Dual Nikon, Canon, Panasonic & Minolta Battery Charger

One of the major keys to digital photography is being able to take the shot. Sounds like a "duh" statement I know, but what I’m referring to is having a charged battery. Nothing is more frustrating than running out of power in the middle of a shoot. So as digital photographers we’ve learned to carry extra batteries. I use a battery grip with my Nikon D300 (and my Nikon D80 before that) which allows me to put two batteries in my camera at once. This does a great job at practically doubling my shooting time, however, there are still times where shooting a lot will drain the batteries. Therefore I carry at least two extra batteries at all times. However, when it’s time to swap out batteries, I don’t want to charge them one at a time. That’s where the Impact Dual Battery Charger comes in.

I’ve used the Impact Dual Battery Charger for over a year now. It’s been working out great. I found out about it when I bought a couple of their (Impact) batteries for my D80. While the charger has been working great, one of the two batteries no longer works (there goes my $10 savings). So I don’t recommend their batteries, but the charger will charge your original batteries so you’re good to go. Now keep in mind that most companies will recommend that you only charge their batteries with their chargers. So if you have warranty concerns, then I guess you can stop reading here. However, like I said, I’ve charged my Nikon brand batteries for over a year with the charger with no issues.

It charges the following battery types:

Canon: BP-208, BP-308, BP-315
Minolta: NP-400
Nikon: EN-EL3, EN-EL3a, EN-EL3e
Panasonic: CGA-S303

The Impact Dual Charger goes for $69.95 at B&H Photo & Video

You can use your universal remote with your PS3

As I have written in the past, I use the Sony Playstation 3 (PS3) as my Blu-ray player in my home theater. It works great, however the one complaint that I had with it was that I couldn’t control it with my favorite universal remote (which happens to be a Sony remote). The problem is that the PS3 uses Bluetooth for its wireless game controllers AND for the Sony DVD remote.  I have the Sony PS3 DVD remote and as you may have guessed, it only works with the PS3 and controls nothing else. Also I have say that it kind of sucks as a remote in general. In typical Sony fashion the PS3 DVD remote is BLACK and impossible to see in the dark. There is no light on it and it doesn’t even have glow in the dark buttons. The Sony PS3 DVD remote is Bluetooth based which is why it doesn’t work with anything else but the PS3.

The good folks at Nyko have created a remote that uses IR instead of Bluetooth. Their Playstation 3 Blu Wave Remote comes with a USB dongle that plugs into the PS3. Then you can use their remote to control the PS3. So here’s what I did. I plugged in their dongle and then I put my Sony Universal Remote in "Learning mode" and I used the supplied remote to teach my universal remote the commands to control the DVD/Blu-ray playback of my PS3. Next I put their remote in a drawer. That’s it! I now have ONE REMOTE that controls my home theater environment again. So if you have a favorite universal remote that can learn commands and you have a PS3, this will be the best $14 you’ve ever spent. Now also if the PS3 is not in a great location for IR line of sight, you might also want to get a USB extension cable so that you can place the dongle in a better location.

The Playstation 3 Blu Wave Remote goes $13.99 at Amazon.com.

Let the iPhone app development begin

As expected Apple delivered upon their promise of an iPhone SDK (software developer kit) which will allow developers to write native apps for the iPhone or iPod touch. The Beta of the SDK is FREE for download today. You can then write your own apps and test them directly on supplied simulator. However, if you want to distribute your app, you would then have to sign up for their developer program ($99/year) even if you plan to make FREE apps. Once you write your app and sign up. Apple will then have to approve your app and then it will be available through a new App Store app directly on the device or via iTunes. If your App is FREE, then you’re all done. If you want to charge for your app, then you set the price. After that Apple sells your app, collects the money, deals with credit card fees, etc. and keeps 30% off the top. You get a check for the remaining 70% on a monthly basis. I’m not a developer, but this doesn’t sound too bad to me. Also this will be the only legitimate way to do it.


