An important landmark in camera design.
An extract from the very first edition of "Chip Shop"

by John Henshall

Logitech's FotoMan is an electronic camera with a difference. Unlike Canon's Ion, which uses removable floppy disks to record analogue video stills in colour, FotoMan digitises its monochrome images inside the camera. While the Ion's video images have to be digitised using another piece of quite costly hardware, FotoMan's are ready to be imported direct from the camera into a personal computer running Microsoft Windows 3.0 or 3.1. The only additional hardware needed is a special cable, supplied with the camera, to connect FotoMan to the serial port of the computer.

This is the way of the future and the FotoMan camera is so revolutionary, so futuristic, that it is undoubtedly the product of the imagination of some visionary of the future of photography.

In the earlier part of the century, optical sophistication joined forces with mechanical genius to bring precision optical and mechanical instruments such as the Leica and Contax cameras to our fathers and grandfathers. These cameras are as much a joy to have and to hold today as when they revolutionised the photographic world all those years ago. Most still function as sweetly as the day they were individually, and lovingly, created. The tradition continues today, through cameras such as the Hasselblad 205TCC and Nikon F4. But there is a difference: these cameras add to the finest optics and mechanics the very latest in electronic sophistication.

It is not many years since cameras employing electronics were viewed with considerable suspicion. When Nikon introduced the F3 in the late 1970s, the secondhand price of the obsolescent F2 shot up. The F2 was mechanical, and many professionals were sceptical about the reliability of the new battery-dependent F3. But, in time, the F3 earned its reputation as a reliable workhorse and suspicion gave way to trust. Despite its electronics, the F3, like the later F4, was mainly a mechanical device with an iris diaphragm, mirror, shutter and film transport. Even the latest Nikon, the F90, is mainly mechanical.

The claimed depth of field is from 1 metre to infinity. Sharpness is reasonable at the closer extreme.

FotoMan is an important landmark in still camera design because it removes the hitherto important area of mechanics almost entirely. This makes it the first totally digital camera.

The camera has one moving part: the shutter release button and even this easily could be replaced with a solid state device. The FotoMan's shutter release button is the last mechanical link with cameras as we have known them. Pushing the button is accompanied by the reassuringly familiar sound of a shutter operating but this is a simulated sound, generated to serve no purpose other than to reassure the photographer that an exposure has been made. The sound is followed, after about eleven seconds, by a second sound indicating that the exposure has been "saved" in the camera's internal solid state memory. Without these sounds, or with the facility to turn them off as required, the camera would be completely silent. Imagine how useful that would be, for example, on the set of a movie being shot with sync sound. Today, the taking of still photographs has to stop whenever the First Assistant calls "action": no single lens reflex camera is quiet enough.

Logitech's camera is not photography as we know it. The FotoMan and its associated software, FotoTouch, are revolutionary in ways which will undoubtedly become highly significant as digital electronic photography matures.

At first I regarded the associated software, FotoTouch, as being rather crude and basic. Most software for the PC lacks the on-screen visual finesse of similar software on the Macintosh and this was the first imaging software I had used on my Toshiba personal computer. In power and facilities FotoTouch is far from basic and even has some facilities which are as good, if not slightly better, than the competition's. One such facility is "Equalize", which compensates for an underexposed shot extremely well, bringing maximum highlights up to white and darkest tones down to black.

Unfortunately the resolution of the camera is low and unlikely to help you produce any images of useable professional quality. The camera's monochrome image sensor has only 106,784 pixels (individual basic picture elements) on a CCD chip in an array of 284 by 376 pixels. The picture aspect ratio (height compared to width) is thus 1.32:1, which is virtually identical to that of television. By way of comparison, Kodak's DCS100 digital camera, used to take my photograph in front of the fish and chip shop and the photographs of the FotoMan camera, has an array of 1280 by 1024 pixels - a total of 1,310,720 pixels, with an aspect ratio of 1.25:1, the same as 4x5 and 8x10.

