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, 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 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 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.

In Apple related News

New iMac

Apple had four major announcements yesterday. Yes, I know in the technology field something that happened yesterday is old news, but I wanted some time to digest the announcements before posting my take here. After all, there are other sites out there that are dedicated to "Apple News" and if that’s what you were looking for, chances are you already got your fix. So here goes:


A New iMac

Apple updated its very popular all-in-one iMac and lowered the entry price point for the 20" model at the same time. The 17" model has been discontinued. So if you wanted an iMac you would go with a 20" or 24" model. It’s all about design! The new iMacs are aluminum and have the popular glossy screens found on their notebooks. If you’re in the market for a simple all-in-one computer design with a nice beautiful large display it’s hard to go wrong here. As you would expect the internal specs have also been updated with more RAM capacity (up to 4GB now), larger hard drives (250GB and 350GB standard with upgrades to 1TB possible) and faster intel processors (2.0GHz or 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo). Apple also added Firewire 800 (Firewire is not dead – yet) ports standard and improved ATI graphics cards.

So all in all, a very nice upgrade for those in the market for a desktop computer. Also keep in mind that even if you’re a Windows user, this is a great computer because it can run Windows XP or Vista natively via Boot Camp, Parallels or VMWare.

Apple also replaced the keyboard on the iMac with one that has a much lower profile and of course matches the aluminum styling. However, what I found most interesting is that the new wireless keyboard doesn’t have the numeric keypad. Granted I probably wouldn’t miss it and the smaller size for lap typing is nice. I’m just wondering how well that will go over since it’s $30 more than the wired version which includes a numeric keypad. Has anyone ever tried pairing one of Apple’s keyboards with a PS3? I wonder if that would work? For home theater applications the new smaller size would also be a plus.

I think that the iMac is an important product, but I have no plans to get one. My family uses iMacs currently however, when it’s time to upgrade them I’ll most likely replace them with notebooks (MacBooks). Especially for my daughters who will be going off to college in the not too distant future.


iLife ’08

Skipping iLife ’07, Apple has released the long awaited update to their iLife suite of products. iLife includes iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD, iWeb and GarageBand. As you would expect all the products received updates. However, the most significant updates were to iPhoto and a completely new iMovie. iPhoto gains the ability to organize your photos into "Events" automatically. So if you come in from shooting all day, when you download your images iPhoto will organize the day’s shoot automatically into an "Event" which you can name. If you shot more than one event that day, you can easily split the shots into multiple Events. While I haven’t played with this yet, it seems like they took their existing "Film Roll" concept and enhanced it a bit. "Events" sounds better than "Film Rolls" in this digital age.

The story behind iMovie in that an Apple engineer took a weekend diving trip and when he returned he was frustrated with the way iMovie and Final Cut Pro worked (or didn’t work the way he wanted) and therefore he wrote a new version of iMovie from scratch. Wow! That’s pretty ambitious for one guy. My suspicion is that he was shooting with an HD camera that stores video in AVCHD (a highly compressed video format stored on memory cards) and was frustrated because iMovie and FCP didn’t currently edit in that format (most editors don’t). According to Apple iMovie still doesn’t edit in this format, but it does convert the video into an editable format upon import. So the real question is how long does that conversion really take? Look for benchmarks once people get their hands on this new version and put it to the test. Otherwise iMovie looks like a nice upgrade. I’m not sure that it’s really easier, I’ll let you be the judge of that since I’m not an iMovie guy.

Apple barely gave mention to iDVD. Steve even made the comment that "there are some people that still want to create DVDs." I thought about that statement for a moment and I then realized that this attitude may explain the lack of any kind of Blu-ray announcements from Apple. Also keep in mind that even in their latest professional video suite that DVD Studio Pro wasn’t touched and remained at version 4.x. Is DVD dead to Apple? Is it all about streaming video on the web, watching it on your iPod/iPhone or Apple TV as far as they’re concerned? Is it that this format war (HD DVD vs. Blu-ray) getting in the way and Apple (who was strongly behind Blu-ray) has decided to sit this one out? Only time will tell, but I was really taken back by the lack of attention in the DVD space. iDVD didn’t even get a video tour like the rest of the iLife apps did.

