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January 30, 2007

Summary: Adobe Photoshop Elements 5.0


Adobe Photoshop Elements 5.0 is targeted to serious hobbyists, people who are beyond beginners and are proud of their photos.

The new versions of Adobe's Photoshop Elements 5.0 and Premiere Elements 3.0 became available in October 2006 for US $99.99 each, or bundled together for $149.99.

Full article: Summary of Adobe Photoshop Elements 5.0

April 1, 2007

RCA Small Wonder Camcorders

There's a major trend to the high-definition home, with wide-screen HDTV home theatre and even consumer high-def HDV camcorders. But in this era of YouTube and Flash video with short-form, low-res clips, there's also a place for easier and faster shooting, from your camera phone to even highly-portable camcorders that record to flash memory.

In contrast to powerful HD camcorders, the emphasis of the pocket-size RCA Small Wonder is on easy and fun shooting. Even the packaging even says nothing technical -- nothing about resolution or storage, megapixels or megabytes.

The RCA EZ-105 Small Wonder digital camcorder is amazingly light and comfortable to hold (2.43 x 4.27 x 1.33 inches, 0.31 lbs.), and great for quick and easy videos ($129).

The interface is a simple as possible, with few controls, and no confusing menus or profusion of options.

Plus, there's a minimum of connectors, with no power adaptor:, it just uses two standard AA batteries. And no additional cables required to access the clips, with a built-in pop-out USB connector. There is an A/V jack to connect directly to a TV set for immediate viewing.

See full article: RCA Small Wonder Digital Camcorders

April 15, 2007

Digital Camera Trends: Face Recognition

The next generation of digital cameras is coming out, following announcements timed to the PMA (Photo Marketing Association) conference held last month in Las Vegas.

The good news for consumers is the end of the artificial megapixel wars. Instead, the new trends are really helpful developments in the image processing chips that assist with shooting better photos -- including stabilizing camera shake and enhancing focus and exposure with amazing technology like face recognition.


Megapixels are no longer a big issue -- most cameras have more than enough resolution for Web photos and even normal-size prints, and 4 to 5 MPs should be enough for even full-page prints. And note that "high-definition" video at 1920 x 1080 resolution is only 1.7 MP, so these cameras also can shoot up to HD video clips -- some even can capture video and photos simultaneously.

We're also seeing a movement away from tiny pocketable cameras to devices with better lenses, readable displays, and manageable controls -- after all, these days we're already carrying a camera in our mobile phone -- now often with multiple megapixels.

Instead, consumer cameras are getting more powerful, easier to use, and adding some really interesting features that can help you take better pictures. As you look at the new models, you'll see trends like larger LCD displays -- some touch screen, and some with auto-brightness adjustment for better visibility in difficult lighting. And you'll notice clever approaches to folding better lenses into handheld devices, some with up to 10X zoom, -- including Kodak's Dual Lens cameras with switchable lenses and the Canon PowerShot TX1 with the lens mounted out the side like a video camera.

But there's even more interesting improvements inside the cameras, in the image processing chips that are now being promoted with brand names. Optical image stabilization (not digital) adjusts the lens to compensate for unwanted camera motion, not only reducing blurred photos, but also allowing shooting with longer zoom and lower light levels.

Exposure improvements include features to boost ISO levels with more aggressive noise reduction, variable flash levels to add some fill light without washing out the scene, and multi-shot modes to bracket the scene with higher and lower exposure levels or by shooting with and without flash. Some cameras also have motion detection features to boost ISO and shutter speed if the subject is in motion, or to wait for movement to stop before shooting in self timer mode.

Perhaps the most amazing new technology appearing in digital cameras is face recognition. The typical problem when shooting a group portrait is to have the camera focus on the background behind the group, and under-expose the scene because of a bright background. New cameras with face recognition actually look for multiple faces in a scene, and then set focus and exposure to optimize for the people that are the purpose of the photo. Some cameras then let you review the photo in the viewfinder by stepping through zoomed-in views of each face -- up to as many as 10 faces in each shot.

The next big feature coming to digital cameras is GPS to associate location with your photos, so that you can organize and search your collection geographically in tools like Adobe Photoshop Elements.

For more on trends and sample digital cameras, see the Digital Photo Cameras Gallery.

April 30, 2007

Canon XH A1 / HDV Pro Camcorders

The HDV format (MPEG-2 HD video on DV tapes) has brought HD video to a much broader market -- with HDV camcorders for consumers down to around $1000. And for high-end video enthusiasts and event videographers who want a more professional unit, there's now a broad range of affordable choices in the $4000 to $10,000 range.

Here we'll focus in the Canon XH A1 HDV camcorder, which has a nice design that shows the broad range of features that are available in this price range. It's easily carried and yet packed with pro features, with 3 CCD sensors, 1080i resolution, and a 20X lens, and all for under $3999.

The XH A1 also has a twin, the XH G1, which adds Professional Jackpack that provides time code and HD-SDI output for $6949.

Canon also offers its Console Image Control and Storage software that provides remote control of camcorder functions and customization of its settings from a Windows computer through a FireWire cable.

And we'll take a quick look at Focus FireStore FS-C Portable Recorder that can record video direct to hard disk drive for fast access for editing without shuffling through tape.

See full article: Affordable HDV Pro Camcorders: Canon XH A1

June 1, 2007

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T100 Digital Camera

After seeing the latest generation of digital cameras with cool features like image stabilization and face detection, I finally pulled the trigger and bought myself a new camera, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T100, generally available under $399.



You may have other criteria, but I was looking for a slim and light take-it-almost-anywhere camera with automatic point-and-shoot modes, plus these new features to try to avoid screwing up quick photos, plus some ability to override and customize in difficult shooting situations.

And I was willing to make some other tradeoffs -- the reduced size and weight rule out having an optical viewfinder, so a larger LCD display becomes important, especially for older eyes. And as the design runs out of room for dedicated controls and buttons, I'm willing to rely more on changing settings using the menus on that larger display.

The T100 hits my sweet spot -- 8 megapixels of resolution, 5X optical zoom lens, and a nice big 3-inch diagonal LCD, squeezed into a rectangular body that's only 3.6 x 2.3 x 0.9 inches and 6.1 ounces (loaded with battery).

This is a nice clean pocketable design -- The front cover slides down to expose the lens, which does not protrude from the camera -- it's all done with optics and mirrors folded into the body. The result is a wonderfully portable device that is quite unobtrusive to use, especially in the available black finish (as compared to the other options of silver and red).

It also has some nice features like exposure bracketing (take three quick pictures with +/- exposure), extra close-up Macro mode (closer than 3 1/2 inches), VGA-res movies with optical zoom available, and a variety of modes to help when photographic people, and in difficult low-light situations.

See full article for more on interesting features, quirks of the interface, and list of settings: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T100 Digital Camera

    Check out the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T100 digital camera on Amazon.com.

June 5, 2007

RCA Small Wonder EZ-201 Digital Video Camcorder

Here's the perfect wedding present of consumer electronics fun -- the new RCA Small Wonder model EZ-201 digital video camcorder. It's small and fun and easy and inexpensive -- and white! What more could you ask for as the perfect gift for wedding crashers to have on hand?

It's light (around 5 1/4 ounces), small (about the same size as a deck of cards at around 2 1/2 x 4 1/2 x under 1 inch), and easy to buy at around $129.



This new EZ-201 model is not a huge update to the previous EZ-105 version -- it has a nicer design, and adds a flip-out LCD panel and a SD memory slot for expandable storage.

But the Small Wonder was never about features -- its magic comes from its dead-simple operation, which makes using it so fun.

Check the packaging -- there's nothing on the box about confusing camera resolutions and megapixels, no sign of tech-talk specs on megabytes of storage or video and audio compression formats and bit rates, much less long checklists listing competitive features.

Instead it's all about the simplicity:

- Record 30 to 60 minutes of video, direct to the built-in memory (512 MB, but who's counting?). Nothing more is required, though you can add a SD/MMC card for more storage (up to 2 GB).

- Save by transferring files to your computer. No cables required -- the Small Wonder has a built-in USB connector that slides out the top from behind a hinged flap.

- Share your videos immediately by hooking up the Small Wonder to display on a TV with the AV output jack. Or use the built-in RCA Memory Manger software (which auto-runs on Windows machines) to edit and convert your clips, and also upload them to the Box.net online storage service.

So the video literate may complain at first glance about the tiny 1.5 inch display, relatively low-quality video, and lack of true optical zoom -- but the Small Wonder is not about video quality or expertise, it's about making it easy and fun to shoot video. No-sweat video makes great sense if you're a novice, and even for experienced video fans who just want to grab some quick clips.

See the older article on the RCA Small Wonder Digital Camcorders

See the Consumer Digital Video Camcorders Gallery

    Look up the RCA EZ201 Small Wonder digital video camcorder on Amazon.com.



Continue reading "RCA Small Wonder EZ-201 Digital Video Camcorder" »


June 7, 2007

Reaching for the Shot: Quik Pod from Fromm Works

If you've ever found yourself stretching too far for a great shot over a crowd, or getting dirty trying to shoot a hard-to-reach area, then the Quik Pod from Fromm Works can offer you relief, and for under $30.

The Quik Pod is light but sturdy telescoping rod that extends out to 18 inches, and then contracts to 7 1/2 inches for storage. Just attach your camera to the standard tripod socket (up to 16 ounces of weight), adjust the angle as desired (up to 90 degrees), and position the camera for the photo. You can shoot photos by setting the self-timer on your camera, or use the Quik Pod to shoot motion video with a wider range of views.

Now you can reach where you need to in order to get the shot -- up, down, around, over, and under. And you can avoid asking strangers to take your picture by pointing the camera back towards you for a self-portrait (there's even a tiny mirror to help position yourself in the frame).



The Quik Pod weighs around 3 1/2 ounces, and comes with a removable belt clip, hiking clip, and wrist strap -- plus a carry bag, for $24.95.

Or step up to the Quik Pod Pro for $29.95, which adds an adjustable tripod adapter that can be screwed into the base of the Quik Pod to turn it into a freestanding pole -- also useful for holding a flash or light source.

Fromm Works states that the Quik Pod is manufactured using high quality polycarbonate and aluminum components for strength and portability, and therefore can be used in all weather conditions, even for underwater photography in salt water.

A suction cup base accessory and magnetic base for metallic surfaces also are listed to be available soon for $20 each.



    Look up the Quik Pod extendable handheld tripod on Amazon.com.

September 12, 2007

Solid-State Camcorders -- Panasonic HDC-SD1

Continuing on the AVCHD theme (see related posts) ...

Memory cards are the future for camcorders. Yes, this is obvious in a theoretical way, but after finishing the summer on a vacation trip with the Panasonic HDC-SD1 AVCHD camcorder that records high-def video to SD memory cards, I'm really convinced in a much more visceral way.


Just look at these devices (like this Panasonic HDC-SD5), now available from companies including JVC, Panasonic, Samsung, and Sony. They're basically the size of a soda can -- a big lens, with a flip-out display on the side and some electronics and slots on the back for the battery and memory card. They're just so easy to carry and easy to use.


Using memory cards allows these cams to be smaller and more rugged, with no mechanical parts for tape transport or disk drives. All the delays of tape are gone, of course -- rewinding and searching for clips is replaced with thumbnails of each clip and instant playback and recording. And memory cards provide removable storage, unlike hard disk camcorders which require off-loading to a computer when the disk fills up.

But how can today's 4 or 8 GB SD cards compare to a camcorder with much larger 30 or 60 GB hard disk, which can record 5 to 7 hours of standard-def video or 5 hours of full HD video?

Actually, SD cards work just fine -- you now can fit an hour or more of video on an affordable SD card, so you can carry multiple hours of removable storage in the space previously used by one DV tape cassette. You can get a 4 GB SDHC card for around $50, and 8 GB SDHC cards are available from companies like Kingston and SanDisk for under $100.


So I traveled with the Panasonic HDC-SD1 high-def camcorder, which records AVCHD video at 1440x1080 resolution, along with Dolby Digital AC3 5.1 channel audio (yes, there are 5 mics on the top of the unit). I also had a brief hands-on with the newer HDC-SD5, which bumps the video resolution to full HD, 1920x1080, but with stereo audio. Both are available for under $1000.

More on using the solid-state camcorder ...



Continue reading "Solid-State Camcorders -- Panasonic HDC-SD1" »


October 21, 2007

Joby Gorillapod Super-Flexible Camera Tripods

Want better, clearer photos without handheld shake -- but don't want to lug around a clumsy tripod? Even a mini-pod won't work well in the field, with rough ground and irregular environments.

Instead, try the Joby Gorillapod, with flexible bendable legs. It's easy and fun to pose, with legs that bend and rotate 360 degrees, and stays steady with rubberized ring and foot grips. You can set it up standing on rough surfaces, or wrap and hang it to take advantage of vertical objects like trees or doors.


The Gorillapod available in three sizes:

- The Gorillapod Original is for compact digital cameras up to 9.7 ounces ($24.95) -- now available in 6 bright colors. It travels easily in your bag at under 10 inches long and 1.6 ounces. Just screw your camera into the mount, or use the slim-line camera attachment to snap in to the quick-release lock ring.

- The Gorillapod SLR is for lightweight SLR cameras and camcorders up to 1.75 pounds ($44.95).

- The Gorillapod SLR-ZOOM is for heavier pro cameras up to 6.5 pounds ($54.95). It includes a universal 1/4-inch tripod screw plus a 3/8-inch adapter screw.

See more on tripods in my Digital Cameras Gallery under Accessories.

    Find the Joby Gorillapod on Amazon.com
    Find the Joby Gorillapod SLR on Amazon.com

October 22, 2007

Trek-Tech TrekPod Adjustable Hiking Staff / Tripod

I've found monopods tremendously useful for informal shoots -- They're much easier to collapse and carry than a full tripod, and I can just sit in the audience at an event and shoot quietly with my camcorder on a stick. It's even possible to pan and zoom a bit without being too obtrusive. However, holding the stick steady can get tiring though a long concert, and it's surprisingly difficult to ensure that you're not drifting off vertical with a small tilt.


If this approach appeals to you, check out the best of both worlds -- the Trek-Tech TrekPod -- a line of monopods that you also can use as a walking stick, and then open with a set of tripod legs. Plus they include an innovative MagMount quick-release magnetic mount-demount system.

The base TrekPod design includes an adjustable hiking staff with cushioned palm grip and adjustable height. The bottom section is actually three tripod legs held together with a Velcro strap -- zip off the strap and they open to a diameter of 22 inches.



The MagMount attachment system uses a powerful rare earth neodymium magnet -- just screw the one plate into your camera to quickly mount and unmount from the TrekPod head. The MagMount is rated to hold up to 9 pounds -- It's strong enough that you can't remove a bare mount with your hands; you need to screw in a camera to get enough leverage. You also can unscrew the MagMount head to expose a standard 1/4"-20 mounting stud, if desired. (In case you're worried, Trek-Tech reports the magnetic field will not damage cameras and media.)