Apple is really getting ready for business now!

Not only did Apple release the SDK, but they also announced support for Enterprise connectivity! This is big because it answers all (or almost all) of the issues that most companies had with deploying iPhones company wide. Apple has licensed Exchange ActiveSync from Microsoft and is building it right into the iPhone, so that iPhone will connect out-of-the-box to Microsoft Exchange Servers 2003 and 2007 for secure over-the-air push email, contacts, calendars and global address lists. Built-in Exchange ActiveSync support also enables security features such as remote wipe, password policies and auto-discovery. The iPhone 2.0 software supports Cisco IPsec VPN to ensure the highest level of IP-based encryption available for transmission of sensitive corporate data, as well as the ability to authenticate using digital certificates or password-based, multi-factor authentication. The addition of WPA2 Enterprise with 802.1x authentication enables enterprise customers to deploy iPhone and iPod touch with the latest standards for protection of Wi-Fi networks. My IT guys are probably salivating at the moment :-)


Games and AIM

Apple also showcased some really cool games. A couple of these games took advantage of the iPhone’s accelerometer that is built-in the iPhone. Think of it as a hand held Wii. Apple also gave AOL some stage time to show a native AIM chat client on the iPhone. This was one of my “10 iPhone Apps I Want“. This will be really cool! Surprisingly Apple also said that they wouldn’t stand in the way of VoIP apps that work via Wi-Fi! I was shocked to read that.


Sounds great, but we’ll have to wait a few more months

This all sounds very exciting! However, Apple won’t deliver the 2.0 software update to the iPhone until June. The up side of this is that it gives developers 3 months to get some apps ready. So I imagine by June we should see LOTS of available apps. It would be nice to have the ActiveSync stuff sooner than later, but I’ve waited this long, another 3 months won’t kill me. This also makes me feel even better about my iPhone investment because this update for the iPhone will be FREE. However, around the June timeframe I’m expecting their to be a 3G version of the iPhone too. So Apple will have come a long way in 1 year and they should be a lot closer to their goal of selling 10 million iPhones.

You can watch the event here.

10 iPhone Apps I Want

Well tomorrow’s the big day. It’s the day that Apple is rumored to be delivering the iPhone SDK(possibly just a beta of it) so that developers can begin to write native 3rd party iPhone apps. The rumors have been all of the map as to whether Apple will control/have to approve the distribution of these apps or not. Also will they only be available through iTunes or directly from the developers? I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough. Apple is supposed to release the SDK (software developer kit) at a special even on Thursday, March 6, 2008.

What I wanted to list here are the apps that I would like to see and even willing to pay for. Now keep in mind I’m talking 3rd party apps, not necessarily updates to the iPhone itself. I still have a long laundry list (50 ways to make the iPhone better) of "features" that I would like to see come to the iPhone via firmware updates (some of which have recently been addressed – ie. custom ringtones via GarageBand, iPhones on corporate plans, pseudo GPS, SMS to multiple people, etc.). However, there are certain things that Apple may never do. That’s where the 3rd party apps come in. Macworld published their list of 25 apps that they would like to see and we agree on a few, but there are some that I would like to see that they didn’t list. So here goes. These are apps that I would be willing to pay for:


10 – AIM based Instant Messenger

SMS messaging is great, but I would also like to do iChat (AIM based instant messaging). There are a couple of web based solutions, but having a native iPhone client would be great. It may not happen because it would take revenue away from AT&T. However, if a 3rd party developer could do it, It would be great.


9 – Skype/Vonage VoIP

This is another controversial one. If people could make calls while they were connected to Wi-Fi via VoIP, that would certainly save on those wireless minutes. However, this would definitely be one that AT&T wouldn’t be to happy about. However, if this one were available it would sell like hot cakes.