Clearly Apple’s iPhone partnerships have had influence here as well. For example, now in iMovie you’ll be able to publish (Share) directly to YouTube and in iWeb you can now add a Google Map to your page with a single click and add YouTube videos and other HTML snippets.

Rather than continuing this blow-by-blow on iLife ’08, it’s best to check out this video on the new features found in iLife ’08. Apple did a really good job covering what’s new here.


iWork ’08

Apple also updated it’s productivity suite for business users and students. iWork ’08 includes Keynote (my favorite presentation app), Pages (a visual word processor) and a brand new app "Numbers" which Apple’s new entry into the world of spreadsheets. Numbers has been rumored for years and is finally here. Yet, I really didn’t even look at it. Why? because I don’t do much spreadsheet work or word processing for that matter. While I’m sure it’s a great app, the spreadsheets I receive from others are in Excel format (which Numbers will open) and If I need to make any changes and give it back to them, it’s just easier and safer to open it in Excel, do whatever I need to do, hit Save and give it back to them. I’ve created maybe one or two spreadsheets from scratch in the last year. So Numbers, while I’m sure it’s cool has virtually no appeal to me. Same goes for Pages. If I create a document, it will likely be something either very simple that TextEdit will handle just fine or something more complex that I’ll use Adobe InDesign CS3 for. So while these two apps are probably welcomed from those looking to break away from Microsoft Office, they have little appeal to me. However, on the other hand I’d buy the upgrade to iWork ’08 just for the new version of Keynote! Keynote is a joy to use and simply blows PowerPoint away in most cases. This new version of Keynote includes new text effects and transitions, Action Builds (which it sorely needed and this was one area that PowerPoint excelled over Keynote) which gives you the ability to animate objects along a path or scale objects. Apple has also included Voice-over recording so that you can create a presentation that can be played back later without you having to deliver it in person. Apple also finally gave Keynote an Instant Alpha feature which allows you to remove the background from an image on a slide. Again PowerPoint has had this for a while and it’s nice to finally see it in Keynote. Another cool addition is Smart Builds which lets you create sophisticated animations from your images without having to know how to do this in a 3D or video app.

Check out these new features and watch the videos on how they work here.


Apple updates .Mac

Each year that goes by, I wonder how much longer .Mac will survive or will Apple really upgrade it to the be the service that we all want? One of the biggest complaints has been solved and that is the complaint that for $99/year the storage space was anemic. Gmail accounts for example had more space for FREE. Well Apple has done something about this by upping the .Mac storage space to 10GB per account at no additional cost. While this is a nice and welcomed upgrade, the second biggest complaint comes to mind and this is the one of speed or lack there of. It’s great having all this extra storage space, but did they speed up the access to it? It seems like it takes forever to upload or download from an iDisk. As a matter of fact it’s faster to use the web interface to the iDisk as opposed to the one built into the Finder.

Apple also now allows you to more easily have your own personal domain name point to your .Mac website. They also integrated .Mac with iPhoto in that you can press one button and create a web gallery of your photos with a unique URL and you can even allow others to add photos to your gallery either via a standard web browser or via a special email address for that particular gallery. In true Apple fashion the gallery pages and options are beautiful and very well designed.

.Mac is nice and easy, but for $99/year I want more! I had to switch my Adobe Creative Suite Podcast and this very blog away from .Mac hosting because Apple was too restrictive on bandwidth and iWeb was just to limited. Even with the new .Mac’s bandwidth limit being raised to 100GB/month, that’s not enough and their policy of simply cutting you off once you hit that limit just doesn’t make sense to me. Why would you cut someone off (for days at a time) instead of charing them more money for the overage? So I have no plans to return to .Mac for web hosting beyond a simple personal page here or there.


What Apple didn’t announce…

Apple managed to quietly upgrade a few products without any fanfare. For example, the Mac mini received processor updates (1.83GHz and 2.0GHz processors). The Mac mini is one of those products that hasn’t received a lot of attention since it was first launched. I think it’s because sales of this particular Mac aren’t where Apple would like them to be. However, it remains an important entry level product so it stays in the product line for now.

Apple also added a hardware RAID card option to the Mac Pro. This $999 add on allows you to increase (or decrease with redundancy) your storage beyond the box with multiple hard drives raided together.

Apple also updated the NEW AirPort Extreme Base Station to have Gigabit Ethernet ports. This was one of the biggest wishes from people that evaluated the earlier version.

