Using blurb.com

Almost all photographers have a dream of publishing a book of their photos. Now anyone can easily publish their own photo book using an online printing service like blurb.com which I have recently tried out.

I first heard of blurb on the Webby Awards list for 2008. Some months later, I finally got around to trying them out. I also looked at similar photo book-making services at Apple, MyPublisher, lulu.com, etc., but I found that blurb offered the most serious options for bookmaking via their free software.

Blurb’s bookmaking software, called BookSmart, is free for anyone to download. They have a Mac version as well which I downloaded and used.

The software is easy to use, however, it’s still quite buggy with some display and formatting problems, at least on an Intel Mac. None are catastrophic, but troublesome and time-consuming to work around. One glaring bug is the program’s inability to wrap Japanese text within the text box. If you copy Japanese text from MS Word and paste it into BookSmart, the text won’t word wrap. So what you have to do it close the book and open it again. Then it appears correctly.

The software hasn’t come of age yet and I’m sure they are working to refine it. I use a 24″ screen so I can see the entire layout and all the necessary windows. On laptop screens, it might be a hassle to keep scrolling around to see things.

I created a 40-page (20 sheets), 7-inch square book with a soft cover. My very first blurb book arrived via FedEx which took about a week after I ordered a copy. The paper quality and overall impression was good. It was quite a thin and light book, more like a booklet or thick pamphlet than a real book. The colors on the cover photo though came out very saturated (too red). The people’s faces looked sunburn. But it was within tolerable limits.

Fortunately, the photos inside the book came out fine. The text was nice as well. Most of the photos were adjusted to 300 dpi and shrunk to fit the image box on each page. A few images came from my iSight camera on the iMac and even those came out decent. If you’re a Mac user, be sure that the gamma setting is set to 2.2 instead of the default 1.8. This will make the on-screen images look darker, but it will more accurately reflect the brightness of the images printed in the book. Go to Preferences/Display/Color/Calibrate to change the gamma. I wish they told you these things when you start out making your blurb book.

My blurb book cost $12.95. Shipping to Japan costs around $12 for one copy. So the shipping cost becomes a major issue if you’re in Japan and ordering only one copy. Things get much cheaper when you order multiple copies. Even the book price is discounted by 10 percent if you order 10 or more copies. If you’re targeting mainly people in the US, shipping would be much cheaper for them.

The main advantage about designing and publishing your book by yourself is that you have total control over the design and content. BookSmart includes a variety of page formats for text and images, but they can be somewhat limiting. You can format the page anyway you like by using Photoshop for your images/text and importing it to the book.

Another major advantage is on-demand printing. It’s no problem for them to print only one copy. They print only after an order is received.

And if you see a mistake or typo in the book, you can correct it on the fly and subsequent printed copies will reflect the correction. If your book is printed by a regular publisher, any mistakes will remain in all the copies you initially print (hundreds or thousands).

But if you need to make hundreds or thousands of copies, find a publisher or a real printing company to publish the book. I’m sure it will be cheaper per book.

Canon vs. Nikon

It’s near impossible to talk about Canon (see my thoughts about the EOS 50D) without mentioning Nikon. I was a longtime Nikon user during the film age (up to 2003), but switched to Canon. Canon’s revolutionary EOS SLR system, introduced in 1987, is more modern and well-suited for electronics-integrated cameras. Canon realized early on that electronics was going to be more important in cameras. They also put the AF motor in the lens rather than in the camera body, making it much more efficient and faster.

Nikon’s SLR system is based on a system from the 1950s when cameras were mainly mechanical and electronics was largely limited to metering systems. They’ve done pretty well in developing work-around technologies for their DSLRs, but their SLR system was not originally designed to integrate sophisticated electronics, so it has its limits.

After the Canon EOS system came out, Nikon should have done the same by developing a totally new and modern SLR foundation geared for the camera electronics age. But they understandably did not want to shut out longtime and loyal users who would not be able to use their old lenses with an electronic lens mount. This strategy has proved to be a hindrance in the long term. Nikon has also been a very conservative company, taking a wait-and-see attitude and mimicking Canon innovations (reminding me of Windows always copying the Mac). We have seldom seen any bold, groundbreaking steps taken by Nikon in the digital age (except for the D1x).

