50 Top Digital & Photo Products
Check Out Some Of The Best New Hardware And Software From The Last Year
By The Editors
Welcome to our Editors' Choice section. We've each put together a personal selection of neat products that we believe are interesting and potentially useful to anyone interested in photography and the computer. Our criteria were pretty straightforward: These products had to be new to the market in the last year (based on when they were actually available for purchase, not the announcement); they had to offer something that at least one of our editors found had some potential value to you, the reader; and they had to have something special about them.
For each item, we've given you a short summary of why we like these peripherals, programs and other products. Take a look, check out the Web sites and you might find some things that make your photos work better and easier.
Improved Image Editor
With the release of version 6.0
of Paint Shop Pro, Jasc has beefed up its affordable imaging program by adding great features like
better layer tools and a powerful browser. Plus, increased Web capabilities show the company's commitment to simplifying the process of getting your photos online. Windows only. Price: $109.
Contact: Jasc, (800) 622-2793, www.jasc.com.--WAS
The Epson Stylus Photo 1200 is one of the best printers we've had the
pleasure of using. It makes beautiful, high-res images fast and easy. The super-small, six-picoliter ink drops are almost impossible to see; they're virtually continuous-tone, so prints look more like conventional
photos. Price: $499.
Contact: Epson, (800) 463-7766, www.epson.com.--WAS
Perfect Picture CD
Picture CDs offer an easy route to digital images. We were pleasantly surprised to find that Dale Labs makes an even better one. The auto-opening discs have higher image resolution than standard Picture CDs, as well as all the software needed to view and edit photos. Price: $5-$7.
Contact: Dale Laboratories, (800) 327-1776, www.dalelabs.com.--WAS
Big CompactFlash Cards
Big megapixels mean big storage needs. New memory cards give us the chance to shoot more because of their increased capacities. We've seen CompactFlash cards
in sizes and prices for anyone--128 MB cards from Delkin ($554), 48 MB from Kingston ($213), 160 MB Pro Series from Lexar ($699), 96 MB from SanDisk ($349) and 128 MB from Simple ($399)--and all in a space the size of a postage stamp (the $2 kind, that is).
Contact: Delkin Devices, (800) 637-8087, www.delkin.com.; Kingston Technology, (800) 337-8410, www.kingston.com; Lexar Media, (800) 789-9418, www.digitalfilm.com; SanDisk, (408) 542-0500, www.sandisk.com; Simple Technology, (800) 367-7330, www.simpletech.com.--WAS
High-Res Digital Camera
The Ricoh RDC-5000 delivers both high resolution and low price-per-pixel in a convenient point-and-shoot package. An affordable 2.3-megapixel camera is enough to make our Editors' Choice list, but when you add direct USB connectivity (for super-easy and fast downloads), it gets even better. Price: $799.
Contact: Ricoh, (800) 742-6410, www.ricohcpg.com.--WAS
Fast Image Downloads
We use card readers with digital camera memory cards because they cut download times to a fraction of the time we'd spend with serial connections. Microtech's USB CameraMate ($89) reads CompactFlash and Smart Media cards; Antec's PhotoChute ($99) reads both formats, as well as PCMCIA cards. Windows or Macintosh.
Contact: Microtech, (800) 626-4276, www.microtechint.com; Antec, (510) 770-1200, www.antec-int.com.--WP
"Filmless" SLR Performance
Though we're also technology junkies around here, we all started out as photographers. So we fell for the 2.1-megapixel Olympus C-2000 right away--it offers a number of SLR-like features, such as manual shutter speed and aperture controls, a 3x zoom lens and optional lens adapters for wide-angle and telephoto photography. Price: $999.
Contact: Olympus, (800) 347-4027, www.olympus.com.--WP
There's nothing like printing beautiful photographs right at your desk. We've been extremely impressed by Hewlett-Packard's 812 color inkjet printer. It's inexpensive and produces some of the best-looking images we've seen thanks to built-in PhotoREt II technology. It takes media up to 81/2x11-inches, works fast and is reasonably priced. Price: $199.
