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PS Elements 4 Mac

Adobe released Photoshop Elements 4 for the Mac today at PMA. I had a chance to meet with an Adobe engineer last night in Orlando to talk about Elements 4 and some of its notable features. Adobe has packed quite a bit of power in this affordable package.

First, and a bit of a surprise, Elements 4 now has a streamlined version of Bridge. So there's a fully capable file browser built right into the app. The biggest "wow" feature however, is the new "Adjust Color for Skin Tones" control that lets you click on a spot of skin, then Photoshop analyzes it and corrects the color. I saw it tested on a variety of subjects, and it worked remarkably well. Speaking of our people shots, the new red eye correction tool is the model of simplicity. You just enable it and Photoshop finds all the instances of red eye in the image and fixes them for you. The Mac version isn't able to correct red eye on import as in the Windows release, but this approach works quite well.

Adobe has included some very helpful selection tools too. The Magic Select Brush and the Magic Extractor tools speed up the tedious task of selecting an element within your picture to adjust or copy and place elsewhere. They don't achieve perfection automatically, but they do get you close enough so that with a little clean-up you're in business.

The price for Elements 4 is still $89. This a great value for a powerful image editor. Considering that it includes Bridge and the latest version of Camera Raw, this application is all most hobbyist photographers would ever need.

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PMA Reporting Via Splashblog

PMA 2006

The Photo Marketing Association Show (PMA) is underway in Orlando, Florida. I'm landing in Orlando Sunday evening and will begin reporting on Monday. I'm going to try something new this year. I've set up a SplashBlog. Mine will be called Dex's Mobile Blog. It will have an RSS feed too.

I'll be taking photos with Casio and a Contax compact cameras. I'll then take the memory cards and put them in a Palm LifeDrive that has WiFi connectivity. The SplashBlog software will enable me to upload the photos and captions directly to Dex's Mobile Blog.

Sounds fun. Let's see how it works.

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Full Review of Nikon D200 on DP Review

Nikon D200

Digital Photography Review has just published their full review of the Nikon D200. As we expected, Phil Askey highly recommends this camera. If you're considering making the jump to this pro-level Nikon, I recommend that you read what Phil has to say. It will help you understand both its strengths and weaknesses, and help you decide if it's the right DSLR for you.

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Nikon Coolpix P4

More PMA Announcements -- Nikon jumped into the pre-PMA announcement frenzy with a raft of items, one of my favorites being the new Nikon Coolpix P4. It's more sophisticated than your average point and shoot with additional controls such as Aperture Priority and a speedy continuous shooting mode of 1.8 fps (for a compact). The 3.5X optical zoom comes with image stabilization, and there's a 2.5" LCD monitor on the back. This svelt package will run less than $400. For an extra $50, you can get the P3 with similar specs, but includes 802.11 WiFi connectivity.

Aperture Training Redux -- If you're serious about your digital photography, then you may be wondering if Apple's Aperture is software you should consider. That was on the minds of many people who attended the Aperture Power Tools workshop at the recent Macworld in San Francisco. If you missed that training, Scott Bourne and I are teaming up again for an Introduction to Aperture 2-Day Lecture/Demo Course at Pixel Corps in San Francisco on March 17 and 18. This two full days of immersion into Aperture is only $249. And the facilities at Pixel Corps are terrific.

Ultra Clamp Assembly -- I spoke last night at the North Coast Mac User Group meeting and was showing off some of my "dumb photography tricks." One of the favorite gadgets was the Ultra Clamp Assembly, and I promised to list the url where folks could buy one.

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canon_30d

Canon has announced an update to its popular midlevel DSLR line -- the EOS 30D. Even though this model sports a larger 2.5-inch, 230,000 pixel LCD monitor and a shutter rated up to 100,000 cycles, the price remains $1,399 USD for this 8.2 megapixel body. The other notable upgrade over the 20D is a new spot meter covering 3.5 percent of the viewfinder. This will be welcomed by serious shooters who were often frustrated by Canon's "partial metering" mode which had a much broader 9 percent coverage.

Two new lenses were announced too: the EF-S 17-55mm f-2.8 IS USM with internal stabilization ($1,149) and the EF 85mm f-1.2L II USM ($2,099).

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Lacie d2 Extreme

Backing up your photos and music is vitally important. Even though I use optical media too, the ease of backing up to redundant hard drives has made this my favorite and most-used option. And as we all know, the easier it is, the more often we'll do it.

My current favorite drive is the LaCie 300GB d2 External Hard Drive With Triple Interface ($225). It combines 3 interfaces (FireWire 400, FireWire 800, and USB 2.0), fast spin speed (7200 RPM), decent buffer (8MBs), excellent reliability, and good looking design. I've been using d2 drives for years now (have five in two locations), and I've been very satisfied with their performance.

These drives work equally well with both Macs and PCs. If you have a newer Mac, I recommend using the FireWire 800 connection for maximum throughput. By doing so, you also have your other ports (FireWire 400 and USB) for connecting other drives (such as an iPod) for copying from one device to another. LaCie provides you with the necessary cables.

Even though styling shouldn't necessarily be at the top of the list when considering a new hard drive, I have to say, I really like the look and feel of these units. The attractive metal case with cobalt blue light looks great on your desk, shelf, or wherever your store your drives.

