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If you thought you had to pay $1,000 or more for a 13 x 19 inch printer that produced gallery quality images on a variety of stocks, you're wrong. The HP B9180 is available for around $500, and you get a top quality machine for that money.

I've been testing the B9180 for a couple months, and I'm impressed with its output, the variety of excellent paper stocks available for it, the archival permanence of its output, and the closed loop color calibration system for consistent color. Here is a list of its strengths and weaknesses that I compiled over the months.

Pros

  • Outstanding color and B&W output
  • Densitometric closed loop color calibration system for consistent output
  • Excellent paper stocks for fine art printing
  • Impressive 200+ year archival rating with HP inks and paper
  • Easy to use Photoshop Pro Printer plug-in
  • No cartridge swapping for different paper stocks
  • Rugged construction that feels durable with user-replaceable print heads
  • Convenient ink level LCD indicator on outside of unit
  • Large capacity 28cc ink cartridges for long life
  • Always ready to print thanks to auto printhead monitoring system
  • Both USB 2.0 and Ethernet connectivity built right in
  • Very competitive price: as low as $510 US

Cons

  • No roll paper adapter
  • Temperamental manual paper feed when using the Specialty Media Tray
  • Paper and ink hard to find at standard retail outlets; often must order online
  • Certain types of paper jams force you to restart the printer and wait a long time to resume work

The HP Pro B9180 Inkjet Printer is an ideal "first serious" photo printer. It produces gallery-quality output up to 13 by 19 inches, is well-designed, is very affordable (around $500 US with a set of inks and sample paper), and reasonable to maintain. Photographers ready to move up to gallery-quality output at home or in the studio should take a close look at this unit.

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Color Management Tips with Aperture

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One of the holy grails of digital photography is maintaining consistent color management all the way through the workflow. We want our prints to look as close as possible to what we see on the computer monitor.

Recently, I sat down for a chat with Joe Schorr, Senior Product Manager for Aperture, to get to the bottom of color management workflow. Joe shared some great tips for maintaining the consistency that we all strive for, and I thought you might want to listen in on this 18-minute podcast interview. Even if you're not an Aperture user, there's lots of good information in this conversation.

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ExpoDisc Custom White Balance -- Simply Better Color. Simply Better Pictures. Visit www.expodisc.com

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Nikon announced Capture NX 1.1 today, its robust image editing software that is now updated for the latest operating systems on both Mac and Windows.

Mac users will be happy to hear that Capture NX 1.1 is Universal Binary. It runs natively on Intel Macs, which makes it a perfect companion to applications such as Apple's Aperture. (You can find out more about this by listening to my conversation with Ben Long on roundtripping out of Aperture.)

Capture NX 1.1 is also optimized for Windows Vista, plus Nikon has updated the user interface making this program a great choice for photographers who shoot Nikon Raw, or for anyone who wants a robust image editor for their Tiffs and Jpegs. You can download a 30-day trial from the Nikon USA site.

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Inside Lightroom - A New Community Site

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With the upcoming release of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 1.0, lots of new users will have questions about how best to use the application and get up to speed quickly. Fortunately, Inside Lightroom just launched to meet those very needs.

On Inside Lightroom, you can absorb tips from power users on the daily blog, download tutorials, listen to podcasts, watch instructive screencasts, and peruse a variety of links to other Lightroom resources. One of the bloggers, Mikkel Aaland, was the organizer of the Lightroom Adventure: Destination Iceland, and is writing a book covering post production tips used by professional on location in Iceland. He'll be sharing lots of insights on Inside Lightroom.

And if you want to contribute to the site, just click on the mail link at the top of the page and state your case.

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The Ricoh 500SE GPS-enabled camera is a rugged (dust-proof and waterproof) 8-megapixel model with a wide 28mm to 85mm (equivalent) zoom lens, 2.5" LCD monitor, supports both Bluetooth and WiFi networking... oh, and has built-in GPS hardware and software.

The camera's integrated GPS module provides for geo-coding images and video at the time of capture. For applications that require even greater precision, the camera is capable of receiving NMEA data streams from external GPS devices via its on-board Bluetooth radio. Once the captured geo-image files are transferred to a computer, they can be converted to shape files or merged into geo-databases for instant integration into Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Points representing each file's position may be hovered over to display a thumbnail of the file, or clicked on to access the original image or video.

