Digital Imaging Is Innovative, Useful and Now Within Educators' Reach

Digital imaging has grown phenomenally in a very short time. (Weíll define digital imaging in this article as taking digital pictures, manipulating them on a PC and printing them out or integrating them into various projects.) This rapid acceleration of growth is due to a few recognizable factors: plummeting hardware prices; cheaper and more user-friendly image manipulation software; a continuously growing base of installed computers capable of handling digital imaging; and, finally and perhaps most importantly, the rapid growth and acceptance of the Internet -- a natural arena for this technologyís application.

Now, many educators are recognizing the benefits digital imaging provides. Benefits like immediate access to their pictures; control over the image enhancing and editing process; no money spent on film and processing; and integrating images into multimedia-based projects, Internet projects, Web sites and more. The best part of all: these benefits are now available at prices most educators can afford. (One caveat -- image resolution still canít quite match that of regular film.) This article will point educators to good deals and reveal applications for this burgeoning technology.

The Technology

A quick study of digital imaging technology reveals that a digital camera is no more difficult to operate than a regular camera. Whatís different is inside: instead of conventional photographyís chemical reaction process, digital photography (like all digital processes) utilizes an electrical reaction. Suffice it to say, images are stored in a cameraís on-board memory, or removable PC (PCMCIA) cards. Using a PC card adapter like ActionTecís (800-797-7001) CameraConnect or serial or parallel cable, images are transferred to a PC where image-editing software lets you convert, enhance and edit images. After integrating these images into a plethora of projects, or simply touching them up, you can print images out on color inkjet printers.

The applications for this technology in the education environment are limited only by oneís imagination. How about capturing a schoolís media inventory with a digital camera and downloading the images into a digital picture-enabled database? Or printing up a program for the school pageant, with pictures of all the cast in their various costumes? Or producing photo-identification cards? Or utilizing the camera for a university newspaper? As you can see, it only takes an active mind to come up with new uses every day for digital imaging.

The Cameras

For a low-priced kit that fits well into many education applications, check out StarDot Technologiesí (888-STARDOT) WinCam.One. For $269, the kit includes a camera that can handle 640 x 480 resolution images, a slide holder for digitizing 35mm slides, a tripod, all necessary cables, a power supply and WinCam software that controls the camera. Designed as a desktop camera, aiming and focusing is accomplished using the software. There are many uses for this type of camera, from taking photos for portfolios to setting up a low-cost desktop surveillance system. It could even be taken outside and hooked up to a laptop and tripod for outdoor shots.

WinCam.One is a Complete Bundle

In addition to the DC50 we review in this article, Kodak offers a couple of cameras at prices that may entice educators. While not capable of the same resolution the DC50 features, both the DC20 and DC25 are designed with the same usability that pervades their bigger brother. Both cameras offer 493 x 373 resolution, on-camera image storage (1MB for the DC20, 2MB for the DC25), optical viewfinders and a good mix of bundled software, such as Kaiís Power Goo SE. The main differences between the two cameras are the memory capability and the DC25ís built-in color LCD display, which enables immediate previews of stored images. These differences are reflected in the prices: the DC20 g'es for $199; the DC25 for $399.

Built-in LCD Screen Provides Previews

Panasonic also is offering a digital camera under the $400 mark. The CoolShot KXL 600A is remarkably compact -- 5.2 inches high, 2.4 inches wide and 0.8 inches deep -- yet still offers 640 x 480 resolution. It utilizes a 2MB CompactFlash memory card, where it stores up to 24 high-resolution pictures. With an optional 4MB PC card, it can hold 192 normal quality images. A unique feature lets educators view photos directly on a television using the bundled cable. To transfer images to a PC, simply place the PC card into the included PC card adapter or use the serial interface cable. For Macintosh users, Panasonic (800-742-8086) is offering an optional interface kit ($59) that includes image-editing software.

Hands-On: Kodak DC50

Priced under $700, Kodakís (800-23-KODAK) DC50 is a good "do everything" camera, with additional features not seen on other cameras in its price range. It has a 3x motorized zoom lens, with automatic focus and exposure, and can store up to 22 "good" quality pictures in its 1MB internal memory. Setup was a snap, consisting mainly of installing the Phot'Enhancer software that ships with the camera. This software adds the correct drivers to your Windows or Macintosh system automatically, letting you get right to work at transferring and editing images. Although useful for basic image editing and translating images from Kodakís proprietary KDC image format to something more useful like JPEGs or TIFFs, Phot'Enhancer is hardly the tool for serious image manipulation.

The DC50 Can Store Additional 756 x 504 Resolution Images on PCMCIA Cards

Image quality was better than expected, even when used for "action" shots. Transferring images was a simple affair; an included cable (for both Macs and Windows PCs) hooks up to the cameraís and PCís serial ports. The DC50 also includes a tripod mount useful for still work, such as taking photo ID shots. In short, we were impressed with the DC50ís ability to handle any project thrown at it, while retaining a user-friendly nature ideal for time-strapped educators.

The Printers

While snapping photos is fun, unless you have a decent color printer, youíll only be able to enjoy them on the computer screen. Or by sending them in to digital printing services, which generally cost more than their paper counterparts.

Color Projects Are a Snap With DeskJet 672C

Hewlett-Packardís (800-HP4-FUNPICS) DeskJet 672C color inkjet, like the Lexmark 7000 (see above), features a dual cartridge system to eliminate swapping. Selling for under $200, the 672C prints up to 4 ppm in black; 1.5 ppm in color. It will also auto-feed up to 30 index cards, making it suitable for many classroom and study projects. For those who eschew dabbling with fine-tuning, HPís ColorSmart technology automatically adjusts settings for the best color. The 672Cís best color resolution is 600 x 300 dpi; black resolution moves up a notch to 600 x 600 dpi.

