I’m headed to Photoshop World

I’m headed out to Photoshop World today! This is one of the few shows that I go to anymore and it continues to get better and bigger each year. I’m teaching two InDesign CS3 sessions at the show. I’ll also be doing some podcasting for the Adobe Creative Suite Podcast and hanging out at the tech expo. I also can’t wait to get my hands on the Nikon D3 and D300 which Nikon will be giving previews at the show to show attendees. Hopefully I can get some test shots and share my findings here. If you’re around the show be sure to say hi.

Also today is Apple’s big "The beat goes on" announcement (1PM EDT) where they are rumored to be announcing new iPods, and possibly a ringtone service through iTunes. Most likely Steve has a few surprises up his sleeve too. As usual I’ll share my thoughts and opinions on the announcements and what’s hot and what’s not about the new gear.

So stay tuned for more from the world of Photoshop and Apple this week…

A GPS for your digital camera

Sony GPS

I’m a bit of a GPS buff. I have them in my cars and I even have a portable Garmin Nuvi 360 for travel and use in rental cars. So it’s quite natural that when I learned about this
Sony Unit for Digital Still Cameras that I was quite intrigued. I actually first saw this unit about a year ago. However, when I read the reviews on Amazon.com I was a little less excited. Some were complaining that it didn’t work that well especially around tall buildings. So I kind of forgot about it until a few weeks ago when I was having dinner with my colleagues and Colin Fleming told me that he had one. So I had to ask, "does it work?" and more importantly, "would you buy it again?" His answers to both questions were YES! Then my next question was (knowing Colin is a Mac user), what app on the Mac did he use to marry the GPS data to the images? You see the Sony GPS comes with an app to add the GPS data that it captures to your images, however it’s Windows only. So Colin turned me on to HoudaGeo which is a $30 Mac app that does just that. It extremely simple and works great.


How does it work?

The concept is simple: You go out on a shoot (outside of course) and you turn on the Sony GPS. It starts a new log file on the device itself and once it connects to a GPS satellite it starts recording your coordinates and the time/date everywhere you go. Then you pick up your camera and start shooting. Since your camera is recording the date and time (very important that you have these set correctly in your camera) of every shot and the Sony GPS is recording the date and time coordinates at the same time all you have to do is match the images with the GPS log file when you return to your computer.


What’s my workflow?

Since I shoot primarily in Camera RAW and that there are no two camera manufacturers use the same RAW format, I use Adobe’s Digital Negative .DNG format (an open standard for Camera RAW files). The HoudaGeo app can’t embed the GPS data in proprietary RAW formats anyway. However, it can embed this data in .DNG files as well as JPEGs of course. Normally I would just import my images directly into Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. However, when I shoot landscapes and want to use the GPS data from the Sony GPS, I plug in my memory card into my Mac and then I use the FREE Adobe DNG Converter (Mac|Win)to convert my Nikon’s proprietary .NEF files into .DNG files directly from the memory card into a folder on my drive. I then use the HoudaGeo app to import the .DNG files and then the Sony GPS log file that contains all the GPS data. The 3rd step in the app is to click that actually writes the GPS data to the .DNGs (or JPEGs).

Once the images have the GPS data imported into them, I then import (reference) the images into Lightroom. From there I can do all the great things that Lightroom allows me to do, but I can also bring up any image in Lightroom and not only see the GPS longitude and latitude, but I can also click one button that automatically takes me to those coordinates in Google Maps and gives me a satellite view of where the shot was taken.

Here’s the shot I took at a nearby park


Here’s the GPS data showing for that shot in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom



After clicking the "Map Location" button in Lightroom, I was taken directly to a satellite view in Google Maps.


What’s hot and what’s not?

So far it works as advertised and it’s very easy to use. Basically just turn it on. However, there is definitely room for improvement. For example, there is only one status indicator that either blinks fast green when it has NOT locked on to a satellite or slow green when it has. Guys, how hard would it have been to use two different color LEDs or lights. Green is locked on and Red isn’t. I’m constantly looking at it trying to figure out "is that a slow blink or fast blink because there isn’t that much difference between them. Also Colin tells me that it doesn’t behave well when it’s dangling from say your belt, which is clearly the way it looks like you would use it. Instead I put a strip of velcro on it to attach to a vest or brim of a baseball cap (looks dorky, but it works). Lastly, it would have been nice to include a Mac app so that I wouldn’t have to spend an additional $30 for one. However, the HoudaGeo app is probably better than what Sony would have come up with anyway.