Contact: Hewlett-Packard, (800) 752-0900, www.hp.com".--CBR
Complete Digital Photo Package
You couldn't get anything good for under $100 in a digital camera package--until IXLA's PhotoEasy Deluxe. It's a complete package that makes getting into digital photography extremely easy. You get six software titles and a digital camera (ideal for Web and electronic use) in one box. Price: $99.95.
Contact: IXLA, (800) 489-6704, www.ixla.com.--WAS
The Big View
We love working on a nice large monitor where we can see the full image at a good size and still have plenty of space for tool palettes and adjustment windows. ViewSonic's P817 21-inch monitor gives us all that and excellent sharpness, clarity and resolution. It's completely free of distortion all the way out to the corners. Price: $1,540.
Contact: ViewSonic, (800) 888-8583, www.viewsonic.com.--CBR
We think powerful digital darkrooms are great--and the portable ones are even better. Sony's super-compact VAIO laptop computers are ideal for photographers like us who want to work (and play) on the road. Since they're optimized for multimedia use, working with big images is no problem, and the iLink port (IEEE1394) is ideal for video, too.
Contact: Sony, (888) 556-SONY, www.sony.com.--WAS
Photography With A Twist
We like everything about the Nikon Coolpix 950. It takes the convenience of a digital camera and marries it to an excellent Nikon zoom lens and a high-resolution image sensor. The swivel design is also a real favorite as it allows us to create interesting compositions and photograph at interesting angles. Price: $799.
Contact: Nikon, (800) NIKON-US, www.nikonusa.com.--CBR
Low Price, Big Toolbox
We recommend Corel Photo-Paint 9 for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the depth and variety of tools included in this high-end, yet affordable image processor. We particularly like the Corel Scan feature, which automates much of the post-scan tweaks like removing dust and scratches. Windows and Macintosh. Price: $339.
Contact: Corel, (800) 772-6735, www.corel.com.--WP
Shooting In Style
We found the compact size and stylish body of the Canon Power-Shot S10 complemented its 2.1-megapixel image sensor and 35-70mm (equivalent) zoom lens. The chrome finish isn't just for looks, though. The body is made with sturdy, all-metal construction that gave us a nice solid feel. The PowerShot S10 is also designed to work seamlessly with the new Canon CD-300 dye-sublimation printer. Price: $699.
Contact: (800) OK-CANON, www.usa.canon.com.--CBR
USB Digital Camera
We work with lots of cameras, and our favorites are the easiest to use. But a convenient camera is no good if the image quality isn't up to par. We really like the Agfa ePhoto CL50 because it provides the 1.3-megapixel resolution we need, the ability to record 10 seconds of audio with each image and a USB connection for super-fast downloads. Price: $599.
Contact: Agfa, (800) TRY-AGFA, www.agfa.com.--WAS
Most digital cameras use the very slow parallel port to download images. We like to use the Lexar Media Jumpshot USB cable to get the images we shoot on USB-enabled media from the camera and into the computer fast and simply. The USB interface makes it a plug-and-play attachment to the computer, and we're able to get right into having fun with our pictures. Price: $19.95.
Contact: Lexar Media, (800) 789-9418, www.digitalfilm.com.--CBR
Nikon's new D-1 camera blows us away with its professional, high-end features, completely interchangeable lenses and a nearly 3-megapixel sensor for under $6,000. That's not cheap, but at half the price of comparable cameras, it sets a standard that will affect all digital cameras at any price. Price: $5,800.
Contact: Nikon USA, (800) 645-6687, www.nikonusa.com.--RS
Quick-Connect Image Vault
A rewritable CD drive is really a great thing to have. We use CD-R disks all the time to archive images and also to make the occasional audio CD. What we really like about the Sony Supressa USB CRX 100E/X CD-RW is that its USB interface makes it plug-and-play simple and we can easily move it around to different computers (as long as they have USB ports). The drive will read CD-ROMs and it can write to CD-R and CD-RW disks. Price: $339.