Lastly, the iPhone got a "magical" update to support the emailing of photos to a web gallery. I call this upgrade magical because it just appeared on people’s iPhones yesterday. My guess is that it was a time/date released update that was a part of the iPhone 1.0.1 update or a part of the original iPhone firmware. Now if you go to any photo in your Photos and tap the send button, you’ll have a new option to "Send to Web Gallery." This feature requires a .Mac account to be configured for posting from mobile devices. Now if they could just magically turn on 3g support that would really be something 🙂

Saved by a Savage

I’m here in Miamisburg OH attending a family reunion. I planned on setting up a small on-location portrait studio. I brought my Westscott Spiderlite TD5, reflector, tripod, camera, memory cards, Epson P-3000 backup device and lenses. However, the one thing I left sitting in my office was my Westscott reversible backdrop.

A quick search on the iPhone’s Google Maps app revealed Cord Camera which was literally right around the corner from the hotel. I called them and they did sell the Westscott backdrops. However, when I arrived at the store, they only had one left in stock. While I was prepared to get it, something caught my eye. It was the Savage Porta-Stand with a roll of background paper on it. Then I noticed the assortment of different color paper rolls available. This looked like a much better setup for what I wanted to do this weekend anyway. With one question to the sales guy, "does it come with a carry bag?" and the answer being "yes." I was on my way!

As much as I like my reversible Westscott backdrops, I gotta say that I really love the Savage Porta-Stand. Cord sold the rolls of paper for $25 and the Savage Porta-Stand for $99. They might be cheaper else where, but I wasn’t about to argue their prices seeing that I was in an emergency situation. This setup will definitely be added to my on location shooting.

End result shot with the Nikon D80 with the Nikon 18-200mm VR lens against the Savage Porta-stand and lit by the Westscott Spiderlite TD5 (also processed with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and Photoshop CS3 – of course).

USB Hubs, who makes the best one?

We spend a great deal of time researching our computer purchases, external hard drives, software, etc. However, when it comes to buying a USB hub, we tend to just buy the cheapest one or the one that the store happens to carry.

All USB hubs are not created equal. I’ve found that depending on the hub you get, you could see weird issues with your computer and not realize that it’s the hub causing the issues. For example, I’ve got an older Power Mac G5 that refuses to stay asleep. I know that it’s a USB peripheral or hub causing this issue. I haven’t really had the time or energy to go through the process of testing it, plugging in one peripheral at a time. But what if it’s one of the two hubs I’m using?

I’ve tried Targus, Staples (yes they have their own branded hubs) and Asanté. I don’t swear by any of them and I’m looking for the most reliable hub out there. Who makes the BEST USB 2.0 Hub?

So my question to you is, which USB 2.0 Hubs have you had good luck with and which ones would you recommend that we stay away from?

Apple iPhone Bluetooth Headset Review

Terry with iPhone Bluetooth Headset

Keep in mind this review is by a guy who doesn’t care for in-ear Bluetooth headsets.

I’ll start by saying that even as I sat there in Steve Jobs’ keynote back in January and he splashed the photo up of the iPhone Bluetooth Headset, I wasn’t the least bit excited because it’s an in-ear headset and I’ve had horrible luck with all the ones I’ve tried in the past. So my immediate response was, "next!" I had zero interest in it. So when I was in my local Apple Store the other day buying an AirPort Base Station, the manager walks up to me and says, "you know we have the new Bluetooth Headsets in right?" I said, "yeah, I know." I could tell by the look on his face that he could tell that I wasn’t the least bit excited or interested. As I explained to him about the whole in-ear thing, he totally understood. I then said it would be nice to at least review one for my blog. So I bought one with the thought that if it doesn’t work out I could return it for a full refund in 14 days or less. He jokingly said, "see you tomorrow."

Unboxing it

When I got home, I set up the AirPort Extreme Base Station first (see my earlier review of that product). Then I remembered the headset and said, "OK, let’s see what this thing is all about." I was once again amazed at Apple’s attention to detail in the packaging. Opening this thing was almost as cool as opening the iPhone itself. If you’ve never unboxed an Apple product, I wouldn’t expect you to understand, so I’ll move on. I knew that the headset came with a dock that allows you to charge/sync your iPhone AND charge your headset as well. However, what I didn’t expect to get was the separate travel cable that does the same thing while you’re on the road: a nice and necessary addition. At first I didn’t see the instructions. They were tucked away in some of the packaging. The dock has a hard wired USB cable and an audio out port just like all the other docks. There is no AC power adapter. You’ll either have to power it from your computer or the USB AC adapter that came with your iPhone. You’ll also find two foam covers in the same area of the packaging as the instructions.

