So what’d you get?

OK, so what new gadgets, tech, photography gear, cool stuff did you get this year?

I know I haven’t posted anything in a few days and I do have a couple cool pieces of gear to review, however, I’ve just been spending time with family and friends and resting up. I was getting pretty burned out and once I just stopped doing stuff, I could really feel it. I do feel much more rested now and wil get back in the game soon. Enough about me, let’s hear what you got and what’s exciting in your world? Hit me with some comments below. I feed off your energy and excitment.

Your popup flash doesn’t have to suck

One thing I learned quickly in this digital photography game is that the popup flash on most digital cameras is for emergency use only. Ask any professional how often do they use the built-in flash on their digital SLRs and they will look at you as if you’ve just grown a thumb in the middle of your forehead. There are several problems with the popup flash, two of which are it’s location (on top of the camera near the forehead) and it’s too much of a harsh spotlight.

The folks at Lightscoop.com hope to change all that with their $30 Lightscoop. I ordered this after a recommendation from Lesa King. When it arrived, I was thinking "this is never going to work." So of course I fired off a couple test shots (before and after) and I was stunned by the difference. Yes, it does work!

 

How does it work?

It works by sitting in your hot shoe in front of your flash. There is a mirror in the front that bounces your on camera flash off the ceiling/wall up and behind you back down onto your subject.

 

As with most things there are a couple of caveats. For one, it’s not as compact as I wished is was. Yes, it’s small and very light weight, but it doesn’t fold down. Not big enough to fit over a lens (for storage in your camera bag) and a little too big to fit in a pocket. It takes up a lot less space than an external flash, but I’m hoping the next version could fold down flat. The second caveat is that they recommend very specific settings: Manual mode, ISO 800, Spot Metering, widest lens aperture (f2.8, f3.5, or f4.0 depending on your lens), shutter speed of 1/200th, Exposure Compensation set to +1, no curtain sync, slow sync, or red-eye reduction. Some of these settings are a no-brainer, but others seem a little restrictive. However, they are suggestions and not the law. You can experiment and see which settings you like best. Also since it bounces the light off the ceiling/wall it won’t work in all settings such as outside, cathedral ceilings, gymnasiums, churches, etc. All-in-all, it performs as advertised and is a great solution for $30. They models for Nikon, Canon and Pentax as well as a Standard version and a Warming version (I’m using the Standard version). It’s also smaller than most other types of on camera flash workarounds. On camera flashes still suck, but this makes them suck a whole lot less. I took a few test shots with my Nikon D70 (yes, I could have used the D300, but the D70 was closer – lazy, I know).

 

with the built-in flash on a Nikon D70 shot in RAW (hot spots and some blown out highlights)

with the built-in flash on a Nikon D70 shot in RAW and the Lightscoop

with the built-in flash on a Nikon D70 shot in RAW and the Lightscoop and a simple exposure adjustment in Adobe Camera RAW

I found it!

I can’t believe it! I actually found it. At long last, it really does exist. I recently traveled to Dallas and of course went through the Dallas-Fort Worth airport. I have dubbed DFW as the worst airport I’ve seen for tech travelers. Don’t get me wrong, the place has T-Mobile Wi-Fi throughout. However, I challenge you to find a freakin’ AC outlet!

That’s right, they are practically non-existent! You arrive at your gate a little early figuring you can get some work done. You whip out your laptop and realize that you need to plug-in. You sit there scanning the area figuring they have to vacuum the place sometime right? Well they must have the longest extension cords on the planet. I have gone from gate to gate looking for outlets. However, this trip was different. Coming in I saw a huddle of people sitting on a bench with cords everywhere. Sure enough they had discovered the only outlet known to man in the entire airport. One person sat as lookout for the others to make sure that their position would not be overrun by hoards of travelers. I marked this spot on my map and dipped my Indiana Jones hat. I would have to see if this plug really existed and possibly use it before the flight out. It’s true. It was really there when I returned.

So if you ever have the misfortune of traveling through this technology waste land, head over to gate E6. Casually move over to the bench next to the USA Today vending machine. Make sure no one is watching and plug-in. There’s not one, but two outlets there. Be careful, I saw one of the incoming flights dip down a bit when I plugged in. Luckily the pilot recovered.

Apple supported custom iPhone ringtones at last!

