Monument Valley is AWESOME!

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I had an AWESOME time at Monument Valley UT yesterday and I’m totally wiped out! So this isn’t much of a blog post. But if you happen to be looking for some new gear to read about, Nikon just released the Nikon D-5000. Read about it on my buddy Scott Kelby’s blog.

As for my trip, I’ve had an amazing adventure including a night of very humbling driving through the mountains that I’ll never forget. More on that tale later. See my Monument Valley pics here (they’re geotagged/mapped for your convenience). I’ll have a full blog report on the trip and the technology I used in tomorrow’s post.

Time to catch some zzzzzzzzzzzz

When you have nothing new to say…

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As much as I wish I had a nice new shinny piece of technology to talk about today, I really don’t! I’m on vacation this week and blogging from beautiful Page Arizona! I came out here to do one thing and one thing only and that is “to shoot!” From sun up to sun down I’ve been focused on my landscape photography.

The scenery here is simply breathtaking. You can view the shots I’ve taken thus far on the trip here (many of which are geotagged/mapped).

I just can’t let it go! I have to talk about technology. I knew this would happen the minute I said “geotagged.” OK, so while none of this is new, here’s the technology that I’m using and loving this week:

I’m surrounded by technology on this trip and the great thing is that it’s all working! If you haven’t read my reviews on the products listed above, just click the links and it will seem like a full day/week worth of blog posts 🙂

Kata R-103 Digital Rucksack: I’m loving it this week!

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I’ve had my Kata R-103 Digital Rucksack for a while now. However, I never realized how useful it would be until this week! If you’re a landscape photographer or simply want to take your gear with you when you go explore the great outdoors, a backpack is a must. I own all kinds of camera bags and computer bags. When it comes to carrying both my laptop AND my camera gear, I don’t hestitate. I pull out my Kata bag.

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KATA makes several different bags for all kinds of uses. However, I have found the KATA R-103 to be one of the best all around solutions for carrying both my 15.4" MacBook Pro and my camera gear. The R-103 easily handles my camera body, 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, a second lens, backup hard drive, batteries, memory cards, MacBook power supply, 3G data card and cables.

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There’s also a tripod pouch that attaches to the outside. This lets me carry my Gitzo Traveler with ease. There’s a quick access door to access just the camera when you need it fast. Also there are camer straps that allow you to hang the camera from the backpack straps while you’re wearing it to releave the stress from your neck.

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This bag is also carry on friendly. I can easily fit it under the seat in front of me on the plane.

 

Sounds good! What’s not to like?

Well there’s a fine line between the balance of wanting to carry more and keeping the size down. For example, it would be nice to have a document pouch for carrying papers. Right now the only place to carry papers is in the same compartment as the laptop. Also it would be nice to have a place for a water bottle. Sure you could attach a canteen to the side, but you would have to rig it yourself as there is nothing built-in. Otherwise, I love this bag and it is really coming in handy this week. I drove up to Horseshoe Bend yesterday and little did I know that it was going to be quite a hike from the car to the actual "cliff" that I shot from. Had I had to carry a shoulder bag, it would have been annoying at best. There were times when I wanted both my hands free and the Kata R-103 fit the bill nicely. As a result, I was able to grab this shot without having to worry about the gear I was carrying:

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The Bottom Line

If you want to carry both your computer and your camera gear, you should definitely check out the Kata line of bags. The Kata R-103 that I use is available for $174 at B&H Photo and $173.81 at Amazon. There are also additional accessories available too. Check out all my latest gear recommendations here.

Be the One Billionth iPhone App Download and Win Big!

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Apple is about to hit the One Billionth App download mark! As usual their celebrating by giving some lucky person the chance to win some really cool prizes! The cool thing is that you can download either free or paid apps.

Download an app and you’ll automatically get the chance to win a $10,000 iTunes Gift Card, an iPod touch, a Time Capsule, and a MacBook Pro. Just go to the iTunes Store, browse the App Store, and download your best app yet.

See the details here.

iPhone App of the Week – Photogene

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If you’ve been using your iPhone’s built-in camera, then chances are you’ve taken a shot or two that you wished were better. Sure we can download the shots to our computers and open them up in Photoshop and then go to town correcting them, but what if you want to send the pic while you’re out. Sometimes the whole reason you’re taking a iPhone picture is to share it via email, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, MobileMe, etc. right then and there.

