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January 22, 2008

Wireless SuperCameras

Quick, what gadget won Best of Show awards at BOTH the Consumer Electronics Show and Macworld Expo this month? If you guessed some form of music player or high-def video equipment, you'd be forgiven, but the answer is Eye-Fi, a tiny little SD card that fits in most digital cameras and gives them wireless superpowers as well as 2GB of memory.

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With Eye-Fi, you can send photos directly to your Mac or PC, and to photo sharing sites like Flickr, Facebook, Photobucket, Webshots, Snapfish, Windows Live, TypePad and many more. There's no USB cable to remember or carry around. (How many times have you forgotten yours or had to buy a new one because you left it somewhere?) All you need is your camera and a Wi-Fi network, at your home, work or friends' house. You don't even need your laptop for uploading to the Web. Wi-Fi encryption passwords are supported, although not logins at places like Starbucks, where a Web browser would be needed to get online. At Macworld Expo Eye-Fi also announced support for direct iPhoto import.

Before Eye-Fi, there were a few cameras with built-in Wi-Fi, but with very limited features. For example, the Nikon CoolPix 550c lets you send pics from the camera to your PC without wires, but only supports Flickr and a special Nikon site for uploads. The Eye-Fi's ability to work with a wide variety of sites and any camera model that takes SD cards is liberating.

Even so, the Eye-Fi's success should push more camera vendors down the wireless route. Wireless photo transfer and uploading is just too good a feature to leave entirely to third parties. At CES, Sony was showing a camera with an entirely new wireless technology, dubbed TransferJet, that works simply by touching two TransferJet-enabled devices together. It runs at a peak speeds of 560Mbps and sustained throughput of 375Mbps, far faster than Wi-Fi, and comparable to USB 2.0 at 480Mbps or FireWire at 400Mbps. Sony envisions it being used in cameras, camcorders, cell phones and other portable devices, with data being transferred to your computer, media player or even TV for direct playback. Imagine touching your cell phone to your computer to download photos and video, or your camcorder to your TV to view your latest recording on the big screen. We can't wait.

January 31, 2008

Megapixels Aren't Everything

As I wander around this week's PMA show, the digital camera mecca put on by the Photo Marketing Association, two trends emerge right away. First, camera vendors are finally busting out of their collective my-megapixels-are-more-than-yours rut and promoting features that actually improve the quality of your picture-taking, not just the size of your files. And second, people must love blue, fuschia and pink-hued cameras -- the aluminum rainbows many new models come in remind me of my grandmother's juice glasses.

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Separated at birth? Fuji FinePix cameras on the left, Target Retro Aluminum Tumblers on the right.

So what new features should you be looking for in this year's digital camera crop? Canon, Panasonic and others were showing off cool facial-recognition technology that ensures your subjects will always be in focus and properly exposed, no matter what the surroundings. And motion detection and image stabilization (IS), formerly the province of high-end pro cameras and lenses, have gone mainstream. These can help compensate for the motion blur caused by shaky hands and squirmy kids. To see the difference image stabilization can make, check out this sample image from Canon:

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Other common new features include bigger and brighter LCDs for framing and reviewing photos, fast sequential shooting (great for shooting sports and children), and quicker response times. The absolute best thing you can do for your candid photography is buy a camera that takes the picture when you press the button, not 1 or 2 seconds later...

For beach and snow vacations, I also like Olympus' Stylus SW line of shockproof, freezeproof and waterproof cameras. Olympus has them in the booth frozen in ice, swimming in aquariums, and bouncing down a pegboard into a puddle. Tuck one of these babies in your shorts pocket and they'll go anywhere. And yes, they come in plenty of colors too!

I'm headed back to the show now to find more goodies. Next time, we'll discuss why 8 to 10 megapixels is enough!

February 7, 2008

Building a Better Tripod

I have a confession. At last week's big PMA camera show in Las Vegas, it wasn't all the colorful new digicams that really grabbed me, it was the tripods! I like to take longish exposures indoors to avoid using flash (natural light is always better), and also shoot outdoors in places where I'm not exactly going to carry around a full-size tripod. So three gadgets in particular caught my eye: the Gorillapod, QuickPod and StickyPod. All three will probably end up in my bag of tricks since they serve different purposes, and are small and portable.

First up is the Joby Gorillapod. This genius tripod has legs made up of fully-articulating ball-and-socket joints, so you can bend and twist and wrap it to "firmly secure your camera to just about anything." Rubbery rings and feet prevent slippage.

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Wrap it around a table leg, pole or tree branch, steady it on a rock, or just set it on your desktop. The Gorillapod can handle it all. It even comes in three sizes and several colors, so you can make your fashion statement. The bigger sizes support heavier DSLR cameras and camcorders.