You can daisy-chain these devices too so that they are all accessible at once. This makes it easy to search across all the units or copy data from one to the other. LaCie even makes a handy desk rack ($49) if your want to stack up to four units horizontally.

Indeed, there are plenty of hard drive options out there. And the most important consideration is that you pick one of them and start backing up today. But if you'd like an attractive combination of style and performance, include the 300GB LaCie d2 on your list of options.

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Canon 24-105mm L IS

I've been shooting with the newish Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM for a couple months now and feel comfortable reporting on its performance in the field.

The 24-105 lens (18 elements in 13 groups) has a constant aperture of f-4 throughout the entire zooming range. The image stabilizer is Canon's latest generation, and it really does enable you to shoot at shutter speeds that are 2-3 stops longer than without the stabilizer. Since I prefer to shoot "existing light" style when working in bright interiors, the IS comes in very handy. For example, I'm normally apprehensive about hand held speeds that dip below 1/30th of a second. With this lens I've captured good shots at 1/8th of a second with no visible camera shake. Coupled with the fact that the lens performs well wide open at f-4, you can actually use this zoom for low light photography.

Additionally, all of this performance is squeezed into a package that is remarkably compact (3.3 in. x 4.2 in., 23.6 oz. / 83.5mm x 107mm, 670g). This lens feels much lighter and more balanced than the 24-70mm f-2.8 L lens (3.3" x 4.9", 2.1 lbs. / 83.2mm x 123.5mm, 950g). The mechanics and zooming feel solid (5-group helical zoom), as you'd expect with a Canon L lens. And the package includes both a lens hood and a soft leather-like pouch.

The front filter ring is 77mm. I recommend that you use the "thin" filters so you don't incur any vignetting at the wider focal lengths. Since the front glass element is large, you should probably factor in the price of a protective Sky 1A or filter of your choice to leave on at all times.

The USM zooming motor (inner focusing system with focusing cam) is ultra quiet and very responsive. I think Canon L lens are the quietest of any autofocus lenses I've tried.

As for the images the lens produces -- sharp, contrasty, and saturated throughout the zooming range. This is a lens that performs well on the Canon 5D, and if you don't mind the 1.6X magnification factor, is a good choice for the APS sensor cameras too such as the Digital Rebel XT. The only real optical tradeoff I've noticed is that the 24-105 can only close-focus to 1.48 feet (.45mm). So this is not a lens you would use for your close-up photography.

Is it worth the hefty $1,250 price tag? That depends. If you like having an all-around zoom that you can trust to cover most shooting situations, including some existing light, I think so. I like the IS functionality, constant aperture, and relatively light weight compared to other "L" zooms. I recommend this lens for serious shootings looking for an all purpose zoom.

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Around the Next Corner

Mazatlan Mexico

I had finished a morning's worth of exploration in Mazatlan and found I had wandered all the way to the beach. As I looked around, I noticed that a restaurant called the Shrimp Bucket was just a few hundred yards away. I had been told about this place, but doubted that I would ever find it. It was a good omen that I did.

I sat out in the patio that faced the shore. About half way through my first Pacifico, a couple whom I had met on the cruise ship entered the patio and invited me to their table. He was on the Geek Cruise faculty too, teaching Final Cut Pro. We had a great lunch and I was telling them about some of the sites they may want to go photograph. They said they might take a look, but I knew they were going to head back to the ship. Our restaurant was quite a distance from port.

At first I was going to head back too. But then I decided that I was going to "see what was just around the next corner." I was fairly sure it would be just more beach, but I wanted to see anyway. After just a few minutes of walking, I discovered some of these amazing rock structures. I spent the next two hours exploring the beach and photographing all sorts of interesting subjects.

I got back to the ship much later than I had planned. That night, while hanging out in the library, I saw the same couple with whom I had shared lunch. They asked to see my pictures and seemed to enjoy looking at the day's shoot. The woman asked my where I found this shot (and the others related to it). I said that they were just around the corner from where we had eaten. Funny how often that's true.

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Night of the Iguana

Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta was a quiet port town in the center of Banderas Bay, that is, until 1962 when director John Huston chose a piece of property on the southern end of town as the set for his Night of the Iguana. Thanks in part to Richard Burton and Liz Taylor having a torrid affair during this time, Puerto Vallarta suddenly became the center of Hollywood attention and regarded as a steamy tropical paradise destination.

I ventured out to where the movie was filmed with fellow photographer Ben Long. It's now an abandoned property that overlooks the bay. Apparently there were attempts to convert this location into a restaurant and resort. But, by the looks of the deteriorating buildings, those attempts failed.

This image is from a series I took while spending the morning there with Ben. We had the entire area to ourselves, which enabled me to quietly focus on shapes, color, lighting, and abstract compositions. We left the property on foot and walked through a few small villages before finding a resort hotel that had cabs back to town.

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Heard It All Before

Mazatlan Chat

While I was hanging around in the Old Town Plaza in Mazatlan, I enjoyed watching this conversation among friends. The gentleman on the left launched into a long story that I'm certain the other two had heard more than once. The expressions say it all.

I've been using the Digital Rebel XT with only two lenses for my street shooting in Mexico: 17-40mm L and the 75-300 IS EF. So far I've been able to cover everything I need with this duo. This picture was recorded with the 17-40mm, wide open at f-4 at ISO 100. I'm shooting everything Raw on this trip and processing the images in Aperture.

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