Scan  it or 
         Snap it 

 
the Digital Debate

                  by Maggie Snell

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This photo of Bjorn Weckstrom's "ON Surface" brooch was taken with a Fuji FinePix 6900 Zoom. The glacier-type background is a piece of packing material draped over the edge of a 6 inch square box lid
.

I've been following with interest the debate about which digital camera is the best to photograph jewelry that was running recently in the Silver Forum Digest.

I haven't a clue, but I know people who do. You only need to look at the superb images Marbeth and Patrick produce for the Modern Silver Magazine and their web sites to see they've got a grip of the subject, as have Vanessa and Tim at linked site Retrogallery. All use the Sony Mavica - so it seems this is one model worth checking out.


I use a year old $900 Fuji FinePix 6900 Zoom with a times 6 zoom lens. I love it and it's brilliant for the day job photographing sewing machines and other mechanical items - I scan or photograph a minimum of 100 images a week for Ebay and our web site.

It does a much better job than I expected in photographing my collection. But if I were a specialist jewelry dealer I would probably have gone for a different camera, such as a high-end Nikon Coolpix, which has a macro facility for super-close-up work.

You see, photographing silver jewelry isn't easy. For a start the items are tiny, often less than an inch and rarely more than three inches, and don't even ask about hallmarks.

Also the shiny surfaces often reflect camera flash and ambient surroundings. It took me ages to work out that the red/brown effect in my pictures was actually reflected by the kitchen cupboards. Or maybe it was the fact that I haven't yet got a grip of white balance. Believe me, this is not an article for techies.

 

Before I bought my Fuji I talked to a lot of camera dealers - even "experts" at a couple of trade shows. They crumbled when I showed them a half-inch-wide hallmark and asked them to demonstrate which camera would photograph it and produce a clear, sharp, minimum two-inch image.
Most "starter" digital cameras are aimed at the holiday snap market and they don't do close-ups. And not all $1000-ish models have a "macro" facility that enables you to point the lens nearer than six or eight inches.

These are close-up digital photos of Bjorn Weckstrom's ring "Dance in Galaxy" showing hallmarks.

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So, to buy new, we're talking big bucks here. And if you can't afford or have better things to spend your money on than a camera you use only occasionally on your hobby, there is another way. It isn't as sexy as chasing around with the latest digital wizardry, but it's simple, it works, and you probably have what you need already attached to your home computer.
I'm talking about a scanner. 

When the Modern Silver Magazine first started I remember writing an article extolling the virtues of the scanner for imaging jewelry, but it seems to have gone walkabout from the archive. After all, when I first started out collecting, I simply photocopied stuff and it worked well enough to show dealers the styles I liked and wanted to buy - and a scanner is far superior to that basic machine.




One of these Weckstrom Big Drop pendants was pictured with a $900 camera, the other a $150 scanner. You pays your money and takes your choice - but can you tell which is which?


So, to start, let's assume you simply want to identify your stash and file images in your computer that are capable of transmitting via email as an attachment, to your own web site, or to aid a sale on Ebay.


The most important point to bear in mind is to keep the download time as low as possible - more than 10 seconds per image and your viewer may get bored and go elsewhere.


In simple terms, computer and TV screens can only read at 72 dpi (dots per inch) so there's no point in creating higher definition images. If you use the same settings as for producing hard copies on your printer at, say 200 or 300 dpi, it will just take longer to download and the picture quality will not be any better. There are programmes available which optimise the pictures to the smallest possible size to again lower download time.

 


For research purposes in this article I'm mainly working on final image sizes - at 72 dpi - between two and four inches. I feel five inches or less should, in most cases, be enough for jewelry.

I'm using a Bjorn Weckstrom brooch called "ON Surface" to illustrate the piece. It's 1 3/4 inches at its widest point x 2 inches high. The little man is 5/8 x 1 inch and the hallmark on the rear is half an inch wide.

 

These images were all scanned on an Epsom 610 and combined into one picture. .

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For these examples I used my home scanner, a simple Epsom 610, but our office model lets me choose the intended image size at the preview stage and allows finer control. If you're buying new, it's worth considering paying a few extra bucks for the better model.  I use Photoshop 6, and don't know how other software programmes would attempt the same job.

I scanned the brooch same size at 300 dpi and clicked the "resample image" box which created a bracket around the width, height and pixels/inch-resolution boxes. You can then enter your picture width. In my example 2 inches = 279 pixels per inch (or dpi); 3" = 186; 4" = 139; 5" = 116; 6" = 93. You can choose any width you like up to 72 dpi. In this example I chose 2 inches, ticked the resample box again and changed the resolution to 72 dpi.

I then went to "save for web" option in Photoshop which told me it would take two seconds to download. I saved as a jpg. But as you can see, the image looks muddy and rusty compared to the bright and shiny original. To bring the picture to a more natural colour, I again used Photoshop to change the levels, colour balance, and hue and saturation, sharpened to bring into focus, then saved this second image.

Though I haven't used it myself, there is a scaled down, less complicated and cheaper (around $100) Photoshop Elements programme that covers all the basics and a lot of clever stuff as well. And I guess what you have on your computer will give you similar results.