The original Trek-Tech TrekPod extends from 47 to 62.5 inches as a monopod, or 43 to 57.5 inches as a tripod ($139.99).

The new Trek-Tech TrekPod Go! enhances the product with a collapsible design that fits in an overhead carry-on, packing into the case at 23 x 4 x 2.5 inches and 28 ounces ($199.99). The height range extends some 4 inches lower. The mounting mechanism also is upgraded to the MagMount AR/i - adding Anti-Rotation stops with 30 degree Indexing.

Trek-Tech also offers the T'Pod mini tripod ($79.99) and accessories including the VersaMount clamping arm ($19.99) and WindowMount Plus pan and tilt MagConnect window mount system ($59.99).

See more on tripods in my Digital Cameras Gallery under Accessories.

    Find the Trek Tech TrekPod on Amazon.com
    Find the Trek Tech TrekPod Go! on Amazon.com

November 1, 2007

Adobe Photoshop Elements 6

Adobe Photoshop Elements 6 was released in September 2007, with new emphasis on a cleaner interface for quick and fun editing, including a shared Organizer with Premiere Elements 4, new Guided Editing assistance, new and enhanced tools for quick editing, Photomerge for the best elements of group shots, and a new Sharing Center for physical and electronic sharing of your projects.



Use the Organizer window to find, organize, view, and share photos -- and make quick fixes.

For more sophisticated results, launch the Editor window to refine photos with guided or advanced editing.

Then use the Create workspace to design physical and electronic projects, from slideshows to disc to photo books to online galleries.

And use the Sharing Center to order prints though online services, or share though e-mail and the Web.

The pricing is unchanged: Photoshop Elements 6 is $99 list ($79 street); or $149 list ($135 street) bundled with Premiere Elements 4. Photoshop Elements for the Macintosh is expected early 2008.

See my full article for a summary of new features and enhancements, plus a visual tour of the Photoshop Elements 6 interface and features.

    Find Adobe Photoshop Elements 6 on Amazon.com

December 20, 2007

Pure Digital Flip - Fun & Simple Camcorders

I've been a big fan of the RCA Small Wonder line of digital camcorders (see earlier post) -- they're simple, and fun, and compact, and dead easy to use, especially for shooting quick Web videos to upload and share.

And now there's more options along this line from the company from which RCA licenses the design -- with the Pure Digital Flip Video camcorders.

Everything is included: they run on two ordinary AA batteries; operate with simple controls to record, review, and delete clips; connect to a PC with a built-in pop-out USB connector; and even include onboard software (for Windows and Mac) to edit and share your clips.


And they shoot presentable VGA-res video (640 × 480), at full rate (30 fps), using MPEG-4 compression, and saved as an AVI file. You then can use the built-in software, or other recent consumer software, to play, edit, convert, and share these clips.

The Flip Video, released in May 2007, goes even simpler and smaller than the latest RCA Small Wonder design, by eliminating the flip-out viewfinder and memory card expansion slot.

It's available in a 30-minute model for $119.99 (512 MB), and 60-minute for $149.99 (1 GB), in white and black.



And the newer Flip Video Ultra from September 2007 adds a no-glare viewfinder and beefs up the video quality (from 2.8 to 4.5 Mbps).


It's available in a 30-minute model for $149.99 (1 GB), in white and black, and 60-minute for $179.99 (2 GB), in white, black, orange, and pink.

The Flip Video Ultra also adds an enhanced video processing engine to improve the color fidelity, exposure control, and dynamic range, plus a built-in tripod mount. And it improves the battery life from 2 to 2.5 hours (Alkaline), and 5 to 6.5 hours (Energizer e2).

See my Digital Video Camcorders Gallery for details and related products

    Find the Pure Digital Flip Video Ultra on Amazon.com

December 22, 2007

Eye-Fi - Wi-Fi SD Card for Digital Cameras

Tired of all that manual messing around whenever you want to get photos from your digital camera -- Bring the camera back to the computer, dig out the necessary cables and docking connectors, fire up the photo software to upload the files, and then shutdown and disconnect the camera.

The Eye-Fi Wi-Fi-enabled SD card ends all that fuss. It's a standard SD memory card with built-in Wi-Fi wireless networking, so it can upload your photos whenever you are in range of your home wireless network.


The Eye-Fi SD card works with many models of digital cameras, with 2 GB of storage for your photos. It was released in October 2007, and is priced at $99.

To use the card, you first set up the wireless interface by connecting the included USB reader on a PC or Mac and running the Eye-Fi Manager software. You then configure your home wireless connection, and specify the location where you want the files transferred -- to your local machine (running the Eye-Fi software), or to a photo sharing website (via the Eye-Fi Web service).

I was hoping to take advantage of the card to do some more tricky things like transferring non-photo files or adding Wi-Fi capabilities to a Palm Treo PDA, but the Eye-Fi card is relentlessly focused on working simply and well with digital cameras.

Even so, from my experience it's still useful to understand some of the additional details about how it works that are not explained in the documentation. And, since it works silently and without any feedback, there are some useful ways to test it out and monitor its actions before walking off with a camera.

See full article -- Eye-Fi - Wi-Fi SD Card for Digital Cameras

See my Portable Storage Gallery for details and related products

    Find the Eye-Fi - Wi-Fi SD Card on Amazon.com

Merax One Shot Photo Studio

Shooting photos of small objects is tricky, for example for posting on auction websites -- Unless you have a photo studio available, you're always challenged to get good lighting, fighting shadows and glare, and struggling to position and stabilize the camera.

The Merax One Shot Photo Studio is a nice solution for photographing these kinds of items. It's a portable photo studio / light box for around $99 -- a 16 x 16 inch box of translucent white nylon walls that collapses into a slim carrying case.


The product includes the other pieces you need for a portable photo studio: two small lamps, a camera stand, reversible background cloth, and software for background removal and editing.

The high-output lamps with 6 inch stands can be handheld, or set them on the pop-out 4 inch retractable tripod legs to illuminate though the side walls while reducing shadows and glare.

Then position the camera stand, with a 10 to 17 inch adjustable pole, set on a heavy steel stand.

The product ships with minimal instructions, but it's really obvious and easy to unfold the walls and assemble the box -- the edges stick together with Velcro fasteners. The non-reflective background cloth hangs down for the back and floor (so there are no hard corners in the photo), and is reversible (white or blue).

The Merax Photo Studio product also includes ArcSoft PhotoStudio software for photo editing, with the Cut-It-Out plug-in for background removal -- just brush roughly over the foreground and background areas.

When you are done, just fold up the walls into the integrated protective case, around 17 x 17 inches. The front of the case even includes three pockets to store the lamps and camera stands. Then pick up the handle and move on to your next shot.

See my Digital Photo Cameras Gallery for details and related products

December 24, 2007

Merax Mini USB Strap

Another fun photo accessory is the Merax Mini USB Strap -- it's a wrist strap with integrated Mini-USB cable, for around $10.


The strap is the thin plastic USB cable, which loops to a length of around 5 1/2 inches (a tad small for a big hand). The strap loops through a small plastic box that protects the connectors.

Then to use the cable, slide off the plastic end, and pop out the two connectors -- USB to mini-USB (it takes a little dexterity to wiggle them out). Then extend the cable to about 12 inches.

That's it -- Now you can carry a USB cable along with your camera (or other portable device), disguised as the wrist strap.

See my Digital Photo Cameras Gallery for details and related products

March 25, 2008

Adobe Photoshop Elements 6 for Mac

Adobe Photoshop Elements 6 is now available for the Macintosh. The clean, uncluttered interface offers three edit modes for beginner to expert photographers -- Guided, Quick, and Full edit -- with step-by-step assistance in the new Guided Edit mode.


Other new features include a new Quick Selection tool that snaps to edges, and an amazing Photomerge technology that combines elements from multiple shots to create a perfect group shot by choosing the best facial expressions and body language from the shots.

Elements also adds new options for sharing your photos. You can design layouts for photo books, scrapbook pages, greeting cards and CD/DVDs. Or create a personal online album, order prints or hardbound photo books, and printing photos into U.S. postage stamps.

Photoshop Elements 6 runs on Leopard (Mac OS X 10.5.2), and previous versions of Mac OS X starting with 10.4.8. The software is a Universal Binary application that will run natively on PowerPC and new Intel-based Macintosh systems.

It's available for an estimated street price of $89.99, or $69.99 to upgrade from previous versions.

See my full article: Editing in Adobe Premiere Elements 4 and Photoshop Elements 6

See also Summary - Photoshop Elements 6

    Find Adobe Photoshop Elements 6 for Mac on Amazon.com

March 30, 2008

Adobe Photoshop Express Beta

Adobe has released a beta of Photoshop Express (www.photoshop.com/express), its free Web-based photo editing and sharing application that brings Photoshop tools to the browser. You can upload your images to store online, edit them in the browser, and then share them online (Adobe product info).

Express provides a gentle introduction to the Photoshop line for potential future customers, to then step up to the Photoshop Elements 6 desktop application for Windows and Mac (see previous post). And it serves as a demonstration of Adobe's Flex open source framework for building highly interactive Rich Internet Applications (RIA) based on Flash Player 9.

However, this is a beta version. It only supports images in JPEG format, and no larger than 10 MB and 4000 pixels in height and width. While free, Adobe offers only 2 GB of online storage, probably smaller than the card in your digital camera. It's currently available to US residents, only in English.

And as noted in the CNET review, make sure you understand the Terms of use (as you should with any site where you upload your personal work) -- In particular, you grant Adobe unlimited worldwide rights to use your content in any way it sees fit, including licensing and selling your work.
(Adobe has updated these terms of use -- see following entry.)

See my full article on the Photoshop Elements applications: Editing in Adobe Premiere Elements 4 and Photoshop Elements 6

See also Summary - Photoshop Elements 6

More on Using Photoshop Express ...



Continue reading "Adobe Photoshop Express Beta" »


April 16, 2008

Quik Pod DSLR Handheld Convertible Monopod

The Fromm Works Quik Pod is a clever little extension rod for getting your camera up, under, or over to shoot away from your body -- or to turn the camera around to shoot you and a friend on location. It telescopes 7 1/2 to 18 inches, weighs 3 1/2 ounces, holds small cameras up to 16 ounces, and costs $24.99 (see previous post).

Now there's the Quik Pod DSLR -- the same idea, but bigger and better.

The Quik Pod DSLR extends from 18 to 53 inches and weighs 9 ounces, which makes it usable both as a longer extension pole, and to sit on the ground as a monopod. And the larger size means it can carry more weight -- up to 2 pounds as a pole and 6 pounds as a monopod -- which opens up additional uses such as holding digital SLR cameras, camcorders and portable lights. All for $49.99.

The design includes three locking claps for the telescoping sections, and two screw-on end caps for the handle: rubberized monopod or machined aluminum. The product also includes a gel pad for bracing the handle against your body, wrist strap, hiking clip, and carry bag. The other end has an adjustable camera mount with a quick release platform. Platforms are available with friction locking (continuous) and gear locking (stepped).

Plus there are other Quik Pod accessories available, including a suction base, magnetic base, and standing adapter legs.

It's the quick way to reach out and shoot some great photos.

See my Consumer Digital Cameras Gallery for information on photo accessories.

    Find the Quik Pod DSLR on Amazon.com

April 22, 2008

Digital Foci Keychain Pocket Album

Even in the age of Web video, we still love sharing photos. And digital photo viewers make great gifts, with customized photo shows. But aren't such dedicated devices obsolete in this age of convergence, when you can carry your favorite photos on your mobile phone or media player, and access them dynamically from the Web?

I like having our favorite shots always at hand on my Palm Treo -- they're great for explaining art projects or our brick in Vegas. But I'm not so happy to hand around my personal phone for others to look at, and I'm certainly not going to give it away as a gift.

So digital photo viewers do make sense, with both larger screens to display in your house (see previous post), and with smaller screens for sharing and for gifts.


For example, the Digital Foci 1.5" Keychain Pocket Album is a tiny viewer (2.2" x 1.6" x 0.5", 1.2 oz.), with a 1.5” color LCD screen, 128 x 128 pixels.

It displays up to 74 photos from the 8 MB internal memory, and is available in black, silver, and blue for $29.


You can scroll photos manually or run a slideshow with adjustable time interval. It has a simple menu to set the slideshow duration, display contrast, and clock overlay.

The battery lasts to 9 hours, and recharges using USB power (connected to your computer, or using the included AC-to-USB adapter).

Digital Foci includes Photo Viewer Software for PC or Mac to convert and download photos (the Pocket Album is not directly accessible as a USB virtual disk).

See my Consumer Digital Cameras Gallery for more on photo accessories.

    Find the Digital Foci Keychain Pocket Album on Amazon.com

April 21, 2008

Parrot 7" Photo Viewer

Digital photo viewers were tremendously popular gifts last Christmas season, as consumers were met with a flood of products from a huge variety of companies, some new to this kind of product. Unfortunately, some of these products were rushed to the market without much attention to niceties such as the menu interface, user controls, or the display quality.

Then there are companies like Parrot, which has been focusing on wireless Bluetooth interfaces for applications including hands-free car kits, wireless speakers (see previous posts on Parrot), and digital photo frames.

In fact, the first Parrot Photo Viewers were Bluetooth-only -- designed for receiving photos from mobile phones, or Bluetooth-enabled digital cameras and PCs. This actually made them more difficult to use for more basic users, and even people with experience with digital cameras, since you couldn't load photos via a memory card, or over a USB connection.

Continuing this wireless theme, Parrot developed the Parrot DF7700 MMS Digital Photo Frame for Europe, supporting a SIM card with a dedicated phone number built directly into the photo frame. You then can load photos remotely via MMS from a mobile phone, updating the slide show on the frame sitting in your family's house to show the latest great shots from your trip.

A version of that design is now available in the U.S. as the Parrot DF7220 7" Photo Viewer. There's no MMS, but it adds connectivity options for transferring photos -- Bluetooth (wireless from a camera phone or PC), mini-USB (synched from a PC) and a SD / MMC memory card slot (direct from a camera) -- all for around $126 (street price).


This is a nice design -- straightforward controls, clear menus, and swappable clip-on plastic outer frame. It automatically adapts the picture size to the screen and automatically rotates the picture when used horizontally or vertically (landscape/portrait). And you can set the on/off time, or have it power off when dark. The photo viewer plugs into wall power with a thin, white 7-foot power cord.

The 10 MB internal memory holds some 300 photos, in JPEG and GIF formats.

However, the color display is relatively low resolution for the 7" screen -- 410 x 234 pixels (vs. 320 x 240 for the iPod nano and classic, for example) -- so it's best for viewing across the room, and not up close like a hand-held media player.

So load it up with your favorite photos and set it up on a table or a mantel -- or make a present of your memories.

See my Consumer Digital Cameras Gallery for more on photo accessories.

    Find the Parrot 7" Photo Viewer on Amazon.com

June 5, 2008

Flip Video Mino -- Slimmer Simple Camcorder

Pure Digital has released a new version of its Flip Video line of portable and fun camcorders -- the Flip Video Mino (see previous posts on the Flip Ultra, and the related RCA Small Wonder line).

