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Delkin eFilm PicturePad
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Nixvue Vista

Please note that though this review is specifically of the eFilm PicturePad, this is the same device as the Nixvue Vista. The only apparent difference between these is that the PicturePad is sold under the Delkin brand and has a black plastic case and the Vista is from Nixvue and has a silver case. The Vista is distributed in various countries by different companies. In the U.S., for example, the Vista is distributed by Jobo. Price, warranty and disk size availability may differ, but these devices are essentially the same. The actual manufacturer appears to be Nixvue, a Singapore company.

By: Michael Reichmann
With a Second Opinion by Michael Tapes

Digits in Your Wallet

Portable hard-disk-based storage devices for transferring and storing digital camera memory cards have been around since mid-2000 when the Digital Wallet from Minds@Work first came out. As I pointed out in my review at the time, this was a great concept, but had flawed execution.

Now, in the Autumn of 2002, there is a better way. The Delkin eFilm PicturePad is a light weight handheld device at 10 oz / 290g. The version that I purchased has a 30GB hard drive, though a 20GM is also available. It comes with universal charger, nylon belt pouch with shoulder strap, and appropriate USB and video cables. Mobile power is provided by a replaceable lithium ion battery. Street price is about U.S. $600.


Illustration Courtesy Delkin Devices

It has a colour LCD screen that can display both images as well as file directories and control menus. The PicturePad accepts Compact Flash cards (including Microdrives) directly, and other types of memory cards via appropriate adaptors.

Connection to a PC or Mac is via USB. There is an optional Firewire adaptor, which I have on order, and which I will report on at a later date. Windows 98/SE/ME/2000 and XP are supported as well as Mac OS 9 and X. If you're using Windows 2000 or XP then the device doesn't even need to have any drivers loaded — straight plug-and-play.

All standard file formats are supported as well as NEF files from the Nikon D1 / D1x and D1h, and Canon D30 / D60 and 1D RAW files. (I have no information at this time — Sept. 2002 — about Nikon D100 or Canon 1Ds RAW file support. By support I mean the ability to display thumbnails and files on the LCD screen. The device can, of course, store files in any format as it is simply a standard hard disk).

The PicturePad contains a 7MB "Flash ROM" and thus its software can be upgraded via a download from the manufacturer's site. I already have done this (upgrading to V 1.06.01) and the process went very smoothly. (Both Delkin and Nixvue appear to track each other with software upgrade versions, but I've been told that they are not interchangeable).

Why Do You Need It?

Newcomers to shooting with digital SLRs, as well as those using digicams, quickly find that one of the biggest hassles is handling the large number of massive files produced by their cameras. Current models like the Canon D60 and Nikon D100 produce RAW files that are 6-7 Megabytes in size. A 1 Gig Microdrive is what many photographers use, and one of these can only hold about 140 such frames. That's the equivalent of less than 4 rolls of film. Many pros and even amateurs will shoot twice that many rolls or more in a single day. Head out for a one week shoot in a great location and burning though 40-50 rolls of film is not at all unusual. That's 1,800 frames, which at 7 MB per frame is about 12 Gigabytes. Using the new Canon 1Ds with its 12 MB RAW files requires more than 20 GB of storage on that same shoot. (Let's not even talk about how to archive these. Whew!)

What to do? Having 10 or 20 Microdrives is not economically viable, so for many photographers schlepping a laptop computer is the usual solution. This works fine if you have one of the newer models with a large hard drive, but the added weight and bulk of a laptop when shooting on location is a real annoyance, and sometimes not even a viable solution.

This is where devices like the PicturePad come in. With its 30 GB hard drive, and using a camera like the D60 or D100 and shooting in RAW mode, I can transport the equivalent of 120 rolls of film in a device smaller than a paperback book. (Incidentally, those 120 rolls of film, with processing, would cost more than the PicturePad. And, with everyone's concerns about airport X-Rays when flying, digital is both a cost saver and offers some piece of mind. Food for thought.)


Headache — Toronto, 2002

Photographed with EOS Canon D60 & 16-35mm L lens at ISO 100 @ 27mm

In Use

In general I have found the PicturePad to be a reliable device. It does what I want it to without much fuss. Construction appears to be sufficiently rugged for location use, especially considering that it needs to be as light weight as possible. The user interface is generally intuitive. I was able to use the device's basic functions almost immediately without even reading the manual. The only non-intuative aspect is that the CF card installs in a slot in the base of the unit — upside down.

The buttons that control most functions are a bit "tinny" feeling. They do the job, but a few cents more on higher quality components would have given the unit a much better "feel".

The basic control software is straightforward to use and does the job nicely. The first choice when you turn the unit on is to copy a card to disk — the most likely choice. You can view the amount of free disk space, files and directories and also thumbnails of images on disk. Clicking on a thumbnail shows a full-screen version. Given the slow display times with typical large RAW files though (see below), this isn't something that you'll do often.