Using the same original image I then cropped the little man and went through the above processes, again sizing at two inches, and repeated the Photoshop processes. Then repeated it for the hallmark, which started life at 3/4 inch, and is shown here at 3 inches.

I then chose "canvas size" under the file menu and put all five images on the same canvas. The download time for the 4 x 6.875-inch image you see here is 11 seconds, though I could drop it to seven seconds which is good enough for email.

With a little practice, the composite image should take less than half an hour to process.

 


                
                                       


This Weckstrom perspex ring, called Petrified Lake, was made famous by Yoko Ono who wore it once when she appeared on TV. Again one is photographed, the other scanned.


With most cameras you can adjust the settings to various file sizes. Images intended for printing hard copy should be finer than if you're aiming at the Web as, again, your final image here would be 72 dpi, and at a lower setting you would fit more pictures on your memory card.

My Fuji uses a smart media card which will download to my Macintosh computer via a small reader or directly from the camera to the hard disc, but the various manufacturers offer a range of systems.
The important point to remember, as with computers, is speed, ease of use, and as much memory as you can afford - though often you can buy cheaper accessories on line than in a store. Digital technology also eats batteries, so a camera using rechargeable batteries and a charger is a definite bonus.

 

I experiment a lot to make sure the final images look good, and enjoyed 40 hours of Photoshop training at night school last year. As with ordinary photography, background and lighting affect the results. I'm also trying to get away from using flash, and for best results you may need a small tripod to prevent camera shake.




3 different background images with the "ON Surface" brooch: This is simply playing around in Photoshop with different background filters. I tried to make same basic scanned brooch shown earlier "fly through space". The yellow background and the bronze affect used difference clouds inside and outside the images. Different lighting effects produced the meteor look.
As befits a veteran antiques dealer specialising in old technology, I've never had a problem buying and using second hand goods or keeping things well past their sell-by date.

Most of my furniture is antique, as is the jewelry collection of course, and some designer clothes. The microwave, dishwasher, washing machine and car are knocking on 15 years old and still going strong, though sadly the car and my Norwich terrier Dizzie, who's nearly 17, may not last the year out.

During that same period I've upgraded the computer five times and we're on our fourth digital camera. I know that good computers and cameras can continue to keep working well, but electronics and digital technology have progressed rapidly and dramatically in recent years, particularly where speed and memory are concerned. These are important considerations when you depend on them for your living.

But we tend to forget that when they were new each was at the cutting edge of technology. As indeed were my own specialities, manual Victorian sewing machines, typewriters and cameras.

 

                 

This close-up of the man and hallmark are 
similar to the scanned images, but 
photographed. The little man looks
more three-dimentional because he was 
taken at an angle rather than placed 
on a flat-bed scanner.

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So, whilst researching this piece, I decided to dig around the junk cupboard and try out a cast-off digital camera to compare it with the Fuji. I'd totally forgotten that in 1997 we bought a Mavica MVC-FD7 for $450 at a Sony factory outlet somewhere between San Francisco and Santa Barbara. An Australian friend had happily paid $1000 for the same model at Fisherman's Wharf the day before - he said it would have cost him twice that in Melbourne.

I still maintain that a scanner and Photoshop Elements (or any other digital imaging software you know how to use or have access to) are the cheapest and simplest starting-out options that allow you to quickly illustrate at least 80% of your treasures, including hallmarks, and even rings with a bit of a fiddle.
It wasn't easy to scan this ring and show the two figures and the hallmark, but after a bit of juggling it worked. So, whether you use an up-market or simple digital camera or even a scanner, it is possible to get wonderful close-up images, even if you haven't an expensive camera, by fine-tuning the image size/pixel ratios.

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But if the next time you're at a flea market, thrift store, or surfing Ebay, you find an outdated - guaranteed working - Sony Mavica for let's say $100, snap it up. This is a super camera with a times 10 zoom and you can get the lens in really close without losing focus. The hallmark problem, the bain of my life, is now solved.


Don't get too concerned with its lack of pixels, minimal 1.44 MB capacity, and the fact that it's soooo slow, taking seven seconds to download each single shot to an old-fashioned floppy disc. And that, like me, you may need to revert to a drive that you discarded years ago in favour of CD, DVD, Zip and SmartMedia versions.


We're not trying to capture the winning touchdown at the Super Bowl, but simply choosing the cheapest dedicated machine capable of best photographing tiny static images, ie your jewelry collection. Between it and your scanner you have enough technology to produce really great images.

And if, later, you decide you want to upgrade to the latest bells and whistles number, you will have developed enough experience and knowledge to know what you want to do with your camera, and what questions to ask to help you choose the best replacement.

 

_______________________________

 

 
Maggie Snell
is a London- based antiques dealer who has specialised in Victorian technology for more than 20 years. She has a world-class collection of antique and toy sewing machines, and edits an international journal on the subject with subscribers in 16 countries, the largest group being American. She has collected '60s and '70s jewellery for 10 years and has a special fondness for Scandinavian abstract, particularly Bjorn Weckstrom's Space Series Jewellery.

 

 


email:
  maggie@ismacs.u-net.com   

website: www.singer-featherweight.com

_______________________________

article by Maggie Snell
photographs courtesy of Maggie Snell
Web design by Marbeth Schon
 Copyright 2003
Modern Silver Magazine

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