Next on my wish list is the Fromm Works Quick Pod. This hand-held monopod is specially designed for getting yourself into the picture (always a good thing), and has a small mirror that makes it easy frame your self-portrait. Two sizes are available, a smaller one for point-and-shoot cameras, and a bigger one for DSLRs. The smaller one also works with optional tripod legs, magnet and suction cup attachments, while the bigger one has a long enough telescoping arm that you can use it as a monopod resting on the ground. Both collapse down to fit in most any camera bag.

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Finally, the My Sticky Pod is an oldie but goodie. This little suction-cup tripod can be stuck to the outside of moving cars and motorcycles going up to 40mph! Or faster if you keep it out of the wind. It even works underwater -- stick it to the side of your boat with a waterproof camera. A special Dash Cam model mounts to both your dashboard and windshield. An optional 12-inch extension bar lets you position the camera at pretty much any angle. Models for all sizes of cameras and camcorders are available.

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March 12, 2008

Digital Photo Frames: Art or Science?

Being a tech geek, I guess you could say I'm a numbers person, and so this statistic really rattled my cage last week: in 2008, more than 20 million digital photo frames will be sold worldwide, or about one for every 15 people in the U.S. And that's up from a good-sized 12 million in 2007. (For those who just walked in the door, a digital photo frame is a small LCD panel with a memory card slot that displays your digital pictures.)

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Just who is buying all those photo frames? It's not me. I'm normally on the bleeding edge, but thus far, this is one tech trend I've managed to avoid (another being online multiplayer games like Second Life and World of Warcraft -- I like my tech to save me time, not eat it up...). It's not that I wasn't aware of them. I've been writing about them in computer publications for years, and even testing them out.

But somehow, as a photography nut, the idea of substituting a relatively low-quality LCD display for a brilliantly-colored glossy color print enlargement on my nightstand or side table just never appealed to me. I look at my photos as art, and rotating digital snapshots seem more like ephemeral newspaper headlines than eternal displays of beauty.

And that's when it finally sank in. That people don't buy these frames as art, but as means of communication. They buy them to give to relatives, and load them up with all the latest photos of their kids. Or use them to display photos of last month's vacation or holiday celebration. They have become substitutes for printed photo albums. (Although photo books are also becoming extremely popular, a topic we'll cover another time.)

As for myself, I'm finally considering buying a digital photo frame for two main reasons: to hold some of the vast numbers of old family photos I don't have room to display elsewhere, and to keep up with the latest pics of my far-flung quintet of nephews, all of whom are too cute for words.

I haven't yet picked out a winning frame, but I'll be looking for these features:

* Wi-Fi for receiving photos over a network and the Internet.
* The ability to automatically download new pics from a service like Flickr or Picasa.
* USB port for flash drives or computer connection.
* Remote control and memory card slot.
* At least 5x7, probably larger, depending on my budget.
* Resolution that matches typical digital camera aspect ratios, so that edges won't be cut off or letterboxing needed.
* Slideshow capability with music background.
* The ability to play back short videos, too.
* A clean frame design that blends in with most decor.
* A bright and colorful LCD with excellent picture quality from all angles, not just straight on.

What I don't need: built-in printer, RSS newsfeeder, weather and traffic reports, alarm clock, Internet radio, or Bluetooth for beaming over cell phone photos. All nice features that will appeal to some, but my laptop and clock radio already serve them better than any photo frame could, so I'd rather not pay for them. David Pogue reviewed a bunch recently in The New York Times; none fit all my criteria, but some come close. I'm betting I'll have a winner soon, and will report back on what I choose.

In the meantime, let us know about your experiences with digital photo frames. Have you taken the plunge? When and why? Which frame did you choose? Are you happy with it?

May 1, 2008

Taking Stock of Your Life

Don't worry, this article is not about justifying your existence! By "taking stock of your life," I quite literally mean making an inventory of your worldly goods, something I've been meaning to do for years for insurance purposes.

Living just two blocks from the Hayward Fault in Berkeley, and being subjected to ever-more strident headlines about how we are due for the next "big one" any moment now, insurance and earthquake preparedness are hot topics among my neighbors.

One has only to look at Hurricane Katrina, umpteen California brush fires (including the big Oakland Hills fire less than two miles from me), and various other floods, tornados and tsunamis to recognize the importance of a good home inventory and disaster plan. If a fire wiped out your home today, would you be able to remember everything in it and document ownership with receipts? Even if you have great insurance, it will be worthless without being able to prove your losses.

So how to get started? Creating an inventory for an entire house is a daunting task, especially if you have been living in it for many years. That's the main reason it's been on my To-Do list for nearly 10 years now. Searching the Web for inspiration, I found a great site created by the Insurance Information Institute that not only tells you exactly what to do, but provides the free software to do it, for both PCs and Macs.