Contact: Sony, (800) 222-SONY, www.sony.com.--CBR
AMD has impressed us with the affordable Athlon processor. It's available in very high speeds, from 500 to 650 MHz. Not only do such ultra-fast chips simplify our work, but they keep competition in the processor market stiff, which benefits all of us.
Contact: Advanced Micro Devices, (800) 222-9323, www.amd.com.--WAS
Small Disk Drive
Five years ago, my desktop PC had a 170 MB hard drive. IBM's new Microdrives fit twice the capacity (up to 340 megs) into a tiny, portable drive the size of a CompactFlash card. In fact, Microdrives are compatible with CF+ Type II cards, so they're perfect for many digital cameras. One little drive holds hundreds of megapixel photos!
Contact: IBM, (888) IBM-5214, www.ibm.com.--WAS
For the ultimate in digital camera freedom, we just had to go with the Minolta Dimge 1500 EX. It has a high-resolution image sensor, and the lens itself actually detaches from the camera body. We photographed under, over and around just about everything we could find for some really fun pictures. The lens is tethered to the body, so the LCD screen displays what the lens sees. Price: $500.
Contact: Minolta, (201) 825-4000, www.minoltausa.com.--CBR
Image processors have gotten quite good. MGI PhotoSuite III impresses us with its package of features that go beyond simple image work, including auto-stitching, PhotoTapestry, electronic photo albums and diverse card, newsletter and other templates. Windows only. Price: $49.
Contact: MGI Software, (888) MGI-SOFT, www.mgisoft.com.--RS
CDs are rapidly becoming a media of choice for storage-hungry photographers. We really like Yamaha's new CRW6416 CD-RW drives because they use SCSI and E-IDE connectivity for fast 6x write, 4x rewrite and 16x read speeds, plus they allow for software upgrades to extend the life of the unit. Price: $300-$350.
Contact: Yamaha, (714) 522-9000, www.yamaha.com.--RS
Camera On A Computer
Little digital cameras tethered to a computer are showing up all over (we even saw something in Newsweek about them). While none are high-resolution, we like the Intel PC Camera Pro Pack because it offers both the camera (640 x 480 resolution) and video capture capabilities (from your camcorder) at a price of only $129.
Contact: Intel Corp., (800) 628-8686, www.intel.com/PCcamera.--RS
Big Tape Backup
Backing up photo files isn't too exciting, but so very, very important. We like Tecmar's new 10 GB Ditto Max Professional tape drive for its big capacity (10 GB compressed, 5 GB native storage) and its ease of use. Price: $199-$249.
Contact: Tecmar Technologies, (800) 890-1425, www.tecmar.com.--RS
The operating system, Linux, made some remarkable progress in the past year, with new versions from Red Hat (www.redhat.com) and by becoming a viable option at the time of computer purchase. We applaud this upstart OS for demonstrating that a clean, solid operating system can be made.
Contact: Peachpit Press for its book on Red Hat Linux by Harold Davis, (510) 524-2178, www.peachpit.com.--RS
We know we're supposed to use a tripod as much as possible, but sometimes it's just not convenient to lug a big stand. But with the ultra-portable Manfrotto Table Top Tripod kit, we've got no excuses. We love that we can take it anywhere, in a gadget bag or clipped to a belt. Price: $90.
Contact: Bogen, (201) 818-9500, www.bogenphoto.com.--WAS
In addition to being an all-around well-made digital camera with a nice 30-60mm zoom lens, we really like the operating system in the Kodak DC280. It's about the most user-friendly, easy-to-use and all-around functional one we've come across. We needed very little time with the camera manual because the icons and layout of the operating system and the camera hardware were so intuitive. Price: $750.
Contact: Kodak, (800) 235-6325, www.kodak.com.--CBR
CD Creation Software
Our favorite way to store digital images is on a compact disk--they're permanent and easily organized. We've found that Adaptec's Easy CD Creator is one of the easiest CD-making programs. It leads users through all the steps and increases the productivity of our office CD burner. Windows only. Price: $99.
