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What better place to test the Canon SD700 IS with its $160 underwater housing than in Maui? I caught an early morning Catamaran to the reserve at Molokini and spent the next 3 hours snorkling in beautiful 74 degree water that had about 20 feet of visibility, if not more.

I was very impressed with how easily I could work the controls on the WP-DC5 housing. I used the "underwater" selection from the scene modes and fired away. I could use Canon's bright 2.5" LCD to frame the shots about half the time, depending on the angle of the light from above. Sometimes, the glare and reflection off the housing would wash out the LCD, and I'd just have to guess while lining up a shot. Some of those guesses, however, turned out great.

I also shot topside with the SD700 still in the housing. Those images also turned out well, with no detectable degradation from the camera being inside the housing. This makes the SD700/WP-DC5 combo useful for all sorts of inclement weather, not just underwater.

The housing is rated to 130 feet. I never dove beyond 20 feet, so I can't vouch for the housing's depth rating beyond that. My only complaint was that my right thumb once changed the scene mode from "underwater" to "movie" without me knowing until many minutes later. The dial is positioned where I normally rest my thumb while pressing the shutter button.

Other than that interesting movie digression, I was very satisfied with the results. The shot included here was captured near the reef in Turtle Town, not far from Molokini.

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David Shough Takes the Lensbaby Challenge

David Shough Photo

"I've been following and enjoying your podcasts, and you are usually right on the money with your advice and observations," said David Shough.

"But I have to disagree with you regarding the Lensbaby lenses. It's an awesome tool... I use it nearly every shoot (studio, product, and weddings). The reason a lockable Lensbaby is so appealing is that is lets you shoot with long exposures, as well as giving you a way to get repeatable studio shots. At less than $300, it's a steal. I'll be getting one soon."

Well, David, I'd say you rose to the Lensbaby challenge admirably. This shot of a bride's ring is quite powerful. And now I can say that I've seen a great shot made with a Lensbaby. Well done!

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Lensbabies 3G Now with Locks... But Why?

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I was just reading about the new Lensbabies 3G that have mechanisms allowing the user to lock the devices in any position. They look a bit like a lunar landing module, don't they? The locking device does seems like a nice convenience, but I certainly won't be rushing out to buy one.

Why? Have you ever noticed that you see people using Lensbabies to take bunches of pictures, but that you rarely see the results? This certainly has been my observation. Yes, it does look fun to use. But how many useable pictures do you really get? Especially when you consider that Lensbabies 3G cost $270 US. That's a hefty chunk of change.

So here's what I'm thinking. If you have a great shot captured with a Lensbaby, send it to me. I'll take the best of the bunch and post it as a grab shot. I'd like to be proven wrong about this. But as things stand now, I see them more as expensive toys rather than creative tools. What do you think?

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Aperture 1.5 Ups the Ante

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Bang bang! First Adobe shoots out Lightroom Beta 4, then Apple drops the Aperture 1.5 bomb. I would say that Apple has surprised a lot of people with new functions such as Flexible Library Management (managed library or reference files), XMP sidecar files for exported images, and luminance-based sharpening.

There are lots of little goodies too, such as drag and drop Jpegs out of your Aperture library, Apple Remote capability for Aperture presentations, iPod syncing, iLife integration, and third-party plug-ins. Hmmm, maybe those aren't so little after all. And the really good news is that this update is free to current Aperture owners, and should be available via Software Update on Friday.

You might want to read Ben Long's First Look at Aperture 1.5 on CreativePro.com. He's spent some time with the app and has a good feel for its features and performance.

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Lightroom Beta 4 is Worth the Download

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Adobe announced the release of Lightroom Beta 4 today at Photokina. This version is a substantial update for both Windows and Mac users. I've been testing various builds of Beta 4 on a Mac since the Iceland Lightroom Adventure, and I can tell you from experience, that it's worth the download.

Of all the new features, and there are plenty, take a look at the Develop module in Beta 4. New tools such as Fill Light are some of the most photography-friendly and useful image processing controls I've ever used. I really like refining my pictures with Develop in Lightroom.

One word of caution however... Lightroom is still under development itself. And the team has been very candid about the fact that things will change between the betas and final release. So don't get too married to features, and keep in mind that work you do in the beta version may not carry over to the final release -- Beta 4 included. This is for testing and enjoyment only.

That being said, whether you're on Mac or Windows, Beta 4 is a substantial move forward for Lightroom. You might want to take a look at it.

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Drool Factor: The Seitz 6x17 Digital

Seitz 6x17 Digital

This one is just for the dreaming of it... a high resolution 6x17 (160 million pixels - 7,500 x 21,250 resolution) digital camera that records shots in just one second. Impossible? No says Seitz, the maker of this amazing device.