The Flip line is all about quick, fun, and easy shooting -- the cameras power on in under 4 seconds, and then just press the big red button to start recording. There are simple controls for play/pause, rewind/forward, volume/zoom ... and that's it.

No issues about camera setup or video formats or other details -- just plain and simple. There's even a pop-up USB connector so you don't need any external cables.


The cameras shoot 640 x 480 MPEG-4 video -- plenty good enough for quick posting to the web, and often quite reasonable for TV-res playback.

The new Flip Video Mino is designed to be even easier to carry than the Ultra by shrinking to half the thickness (now 3.94 x 1.97 x 0.6 inches), and from 4.9 to 3.3 ounces -- much less bulky in the pocket. The slimming is enabled by doing away with removable batteries, and using internal rechargeable batteries, replenished though the USB connector, which now pops out to the top of the unit.

Other enhancements include the smoother design with backlit touch-sensitive buttons, and an enhanced video engine, so you now can pause, fast forward, and rewind during playback.

The camcorder also includes built-in software for Windows and Mac to organize, edit, and share your videos, now including uploading directly to MySpace for the social networking generation.

The Flip Video Mino is available in white and black for $179, with 2 GB of internal memory, to store approximately 60 minutes of video (There's no slot for additional storage cards).

These simple camcorders make great wedding gifts for easy and fun shooting on the honeymoon. And they work well for desperate adults who don't know what kind of gift to get younger relatives.

See my Digital Camcorders Gallery for more on digital camcoders, from webcams to HD.

    Find the Flip Video Mino on Amazon.com

July 3, 2008

MyLife-MyArt Photo Paintings

Digital photography means instant access to all your photos -- on your PC and the Web, and carried along on your mobile phone or PDA and/or media player. But sometimes it's nice to have special photos in a tangible, physical form, so you can order prints and posters, coffee mugs and mouse pads, flip books and coffee-table albums.

Or to display your photos big and beautiful, MyLife-MyArt photo paintings print your images on canvas as digital paintings.

You can choose framed prints, or "Gallery-Wrap" -- with the canvas stretched around the sides of a 2" thick frame, and the edges of the image extended along the four sizes.

Prints available in sizes from 12" square to 40 x 60" (2 x 3 ratio) and 36 x 48" (3 x 4 ratio), or you can order custom sizes.


Prices start at $69 for 12" print in Gallery-Wrap, or around $100 with frame, and up to
$479 for 40 x 60" print, or $575 to $625 for simple black to elegant/gold/maple frames. Standard turnaround time is two weeks.

MyLife-MyArt will do minor retouching at no additional cost -- red eye removal, reducing blemishes, balancing colors, converting to sepia. You also can order more complex alterations including restoring old photos, major retouching, deleting or adding people, changing backgrounds, and creating a collage, for $35 to $75.

I saw some sample photo paintings at a recent show, and MyLife-MyArt kindly made a test print for us. Seeing your photos on canvas is definitely a unique look -- just don't expect the results to magically look painterly. The canvas surface is matte (obviously) and not shiny / glossy, so darker photos will have a more subtle and subdued look.

Also pay attention to the recommendations to make sure that your photo still looks good when blown up to a large size to hang on your wall.

See my Digital Photo Gallery for more on digital cameras and photo accessories.

July 8, 2008

Summer Gifts -- RCA Small Wonder EZ205 Camcorder

It's the season for graduations and weddings, and I'm ready again with the perfect gift, especially for travel -- a fun little camcorder that's so easy to carry and simple to use. Last year, the RCA Small Wonder and Pure Digital Flip Video camcorders were a big hit for young grads and couples.

And this year the amazingly thin Flip Video Mino takes portability to a new level -- a palm-size device that shoots 640 x 480 MPEG-4 video, and even looks great when burned to a DVD. But sliming it down required using a non-removable battery and omitting expansion memory.

While Flip has focused on clean simple products, RCA Audio/Video (now owned by Audiovox) has taken the same design and developed some new models that offer a few more useful options, especially for travelers, young and old, who want to shoot for extended periods.


The RCA Small Wonder EZ200 "MyLife" and EZ205 "Pocket" include a handy flip-out LCD display, and use removable AA batteries and swappable microSD memory cards so you can keep shooting all day long. The EZ210 "Traveler" adds a bigger screen and more rugged design.

The RCA Small Wonder EZ205 seems to hit the sweet spot for travelers. Available for under $99, it comes with a 1 GB microSD memory card, to shoot up to 30 minutes of High quality video, or 2 hours of lower-res Web quality.

Add more memory cards to keep on shooting -- 8 GB gives up to 4 hours at High quality, or 16 hours of Web quality video on a single fingernail-sized card (around $50 to $100 -- definitely shop for deals).


Previous Posts
- Flip Video Mino -- Slimmer Simple Camcorder (6/08)
- Pure Digital Flip / Ultra - Fun & Simple Camcorders (12/07)
- RCA Small Wonder EZ-201 Digital Video Camcorder (6/07)
- RCA Small Wonder Camcorders - EZ-105 (4/07)

See my Digital Camcorders Gallery for more on digital camcoders, from tiny webcams to full HD camcorders.

    Find the RCA Small Wonder EZ205
    and Flip Video Mino on Amazon.com

September 20, 2008

Polaroid PoGo Instant Mobile Photo Printer

Mobile phones mean instant communication. And camera phones offer instant sharing of photos with multimedia messaging to other phones, to the Web, and to PCs.

And now the Polaroid PoGo portable printer offers instant (OK, one-minute) photo printing, wirelessly from cell phones (through Bluetooth) or directly from digital cameras (over USB) -- for around $149.


The PoGo (Polaroid-on-the-Go) is definitely portable --palm sized (0.93 x 2.83 x 4.72 inches), and weighing 8 pounds. It's powered by a rechargeable (and replaceable) lithium-ion battery, providing 15 prints per charge.

Not surprisingly, the PoGo prints small prints -- 2 x 3 inches, like a business card. The magic here is the ZINK (Zero-Ink) printing technology. There's no ink cartridges or ribbons; instead the paper uses heat-activated dye crystals that create prints that are durable, smudge-proof, water-resistant, and fade-resistant.

It holds around 10 photo sheets at a time. The ZINK Photo Paper is sold in 10-packs for around $4 and 30-packs for $10, or some 33 to 40 cents per print.

(Note the PoGo is not a PC printer -- It does not connect directly to a computer, although you can print to it from a PC over Bluetooth, with the appropriate drivers.)

This is obviously not a high-end printer -- Polaroid describes the prints as equivalent to 300 dpi, matching images around 2 to 3 megapixels. Soft and fuzzy photos from camera phones looked dull, but sharper and higher-res images from a digital camera looked pretty good, although you can clearly see the color blocks under a magnifying glass.

So the PoGo is a fun and easy to use portable printer for quickly sharing photos on the go that would otherwise be locked inside your camera phone or digital camera. The paper actually has a peel-off sticky back, so you even can make instant photo stickers.

See my Digital Cameras Gallery for details on this and related products.

    Find the Polaroid PoGo Photo Printer on Amazon.com

September 21, 2008

Kodak Zi6 HD Pocket Video Camera

I'm a big fan of the emerging category of "pocket video cameras," first popularized by the RCA Small Wonder (see earlier post) and Pure Digital Flip (see earlier post). These are so easy to use -- small enough to take with you almost anywhere, power on and start shooting in seconds -- and record good-looking standard-definition video that you can quickly post as-is to YouTube, or edit and burn to DVD.

The Flip Mino, for example, is only about 4 x 2 x 1/2 inches and 3 1/3 ounces, but records up to 60 minutes of MPEG-4 video, for $179. It's great for shooting unobtrusively to catch informal shots at events, and is a lot easier to carry than a full-up camcorder. Yes, you give up a lot of options, but you're much more likely to have it along, and it's better quality and easier to use than your camera phone.

But now the pocket video category is broadening with the introduction of new cameras that actually shoot high-definition video (720p), including a brand new new RCA Small Wonder, several models from DXG, and the Kodak Zi6.

I'm very impressed with the Kodak Zi6 HD Pocket Video Camera, especially at the $179 price. It has a larger 2.4" display, shoots HD (1280 x 720) and standard-def (640 x 480) video, plus a 60 fps HD mode for fast motion. It also shoots still photos (2048 x 1536), and has a close-up macro mode.
It's a bit bigger and heavier, but still in the range of handheld devices, at 4.5 × 2.5 × 1 inches and 3.8 ounces (plus batteries).


Even with these features, the Zi6 is still easy to use. The controls are simple and clear, with a small joystick for menu navigation and play control. And, like the earlier pocket vidcams, it runs on easily replacable AA batteries and includes a pop-out USB connector to easily transfer files to a computer (and has built-in editing software that runs from the internal memory). It has a SD / SDHC slot for expandable memory (4 GB holds around 1 hour of HD video), plus around 30 MB of internal memory available. Plus it has two video output connectors, standard A/V for playing on a TV, and component for HD displays.

My major complaint is that you can't silence the built-in sound effects (power on/off, record start/stop, photo shutter), which makes it difficult to be unobtrusive when trying to record at performances and other quiet events.
UPDATE: This is fixed as of 3/2009 with a firmware update -- see the Kodak support page.

Also be aware of common issues with all of these small and light handheld cameras. It's difficult to hold them steady, so your footage will be shaky unless you pay attention to bracing yourself as you shoot. And the sound is recorded from the tiny built-in microphone, so make sure you're getting good audio in the environment, and watch out for wind noise on breezy days.

See my Digital Camcorders Gallery for specs and comparisons of pocket video camcorders.

    Find the Kodak Zi6 HD Camera on Amazon.com

October 5, 2008

DXG 567V and 569V Pocket Video Camcorders

DXG Technology develops digital still cameras and video camcorders as an OEM for other brands, and has been expanding its own brand with some interesting new products, especially highly portable High-Def pocket video cameras.

The DXG-569V HD Camcorder is designed as a mini upright camcorder (at 5.4 oz.), complete with a 3" flip-out display (960 x 240). In addition to video, it shoots up to 8 megapixel still photos (3200 x 2400). It's available in black and silver for around $229 to $179.

The 569V is best held with a pistol grip, with the thumb resting on the navigation pad at the back of the lens barrel, with the record and function button on the back spine below. It runs on 3 AAA batteries.


Both of these DXG camcorders shoot video in three formats: HD (1280 x 720), standard def D1 (720 x 480), and Web-res CIF (~352 x 240), record on removable SD cards, have a Macro mode for close-up shots, and have video connectors for displaying your clips on either a standard and HD display.

The DXG-567V HD Camcorder is a vertical design like the Kodak Zi6 (see previous post), in the same size (~3.2 oz.), but with a different collection of features. It's available for around $170 in black, red, pink, and sky blue.

The 567V has a smallish 1.7" display, runs on 2 AA batteries, and has a pop-out USB connector to upload to a PC (with built-in software).


Both camcorders also include useful printed manuals, plus additional digital media software on CD. The video files are in QuickTime MOV format, with H.264 video and AAC audio, and so should be playable and editable with a variety of other tools.

While around the same price point, the Kodak Zi6 impressed me more, with a significantly bigger display (2.4" vs. 1.7"), and better video quality especially for indoor scenes (1/2 as compressed -- 9 vs 4 Mbps). The DXG camcorders do offer the option to shoot in lower Web resolution (for longer record times on a card), and support both NTSC and PAL formats (for compatibility with European TV).

DXG has introduced some interesting options for getting HD video in your pocket, with a variety of designs (and colors) for different types of users. Unfortunately, I did run into some glitches with the demo units of both products -- the DXG-567V seemed to hang a couple times (I had to remove the batteries to reset), and the DXG-569V had a wind noise effect on the audio track.

See my Digital Camcorders Gallery for specs and comparisons of pocket video camcorders.

    Find the DXG 567V and DXG 569V on Amazon.com

October 14, 2008

The Digital Photography Companion by Derrick Story

Prolific author Derrick Story will be in New York next week for PhotoPlus Expo -- teaching seminars and at the O'Reilly booth.

Check out his recent book, The Digital Photography Companion (O'Reilly, March 2008), which crams both photo basics and creative advice into a nicely packable 200-page book.

It's a handy guide to indeed serve as a companion, friendly and well-illustrated. Use it first to help you get started into the breath of options in digital photography (with alphabetical summaries of features and controls), and then to bring along for advice when moving from basic to more advanced photo situations.


Story starts with the basics of choosing and using a digital camera (DSLR or compact), by discussing common features and camera controls. He then provides advice on using the camera for various shooting situations, from shooting kids and museums to lens filter tricks with sunglasses and, yes, pantyhose.

The reminder of the book then moves to the computer, covering managing and sharing digital images with photo editing tools (but not deep into editing and enhancement techniques), and then printing the final results, including advice on photo printers and services (but not details on specific services).

The Appendix provides handy quick reference guides for camera modes and settings.

The Digital Photography Companion
    by Derrick Story
    O'Reilly Media, March 2008, 214 pages, ISBN 0596517661, $24.99 ($16 street)

See Derrick Story's blog, with photo tips and podcasts, at The Digital Story.

See O'Reilly Media for more information, including digital version in PDF format and access through Safari Books Online.

    Find The Digital Photography Companion on Amazon.com

More on the chapters ...



Continue reading "The Digital Photography Companion by Derrick Story" »


October 16, 2008

Rick Sammon's Face to Face: Photographing People

"Anyone can take pictures, but not everyone can make pictures," writes Rick Sammon, travel and adventure photographer and author of some 27 books.

And in Face to Face: Rick Sammon's Complete Guide to Photographing People (O'Reilly, May 2008), he shows what he means, with pages of stunning photographs of people, along with his informal commentary about where, why, and how he took each shot.


This is not a step-by-step how-to book, or a tips and tricks book. It's more of an inspirational guide to thinking about taking better photos. After all, the largest section of the book is on Photo Philosophies, thinking about composition and poses and creativity to get fun and interesting shots.

Sammon's deeper message is that “Every picture is a self portrait” -- as you frame a subject, "the attitude and the energy that you project will be reflected in your subject’s face--and eyes--you’ll get a higher percentage of pictures that you like... you are subconsciously “directing” the subject to mirror the way you feel." And the result here is powerful shots of happy, comfortable, and confident people.

The second half of the book then does get into more specific advice, with sections on Outdoor Photography (action, groups, controlling lighting) and Indoor Photography (especially working with lighting). And Sammon concludes with a section on Enhancing Your Pictures in Photoshop -- again not detailed advanced techniques, but more fundamental attention to cropping and enhancements to change a snapshot into a portrait.

You can study this book from cover to cover, or just enjoy the fascinating portraits. But then you'll get pulled in to Sammon's informal commentary about the places he's picturing, the subjects he's shooting, and the choices that he made to get the shots that he wanted.

So as you do your own shooting, have fun with it, move in closer to focus more on people, and think about making -- rather than simply taking -- pictures.