Would I buy it again?

So far the answer is yes! I’ve only used it in testing a few times so far, however each time it had no problem locking on to a satellite and since I don’t plan to use it much around tall buildings, that’s not a concern for me. I can’t wait to take it on my next trip out in the wild and shoot some of this country’s most beautiful landscapes. However, next time I’ll actually be able to "show" people "where" the shot was taken. Not sure how useful it will really be, but it sure is FUN! The
Sony GPSCS1KA GPS Unit Kit for Most Digital Still Cameras is $104.57 at amazon.com

Also check out this CNET article on the subject of Geotagging your photos.

New iPhone Ringtone App for Mac

As many of you know I had found an app (iphoneringtonemaker.com) for adding custom ringtones to the iPhone. While the app works great! It is currently Windows only. The great folks over at Ambrosia Software have just released a new app that allows you to add your own ringtones to the iPhone and it’s a Mac app. It’s called iToner. iToner is a no frills app that does one thing and one thing well. It lets you put your own .mp3s, .AACs, etc. on your iPhone to be used as ringtones.

The app itself look just like the iPhone interface. You simply launch it and drag your audio files into and hit the sync button. That’s it! They are then on your phone without the need for any special hacking, jailbreaking, passwords or other secret backdoors. It even recognized the ringtones that I had added previously with the other app.

While this app is great, I’m not sure if it will be needed much longer. The rumor is that Apple is going to launch a ringtone service during their announcements on September 5th. However, Apple’s solution will likely be a pay per ringtone solution whereas apps like iToner let you use your existing tunes. My hope is that Apple releases their own solution, but doesn’t wipe out or disable the ringtones I’ve already put on there. In other words I hope we’re not "forced" to use their paid service.

iToner is $15 and while there are free solutions out there, none are as easy to use as iToner or as elegant. My biggest ask for the next version is the ability to allow you to trim the songs to just the portion you want to use as a ringtone right in the app. You can download it today and run it in trial mode for 30 days fully functional. That way we can wait and see what happens on the 5th and if we still need it or can still use it, great! Otherwise, you wouldn’t have to buy it only to find out that it’s no longer usable after Apple rolls out their service. So you have nothing to lose. Go download it now and give it a spin.

Nikon fires back…The fight is ON!

It didn’t take long for Nikon to fire back with a slew of announcements of their own. They announced the NEW D300 and D3 and some new lenses. Of course the camera that caught my eye (and hobby budget) was the D300. Once again they seemed to have blurred the lines between the $1,800 D300 and $5,000 D3. Now I have some real comparing to do between the Nikon D300, Canon 40D and Canon 5D. I really want to see some sample images from the Nikon D300 at higher ISO’s. If the image quality has improved then it would be a no brainer to stick with Nikon as I already have an investment in Nikon gear.


The good news for all of us consumers is that this competition is good!

A New Look to an Old Resource

This is not my first tech blog. Actually my first tech blog was created last year using Apple’s iWeb and .Mac service. I eventually outgrew it and one of the things that frustrated me then was that there was no way to change the look of it. In other words once you picked a theme you were pretty much stuck with it. Well now that I’ve upgraded to iLife ’08 which includes a new version of iWeb, I was able to change the theme of my old tech blog to make it easier to read. I still don’t plan to go back to iWeb or .Mac for my blog, however, I did a ton of reviews that are still useful today. Unfortunately the Search feature seems to be broken, however the Archive page is working with all my past reviews. Check out the site here.

Is it time to switch to Canon?