Photogene is an amazing iPhone app

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This was another one those apps that I saw featured in one of the latest iPhone TV spots. I was using another app before this that was good, but I was simply blown away by the number of features in Photogene. It’s not Photoshop! However, it does the things that most people will want to do with a photo taken with an iPhone.

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Photogene allows you to:

  • Crop and fix aspect ratios
  • Sharpen
  • Do Levels with a histogram
  • Color correct
  • Gamma correct
  • Adjust Exposure
  • Adjust Contrast
  • RGB Balance
  • Adjust Saturation (including making the photo black and white)
  • Adjust Color Temperature
  • Straighten
  • Rotate and mirror
  • Special effects such as sepia, pencil or heat map
  • Frames
  • Text bubbles
  • Even has multiple undos and redos and reset
  • You can even take the photo from within the app

The feature set is mighty impressive, but it’s even more fun to actually use the app. It’s very very easy to use as the interface is basically your finger. You move slides and handles around on your image or on the app. Very well laid out and one of my favorite features is that it automatically saves a copy of your image instead of writing over the original.

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So the next time you take a picture with your iPhone and you’re just not feeling it, you should take it into Photogene on your iPhone and work wonders.

The Bottom Line

Although we would all like to see a better camera in the iPhone, the one that is there can give you good results under the right conditions. When those conditions are less than optimal AND you need to send the photo right then and there, Photogene is an app you’re going to want to have to make that photo better. Photogene is $2.99. It works with the iPhone and iPod touch. You can download it from the App Store here.

Lastly, who can forget the Photoshop for iPhone spoof by my buddies over at the NAPP?

Rayflash – Video Review

I was talking with my buddy Larry Becker at Photoshop World about ring flashes and how I wanted to try one, but wasn’t sure which one to go with. He said, “well until you make up your mind, why not try out the Rayflash to see if you like the look before you make the investment?” Larry (being the really cool guy that he is) sent me his Rayflash to try out.
So I thought I would share with you how it works via this video:

The Bottom Line

Ring flashes create a very distinctive kinda flat lighting look that seems to be very popular in today’s fashion industry. I really like the catch lights that you get from using standard ring flashes. However, the Rayflash doesn’t create those catch lights that I like. It’s mostly a limitation of its design and it’s not a complete circle of light. However, it does create that “ring flash” light look for less money than a standard ring flash if you already have a speed light.

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My standard beauty light setup on the left with a softbox and tri-flector and the Rayflash attached to my SB-800 on the right. Both photos are unretouched.

Next is the price. The Rayflash first came out at $299 which most people thought was way overpriced for something that is basically a light modifier and doesn’t have any electronics in it. However, the price is now $199. That may still seem pricey, but it is cheaper than most dedicated ringflashes and a heck of a lot lighter to carry and travel with.

So the big question: would I buy one? Yes and no! The Rayflash does what it’s supposed to do and it does provide that typical ring flash look. However, I really really really like the circle of distinctive catch lights produced by a true ring flash. So I would probably hold out and get a standard ring flash or another solution because I want both, the look and the catchlights. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t buy a Rayflash to have in my arsenal and certainly to travel with! If the budget allows for it, the Rayflash is a good option. You’ll also probably get much better results than use just the speedlight alone. Light modification is goooooood!

The Rayflash comes in both Nikon and Canon models for the Nikon and Canon speedlights.

Rayflash for Nikon $199.95.

Rayflash for Canon $199.95.

Tuesday News Bytes – New DroboPro and Xserve

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If you’ve had your heart set on serving up some serious amounts of data and doing it really fast, you’ll be interested in two new products that were announced today. First off, the folks at Data Robotics introduced a new model called DroboPro. This new 8 bay beast can be configured with anywhere from 1 to 8 hard drives of any capacity. The largest hard drive available today is 2TB. So now you can realize your 16TB dream. The other addition to the DroboPro is a new connection called iSCSI. It’s a gigabit Ethernet port, but don’t get too excited. It’s not what you’re thinking. It’s not for setting this up as a NAS (network storage device). It’s just to provide super fast transfers to your ONE computer. That being said, there’s nothing to stop you from sharing it over the network by connecting it to a network server (like I do now).

