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Packing your camera bag is art and science combined. You want to make sure you have the gear you need, but not too much. Your bag may have to fit in tight quarters, such as in an overhead compartment on a plane, or under the seat. And what about the environment you'll be shooting in when you arrive? Since this is the bag you'll always have with you, what personal items will you include? In this week's podcast, I have 10 great tips that will help you prepare for your next vacation, business trip, or photo assignment. Tune in!

Listen to the Podcast

You can also download the podcast here (33 minutes). Or better yet, subscribe to the podcast in iTunes. You can support this podcast by purchasing the TDS iPhone App for only $2.99 from the Apple App Store.

Monthly Photo Assignment

Blue is the March 2011 Photo Assignment. You can read more about how to submit on our Member Participation page. Deadline for entry is March 31, 2011.

TDS Summer 2011 Photography Workshop

We're making plans now for the Summer 2011 TDS Photography Workshop. If you want your name on the reserve list, just drop me a line.

More Ways to Participate

Want to share photos and talk with other members in our virtual camera club? Check out our Flickr Public Group. It's a blast!

Podcast Sponsors

Red River Paper -- Try the $7.99 Sample Kit.

Make Your Photos Sizzle with Color! -- SizzlPix is like High Definition TV for your photography.

Need a New Photo Bag? Check out the Lowepro Specialty Store on The Digital Story and use discount code LP20 to saven 20% at check out.




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canon_200-400mm_zoom.jpg

I stopped by the Canon booth at NANPA and chatted a bit with them about their announced Super-Telephoto Zoom Lens At The CP+ Event: The EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x Lens. I was hoping that there might be some new news since Canon officially spilled the beans in February.

When I stopped by, there was no one else around... just in case. But sadly, there was no news about the super zoom that will have a 1.4x tele extender built-in that can be switched on and off. Other than, Canon said it was the most-asked question at the Nature Photography Summit.

Bottom line, still no official word on release date, on estimated price, or on how the built-in tele extender might actually work. If you're interested in learning more about the EF 200-400mm, there's a pretty good article about it on The-Digital-Picture.com.


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They might not be the prettiest bird you've ever seen, but the Chachalaca in Southern Texas make up for it in personality.

Chachalaca Chachalaca feeding after chasing off a rabbit. Click on image for larger version.

They are fairly big, about 22" in length. I watched one chase-off a Cottontail rabbit this afternoon at the Mazatlan World Birding Center in McAllen, Texas. You can't miss their call once you've heard it: cha cha lac, cha cha lac! And it's so loud that you can't hardly hear anything else.

After just two days in the Rio Grande area, I can tell you already, if you're in to birding, this is an exciting place. In addition to the group of the facilities that comprise the World Birding Center (think of it as the Smithsonian of feathered creatures), there are also private ranches that have converted to conservatories for local habitats. One example is the Santa Clara Ranch that features 300 acres preserved Southern Texas landscape, photo blinds, ponds, and feeders where photographers can capture a variety of birds and wildlife. They even have bunk houses that you can rent for extended stays.

Since about 90 percent of the land in Texas is privately owned, this is a positive trend seeing ranch owners becoming conservationists, and making a living while doing so. If you love wildlife photography, it would be worth your time to investigate the opportunites in Southern Texas.


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Glossy Ibis Puffed Up


Glossy Ibis, originally uploaded by The Digital Story.

Once the morning light broke through the clouds at Estero Llano Grande State Park outside of McAllen Texas, everything came to life, including the plumage on this Glossy Ibis who was preening.

Image captured with a Canon 60D, Canon 1.4X tele-extender II, and Canon 70-200 f/4 L lens. I use the tripod collar for the zoom, then attach the rig to a monopod to steady the shot since the magnification is increased. ISO 200, 1/500th at f/8.

You can see more images from this shoot on The TDS Flickr page.


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Portrait at Dusk, McAllen Texas

McAllen Texas is a changing city. I spent a couple hours this evening hanging out at the new convention center that has become a community area for locals. I saw a wedding party taking photos, families relaxing on the green, couples portraits, children playing, and people just enjoying the balmy breeze at twilight.

Portrait at Dusk, McAllen Texas Portrait at Dusk -- Captured with a Canon S90, ISO 1000, 1/20th at f/3.5. Photo by Derrick Story. Click on image for larger version.