The PicturePad creates a new subdirectory every time that you copy a card to it. Each is given a unique ID name. File and directory names can be displayed as well as icon views. There is a file verification option that ensures that the files on disk exactly match those on the card, but note that this is not a full compare and verify. Only the TOC is checked that all files are present. There are also standard file and directory management options. All in all very straightforward.

Video Mode

The PicturePad has the ability to display what is normally visible on its built-in colour LCD. The unit can attach to any TV or monitor with a standard video input — either NTSC or PAL. A small infrared remote is provided and the unit can be completely controlled using this device. But, it only works when the unit is in Video Mode and connected to a monitor.

I wasn't terribly impressed with the displayed image quality. In fact some people have complained that the display is in B&W only on some TVs, or displays B&W with colour artifacts. On my Sony Wega it displayed colour, but not very good colour. Not anything like what one can get from attaching a Canon D60, for example, to a TV monitor. I certainly wouldn't considering using the PicturePad for any type of serious display work, though it's fine for reviewing images (if you have the patience — see below).

Timings

Using a Canon D60 and 1 GB Microdrive, and shooting RAW files, here are some timings. Transferring 36 files from the Microdrive to the PicturePad took 3 minutes and 15 seconds. Copying a full 1 GB card would therefore take about 13 minutes.

Taking that same directory of 36 images (about 256 MB) and copying it via USB from the PicturePad to a PC took a bit more than 6 minutes. This would mean that transferring a single Gigabyte would take nearly half an hour. A full 30 GB PicturePad would therefore take 15 hours to transfer to a PC!! (Note that this device is USB 1.1. An upgrade to USB 2.0 would make it the wqual or faster than Firewire).

Transferring those same files by plugging the CF card into a PC Card slot on a laptop took 4 minutes — 33% faster than via USB from the PicturePad. On the other hand transferring these same files from the CF card via a Microtech Firewire card reader took just 1 minute and 15 seconds. Clearly the accessory Firewire adaptor for the PicturePad is going to be a must.

Using the built in colour LCD to view thumbnails and images is about as quick and interesting watching paint dry. Each thumbnail takes about 10 seconds to appear and when you select one to view full-screen it takes about 40 seconds. No thanks.

I should hasten to add that I am not faulting Delkin for these timings. Large files and large qualities of large files simply take up a lot of space and take a long time to transfer. Whatever chip the PicturePad uses, it isn't a Pentium 4, and is optimized for low power consumption rather than shear speed.

Even with a Firewire connection (and assuming that it's speed is comparable to the card reader that I'm using), transferring a full 30GB would take some two and half hours. Better than 15 hours, but still an issue.


Big Dipper Over Lake Muskoka — Ontario, 2002
Canon D60 with Sigma 14mm f/2.8 lens. ISO 400, 30 second exposure at f/2.8.

Battery Life

I have yet to do a comprehensive test of this, but it appears that the fully charged battery can handle 2 one Gigabyte card transfers. Since I own two 1 GB cards this means that I can effectively shoot 4 GB's worth of images in a single day with just one battery. Two cards can be downloaded in the field, erased and reused, and then downloaded once I am back to a location (like a motel room) that has an AC outlet for the charger. This should be sufficient for most situations.

For situations where AC isn't available for days at a time an automobile power adaptor will come in handy, but for a hiking or camping trip for days away from AC extra batteries for the Delkin are the only solution.

Conclusion

This is the best portable card transfer and storage device yet. The hardware appears to be solid, and the software, though a bit flaky at times, appears to be basically reliable and full-featured. As time passes and I have more field experience with the unit I'll update this report, but initial impressions are quite favourable.

As mentioned at the top of this review, the Visa and the PicturePad are essentially the same product. But, the Delkin product has a 2 year warranty vs. the Nixvue's 1 year, and the Delkin also comes with a copy of Photoshop Elements which is worth about $100.

Phil Askey's comprehensive technical review of the PicturePad's silver twin, the Nixvue Vista, may also be of interest.

Michael

A Second Opinion — By Michael Tapes

My involvement with digital photography history began with the Canon S20 (a little more than 2 years ago). This was a 3MP camera that accepted the 340MB IBM Micro Drive. This, in combination with the emerging Epson printer technology (I had used Epson printers since the first Stylus printer) gave me confidence that I could finally go out for a day's shooting with a digital camera and come home with hundreds of pictures that were of sufficient quality (given the limitations of the sensor size and glass of the S20), to be printed in medium sizes with pleasing results.

