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I've been testing fine art papers for Epson and HP "B" sized printers, and I've come across a real diamond in the rough. Epson's Watercolor Paper Radiant White costs less than half as much as their Velvet Fine Art Paper, but produces comparable results with a higher archival rating.

Both papers have a bright white surface that produce vibrant images, feature texture and weight that feel good in the hands, and dries instantly for easy handling. I've done many side-by-side prints with both stocks, and the watercolor images come very close to the vibrancy of those printed on Velvet Fine Art. The kicker is, you can get 13" x 19" (Super B size) sheets of Epson Watercolor for about a $1 a sheet, and the Velvet Fine Art runs about $3 a print.

Another interesting note is that the archival permanence for the Watercolor is 92 years compared to 61 years for Velvet Fine Art. I can use the regular sheet feeder on an Epson R2400 for the Watercolor, but had to use the manual sheet feeder for the Velvet, which is a heavier paper stock.

No doubt, the Epson Velvet Fine Art paper is fantastic. It is heavier than the Watercolor and has a better D-Max rating. But when I put large B&W images next to each other (printed on both papers), I'm thrilled by how well the Watercolor prints hold up to those on the Velvet Fine Art... for about a third of the price.

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Gorillapods Are Great!

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I'm a big fan of portable, sturdy tripods, and I have a decent collection of three-legged critters that I use regularly. During the holidays, I received a new addition to my stable, my first Gorillapod -- the original model. And I'm having a blast with it.

The original model, which is also the smallest, is perfect for my Canon PowerShot SD 700IS. It's a 150mm tall (6") and only weighs 45g (1.6 oz). Yet this little creature can steady your camera (up to 275 grams - 9.7 oz). in just about location -- from table top to tree limb. The legs are constructed of 10 flexible joints that enable you to quickly position your camera in just seconds. You even get a nifty quick-release head so you don't have to screw and unscrew every time you want to mount the camera.

You can purchase the original Gorillapod for $21.95, and the larger sizes for DSLRs for $40 and $50 each. The Joby site has a fun photo gallery of Gorillapods in action. In fact, there's even a flickr gallery called Gorillapod Love dedicated to these little beasties. Good pictures and good fun.

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Canon G7

In a recent review on Photography Blog, the Canon PowerShot G7 earned high praise, with the reviewer commenting that "Though I'd hate to use the word great, in almost all aspects the Canon G7 is certainly very, very good. If I had to choose a back up compact for an SLR, the Canon PowerShot G7 would currently top the list. Superb. If you haven't yet submitted your list to Santa, or want a new toy to play with to beat those post-festive blues, seek out this sophisticated contender for some serious results."

The G7 is a 10-megapixel beauty that fits in your coat pocket, but offers big features such as a 2.5" LCD, 6X optical zoom, image stabilizer, DIGIC III processor, 80-1600 ISO range, and just about every camera control you'd find on a standard DSLR.

As I've mentioned before, there is no RAW mode, and the LCD is now fixed to the back of the camera: two features that I miss from earlier models in the Canon G series. But I've talked to two photographers who own the camera, plus have read a handful of reviews such as the recent one on Photography Blog, and this camera is resonating with users. I can tell you one thing, it feels good to hold. And the images it produces are terrific. But I have to say, I really want RAW mode on a camera of this caliber.

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Hot off the press with over 3 hours of tips and tricks, Aperture 1.5 Beyond the Basics is now available from lynda.com. I team up with Scott Bourne to cover Aperture workflow, importing images, using image previews, wrangling with metadata, output, and plenty of new features including edge sharpening, centered loupe, and referenced libraries.

Lynda has made a couple of the chapters available for free so you can see if they're your cup of tea. If you find them helpful, you can subscribe to the service for as little as $25 a month (for unlimited access to all titles), or you can purchase the Aperture title on DVD for $99.95.

We had a lot of fun recording Beyond the Basics, and I hope it proves helpful for all levels of Aperture users.

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You're Not Ken Burns -- But FotoMagico slideshows are so good that people will believe that he helped you.

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I've just stumbled across five terrific video tutorials on new Photoshop CS3 features created by Russell Brown, Photoshop Master. The tutorials cover Smart Filters, Photomerge, converting color to B&W, Auto-Blend Layers, and the new Clone Source feature. You can watch them now for free by visiting Russell Brown's site. And of course, you can download the public beta if you're a current CS2 registered user.

Some pretty cool stuff here by one of the best Photoshop guys on the planet...