So why bother with the FotoMan, you might ask?

Maybe you are worried about learning the basics of digital imaging, already have a personal computer (IBM compatible), but can't justify the cost of a high-end digital camera yet? In this case the FotoMan might just be the fun way to start you on your learning curve for not too much outlay, especially if you shop around for a good discount. The suggested price of the complete kit (FotoMan camera, case, neutral density filter, battery charger, interface cable, and FotoTouch software) is £499, one of the cheapest ways to get into digital imaging.

FotoMan is a digital camera which uses no discs, either removable or internal. It can take up to thirty two monochrome pictures, stored on its internal memory - four megabytes of DRAM - until the internal battery runs down. Battery power can hold the images in DRAM for about twenty four hours, so it's important to keep the battery charged until you download your pictures into a computer.

Sensitivity is about ISO200, reduced to ISO25 with the neutral density filter, supplied to prevent overexposure which results in CCD overload in very bright light. The electronic shutter is stated to have a speed range of 40 milliseconds with flash (1/25 second), 1 to 32 milliseconds (1/1000 to 1/30 second) without flash. A built-in flash will illuminate subjects within a range of 1.2 to 3 metres. The camera weighs 284 grams (10 ounces) and has an unusual shape. The four finger grips on the front are complemented by two thumb grips on the rear. This design worked very well. Is this the first camera to be designed for left handed people?

The camera is definitely amateur in its photographic facilities. It has a fixed focus f4.5 lens of focal length roughly equivalent to a 55mm lens on a 35mm film camera. Depth of field is claimed to stretch from 1 metre to infinity but I found all the pictures lacking in resolution, the most acceptable being mid-length portraits. Small detail is non existent. Possible uses might include illustrations in magazines selling second-hand cars, a field presently occupied by the Canon Ion and likely to remain there until Logitech come up with a camera which can reproduce more detail.

Images are imported into the computer using FotoMan software, usually in conjunction with the FotoTouch software which is used to edit and print them. After establishing connection with the camera, the FotoMan software displays a screen full of small images, reassuringly bounded by sprocket holes reminiscent of 35mm film! Maybe this would just rub salt in the wounds of some die-hards? This same screen tells you how much charge there is in the camera battery, using the clearest indicator I have seen: a line around an icon of a battery and a clear percentage figure, too. Once you have imported your images you have the option to delete them from this same window.

The camera records the date and time when each exposure was made, whether flash was used, and length of exposure - though why you need that information on a camera as simple and automatic as this beats me. You can also record details of the artist (author) and provide a caption. All this is stored in each image file on the computer.
I like the whole approach of Logitech. The manuals for both camera and software are clear, informative and not daunting. They will be important players in digital image origination, if they can come up with cameras which give much more resolution . . . and colour!

For distant views, a simple composition with not much textural detail provides the best result.

If and when you buy the FotoMan, you can start to make digital images immediately, without any further cost, if you already have access to a computer. No film or processing costs. This means you can experiment and erase your embarrassing results without even the risk of someone finding the discarded film in your wastebasket! But be warned, you will soon fill up your hard disc with a multitude of 100 kilobyte images if you are not totally ruthless about what you keep.

You will doubtless experiment with all the facilities of the FotoTouch image editing software, tentatively at first and then more daringly. Like a boy with a new toy, you'll soon be calling out to your staff and family to "come and look at this!" when you have cloned a second face onto one of them, or given a "baldy" a new head of hair, "borrowed" from a friend. If you are really happy with a particular shot, try making a print on plain paper using your standard printer driven by Microsoft Windows.

When you reach this point - and it really is quite simple - you have become a digital photographer. You will have experienced a tingle in your spine similar to the one which you felt when your first image appeared in the developer. There is no stopping you now!

This review first appeared as "John Henshall's Chip Shop" in "The Photographer" magazine, January 1993
This document is Copyright © 1996 John Henshall. All rights reserved.
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