As many of you know I’ve been a long time Nikon shooter. However, unlike many photographers out there, the whole Nikon vs. Canon thing is not a religious battle for me. I really don’t have passion for one manufacture over the other. My choice to go with Nikon at the time was simply based upon my desire for a FAST DSLR camera at the time. I was moving up from an Olympus E20N (with a fixed lens) and wanted one of the new hot cameras under $1K. So at the time my choice was between the Canon Rebel which had already been out for about a year and the brand new Nikon D70. I went with the D70 because it had the better specs (faster). Of course once you go with a DSLR you start buying stuff for it and that keeps you pretty tied to that brand. As time went on I accumulated lenses, flashes, etc. Also once the D200 and D80 came out I wanted MORE! So I upgraded to the D80 and passed my D70 on to my wife.

I did recently buy a Canon Powershot 850IS point and shoot camera that so far I’m quite happy with.

Although I’m quite satisfied with my Nikon gear and the shots I get out of my camera, the one thing that intrigues me about Canon is their ability to provide cameras that shoot at higher ISOs in lower light situations with less noise. I read my buddy Scott’s "Canon 5D field report" and it got me thinking again about the whole noise issue. Also Canon just released details on a barrage of new cameras, most notably details on the NEW Canon 40D. This looks like it would be a good choice for me and my "hobby" (I have to keep reminding myself that I don’t make a dime on photography and as much as I would like that new EOS 1Ds Mark III, um, I don’t make a dime on photography) .


I’m not quite ready to just switch

I’ve got a lot of time and money invested in my Nikon gear. So I’m not quite ready to head to eBay just yet. However, I could certainly see ADDING a Canon DSLR to my arsenal. If I start using it and more importantly liking it better than my Nikon, I would then consider selling my Nikon gear. Again, I don’t have any strong feelings for one brand over the other. I know pros that use Canon and I know pros that use Nikon and they all seem quite happy with what they use. At Photoshop World each year both Nikon and Canon sponsor photo safaris and both events always sell out. So there seems to be a pretty even mix of users out there.

It would also be nice to have both cameras and simply choose the better camera for the situation. Perhaps using the Canon in portrait and low light shoots and using the Nikon gear for landscape shots? Just a thought.

I promised myself that I would wait for now and see what Nikon comes out with next and then do a comparison of whatever that is to the Canon 40D. However, after reading about the 40D is making this wait a little less comfortable than I first imagined. It’s a good thing the 40D doesn’t ship until sometime in September, otherwise my impulsive nature would be even harder to contain 🙂

TiVo’s NEW HD Box

I’ve been waiting for a long time for a cable compatible HD TiVo branded DVR. When TiVo first announced the Series 3 HD DVR I cheered until I saw the price! At $1,000 I thought, "they must be nuts." There was no way that I was going to spend that kind of money on a DVR. So I waited. Now I’m glad I did! TiVo recently started shipping their New TiVo HD. I’m a Comcast digital cable customer and have suffered through more Motorola branded DVRs than I care to think about. Not only is the Moto box no where near as elegant or as full featured as the TiVo branded DVRs, it’s also no where near as stable. My Comcast DVRs lock up regularly (not as much lately as in the past, but I have a funny story about a recent lock up that I’ll cover further down this post). You might think I’m crazy, but I also have DirecTV service too. Why two services for digital TV? Because I got hooked on DirecTV plus TiVo years ago and have never wanted to give that up. So my main recording happens on these ancient DirecTV TiVos (which are no longer being produced) and my HD recording happens on the rented Comcast boxes. I could have gone HD with DirecTV, but at the time I considered it, they didn’t have local stations through the dish and they also had their own DirecTV branded DVRs (not TiVo). So I decided to just do HD through Comcast for now which is also my internet provider.

I started hearing rumors that TiVo was coming out with a lower cost HD DVR. Well that rumor came true. The New TiVo HD is just what the doctor ordered. It goes for $299 and connects directly to your cable service without the need for a cable box. However, in order to receive your digital channels, HD channels and premium channels (like HBO), you will need not one, but two CableCARDs. You could get by with one CableCARD, but then you would only be able to record one show at a time. With two cards you can record two shows on different channels at once. You will have to get your CableCARDs through your cable provider and if that is Comcast, that means scheduling an installation appointment (at least last time I checked, they don’t give these out over the counter).