I hear some complain about the “proprietary” BeyondRAID system that DataRobotics has implemented. However, I love the idea of having a single storage device that can grow as my needs grow without having to constantly reformat and start over each time and being able to mix drive sizes. Also if a drive fails, you swap it out and keep going with virtually no downtime.

Of course as I’ve written in the past, no system is perfect and even a Drobo needs backing up because it can’t protect you from data corruption and viruses.

I recently setup a second Drobo on my iTunes server and began the long process of ripping my DVD collection to it to create my own On Demand Apple TV movie system in my home.

The DroboPro will set you back $1,299 for an empty one! For that kind of dough it really should have networking capabilities built-in. (Data Robotics why are you so against this? Paying extra for your SLOW DroboShare product is unacceptable) It’s nice to know that the DroboPro is out there, but currently my two non-pro Drobos are more than enough for me especially as drive capacities keep increasing each year.

Yes there are definitely cheaper solutions out there, but I haven’t seen one yet that does all that Drobo does.

My buddy Scott Kelby has a nice write up today on the DroboPro and how as a pro photographer you can never have to much storage space or be to paranoid about protecting your data.  Also check out this first look, er um listen at MacVoices with Data Robotics’ Sr. Director of Products and Markets Mark Fuccio. Checkout Drobo’s website for more details.

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Next up, Apple Serves up a New Xserve

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The rumors were true and Apple did release a new Xserve based on the intel Xeon Nehalem processors. What does that mean? About twice the performance! Although I’ve always dreamed of owning an Xserve, it would be overkill for my simple serving needs. I’m still on a Power Mac G5 (with Drobo) as my Mac OS X Server and it’s rock solid. However, if you need to serve up large amounts of data to a workgroup or company really fast, then you should definitely check out the Xserve. It comes preloaded with Mac OS X Leopard Server is rack mountable and serves both Mac and Windows clients. This new model is also more energy efficient.

Airfoil is the missing link

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Although I’ve been enjoying streaming music wirelessly throughout the house using Apple’s AirTunes technology, there is one small problem. AirTunes only works with iTunes. AirTunes is built-in to the AirPort Express and now Apple TV hardware. The concept is simple. You put either an AirPort Express or Apple TV in any room that you want to stream music to and connect the device to a stereo, receiver or set of speakers. Then you launch iTunes from any computer on the network and choose the appropriate AirTunes speakers and when you play your music it will be streamed to your speakers (up to 3 rooms at a time).

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This is all well and good, but like I said, it only works with iTunes. What if you want to listen a different source app throughout your house? This is where Airfoil comes in. I have XM/Sirius satellite radio in my cars. With XM/Sirius account(s) you also get the ability to log on to their websites and listen to your favorite stations via the internet at no additional cost. While this is great, I want to be able to hear this content in any room and over my better speaker/stereo systems. I already have AirTunes setup, but again it only works with iTunes!

That’s were Airfoil comes in

Airfoil is an app that you install on your Mac or PC that allows you to direct any app/source to your AirTunes speakers. It even comes with a bonus app called Airfoil Speakers that allows you to stream from one computer to another. Airfoil is very simple to setup. Once you download, install and launch it, it will automatically show all of your AirTunes speakers and make them available to any app or the system audio on your computer.

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Once I installed Airfoil, I simply fired up my web browser and logged into the XM site. I selected a station, hit play and had music streaming throughout the house.

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The Bottom Line

Airfoil is by Rouge Amoeba. It goes for $25 and is available for both Mac and PC. If you use AirTunes and want to stream sources other than iTunes to your speakers then Airfoil is your answer!

iPhone app of the week – Skype

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I gotta be honest! I never thought this app would see the light of day. However, I’m very excited to see Skype for the iPhone. I use Skype on occassion to do online interviews for podcasts and to talk with friends in different countries. It’s an amazing technology that’s virtually free to use (Skype to Skype). A couple of years back I traveled to Australia and I used the Skype video chat feature to phone home. It was a lot cheaper than doing international calls and better because of the webcam support. Although iChat is built-in to the Mac OS, I just have not had good luck connecting to various friends and family with it. However, I  always able to connect via Skype.