On the other hand, Canon has forged ahead, building on a solid electronic foundation for SLRs. Time and again, I’ve been impressed by Canon innovations, especially the CMOS sensor which they adopted early on and refined it to the point that made it superior to CCD sensors. They develop and manufacture their own CMOS sensors (Nikon probably uses Sony sensors). By doing so, they can better integrate their camera system with sensor technologies. The imaging sensor is the heart of the DSLR and such an important component. It’s comforting to know that Canon makes the sensors in their DSLRs. (When a camera maker works with a third-party sensor maker, they do not fully share their propriety technologies with each other for fear of the other stealing the technology and developing its own sensor or camera. So they cannot fully integrate their technologies as much as Canon can seamlessly in-house.)

Canon also developed and popularized lens-based AF motors, Image Stabilizer lenses, and affordable IS lenses. They were the first to produce the entry-level DSLR in 2003 at groundbreaking prices. Meanwhile, Nikon has always played catch-up. In the digital age, Nikon has never had the image of being an innovator except for their D1x which existed while Canon still had no professional DSLR. Canon has always been a constant innovator and groundbreaker.

In recent years, Nikon’s behavior or strategy has dumbfounded me. Remember when they declared that they would never produce a full-frame DSLR? That their DX system would be adequate forever? I thought it was foolish to say something like that, which no doubt made many people hoping for a full-frame Nikon switch to Canon. Well, not long after telling us this lie, they came out with a full-frame model. Why did they have to lie about it? Why not say the opposite instead and maintain the hopes of their fans? I thought it was a major PR blunder. That’s why it created a major sensation (in the Nikon world) when Nikon finally introduced a full-frame camera. To Canon fans, it was “been there, done that (years ago).”

In Oct. 2008, the Nikon D90 made a big splash as being the world’s first DSLR to have a movie mode. However, it cannot autofocus and you can’t shoot longer than 5 min. at top resolution so this movie mode is of little practical use. It’s just a gimmick right now, and something the marketing dept. probably wanted just so they could say the “World’s first DLSR with movie mode.” Over-hyped for sure. (The EOS 5D Mark II’s movie mode has AF and shoots 12 min. continuously, but the movie mode in DSLRs is still in its infancy.) And their latest DSLRs having 51 AF points only to exceed Canon’s 45 AF points is obviously a marketing ploy rather than a technology breakthrough. Nine AF points is enough.
What else… Oh yeah, Nikon does not provide image-processing software with their cameras. It is sold separately. And in the US, they can’t even pronounce “Nikon” correctly.

Another major factor in favor of Canon is its sheer size, scale, and prominence. Canon Inc. is a behemoth corporation that dwarfs Nikon. Canon’s capital, number of employees (over 130,000 vs. Nikon’s less than 5,000), and annual revenue are several times larger than Nikon’s. Canon has a much stronger and diverse product lineup with office equipment and other products besides cameras. The Canon brand is more prominent, we see it more often than the Nikon brand, on copying machines, printers, etc. Canon’s CEO is also the current head of the prominent Keidanren (Japan Business Federation). Canon’s social status in Japan’s corporate world is higher than Nikon’s. It’s more prestigious to be working for Canon than for Nikon. Canon is in fact one of the most admired and respected companies in Japan.

I can easily surmise that Canon has a much larger R&D budget, more resources, and more engineering talent than Nikon. I would imagine that the brightest engineers would rather work for Canon than for Nikon. The natural result is more innovations and superior products in the short and long term. Canon simply has a firmer and broader foundation technology-wise, a stronger and richer business backbone, more people, and vision. Canon is also probably less vulnerable to economic downturns than Nikon.

If you happen to be a Nikon fan, stick with Nikon by all means. They need your support. (Either that or you have too many Nikkor lenses to switch over.) But if you want to switch to Canon, there would be many logical and good reasons to do so.

Ultimately though, it doesn’t really matter what brand your camera is. (But if you still want to debate over it, I present you the argument above.) It’s the photographer which matters the most. He or she is the one who takes and creates the pictures, and if you’re happy with the results, then that’s all that matters.

My new Canon EOS 50D

Prices of Canon’s midrange D-SLRs have finally come down enough for me to see a very good price-to-performance ratio. The price of the 50D body is now about the same as the price of the body of the EOS 300D/Kiss Digital five years ago (about 100,000 yen). I’m pleased to see this development even though it was predictable.