Well, all of that gave way to a Canon D30 with two 1-Gig Micro Drives for the past year and half, and now a Canon 1D for the past 6 months (and I would guess a Canon 1Ds shortly). With the acquisition of the 1D it became apparent that even with two 1-Gig drives, shooting RAW+JPEG (small/fine) as I do, I would get just 120 pictures on a Micro Drive. This would yield me a maximum of 240 shots for a days shooting, and that's simply not enough. I needed more storage and additional 1-Gig MDs were not the answer.

After much research and a false start with another storage device, I decided to give the Delkin 20 Gig PicturePad a try. I had initially not chosen it because of its higher price and lack of FireWire, but after a bad experience with a lesser priced product (and the company), I decided that the LCD display on the PicturePad, as well as its TV output would serve me well. And they claimed RAW Canon support. I do not use the LCD display much, just to confirm what pictures are in what folder (if I should have a question about what is what). And the TV output is great for showing pictures from my portfolio, that I store on the PP (in medium res JPEGS), to clients, family or friends. Also at the end of a day's shooting there are cases where I like to share my shots with the people involved, whether they be family or clients. So it seemed in retrospect, that if I were going to invest in a long-term product that these features would actually be useful and worth the extra money. The only stumbling block was the slow USB connection (did I mention that it is slow...like all USB).

So I bought the Picture Pad and here are my findings.

Overall the PP is of a good small size and comes with a great nylon case that protects it to the point where I can just throw it into my backpack without fear when I go out on a shoot. A seemingly trivial point, but actually quite important to me. The menu system is not overly intuitive, but then again this is not a complicated device, and 95% of the time I will use it to download from my MD to the internal HD. And this is done with NO menu navigation necessary. You insert the MD (or CF card) and turn the unit on. A few seconds later, after the Delkin logo, the menu appears and you hit the enter key and the download begins. A countdown on the LCD shows you the progress on the screen on a file by file basis. What I also love about the PP is that it take a CF card or Micro Drive directly without any kind of adapter. This is great for me, as the other device that I tried required a PC Card adapter that could be lost or misplaced, leaving me out in the cold. For those that do not use CF or MD, then of course they will require the proper adapter from Delkin, but for me this is a tremendous benefit.


© 2002 Michael Tapes
Metropolitan Museum NYC JUL 2001
Canon D30 - Sigma 17-35EX @17mm

I have the unit programmed to shut off after 30 seconds of non-activity, so the download is an unattended operation. Insert the MD, press 2 buttons (Power and Enter) and you are done. I cannot ask for anything better than that in terms of being in the field and needing to download my MD. It couldn't not be easier. If I can afford the time, I set the PP down during the download, but if I still need to shoot, I carefully slip it into its padded case (which it fits into with the MD inserted and downloading) and put it into my backpack and go about shooting. I am careful during the time period of the download and try not to make sudden moves or bang into anything. I am sure that Delkin would NOT recommend that you use it this way, and I am aware of the risk, but I am careful and willing to accept any problems that might occur. It is my preference to work this way, and no other device would be any different, and I am thankful that the PP can slip into its provided case while downloading to allow me to do this.

The download take about 12 minutes, and I set my watch, so that I know when I can no longer worry about the download going on in my backpack. Like I said, the unit automatically shuts off, so there is no intervention needed on my part, and no battery life is wasted. Also the PP automatically creates a uniquely numbered folder (based on the EXIF date of the last picture), so I do not need to name anything or have any question about what is what when I return home. The download operation is easy and transparent and that is the main reason that I bought this type of device. The download takes 12 minutes which is longer than I would like, but this really presents no practical problem for me.

In my experience the battery only lasts for two 1-Gig downloads, so I carry an extra battery with me and also an AC adapter. I usually shoot in NYC, so if and when I take a break and have an AC outlet handy I either do a download under AC power, or charge the unit while I take a Starbucks break. If I am not near an AC adapter (or a Starbucks) I use my spare battery to gain another 2 downloads. The battery is a pain to install. It has a very small connector that is buried in the battery compartment, so this will not be an easy task in the winter months, but it is what it is and I think that I can deal with it. I would like it to be easier, but I can certainly live with it.

I have tested to see what happens if a battery dies during a download, and the system handles this quite elegantly. The files are first copied to a temp folder. So, if the battery dies, whatever files were able to be downloaded before the failure end up in the temp folder and you can find it and get to your files. I am told by Delkin that the power-down sequence upon battery failure is quite robust and my tests bare that out. Also, I am told that bigger batteries (1600 or 1700 mah vs. the supplied 1400 mah) may be available in the future.

What is missing though is a true verify operation. There is a quick verify, but based on the speed of it, I can only assume that it just checks that the TOC (Table of Contents) of the HD and MD match. I would like to see a bit-for-bit verify. I know that this would only be practical when near AC power, because I would never give up the limited battery power to do this, but I would like to have the option. Delkin says that they are looking into it, and so far they have been responsive to my comments and suggestions.