8 – Expense Tracker

While some are asking for a Pocket Quicken kind of app, my needs are simpler. I would like an expense tracker that I could input expenses in as they occur and then email myself an expense report at the end of the week that I could print. I could then do my real expense report quicker.


7 – Blogging App

How cool would be it be if I could take a picture(s) with the iPhone’s camera and then create a blog entry incorporating that shot? People would definitely do more blogging if they could do the whole process (EASILY) from their iPhones. So a native iPhone app that tied into the standard blogging engines (Blogger, WordPress, etc.) would be hot!


6 – Dictionary/Thesaurus

Having some more apps that I would use regularly would be nice. Not only would I like a dictionary/thesaurus, but also a unit converter and currency converter. These are no brainers and should be pretty easy for a 3rd party developer to make.


5 – FileMaker Pro Light

FileMaker Pro is one of the best database apps in existence. I’ve used it for years. It would be really cool if I could take my databases with me. The iPhone has enough storage and horsepower. It would be great to be able to sync a FMP database and update it while on the go. Come back and sync the changes I made while I was out to the main database on my desktop. Take it step further and let me update it or send the changes over the internet.


4 – Shopping List

This is so basic! Since the iPhone doesn’t have a To-Do function (go figure), it would be nice to generate shopping lists, errand lists, etc. that you could then check off as you complete or buy each item. Take it step further and allow someone to log into a website (say your spouse), generate a list and send it directly to your iPhone. This would be the answer to "honey, I’m stopping by ______, do you want anything?" Now you’re probably sorry you made that call because they start rattling off this list of things you’ll never remember. Now they could just logon on, create the list and send it directly to your iPhone.


3 – Movies App

There is a VERY GOOD web based Movies App for the iPhone now. However, since it’s web based it doesn’t really save my prefs. I would like to see this app really beefed up and made native. I would like to see not only theaters in the area and movie times, but also movies that were just released on DVD and in theaters. I would like to save my favorite theaters as preferences and be able to tap each one to see what’s playing and when.


2 – Slingbox Player

Sling Media has already expressed an interest in making a Slingbox Player for iPhone. However, the problem is going to be bandwidth over EDGE. You would either have to use it only while connected to Wi-Fi or wait for the 3G version of the iPhone. This would be a killer app though.


1 – Screen Capture

My number one need at the moment is to be able to make screen captures of what’s on the iPhone’s screen. As the co-author of The iPhone Book and a guy who writes about tech, it would be so much easier and nicer if I could pull screen captures directly from the iPhone without having to hack/jailbreak it. Hopefully the good folks at Ambrosia Software will make a version of SnapzPro for iPhone.

Shooting tethered just got easier

I’ve been doing a lot more studio shooting lately and the one thing I’m addicted to (besides pretty models) is shooting tethered into Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. Although my new Nikon D300 has a nice big LCD screen on the back, it pales by comparison to the 15" display on my MacBook Pro. So I like to see the shots as I take them on the laptop screen so that I can make adjustments to lighting, exposure, etc. as I go. This way my shots bypass the camera’s memory card and download right to my hard drive of choice. My setup involves the D300, a long amplified USB2 cable, Nikon’s Camera Control Pro 2 software, which by the way supports the new Live View feature of the D300/D3. However, I think this app is still way overpriced! (Canon shooters, just use the software that came with your camera – It’s free) and of course Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. This setup has been working just fine.

However, what I got (after reading Joe McNally’s blog) was this Bogen-Manfrotto Double Head Accessory Arm and Gitzo Laptop tray that sits right on my tripod. I had been using a somewhat flimsy portable stand or whatever surface was nearby for the laptop to sit on. The problem was that I was always having to stoop down to see the screen. This NEW setup on top of my tripod puts everything at eye level. The difference is night and day in my productivity and speed. So I want to thank Joe for turning me on to this solution. It’s been working great.