Contact: Adaptec, (408) 945-8600, www.adaptec.com.--WAS
Do-It-All Film Scanner
For best results scanning film, we recommend a dedicated film reader. We like the HP PhotoSmart S20 film scanner because it scans negatives, slides and even prints up to 5x7-inches at 2400 dpi, all for a remarkably affordable price. We're particularly impressed with its easy-to-use, yet powerful driver interface. Windows only. Price: $499.
Contact: Hewlett-Packard, (888) 474-3867, www.photosmart.com.--WP
Power-hungry digital cameras devour batteries unbelievably fast. We love any battery that lets us shoot longer, especially when it's rechargeable. Quest Gold NiMH batteries are memory-free and fast-charging, so we don't have to worry about running out of energy. And, in the long run, they're cheaper and better for the environment. Prices: $24.99 to $39.99.
Contact: Harding Energy, (616) 798-7033, www.hardingenergy.com.--WAS
Imation's USB SuperDisk gave us a great way to store lots of image files (120 MB worth), and its USB interface made it a snap to connect. We could even take the drive to another computer (as long as it had a USB port) and use it there simply by plugging it in. The plug-and-play ability of USB is extremely useful and very easy to deal with.
And the SuperDisk also reads standard 31/2-inch floppy disks. Price: $149.
Contact: Imation, (888) 466-3456, www.imation.com.--CBR
At-Home Post Production
Pinnacle Systems Studio DC10 Plus is a total video-editing solution (hardware and software included) that makes it easy to edit our videos at home from virtually any camcorder. We especially admire Studio's NLE interface, which lets us add professional-looking effects, transitions, sound and moving titles with drag-and-drop simplicity. Windows only. Price: $229.
Contact: Pinnacle Systems, (800) 474-6622, www.pinnaclesys.com.--WP
The Polaroid SprintScan 4000 is simply the highest-resolution desktop film scanner available. We loved the ability to generate 50+ MB image files on a desktop 35mm film scanner. The SprintScan 4000 actually resolves negatives and slides (it scans both equally well!) down to the grain structure. It even looks cool in its dark blue case (we hate putty-colored computer stuff). Price: $1,995.
Contact: Polaroid, (800) 816-2611, www.polaroid.com.--CBR
Though we're enamored with the convenience and fun of digital cameras, we don't want to give up film, either. We were very impressed with the Canon EOS Rebel 2000 SLR, which packs a number of EOS features such as 35-zone evaluative TTL metering and seven selectable autofocus points in a very lightweight, affordable body. Price: $450.
Contact: Canon USA, (800) 652-2666, www.usa.canon.com.--WP
Big Prints From Small Files
Even the best digital cameras still don't provide enough resolution for really big enlargements. That's why we were really excited to find Altamira Genuine Fractals PrintPro, which lets us blow up image files to several times their original size with beautiful results. Windows or Macintosh. Price: $299.
Contact: Altamira Group, (800) 913-3391, www.altamira-group.com.--WP
We think it's much easier to get the best results when enhancing our images if we can compare adjustments side by side. Extensis Intellihance Pro 4.0 is a Photoshop plug-in that lets us preview up to 25 variations of adjustments and filters, then simply click on the thumbnail to apply the effect to our image. Windows or Macintosh. Price: $199.
Contact: Extensis, (800) 796-9798, www.extensis.com".--WP
Amazing Lens Range
We were a bit skeptical at first when we learned of Tamron's AF 28-300mm f/3.5-6.3 LD lens. This is an extreme zoom range, but the low-dispersion glass and aspherical lens elements make the lens work. We were convinced when we saw the superb results. Price: $779.
Contact: Tamron, (516) 694-8700, www.tamron.com.--RS
Better Color Through Science
We've been looking for an affordable way to manage color on our Windows systems for some time, and we've finally found one. Monaco Systems Monaco EZColor automates the process of building custom ICC profiles for our scanners, monitors and printers for consistent color from input to output. Most impressive is the optional colorimeter ($199) that reads your monitor for even more precise calibration. Windows and Mac. Price: $299.