Lexmark 1000: 600 x 600 dpi Resolution at a Great Price

For educators and students who want top-notch color printing at an extremely low price, look no further than Lexmarkís 1000 Color Jetprinter. For a paltry $139, you get 600 x 600 dpi color printing in a compact package suited for crowded desktops. At this price point, the Lexmark 1000 may even be an alternative for those expensive laser printers utilized in many computer labs. With its high resolution, it probably outperforms many of those old models, while offering color capability. It prints up to 1.5 ppm in color and 3.5 ppm in black; unlike the 7000 model, you do need to swap cartridges. However, ColorSort technology automatically sorts color and black-only pages so cartridge swapping is kept to a minimum.

Hands-On: Lexmark 7000 Color Jetprinter

Lexmarkís 7000 color inkjet printer actually represents a mid-range offering. At $399, itís not their cheapest color printer (for that, see the Lexmark 1000 in this article), but it offers phenomenal print quality and ease of use for the money. Printing at 1200 x 1200 dpi is better than many laser printers, and makes for astounding color-based projects. Plan on having lots of RAM, though; loading a color image at 1200 dpi takes a lot of system resources. A 3 page per minute (ppm) color printing speed makes printing transparencies, photos, labels and various paper sizes a breeze. Setting up the 7000 was painless ó install two floppy disks and itís over. When a print job is started, a printer control panel opens up, offering a plethora of options letting you fine tune color output, resolution, and more. This Windows PC-based printer ships with both a color and black print cartridge that are used simultaneously ó meaning no inconvenient cartridge swapping. LivePix photo software is included, as is Lexmarkís 1 Year Express Warranty, which guarantees Lexmark (800-LEXMARK) will send out an exchange printer by the next business day.

The Software

One of the enticing benefits of digital imaging is the ability to control the image enhancement process. Software that handles image editing ranges from simple "one-click" programs to packages that can accomplish virtually anything, from professional-quality enhancement to spectacular special effects.

Carrying over its "instant imaging" theme, Polaroidís (800-533-9680) Before & After improves digital pictures, making them sharper, brighter, clearer and better balanced. With a single mouse click, JPEG, TIFF and BMP files can all be improved without spending a lot of time on separate processes for each enhancement. For $30, Before & After (Windows 95) may be worth looking at for those who need instant image enhancement.

Microsoftís (800-426-9400) Picture It! utilizes an Image Graph architecture, which retains an imageís photographic quality even after effects and enhancements have been applied. While not offering the same level of control as competing packages from Corel and Adobe, Picture It! may be useful for educators looking for a project-based package that is extremely easy to use. Collages, calendars, awards and more can all be created through a friendly, hand-holding interface. For distance learning projects, students can create and send electronic slide shows from within the application. Picture It! supports 21 standard graphics file formats, and can download pictures directly from most digital cameras.

While Adobeís (800-888-6293) PhotoDeluxe will also guide users through the editing process, it offers more independence when theyíre ready to strike out on their own. For around $50, PhotoDeluxe features a lot of special effects such as smoothing, artistic effects like Charcoal Painting, Glass Lens, distortion and more. Cleaning up images is easy, thanks to photo editing tools and available online help. Images can be input from digital cameras, scanned in, or copied from Kodak PhotoCDs or floppy disks. And, since PhotoDeluxe works with most word processing programs and desktop publishing software, educators donít have to break the budget purchasing compatible software in order to integrate images into projects created in other programs.


Corel Photo Paint grafik -- Big Package With Big Features

Hands On: Corel PHOTO-PAINT 7 Plus

Corelís (800-772-6735) PHOTO-PAINT 7 Plus is a much more robust package for photo editing, which is reflected in the price. Boasting features such as Lens objects, which apply 12 different color and tone effects without permanently modifying the underlying image, and numerous plug-in filters, PHOTO-PAINT 7 Plus gives serious image editing power. At $495, however, one would expect some extras. (Corel offers various upgrades; call for pricing.) And extras it delivers, including Kodakís Digital Science Color Management System; Corel TEXTURE, for creating realistic natural textures such as wood, marble, clouds and more; the ability to work with graphic tablets and pressure-sensitive pens; Object and Gradient transparency adjustment tools; and many more features not available in lower-end programs.

Setting up PHOTO-PAINT 7 was easier than we expected from such a complete package. Within minutes, powerful tools such as masking were being implemented, to great results. Performance was more than acceptable on our Compaq Presario 4406ES. This packageís ability to support almost 40 different image formats is just one indication of its power.

Not Just for Graphics

At James A. Foshay Learning Center (Los Angeles, Calif.) a new system has been set in place called the Kids Identification Digital Software (K.I.D.S.). From Kodak, this system includes software, a Kodak digital camera, universal power supply and a Kodak Inkjet Media Kit. Running on a Windows PC, this $900 system was designed for creating a photo database of all students, which can then be used for many additional purposes.

"As I took a look at this system, I found a lot of other things that I felt were really exciting," says Howard Lappin, principal. "We can create bus lists; if we go on a field trip with 30 youngsters, having a roster with all of the studentsí pictures and names is an added safety factor."

Student Portfolios Are Simple to Create

At International Elementary School (Long Beach, Calif.), educators are using the same system to capture student work and incorporate it into portfolios. As these examples suggest, digital imaging is a technology that can give immediate and lasting benefits to schools.

This article originally appeared in the 09/01/1997 issue of THE Journal.