The image sensor was developed by DALSA Corporation exclusively for Seitz. It has very high sensitivity and broad ISO range: 500-10,000, high image quality thanks to 48-bit color depth, low noise, high dynamic range, DALSA anti-blooming feature, Seitz image optimization algorythms, and you have the freedom to use your own raw-conversion workflow. It accepts world-class Schneider or Rodenstock large format lenses (on Seitz lens board) or Linhof Technorama, Fuji and other large format lenses (on adaptor plates). Bottom line, you get a gigantic digital panorama at nearly the speed of many "regular" digital cameras.

The price? It's big too. The Seitz 6x17 Digital will set you back 28,900 Euros (that's about $36,800 American). Oh my...

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QuickTip: Make a String Tripod

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Here's a trick that only requires a 1/4" bolt and some sturdy string. The result? A super portable tripod that helps you steady your camera up to 2-f/stops of light or more! Call it a poor man's image stabilizer.

First, take a sturdy length of string and create a loop at one end big enough to slide your foot into. Then determine the length your need to hold the camera up to your eye. Attach the 1/4" bolt to the other end of the string at the proper length. You're now ready to shoot.

Slide your foot through the loop, attach the bolt to the camera's tripod mount socket, and pull the camera upward until the string is taut. You'll be amazed at how steady you can hold the camera as you gently squeeze off a shot.

Normal acceptable handheld shutter speeds are 1/30th of a second. With the string tripod, you should be able to shoot all the way down to 1/8th of a second. Give it a try!

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Add Voice Memos to Your iPhoto Library

Most compact cameras enable you to record voice memos to accompany photos you've just captured. To get the most out of this function, however, you want to store the audio with the appropriate image.

Unfortunately iPhoto doesn't let you add straight audio files to its library. There has to be an image attached the audio file. So the dream of having voice memos associated with your pictures is only that, a dream. Or is it? By using this easy technique and QuickTime Pro, you can include voice memos with your images in iPhoto.

After you've uploaded your pictures to iPhoto, leave the memory card mounted on your Desktop so you can examine its internals. This is where card readers have a real advantage over uploading your images directly from the camera. Find the audio file, usually with a .wav extension, and the corresponding image file. The two should have the same number in their file names.

find the wave file

Drag the photo on to the QuickTime logo on your Dock to open it in QuickTime. You're going to convert it into a movie by exporting it selecting File > Export then choosing "Movie to QuickTime Movie" under the Export pop up menu. Click the Options button and choose "Photo Jpeg" as your compressor and 640 x 480 as the size. After you hit Save, your image will become a QuickTime movie. Double-click it to open it

Now drag your camera's sound file to QuickTime to open it. You have two QuickTime movies open -- the converted photo and the audio file. Go back to your photo and go to Edit > Select All, then choose Edit > Copy. Your picture movie is now on the clipboard. Go back to your voice memo and choose Edit > Add to Selection and Scale. The photo movie is now added to your voice memo. You can listen to the audio by clicking the play button. (You need the Pro version of QuickTime to use this technique. You can upgrade on the Apple site for $29.95.)

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You're almost finished. Now choose Save As and select "Save as self-contained movie." Give your movie a name and click Save. Drag your voice memo photo movie into the iPhoto album where the other photos are stored. Now, in addition to all of the still images, you have a descriptive movie to accompany them that explains the technique you used to capture them.

You can download a sample movie here. Try it. It's really cool.

Spot Color

What used to be an agonizing process in Photoshop, now only takes seconds using the "Color Accent" feature in the Canon PowerShot SD630, SD700 and their brethren. This is one of those gimmicks that you might pass by in the owner's manual without ever trying. My advice, if it's included in your camera, go try it now.

Color Accent works like this. First you look at a composition and decide what color to feature. Navigate to Color Accent mode, point your spot meter marker in the LCD viewfinder at the color, and press the appropriate button on your camera to "mark" it. Your camera notes that color. Now, when you take a photo, everything else in the composition turns to black and white, except for the items that contain the color you marked. You can even control the density of the color rendered right there on the LCD.

In the photo above, I marked the red of the ceramic canister holding the kitchen utensils. I also picked up some red in the tomato and apple. Everything else went to black and white -- all done in camera, and with a point and shoot at that. Now if I connected the camera to a direct print dye sub printer, such as my CP330, I can output a 4x6 inch spot colored photo without ever touching a computer or image editor.

I've been having a blast with Color Accent. It really gets the creative juices flowing. If you have this on your camera, give it a try. If you're shopping for one, this is a feature to look for.

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Camera Raw Sharpening

Almost every RAW file requires some degree of sharpening to counter the effect of blurring that occurs at some stage of image capture or image processing. But when do you apply the sharpening? In Camera Raw or later in Photoshop? The answer isn't as straightforward as you might think. In this excerpt from "Photoshop CS2 RAW", Mikkel Aaland shows you how to sharpen your images with confidence.

I worked with Mikkel on a chapter of Photoshop CS2 RAW, and have some images in there that I captured at Pt. Reyes. The entire book is good, and this excerpt on sharpening is particularly useful.

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