Face to Face: Rick Sammon's Complete Guide to Photographing People
    by Rick Sammon
    O'Reilly Media, May 2008, 282 pages, ISBN 059651574X, $34.99 ($23 street)

See O'Reilly Media for more information, including digital version in PDF format and access through Safari Books Online.

    Find Face to Face on Amazon.com

October 20, 2008

Customize Your Flip Mino

I continue to be impressed with the Flip Mino pocket camcorder (see previous post) -- It's small enough to take along everywhere, and yet shoots very good video. I used it this weekend at a wedding -- capturing the first kiss unobtrusively in the church, and then shooting at the reception in a restaurant with rather dim lighting. The Mino did well -- yes, the indoor footage is somewhat grainy, but the contrast range is still very good, from white dresses to dark suits, and the Flip even holds up with sometimes constant flashes from all the photographers.

The Flip concept of pocket camcorders really has broken open the market -- Flip Video reports having sold over 1.5 million camcorders after one year, and currently has the #1 and #3 best-selling camcorders in the U.S., according to the latest rankings from market research firm NPD.

Meanwhile, Flip has introduced a new personalization option to customize your own Mino when you order online -- and the service is free.

You can choose from thousands of designs including retro, tattoos, sports, and nature, or from leading design firms and popular brands.

For your personal style, upload and use your own image, or use the Pattern Generator tool to create a unique design: start with your favorite colors and pattern style, scroll though generated variations, and set the intensity from mild to wild.


The design is applied to the entire front of the camcorder (currently only the white model), and can include transparent areas to mix with the base color. The design is then covered with a protective clear coat.

But there's more -- you can share your design for free, or set up a Flip Designer account on CafePress.com to sell your design, and earn $10 each time it is purchased.

Currently, the custom designs are only available on the Flip Mino. But the satisfaction guarantee allows you to return even a personalized camcorder for any reason within 90 days of purchase.

The Flip Video Mino is available in white and black for $179 (or $152 street), with 2 GB of internal memory, to store approximately 60 minutes of TV-res video.

See my Digital Camcorders Gallery for more on digital camcoders, from webcams to HD.

    Find the Flip Video Mino on Amazon.com

November 2, 2008

Joby Gorillapod Flexible Tripods

The Joby Gorillapod line of flexible tripods is both fun and practical for getting your camera on a firm foundation for a great shot.


Bend the legs as crazily as you need in order to get a solid set-up, whether perched on a rough surface with its rubberized foot graps, or wrapped around a handy pole or tree branch with its fully flexible leg joints.

The Gorillapod line already came in three sizes, for compact digital cameras (under 10 oz., $24), lightweight SLR cameras and camcorders (up to 1.75 lbs., $44), and tripod-mountable cameras (up to 6.5 lbs., $54).

And now there are two more options for even smaller or larger devices.

The Gorillapod Focus (leftmost above) is for even larger professional camera rigs with large zoom lenses, and video cameras (up to 11 lbs., $139).

And the Gorillapod Go-Go is for smaller compact digital cameras, as well as supporting handheld devices including cell phones, PDAs, and music/video players, so you can watch them without having to hold them ($34).


The Go-Go comes with three attachment options: suction cup for flat surfaces on the device (holds up to 7 oz.), stick-on adhesive clips (up to 10.5 oz.), and traditional camera screw clip (up to 11.5 oz.).

See my Digital Cameras Gallery for more on these and other tripods.

    Find Joby Gorillapod Go-Go
    and Joby Gorillapod Focus on Amazon.com

November 5, 2008

Chatham Rainbow

Rainbow on Chatham Lighthouse beach while visiting Cape Cod


November 12, 2008

Flip MinoHD -- Tiny Camcorder, Now In High-Def

I'm a big fan of the Pure Digital Flip line of portable camcorders, and particularly the minimalist Flip Mino (see previous post) -- It's small enough to carry almost anywhere, and shoots good-looking standard-definition video. Most recently I shot some fun video of a high school football game at night, and some even more entertaining close-ups of the bedraggled cat getting a bath -- all of which look quite good, especially for video shot with a tiny 4 x 2 x 1/2-inch camcorder that weighs 3.3 ounces and costs around $179.

But if the Mino was amazing, wait until you see the just-released Flip MinoHD -- It's the same design, the same functionality, but now it shoots HD video (720p), and is priced at $229.

And when I say the same, the MinoHD really is the same size as the original Mino! It's just that the imager is upgraded to HD resolution, and the memory is upgraded from 2 to 4 GB, in order to still store an hour of video.


The MinoHD also comes with new FlipShare software that can be installed directly from the device, after connecting the pop-out USB arm to a Windows or Mac system. Then drag-and-drop to view, organize, edit, and share your clips, including online publishing to YouTube, MySpace, or AOL Video.

And you can use the Flip customization service to design your own personalized case (see previous post).

See my Digital Camcorders Gallery for more on the Flip line and digital camcoders.

    Find the Flip Video Mino and Flip MinoHD on Amazon.com

November 25, 2008

Eye-Fi Wireless SD Card - Now 4 GB

Someday all our devices will be wireless, and our files and media will just be there whenever we want them. Even today we can see the beginnings of connectivity for sharing photos, with camera phones that automatically upload photos to online sites, digital photo frames that automatically update with new images, and portable players like the Microsoft Zune that sync wirelessly to update with new media.

But we still need to cable our digital camera to a computer (or pop a memory card) in order to save our stored photos, and then be able to upload them to share on online sites.

Or -- turn your digital camera into a wireless device with the Eye-Fi Wi-Fi SD Memory card. This is a standard 2 GB SD memory card, plus built-in Wi-Fi networking (see previous post).


These are standard SD memory cards, which should work even in older devices that use the SD format. And now Eye-Fi has introduced the next obvious step, moving to the newer SDHC format to increase the on-board memory and access speed:

- Eye-Fi Anniversary Edition ($129) - Like the Eye-Fi Share for uploading over your home network to a computer or online sites, but now with 4 GB of storage. Available only at Costco.com for $99 to club members, or from Eye-Fi for $129, while supplies last.

The 2 GB Eye-Fi SD cards are available in several versions:

- Eye-Fi Home ($79) - Connects to your home Wi-Fi network and uploads photos to a folder on your computer (running the Eye-Fi software)

- Eye-Fi Share ($99) - Adds uploading to online sites over your home Wi-Fi network. Eye-Fi supports more than 20 photo sharing, printing, blogging and social networking sites including Apple MobileMe, Costco, Facebook, Fickr, Kodak Gallery, Nikon My Picturetown, Picasa, PhotoBucket, RitzPix, Shutterfly, SmugMug, Snapfish, and Wal-Mart.

- Eye-Fi Explore ($129) - Adds access through public Wayport hotspots (for 1 year) plus geotagging (based on nearby Wi-Fi networks)

The Lexar Shoot-n-Sync Wi-Fi Memory Card also is available, combining Lexar memory card technology and Eye-Fi wireless technology. Like the Eye-Fi Share, it's 2 GB, and transfers photos to computer and online sites over home Wi-Fi network.

See article on the original Eye-Fi card -- Eye-Fi - Wi-Fi SD Card for Digital Cameras

See my Digital Cameras Gallery for details

    Find the Eye-Fi Home, Eye-Fi Share, and Eye-Fi Explore
    on Amazon.com

November 28, 2008

Nextar Christmas Ornament Digital Photo Frame

Digital photo frames were a big hit for last year's holiday season. For this season, the Consumer Electronics Association again lists them in the top 10 CE accessories that consumers expect to purchase as gifts.

You can get big photo viewers with fancy frames to show off your high-res photos, and even networked frames to update the stored slide show over the Internet. And with advancing technology and falling prices, photo displays can be built into all kinds of interesting products.


For example, the Nextar Christmas Ornament Digital Photo Frame is small and light enough to hang from a tree (3.3", 8.8 oz.), or can sit on its built-in stand.

It displays slide shows of up to 60 photos on the smallish 1.5” screen, and is available in red and green for around $19.99.



Hook it up to a USB port with the included cable to run the built-in software stored in the internal memory (PC and Mac), which is required to transfer photos. The ornament is powered with two AA batteries (also included).

Nextar's CE products include more digital photo frames, portable media players, portable navigation systems, and Bluetooth devices -- including holiday-themed Snowman and Santa photo viewers for $29.99.

See my Digital Cameras Gallery for more on camera accessories.

    Find Nextar Digital Photo Frames on Amazon.com

December 8, 2008

Eye-Fi Wi-Fi SD Card: Not Just for Digital Cameras

I had fun trying out the Eye-Fi Explore Wi-Fi SD Memory card the past week ($129, see previous post).

While the Eye-Fi card is currently designed to be used with digital cameras to upload photo files (i.e., JPGs), it's tempting to think about how it could evolve to be used more generally. In particular, video camcorders also use SD cards, and also can shoot still photos ... Hmmm ...


So I tried out the Eye-Fi card with the Kodak Zi6 HD Pocket Video Camera, which fits in a shirt pocket and yet shoots both standard-definition and HD video, as well as 3 MP still photos ($179, see previous post).

The card worked great -- transferring photos as I shot them while in range of the wireless signal, and also uploading additional photos that I had shot while out of range.


Just be aware that the Eye-Fi card drains the battery in ways that these cameras and camcorders may not expect. After a couple minutes of use, the Zi6's battery indicator was down to the red line. But the batteries were not drained, and the indicator when back to normal after cycling the power.

See my Digital Cameras Gallery for details on the Eye-Fi cards.

See my Digital Camcorders Gallery for details on pocket video camcorders.

    Find the Kodak Zi6 HD Camera and
    Eye-Fi Explore Wi-Fi SD Card on Amazon.com

January 10, 2009

Eye-Fi To Upload Videos from Digital Cameras

The Eye-Fi Wi-Fi SD Memory card is a standard SD memory card, with some extra magic: built-in Wi-Fi networking ($129, see previous post).
Insert the Wi-Fi card in a digital camera, and when you take pictures at home it can automatically uploads your photos to your computer. And when you're on the go, and come in range of a public Wi-Fi system, it can upload to a photo sharing site like Fickr or Facebook.

This week at CES, Eye-Fi announced support for uploading of videos from digital cameras, direct to YouTube. Since most digital cameras now shoot video clips, this is a natural extension of the Eye-Fi product (as I previously speculated).

However, this is just an announcement, along with a technology preview demo, but with no details on specific products, although something was said about seeing product this year (see comments from Eye-Fi below).

Even so, just this evening, Eye-Fi won the Last Gadget Standing contest at CES (and for the second year in a row). See clips of the demo and from Eye-Fi.

Also, at Macworld last week, Eye-Fi announced an iPhone application that will allow Eye-Fi card owners to send photos taken on an iPhone directly to their computer and the Web. This will be a free application, that apparently connects uses the upload rules that you have set up for your Eye-Fi card to achieve the same easy and automatic upload process on an iPhone.

See my Digital Cameras Gallery for details on the Eye-Fi cards.

    Find the Eye-Fi Explore Wi-Fi SD Card on Amazon.com

More on the new Eye-Fi video upload ...



Continue reading "Eye-Fi To Upload Videos from Digital Cameras" »


January 27, 2009

Panasonic LUMIX DMC-TS1 Rugged Digital Camera

You can battle the elements, and take pictures of them at the same time, with the newly-announced Panasonic LUMIX DMC-TS1 Digital Camera -- a rugged camera that shoots 12.1 megapixel high-res stills and 1280 x 720 high-def video.


With an airtight body, rubber padding, and reinforced glass, the LUMIX TS1 is designed to be waterproof to a depth of 10 feet, shockproof from falls up to 5 feet, and dustproof.

The TS1 shoots still photos in 4:3, 3:2, and widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio at up to 4000 x 3000 (12 MP) resolution, in JPEG format (optionally with audio clips). And it shoots SD and HD video in 4:3 and 16:9, at up to 1280 x 720, 60P, in AVCHD Lite format at 9 to 17 Mbps quality, plus Motion JPEG. The product includes a (mini) HDMI interface for displaying directly on HD displays.

The camera uses a 28mm wide-angle LEICA DC VARIO-ELMAR lens (to 128 mm telephoto in 35mm equivalent), with 4.6X optical zoom.

The TS1 also features the Panasonic iA (Intelligent Auto) processing to automatically set up the camera for the current subject and environment, including Face Detection to adjust focus, exposure, and contrast, and Intelligent Scene Selector to switche between Normal, Portrait, Macro, Scenery, Low Light modes. And the camera features also work when shooting video, including Optical Image Stabilization and Optical Zoom.

Panasonic LUMIX DMC-TS1 is scheduled to be available in April for $399, in silver, plus surprising shades of green and orange (so you can more easily find the camera after you drop it on the ground or it falls in water).

See my Digital Photo Cameras Gallery more on consumer digital cameras.

    Find the Panasonic LUMIX DMC-TS1 on Amazon.com

January 29, 2009

Camcorder Trends: Panasonic 2009 Camcorders with 70X Zoom and 9 MP Res

Once of the most visible trends in this season's new camcorders coming out of the CES conference is the rapid adoption of the smarts from digital photo cameras into video camcorders.

The new photo cameras try to be more fail-safe than ever (see previous post), with automatic scene selection (Normal, Portrait, Macro, Scenery, Low Light), and not only finding faces in the scene to adjust the exposure, but even looking for smiles on the faces, or recognizing faces that have been identified before.

And the video modes in digital cameras are getting better, taking advantage of the photo features and moving to high-def resolution. But video camcorders are moving forward too, with full HD video, longer optical zoom, and also shooting higher-res stills.

Another clear trend for camcorders is the success of the flash memory and hard disk drive (HDD) formats, and the demise of the tape (DV) and disc (mini-DVD) formats. Flash camcorders are rugged and can be amazingly small, and hard-drive camcorders can store some 30 to 60 hours of HD video before needing to worry about off-loading your clips.

For example, the 2009 line of Panasonic camcorders, most due out in April, includes SD models which use flash storage cards (SD/SDHC), HS hybrid hard disk models plus SD card, and TM models with Twin Memory storage -- built-in memory plus SD card.

Panasonic offers two standard-definition models with not 20X, or 50X, but 70X optical zoom -- plus an optical image stabilization system to reduce hand-shake even at these extreme zooms. The SDR-S26 (shown here) is a small flash memory cam (SD card) for $329, in bright colors (another trend). The SDR-H80 and SDR-H90 are HDD models, with 60 and 80 GB, or up to 72 hours of recording (in LP mode), for $449 and $499.

For shooting in high-def, Panasonic has three new introductory high-def camcorders with different format combinations, the compact and lightweight HDC-SD20 with SD card for $599, the Twin Memory HDC-TM20 with SD card plus 16 GB built-in memory for $649, and the hybrid HDC-HS20 (shown here) with SD card plus 80 GB HDD for $999. These include a touch-screen display, an intelligent index system that detects scene changes and shooting adjustments to skip rapidly through recorded video, and 5-microphone surround sound audio.