What does Skype on the iPhone mean?

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Having Skype on the iPhone means that as long as you’re on a Wi-Fi connection, you can talk for FREE to other Skype users no matter where they are or no matter whether they are on their computers or other Skype compatible devices. Just the other night while testing the Skype iPhone app, I saw my sister online. So I just tapped her name and I heard the familiar Skype ring. She picked up and we were talking. I put the iPhone up to my ear and it was crystal clear. She was at home by the way on her MacBook.

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The beauty of this of course is that the Skype calls don’t go against your cellphone minutes. So you could talk for hours day or night without impacting your phone bill.

You can make Skype calls to landlines and cellphones too. Of course not everyone is going to be on a computer/phone with Skype and sometimes you may want to just call a regular landline or cellphone. Skype for iPhone (just like Skype on your computer) does allow you to dial any phone number. When you use Skype to call a regular landline/cellphone it’s not free.

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However, it is reasonable. International calls start at 2.1¢ a minute and you can do a pay as you go plan or subscription. If you are going to be making a lot of calls to landlines/cellphones then it probably makes sense to go with a monthly subscription. Otherwise do the pay as you go. I do pay as you go just to have the option of calling regular phones even though I don’t do it often.

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Once again, you don’t need to pay anything to make calls from Skype to Skype.

Really good news for 2nd generation iPod touch users

If you’re an iPod touch user, this is even better news for you! Although the 2nd generation iPod touch doesn’t have a built-in microphone, it does have the ability to use a either the Apple Earphones/mic or a 3rd party mic:

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The Apple Earphones with Remote and Mic go for $29.00. So with an iPod touch, a compatible mic, a Wi-Fi connection and the Skype app, suddenly your iPod touch becomes a phone that can make calls to anyone in the world!

How well does the Skype app work?

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The Skype app worked fine for me as advertised, but there are some inherent gotchas that have less to do with the app and more to do with the current iPhone 2.x software. I launched the Skype app and logged in with my existing Skype username/password. It worked! I saw my user list of friends and online friends. Of course the first thing I wanted to do was try a call. So I tapped on one of my contacts and placed my first Skype call via the iPhone. Of course as luck would have it, I got no answer. He later emailed me to let me know that he couldn’t take the call right then and there. So the next thing I tried was the “Skype test” user and basically this allows you to test making call and recording your voice then playing it back to make sure your setup works. Since there were no other friends online at that moment, I tried the next best thing. I called a regular landline. It worked!

The only thing I didn’t try out was the text chatting. I didn’t try it because I just don’t use that feature of Skype.

Now for the gotchas. Although the Skype app works as advertised, there are some things to think about. The first thing is that since the iPhone doesn’t currently support background processing there’s no way to receive a Skype call unless the app is running. Once you quit the app you’re basically offline. So this would not be a good solution for people that want to receive Skype calls throughout the day. I’m sure this situation will improve in the upcoming iPhone 3.0 software update.

The next thing that I hadn’t really run into yet is what happens if you’re on a Skype call and your iPhone rings? Unfortunately, it’s not a smooth thing. Like most apps, when your iPhone rings they are put on hold. Same goes for Skype. So your Skype caller will just all of a sudden stop hearing you without warning. Worse, if you take the incoming call, your Skype caller will be disconnected. Again without warning. While this is not the end of the world, it’s not elegant. I read some of the other Skype reviews and some have complained about crashing. To date I’ve not had a single Skype crash.

When I dialed my own landline using Skype I noticed that there was no caller-ID info. Then I realized, why would there be? I’m not using their feature of having an incoming phone number. So I did the next best thing. Skype does allow you to configure the Caller-ID with your cellphone number. This way, if I make a Skype call to a landline or cellphone, it will look as if it’s coming from my cellphone. I’m happy with that solution.

A tip for traveling overseas! If you travel overseas with your iPhone and actually use it, you could be hit with substantial roaming charges. So as long as you have Skype for the iPhone and a Wi-Fi connection do this: Put your iPhone in Airplane Mode, which will disable the phone features, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Then simply go turn Wi-Fi back on. Now you can use your iPhone with Skype and make calls without the worry of roaming or being interupped by regular incoming cell phone calls.