You might remember my blog post a while back on how I felt that Apple was missing the point about iPhone Ringtones (Apple and iPhone ringtones. ARGGGH!). While I had found a solution in Ambrosia Software’s wonderful iToner product, it was still a work around to something that shouldn’t be that hard. Well it would seem that Apple has relinquished their death grip on this aspect of the iPhone by their recent release of GarageBand 4.1.1. The New GarageBand update (which is part of iLife ’08) now has a menu option to "Send Ringtone to iTunes".

This is something that I felt should have been a part of GarageBand from the beginning. It’s a natural fit and allows people that want to create a ringtone out of something other than a song (non DRM protected songs work too) the ability to do so. I used this feature to convert my 5 or so custom ringtones into "legitimate" ringtones that show up right in the Ringtones area of iTunes and sync beautifully to the iPhone without the need for 3rd party apps.

GarageBand is a Mac only app. So Windows users will still need to rely on 3rd party apps or hacks to get ringtones onto the iPhone (check out iPhoneRingtoneMaker.com). However, it appears that at least Apple is no longer trying to stop this harmless activity which is good for us all.

Ain’t no party like an Adobe 25th Anniversary Party

Last night Adobe celebrated its 25th Anniversary with a BIG party for the employees! Wow! What a night. Not too many high tech companies can come close to the success of Adobe and we at Adobe have a lot to be thankful for. We’ve had good times and we’ve had bad times. Last night we reflected on the company’s 25 year history.

partying with a couple thousand of my closest friends

 

Everyone in the room was upbeat and having a good time. The mood and the party got even better when Adobe’s founders John Warnock and Chuck Geschke took the stage!

John and Chuck reflected upon the early days and how they never imagined (back then) that Adobe would be what it is today. It was truly an honor to be in the company of these two Silicon Valley pioneers/inventors.

 

Adobe’s new CEO Shantanu Narayen took the stage and offered a toast to all of us and to our continued success!

There was also a surprise guest…

Smash Mouth rocked the house for the rest of the night!

I got a chance to spend a little time with some of the great people that I admire:

 

Adobe co-founder John Warnock (a true visionary – the inventor of PostScript) and Terry White

 

Adobe co-founder Chuck Geschke and Terry White

 

Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen, Terry White and Adobe’s former CEO Bruce Chizen

 

Photoshop product manager John Nack & Terry White

 

Marianne & Adobe’s Sr. Creative Director, Russell Brown

 

Mo & John Warnock

 

Addy, Fred, Julieanne Kost, & Chuck Geschke

 

of course no Adobe event would be possible without a little Acrobat….

 

Like I said, it was a great night! I’m looking forward to the next 25 years and the innovations yet to come from this fantastic company and the people that work here! Thank you to all the customers who buy Adobe products (and keep me employed 😉 )

Scott’s D300 Review

Hey, I’ve been on the road this week and in all day meetings all week long. So I haven’t had any time to play with new tech toys. However, my buddy Scott Kelby is back from vacation and posted a really good review of the D300. This is from his perspective of what he liked and what he didn’t like and is a must read for any D200 user thinking of making the leap (or anyone else clamoring for more info on the Nikon D300).

I absolutely love my D300 and have been having an ABSOLUTE BLAST shooting with it. I know some have been having issues with some of the early units and it looks like I’m one of the lucky ones who got one that works as advertised. It is by far the best camera I’ve ever owned or shot with.

Digital Picture Frames

Another hot holiday gadget gift idea is a digital picture frame. I’ve been a digital photographer ever since the first Apple QuickTake camera back in 1994 (yes, I know it wasn’t a real camera by any comparisons today). However, unlike many digital photographers, I’m not really that interested in printing my photos. Sure I have a nice Epson Stylus Photo R1800 printer that does a phenomenal job and I do have some nice framed shots around the house, but I just don’t do a lot of printing on a regular basis. When I want to look at a photo, I look at it on my computer or on my iPhone.

 

I bought my first digital picture frame back in 1999 when Sony introduced a (gasp) $900 PHD-A55 CyberFrame digital picture frame. Although I paid less than sticker price it was still up there. It was one of the first of it’s kind in that you loaded your shots on a memory stick and you could do a slideshow right on the frame without any computer connected to it. The only other frame I remember at the time was Cieva and they were set on selling frames a service which would allow you to download your images to it over the internet. I just wanted to "own" the frame and put my pictures on it directly. The frame was small, but innovative. For example, just waving your hand in front of the frame would turn it on and start the show. At that price, you better believe that I still use it to this day. Other than a restriction on the JPEGs not being able to have resource forks (a Mac issue), the frame has always worked great and I still get a lot of enjoyment out of it.