Back to editing…

It’s Tuesday, so that means new Apple stuff

Apple has been a roll lately! They have been releasing new products on just about every Tuesday since Macworld Expo. Well today is no different and the highly anticipated, highly rumored updates to the MacBook Pro and MacBook made their debut just minutes ago.


The New MacBook Pro

Using the latest intel core 2 duo chips, now comes in speeds up to 2.6GHz. They also feature 2GB of RAM standard and also come with larger hard drives, not to mention the latest NVIDIA graphics cards. As expected Apple also brought over the new "Multi-Touch" trackpad feature first introduced on the MacBook Air. The MacBook Pro prices start at $1,999 for the 15" model and $2,799 for the 17" model.


The New MacBook

Apple’s consumer notebook also got a speed bump as well as 2GB of RAM standard and larger hard drive options. No Multi-Touch trackpad for the MacBook. The MacBook now comes in 2.1GHz and 2.4GHz models and hard drive capacity up to 250GB all starting at $1,099.


What’s my take?

While I certainly welcome a faster MacBook Pro (since I use the MacBook Pro as my main computer), there isn’t anything revolutionary here. I had hoped that Apple would see fit to include Blu-ray movie playback as well as an option for 3G wireless support. Steve seems quite adamant about killing the optical drive before its time. While these new MacBooks still have built-in optical "super" drives, there is nothing new about them. Since Apple doesn’t rent HD movies for download on Macs and PCs (only on Apple TVs), I’m puzzled by the lack of Blu-ray support especially now that the format war has ended. Also before you start commenting on the fact that the displays may not be high def and therefore no need for high def movie playback, I get that. The problem is that I want ONE movie format from here on out. When I rent from Netflix, I now rent Blu-ray if it’s available. This means that if I decide to take that movie with me on the road, I can’t watch it. Also a Blu-ray burner “option” would mean being able to backup 50GB to one disc! I will ultimately upgrade my work notebook, but I’m certainly not in as big of a hurry as I would have been if these would have had the above features.

Check out Dennis’ redesigned blog

I just thought I would take a moment to let you know about Adobe’s Dennis Radeke’s newly redesigned blog. Dennis focuses on Adobe’s Dynamic Media/Video and Audio products and his blog, The Genesis Project focuses on tips and tricks for beginners using After Effects and Premiere Pro. Check it out here. Also check out the rest of the Adobe bloggers here.

Building my home media center

I now have all the pieces in place to build the Home Media Center that I’ve been dreaming of. Sure I’ve got HDTV’s, TiVo, surround sound, Blu-ray, Apple TV’s, and a pretty extensive DVD collection of over 350 movies. However, the one piece of the puzzle that was missing was having those movies that I love, the top 25 to 50 or so movies that I could watch over and over again on a hard drive that could be streamed to any one of my HDTV’s. There is nothing new about ripping DVDs to .MP4/.M4V format and serving them up. As a matter of fact I had already tried it months ago. What stopped me dead in my tracks back then was the fact that I was missing the 5.1 surround sound. The original Apple TV software 1.x did not support 5.1 surround sound playback without some cleaver hacking/encoding. It was just a bit more than I was willing to go through. However, with the latest software update to Apple TV (take 2), Apple has turned on the 5.1 surround sound playback if your movies are encoded properly.

Once Apple updated the Apple TV, I knew it would be just a matter of time before my favorite media conversion apps would be updated to take advantage of this. Sure enough, the first one, "Visual Hub" was updated almost immediately with an Apple TV 5.1 preset. Then the other shoe dropped. The other utility and probably the more important of the two, HandBrake 0.9.2 (a freeware app for both Mac and PC) was just updated a couple of days ago to support 5.1 surround on Apple TV as well. So now with a computer running iTunes and a large hard drive, an Apple TV or two around the house, I can rip my DVD’s to an Apple TV 5.1 surround format and access them at any time using the Apple TV remote.

A true 5.1 Dolby Digital signal coming through to my Bose receiver from The Matrix running on my Apple TV


What’s my setup?