Furthermore, I was happy to see that Canon finally offered an 18-200mm IS kit lens for the camera. This lens was the deal clincher for me, and I bought the 50D lens kit last month. There were countless times while shooting when I wished I had such a lens.

My first impression of this impressive camera is that it’s significantly heavier and larger than the 400D/Kiss Digital X which I was using, but not excessively so like the 1D series. I think it’s a good compromise between high performance and size/weight considerations. Meaning that I would still be willing to carry it with me almost everywhere all day long. I’m mainly a travel and outdoor photographer so size/weight is a major issue for me. The 18-200mm lens is also significantly heavier than the 400D kit lens, but still worth carrying around since I no longer have to carry two lenses to cover the wide angle and telephoto shots. Since I won’t change lenses often, there is less chance of dust entering the camera.

Another major difference is the camera controls. The entry-level EOS D-SLRs do not have the rear dial like the midrange models always had. So if you’re stepping up from the Rebel/400D series to the 40D/50D, the first thing you have to learn and get used to is the rear dial.

At first, I kept turning the wrong dial. When you press a button, you have to remember which dial (top or rear) to turn to set something. The top buttons have a dual function settable with the top or rear dial. I’m sure I’ll get the hang of it soon.

Another thing is that there are two display panels, top and rear. The 400D has only one panel on the rear, so you just look at one place for viewing images and camera settings. After you take a picture, you can view the image on the LCD monitor, then look at camera settings on the same display panel. If necessary, you can change any setting while still looking at the LCD monitor.

On the 50D, you can view camera settings on the top LCD panel as well and it displays everything that the rear LCD monitor can display. So it seems superfluous, but it will come in handy if you shoot at a low angle and cannot view the rear LCD monitor.

If you’re used to looking at a large LCD panel always clearly displaying the camera settings in large type, you will squint when looking at the 50D’s top LCD panel. I can hardly bear to look at the 50D’s top display panel for anything. It’s just too small and drab-looking. The ISO speed and exposure compensation scale are legible, but the white balance icons other than “AWB” are just too tiny, like a pinhead. It’s also hard to see in low light and pressing the illumination button (while your fingernail scratches the flash head) is troublesome. I need to clearly and quickly see the camera settings at all times, under all ambient light levels.

Only the rear LCD monitor enables me to do this, so what I do is, press the INFO button to display the camera settings on the glorious, 3-inch rear LCD monitor in full color (see image at bottom). Whenever I turn on the camera or press the shutter button, this INFO screen is displayed. And when you get used to that, you don’t ever want to look at the top LCD panel again unless you really have to.

My only concern is the battery power feeding the rear LCD monitor. With the camera settings display always on, I’m sure it drains the battery faster. In which case, you have the option to turn it off. Well I definitely want the nice big screen to display the ISO speed, exposure compensation, etc., whenever I shoot, so I will be purchasing at least 2 spare batteries to feed this desire.

Another thing about the camera is that it provides multiple ways of doing things (like setting the ISO or exposure compensation) and you have to figure out which way is best for you. The only way to figure out which is the best is to try the different methods while shooting. Sooner or later you’ll find one way that you like the best. I’m finding it easier to use the joystick to select an option on the Quick Control screen and turning either dial to set it. Easier than pressing a dual-function button on the top and trying to remember which dial to turn to set something.

After using the 50D for a while and then going back to the 400D, the 400D feels almost like a toy camera.

Here are my other positive and negative thoughts about my 50D so far:

Positive stuff

    – The camera is fast. Lot more snappier than any entry-level DSLR. Continuous shooting at 6 fps and large buffer (with UDMA card) were the main reasons why I bought this camera.
    – The camera feels ergonomic, grippy, solid, rugged, and weather-resistant. It certainly boosts your confidence as a photographer.
    – The high ISO noise level is much better than the 400D. Even at ISO 1600, noise is very noticeable with the 400D, whereas it’s almost non-existent with the 50D. I’m very impressed with the noise level. Another good reason to upgrade from an entry-level camera. Although there have been reports that the 50D’s noise level is slightly worse than the 40D’s, in real-world shooting, the difference is not noticeable.
    – The 18-200mm lens suits the 50D very well. But on the 400D, it makes the camera off-balance and front-heavy.
    – Quick Control screen displays all the camera settings on one screen and you can easily select and set any of the settings with the joystick control and dial. (Quick Control screen is not provided on the 40D.)
    – A focusing screen with grid is available.
    – AF speed is faster than the Nikon D300 + 18-200mm. I tried focusing with both cameras in a camera store and AF was noticeably snappier with the 50D.
    – Customizing the camera is great. We can assign the desired function to the SET and FUNC buttons. Also set My Menu and Custom Functions. Also add the photographer’s name to the image’s Exif info.
    – Big and high-res 3-inch rear LCD monitor.
    – Camera price is now very reasonable. In Japan, it is less than 150,000 yen as of this writing, including the 18-200mm lens.

Negative stuff

    – When you use the built-in flash with the EF-S 18-200mm IS lens, a dark, semi-circle shadow sometimes appears at the bottom edge of the image (usually for close-range or when the lens is extended). This problem is worse when you attach a hood to the lens.
    – You can’t really tell from looking at pictures of it, but the vertical grip is excessively bulky and certainly adds to the weight. Wish they could make it slimmer. After all, it’s the same grip for no less than four EOS cameras.
    – The auto white balance and tungsten white balance settings do a poor job under tungsten lighting. The orange color cast is still very prominent under both settings. This is a common problem among EOS DSLRs. You have to set a custom white balance for tungsten lighting.
    – The 400D’s wireless Remote Controller which enables you to trigger the shutter when you’re in a group shot does not work with the 50D. The 50D does not have any cheap, wireless Remote Controller. With the self-timer, you have only 10 sec. to run back to the group, tell everyone to smile, and hope for the best. And to take another shot, you have to go back to the camera to press the shutter button. Wish there was continuous self-timer shooting as with the 450D or a Remote Controller. The entry-level DSLRs as well as the 5D Mark II has the cheap wireless Remote Controller so it’s puzzling why it’s not in the 50D.
    – The 18-200mm lens does not have the quieter and faster ring USM. I would be willing to pay extra for USM.
    – No movie mode. This is not a major complaint since I use a video camera for movies, but it is a major feature that will be found on the 60D I’m sure. Can’t wait another year though.
    – The viewfinder eyepiece cover (attached to the camera strap) is too troublesome to use. You have to first remove the eyecup to attach the eyepiece cover. There’s no built-in eyepiece cover. It’s a minor problem though, and applies to other EOS D-SLRs.
    – An insecure feeling that the camera will be replaced in one year or so. Even so, I think this baby will last me until the price of the 5D Mark III gets low enough for the next step up.


Camera settings display look better here on the 3-in. LCD color monitor than on the drab-gray top LCD panel.

I think midrange cameras will get more popular since prices have come down to affordable levels while the features and performance keep improving. More people among the millions who bought an entry-level DSLR during the past 5 years will want to upgrade to a midrange camera. Camera marketing departments have hitherto targeted compact camera users to upgrade to entry-level DSLRs. From now, I think they had better also target entry-level users to upgrade to midrange models. It’s a viable market segment which now know what an SLR can do and might want to go further.

And those people who bought a midrange camera during the past 5 years will want to migrate to full-frame models. The 5D is steadily on its way to reaching the ideal price point of 200,000 yen or less for the body.

Update: I sold this 50D body in Feb. 2010 and bought the EOS 7D a day later.

Also see my take on “Canon vs. Nikon.”

My Snow Festival pics in new Hawaii book

A new book called “The Companies We Keep 2,” published in Hawaii by Bob Sigall, includes two of my pictures of Iolani Palace at the Sapporo Snow Festival.

The book is a compilation of many illustrated articles about various people, places, and companies in Hawaii. Lot of interesting tidbits and anecdotes about Jack Lord, Marilyn Monroe’s stopover in Hawaii, Ala Moana Shopping Center, local food and restauramts, etc., etc.

One article called “An Iolani Palace outside Hawaii??” is based on my photos of Iolani Palace (in Honolulu) made of snow at the Sapporo Snow Festival:
http://photoguide.jp/pix/displayimage.php?album=248&pid=37552
http://photoguide.jp/pix/displayimage.php?album=248&pid=37553

The article generously mentions me and my Web site.