Contact: Monaco Systems, (978) 749-9944, www.monacosys.com.--WP
Tune Up Your PC
We've found that keeping our systems clean means fewer error messages and better overall performance. Iolo Technologies System Mechanic makes system tune-ups easy, with tools that find and remove junk files that waste valuable disk space. There's even a tool that cleans up the mysterious Windows registry. Windows only. Price: $59.
Contact: Iolo Technologies, (877) 239-4656, www.iolo.com.--WP
More Fast CDs
The CD-RW drive market is hot right now, which is great for photographers. We admire Ricoh's effort in making a fast CD-RW drive that's highly adaptable--both SCSI and ATAPI (an internal spec based on standard hard drive connections) versions of the MP7060 are available offering 6x write, 4x rewrite and 24x read speeds. Price: $349-$399.
Contact: Ricoh Corp., (888) 742-6479, www.ricoh.com.--RS
Low-Priced Image Processing
For anyone who thinks you have to spend hundreds of dollars to get a great image-processing program, we'd suggest checking out Picture It! 2000. We love its ease of use and terrific feature set, like dust spotting or touch-up painting tools. They're worth the price of the program alone. Windows only. Price: $54.
Contact: Microsoft, (800) 426-9400, www.microsoft.com".--RS
Top-Quality Photo Paper
We've been using our inkjet printers with a variety of media to make all kinds of fun and useful projects with our photos. But when we want to make prints like those from a photo lab, we're sure to use premium photo paper. Ilford's Inkjet Photo Paper is some of the best we've seen, producing sharp output with the look and feel of a glossy photo.
Contact: Ilford, (201) 265-6000, www.ilford.com.--WP
We find CompuPic does a wonderful job of opening a view to photos on your computer, displaying small thumbnails of all images in a file folder (you can display them large, too). We also appreciate its excellent ability to print a proof sheet of the photos. Windows only. Price: $39.
Contact: PhotoDex, (800) 37-PHOTO, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.compupic.com.--RS
We've always liked the photographer-friendly filters in Ulead PhotoImpact's Easy Palette. In version 5, the program adds a very accessible way of finding them, plus some new special effects that really rival Hollywood and a host of Web-imaging tools that make this a very powerful program for us. Windows only. Price: $79.
Contact: Ulead Systems, (310) 523-9393, www.ulead.com.--RS
As photographers, we're always dealing with piles of pictures, on our desks and in our computers. ACDSee 32 has simplified the task of finding the right image file. We love that we can just click on any folder and it instantly opens, displaying all the image files inside as well as notes we've made about them. Windows only. Price: $40.
Contact: ACD, (800) 414-2237, www.acdsystems.com.--WAS
To get the very best-looking prints from an inkjet printer, we always use a high-quality paper. Like photo papers in a traditional darkroom, each of them has a unique look and feel. We like everything about the Agfa InkJet Photo Paper. It has a beautiful glossy finish, a photo-like feel and photographs look just great printed on it. The incredible capabilities of photo-quality inkjet printers can take full advantage of the paper. Price: $24.99 per box of 50 8x10 sheets.
Contact: Agfa, (888) 281-2302, www.agfahome.com.--CBR
We tend to do most of our photography in the medium-wide-
to-slight telephoto range. The Tokina AF205 28-105mm zoom lens is a perfect choice because
of its light weight and compact design. The lens has excellent optical quality. Price: $169.
Contact: THK Photo Products, Inc., (800) 421-1141, www.thkphoto.com.--CBR
Multimedia Presentations For Your Photos
We think Scala Inc. iplay Studio is an impressive multimedia authoring program and an exciting alternative to everyday slideshow software. We've used it to create full motion shows with our still images and video clips, adding sophisticated sound effects, transitions and moving titles. Windows only. Price: $79.
Contact: Scala Inc., (818) 673-1300, www.scala.com.--WP
E-Share Your Photos
We're excited by all of the opportunities for sharing photos made possible by digital imaging and the World Wide Web. New online services such as Adobe ActiveShare allow us to post our images to our very own space where friends and family around the globe can visit to view our photos. Best of all, the service is free.
Contact: Adobe ActiveShare, www.activeshare.com.--WP
Click here for Editors' Choice 1998.