Why TiVo?

That’s like saying, why Macintosh? Why BMW? Why an iPhone? Although you can get pretty much the same basic functionality out of any DVR, the TiVo interface (experience) is second to none. They pretty much invented the category and I haven’t had a single issue out of YEARS of use of my TiVo branded DVRs. They just work and the interface is both elegant and well thought out. If you have no appreciation for an elegant UI, then any DVR will probably do you just fine.


What’s the difference between TiVo Series 3 and TiVo HD?

About $700! 🙂 On the serious side the price of the TiVo Series 3 has steadily dropped in price, however at my last glance over at the great folks at Weaknees.com, the Series 3 box is still going for $649 which is still too much for a DVR even if it is a TiVo. The main difference between the Series 3 TiVo and the New TiVo HD is the Series 3 TiVo has an OLED digital display on the front, it’s THX certified, has general navigation buttons on the front and a better remote control. The Series 3 also does 30 hours of HD recording as opposed to 20 hours of HD on the New TiVo HD and the Series 3 includes an HDMI cable (see a complete side-by-side comparison here). The differences are not worth twice the price – to me!

TiVo HD sitting under a PS3, Mac mini, HDMI switch and Apple TV.


My installation experience

This TiVo is for my home theater. My TiVo HD arrived a couple of days ago and I immediately called to schedule Comcast to come out and do the CableCARD installation. I knew from previous experience with a CableCARD install on one of my HDTV’s that I better plan plenty of time for this as the folks at Comcast don’t seem to have their act together when it comes to CableCARD installs. In the meantime I opened the box to check it out and it’s a good thing I did. I read the setup card and it takes about 30 minutes total to get the TiVo setup BEFORE the CableCARDs get installed. This way I was able to have it ready to go when the Comcast guy showed up. Installation is really simple. I basically plugged in my HDMI cable, digital audio cable to my receiver, the Comcast coax cable and I also opted for the TiVo Wireless G USB Adapter which allowed me to put the TiVo HD on my Wi-Fi network instead of having to plug it in to Ethernet or worse, a phone line. Everything worked perfectly and the menus walk you through every step of the setup.

I was up and running with basic cable and just had to wait for the CableCARDs to come. The guy showed up in the timeframe that Comcast setup (at the tail end of it, but within the timeframe nonetheless). I could tell that he was visibly annoyed by this job. These guys HATE installing CableCARDs for a couple of reasons, one they don’t know much about them and two they really don’t have any control over whether they work or not. After they plug them in they are at the mercy of the home office which has to configure them remotely. Having to get TWO of them working only frustrated this guy more. You would think it would be an easy process, however it literally took TWO HOURS to get them working! The first card showed up and they eventually got my digital channels working but not my premium channels. Of course during this process you try removing the card and re-seating it and switching cards and slots. We learned that it’s not a good idea to remove the card. When you remove the card it changes one of the configuration numbers and each time we tried removing, reseating the card the office wasn’t aware of the change in HOST ID numbers. So that probably made this install take longer than normal. Once we left the cards in place and the call was escalated to their "last resort" guy, he was able to successfully configure both cards and get all channels working.

FUNNY STORY – The installers are mandated to also check out your existing Comcast digital boxes before they leave to make sure that you can receive ONDEMAND programming. So he goes to my living room set. I turn it on for him and hand him the remote. Although there is a show going and sound, the box doesn’t respond to the remote. I look down at the clock on the display and it was frozen. Sure enough the box was locked up. I just started laughing and said "this is why I’m replacing your boxes!"


A lot has changed since DirecTV TiVos!

I was floored by the array of options on this new TiVo. Keep in mind that I skipped the whole Series 2 line. So much of this is new to me. The TiVo HD has everything the Series 2 had except TiVoToGo. I’m a little bummed by this, but I knew it going in. TiVoToGo would have been nice to move shows to my iPhone in an easy manner. However, I didn’t have this with my older TiVo’s either, so nothing has changed in that regard. Currently I just record the shows I want to take with me using an attached DVD-R recorder and away I go.

