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Capturing An Image

October 2000

"Some people say, 'I don't need 16 million pixels,' " Zarakov concedes. "But 16 million gives the ability to have a larger reproduction size and more cropping flexibility. Because I have so many pixels, I can crop it out and still have a file with integrity."

Foveon's new chip is ready to go, Zarakov adds, for any company that wants to put a camera around it. Although Foveon does offer a digital camera for its two mega-pixel CMOS sensor, he says the company is looking to partner with other developers to find a house for the 16.8 darling. And he's not limiting the possibilities to just digital camera vendors, but considers the field open to all forms of digital image capture.

This may constitute a trend among sensor developers. Eastman Kodak made a similar announcement at Photokina: it has formed the Image Sensor Solution (ISS) division to market the company's line of CCD and CMOS sensors to OEMs, as well as other Kodak business units.

The Cameras of the Field
Sixteen million-pixel sensors aside, what digital cameras currently sit at the top of the professional market? The answer will depend on who you ask. As Zarakov notes, the terms once used to quantify the quality of a digital camera are no longer so absolute. A sensor's pixel count is important, but so is the accuracy of capturing complete color information. Most one-shot cameras capture less than 1⁄3 of the total amount of color, because each pixel is measuring only one of the three primary colors: red, green or blue. The best digital camera will have the right combination of specifications for a given photographer who will use the unit for a given application—or two.

Among the current headliners is CreoScitex, which is supporting both types of sensors in its Leaf family of digital camera backs.

On the CCD side is the Leaf Cantare XY, a multi-function digital camera back, which is capable of tackling multi-shot still photography or live, mobile applications. The camera features a 6.29 million pixel CCD sensor with an active cooling system to reduce noise. The Cantare XY also features the Leaf VHtwist orientation control and Leaf 16-bit HDR file format that can both be found in other members of the CreoScitex Leaf family.

On the CMOS side is the Leaf C-MOST, which is a 6.6 mega-pixel, 35mm CMOS sensor developed and produced by CreoScitex in partnership with three other companies. The Leaf line of digital cameras that feature the C-MOST sensor was developed to complement the CCD line and offer a lower-cost solution to top-level professional digital imaging.

Fujifilm recently announced a new FinePix S1 Pro digital camera, which features the new 3.4 mega-pixel Super CCD designed to generate an image with 6.1 million pixels. Set for an October release, Fujifilm's CCD is "super," Mizutowicz says, because "given an apples to apples comparison, if the arrays are the same resolution and same size, because of the physical layout, the Super CCD sensors are 40 percent bigger in size, so they can gather 40 percent more light." The camera is positioned as an entry point for traditional single-lens reflex (SLR) users looking to cross into digital, especially for such applications as portrait, fashion or commercial use.

The Colorcam digital camera back with newly developed LinoColor Cam software from Heidelberg Prepress recently enjoyed its North American debut. The CCD sensor and sophisticated hardware and software combine to yield resolutions of 6 million pixels and a color depth of 16 bits per channel. Colorcam is designed for studio or one-shot live action applications.

The Kodak DCS 620x caught some lime light when it was named a "Hot Pick" at the recent Seybold Seminars in San Francisco. Sporting a two mega-pixel CCD, the DCS 620x is designed for action photography in changing or low light and offers high ISO settings, from 400 to 6,400. Like its DCS 620 predecessor, the 620x is based on the Nikon F5 SLR platform.

Canon's new three-plus mega-pixel CMOS sensor is designed to improve upon previous CMOS sensors in this not-quite-top-level camera class. Canon reports that it has integrated on-chip noise reduction, electronic charge transfer and on-chip programmable gain to combat the noise and quality issues often faced by CMOS technology.

The chip is integrated into the first digital version of Canon's EOS SLR camera, dubbed EOS-D30, which was released last month. Canon engineers report that among their next tasks is the development of a bigger CMOS sensor for the EOS.

Another major vendor on the digital camera front is Sinar Bron Imaging. At Graph Expo, it displayed a new color engine for its digital camera back system. The Sinar ColorCatcher system is part of its CaptureShop suite of digital photography software. ColorCapture is designed specifically to achieve faithful color rendition when used with the Sinarback digital camera system in either four-shot studio mode or one-shot mobile mode. The Sinarback combines the new Philips sensor (with up to 2,048x3,076 pixels) with active thermo-electrical cooling for noise-free images.