Then the more advanced, semi-pro HD camcorders add three full-HD MOS sensors, for over 9 megapixels of resolution. The compact HDC-HS250 and the HDC-HS300 with more manual controls have 120 GB HDD for $999 and $1,399, and the Twin Memory HDC-TM300 (shown here) has 32 GB of built-in memory for $1,299.

Yes, you can be shooting HD video for under $600, and full-HD video plus 9 MP stills for under $1000.

See my Digital Video Camcorders Gallery more on Panasonic and other digital camcorders.

    Find the Panasonic LUMIX DMC-TS1 on Amazon.com

February 1, 2009

Sony DSC-G3 Wi-Fi Digital Camera

Someday all our devices will be linked wirelessly, so our growing collections of data and media can be automatically synced with whatever device we happen to be using. Until then, we're stuck with manually cabling devices together and then selecting files to copy and sync between them.

This isolation is particularly irritating when you're on a trip shooting photos, and you'd like to share them with family and friends at home and elsewhere. One interim solution is to use the Eye-Fi Wi-Fi SD card (see previous post) to add wireless connectivity to your camera.

But now Sony has introduced its own Wi-Fi enabled camera, the Sony DSC-G3 Cybershot Wi-Fi digital camera. The G3 connects to photo sharing sites though wireless access points (802.11b/g), public and personal, free and fee-based, secure and unsecured. It includes free AT&T Wi-Fi access though 2012.


The embedded Web browser navigates to the Sony Easy Upload Home Page, with direct upload to Web photo and video sharing sites like Shutterfly, Picasa, YouTube, Dailymotion, and Photobucket. You also can upload to other sites, send e-mail when you upload, and access uploaded photos from sharing sites to display on the camera.

As a camera, the DSC-G3 has a 10 megapixel sensor, 4X optical zoom, and shoots VGA (640 x 480) video.

The 3.5 inch touch screen LCD display is widescreen, to use the camera as a photo album to view your favorite images. The G3 includes 4 GB of internal memory (enough for 1000 full-res photos), and accepts Memory Stick DUO PRO media cards of up to 16 GB. There's even a PhotoMusic slide show option with built-in effects and pre-loaded music tracks (or add your own).

The camera incorporates Sony image processing technology to try to make shooting goof-proof, including Intelligent Scene Recognition of 8 types of scenes (Backlight, Twilight / with Tripod, Portrait, Landscape, Macro), 14 photo scene modes, Dynamic Range Optimizer for best exposure and contrast, Face Detection (up to 8 faces, children vs. adults, with smile detection, and blink warning), plus Double Anti-blur with SteadyShot Optical image stabilization and high ISO sensitivity for low light.

The DSC-G3 available in black for $499.99.

See my Digital Photo Cameras Gallery for more on this and other digital cameras

    Find the Sony DSC-G3 camera on Amazon.com.

February 12, 2009

Instant Photography: Polaroid Pogo and Dell Wasabi Printers

Instant photography is back! The magic of the old Polaroid instant cameras was the satisfaction of having that physical, tangible photo to show around and save. Showing your digital photos on the screen of your mobile phone is just not that same, and you really can't stick your phone on your wall or fridge for decoration.

The magic behind this is ZINK (Zero-Ink) printing technology, photo paper embedded with dye crystals that "print" from heat, with no ink cartridges or ribbons required. So you can print little 2 x 3 inch borderless photos in about a minute. And these prints are ready for fun: they come out dry to the touch, and are smudge-proof, water-resistant, fade-resistant, and virtually tear-proof. Plus, they have a peel-off sticky back for scrapbooks or decorating. These cost around 33 to 40 cents per print, with 10-packs for $4.99, and 30 packs for $9.99.

So last summer Polaroid introduced the Polaroid PoGo Instant Mobile Photo Printer, which prints wirelessly from mobile phones (by Bluetooth), or from digital cameras using a USB cable (using PictBridge technology).

The printer itself is about the size of a digital camera (a bit larger than a deck of cards, at around 4.7 x 2.8 x 0.9 inches), and weighs 8 ounces. It uses a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, and can print 15 prints per charge. The Pogo Printer is available for $149, in black and red.

And Dell has just announced their version of this idea -- the Dell Wasabi PZ310 Wireless Mobile Printer. It adds a button to reprint the last image, and is available in vibrant pink, black and blue.

Dell is running an introductory promotional price of only $99, with the regular price at $149.

So now you can take some shots with your camera phone, review them on the display, and then choose "Print to Bluetooth" (or similar) to transmit the photo to the printer -- and have a print ready to share in about a minute.


Of course, the obvious next step is to get back to the instant camera, which is exactly what Polaroid announced at the CES conference -- the new Polaroid PoGo Instant Digital Camera, a 5 megapixel camera with integrated instant printer. It has a 3" LCD display, SD slot for expanded memory, and is 4.7 x 3 inches and 10 ounces. It's due in March for $199.

You'll still have to add the white instant photo frame around the picture yourself.

See my Digital Photo Cameras Gallery for more on photo printers and other digital camera accessories

Find the Polaroid Pogo Printer and Pogo Camera on Amazon.com.

March 4, 2009

Kodak Zi6 HD Pocket Camcorder Quiets Down

The Kodak Zi6 HD Pocket Video Camera, is a bit chunkier than other pocket video camcorders, but it has a lot to recommend it -- including a larger 2.4" display, and the flexibility to shoot HD (1280 x 720) and standard-def (640 x 480) video, 60 fps HD for fast motion, plus still photos (2048 x 1536), with a close-up macro mode (see previous post).

My major complaint was that you couldn't silence the built-in sound effects, as it beeped every time you started and stopped recording -- so much for being unobtrusive with a small cam.

But the beep is gone with a new firmware update that lets you disable it in the setup menu (see the Kodak support page). However, Kodak is being coy about the upgrade -- it's undated, and described only as "corrects a discrepancy between User's Guide information and actual camera function."

Oh, and the street price of the Kodak Zi6 is down to $149...

See my Digital Camcorders Gallery for specs and comparisons of pocket video camcorders.

    Find the Kodak Zi6 HD Camera on Amazon.com

Eye-Fi SD Card Uploads Videos from Digital Cameras

As promised at CES (see previous post), the Eye-Fi Wi-Fi SD Memory card now can upload video clips as well as photos wirelessly from your digital camera to to your computer, or to a photo sharing site like Fickr or Facebook, or now to video sites like YouTube.

The Eye-Fi is standard SD memory card, but with built-in Wi-Fi networking. It comes in 2 GB versions for photo uploading (just reduced to $49 to $99), and in the two new 4 GB (SDHC) versions for video uploading -- the Eye-Fi Share Video for $79 and the Eye-Fi Explore Video for $99 with geotagging and Wayport Wi-Fi hotspot access for 1 year.

See my article on using the Eye-Fi Wi-Fi SD Card for Digital Cameras.

See my Digital Cameras Gallery for details on the Eye-Fi cards.

Find the Eye-Fi Share Video and Eye-Fi Explore Video on Amazon.com

March 5, 2009

Creative Vado HD Pocket Video Cam

The Pure Digital Flip has helped to popularize the idea of pocket camcorders -- small and light, easy to carry and simple to use -- and now even for shooting high-def video (see previous posts on the Flip, Kodak Zi6, and RCA Small Wonder lines).

In addition, the Creative Vado Pocket Video Cams offer a nice blend of features at aggressive pricing: standard definition is now down from $99 to $79 (and a street price of $59!), and high-def for $229.

Compared to the Flip Mino HD, the Vado HD has some very attractive features:

  • Twice the recording time: 2 hours, vs. 1 hour on the Flip (with twice the internal memory - 8 GB vs. 4 GB)
  • Multiple shooting modes: (HD, more compressed HD, and VGA), vs. only HD on the Flip
  • 1/3 larger display screen: 2" vs 1.5" on the Flip (4 cm vs. 3 cm wide active picture area)
  • Removable battery (although custom)

The Vado HD is just slightly larger and heavier, and both are priced at $229, although the Flip's street price currently is around $209.

Interestingly, the Vado HD has a significantly wider angle lens than the Flip HD (and the Kodak Zi6) -- the picture is almost a 2X zoom back from the view captured by the other cameras, as in this scene from the Princeton Public Library, shot with the two cameras side by side. With the Vado, you get a lot more of the scene in the frame, but as a result you get less detail (fewer pixels) on any specific element of the picture (like if you try to read the titles on the books). Also note that both cameras did well in the difficult evening lighting conditions with bright lights in the scene.


Flip HD


Vado HD

See full article: Creative Vado / HD Pocket Video Camcorders

See my Digital Camcorders Gallery for more on the pocket camcoders.

    Find the Creative Vado HD on Amazon.com

March 16, 2009

David Pogue's Digital Photography: The Missing Manual

David Pogue has done it again, with his modestly named David Pogue's Digital Photography: The Missing Manual, part of the Missing Manual series which up to over 90 titles.

This book is chockablock with good, clear, sensible advice, highlighting the things that you need to know about using any digital camera -- taking advantage of useful camera features, taking good shots, editing and enhancing with iPhoto or Picasa, and then printing and sharing your images.

Pogue is especially good at distilling countless features and options into more focused lists, prioritized by their importance for non-pro photographers.

The best bonus is at the end in Appendix B -- "The Top Ten Tips of All Time" -- with simple and common-sense advice and tricks for getting better shots (see them on the O'Reilly site, though without the example photos).

Part 1, The Camera, serves as a buying guide for new users, and a handy reference for part-time photographers. After reviewing the different kinds of cameras (point 'n shoot to digital SLR to cameraphone), Pogue stakes his opinions with a chapter on "The Only Features That Matter" -- explaining what's really important in choosing and using a digital camera -- starting with a big sensor (not just megapixels), image stabilizer, zoom power, and shutter lag.

Part 2, The Shoot, is a course in photography and digital cameras. It starts with coaching on taking the shot, with extensive discussion and examples of composing the frame. It then discusses "The Ten Decisions" -- how to take advantage of camera features including flash, scene modes, white balance, and ISO / sensitivity. Next is "The Anti-Blur Chapter," dedicated to steeping though techniques and assists for getting clear shots.

Pogue then dedicates 40 pages to "How They Did That" -- explaining and demonstrating classic types of professional photos, from frozen action and waterfalls, to dynamic fireworks and car-headlight trails, to classic landscapes and sunsets, to a variety of portrait styles. And for more advanced users, there's "The SLR Chapter," with advice on lenses, compression formats, and useful accessories.

Now that you're shooting good photos, the rest of the book moves into working with your photos on a computer to edit and share them.

Part 3, The Lab, gets you started with your photos on a computer, using Apple iPhoto or Google Picasa. It starts with the basics of transferring and viewing your photos, organizing and searching them, and then techniques to fix and enhance them, from red-eye to color correction to "cheesy effects." These are presented with iPhoto and Picasa side-by-side, so you can see the common approaches in these and other photo applications.

Part 4, The Audience, then is about sharing your photos -- on paper or other printed formats like cards and books, and electronically on the web or in slideshows.

Order Digital Photography: The Missing Manual from Amazon.com


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March 26, 2009

Cisco Flips for Personal Video

The Pure Digital Flip line of pocket camcorders features an iPod-like approach to product design -- focus on the core essentials by stripping away nice-to-have features to drive a clean and minimal design (see previous posts).

Like the iPods, the Flip Mineo (available in standard-def and HD models) has no removable battery and no slot for expandable memory. And it has no options to choose -- for shooting in different resolutions, or still photos, or macro mode. Instead, the Mineo is designed to be easy to carry and dead easy to use, and can shoot for a full hour of video. No wonder the company reports that it has sold over 2 million Flips.

So it's not surprising that that the company would make an attractive acquisition, even in the current market. And Cisco announced last week that it would be acquiring Pure Digital for approximately $590 million in stock.

But why Cisco -- doesn't it make big iron for Internet hubs? Yes, but Cisco has been expanding in the consumer market as well, including its acquisition of Linksys in 2003 (for home networking gear) and Pure Networks in 2008 (for Network Magic home networking software).

And the Cisco consumer product line is more than home networking boxes -- It includes set-top digital video recorders, media extenders, wireless cameras, wireless home audio, and networked media storage hubs.

The press release is quite clear about how the Flip extends Cisco's strategy in entertainment and communication, to "expand our momentum in the media-enabled home and to capture the consumer market transition to visual networking."

After all, the history of video has been as a mass-market but one-way medium, with television broadcasting and then cable systems. And even consumer-generated media like YouTube is still mostly about millions of people watching clips after their initial upload. But webcams and camera phones and personal camcorders like the Flip offer the promise of personal video feeds -- not 140-character Twitter feeds, but richer video clips.

Then add the promise of next-generation wireless with broadband-like connectivity through technologies like WiMAX and LTE (see Wikipedia), and you can see the interest that Cisco might have in helping to expand the Internet infrastructure to support personal video feeds...

See my Digital Camcorders Gallery for more on the Flip line and digital camcoders.

    Find the Flip Video Mino and Flip MinoHD on Amazon.com

April 30, 2009

Shoot Longer with New Flip Ultra Pocket Camcorder

Flip Video has just introduced its second generation Flip Ultra pocket camcorder, now available in both standard-definition and high-def versions.

Flip has two pocket-sized camcorder models: the extra-tiny Mino (3.3 ounces, see previous posts), and the larger Ultra with removable battery (6 ounces). In addition to the HD version, the new Ultras have a larger screen (2 vs. 1.5 inches), with more memory to shoot twice as long (up to two hours), and the HD version has HDMI output for displaying directly on a HDTV display.

The Mino is a minimalist design that's easy to carry. The Ultra lets you shoot longer for longer trips with more memory and swappable batteries.

As with the other Flips, the Ultras turn on instantly so you can quickly begin shooting with one press of the big red button. You can off-load the video with minimum fuss with the built-in pop-out USB connector, and it even includes built-in FlipShare software for Windows and Mac to save, organize, and edit video and upload directly to MySpace and YouTube.

The new Flip Ultra fits in your front pocket at 4.25 x 2.19 x 1.17 (compared to the Mino at 3.94 x 1.97 x 0.63 inches). The HD Ultra shoots 720p widescreen video (1280 x 720). Both record video in standard H.264 video format, which works with Apple iTunes, QuickTime Player, and Microsoft Windows Media Player.

The standard-def Flip Ultra is available in black, white, pink, and yellow for $149, and the HD version in black and white is $199.

Check the Flip site to compare the Flip products

See my Digital Camcorders Gallery for more on the Flip line and digital camcoders.

    Find the 2nd-gen Flip Ultra and UltraHD on Amazon.com

May 7, 2009

Eye-Fi Takes Photo Sharing to Video Sharing

The good news with digital cameras is that it's so easy to shoot lots of photos. The hard part is then accessing and sharing them -- hooking up the equipment and software to transfer your images to a computer, and then going through the process of uploading them to the Web so that others can access them.

Someday our digital cameras will have built-in wireless to do all this automatically, but until then you can use an Eye-Fi card -- a clever combination of a standard SD memory card with built-in Wi-Fi technology (see previous posts).