I’m also impressed with the Amazon Unboxed option which allows me to rent or buy and download Movies directly to your TiVo from Amazon.com. Although I’m pretty happy with Netflix, it’s nice to know that I can grab a movie online in a pinch. The biggest new feature for me (not new for Series 2 users), is the ability to program the TiVo HD from the internet to record shows. There have been times when I’ve been on the road and forgot to set the DVR to record something. If there was no one home to do it for me, I was just out of luck. Now it’s as easy as going to the TiVo.com page and logging into my account which displays the guide. From there I can set a show to record or even setup a Season Pass. I even tested this from the iPhone and it worked. I love it!

my home theater with the TiVo HD guide on screen


The Bottom Line

Although this NEW TiVo HD DVR is less than the ridiculously priced TiVo Series 3, it’s still not cheap and faces the competition from Cable and Satellite providers that either rent or give away their DVRs. Granted I was paying $10/month to Comcast to rent their crappy Moto box, I’m still having to pay them $10/month ($5 each) for the CableCARDs. Also I now have to pay for TiVo service which at the lowest price (pre-paying $299 for 3 years – 1 year free with current promotion) it’s still $8.31/month. So this on top of the Comcast cable service and you’re paying a small fortune for the convinence of TV in HD when you want it. However, TiVo is that good and I don’t mind the cost. As a matter of fact I’m eyeing the DirecTV TiVo box in my bedroom as the next spot for another TiVo HD box. It is the last room in my house that still has a CRT standard def TV. I’ve been wanting to replace it with a LCD HDTV, but waiting for a decent DVR has been holding me back. Now I can move forward. Oh oh, another visit from Comcast on the horizon – yippee!

It’s the little things

The original 85W MagSafe adapter on the left and the NEW 85W MagSafe adapter on the right.


If you have a MacBook Pro, one thing you’ve probably noticed is how freakin’ big the AC adapter was. Apple has quietly addressed this and made a NEW 85W MagSafe Power Adapter (Part# MA938LL/A) available. I ordered mine immediately when I found out about it as my notebook bag is already heavy enough. Anything I can do to lighten the load is worth it. This new adapter is on par with the MacBook adapter which is a 60W MagSafe Power Adapter. Although the MacBook adapter will power a MacBook Pro, it doesn’t provide enough juice to charge the battery. So you really want the 85W adapter if you have a MacBook Pro. The 85W adapter will work with either the MacBook Pro or MacBook.

Now if only the folks over at iGo could figure out a way to make a MagSafe tip for their universal adapters (or get Apple to license the technology to them), I’d be in heaven.

Photoshop CS3 for Digital Photographers Book

The Adobe Photoshop CS3 Book For Digital Photographers

Scott Kelby has updated his insanely popular Adobe Photoshop CS3 Book for Digital Photographers. Although this book has been available for pre-order for a while, it just started shipping. Like the previous incarnations of this great book, Scott makes Photoshop look easy with tips and techniques that any digital photographer who uses Photoshop CS3 could use EVERY DAY!

As usual the book is beautifully illustrated with real world practical information and photos taken by Scott himself. Sometimes Scott gets beat up for his humor. If you read some of the comments of the past you would think it’s just one big joke book based on the comments. Not only is that far from the truth, I actually find his humor refreshing (and very funny) to what could sometimes be very dry material. Also Scott usually limits the humor to just the intro pages. So if humor is not your thing, simply skip the intro pages and go right the lessons.

In this book you’ll find step-by-step lessons to make your shots stand out. Simple techniques to showcase your work and take your images to the next level. Scott has added several never before seen techniques as well as he has refined some of his existing techniques to take advantage of the new features of Photoshop CS3. The book even includes a gray card in the back for color correcting your images using Levels or Curves.

The Adobe Photoshop CS3 Book for Digital Photographers is available from Amazon for $32.99. If you are a photographer (or play one on TV) and you use Adobe Photoshop CS3, then you want this book!

A great point and shoot camera

Canon PowerShot SD850 IS

I have had my share of point and shoot cameras and since I’ve gone to a Digital SLR (DSLR) camera, I really don’t spend much time (hardly any) using point and shoot cameras any more. However, there are times when carrying a big camera around just isn’t fun or convenient. So I set out to find a really good point and shoot camera that would give me decent images.