The book author also appeared on a local TV talk show (with Andy Bumatai) on March 4, 2008 and showed my picture and mentioned my name. See video:

Book’s official site here:
http://www.companieswekeep.com/companies2_alt.html

Star Bulletin article here:
http://starbulletin.com/2007/12/30/business/story01.html

ISBN: 978-0972450416

Festimage photo contest in Chaves, Portugal

Chaves, a city in northern Portugal, is holding their 2nd international photo contest. They are accepting entries from April 20 to May 25, 2007.

Cash prizes will be awarded, as well as exhibitions of winning works in Chaves. Fifty finalists will be selected by an Admissions Panel comprising of leading photographers from various countries. The public will also be allowed to vote for their favorite.

I will be a member of the Admissions Panel representing Japan.

For more information:
http://www.festimage.org/index.php?set_lang=en

http://www.festimage.org/index.php?gc=10155

Looking at photos forestalls senility?

Interesting program on NHK TV the other night about senility (Alzheimer’s Disease, etc.).

Senility occurs when the brain shrinks or parts of it disappear. The program introduced various ways to slow down the disease with drugs, etc.

There was this 60-something old woman with mild dementia and her 70-something old husband who was dedicated to rehabilitate her.

At home, they had 2 large walls covered with nostalgic snapshots of her and her husband on trips, etc. They would routinely look at a few photos and the husband would ask her where it was taken and other questions to try and jog her memory. She usually had a hard time remembering, but it did stimulate her brain which was very important.

Apparently, recalling the past requires brain activity. And this is good brain exercise when it has to open all those old drawers full of memories.

That’s great to know because I’m really the nostalgic type who likes to look at my past pictures and recall all the good times and good people I came across in my life since childhood.

I better put up more nostalgic pictures on my walls. I should also take this opportunity to thank all the people who made my life so memorable and happy. I will always remember you. Thank you.

Canon EOS Kiss Digital X/400D/Rebel XTi first impressions

Note: This note was posted the day after the camera was first announced on Aug. 24, 2006. It was also posted at dpreview where it received over 50 comments:
http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/read.asp?forum=1031&message=19738022

The 400D (Europe)/Rebel XTi (USA)/Kiss Digital X (Japan) is on display at Canon showrooms in Japan. I went to the Ginza showroom in Tokyo today and touched the 400D for the first time.

These are my initial impressions:

– The front, top, bottom, sides, and grip of the camera looks almost (or exactly) identical to the previous 350D. But the rear is totally different due to the larger LCD monitor. The feel in your hands is almost the same as with the 350D except for the grippy patch of rubber on the camera back where your right thumb rests.

– The most obvious improvement is the larger LCD monitor which is terrific. The large display is sharp, bright white, and very easy to read. It is much, much easier to read than the 350D’s small, slithery LCD panel. I also really like the ISO speed indicator which is always displayed. You don’t need to press a button to see the current ISO speed setting. And needless to say, viewing your images on a larger screen is also more pleasant than on a smaller screen.

– The LCD monitor turns off automatically whenever some physical object comes near the sensor right below the eyepiece. This works very well and instantaneously. It turns off when you put your eye over the eyepiece so the glare from the monitor does not hinder your view of the viewfinder scene. It also turns off when the camera is hanging down a shoulder strap and touching your side or belly.

– The on-screen user interface for changing/setting the ISO speed, WB, metering mode, AF mode, drive mode, etc., is nicer since it’s done on the larger LCD monitor.

– The grip might feel too small or cramped for people used to using a larger camera or people with really large hands. However, I think I can get used to it. I appreciate the smaller size and weight, especially when I need to stuff the camera in an already-full backpack, etc.

– If you have the original 300D and thinking about upgrading, this 400D will be irresistable. One major surprise is the battery size. It’s much smaller/lighter and almost (or exactly) the same size as for the PowerShot compact cameras. It largely explains the camera’s much smaller size than the 300D. It’s also surprising that they could attain this small size even without switching to SD cards.

– The continuous shooting speed is almost the same as the 350D and nowhere as fast as the 30D, but the maximum burst is much improved. I see a lot of people trying to compare the 400D with the 30D. Well, the 30D is obviously a superior camera whose main selling point is higher performance and durability. It reflects the price you pay for it.