The Bottom Line

A free VoIP solution for the iPhone is always welcome! The fact that it also works for 2nd generation iPod touch users is HUGE! Skype for the iPhone does have its limits, but nothing that’s a show stopper. Sure it would be nice to have it also work over a 3g or EDGE network too, but I’m sure AT&T and other carriers would never want to see that happen and probably blocked such apps somewhere on page 6936 of their contracts with Apple. You can download Skype for the iPhone and iPod touch here on the App Store. Setup your FREE Skype account here. Because Skype is cross platfom, it makes an excellent solution for doing video chats with your family and friends around the globe.

Which photo sharing site to use?

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Yesterday I logged on to my Photoshop.com site, which I hadn’t updated basically since the first day I setup my account. A colleague of mine sent me a link to his pictures from an event that we attended and I thought “oh yeah, I have a few galleries on here too!” So needless to say I did a little house cleaning and updated the pics I had up there.

Later in the evening I uploaded a new pic to my Flickr account only to receive a message stating that my “Flickr Pro” account had expired and that now my account would only display my most recent 200 images. I thought to myself, “do I even have 200 images on here?” I had never paid for a Flickr Pro account in the first place. Apparently it came as part of one of my other internet hosting packages and I guess now it’s no longer included. Then I checked to see what a Flickr Pro account actually costs and while $25/year certainly isn’t going to break the bank, I paused and said “do I really need this?”

How many photo sharing sites do we need?

I’ve got a Photoshop.com, Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, NAPP, MobileMe, MPIX, Shutterfly, Kodak, and a few other accounts I’m not thinking of at the moment. I have photos on all of these different services that I have shared with family, friends and colleagues. How many services do I really need? Is one better than the rest? Unfortunately, I haven’t found one that really does EVERYTHING I’d want. However, Flickr is pretty darn close. I like the fact that Flickr will automatically detect the metadata and geotag information of the shots I upload and place them on a map. However, most of my friends and family are on Facebook. Photoshop.com and MobileMe seem to have the slickest slideshow/presentation features. If I upload to Shutterfly or Kodak, then my friends/family can order their own prints. Arggghhhhhh!

I was testing a new blogging app for the iPhone and in order to get pictures into the blog they had to be uploaded to a Picasa account. Just what I need, yet another service. There is both a Flickr and Facebook upload/output plugin for Lightroom! Since all my photos are in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, this makes it easy to share! However, if I want certain photos on my iPhone or Apple TV, I export them from Lightroom to iPhoto just for the sake of convenience. The new iPhoto can also upload/sync to Facebook and Flickr, but not Photoshop.com or any of the others (besides MobileMe).

The bottom line is that all of these services offer similar features, but in most cases each service offers one or two things that the others don’t. If I had to settle on just ONE, it probably would be Flickr because it has the most features that I’m looking for. I can upload to Flickr directly from Lightroom. I can mark pictures as private or share with friends or family or both. You can order prints if need be. They do the metadata detection and geotagging that I really like. They also have several options for organizing your photos. There is also some integration with Facebook via various apps. The site is also geared towards setting up communities to share photos with. This way several members can contribute their favorite photos to the group. There’s even a really cool iPhone app called Mobile Fotos that uploads to and views your Flickr pics.

Even though Flickr seems to be the logical choice for me in that it has just about everything I’m looking for. It seems that I spent most of last week at Photoshop World uploading pics to Twitter/Facebook for quick sharing! Twitter and Facebook have the advantage that your friends are already there monitoring each other’s status and new pics just show up. No need to announce anything or send a link. However, this means that those friends and family members out there that don’t have either Twitter or Facebook accounts would never see my pics. Of course there’s also this blog and my website. I could post photos in either of those two spots too. Lightroom can also export a web gallery and ftp it up directly to my website. However, no one is going to know it’s there unless I announce it. The ultimate would be to have ONE site that I could post to that would feed everything else!

Is anyone else feeling my pain? Is there just one service that is king? What do you guys use and why? How do you use it? Meaning what’s your workflow? Hit me back in the comments below and also vote in the poll on the left hand side of this post!

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