Should You Buy an Olympus E-P1 or Panasonic GF1?

It’s been a while since an entirely new niche of digital camera has come along, but with the release of the Olympus E-P1 and the Panasonic DMC-GF1, that’s what we have. These “Micro Four Thirds” cameras represent the first significantly new class of camera since, possibly, Canon’s D30 SLR in 2000. With their small size, interchangeable lenses, and sensors that are larger than what you’ll find in a point-and-shoot, they offer a new option for SLR shooters who want a smaller second camera, but don’t want to give up too much image quality. Conversely, for point-and-shooters who are ready to move on, but don’t want to hassle with the weight of an SLR, a Micro Four Thirds camera might be just the ticket. But which of these two cameras is right for you?

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UPstrap – The Ultimate Camera Strap

I’ve been using an UPstrap on my SLR for a couple of years now, and have previously posted about how it’s possibly the best camera accessory I’ve ever used. While something as seemingly simple as a camera strap may not sound like much to get excited about, once you use the UPstrap, you may find yourself becoming something of a camera strap connoisseur. (Or even more fun, a camera strap snob.) A whole new batch of UPstraps have been released, offering the UPstrap advantage to cameras of all sizes. Read on to find out why you might want to give up on your stock camera strap.

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Alien Skin Bokeh

Shallow depth of field is one of the most important tools in any photographer’s arsenal. Depth of field is the measure of how much of your image is in focus, and shooting with shallow depth of field provides you with another way to bring focus to your subject. The ability to shoot with shallow depth of field is especially useful for portrait and sports shooters. However, achieving shallow depth of field requires a fast lens (that is, a lens that can open to a wide aperture) and you may not always have such a lens with your. Or, you might simply not realize at the time you’re shooting that a shallow depth of field is what the image needs. For those times when you need to remove depth of field from an image, Alien Skin has a Photoshop plug-in that can help.

There are, of course, filters built-in to Photoshop that can be used to achieve a shallow depth of field effect, but as you’ll see, they lack features that Bokeh provides. Unfortunately, even though Bokeh is a very good piece of engineering and design, software depth of field reduction might still be of limited utility, as you’ll see in the complete review.

Read the full Alien Skin Bokeh review here

Wacom Intuos4

So you’ve got a camera that delivers the features, quality, and performance that you want, you’ve tricked it out with high-quality, speedy lenses, multiple flash units, and a really cool bag, and you’re pumping your completed images into a fast desktop workstation with a beefy graphics card. You’re set, right? You have the dream digital photography setup, no? No. Because if you spend any appreciable time editing your images, you need a Wacom pressure sensitive tablet. For masking, retouching, cloning, dodging and burning, there’s no substitute. A Wacom tablet is truly an essential piece of photo gear. Not convinced? Read this to understand more.

The Netbook as Photo Accessory – Mac Version

I love my aluminum MacBook. While I used a MacBook Pro for years, the smaller MacBook is a little easier to carry, and it never feels like it flexes or bends under its own weight, as the MacBook Pro sometimes did. However, it’s still just big enough that packing it in a bicycle or motorcycle bag is problematic, and it’s heavy enough that for backcountry or extended travel, it’s a bit of a load. What’s more, a lot of times it’s overkill. Usually all I need in the field is a place to dump images, and perhaps some email access. Over the last year or so a new class of tiny, ultralight laptop computers – netbooks – have appeared on the market at extremely reasonable prices. These machines turn out to be ideal photo accessories. Of course, Apple doesn’t make such a product, but there are now quite a few netbooks that can be hacked to run the Macintosh OS, allowing you to make something that Apple doesn’t: a tiny, very portable Macintosh.