Now fast forward to 2007-2008. The weekend after Thanksgiving I caught the Staples sale on the 11.3" Omnitech Digital Picture Frame for a mere $99. Now keep in mind that this is an off brand (read cheap) frame and there some really good ones out there that may cost you closer to $200-$300. However, at that price and size I couldn’t resist. My plan is to put one of these at my parents house (they don’t use computers) and simply swap out the memory card on each visit. This way they can enjoy my latest shots (and some old classics) without having to print a bunch of photos and store photo albums that fade.

 

So what don’t you get with a $99 (regular price $199) frame?

It only comes in one color, black. Other frames offer different color inserts to match your decor. Although this frame is large it’s LCD has a relatively low resolution of 800x480ppi (480×234 ppi on the 7" model). It’s got a 16×9 display and comes with a pretty dorky looking (1970’s feel) remote. No cross dissolves or animation of any kind. Also other frames will play the little movies that some still cameras can capture. However, it does have a USB port for either a computer or thumb drive. It has both SD and Compact Flash slots (other formats via adapters). This is a no frills frame. One of the oddest attributes about this particular frame is that if you display a portrait (tall) image it will be cropped off as opposed to scaled down (letter boxed). So you would need to crop/resize your photos first to the proper dimensions to display their best on this frame. For the price I paid and the intended use, I’m willing to put up with things minor inconveniences. However, if you are looking for a quality frame, with more features and with support, you might want to look elsewhere.

 

The Bottom Line

Digital Picture Frames have come way down in price. They allow you to enjoy your digital captures without having to print a bunch of prints. They are easy to use and once they are setup, you can easily load them up with additional or different shots whenever you like. There are some bargain choices out there and some really nice models. So compare and get the right one for you.

The 2007 hottest holiday gadget gift

For the past few years, the Apple iPod has been the hottest holiday gadget on just about everyone’s wish list. While I still think the iPod and iPhone will be hot sellers this year, I think an even bigger seller will be portable GPS navigation units. I wrote a review of one that I bought as a gift, the Navigon 2100 and the response to that review has been overwhelming. It’s taken a life of its own and the number of comments dwarf my very popular iPhone review. Now that GPS units have fallen well below the $200 mark, they are much more attractive to casual buyers. I plan to give away at least 3 this year. Everyone I know (or at least one ones on my list) are all set with iPods. So it’s all about GPS’s.

 

My top picks in this category are the:

Garmin Nüvi 660 (for the one you REALLY love 🙂 )

Garmin Nüvi 360

Garmin Nüvi 200 (great entry level unit)

Navigon 2100

TomTom One 3rd Edition

 

There are deals to be had out there! So do some shopping around.

Eye-Fi is cool but has limited uses

I first read about Eye-Fi Wi-Fi enabled SD card over a year ago and anxiously awaited its arrival. Eye-Fi is an SD card with built-in Wi-Fi capabilities for wirelessly transferring your shots from your SD based digital camera either to your computer or to an online photo service such as flickr, facebook, smugmug, shutterfly, kodak, etc. Although I requested to be on the beta program, I never got the call. So a year later I bought one of the 2GB cards to try out.

The card arrived and setup was very straight forward. You get a card reader with the card that you plug into the USB port of your Mac or PC to set it up. You configure the card with a web browser (although Safari on the Mac wasn’t supported). I used FireFox to get mine going. Once I got it setup (which only took a few minutes), I was snapping away and the images automatically downloaded to the designated folder on my computer. After the first batch I took some more and didn’t see a way to start the new picts transferring again. After a few minutes of scratching my head I just turned the camera off and on again and that started the transfer process. Since your camera doesn’t know anything about the Wi-Fi abilities of this card, there is no way to control the cards functions from the camera. It’s all automatic.

 

It works, but I question its usefulness?

OK, now what? I have this wireless SD card that can transfer the images to my computer or directly to a photo service. This sounds cool and I’m sure some will love this idea. However, here are the issues I have with this card. Like I said, it works as advertised! However, here’s the thing, rarely would I ever want my shots transferred to an online service without first reviewing/editing them. Secondly, even if I opt to have them transfer to my computer, the process is not speedy and drains the camera’s battery more. It takes several seconds for each shot to download over 802.11g/b. Even a USB2 card reader is MUCH FASTER (and doesn’t require the camera’s battery power)! The next problem is that there is no way to use this card where you might have public Wi-Fi access that requires you to accept usage terms via a web page first. So while this card is cool and works, what would it save you from doing? I guess if you want direct upload to a photo site from your camera without having to go through your computer first, then this is your answer. And a good answer at that. However, for me it has limited appeal in it’s current format. Perhaps if they come out with a Compact Flash version that operates at 802.11n speeds, I’ll want to take another look.