At first glance

The headset is black and very sleek looking. It doesn’t look half as dorky as most other headsets out there. Also, you’ll be happy to know that there is no big blue flashing LED on it. As a matter of fact, there is only one button (sound familiar) on the end of it that controls all of its functions.

Pairing it to the iPhone

I pulled out the instructions because I wanted to know how to get it into pairing mode. I was astonished to read that it pairs automatically by just putting in the dock with the iPhone. It’s stuff like this that makes us appreciate and love Apple engineering. Speaking of Apple engineering, Apple did a really cool thing in that if both the iPhone and Headset are docked, the headset’s battery status appears on the iPhone’s screen. Very Cool! If you’re just charging the headset alone, the headset has a small LED (about the size of the one on the MacBook/Pro MagSafe adapter) that changes from orange to green when it’s charged. Also speaking of MagSafe, the headset magnetically goes in the charger/dock just like the MagSafe adapter on MacBooks.

Putting it to the test

I forced myself to wear it all day. I wanted to see if I could because I can’t stand anything being in my ear that long. Unlike other in-ear sets I’ve used, this one doesn’t feel like it’s about to fall out. This headset is very light weight at a mere 6.5 grams. The audio quality is crystal clear. Granted I haven’t been in noisy environments with it yet. Since it is in-ear, I can tell that it would be as good if not better than most headsets of this type. I called a few friends and didn’t mention that I was using a headset. When I told them that I was on a headset, they couldn’t believe that I wasn’t talking directly into the handset or a land line. They said that the sound was "GREAT and clear." As you would expect, it works perfectly with the iPhone. I had no trouble making or answering calls. When I would walk out of range of the iPhone, the headset would beep twice to let me know. That’s a cool feature. The one thing that’s missing though is there is no redial function. This is a basic feature of most headsets and the iPhone does support it if the headset does. From my Jabra BT 500v, I can hit the button for a second and it redials the last number I called. The Apple headset surprisingly doesn’t do this.

The one button also controls the call waiting features of the iPhone. You control the volume of the headset from the iPhone’s volume control on the side. Mac users will also be happy to know that the iPhone Bluetooth Headset can be paired with your Bluetooth equipped Mac for use in A/V applications such as iChat AV. Talk time is rated at up to 5.5 hours and Standby Time is rated at up to 72 hours. This is much lower than my existing headset which easily lasts all week without having to be recharged. Since the iPhone Bluetooth Headset comes with one cable to charge both the iPhone and headset at the same time, I cut Apple a little slack here. The charging time is about 1.5 hours. However, for the price I would expect a longer battery life.


The Bottom Line

I’m not an in-ear headset guy. Since this headset takes the one size fits all attitude, some will love it and some will hate it. Other than the in-ear aspect, I LOVE the design and integration. Although you can use this headset with other cellphones, I couldn’t see recommending it for non-iPhone users. It’s integrated so well with the iPhone and for the price of $129 you could do better with other headsets for other phones. Now, will I keep it or return it? I’m not totally in love with it, so I’m undecided. However, at this point I’m leaning towards keeping it. I’ve been wearing it pretty much all day for 2 days straight and it doesn’t hurt my ears like headsets of the past. We’ll see over the next 12 days with more real world use in less than ideal environments. For now it’s a keeper. For design and ease of use, I give it 5 out of 5 stars. For comfort, I give it 3.5 stars and for value, I give it 3.5 stars.


In other iPhone news

Apple sold 270,000 iPhones in the last two days of their 3rd quarter (June 29th and June 30th).  Apple expects to sell its One Millionth iPhone by the end of September 2007. That’s more phones in 30 hours sold than AT&T has sold in an entire month of any other cellphone product launch, blowing the RAZR out of the water.


Our New iPhone Book has gone to press!