Plug in the Eye-Fi card, and your camera can automatically transfer your photos to your computer over your home wireless network. Or there are versions that can upload directly to some 25 popular online photo-sharing sites, from home or when you're on the road at public Wi-Fi hotspots.

But digital cameras also shoot video clips -- what about sharing them too? In March, Eye-Fi announced new Video cards with 4 GB of memory (in SDHC high capacity format) and the ability to upload directly to YouTube and Flickr.

And now Eye-Fi has announced broader support for sharing videos with your photos, by also uploading to Picasa Web Albums, Photobucket, and SmugMug.

So now you can immediately share your summer trips with friends and family -- automatically, and with no hassle. Whenever you're in range, the Eye-Fi card will connect wirelessly and upload your photos, and videos, to your online album. Easy enough?

See my article on using the Eye-Fi Wi-Fi SD Card for Digital Cameras.

See my Digital Cameras Gallery for details on the Eye-Fi cards.

Find the Eye-Fi Share Video and Eye-Fi Explore Video on Amazon.com

June 1, 2009

Sharing Photos on Portable Devices

Got pics in your pocket? You don't need to carry snapshots in your wallet anymore, much less a photo album in your bag -- That's so last decade!

Today's portable electronic devices can make great photo viewers, some with slideshows and background music.

Just take full advantage of the capabilities of the devices you're probably already using:

- Since you're already carrying a mobile phone, add a memory card to store your favorite photos, or to take advantage of the larger displays on smartphones. Then access your photos online at sharing and social media websites.

- Sync to your Apple iPod or other portable media player. With expanding screen sizes, re-doubling storage capacity, and the processing power to play videos, today's media players can provide a great interface for sharing a photo collection.

- Do more the new E-book readers like the Amazon Kindle and Sony Reader Digital Book. These not only display books and other document files, they play audiobooks and music, and display illustrations and photographs. And with built-in cellular data service, the Kindle even has a basic Web browser (see previous post).

- You may not have noticed if you're not in the target demographic, but handheld gaming systems like the Sony PlayStation Portable and the Nintendo DS line have been expanding from gaming to more general entertainment devices, with photos, multimedia playback and wireless connectivity.

- And don't forget your digital camera. With bigger displays and expanding storage capacity, you can save lots of photos to browse and view on the road. And new cameras make sharing even better, with bigger displays that are easier to view better outdoors, even in direct sunlight, and the beginning of wireless connectivity to upload to photo sharing sites and display online galleries on the camera (see previous posts on the Sony DSC G3 Wi-Fi camera and Eye-Fi Wi-Fi memory card).

- Beyond pocket devices, Netbook computers are not much more expensive than a high-end smartphone designed for getting online to communicate, browse, and have fun -- including sharing photos and other media (see previous Netbook posts).

Finally, to help with syncing your photo collections between the dersktop, Web, and portable devices, check out applications like Adobe Photoshop Elements that integrates with Photoshop.com and mobile phones (see previous post), and Nero Move it, which has built-in support for converting and transferring file to a wide variety of mobile phones, PDAs, media players, game systems, and even digital cameras and camcorders (see previous post).

See my full article on Sharing Photos on Portable Devices

Also see my Portable Storage Gallery for more on memory cards
See my Portable Media Players Gallery for more on pocket players and gaming devices
See my Mobile Communications Gallery for more on mobile phones, smartphones, and netbooks

June 16, 2009

FlipShare Software Updated to Share Videos Online

The Pure Digital Flip Video line of pocket camcorders (see previous Flip posts) continues to demonstrate the attraction of small and easy-to-use devices for shooting video -- Flip Video models were ranked as the top two best-selling camcorders in the U.S. for the first quarter 2009, according to The NPD Group.

The Flip Video cams fit in your pocket, turn on instantly, and have simple controls -- just push the big red button to start recording. And then to access your clips, the Flips have a pop-out USB connector to hook up directly to your computer, and built-in FlipShare software for PCs and Macs on board the camcorder -- so you don't need a separate install, you can just run it directly from the device to view, organize, and share your videos.

The FlipShare software already provided simple video editing to make your own movies, and then share via e-mail and also by uploading directly to MySpace or YouTube. And Flip Video has just updated the FlipShare software to now share your videos through Flip Channels -- your own personal video collections shared on the web (at FlipShare.com), or with the new free FlipShare iPhone application.

You can create collections of clips from your FlipShare library, upload them as custom Flip Channels, and then share them with friends and family (by sending the link to list of e-mail addresses).

Much as with the growth of photo-sharing websites that would like to host your photo collections, we're seeing more options for hosting videos online as well, from video-centric sites like YouTube to social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook. While photo and video editing tools are adding support for uploading to these popular sites, they are also building more tightly integrated connections to their own dedicated sites, like Adobe Elements and Photoshop.com (see previous post). Similarly, the FlipShare.com site follows the simplicity approach of the Flip Video products by focusing on organizing fun collections of video to share with various groups.

The new 4.5 version of FlipShare software can be downloaded for free from the Flip Video support site, and will begin shipping as the on-board software for all Flip Video camcorders as of today. The FlipShare for iPhone application will be available for free in the iPhone App Store.

Check the Flip site to compare the Flip products

See my Digital Camcorders Gallery for more on the Flip line and digital camcoders.

Find the Flip Mino and MinoHD on Amazon.com
Find the 2nd-gen Flip Ultra and UltraHD on Amazon.com

June 18, 2009

Eye-Fi Adds Ad Hoc Networking, Uploads of RAW Photos

Someday we will be able to get rid of our collections of data cables and card readers -- when all our devices are wireless. But until then, the Eye-Fi SD cards are a step in that direction by adding Wi-Fi networking to cameras, so you can upload photos (and videos) automatically and wirelessly to your computer or to photo sharing sites.

Eye-Fi added video uploads in March, along with a 4 GB card and a free iPhone app (see previous post). And now the new Eye-Fi Pro card can upload even big RAW image files (along with JPEG photos), plus supports Ad Hoc networking directly between a camera and a computer, even without a wireless router.

In addition, Eye-Fi has added a new Selective Transfer feature for all of the Eye-Fi cards, so you can mark only selected photos and videos to be uploaded, using the "protect" or "lock" feature in the camera menu. This is a new free option in the Eye-Fi Manager software.

The Eye-Fi line starts at $49 for a 2 GB card that connects over your home network, then adds cards to upload to online sites, support video files, geotag photos, and support Wi-Fi hotspots (these are also available as add-on services). The new Eye-Fi Pro card with 4 GB adds the RAW format and ad-hoc networking, and is $149.

See my article on using the Eye-Fi Wi-Fi SD Card for Digital Cameras.

See my Digital Cameras Gallery for details on the Eye-Fi cards.

Find the Eye-Fi Pro on Amazon.com

August 2, 2009

Out of the Pocket: DXG Line of Inexpensive HD Camcorders

Pocket-size camcorders have become very popular -- so easy to carry and simple to use, so you can bring them along to capture spontaneous moments that wouldn't be possible with larger camcorders.

You can find pocket camcorders for around $80 to $100, and HD versions for around $150 to $220, with products like the Pure Digital Flip, RCA Small Wonder, Creative Vado, Kodak Zi6/Zx1, and Sony Webbie.

These pocket camcorders share a similar design -- a rectangular box, held upright with the lens on the flat front and the display on the back. And they share a similar design philosophy, focused on making them dead easy to use by eliminating options and features -- including favorites like optical zoom, multiple video formats/resolutions, still photo mode, and nested menus of sometimes incomprehensible options.

But sometimes it's handy to have at least some options, so these companies have introduced slightly more upscale versions of these products with various features including a flip-out display, video modes (SD, HD, and Web), photos with macro mode, and high-speed recording.

Another company, DXG USA, has taken a different approach: offering a broad line of pocketable camcorders, with a broad range of advanced features, but in this same price range. (DXG has a 20-year history designing camcorders and cameras for OEM sales to other manufacturers, and has recently expanded into direct retail sales in the U.S.)

The DXG camcorder line includes standard-definition and high-def camcorders, with models that shoot at the minimum 720p HD res (1280 x 720), at the lower 1080p horizontal resolution (1440 x 1080), and at full HD 1080p (1920 x 1080).

In addition, DXG offers pairs of similar models in your choice of form factor: vertical (with the lens on the side and a flip-out display), and horizontal (like traditional camcorders).

The vertical designs are around the size of some of the other pocket camcorders (though a bit thicker at around 4 x 2 3/4 x 1 1/2 inches, and 4 ounces), and the horizontal designs are a bit longer and thicker (around 8 ounces).

Then DXG piles on advanced features found in higher-end camcorders, including the list above, plus digital voice recorder mode, internal storage plus SD card, NTSC and PAL video output plus composite or HDMI, an LED light for video and photo flash, and enhancement options (white balance, exposure compensation, color effects, and a self-timer) -- albeit not all these on all models.

But we like our portable devices to be more than utilitarian -- as with cell phones, we want to make a statement with style and even fashion. So DXG offers a choice of bright colors (silver, black, blue, red, pink). And it is expanding further into lifestyle and fashion designs.

The new DXG Luxe Collection, introduced this week, offers stylish designs to let you express your taste and personal style.

The two models are the Riviera, with a quilted design in white, black, and pink, and the Soho, an argyle in blue and pink. These 720p HD camcorders have 128 MB internal memory and are priced at $149.

Then for a more rugged design for active use, the DXG-125V All-Weather HD Camcorder is a splash and weather-resistant, with a rubber handgrip on the sides.

It's a 720p HD camcorder with fewer options, a smaller 2" display, and lower-res photos, and is due out soon at $99.

For swimming, snorkeling, and diving, the DXG-579VS Underwater Value Pack combines the DXG-579V camera with an underwater casing that is waterproof up to 15 feet, to protect from water, salt, sand, and elements.

The case is rubberized to provide full access to the camera controls: Record, play, zoom, shoot video or still photos, use the underwater light. It's a 720p HD camcorder, priced at $149 with the waterproof casing.

See full article, DXG HD Pocket Camcorders - Summer 2009, for more on the DXG product line and features.

See my Digital Camcorders Gallery for more on pocket camcorders.

    Find the DXG-579V Camcorder on Amazon.com

August 14, 2009

Samsung DualView Digital Cameras with Front LCD

Samsung is very serious about consumer electronics. It's no accident that you've been seeing more Samsung products in the stores, from mobile phones, to HDTV and home theatre, to cameras and camcorders, to computers and peripherals. At a press event in New Your City yesterday, Samsung gave some examples of impressive market share growth in the U.S. over the past few years: 15% to 39% in televisions, and 7% to 29% in home theatre.

And then there's digital cameras and camcorders, where Samsung is getting serious as well, applying its strategy of combining striking design and new technology to develop interesting trend-leading products. Samsung has grown from 4% to 7% in the last year in digital cameras, and is looking to become a "tier 1 leader" in yet another market segment.

For example, the Samsung 2009 camcorder line (see my Camcorder Gallery) features a variety of highly portable models based on flash memory, including the flagship HMX-H100 line with internal Solid State Drive (SSD) recording. And the ultra-compact MMX-R10 (shown here) is only a half pound but still full HD resolution, with an interesting design that has the lens angled at 25 degrees, to hold more comfortably to reduce strain on the wrist.

But the new announcement was about two new Samsung digital camera designs (see my Digital Cameras Galley) -- the Samsung DualView TL220 / TL225 with an additional small LCD display on the front of the camera for self-portraits, and the Samsung CL65 with full-out connectivity, including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, DLNA, and GPS.

Samsung explains DualView as part of the trend of sharing photos online and on social networks -- photographers are coming out from behind the camera to take headshots and to be part of the picture, capturing themselves as part of the scene that they are shooting. The image of the photographer is no longer crouching behind the viewfinder, but now the iconic pose is holding the camera at arms length to shoot the shooter.

The Samsung DualView TL220 / TL225 digital cameras have several modes to take advantage of the 1.5" front LCD:
- Self Portrait mode to frame yourself in the scene without guessing. Just touch the screen to active.
- Countdown Timer mode to set up the camera with the self-timer, displaying the numeric countdown.
- Child Mode to play built-in animations on the front screen as a new approach to "watch the birdie," so kids might actually hold still for a second and be looking at the camera for a change.

Both cameras are relatively small and light, even with 4.6X optical zoom. The TL220 with a 3" display is $299, and the TL225 with a larger 3.5" display and HDMI output is $349.

The connected Samsung CL65 digital camera is a similar size, with a 3.5" LCD and 5X optical zoom, and is priced at $399.

It features four forms of connectivity, for home, mobile, and web sharing:
- Wi-Fi to send photos wirelessly via email, or to upload directly to sites including Facebook, Picasa, and YouTube (use the touch-screen QWERTY keypad to enter network and site info as needed).
- DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) to display from the camera over WiFi directly on your home TV display or other CE devices.
- Bluetooth 2.0 to beam your favorites to mobile phones, automatically resizing as needed. And
- GPS to geo-tag your images to help organize them by location, and to link to maps on sites like Picasa.

All three new cameras are due in September, and feature a touchscreen interface for easy menu access with haptic vibration response. They also have gesture input for some operations (scroll, rotate, delete), and a tilt sensor to select common commands.

And they have oodles of "smart" digital camera technology, including Schneider-KREUZNACH lens, 12.2 megapixel sensor, dual image stabilization (optical and digital), smart auto modes, smart face detection / recognition, and smart album mode to organize images (favorite, face, color, content), plus H.264 (MPEG-4/AVC) video recording up to 720p HD.

See my Digital Cameras Gallery for more on Samsung and other digital cameras.

    Find the Samsung TL220 and TL225 on Amazon.com

October 14, 2009

Flip MinoHD Upgrade: Better Simplicity

Pure Digital has had tremendous success with its Flip Video line of pocket camcorders. It turns out there is a place in the market between camera phones and more traditional digital camcorders -- these small, truly pocket-sized devices are easy to carry, simple to use, and fun to share.

But as a market matures, it's tempting to bulk up new versions of products with additional options and features. After all, even Apple has succumbed to this trend by loading up its newest iPod nano, adding FM radio, microphone, speaker, video camera, and even a pedometer (see previous post).

Similarly in pocket camcorders, products like the Kodak Zx8 and Zx1 do it all, with multiple video resolutions, still photos, and an external memory slot. Others, like the RCA Small Wonder line, offer a broad array of different models and designs, with features including removable batteries, flip-out displays, and a DVD recorder dock.

In contrast, the Flip has maintained its focus on simplicity, so you just power on and shoot, without worrying about set-up or options. The Flip line has two models: the sleek Flip Mino at around 3.3 ounces (see previous post), and the slightly larger Flip Ultra with removable batteries at around 6 ounces (see previous post). Each of these models is available in two versions, standard-definition (VGA 640 x 480) and HD (720p, 1280 x 720).

