Living With A Digital Projector

Are today's digital projectors ready for photographers? Are slideshows back?

Living With A Digital ProjectorThe slideshow has a long tradition for outdoor photographers. From the single-trip show (“My Visit to Yellowstone”) to photo clubs to pros giving lectures and seminars, projecting images onto a screen has been an important part of displaying nature photos.

I’ve been using digital projectors for a few years with mixed results. Up until recently, they were quite expensive and seemed more suited to images in Power-Point than photos of Zabriskie Point.

That has changed. There’s a whole range of possibilities now with digital projectors, both in technology and price. To explore what it might be like to have a digital projector on hand over a period of time, I got a long-term loan of a three-LCD Epson PowerLite 755c projector. This is a moderately priced unit with a street price of approximately $1,599.

This projector has XGA resolution of 1024 x 768. There has been a lot of talk about what a photographer “has to have” in a digital projector. I can tell you honestly that after using this projector with many audiences who were both near and far from the screen, no one complained about the resolution or even mentioned anything about it.

Polite? I don’t know. I do know that they liked the photos and were impressed with seeing the images projected.

Too many advanced photographers try to define “quality” projection based on arbitrary numbers and not what audiences really see. No normal person goes up to a projection screen and says they can see pixels or some facet of sharpness—only obsessive photographers. The average person responds to the photographs and how they affect him or her.

That isn’t to say that resolution isn’t important. Resolution in the digital world is always directly related to size. Beyond a certain point in enlargement, any resolution commonly available in affordable projectors will start to show its limitations. But with the right projector in a small room, even SVGA (800 x 600) will give a quality slideshow experience.

I haven’t lined up a lot of projectors next to one another to pick a “best.” Generally, that doesn’t interest me. I’d prefer to have a good product I can afford and will use rather than worry if I got the “best” and not enjoy the fun that projecting images offers.

Working with a single projector also helps you better control the projection process, which will make the experience better, too. What does that mean? I’ve worked with all sorts of projectors as I do programs around the country. Some make my photos look great, others make them look terrible. With one projector, I can control its setup and I know what it can and can’t do, so I can control the images so they look their best on that projector.

An aside: you might wonder which projectors made my photos look good and which bad so you can avoid the “bad” projectors. That idea doesn’t work. I’ve had the same projector brand and model give good and bad results, depending on the venue. When lots of people use the projectors, they get tweaked and changed so the results aren’t consistent.

It’s possible to do some color calibration of projectors. ColorVision Spyder2 offers an affordable solution, but it isn’t practical to calibrate every projector you might run into on the road (you’re actually calibrating your computer’s interaction with the projector). Calibration works great for the “single-photographer” projector, though, because you can set up the projector with your laptop (or other computer) once and count on its color. You do have to recalibrate over time (depending on the projector and how much it’s used), but that then becomes an occasional adjustment.

The Epson PowerLite 755c gave great colors right out of the box. One consistent problem I’ve found with projectors is that they frequently make photos too warm and saturated. The Epson-projected photos were pleasantly warm and didn’t make colors look too saturated. Calibration even made it a bit better.

I’m no computer engineer, and while I know a bit about the different technologies for projection, I can’t explain why they work better or worse for certain types of colors. Epson is big on the three-LCD approach, and in general, most photographers seem to like what this technology does for photography. I thought the projected photos looked excellent, so I suppose this is a credit to the three-LCD technology.

You may have heard that Canon has a superb technology in its new Realis projectors called LCOS. I’ve seen the results, and photos look great. However, these projectors are quite expensive now, though perhaps worth the cost for the photographer who wants the very best in photographic projection and can afford it.

Some other things I learned using the Epson PowerLite 755c:

No more black rooms. This is something that consistently amazes me. Digital projectors today give bright, brilliant images in rooms that are much brighter than you’d expect with traditional film slide projectors. Having brighter rooms keeps your audience more attentive and allows you to interact more with them.

Software for slideshows. I used several options for putting photos together in slideshows. They all worked, but each had different ways of dealing with photos. For simple slideshows that I controlled from the keyboard, I mostly used the slideshow feature of iView MediaPro. Available for Windows and Mac, this program makes it easy to sort images for a slideshow, then reorder them by dragging and dropping.

For shows that needed some sort of text with the images, I used Apple Keynote (I use a small PowerBook laptop for my slideshows); PowerPoint works similarly. For slideshows with music and the potential of moving images (the so-called Ken Burns/PBS effect), I used Boinx FotoMagico with my Apple laptop. For Windows, Photodex ProShow Gold is an excellent program with a lot of flexibility for combining photos (which can move, too) and music.

No more keystoning. I love this aspect of a digital projector. You can project up or down at a screen and then adjust the projector so the edges are straight and parallel (removing the keystoning effect, where the projected picture appears to converge at the top or bottom). The Epson PowerLite 755c even goes a step further by automating the keystone adjustment. An interesting side effect to the latter, however: columnist Bob Krist was using this model while on a boat and the projector was too good in dealing with keystoning‚Äîit would change the frame in response to the boat’s movement in the waves!

Big-screen TV. You can project video with digital projectors. Hook up your cable television, VCR or DVD player and get big-screen results. This was a lot of fun. My family loved the chance to see a film on DVD projected large. Most projectors don’t yet handle HD video, though.

The best thing about having a projector around? Having a projector around! If friends or family dropped by and wanted to see images from a recent trip, it was easy to set up the projector and screen and show them. No more little photos on a laptop screen. No more crowding people around the workstation computer.

I’m thinking now about putting in a permanent mount for a projector in the family room. Many people are creating home theaters in this way. I want to be able to take any projector down and use it for classes and seminars, too, but many photographers may find it more convenient to make the projector mount more permanent (that will create fewer problems with the projector getting out of calibration or bulbs burning out too soon).

Regardless, I like being able to project photos. It’s better than the old carousel projector setup. I can do music with slides and count on them always syncing properly (no out-of-step images). I can also do dissolves and other effects without using and dealing with multiple projectors and sync boxes. I can quickly do a sort of photos from a recent shoot and project them instantly. Finally, I can do interesting pans and zooms in and out of the images for that Ken Burns/PBS effect.

A digital projector truly changes how I work with my images. And I like it!

Editor Rob Sheppard’s video on how to use Photoshop and Photoshop Elements for landscape photography is available from his website, You can also find a new technique explained each month on the site.