The iPhone Book

I got the honor and privilege of co-authoring "The iPhone Book" with my buddy Scott Kelby (author of the insanely popular iPod Book and number one best selling computer book author in the world) Scott is a joy to work with and we had a blast writing this book. We covered every detail that we could find at the time. However, as you know, new iPhone details, apps, accessories, etc. come out daily now (like this headset that shipped after the book went to press). So we’ll provide updates to the book via PDF downloads as needed. I’ll also continue to cover newsworthy iPhone developments here. So don’t hesitate, run, don’t walk over to and place your order. Or buy it wherever you buy your cool books from.


Make your own ringtones for your iPhone

One of my number one complaints with the iPhone is that it doesn’t allow you to use your own music as ringtones. So when my buddy Dave Moser sent me the link to iPhone Ringtone Maker, I was a little skeptical. This $10 app allows you to convert your own MP3s, WAVs, etc. into the iPhone ringtones and loads them on your iPhone. So I decided that I’d give it a shot. I went to the site and found that it was a Windows only app. It would be nice to have it on the Mac, but it does work with intel Macs and Boot Camp/Parallels. So I fired up Windows XP on my MacBook Pro and installed the latest version of iTunes (7.3.1) for Windows. I then immediately set the preferences in iTunes NOT to automatically sync iPhones. This way I could plug in my iPhone without it trying to disturb the content that’s already there. I added a few MP3s that I wanted to make into ringtones. Next I loaded the iPhone Ringtone Maker app and plugged in my serial number.

The app is very simple to use. You choose your MP3 (or other file type), then you can trim it to as long as you want it to be. It automatically does a 2 second fade in/out. Next you hit the Send to iPhone button and it downloads the ringtone into your iPhone. You have to turn the iPhone off and back on for the new ringtone to appear in the list, but that’s it! Bam, my new ringtones were there and working. So now when Dave calls me I can hear the Imperial March that I’m used to when he calls 🙂

My only very minor issue with this app (other than it being Windows only) is that the ringtones don’t seem as loud as the original song and although there are audio effects there is no way to boost the gain. Otherwise, it was the best $10 I’ve spent all month.


AppleCare is now available for the iPhone

Apple has started selling AppleCare for iPhone. This $69 coverage covers the iPhone and Apple Bluetooth Headset for an additional year. I’m not jumping on this one, because it is very likely that I’d be on a new iPhone within a year, especially if they come out with a 3g model.

Jabra BT 500v

As many of you know, I’ve tried many different Bluetooth headsets and I keep coming back to my Jabra BT 500. So when I discovered that the Jabra had updated the BT 500 to the BT 500v, I decided to check it out.

Why I keep coming back to this particular headset?

Before I get into the BT 500v (which there isn’t much to get into), I thought I’d answer the question as to why I keep coming back to this one. It’s simple. It’s the most comfortable headset I’ve tried to date. I’ve tried in ear and I’ve tried on ear. The BT 500 series is "over the ear." I wear glasses, so it doesn’t help when a head set is trying to be in the same place as the rim of my glasses. Most "on ear" headsets literally cause me pain after about 30 minutes of use. I could wear the BT 500 all day. Sometimes I forget I have it on. The other kinds either hurt, don’t go down in my ear far enough or feel like they’re going to fall off.

OK, so what’s new about the BT 500v

If you go to and do a compare of the BT 500 vs. the BT 500v, you’ll only see one difference in the specs. The BT 500 v has a standby time of 300 hours vs. the 240 hours of the BT 500. So it has significantly longer battery life. The only other visual change is the color (Black vs. Silver).

I’ve seen this headset average about $80 on the web. So when I saw it listed at for only $50, I was cautiously curious. I decided to order it anyway. It came and I was surprised that it was the right model and new in the box. However, there was a catch. Also in the box was a universal power adapter (not in the Jabra box, but in the cardboard shipping box). So I knew something was up and sure enough it was the UK version of the headset. Since everything works the same and they did supply the UK to US power adapter, I didn’t complain. Also it works with the adapter I already own for the BT 500.

Sound quality is about the same. Pairing with the iPhone was a piece of cake and it supports re-dialing the last number dialed on the iPhone with a single button press on the headset. As usual it comes with 3 different ear gel sizes, since one size doesn’t fit all. My favorite headset, just got a little better! Going forward, I’d like to see Bluetooth 2.0 support (I don’t know why) and noise/wind reduction features.