact may not be all that much cheaper than a laptop, once you combine the price of the software and PDA you can't beat the ease of use and compact solution to getting your images out - right away!

Oh ... and if you're a real gear/tech head - you can also use either the Canon or Nikon WiFi transmitters with this combination - and not even need to take your cards out of the camera (the Phojo software works wonderfully with both camera transmitters) - you could (with a fast enough connection) in fact be sending pictures live as you shoot … hmmmm … scary isn't it?

POCKET STORAGE
The Epson-2000 http://www.epson.com/cgi-bin/Store/consumer/consDetail.jsp?cookies=no&oid=49164278 is the first storage device that I have looked into seriously due to its professional features/specifications - and although I really like it, I think that it's probably worth waiting for the second generation of the device to come out before making a purchase. I've had it on loan from Epson for a few weeks and haven't had a chance to really run it through its paces (i.e. 2-3 months of usage) but here is a preliminary look:

Photo by

Epson P2000
The pros: the screen is a gorgeous 3.8" LCD probably one of the best such LCDs I've ever seen- incredibly sharp with a great ability to show off subtle tonal detail - it's also very nifty to be able to play movies and mp3s on it fyi. The battery life is excellent when compared to other units I've tried - I've copied over 15 disks (1GB) over to the unit and still don't need to recharge it… I wish you could turn the LCD off during the copy process to save valuable power however - I haven't figured out a way to do that… and I'm sure that wastes a valuable amount of power if you're copying a whole days take and you're somewhere where you don't have access to power (more about that later.) The menus and styling are great and the unit is the best of its kind today.

The cons: USB 2.0 - I still prefer Firewire because not all of the computers I have access to have the faster USB connection - and that's my main gripe with the unit. I also wish that the copy speeds were a tad faster (I've found that's it's 2 to 2.5X slower to copy a disk to the unit as opposed to your laptop, and as far as getting it off of your unit, you can transfer 1 GB of data from the P-2000 to either a PC or Mac in about 90 seconds.)

I'm sure you can find a lot of other reviews on this unit on the web - so here is what I wanted to share with you. This device fills a specific void out there - one for photographers who don't want to have to travel with a laptop or who have a Pocket PC phone that only has and SD slot (and won't accept compact flash cards.) Here are a few examples of how this unit opens up news possibilities:

1. If you want to use the Pocket PC workflow - you'll quickly find that you still need a laptop to download your images at the end of the day. The Epson-2000 is the first unit that I know of that allows to copy files both TO and FROM the device. Therefore you can do an edit on the unit and then copy your EDITED file back onto the same disk or another disk.

Since the P-2000 has two slots - one SD and one CF - you can have two cards inserted at once to do this very quickly. I only wish that the software on the unit allowed you to "tag" images as you went through the contact sheet (as you do with any photo editing software.) Right now you can only copy one file at a time - and therefore it's not ideal and a big part of the reason that I recommend you hold off from buying this version and wait for the next (or a software update.)

Another part of the problem with the Pocket PC workflow - is that very few Pocket PCs and/or phones have CF slots - and that severely limits you given that with the exception of Mark II cameras - almost everyone out there is shooting on CF cards. Given that no CF-SD adapter exists on this earth (I've searched - believe me!) this unit also fills a very important void out there. Now you can use virtually any phone (with Pocket Windows OS) or Pocket PC phone out there to transmit your pictures (if you use this unit as a go-between i.e. copy the files from your CF cards onto the Epson P-2000 and then from the P-2000 onto an SD card. (you could of course save time and just "browse" the CF card and then copy a file onto the SD card.)

2. If you want to travel light this is the way to go. Leave that 10-pound laptop kit at home and bring this little unit with you. You won't have to worry about running out of disks. This is especially good for photographers who go out to remote locations where there is no Internet access and therefore little reason to bring a laptop - this unit gives you a very clear image on the screen to see if your exposure is on (and allows you to zoom in up 1500% to see if images are sharp etc.) and has 40GB of capacity- more than enough for almost any trip that I can think of (even if you're shooting RAW - btw - it does support most RAW file formats according to literature, I've tested it in RAW mode with the Canon 1D Mark II, and the Canon 1Ds and it zips right through the files - it won't support the large files from the Mark II Ds however (TOO BIG!!!)

3. If you're going somewhere where you won't have access to power - this is also the way to go - as laptops die quickly - and the batteries to this unit weight 2 oz and are relatively small - taller and a little thicker than a AA battery.) I just got back from a trip to the Arctic Circle - where I wish that I had this unit. I would have left my laptop and brought this unit with 3-4 extra batteries and I would have save 95% of the weight.

4. The unit doubles a hard drive of course, it retails for $499.99, you could get a 60GB hard drive for around $350 but don't forget that you're getting an amazing screen with it, it's self-powered, and that the unit reads (and writes!) to both CF and SD cards... you can also plug it into a TV or printer - and make prints from it... you're getting quite a lot... and although I already said it - the movies really do rock!

If the Epson P-2000 were a little faster, had a Firewire port, and allowed you to tag or edit files on the contact sheet - I'd recommend it hands down. Right now I'd recommend you give it some thought to see if it would benefit your everyday workflow. While it may not be the ideal tool for such high-volume shooters such as sports photographers - the photojournalist, or nature/adventure photographer who likes to travel light may find this unit to be a blessing.


(Vincent Laforet is a staff photographer with the New York Times and is a regular contributor to the Sports Shooter Newsletter.)

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