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What can you say about a full-featured 6MP DSLR for less than $600 US... with lens? Well, the folks over at Imaging Resource have lots to say, and they put it all in their latest review of the Nikon D40.

"Intermediate photographers wanting a camera to start a business on a budget should look to the Nikon D80 or Canon 30D, as these are more suited for professional photography. Those who already own a bagful of Nikon glass should also look to the D50, D70s (before they disappear), or D80, because you want to use that fine Nikkor equipment as long as you can. But if you're just getting started in SLR photography and want a light, sweet, competent, and simultaneously friendly digital SLR, the Nikon D40 is a superb choice."

Solid Nikon quality at a very affordable price... If you haven't made the DSLR jump yet, this is a camera worth looking at.

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Next Podcast Focuses on Indoor Sports

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It's that time of year when indoor photography suddenly seems so appealing (and warm). In my upcoming Tuesday podcast (Dec. 19, 2006), I talk about sports photography under the lights and the lens selections and lighting challenges that go with it. Indoor sports are great fun to cover... provided you're prepared.

This image was captured with a Canon 5D, 85mm f-1.8 USM lens set to f-2.8 at 1/180th of a second. I set the ISO to 800 to deal with the relatively low light and fast moving objects, and the while balance was set to "custom" and measured with an ExpoDisc. No flash!

I'll get into all the details in Tuesday's podcast. Be sure to tune in. You can subscribe to The Digital Story podcast via iTunes.

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Aperture Demo Download Is Worth Trying

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You can download the current version of Aperture and try it for free for 30 days. This is a full, complete working edition of the application with no limitations.

Even better, the current demo version available is the same V. 1.5.2 that registered users have access to. Another thing to keep in mind... if you are a developer, you can grab this demo version, then get the Aperture Export SDK from the Apple Developer Connection site and play with writing an Aperture plug-in for the application.

No matter how you want to experiment, the Aperture demo is worth trying if you're interested in professional level photo workflow.

Download Public Beta of Photoshop CS3

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Adobe has released a public beta of Photoshop CS3. Registered users of CS2 can get a serial number for the beta and download it today. According to Adobe's PR firm:

"Adobe is delivering a widely available Photoshop CS3 beta to enable customers to more easily transition to the latest hardware platforms, particularly Apple's new Intel-based systems. The beta is available as a Universal Binary for the Macintosh platform, as well as for Microsoft(r) Windows(r) XP and Windows Vista computers. The final shipping release of Adobe Photoshop CS3 is planned for Spring 2007."

At first, you might have a hard time tracking down the URLs for the download. The normal spot, Adobe Labs, didn't have the download posted on Friday morning as we had heard (all the info should appear there shortly, however). But there are some direct download links floating around if you want to grab the Mac (685MB) or Windows (337MB) beta right now:

Here is the best current link for the CS3 Beta Download. You'll also have to get a registration number to run the software. That should be available here. Once you go to the serial number page, you'll need to enter your registration number for CS2 in order to receive the temporary SN for the CS3 beta. Keep in mind that you have to login in to the Adobe Labs site to do any of this. If you're not already registered, you'll have to do that first.

Over on the O'Reilly Digital Media site, Colleen Wheeler has posted more information about this beta, plus a link to a training video for it. You might want to take a look at Deke McClelland's Photoshop Beta Preview.

And finally, yes, that is the real icon for Photoshop CS3. For a long time we had thought that it was just temporary. But I've heard it's the real thing. Quite a step down from the feather...

Alien Skin Snap Art Filters for Photoshop

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One of the advantages of digitized photos is that you can easily manipulate them to look like various types of artwork, from watercolor to charcoal to pastel and beyond. Photoshop comes loaded with plenty of filter effects. But for those who want more -- such as oil paint, pencil sketch, pen & ink, comics, etc. -- Alien Skin has released a new plug-in called Snap Art.

What's different about Snap Art isn't so much the various effects such as colored pencil and watercolor, it's the amount of control over the effect that goes above and beyond the filters that come bundled with Photoshop. For each effect, you start with a palette of factory settings to choose from. Then you can customize the setting of your choice with types of brushes, different paper stocks, saturation controls, and much more. You really have a lot to play with here.

For me, the photographer (and not the fine art artist), Snap Art has more tools than I need. I seem to be able to create most of the effects I want using the filters that come with Photoshop. So spending $149 for the additional filters in Snap Art seems like overkill. But if you really like tinkering with your photographs to see how far you can push the artistic envelope, then you might want to take a look at Snap Art. There's a whole artist's studio worth of tools in this package.

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