I have an iMac G5 dedicated as an iTunes server. It currently has a 250GB internal hard drive in it and I plan to update it to a terabyte drive now that this is all working. This iMac is on my network via gigabit ethernet. This iMac already has my entire music collection on it. I have some Apple TV’s in various rooms connected to HDTV’s. Using HandBrake (a freeware app for both Mac and PC) with a simple settings change, I can encode my DVDs while preserving the 5.1 surround track.

The main setting change I made in HandBrake was to change the Codec to AAC + AC3 Audio


Once the movies are encoded then what?

Once I rip a DVD to the hard drive using HandBrake, I then import it into iTunes. I have to option of actually syncing the movie(s) to the hard drives of the Apple TV, but this really isn’t necessary with the latest version of Apple TV, nor is it feasible because the Apple TV hard drives just aren’t large enough. With the latest software update of Apple TV the movies and other media in your iTunes library and the movies and media on your Apple TV hard drive show up together in the Apple TV menus. So Apple TV will play the movie you select regardless of which drive it actually resides on. The streaming experience has been flawless so far.

Scene from The Matrix streaming through Apple TV from my iMac G5 to my home theater


What’s next?

Now I have to decide if I really want 350+ movies at my finger tips. If so then I will definitely need to upgrade the iMac to a larger hard drive. A 2 hour movie weighs in at 2.54GB once converted to .M4V (.MP4). So 350 movies could easily take up just under 1 terabyte of drive space. The truth is that I realized some time ago that there aren’t very many movies that I could watch over and over again. So chances are I won’t be converting all of my movies. I will definitely rip my favorites. There’s also the HD issue. The vast majority of my current DVDs are in standard definition DVD. While the Apple TV does support HD content, these standard def DVDs still look pretty good or at least as good as the original DVDs did (to my eyes) using this setup. If I do buy any new movies, I will likely buy them in Blu-ray format. Hopefully iTunes will start to offer HD movies for sale. I don’t plan to buy many new flicks, but given the choice of buying a digital download vs. a disc, I may lean towards a digital download now.


Fujitsu ScanSnap S510M

One of my goals this year is to have less paper clutter (yeah I know, but I can try). I have been hearing rave reviews on the Fujitsu ScanSnap from my colleagues at Adobe (Noha Edell recently raved about it to me and my my buddy Chita Hunter reviewed a different model in MacGroup’s newsletter back in 2005). I saw this scanner in action a couple years ago at Macworld Expo and always had it in the back of my mind. I recently ordered one (which is on the way). However, I just read Adobe’s Adam Pratt’s review on it and it got me all excited all over again.

The Fujitsu ScanSnap S510M (The M is for the Mac version) goes for $425 ($495 list) and includes a full version of Adobe Acrobat 8 Professional. It scans in color or B&W and does two sided scanning of stacks of paper. It automatically converts the scans to PDFs and from what I hear it’s blazing fast! Check out Adam’s review for more.

The war is over!

It’s finally over! No, not that war. The High Def, format war has come to an end. Toshiba has announced that they will stop making HD-DVD players clearing the path for Sony with Blu-ray. Although I did buy a cheap Toshiba HD-DVD player (so that I could have BOTH formats), that I will now be getting rid of, I couldn’t be happier with the news! I have only bought one HD-DVD movie that is still in the shrink wrap. So no big loss there either. Now I can focus my attention clearly on Blu-ray and later in the year start outfitting the rest of my HDTV’s with Blu-ray players. At the moment the Sony Playstation 3 is still the best bet for a Blu-ray player. You not only get a good gaming machine, but you also get the only Blu-ray player that is upgradeble via firmware updates to the new Blu-ray features slated for release later in the year. Newer players could be released that are just as upgradeable, but if you’re looking to finally get on board with a Blu-ray player now, I would strongly suggest looking at the PS3.

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