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DIGITAL digest 5-01

May 2001
Empowering Digital Photographers

MONACO—Digital camera back manufacturer Sinar Bron recently held an international press briefing here. The Mediterranean locale was chosen because it is home to binu-scan, the image processing software developer that has developed a new color-conversion utility for use with Sinar systems.

Sinar CeMagYK (pronounced "see magic") software was developed in response to the greater opportunities digital photographers have to manipulate images and exercise influence over the printed results, according to company management. The conversion software works as a plug-in to Sinar's CaptureShop image processing software and is billed as a professional prepress tool for preparing ready-to-print digital images.

The core of the CeMagYK software is the IPM (Image Processing Machine) from binuscan. The IPM reportedly enhances printed image quality through the application of special conversion tables, adaptive unsharp masking and a contrast-optimizing technique.

The RGB to CMYK look-up tables (LUTs) are said to be based on binuscan's extensive color expertise that is rooted in its genesis from the Binucci Printing House in Monaco. The LUTs were optimized for strong, saturated color tones in RGB, which offers advantages for photography of plastic parts and product shots. According to Sinar, CeMagYK also achieves life-like results in skin tones.

The adaptive unsharp masking function takes into account the scaled size of the picture and is tailored to the printing process. The contrast function is said to adjust all three (RGB) color channels to ensure that the full brightness level is reproduced. A batch processing feature enables all processing functions of CeMagYK to be applied simultaneously to several pictures with a single command.

The software supports common image data formats, but Jean-Marie Binucci, binuscan's president, recommends that PostScript-based formats be used for print workflows. He contends that the DCS file formats offer several advantages, especially compared to TIFF, in terms of workflow and quality control.

Since the majority of the editors assembled for the press briefing worked for photography publications, Binucci gave a brief tutorial on offset printing and how DCS/DSC2 can facilitate the process.

He explained that the DCS/DCS2 formats support preview images, which speed processing by reducing data handling requirements in page layout and other applications. The point also was made that the Sinar/binuscan software gives users options in terms of the size and resolution of file preview images, which can make them more usable in other applications.

The big workflow advantage, though, is that the DCS formats make it possible to use the layout program to efficiently perform tonal value adaptations if needed, he says. With this approach, the tonal adjustments are made via PostScript commands and do not alter the pixel values of the image data directly, Binucci told the journalists. This makes it possible to quickly reverse changes if desired.

Lastly, the company exec noted that instructions for the screening of pictures can be incorporated into output files, providing more control over and predictability in printed results.

The central theme of Binucci's presentation was that the offset printing process doesn't have to be as complicated and intimidating as it often is made out to be. He—and Sinar Bron, by extension—promoted the idea of photographers playing a bigger role in preparing images for print. After touching on complicated subjects such as UCR and GCR, Binucci did conclude by advising photographers to set up these print requirements based on specs provided by the print supplier handling a project.

In addition to introducing CeMagYK software and explaining how it can facilitate the print workflow, Sinar Bron unveiled a couple of new hardware offerings at the press conference.

The Sinarback HR adds microscanning capabilities to the manufacturer's digital camera back product family, thereby boosting image resolutions. When used in combination with the Sinar Macroscan back, for example, it can achieve a resolution of more than 75 million pixels, or a 450MB file.

The scanning back uses a patented, double piezo chip that advances the sensor in steps of only half the width of a pixel for each of 16 exposures. To maximize image sharpness and eliminate aberrations, the manufacturer also offers lenses that have been optimized for use with the microscanning process.

The Sinar Cyber Kit gives large- and medium-format digital camera users mobility and independence from a laptop or desktop computer. The system includes a specially designed mobile computer with a built-in touch screen and 20GB hard disk, which accommodates approximately 1,400 images.

Photographs can be viewed in contact or full-screen modes, with a zoom feature also provided. Histogram displays and an exposure control enable image adjustments to be made immediately. Images are saved to disk in a background operation, so exposures can be made at approximately one shot per second. Files can be downloaded from the Cyber Kit via the Sinar fiber-optic connection or Ethernet.

The computer and rechargeable batteries can be carried on a belt so the photographer has unrestricted movement and is self-sufficient. The batteries are said to be reasonably priced and simple to recharge.


Xerox: Betting On Color

NEW YORK CITY—Hoping to reinvent itself in the midst of a tidal wave of flagging stock prices, layoffs and a somewhat tarnished image, Xerox President and COO Anne Mulcahy recently outlined the aggressive strategy Xerox will pursue to return to profitability during Xerox's Color Event.

Pulling no punches, Mulcahy admitted that Xerox's image has faltered. "Many people around the world are concerned about what has happened at Xerox and whether we can turn things around. I understand those concerns."

Still, while conceding that Xerox has had a bumpy ride lately, Mulcahy affirms that Xerox is here to stay and is in the process of changing its strategy to compete better. "The new Xerox is still focused on the document, but differentiated in new ways through color, solutions and services," she reveals.

The company's three-pronged turnaround plan revolves around cash generation, cost base reduction and long-term growth, according to Mulcahy.

Xerox has sold half of its 50 percent stake in Fuji Xerox to Fuji Photo Film for more than $1.3 billion. Xerox also sold its China operations for $550 million, which puts the company in range of its goal of $2 billion to $4 billion in asset sales.

In addition, Xerox has made steady progress in reducing costs and re-establishing profitability by taking $1 billion out its cost structure. As a result of these recent moves, Xerox is anticipating a first quarter loss that was similar to the fourth quarter of 2000.

Mulcahy believes that her company will see improvement as it moves forward, with a return to profitability in the second half and for the full year of 2001. At the heart of the turnaround is the building of what she calls the new Xerox.

"The new Xerox is focused on adding more value to all kinds of documents, so we can bring more productivity to all kinds of businesses. Simply put, our goal is to help customers create and profit from higher value documents...while reducing the cost or eliminating lower value ones," Mulcahy explains. "High-value documents are what we think of as smart documents, and we'll deliver them through color, solutions and services."

Mulcahy contends that when color is added to documents, so is value.

Mulcahy describes Xerox in the year 2005 as being built around four key areas: services, high-end production systems, office products and related solutions.

She adds that commercial printers are an important prong in Xerox's plan. Xerox believes its digital color technology, FutureColor—currently in development—will be key to this market.

"FutureColor represents a quantum leap in technology...the result of a $1 billion investment in R&D. And it will be every bit as revolutionary in the world of production color as our DocuTech was in the world of black-and-white a decade ago," Mulcahy adds.

"Just as the DocuTech spawned an industry and grew into a $2 billion annual business, we expect even more from FutureColor and its related solutions."

The main customers for FutureColor are expected to be commercial printers that want to print short runs with fast turnaround, while also producing high-value documents that are personalized, customized and come from the Web.

Beta units are expected to ship in late 2001, and the product will officially launch sometime next year.
 

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