– When you turn the camera on and off, a short message appears on the LCD monitor to indicate that the self-cleaning sensor is operating. This feature is a first in the EOS Digital lineup. The big question is if it really works. Well, if it weren’t effective enough, I don’t think Canon would have incorporated it. It was quite ingenious to incorporate both a hardware (ultrasonic vibration of the low-pass filter in front of the sensor) and a software back-up (clone stamp tool to erase mapped dust spots) countermeasure. Any kind of countermeasure against dust on the sensor must be welcomed. If this dust reduction feature is found to be effective by initial users, then I believe that it will be a major selling point for this camera and Canon.

– On sale in Japan from Sept. 8 for around 100,000 yen (including the store’s discount system) with the lens kit. The major camera stores in Japan are already accepting pre-orders. In Japan, the camera is called EOS Kiss Digital X. The “X” is pronounced like the letter X, and not the number 10 although it is named after the 10 megapixels and being the 10th-generation Kiss camera (including the film models).

Web site in English:
http://www.usa.canon.com/consumer/controller?act=ModelDetailAct&fcategoryid=139&modelid=14256

In Japanese:
http://cweb.canon.jp/camera/eosd/kissdx/index.html

——————-

This is my response to some of the most common reactions in the dpreview forum to the 400D’s specs.

– If you want spot metering, buy a camera that has spot metering. This would resolve your problem.

– Don’t take a poll on whether people want to upgrade to the 400D before people can touch and feel the camera (and see the big, beautiful LCD screen) for themselves.

– I can understand 350D users thinking twice about upgrading. It’s really too soon unless you can afford to buy a new camera every 18 months or so. I myself have decided to upgrade with every other camera. I bought the 300D, painfully and regrettably skipped the 350D, but my patience will be rewarded with the 400D. For 350D users, the good news is that the 400D uses the same battery and vertical/battery grip as the 350D. The 400D can use the same accessories as the 350D.

– Not sure about how much battery power the new LCD monitor will require, but you can turn off the LCD monitor with the DISP. button so it stays off. Convenient if you want to really conserve power and not attract attention with a big, bright monitor. But it may be terribly inconvenient not being able to see the current camera settings. Well, just press the DISP. button again to see it, then turn it off again. It’s like using the old Illumination button at night.

However, when you turn off the LCD monitor, you cannot tell whether the camera’s power is on or off. This is why the camera now has a power lamp on the top (right shoulder). It lights when the power is on while the LCD monitor is off.

– The new LCD monitor reminds me of the iPod when it switched from the ugly-gray liquid-crystal display to the bright and colorful color screen we see today. It will be hard for me to turn it off. And so, before you decide for or against upgrading or purchasing anew, run out to your nearest dealer when it becomes available and see for yourself.

About the grip

Yes, the grip is very slightly larger than the 350D’s. Thicker by 1mm. There is also a rib on the camera back, besides the rubber patch.

At the Canon showroom, I compared the 350D and 400D side by side, I held both cameras and both felt virtually the same in my hands. However, I’m not a 350D user, so perhaps a 350D user will feel the difference more than me. But a 300D user (like you and me) will probably not feel the difference.

They could not make it too much bigger because they wisely want to keep the camera compatible with 350D accessories (like the vertical grip).

I’m sure Canon went to great lengths to very successfully downsize the camera from the 300D. It was understandable from a marketing point of view. During the time of the 300D, Pentax had a D-SLR which was smaller and lighter (I think the smallest and lightest in the world.). Canon had often made that claim for their previous SLR cameras. And they most likely wanted to reclaim the “lightest and smallest in the world” title (among D-SLRs with interchangeable lenses).

So I don’t think they will want to make the camera significantly bigger than it is now. If you really want a bigger grip, buy a bigger camera. I for one am willing to get used to with the crampiness in exchange for smaller size and weight. My 300D has never felt “heavy” at the end of the day, even after carrying it around all day long under the hot sun or while hiking up hills and mountains. My priority is light weight and small size. I travel a lot, and I carry not only a camera and lenses, but a laptop, AC adapter, portable HD, digital video camera, compact digicam, etc., etc.

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