Here's how it works: First, you set up the outline your home by naming all the rooms, including the basement, garage and attic. Then you go room by room adding items to the inventory. The software has spaces for importing pictures and receipts for each item, or you can store these separately.

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The Institute also recommends taking a video inventory. By simply going around each room opening drawers and cabinets and zooming in on each object, you can create an quick inventory without having to itemize a thing. While you'll still need to document purchase prices and values in the event of a loss, the video will at least remind you of what was there, and provide some proof that you owned it.

I plan to do the video inventory first, and then tackle the digital photos and software-based inventory room by room. VideoWave and PhotoSuite are perfect for editing the video and organizing the photos for this task, and once completed, I will store the inventory, video and photos on a DVD in my safe deposit box.

There, I feel better just having a plan! What's yours?

November 14, 2008

Make a Holiday Party Invite with PhotoShow

Our family gives a holiday open house most years (except when we travel to Grandma's house!). In the past that has meant painstakingly addressing and mailing 50-75 printed invitations--an expensive and time-eating task!

Since we now have email addresses for pretty much everyone on our list, we thought we'd go the email route this year, which also makes RSVPs quick and easy. But we still wanted the invitation to be special and convey the spirit of the party--not just a plain message.

So we decided to make a fun PhotoShow using pictures from past parties, complete with captions and music. Roxio Online PhotoShows are free and easy to make, and you can email them directly to your recipients. We made and mailed this year's holiday party invite in less than 40 minutes! (And started getting RSVPs and compliments immediately!)

Here's how to do it:

First, choose a few pictures from past parties or other seasonal photos, then go to PhotoShow.com and log in (if you don't already have an account, creating one is easy). Next, click the "Make a PhotoShow" at the top of the screen. You'll be asked to upload your photos. When you're done, the fun begins!

The next screen is where you arrange your photos in the order you want them to appear, and choose a style, music, captions, titles, and more. We chose the Christmas style for our show, and Jingle Bells for the background music. Then we added captions to each photo. That was it! PhotoShow did the rest automatically. We could have customized it a lot further, but we were happy with the results.

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When you're finished tweaking your invitation, save the PhotoShow and click the Done button. You'll now be presented with various sharing options, such as posting to your blog or Web site, and burning a DVD. Here, you'll be choosing the email option.

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Now you simply enter the email addresses of your recipients, add a message if desired (we included driving directions and RSVP information in our message so that they could be printed out easily), and click the Send button!

Here's our finished PhotoShow. What will yours look like? Please invite us!

December 19, 2008

A Picture Saved is Worth a Thousand Thanks

Recovering Lost Photos with Toast 9 Titanium

Last month I decided it was time to revamp my iPhoto library, which contains all the new photos I've taken for the last few years, but not many earlier pics, which largely languished unseen on shelves and in boxes.

It was time to put everything in one place and organize it for easy access, which meant importing thousands of photos archived on various CDs and DVDs, as well as scanning all my analog prints and slides. Naturally, I decided to do the easy part first, copying over the CDs and DVDs I'd carefully archived for posterity.

All went smoothly till I came to a CD burned in 2001 that contained only 20 or so pictures, but very important ones, of an exhibition of my sister's artwork. Most of the paintings have since been sold, making rephotographing them impossible. The CD simply would not mount, in any of the two Macs and one PC I tried. I spritzed it with disc cleaner and wiped with a microfiber cloth, to no avail.

I was about to give up (and vowed to make two backups of every photo going forward) when a light bulb went off. I remembered that Toast 9 Titanium has a Disc Recovery feature that is able to grab whatever readable data remains on a damaged CD or DVD. So I fired it up, popped in the offending CD, and voila! ALL the photos were recovered!!

Here's how it works: Start a Disc Copy project in Toast, put in your disc (ignoring any error message about unreadability that may pop up), then check the "Use Disc Recovery" box at lower left. Finally, click the "Save as Disc Image" button at lower right to save the copy to your hard disk. Toast will start reading the data, and copy everything it can. This may take a LONG time (hours) if your disc is severely damaged, and if it has a lot of data, such as a dual-layer DVD, so be patient and just let it work in the background, or overnight.


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In my case, since I only had 20 pictures on the CD, the process was quick. A disc image file called Becky Pics.toast was saved to my hard disk, which I could then mount in the Finder by choosing "Mount Disc Image" from the Toast Utilities menu. From the Finder, I then dragged the recovered photos into iPhoto. The salvaged files:


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Resurrecting photos from the damaged CD is turning out to be the easy part of the job, however. Scanning and organizing thousands of analog photos is a significantly bigger task! But that's a story for another blog entry.

About Photo

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to MyMoments in the Photo category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Mobile is the previous category.

Toast is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.