Another new development is Sinar's Macroscan adapter, which combines the advantages of the Sinar digital back with those of large-format cameras. Wide-angle photographs can be made in both landscape and portrait formats. With the Macroscan adapter, Sinar has further increased the versatility of its digital camera back by introducing variable resolution, thus providing a flexible solution for every photographic situation with a single camera system.

On the Scanner Front
"The big news is pretty much that drum scanning is dead," states Bill Gillooly, product marketing manager, input products, for CreoScitex. Well, maybe not entirely, but the death knell has been sounded. In the face of increasing innovation in flatbed technology coupled with a tight labor market, the idea of investing in an expensive, labor-intensive drum scanner is not appealing to as many printers.

Thus, the trend is for fewer machines to do more work and more varied tasks. "All of the things that you used to need to go to a drum scanner for," Gillooly says, "you can get in a flatbed." Specifically, he lists high resolution and increased shadow detail as the hallmarks of drum scanners—two points that have seen much improvement in flat orientations.

As with digital cameras, the specifications tell only part of the scanner's performance story. Such less-quantifiable aspects as interpolation software and scanning technique are achieving drum-like results.

For example, the EverSmart line of scanners by CreoScitex employs XY stitching techniques. "To scan a 4x5˝ or 8x10˝ original at high resolutions is nearly impossible. With XY Stitch, [the scanner can] look at the original in strips and our software assembles that image into one file. We can do it on small or large originals, which is what allows us to compare it to drum scanning," Gillooly explains.

Agfa Corp. offers the AgfaScan T5000 Plus CCD flatbed scanner, which reaches resolutions up to 5,000 pixels per inch. The AgfaScan T5000 Plus features DynamicFocus, a three-point control and positioning system that allows for micron-level adjustments to a floating transparency plate, ensuring proper focus across the entire image.

Another aspect of drum scanners being duplicated in some flatbed devices is the process of oil mounting originals. The process is known for being messy and time consuming; however, it aids in producing higher-quality scans. Gillooly notes that the EverSmart Supreme scanner supports oil mounting and addresses its drawbacks: the mounting can be done away from the scanner, he says, by switching out the flatbed.

Additional functionality provided by high-end flatbeds includes copydot scanning for integration into computer-to-plate workflows.

At Graph Expo last month, Purup-Eskofot demonstrated its new EskoScan 2330 copydot scanner that's 25 percent faster than previous models. It offers a scanning area of 23x30˝ and is capable of copydot scanning eight four-color sets per hour at 2,540 dpi. Its new EskoScan F14 uses a zoom lens and features a 14,400 CCD element that enables it to achieve 1,200 or 1,700 dpi.

Also at Graph Expo, Fuji Photo Film introduced its Lanovia Quattro scanner that contains four lenses, allowing for high-quality scans to be made in one pass. It contains an oversized A3 platen, which allows up to 100 35mm slides to be mounted and scanned in one operation, as well as an optical design capable of enlargements as great as 4,000 percent. The Lanovia Quattro produces up to 40 scans per hour, based on the Seybold standard of a 6x7cm original scanned at 350 dpi with a 400 percent enlargement. It's also supplied with Fujifilm's ColourKit, which enables users to be attentive toward color management.

Screen (USA) has enhanced its popular flatbed offering with its Cézanne Elite, which is twice as fast as the original. It is capable of scanning 104 35mm originals per hour. Optical resolution ranges up to 5,300 dpi with output of up to 20,000 dpi possible. Maximum density range is 4.2 with a scanning area of 12.8x20.7˝.

The Nexscan F4000 flatbed series from Heidelberg Prepress is the first family of scanners to utilize Heidelberg's Direct Capture Technology (DCT). DCT enables Nex-scan's CCD array to acquire the image straight from the scanning bed, without the need for mirrors or other diversions that can compromise quality. It also features XY VariLens optics.

For the lower midrange market, Heidelberg's QuickStep delivers 42-bit depth and a 3.7 Dmax. Handling both transparencies and reflectives, it utilizes a 10,500 pixel color CCD in combination with the TripleLens system. Heidelberg's "True One-Pass-Scanning" process is said to eliminate stitching and patchwork.

For scanners, it seems, the merging of many machines into one, less-expensive unit, is the current trend; for digital cameras, each has its own unique benefits and the less-expensive sensor technology is gaining some respect.

For digital image capture in general, Andy LaGuardia, spokesman for Fujifilm, put it best: "Everyone wants to hear numbers, but it really all comes down to is the quality of the image."


 

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