In my first month with the unit I struggled with the slow USB connection, but now that I have the Firewire adapter that just snaps on the top and it can stay connected to my Firewire cable, I simple plug in the adapter, and fly. A folder that contains a 1Gig MD's worth of pictures only takes a little more than 1 minute to download. So their promise of a fast Fire Wire connection was fully kept. It is faster than I had thought that it would be. The upload to the PP is about half that speed, but I rarely plan to upload to it, and even at that speed it is fine.


© 2002 Michael Tapes
Washington Square Park NYC Sept 2001
D30 - Canon 28-135 IS @ 28mm

So what don't I like. Well the support for the Canon 1D RAW format is not complete. Canon 1D RAW TIFs show up as a 1/4 size image in the center of the LCD. Since I shoot RAW+JPG, this is not an issue for me because the JPG shows up full screen, and in fact even the 1/4 size image is good enough for me to see what is in a folder. And Delkin is aware of the problem and has promised full LCD screen support for Canon RAW 1D files. Given my YarcPlus background I have provided Delkin with a full set of Canon RAW file samples and they are working towards full compatibility. Although I do not shoot with a D60, I have experimented with D60 RAW files and they display properly but very slow. I am hopeful that they can speed this up, but they have not made promises in this regard.

My unit also has a TV output problem, where on some TVs the output is in Black and White. I am told that current production does not have this problem and that my unit will probably have to be swapped out for a current production version to fix this problem. I test it on TVs where ever I go and the problem seems limited to just a few of the many TVs I have tried it on. Where it works in full color the output is acceptable for a quick viewing of content, certainly not the judgment of quality of an image.

So in conclusion, here are the pros...

— Small, Light, with good padded case
— Downloads flawlessly with no intervention needed at start or completion
— Fast download to PC with the optional Fire Wire adapter
— No adapter needed for CF or MD media
— LCD display
— TV output
— Good support
— Web firmware updates offered

The cons...

— Only two 1Gig Downloads per battery
— No true verify (yet)
— Canon 1D RAW LCD viewing incomplete at this time
— Battery change needs small warm fingers fingers

Final conclusion..

I am very pleased with the Delkin PP. In fulfilling its main purpose, to download Micro Drives (or other media) in the field, it performs flawlessly. The rest of the feature set only adds to the usefulness of the unit. The few small nits that I have are either not terribly important, or will be fixed in future firmware upgrades. I am extremely pleased with the PP, glad that I bought it, and recommend it to anyone who is thinking of such a device. It has become a full-time occupant in my backpack, and I use it with confidence.

Michael Tapes is an avid Canon-based digital photographer in the NYC area. He is the co-author of the YarcPlus Canon RAW Viewer/Converter software, with a new product on the way. He maintains a personal website at www.michaeltapes.com and a company website at www.PictureFlow.com. He can be contacted at mtapes@pictureflow.com.

Update: October, 2002

I have just returned from a 6 day shoot in Yellowstone National Park during which I shot some 1,800 frames with the Canon D60. This was 13 — 1 Gigabyte cards worth of data. The Delkin PP proved itself to be invaluable. I transferred between two and three 1 GB cards a day to the Delkin PP. I had a small car inverter with me so I didn't have to worry about battery life.

Everything went smoothly, except at one point the screen went blank during a transfer. No harm done, but I intend on finding out what the problem was. It was very reassuring though to be able to fly home with the equivalent of 50 rolls of film in my pocket and not have to worry about airport X-rays or film lab screw-ups.

When I returned to my office, transferring these 13 GB of files to my computer's hard disk took just 15 minutes using the Firewire adaptor. I now can't imagine doing a shooting trip with a digital camera without the Picturepad.


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Concepts: CompactFlash, Raw image format, PC Card, Digital camera, ExpressCard, Laptop, Universal Serial Bus, Liquid crystal display

Entities: Delkin, a Canon 1D, Nikon, Sony, IBM, Street price, Singapore, handheld device, storage device, Digital Wallet, LCD screen, PC Card, laptop computer, user interface, Pentium 4, Vista, XP, Mac OS, Windows 2000, TOC, Michael Reichmann, Delkin, Nixvue, Michael Reichmann, Michael Tapes, Epson, Phil Askey, D100, D1, PicturePad, SLRs, TVs

Tags: card, raw files, CF card, canon 1ds, micro drive, colour lcd, Canon D60, hard drive, storage device, images, firewire, microdrive, digital, efilm picturepad, thumbnail, delkin efilm picturepad, gb cards, camera, Firewire adaptor, Canon D30, large, Nikon D100, card transfer, LCD screen, Nixvue Vista, light weight, memory cards, Illustration Courtesy Delkin, menu, PC Card, card reader, LCD display, delkin 20 gig, digital camera, standard file, weight handheld device, CF card installs, epson printers, Delkin brand, TV output