The 2GB Eye-Fi SD card goes for $99. Post a comment on how you would use this card!

Nikon D300 + N2 di-GPS = FUN!

I have really been enjoying my New Nikon D300 camera and there really isn’t anything that I don’t like about it. It’s FAST, takes incredible shots and has all the bells and whistles that I’ve always wanted. Although the Nikon D300 doesn’t have a GPS unit built-in, it does now feature direct support for one and there is even a GPS menu on the camera itself. I bought the N2 di-GPS which works directly with select Nikon & Fuji DSLRs. It arrived this week and it wasn’t until yesterday during lunch that I got a chance to take it out for a spin. The first thing I said to myself when I opened the box was, “wow, this is much smaller than I imagined!” It’s not much bigger than a pack of gum. Very lightweight and easy to travel with. Although it’s designed to sit on the hot-shoe, it’s doesn’t have to. The integrated mount will also attach to the camera strap. There is no battery in it as it gets its power directly from the camera via the cable that attaches to the D300’s 10 pin remote terminal.

GPS menu built-in to the New Nikon D300 and D3

 

Once you connect the cable, there is only one switch on the device and it switches from OFF, to Auto, to ON. Do I need to explain OFF? Didn’t think so. In the Auto position the GPS unit will turn on and off with the camera. This will probably yield the best battery life. However, each time the unit is turned on with the camera in this mode it will have to potentially acquire the satellite signal again. In the ON position, it stays on and connected to the GPS satellites regardless if the camera is on or not. Of course this will ultimately drain the camera’s battery faster. I recommend the ON position if you are shooting, then moving then shooting again. If you’re going to use it off and on throughout the day, then Auto is probably best. From a cold start it took about 15-20 seconds to acquire a GPS signal. There is a clear indicator right on top that flashes red when it is searching and stays solid red when it has locked on (Sony could learn from this!).

After connecting the N2 di-GPS and turning it on I was ready to shoot. The beauty of this unit is that the GPS information (longitude and latitude) is inserted right into the metadata of each shot as you take them. No need for post processing when you return to your computer. Since I use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom I can take advantage of this data instantly by clicking the little GPS button in the metadata panel which will automatically take me to the location that I was shooting in on Google Maps.

 

I took this shot at the New Partridge Creek Mall here in Michigan.

 

When I look at the image above in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, I can see the GPS coordinates in the metadata panel

When I click the little arrow to the right of the GPS coordinates, Lightroom takes me to my browser and automatically loads those coordinates in Google Maps for me (you can click the image above for the same experience).

The interesting thing here is that apparently this map hasn’t been updated yet because it doesn’t show the mall on the satellite view 🙂 The mall was just completed and opened in October 2007.

I found the accuracy to be decent, but not great. What I mean by this is that it seems to take few moments to update once you’ve moved. I took some shots just walking around my yard and when I got back to the computer, although I had moved, a couple of the shots were still showing the coordinates from shots taken a few moments earlier. One shot showed that I was in my neighbor’s yard.

 

Here’s a shot I took in my backyard. OK, I’m kidding, this was taken at the Partridge Creek Mall. Normally I would have stepped back to get the whole tree, but there were two security guards waiting to tackle me if I even thought of pointing my camera at a store display (which is frowned upon at most malls).

This shot was taken maybe 50-60′ from the Apple store shot above.

 

Bottom Line

If you want to do some geotagging and map all the places that you shoot and you have one of the supported cameras, you can’t go wrong with this GPS unit. It’s painlessly simple to use and integrates beautifully. The N2 di-GPS goes for $238+$45 S&H. So it’s not cheap (neither are the cameras it supports), but if having GPS data automatically inserted into your images is your thing, this is the one for you.

Supports Nikon D3*, D300*, D2XS, D2X, D2HS & D200, Fujifilm S5 Pro.
*Nikon added new GPS function to D3 and D300. The new function resolved the battery drain issue. The new option in the menu let the user to select the metering system to stay on or auto off when GPS data is received to reduce the power consummation.

Also see my review on the NEW di-GPS Pro!