The key trade-offs in these designs are size and weight vs. screen size and recording time (memory capacity and battery life). As a result, the Ultra models have 2" screens (960 x 240 resolution) and shoot for two hours, while the compact Mino models have smaller 1.5 inch screens (528 x 132) and shoot for only one hour. (The HD models look and work the same as the SD versions, they just shoot in higher resolution -- and have double the storage to provide the same recording time.)

Which brings us to the new Flip MinoHD 120 minute model, just announced today. This doubles the recording time of the original Flip MinoHD 60 min. model, increases the screen size to 2 inches (matching the Ultra), and adds a HDMI connector so you can play videos directly on an HDTV.

Yet the new MinoHD still keeps the same form and size -- albeit with a new brushed metal front (yes, metal, not plastic). As a result, it is slightly heavier, growing from 3.3 to 4 ounces. But it keeps the same basic simplicity of operation, with only subtle refinements like the ability to zoom before recording and a new more rugged all-metal pop-out USB connector.

The built-in FlipShare software also has been upgraded, adding direct sharing to Facebook, and Magic Movie creation to automatically trim and arrange selected videos into a movie. The software will be rolling into the entire Flip line later this month, and can be downloaded from the Flip website (see previous post).

As a bonus, the new Flip MinoHD 120 min. model is priced at $229, the same price as the original 60 min. model when it was introduced last year. The current Mino model prices also have been reduced: the Flip Mino (SD) is now $149, and the original Flip MinoHD 60 min. is $199. The Flip Ultra continues at $149, and the Flip UltraHD at $199.

The Flip Mino design works great as a take-anywhere camcorder, small enough to keep in your pocket or bag to catch the spontaneous moments that you would never get if you had to think about bringing along a conventional camcorder along with its assorted accessories. The new Flip MinoHD 120 min. is a welcome addition -- The two-hour recording time gives you more of a safety margin when you're away from a computer, and the two-inch screen is a significant improvement, brighter and with truer colors.

Check the Flip site to compare the Mino and Ultra models

See my Digital Camcorders Gallery for more on the Flip line and other digital camcoders.

    Find the Flip MinoHD 120 min. on Amazon.com

October 23, 2009

Joby Gorillapod Flexible Tripods and New Gorillatorch

The Joby Gorillapod line of flexible tripods was refreshed earlier this year, tweaking the original set of four models

The Gorillapod Original is for holding compact digital cameras (up to 11 oz., $21), the Gorillapod SLR is for lightweight SLR cameras and camcorders (1 3/4 lbs., $39), the Gorillapod SLR-Zoom is for tripod mountable cameras (6 1/2 lbs., $49), and the Gorillapod Focus is for professional rigs with zoom lenses and video cameras (11 lbs., $99) -- see previous post.

But the focus at PhotoPlus was the mobile stands, based on the Gorillapod Mobile (previously the GoGo) for handheld devices, including mobile phones through gaming systems, and compact cameras through mini camcorders (up to 7 oz., $29).

The new Gorillapod Mobile for 3G / 3GS, then adds a soft-touch case for the iPhone 3G / 3Gs to attach to the tripod to stand ready or attach securely as needed ($39).

But the new clever extension to the line is the Gorillatorch hands-free light, a bright LED light (maximum 65 lumens) with the now-familiar flexible legs, for $29. It is water resistant, and has a dimmer switch to control the light intensity and extend the battery life (from some 20 to 80 hours on 3 AAA batteries).

Between the wrappable legs, rubberized grips, and magnetic feet, the Gorillatorch should allow you to get the lighting you need in almost any situation -- by standing, hooking, twisting, or otherwise sticking it on an available surface.

See my Digital Cameras Gallery for more on these and other tripods.

    Find Joby Gorillapod Mobile
    and Joby Gorillatorch on Amazon.com

October 24, 2009

Lensbaby "Selective Focus" Lenses

Another updated product at PhotoPlus is the Lensbaby line of special-effect lenses, now with swappable optics. The Lensbaby idea is a wonderful hack, in the positive sense of the word. It lets you achieve "selective focus" by mounting the lens in a movable bellows -- so you then can compress and tilt the optical elements to focus precisely on a limited area in the scene, the "sweet spot," which pops out against the surrounding graduated blur.

This is a bit hard to explain, so the best way to understand it is to look at the images in the online Lensbaby Gallery in a variety of genres.

The current Lensbaby line offers three lens models, depending on the amount of hacking you like -- precise setup with the Lensbaby Composer, as the ball and socket design holds the position ($270), fast and loose with the Lensbaby Muse, as you manually set and hold the position ($100 / $150), or methodical with the Control Freak, which you set up, lock in, and then can further fine-tune both the focus and tilt.

All the models use the Lensbaby Optic Swap System, with four swappable elements: Double Glass (sharp), Single Glass (soft, dreamy), Plastic (softest, ethereal, abundant chromatic aberration), and Pinhole / Zone plate ($94 for the kit). Again, see the online Optic Comparison showing the results of using the different lenses and swappable optical elements.

Lensbaby also offers a variety of accessories, so you can shoot these amazing images for everything from wide-angle landscapes to portraits to table-top and macro set-ups.

See my Digital Cameras Gallery for more on these and other tripods.

    Find the Lensbaby lenses     on Amazon.com

October 27, 2009

Nikon D90 Digital SLR as an HD Video Camcorder

There never have been so many options for shooting images, stills or in motion -- with digital cameras that shoot video, camcorders that shoot photos, and ubiquitous camera phones that shoot both.

Yes, today's consumer digital cameras can capture video sequences, but these are typically of limited length and quality. But there's also a developing category of "HD DSLR" cameras clearly in evidence at PhotoPlus -- Traditional Digital SLR cameras that also now shoot high-definition video that's suitable for serious video editing (see previous post).

The Nikon D90, introduced in August 2008, was a trailblazer in integrating HD movies and sound into an advanced, full-featured Digital SLR camera. The D90 is a 12.3 MP digital SLR with full-up Nikon optics and processing. Plus it adds D-Movie mode with 720p HD video (1,280 x 720) shot at cinematic 24 fps frame rate. It's priced around $899.

Of course there are trade-offs with retrofitting video into DSLR cameras, including limited shooting times (around 5 minutes for HD video), lack of full autofocus (the D90 offers three AF options in Live View mode), and some visual artifacts in the D90 from horizontal pans, fast movement, or bright lights.

But the advantages of shooting video with a photo camera come from the flexibility control provided by using DSLR optics: interchangeable lenses, the range of control over focus and exposure, i.e., for shooting in low light, and the precise control over depth of field, to pull out the subject in a shot with shallow depth of field for a more emotional and cinematic look.

So if you're a hands-on photographer used to working with Digital SLRs, this kind of hybrid camera adds short HD video clips to your repertoire. And if you're a videographer who may have been hankering to shoot photos, a HD DSLR offers a whole new array of interesting creative options to explore.

See full article: Nikon D90: Digital SLR Cameras as HD Video Camcorders

See my Digital Cameras Gallery for more on the D90 and other cameras.

    Find Nikon D90 on Amazon.com

November 13, 2009

Adobe Photoshop.com Mobile Now on Android

Adobe has really extended its Photoshop brand, from desktop to online, and now to mobile. There's the legendary Photoshop CS4 for advanced professional photo editing, now with an Extended edition expanding into 3D and motion. And there's the more accessible Photoshop Elements for consumer photo organizing, enhancing and sharing.

And the brand has moved online with Photoshop.com, a free service for uploading and organizing your photos and videos online, editing with fixes and enhancements, and sharing on social-networking sites or on Photoshop.com galleries. It's available in the Web browser from your computer, directly within Photoshop Elements or Premiere Elements 7, and from compatible mobile phones.

The ability to download applications to smartphones has allowed Adobe to extend Photoshop.com Mobile from Windows Mobile phones to the Apple iPhone last month, and now to Google Android phones.

With Photoshop.com Mobile for Android on the Verizon Droid (see previous post), you can flick through thumbnails of your photos on the touch screen, and view full-screen and in slide shows. Then use the left drop-down menu to tighten up the photo with Crop, Straighten, Rotate, and Flip, the center menu to adjust Exposure, Saturation, Tint, and Black & White, and the right menu to apply Soft Focus to add a subtle blur for artistic effect. The iPhone version also offers a Sketch tool to make photos look like drawings, plus effects including Warm Vintage, Vignette, and Pop.

Photoshop.com Mobile saves a new version of your changed photos. It also has Undo and Redo options so you can freely experiment with multiple operations. You then can upload your photos and edits to share online at Photoshop.com, which includes 2 GB of free storage (or sign up for a plan with more). And you can access and view your online photos from the phone.

On the Android platform, Photoshop.com Mobile can automatically upload pictures in the background, even while you are using other applications.

So far, so good, though I'd like to see more viewing functions, to browse the photos organized by folders (and camera vs. stored images, which should help with the visible delay in updating thumbnails), and with the ability to zoom in to see details. And it would be helpful to have some ability to see the photo attributes and rename saved images, so they could more easily be shared though alternate means such as messaging and email.

Even in this first version, Adobe has done a nice job with Photoshop.com Mobile to create a fun -- and free -- tool for cleaning up photos, especially before uploading to Photoshop.com.

November 21, 2009

SteadePod - Quick and Easy Steadying for Cameras and Camcorders

Today's cameras are getting smarter, to try to make a good shot no matter how informal we are at shooting with them. But as cameras get smaller and lighter, the biggest issue is simply holding them steady enough to get a clean shot, especially in difficult situations like low light, high zoom, or long exposure. And this is even more of an issue with pocket camcorders like the Flip Video (see previous post), which work best if you're bracing yourself to avoid shaky video.

One solution, of course, is to carry a tripod, or at least a monopod, but lugging along extra (and obvious) equipment defeats the whole idea of carrying a lightweight and pocketable camera for spontaneous shots. Or you can use small tripods like the Joby Gorillapod to set up for an event or shot (see previous post).

But even better for on-the-go shooting instead is a small and simple device to help you steady your shots -- like the new SteadePod from Cameron Products.

This is basically a retractable tape measure with 6 foot steel cable. Attach your camera to the tripod mount, pull out the cable to your camera's height off the ground, lock the position, then step on the attached footpad to anchor the other end. Apply a slight tension to the line, and you have a steady platform for your shooting.

The SteadePod is compact and easy to carry (a lot simpler than bringing along a stick), and quick to set up for informal shots (and less obtrusive).

Of course a tripod is still great for more formal shots, and a monopod is helpful for extended shooting, but the SteadePod fits well with taking advantage of quick, informal, and spontaneous shooting. It's priced at $29.95 ($24 street).

See my Digital Cameras Gallery for more on these and other tripods.

    Find the SteadePod on Amazon.com

January 5, 2010

RCA EZ209 Small Wonder HD Camcorder

I've been having fun demoing pocket camcorders for the holiday season -- These are so easy to carry, and still shoot quite good looking HD video. And they make great gifts, for example, to give to young adults heading off for school or vacation or a honeymoon. Though maybe you also deserve a great gift for yourself, so you can be ready to shoot and share fun events.

The Cisco Flip Video pocket camcorder line has been very popular, for example, with carefully simplified devices like the Flip Mino HD that you just turn on and start shooting (see previous post).

But other pocket camcorders like the RCA Small Wonder line take a different approach, emulating standard camcorders with a broad array of different models and designs, with a variety of added options and features including removable batteries, expandable memory slots, flip-out displays, and a DVD recorder dock.

For example, the RCA EZ209HD Small Wonder 720p HD Digital Camcorder for $129 / $89 street shoots up to 720p HD video in a slim design (~ 4.3 x 2.5 x 0.9 inches, 3 ounces) -- amazingly thin with a bump-out lens.

It shoots video at three resolutions: lower-res Web 320 x 320 at 30 fps, high-speed Sports 848 x 480 at 60 fps, and HD 1280 x 720 at 30 fps, stored as AVI files in H.264 format. This gives 8 to 40 hours of recording on a 16 GB card.

Plus it shoots 8 MP still photos (extrapolated from 5 MP sensor), as 3200 x 2400 JPEG files.

And it goes further into adjustability with lighting settings in the menu to optimize the exposure to the scene, for Auto, Outdoor, Indoor, or Low light settings.

The EZ209 is easy to use, with a (relatively) large 2 inch LCD display with larger lettering for the on-screen display. And it has straightforward controls, with a sliding power switch, a three-position slider for clearly selecting the video resolution, and dedicated Play, Delete, Menu, and Photo buttons.

The camera includes 256 MB built-in internal memory, plus a microSD card expansion slot for up to 16 GB.

There's no flip-out USB connector, instead the camera has a miniUSB port for recharging the built-in (non-removable) battery, and for transferring data to a computer. The camera memory has pre-installed Memory Manager software to download and edit your videos, and share online. Or you can display directly on a television via the AV or HDMI connectors.

In comparison to the Flip Mino HD, the display on the EZ209 seems muted, with less saturated colors. Yet the video itself is typically darker and extra saturated -- more red in a bright hockey rink, for example, or more yellow/green shooting on the Princeton campus. The Flip video also has more visible detail, for example in stone work in the background of the scene.

Still, the EZ209 Small Wonder provides an amazing range of options in a small and light package. You have more control to experiment and refine, not only with the different video resolutions, but also with the lighting options in the menus for videos and photos.

See my Holiday Tech Gift Guide 2009 for more on pocket camcorders and other fun gadgets.

See my Digital Camcorders Gallery for more on pocket camcorders and other digital camcorders.

Find the RCA EZ209HD Small Wonder Camcorder on Amazon.com

January 8, 2010

JVC Picsio Full HD Pocket Camcorder

Pocket camcorders have been popularized by companies like Flip Video (now Cisco) and RCA (now Audiovox) focused on personal and portable devices (see previous post), but the market is growing with entries from companies from professional imaging, including Kodak, Sony, and now JVC.

The JVC Everio line of hard drive and flash memory camcorders has now been joined by a new Picsio line of pocket camcorders, with a light and compact design, colorful cases, and serious power: Full-HD 1080p video recording and 8 MP still photos.

The JVC GC-FM1 pocket camera is $199, and comes in three colors (black ice, blue steel, purple passion), with a 2 inch display on a snazzy case with "jewel-like geometric pattern and chrome accents." It has a light and compact form, rectangular with rounded edges (~ 3 7/8 x 2 1/8 x 11/16 inches, 3.4 ounces), textured down the sides for a better grip.

The Picsio shoots video in four resolutions -- widescreen 1080p (1440 x 1080) and 720p (1280 x 720), and standard 4:3 aspect ratio VGA (640 x 480) and QVGA (320 x 240), stored in MOV files in H.264 format. This gives some 5 3/4 to 86 hours of recording on a 32 GB card.

And it shoots still photos in four formats -- 8M (3264 x 2448), 5M (2592 x 1944), 2M (1600 x 1200), and VGA (640 x 480), 4:3 aspect in JPEG files.

Plus, it includes a focus switch for shooting close-ups in Macro mode.

The camera includes 128 MB built-in internal memory, plus a microSD card expansion slot for up to 32 GB.

The camera has a miniUSB port for recharging the built-in (non-removable) battery, and for transferring data to a computer. The camera memory has pre-installed MediaBrowser LE software to download and edit your videos, and share online. Or you can display directly on a television via the AV or HDMI connectors.