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The Netbook as Photo Accessory – Windows Version

A friend of mine has a very cool portable darkroom. (Because he’s primarily a wet-plate pinhole shooter, he needs to be able to develop plates as soon as he takes them.) As digital photographers, we have things a little easier, of course. If we want to process images in the field, we only have to carry a computer. But, if you’re on an extended trip, heading into the backcountry, or you just like to travel as light as possible, then carrying a computer is not always an option. Fortunately, over the last year or so a new class of tiny, ultralight laptop computers – netbooks – have appeared on the market at extremely reasonable prices. These machines turn out to be ideal photo accessories.

The name “netbook” stems from the idea that, when traveling, most people’s computer needs don’t go beyond network access. Other than web browsing and email, they have few computing chores. If you’re a digital photographer, though, you might want to use a computer as a place to offload images, or to browse the day’s shoot, to begin to organize your shots, apply metadata, or even to start adjusting and editing. Of course, if you have network access, then you may want to be able to upload to web sites, or send images via email.

I have a MacBook that I use for a lot of travel. It’s a great portable digital photography workstation, but at 4.5 pounds it’s a little heavy for some trips, and its size makes it difficult to cram into smaller bags (such as when bicycling or motorcycling).

So, when traveling into the backcountry, or for some international travel, I’ve been taking a Digital Foci FotoSafe (.6 pounds) for offloading images, and a Palm Treo 680 (.3 pounds) with foldable keyboard (.4 pounds) for email, Google maps and for reading RSS feeds. I also usually take either my iPhone or my fifth generation iPod (.3 pounds) with me for media needs. With all of these, I have data backup, email access, limited web functionality and some music playback (okay, not an essential photo tool, but definitely an essential travel tool). However, because my FotoSafe lacks a screen, I have no way to review or edit images.

Wanting something between the weight and bulk of the Macbook, and the bare minimum functionality of my other gizmos, I bought an MSI Wind last December.

With a 10″ screen, mostly full-sized keyboard, 120 gb hard drive 1.6 GHz Intel Atom processor, built in webcam, 10/100 Ethernet, built in 802.11g wireless, 3 USB ports, and bluetooth, it’s a very full-functioned laptop. Best of all, it weighs only 2.3 pounds and measures roughly 10.25 x 7 x .75″. So, not only is it lighter than my Macbook, but it fits in a much smaller bag.

Obviously, it’s a little larger than my FotoSafe/Treo/iPod arrangement, but it offers far more functionality.

You can order the Wind with an 80, 120, or 160 GB hard drive. I opted for the 160 gb version, and after installing an OS and some photo editing software, I still have more than enough space for offloading images. While I’ve never had any trouble or reliability issues with the FotoSafe, the Wind has the obvious advantage of a screen for reviewing images.

The Wind has a built-in SD card reader, which is a really nice addition. I usually shoot on CompactFlash, which means I still need to carry a card reader.

As a computer, the Wind works great for almost everything I need to do in the field. Obviously, email and web browsing are much easier with a real keyboard and large screen, so it’s a nice replacement for either my Treo or iPhone. Having built-in Wifi and Ethernet networking gives me lots of options for getting online. I can also tether to either the Treo or the iPhone, and get online connectivity through those, albeit slow, devices.

While the 1.6 GHz Atom processor is not the speediest CPU out there, it’s fine for most of the image editing tasks I’d want to do in the field. With its small screen, I’m not going to get into a lot of serious color correction and editing anyway (this was also true for my MacBook). But, for reviewing images, and performing some initial edits, or for organizing and keyword tagging, the Wind is perfectly adequate. I’ve been running CS4 on it and performance is perfectly acceptable.

The only hitch is with Photoshop Camera Raw. Because of the limited vertical screen dimension on the Wind, the entire Camera Raw dialog box cannot be displayed, which means you don’t have access to the Save Image, Open Image, Cancel or Done buttons.

So far, I’ve found two workarounds: you can just press Return, which opens the image, or you can install Adobe Photoshop Lightroom which also runs Camera Raw, but manages to fit onto the Wind’s screen. If you don’t usually use Lightroom, working all of this into your regular workflow when you get back home can require some extra steps.

