Digital Focus: Time for Win XP? Why JPGs Shrink
Depending upon your perspective, it can be said that new versions of Windows arrive about as regularly as either the migration of the noble Yellow Breasted Swallow or the arrival of the annual flu season. Indeed, it has been a while since a new version of Windows was reason to celebrate. But even if you weren't wowed by Windows Me, it's looking like Windows XP should get your attention--especially if you're into digital imaging.
With Microsoft's imminent launch of Windows XP, you've got a decision to make: upgrade to Windows XP or stick with what you have? Let's take a look at the new operating system, focusing on digital imaging.
As you probably know by now, Windows XP is the marriage of Windows 95 and Windows NT technology. The result is a theoretically rock-solid computing platform that's compatible with all the USB, FireWire (IEEE 1394), Plug and Play, and DirectX technologies that we home users need. Indeed, one dramatic improvement alone makes Windows XP a worthwhile upgrade for digital photographers: the dreaded System Resource limitation is now gone.
If you use Windows 95, 98, or Me right now, you surely know about System Resources. Windows uses a small pool of memory for managing various system pointers and graphical elements. No matter how much memory your PC might have, it'll eventually run low on System Resources and crash if you run a lot of applications without rebooting.
You can check your system resources by right-clicking
If you tend to work with several imaging programs at once, these out-of-system-resources problems no doubt crop up a lot. But simply put, that's a thing of the past in Windows XP. It's tough to make this operating system crash by overworking it.
In the past, the only good way to catalog and manage all of your digital images was by using a third-party program. Windows XP's more convenient folder views can take the place of those extra programs. The My Pictures folder now looks like a slideshow, with little thumbnails of your images spread across the bottom of each folder. Most of the folder is reserved to display a large preview of the currently selected image.
At long last, Windows now supports more common file formats as well. You
can now preview files in formats like JPG, TIFF, GIF, and BMP, all without an
additional file viewer like Jasc's
If you're not careful, you can cut yourself on some of Windows XP's
sharp edges. First and foremost, it may require more horsepower than your
current PC has to offer. You can
Also, beware of drivers. I've seen quite a number of multimedia devices fail under Windows XP, so if you can't live without your CD-RW drive, digital camera, or scanner, you might want to verify that the drivers and software are XP-ready--or just wait a bit. Personally, I was amazed to find that my SCSI-powered Minolta Dimâge Elite film scanner worked, but my copy of Easy CD Creator and a SmartMedia adapter both failed.
Also, Microsoft is playing fast and loose with its new auto-start feature. Plug a digital camera into the USB port, for instance, and Windows XP offers to start a Microsoft-branded image editor. If you're savvy--and I know you are--you can simply click Cancel and launch your favorite program instead. This bothers me, though. Microsoft should make it possible to add your favorite program to the launch list. Otherwise, it's hard to shake the impression that Microsoft is using Windows XP as a bully pulpit to promote its own products and business partners.
Geography: Back in school, I'd always groan and roll my eyes at the thought of studying stuff like the primary export of Canada, the difference between lines of latitude and lines of longitude, and where tundra is found. But now that I'm an adult (or so my driver's license tells me), I've learned that you can have fun with geography--especially if you can combine it with photography.
Specifically, I'm talking about the
The goal of the Degree Confluence Project is to photograph the site of every major latitude and longitude intersection around the world. It turns out that there are 64,442 intersections, with about 12,000 of them on land. Only about 1150 of these spots have been successfully visited and photographed; the rest are waiting for you to grab a camera and a GPS receiver.
The site is well designed and quite searchable. Don't forget: You can submit your own pictures if you happen to be at an intersection that hasn't yet been photographed. So if you are visiting Brunei, the Congo, or Antarctica anytime soon, be sure to bring your camera.
I frequently use a program like Adobe PhotoShop to edit my digital photos. Recently, though, I noticed that the file size changes dramatically when I save it. I might start with a JPG file that's around 800KB, for instance, but after saving it the file will be 500KB or less. Am I doing something wrong?
There must be something in the air right now, because I received several e-mails this week asking essentially this same question.
There could be several things afoot. First of all, if you make significant changes to an image (like resolution, cropping, or brightness/contrast) the JPG file size can change quite a bit. That's nothing to worry about; it's just a reflection of the fact that your image is no longer the same as it was.
Another factor is the JPG compression level. The original JPG image--saved by the camera--and the new JPG, saved by your image editor, might have been compressed at two very different quality levels. Your digital camera may only have three JPG quality levels, such as low, medium, and high. Adobe Photoshop, however, has a dozen levels. Paint Shop Pro has a whopping 99 levels of compression.
As always, I recommend that you save your edited images in TIFF format or the highest quality JPG compression level you can choose. Your eyes are the real test, though. If the image looks goods to you, I wouldn't be too worried about variations in file size when you save an image after editing.
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Ken says: "The photo was taken at the 2001 Experimental Aircraft Association convention in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. The aircraft is a 1940 Boeing 307 Stratoliner, the world's first pressurized airliner, one of ten built. This 307 is headed to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, the companion facility of the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum that is being built at Dulles International Airport, outside Washington, D.C. This 307 is the last remaining Stratoliner in existence.
"This was my first outing with a digital camera; I normally shoot with a Nikon FM. I used an Olympus D510, a 2.1-megapixel camera. The exposure was 1/800 second, f8.6, ISO 100, 102mm focal length, in a HQ format, which is 1600 by 1200 pixels."