Although I don't have confirmation from Ricoh, it appears that the 500SE is both Mac and PC compatible. It's not cheap, however. The 500SE will set you back around $1,200 US with all the bells and whistles. I hope to get a hands-on look at it during the PMA show this coming March.

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Camera manufacturers continue to find ways to squeeze more pixels onto the sensors in our digital cameras. In a recent Cnet article by Stephen Shankland, the question comes up: Is this compromising overall image quality?

The answer varies among experts. Camera manufacturers don't think that more megapixels in the same space hurt image quality. Other folks, such as Dave Etchells from The Imaging Resource thinks there is an overall increase in image noise as a result of the megapixel race.

I tend to take a middle of the road approach here. I see no need to cram 10 megapixels into my compact camera. Six or 7 megapixels are just fine, and I am happy with the image quality I'm getting at the lower ISOs. For my DSLRs however, I want more resolution so I can make big prints. It's a scenario of choosing "the right tool for the job" for me.

But the Cnet report is interesting, and you might want to take a look at it.

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The variety and quality of digital photo frames available today offer photographers a viable way to display their work. The advantages of these devices include the ability to stream many images through one frame, it's easy to prepare your work for digital display, and they have become quite cost effective. Most digital frames can read images directly from a memory card you're that prepared either in-camera of via your computer. Want to change the pictures? Just change the card. Some models are WiFi and Internet-enabled allowing you to stream pictures from your flickr account or other sources. I've even seen models with remote controls.

You can find quality digital frames starting as reasonable as $100 US. The curious can survey an overview of some of the frames available today here at Yahoo Shopping. Could be a clever Valentine's gift for that special someone in your life.

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One of my favorite lighting guys, Strobist, has just finished an assignment where he had to light a large interior. One of the things he mentions in the article is a tip that I want to pass along here. You can often brighten your flash-illuminated shots by taking your exposure off program mode and setting it to a slower speed, such as 1/30, 1/15, or 1/8 of a second.

Photo credit: Strobist.

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Virtual camera club member Sarah Kim discovered the CCRRFDv2 by Photophool while browsing flickr. This device helps you evenly illuminate subjects when using macro mode with a Canon S2. The DIY device consists of three plastic foam cereal bowls stapled together with holes cut in the bottom to slip-fit on the lens barrel, and it delivers shadowless lighting in supermacro mode.

Photophool has updated the instructions for building this handy device. You might want to take a look at what's going on here, and think about ways that you could apply the technique to your camera and photography. If you get some cool shots, or discover a clever variation on this theme, be sure to drop me a line.

Sarah has already put her diffuser to work capturing this close-up of her husband's hand while working. Thanks for the tip Sarah!

Photo of the diffuser by Photophool, who has lots of other interesting stuff.

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The 1.0 version of Lightroom will be available on Feb. 19, 2007 for both Windows and Macintosh platforms. Early adopters who purchase the application before April 30 can do so for $199 US. After April 30, Lightroom will cost you $299. Adobe is also providing a free trial download of the 1.0 version on Feb. 19. Current users of the beta version of Lightroom will have to decide what to do by Feb. 28, because that's when the current beta expires.

Adobe engineers have been very busy during the final phases of application development. In addition to many performance and UI refinements, the shipping version includes some great new features. Two of my favorite new tools are "Targeted Adjustment" and "Clone and Healing." Both provide Photoshop-like power within Lightroom. Version 1.0 also includes support for 150 native Raw formats, including many of the latest camera models such as the Nikon D40, D80 and Pentax K10D.

Mac users will need OS X 10.4 and at least a PowerPC G4 processor, but I recommend an Intel Mac for best performance. On the Windows side, you'll need XP with Service Pack 2 and an Intel Pentium 4 processor or newer. Lightroom isn't certified for Vista yet, but will be soon.

There's good news on the Raw processing front too. Adobe Camera Raw 3.7 will also ship on Feb. 19, and this latest version is compatible with Lightroom, so the adjustments you make in ACR will look the same in Lightroom, and the other way around. This brings excellent compatibility between the two applications.

One of my favorite features in Lightroom is the ability to back up your masters to another hard drive at the time of import to Lightroom. By enabling backup at import, photographers can confidently erase their memory cards immediately, which is very important when working in the field.

Overall, Lightroom is a bold step forward for Adobe. If it's been the leading contender for your photo management tool, then I recommend that you take advantage of the early adopter discount and purchase it before April 30. I have lots more coverage in the coming weeks.