Of course, you can still preview your raw images in Bridge, so having access to Camera Raw in the field may not be a critical need.

The Wind’s screen is bright and clear, and has a nice matte finish, and overall build-quality of the machine is fine. It feels plasticy, but this is also why it weighs so little. Most importantly, it only costs $350. In fact, if you look around, you might find it as low as $300. This becomes another upside when compared to a more expensive laptop. If you drop it in a river, it’s cheap to replace.

If you’ve been considering a photo viewer with a screen, such as the Epson P-series viewers, then you should definitely look at the Wind. It’s cheaper, weighs about the same, has a bigger screen, packs the same storage, and is a full-fledged computer.

The Wind comes with Windows XP pre-installed. As a Mac user, I wanted to run the Mac OS on the machine, so I’ve been using the Wind as a Mac-based machine. You can read about that here.

I’ve been very pleased with this little computer, and heartily recommend it to any traveling shooter, who doesn’t want to carry a larger, heavier laptop.

Canon Rebel XSi

Canon Rebel XSi

Canon has positioned their new Rebel XSi at the “entry-level” end of their product line. But it’s getting increasingly difficult to divide digital cameras into “entry-level” and “mid-range” and “high-end.” In the early days, there was a single distinguishing feature that made it simple to tell what market a camera was aimed at: the image quality of an entry-level camera was markedly different from a high-end, “pro” level camera. Those days are now long gone, and ‚Äì just as with entry-level and pro-level film cameras ‚Äì you can now shoot high-end image quality with an entry-level camera. Canon’s Rebel XSi marks the high end of Canon’s low end, and the new model offers important changes over its predecessor, the Rebel XTi.

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Leica M8 Digital Rangefinder

Leica M8 Over the last few years, the digital camera market has been sliced into fine slivers. There are cheap, not-so-cheap, and expensive point-and-shoots; a full spectrum of SLRs from $600 all the way up to $8,000; and stratospherically priced medium-format digital backs, owned by a precious few.

Sitting on its own, outside the realm of the point-and-shoots and SLRs is the Leica M8, a rangefinder camera based on the traditional M-series Leica body. Priced at roughly $5,500 for the body only – with Leica-branded lenses starting at around $1,500 for a 35 or 50mm lens – the M8 sits in the same price category as heavy hitting SLRs like the Canon 1Ds Mark III and the Nikon D3.

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Nikon D-300

Nikon D300

If you’ve been shopping for a mid-range digital SLR, it’s a safe bet to say you’ve probably been considering the Nikon D-300. The latest rev of Nikon’s mid-range camera, the D-300 offers some impressive changes from it’s predecessor, the D-200. As with previous Nikon models, no other camera comes close to Nikon when it comes to feature list, and the D-300 backs up its features with improved image quality.

There are a lot of things to consider when choosing an SLR, from image quality, to feel and weight, interface, and features. Obviously, if you’re already a Canon shooter with an investment in lenses, switching to Nikon is less compelling. But if you’re just starting out, or if you’re already a Nikon owner, then you’ll want to give heavy consideration to the D-300.


Epson Stylus Pro 3800 reviewed

Over on, I posted a short review regarding Epson’s latest professional-level printer, the 17-inch Stylus Pro 3800.

The 3800 is a funny beast—it has the best print quality of any previous Epson printer, and it is priced in a place where it has no real competitor. There is no roll-feed attachment—17 by 22 inches is the largest standard size it will print on—and it doesn’t have the whiz-bang features that HP and Canon are putting into their pro-level printers, like automatic addition of paper profiles, a Photoshop plug-in, and fancy calibration tools. And, while it fixes the physical ink swapping found in the Stylus Photo R2400 and the Stylus Pro 4800, it still does have to go through a purge cycle when you go back and forth between matte- and glossy-finish paper types.

That said, print quality and repeatability are often what pro photgraphers want most, and the 3800 has that in spades.