The Picsio has dedicated buttons on the back to make most functions easy to perform, including switching between Video and Still Image mode, between Recording and Playback mode, and displaying the Index (thumbnail) view during playback. The power button is also on the back, and smaller than the others, so it takes focused attention to turn on. There's also a Setup menu (press Delete and Index simultaneously).

However, switching between the video and photo resolutions is a bit obscure -- press the left control ("<") twice in succession to cycle to the next setting.

Compared to the Flip Mino HD and RCA EZ209HD Small Wonder, the JVC Picsio has a narrower field of view, which brings you closer into the scene. And the full 1920 x 1280 HD resolution (compared to 1280 x 720) not only gives a larger images, but also results in sharper images with more detail when scaled down to lower resolution.

Of course, these small cameras still have limited optics, with a small lens and no optical zoom. And they are so light that it's easy to shoot shaky video, so you need to focus on bracing yourself -- which is why they have a tripod mount. The JVC Picaso specs actually list an image stabilization feature to reduce camera shake, though it's not discussed in the manual, and I did not see significant differences compared to other cameras.

JVC Picsio is a cake-and-eat-it-too kind of device -- a pocket-size camera with many of the features of full camcorders, including shooting videos and photos, full HD to web resolutions, and even with macro mode -- all in a comfortable and somewhat snazzy design.

See my Holiday Tech Gift Guide 2009 for more on pocket camcorders and other fun gadgets.

See my Digital Camcorders Gallery for more on pocket camcorders and other digital camcoders.

Find the JVC Picsio Pocket Camcorder on Amazon.com

February 28, 2010

HD Video DSLRs -- A Different Kind of Camera

Still or motion? Camera or camcorder? Technology is converging -- as even consumer digital cameras shoot HD video, and video camcorders shoot multi-megapixel photos. And the trend has continued into professional Digital SLR cameras, which have evolved to add the ability to shoot HD video, starting with the Nikon D90 (see previous post).

Sometimes called a "Video" or "HD" or "Hybrid" DSLR, this idea was originally conceived as a way to help photojournalists expand their repertoire, and has grown quickly to become attractive to videographers as well.

With a video DSLR, you can carry one camera for shooting both photos and video, and shoot video unobtrusively and in difficult environments. The big bonus, however, is the glass -- the ability to use the extensive collection of photographic lenses available for DSLR cameras, giving you amazing flexibility in controlling the focal length and depth of field. Combined with high ISO ranges from image sensors much larger than typical camcorders, the result is great flexibility in shooting in low light situations.

However, these cameras are still primarily designed for still photography, and not for studio or event use, so they typically don't have features like built-in stereo microphones, and they typically shoot only short clips, around five to ten minutes. In addition, the video modes do not provide the full capabilities of the traditional photographic modes, with limited manual control and/or limited auto focus or exposure options.

But over the past year, companies including Canon, Panasonic, and Nikon have responded to growing interest in video DSLRs by introducing a range of products, from enthusiast models around $900, to more rugged workhorse models for pros like journalists and wedding photographers around $2000, to high-end models around $5000.

Especially for photographers, stepping up to a HD DSLR can expand your repertoire, so you can shoot video and audio with familiar equipment, instead of having to lug around additional gear.

See my full article in Videomaker magazine, HD Video DSLRs - A Different Kind of Camcorder, with the experiences of professional photographers and videographers who have begun using HD DSLR cameras.

See my Digital Cameras Gallery for more on DSLRs, the D90 and other cameras.

    Find Nikon D90 on Amazon.com

June 27, 2010

Flip SlideHD Pocket Camcorder -- Shoot and Show and Share

The new Flip Video SlideHD pocket camcorder extends Flips's focus on shooting (simple operation) and sharing (with software for easy editing and uploading) to showing -- with a bigger slide-out 3-inch widescreen display.

Flip Video (now part of Cisco) has always focused on simple-to-use pocket camcorders -- just power on, wait a couple seconds, and press the big red Record button to start shooting. There's no modes and no confusing options, so you're always ready to shoot, and never caught fumbling to set up the right format.

The trade off for this aggressive simplicity, of course, is that these are not multi-purpose devices. Flip camcorders don't shoot still photos, or provide a choice of video resolutions or quality levels. (And the HD models are 720p, 1280 x 720, not full HD 1920x1080). They come with a fixed amount of built-in storage, and don't support removable memory cards. Instead, Flip offers several models with fixed specific combination of features -- the Flip Ultra for standard res, UltraHD with removable batteries, and MinoHD models with 1 and 2 hour recording times (see earlier post).

These compare to pocket camcorder models from other companies including Creative, DXG, JVC, Kodak, RCA, and Sony, with aggressive pricing and arrays of features, also including Web video resolution, normal / macro focus, image stabilization, face tracking, slow motion playback, and flip-out displays.

So the SlideHD goes in a different direction, not adding new shooting features, but instead focusing on sharing your fun by showing the video on the 3-inch display (compared to 2 inch on other Flip models). When closed on the back of the unit, the display is split in half, with the top showing live video when shooting (or playback of stored clips), and the bottom displaying the standard Flip recording and playback controls, now implemented on the touch screen instead of with physical buttons.

Then slide the display open, to pop up at a 45 degree angle for viewing your clips. Now the video fills the display, in full widescreen. There's a touch strip below to quickly flip through the stored clips, plus a menu button on the slide for settings, or (not too obviously) you can press and hold on the display to bring up play and volume controls.

The Flip SlideHD stores 720p video in MPEG-4 format (MP4) for easy viewing with Windows Media Player, QuickTime Player, iTunes, and the like. It records 4 hours of video in the 16 GB internal memory (the other Flip models provide 1 and 2 hours), and you can also download your own photos and videos for viewing. However, the non-removable battery provides 2 hours of use before it needs to be recharged. You can charge from a computer USB port, or using the Flip power adapter (sold separately), but not from typical USB wall or car adapters.

The SlideHD includes an HDMI mini connector to play on directly on an HDTV (cable sold separately). Or use the built-in FlipShare software to browse, download, organize, edit, and share your videos -- run directly from the Flip camcorder's memory (when mounted over USB) or download from the Flip site. FlipShare version 5.0 adds support for displaying on television though the new FlipShare TV set-top box, and sharing to mobile phones using the free FlipShare Mobile app for iPhone, Blackberry, and Android devices.

Check the Flip site to compare the different models

See my Digital Camcorders Gallery for more on the Flip line and other digital camcoders.

    Find the Flip SlideHD on Amazon.com

October 6, 2010

New Flip Video Pocket Camcorders: Relentless Simplicity

The Flip Video camcorders (now part of Cisco) have been relentless in their focus on simplicity. Pull it out of your pocket, turn it on, and in under 4 seconds its ready to shoot -- just press the big red button in the middle of the back (see earlier post).

Other competing products have lots of useful additional features and options -- photo mode, macro close-up, multiple resolutions, removable storage. But with the Flips there's no extra controls that you can set up wrong, no menu options you can mess up. So just start shooting, with no hassles and no worries.

The new Flip Video line continues the emphasis on ease of use. They've stepped up the frame rate from 30 to 60 fps for fast motion, and added image stabilization, which is helpful with small hand-held devices. And keeping with the Flip philosophy, these are not options, they're just built in.

The Flip line has two basic models, in addition to the SlideHD with slide-out widescreen display (see earlier post). The line is fully HD (1280 x 720) -- The MinoHD models are particularly compact (6/10 inch thin, 4 ounces), and the slightly larger UltraHD models (4 1/2 ounces) offer removable batteries.

The MinoHD models add the 60 fps and stabilization, and are priced at $179 for 1 hour of recording and $229 for two hours.

The UltraHD 1 hour is now only $149, and the 2 hour model is $199, with 60 fps and stabilization.

In lieu of cramming in features to a small device, Flip is expanding the possibilities of third-party accessories with a new Designed for Flip program, and a new FlipPort accessory interface available on the new Ultra 2 hour (as an expansion of the HDMI port).

These start with the Bower Wide Angle Lens and Ikelite Underwater Housing, both for all Flip models. New FlipPort compatible products coming soon include the Blue Microphones Mikey for Flip external mic, a Scosche wireless microphone, iGo Overtime Battery extender and Charge Anywhere power adapter, and a Seagate storage solution.

Flip also has extended its Design Your Own program, so you can customize your Flip for free when ordering from the Flip Video website. You can choose from the artwork in the Design Gallery, use the Pattern Generator for your own creation, or upload your own image.

Check the Flip site to compare the MinoHD and UltraHD models

See my Digital Camcorders Gallery for more on the Flip line and other digital camcorders.

    Find the Flip MinoHD and UltraHD on Amazon.com

October 7, 2010

Panoramic Flip Video - Bower Wide Angle Lens

The first goodie in the new Designed for Flip accessory program (see previous post) is the Bower Wide Angle Magnetic Lens. This expands the field of view of your Flip by .45X, from wide-angle HD to a panoramic view of the scene.

It's a "magnetic" lens because that's how it attaches. The product includes a few magnetic mounting rings -- Peel the back off to attach one around the Flip lens.

You then can attach the lens with its magnetic base on the ring, and have it hold quite securely. There's also a leash with rubber ring you can use to tether the lens, and a soft carrying pouch.

The lens itself is around 3/4 inch deep (about as thick as the body of the UltraHD 2 hour model). It's priced at $49, or around $39 street.

See my Digital Camcorders Gallery for more on the Flip line and other digital camcorders.

    Find the Bower Wide Angle Lens on Amazon.com

November 2, 2010

Aquapac Waterprooof Case for Flip Camcorders

Digital cameras and pocket camcorders like the Flip Video line are great to bring along for vacations and trips and special events (see earlier post). But these electronic devices are not so happy about being exposed to hostile weather and conditions, including rain and water and dust and snow.

The Aquapac line of weatherproof cases protect your devices during activities including boating, skiing, snowboarding, biking, hiking and snorkeling, with models for cameras and camcorders, iPod, iPhone, iPad, mobile phones, and MP3 players.

And now there are Aquapac Waterproof Case models for Flip camcorders, joining a growing line of accessories for Flip camcorders, including wide-angle lens, external microphones, battery extenders, and external storage (see earlier post).

The Aquapac cases are made from a soft but strong plastic that lets you operate your devices through the material, and yet is optically clear for shooting above and under water. They are waterproof to 15 feet, and remain flexible to -40 degrees. They seal tight at the ends with a clever design using easy twist clamps.

The Aquapac Waterproof Cases for Flip camcorders are available for $30 from the Flip and Aquapac sites.

See my Digital Camcorders Gallery for more on the Flip line and other digital camcorders.

November 19, 2010

Fujifilm REAL 3D W3 Digital Camera

Fujifilm kindly loaded me the Fujifilm Real 3D W3 digital camera to demo at my recent 3D talk. This is a clever design that replicates our stereo vision by including two separate 10-megapixel CCD sensors and dual FUJINON 3x optical zoom lenses that are spaced on the front of the camera like our eyes.

The result is powerful 3D images (and video) that look great on the computer monitor, on the projection screen at the talk, and even printed on stereocards for olden-days viewing.

The W3 is the successor to last year's Fujifilm W1, adding higher-res images, with video up to 720p (1280x720, 16:9 widescreen, at 24 fps), a larger widescreen 3.5” LCD, and Mini HDMI port for viewing directly in HD displays. The back display uses lenticular 3D technology, so you can view your images (and preview the shot) in 3D, with no glasses required.

The W3 still shoots "regular" 2D photos as well, swapping between 3D with a dedicated button, including simultaneously capturing in 3D and a standard JPEG. Since there are two imagers available, it also smartly offers 2D Dual Shooting modes, to simultaneously capture the same scene with different color, zoom, or sensitivity settings.

The 3D photos are stored in MPO (Multi-Picture) format, with two JPEG images (for the left and right eyes) stored in the same file. Fujifilm provides MyFinePix Studio software for Windows as a free download to import and do basic editing with the 3D photos and video.

Other 3D software tools like Roxio Creator 2011 (see previous post) can import (and export) in MPO format, and offer more display flexibility and editing features. Otherwise, since a MPO file is basically JPEG, you can rename the file to .JPG and view the first image with standard photo viewers.

Similarly, the 3D videos are stored in 3D-AVI files, using the AVI format as a container to hold individual video sequences for both the left and right eyes. Again, existing video software can play these files and see the first stream, but interestingly Media Player in Windows 7 sees both streams, and plays them simultaneously in two separate windows.

So if you're interested in getting into 3D, the Fujifilm W3 is a great tool for shooting your own deep content as both photos and videos. Clearly colorful sun-lit scenes work best for a strong 3D effect, but I also got some powerful shots, for example, of a stream under trees and of New York City on overcast days. Just remember to not frame shots like tall buildings by turning the camera sideways to shoot in portrait mode -- it turns out our eyes are positioned horizontally...

See my accompanying article on 3D - The Next Dimension
    - Part 1 - Seeing 3D: Market, Technology, Formats
    - Part 2 - Using 3D: Products, Shooting, Editing

See my Digital Cameras Gallery for more details on the Fujifilm W3 and other interesting imaging devices and accessories.

Find the Fujifilm W3 3D Digital Camera on Amazon.com

February 26, 2011

Joby GorillaPod Video for Pocket Camcorders

In addition to its GorillaMobile Ori and Yogi iPad cases (see earlier post), Joby continues to expands its line of Gorilla-ish stands with its trademark ball-and-socket flexible legs -- with the GorillaPod line for digital cameras and camcorders from compact to DSLR, the GorillaMobile line for mobile phones, music players, gaming devices, and other portable devices, and Gorillatorch line of hands-free lights.

I've found the GorillaPod line particularly useful for working with a webcam on the go (see earlier post on Demoing Smartphone Apps) and for setting up pocket camcorders like the Cisco Flip to shoot in informal venues, including hooking onto the church pew for musical performances (see Holiday Gadgets article).

Even better, there's now a GorillaPod Video model, designed specifically for mini and pocket camcorders and priced at $29.95.

To set up a secure shooting position, clamp or wrap the flexible legs tight around a convenient base, or use the magnetic feet. Then use the ball joint mount on the head to position the camera as desired.

So far so good, but the key addition is an omni-directional pan/tilt head, to let you secure the legs and then have smooth 360 degree pan and 135 degree tilt control with the 5-inch handle. The head also has a quick-release plate for easy filming off the tripod.

Shaky video is the scourge of these lightweight pocket camcorders, as you need to be careful to brace yourself for good video. The GorillaPod Video provides a great solution, since you have a solid base plus the ability to pan around the scene without bumps and shakes. The unit itself is very light, made from anodized aluminum, and the tension in the pan/tilt head is quite strong, so it's still best to hold the base while you pan and tilt. The result will be videos that are much more pleasant to shoot, and to watch.

See my Digital Cameras Gallery for more on the Joby GorillaPod tripods and related accessories.

Find the Joby GorillaPod Video on Amazon.com


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