Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Amazon Kindle needs to evolve before widespread acceptance

I have followed the development of ebook readers for quite a few years so was naturally interested in the mention of the Amazon Kindle in the 2008 Horizon Report, a report produced by Educause each year that identifies key trends in technologies that will affect teaching, learning, and creative expression. I was not familiar with this new product so I went up on Amazon and gave it a look.

Essentially, it is an evolved version of the Franklin ebook reader with the two most advanced features being its electronic paper display (this technology is not exactly new - Microsoft Reader uses a display that is easy on the eyes as well) and cell phone-like wireless connectivity. I like the concept of using cell phone technology for wireless support although it wouldn't be very helpful to someone like me who lives in a cell phone dead zone.

I was also underwhelmed that it appears to be monochrome and text only. Haven't they grasped the concept yet that a picture is worth a thousand words? For these kinds of major limitations I found the price too hefty as well - $399. What we really need is something thin and light with a decent sized display screen (sorry iPhone) and the ability to download text and images for a price of about $129 - sort of a derivative of an electronic picture frame device. Hewlett Packard has had the perfect device in development for a number of years but it has not been released to the public (a too conservative administration??).

Another shortcoming of the Kindle is the price point for the content. It says best sellers are $9.99 - come on, that's more than the price of a printed paperback and there's no printing cost, no inventory requirements, and no unsold copies!! Give me a break!! I suppose the major publishers are dictating the prices just like the film studios are insisting on $9.99 for downloadable movies from iTunes.

Steven Jobs recently expressed his disappointment that movie downloads have not been as successful as music downloads for Apple. It's not a mystery - mainstream DVDs can be purchased at Best Buy or Circuit City for $4.99 - $7.99 and you don't need to burn them to DVD or use Apple's set top box to watch them on your TV. Apple charges $3.99 for a download rental but again you have the conversion problem unless you use their set top box or watch it on your computer. Most of us have cable or satellite TV already that offers pay-per-view movies for $3.99 and no conversion is required. In addition, we can record them if we wish and keep them for as long as we wish (or until the DVD deteriorates).

What makes iTunes music selections so attractive is the ability to buy one song at a time for $.99 and forgoing the cost of an entire album. The price point is right and provides real savings to consumers. Such is not the case with most movie offerings and, in the case of the Kindle, ebooks.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Good article on issues faced when photographing art at a museum

I was organizing some of my photos up at Flickr and noticed this link to a very good article about photographing art in museums. I would take exception with some of the technical comments made about suggested equipment and settings, however.

It begins by recommending the Canon 40D DSLR. I would not argue about image quality, precision lens, and good image stabilization. However, I definitely disagree that you cannot obtain the same features from a quality point and shoot camera as I think I have demonstrated during my photo shoots in a number of the world's most famous museums.

My reason for using point and shoot cameras over DSLRs is weight, cost, and ease-of-use. My High-ISO camera of choice is the Fujifilm Finepix F30. It produces very acceptable images (considering relatively low noise level) shooting with the ISO preset to the maximum of 3200. It is also a compact 3X zoom that fits nicely in my purse without carrying around a large camera bag full of extra lenses. Although the Fujifilm does not have image stabilization, it's high ISO makes it possible to use higher shutter speeds to minimize camera shake. I also recommend using the Macro setting when shooting in museums because it provides images with finely detailed texture.

My Panasonic FZ8 also shoots relatively low noise images up to ISO 400 (It advertises ISO of 1600 but images are much too noisy at that level. I initially tried ISO 800 but didn't find the noise level acceptable at that level either) It has a 12X zoom and is also small and lightweight for a superzoom camera. The Panasonic has an excellent image stabilization system so I can work with slower shutter speed settings than the Fuji which I need to do since the ISO setting is not as high as the Fuji. I also set my Panasonic to the Auto-Focus with Macro setting for texture detail.

I was quite honestly dumbfounded when the article mentioned shooting without flash or tripod at a shutterspeed setting of 1/20 of a second. Way too slow even with excellent image stabilization for an older photographer like me who must compensate for a familial tremor. I read that you can try to use the time delay function to compensate for pressing the shutter and even burst mode to try to increase your chances of getting a "tack sharp" shot but I personally would not risk it at less than 1/60 of a second without flash or tripod.

As for cost, I prefer to save my money to afford traveling to world class museums instead of spending over $1200 for a camera (body only in the case of the Canon) instead of less than $300 for either the Panasonic or the Fuji. Perhaps this decision makes me less of a "professional" but I think it is the most practical for me.