Taking Control of Your Digital Imaging Content

Educator Evaluation

By Ronny Richardson

Taking Control of Your Digital Imaging Content
A look at three products that will make every instructor’s life easierwhen trying to create digital course content.

As more and more courses either move all or part of their content online, instructors are being called on to create an ever-increasing amount of digital imaging content for their courses. So, as a service to fellow educators, I put three tools that are geared at making this task easier to the test: the ViewSonic VA712b LCD monitor, the Wacom Graphire3 6x8 pen tablet, and Adobe Photoshop CS. After reading these reviews, log onto www.thejournal.com to view a simple four-step process of how you can quickly create video content that your students can view online or on a DVD.

LCD or CRT, That is the Question
The ViewSonic (www.viewsonic.com) VA712b is an excellent, very affordable 17-inch LCD monitor that is only 7 inches deep. It has a 350:1 contrast ratio, which makes the LCD’s image as bright as my old CRT monitor. I was afraid that an LCD monitor would not be able to keep up with video that contained a lot of movement, but with a fast 8-millisecond video response time, the VA712b can handle 125 frames per second. The VA712b also has never shown any signs of flickering or ghosting.Needless to say, I find it much easier to work with this LCD monitor all day than with my old CRT monitor.

The bottom of the VA712b has two built-in 1-watt speakers. Although they sound tinny, I appreciate not having the clutter of stand-alone speakers on my desk. The monitor connects to a solid pedestal that lets users angle the monitor up and down, but does not allow for side-to-side movement. Other features of the VA712b include a wall-mount interface and a Kensington security port.

The average price of the LCD monitor online is about $250, while the lowest price I found was $231. At these prices, the ViewSonic VA712b represents an excellent bargain.

Trading in Your Mouse for a Pen
If you’ve ever had to produce diagrams for online courses, you’ve probably found your mouse too limiting and ended up scanning a freehand drawing. There is, however, a better way.

The Wacom (www.wacom.com/education) Graphire3 pen tablet consists of three pieces of hardware: a tablet, a wireless mouse, and a wireless pen. The tablet is about 8 inches x 10 inches (with a working space of 6 inches x 8 inches) and plugs into a USB port. The company also offers a smaller version with a 4-inch x 5-inch working area.

The tablet’s wireless mouse has two buttons and a scroll wheel, and is used exactly like any other mouse; the only difference is that you must use it on the tablet. And although the wireless mouse works just as well as my optical mouse, this is not what makes the Wacom Graphire3 so useful. It is when you use the tablet’s wireless pen that you see the real power of this package.

Move the mouse around the tablet’s work area and the cursor follows the mouse movement. You can pick up the mouse, move it, and continue scrolling just like any other mouse. However, with the pen, each point on the work area is mapped to a specific spot on the screen.Combine this with any drawing application and you can use the pen to draw just as naturally as you would with a pen and paper. In addition to movement, the pen is pressure-sensitive, so you can easily control line width while drawing.

I must admit that the pen took a little practice, but after a few days, I had no problems using it with the lowly Microsoft Paint or the powerful Adobe Photoshop program. I actually found that the pen gave me much more control, and now I cannot imagine having to go back to a mouse for drawing or photo editing ever again.

To help you use the pen for drawing, the package includes a copy of Corel Painter Essentials 2.For digital photograph editing, it comes with a copy of Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0. There is also a copy of nik Color Efex Pro 2.0 for filtering photographs.

If you work with graphics,and especially if you draw on the computer, you will find the Wacom Graphire3 incredibly useful. The average price online is about $165, but you can find it for as low as $150.

Harnessing the Power of Photoshop CS
If you are working with digital images for fun, you are probably better off using the free program that comes bundled with your digital camera or an inexpensive program like Adobe Photoshop Elements (MSRP $99). However, if you are serious about your images, you will find that Adobe Photoshop CS (www.adobe.com) is well worth its higher price and tougher learning curve.

Photoshop CS is a major upgrade to Photoshop; although, it will not look like it when you first start the program because the opening screen and user interface are virtually unchanged. The biggest improvement to the program is a complete overhaul of Photoshop’s ability to work with 16-bit colors. Photoshop CS now works with 16-bit images almost as well as it works with 8-bit images; however, most of the filters and a few other features still do not support its 16-bit mode. A major related improvement is the “Camera Raw” plug-in that allows the program to work with raw data files from high-end digital cameras.

Photoshop can now match colors so photographs shot under different lighting can be color-matched, while another feature allows you to pull in lots of details from areas of your photographs that ended up being too bright or too dark. Another new feature that users have waited a long time for enables you to add text to an image that follows shapes and even free-form paths. The program’s ability to work with layers in your photograph has also been enhanced.

In addition, Photoshop’s new File Browser has been greatly improved, and now works much like a light table. This makes it much easier to add keywords to images and then search for those keywords. With this new version of Photoshop, it is also easier to select individual images and automate some of the functions applied to them.

These are just a few of the more useful, major improvements to this version of Photoshop. However, one important area where the company has not improved is with the program’s speed—Photoshop remains slow,sometimes painfully so.

Photoshop CS is a major upgrade to an extremely powerful program. If you want to have the maximum control over your digital photographs, and you are willing to take the time to learn the program, there simply is no other choice than Photoshop.

An upgrade for your current version of Photoshop is about $160, while the list price for Windows and Mac versions is $649. The average price online is about $500; however, academic pricing abounds, which drops the cost to under $300.

Ronny Richardson is a professor of management at Southern Polytechnic State University in Marietta, GA, where he teaches a variety of courses both offline and online. He is also an award-winning photographer and author of 20 books.

This article originally appeared in the 10/01/2005 issue of THE Journal.