Where I’ve come from

My last "pocket" point and shoot camera was the Minolta DiMAGE Xt and while this camera was a break-through in small sized cameras when it came out, the image quality just never impressed me. So consequently I never really used it much. I then thought I had struck gold with my waterproof Olympus camera and while it does take decent shots and is waterproof and shock resistant It bugs me to no end that it uses xD cards. Since going to SD cards with my Nikon D80 and using the SanDisk Ultra II SD Plus USB cards, I just don’t want to have to use a card reader any more. So I was back in the market for a point and shoot that not only took great images, but used SD cards (like the majority of point and shoot cameras out there these days).

SanDisk Ultra II Plus SD Card

I’ve always bought Canon point and shoot cameras for my family members and I thought to myself it’s time that I started looking for a Canon for myself.

While I was in Montana attending a meeting, a colleague passed me her Canon 800 IS and asked me to take a picture of her and the two people sitting next to her. When I raised the camera to take the picture I was stunned to see 3 little squares start moving around on the screen and lock in on their faces. The Canon 800 IS has "Face Detection." I’ve never seen this in a camera before. I knew the software existed because it exists in Adobe Photoshop Elements. However, I didn’t know that it had made its way into cameras. With this technology the camera uses the face(s) to adjust the exposure of the rest of the image. So without having to go into manual mode or depend on an Auto mode you get great people shots every time. The quality was simply AMAZING! I was sold! I said to myself that this is my next camera. The "IS" stands for Image Stabilized" and Canon is known for its great image stabilization features. When I got home and did some research I found that I had a choice between the Canon Powershot SD800 IS and the Canon Powershot SD850 IS. The biggest difference is that the SD850 IS is 8 megapixels and the SD800 IS is 7.1 megapixels. There is also a difference in focal length and the 850 is slightly faster in shooting speed. So figuring that I don’t buy point and shoot cameras that often, I went with the Powershot SD850 IS.

The SD850 IS also has a 16:9 widescreen shooting mode, 6 movie modes, various white balance modes including a Custom setting and a 4x optical zoom.

Face Detection feature

Face Detection at work on the SD850 IS



The beauty of a point and shoot camera is that in most cases you turn it on, point and shoot. However, since I’m now so used to shooting with a DSLR, this whole "let the camera do everything" approach is kind of unsettling. I’m looking for ISO settings, shutter speeds, white balance, etc. It took me a minute to realize that the Powershot SD850 IS has a "Manual" mode right on the dial. Once I switched to it, I was in control of my settings. Now keep in mind, I don’t plan on doing a lot of shooting in Manual mode as that defeats the use of a "point and shoot" camera, however, I just wanted to know that I have the option and where to set my own settings if the shot demands it. I found everything I wanted at first glance except shutter speed. I’m not sure if I can set the shutter speed on this camera or not, but that’s not a big deal for me with this camera anyway. Even with my DSLR I shoot in Aperture Priority Mode most of the time anyway letting the camera set the shutter speed.

shot in Auto mode, ISO 200 with no flash

shot in manual mode, ISO 400, no flash. With the higher ISO there is more noise as you would expect.


The Bottom Line

You simply can’t go wrong with Canon’s line of Powershot cameras. If you’re looking for a GREAT point and shoot camera, I would definitely check them out. I guess my only complaint is that this camera offers so many features that the menus can be a bit daunting. Canon uses icons to represent most of the features. Once you learn what those icons mean you’re good to go. However, for a camera that I only plan to use occasionally, I may not remember where a certain feature is. I like the way Olympus provides a complete description of any feature or mode at the push of a button. Canon could really stand to copy this feature. However, with that said, the SD 850 IS will be a permanent fixture in my travel bag.

If you want a more exhaustive review of this camera or any other cameras for that matter, more sample shots, etc. head over to Steve’s Digi-cams Reviews. They do a great job taking cameras through their paces! I got the Powershot SD850 IS at B&H Photo for $345.

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