I asked a few locals about the reported border violence. "Yes, there are certainly areas you must avoid," said one. "Down by the river there are encampments and lots of guns." But there was none of that tonight in the convention area that featured beautiful grounds, restaurants, and shops now open for business.

No one seemed happier about this, than a young couple, posing for a portrait in front of an illuminated fountain as the sun dipped below the horizon.


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Lots to cover this week, and I'll touch on as much of this as possible: iPad 2, Flash Benders portable light modifiers, Samsung NX 100 ILC camera, Nature Photography Summit in McAllen Texas, "What's in my Bag?" and TDS Podcast App hiccups. Thanks for tuning in and being a part of our virtual camera club. Oh, and I also announce the latest "SizzlPix Pick of the Month."

Listen to the Podcast

You can also download the podcast here (32 minutes). Or better yet, subscribe to the podcast in iTunes. You can support this podcast by purchasing the TDS iPhone App for only $2.99 from the Apple App Store.

Monthly Photo Assignment

Blue is the March 2011 Photo Assignment. You can read more about how to submit on our Member Participation page. Deadline for entry is March 31, 2011.

TDS Summer 2011 Photography Workshop

We're making plans now for the Summer 2011 TDS Photography Workshop. If you want your name on the reserve list, just drop me a line.

More Ways to Participate

Want to share photos and talk with other members in our virtual camera club? Check out our Flickr Public Group. It's a blast!

Podcast Sponsors

Red River Paper -- Try the $7.99 Sample Kit.

Make Your Photos Sizzle with Color! -- SizzlPix is like High Definition TV for your photography.




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Soon, you'll be hearing about the going-ons at the Nature Photography Summit in McAllen, Texas. This should be an interesting trip for a variety of reasons.

Nanpa

At first, McAllen might seem like an unusual choice for this event. It's only a few miles from the US/Mexico border in the Rio Grande Valley. There's enough questionable activity that I've been advised not to go out at night by myself. Hmmm, Las Vegas this isn't.

But this area does support abundant wildlife, including the World Birding Center. So there won't be night shooting during this adventure, rather wildlife photography during the day. Plus, there's the conference itself at the McAllen Convention Center.

So stay tuned. I have a feeling there will be some interesting reports coming from Southern Texas.


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MacBook Pro 15"

A common question that I get from readers is: "which computer is the best for the traveling photographer?" Now's a great time to look at this, because all of the players have just been revised. The options for Mac users are tempting: iPad 2, MacBook Air (11" and 13"), and the MacBook Pro 15".

Since our focus is travel, let's start with weight, horsepower, battery, and resolution:

  • iPad 2 3G $829 - 1.35 pounds, 1GHz dual-core Apple A5 processor, and 9.7-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit glossy widescreen Multi-Touch display (1024 x 768), 10 hours of battery life.
  • MacBook Air 11" $1,399 - 2.3 pounds, 1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor with 3MB shared L2 cache, 11.6-inch (diagonal) high-resolution LED-backlit glossy widescreen display with support for millions of colors (1366 by 768), 5 hours of battery life.
  • MacBook Air 13" $1,799 - 2.9 pounds, 2.13GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor with 6MB shared L2 cache (upgraded option), 13.3-inch (diagonal) high-resolution LED-backlit glossy widescreen display with support for millions of colors (1440 x 1900), 5 hours of battery life.
  • MacBook Pro 15" $2,349 - 5.6 pounds, 2.2GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor with 6MB shared L3 cach, 15.4-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit glossy or optional antiglare widescreen display with support for millions of colors (1440 x 1900), 7 hours of battery life.

The next step is to decide what's most important to you in the "processing power vs weight" category. The MacBook Pro 15" is the fastest machine with the most storage. If you're capturing video and large Raw files, you're going to appreciate this muscle. A great machine for serious pro assignment photography.

The iPad with the optional Camera Connection Kit is a great choice for vacation travel, when you won't have as serious processing demands. It can handle Raw files and video, but it works best when you select a handful of favorite shots and play with those. The photo applications for the iPad are also quite affordable compared to the MacBooks. Typical price is $1.99 to $9.99 each.

The MacBook Air 13" strikes a compelling balance between the other two. It's weight is closer to the iPad 2, but it has much of the muscle of a MacBook. It's not as fast or contains as much storage as the new MacBook Pro 15", but it does run Photoshop, Aperture, Lightroom, and iPhoto very well. And the solid state drive does give it a very snappy feel. iPhoto comes with the machine, and you can get Aperture for $79 in the Mac App Store.

I've posted three articles on Macworld Magazine that dig deeper into these scenarios: Field testing the MacBook Air for photographers, A photographer's workflows for the MacBook Air, and A photographer's workflow for the iPad. Once you feel for which direction you want to go, check out the appropriate article for more details.

Bottom Line Considerations

Price -- iPad 2 3G with 64 GBs of Flash memory: $829 US; MacBook Air 11" with 1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 4 GBs Ram and 128 GBs Flash storage: $1,399 US; MacBook Air 13" with 2.13GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 4 GBs Ram and 256 GBs Flash storage: $1,799 US; MacBook Pro 15" with 2.2GHz Quad-core Intel Core i7, 4 GBs Ram, 750GB Serial ATA Drive @ 5400 rpm, and 15-inch Hi-Res Antiglare Widescreen Display: $2,349 US

Connectivity -- The iPad comes with 3G cellular built-in ($15 month) so you have access to the Internet practically anywhere. The MacBooks have built-in WiFi requiring a network to browse the Web.

Space -- The iPad 2 and MacBook Air fits in most photo backpacks. The MacBook Pro requires a dedicate laptop storage area, which usually increases the size of your bag.

Power and Battery -- No doubt that MacBook Pro is a beast when it comes to power. The question is, how much power do you need on the road? The MacBook Pro also gives you 7 hours of battery life, 2 hours better than the Air, but not quite the 10 hours you get with the iPad.

I do a lot of traveling, and most of it includes assignment work. I'm currently using the first generation iPad and the beefed-up 13" MacBook Air (as listed in this article) on the road. My video editing is light; I'm usually preparing short movies for YouTube. I do shoot Raw with a Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 60D. I haven't had any problem processing those files using Aperture on the Air. I would consider myself a light-duty pro photographer. Take this information and decide where you fit, then make the perfect choice for you.


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For the Jan. '11 Photo Assignment, TDS shooters lowered their sights and assembled a rock solid gallery for Ground Level. This collection is outstanding! And which one will be the SizzlPix Pick of the Month?

Emil Trollklint "Ground Level"

The March 2011 assignment is "Blue." Start working on your contribution now. Details can be found on the Member Participation page. Submit photo assignment pictures 800 pixels in the widest direction.

Please follow the instructions carefully for labeling the subject line of the email for your submission. It's easy to lose these in the pile of mail if not labeled correctly. For example, the subject line for next month's assignment should be: "Photo Assignment: March 2011." Also, if you can, please don't strip out the metadata. And feel free to add any IPTC data you wish (These fields in particular: Caption, Credit, Copyright, Byline), I use that for the caption info.


Photo by Emil Trollklint. (Click on it to see enlarged version.) You can read more about how Emil captured this shot, plus see all of the other great images on the January 2011 Gallery page.


Good luck with your March assignment, and congratulations to all of the fine contributors for January. Very, very impressive!


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Now Available! The Digital Photography Companion. The official guide for The Digital Story Virtual Camera Club.

  • 25 handy and informative tables for quick reference.
  • Metadata listings for every photo in the book
  • Dedicated chapter on making printing easy.
  • Photo management software guide.
  • Many, many inside tips gleaned from years of experience.
  • Comprehensive (214 pages), yet fits easily in camera bag.

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Olympus E-PL-2 with PENpal Bluetooth Adapter

Macworld Magazine has published my review of the Olympus E-PL2 micro four thirds camera. I've talked about this compact interchangeable lens device before, but the full review covers everything from important features, accessories, and image quality; to using the camera with an HDTV and pairing the PENpal Bluetooth accessory with a Mac. We cover a lot ground!

The pros and cons list in the review shape up like this:

Pros

  • Ergonomically comfortable body with textured hand grip, recessed on/off button, mode dial, and control wheel
  • Improved 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 Zuiko MSC zoom kit lens
  • In-body image stabilization
  • Manual exposure and art filters in movie controls
  • Accessory Port 2 for expanded functionality
  • Built-in wireless flash control

Cons

  • No built-in external mic jack--must buy accessory port adapter
  • Complex menu system
  • Limited to AVI movie format (Motion JPEG OpenDML)

Overall, I think this is an excellent camera for the photographer who wants a compact, lightweight design, but still retains plenty of control and a variety lens options. The Olympus PEN E-PL2 camera kitis available for $599 US.


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