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Harbor Seal with Pup

Harbor Seal with Pup

The Harbor Seals in Monterey County pup during April. During my recent explorations, I found a sheltered cove where the pups were learning to swim and hunt with their mothers. There were over a dozen pairs that were taking turns venturing into the water, then returning to the beach to nurse and rest. This pup must have done well after his recent excursion, because if you look closely, he's about to receive a kiss.

This shot was captured from a cliff above the beach where I could observe but not disturb the seals. I used a Canon 75-300 Image Stabilizer on a Digital Rebel XT in RAW mode. The ISO was 400 with a shutter speed of 1/750 @ f-9.5 with image stabilizer turned on. I handheld the shot at 300mm.

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Lightzone Drops Price to $149.95

Lightzone

Back in January I posted a short article about Lightzone. I was introduced to this image editor/photo manager at Macworld, and it seemed to be attracting a lot of attention. At the time, the price was $249.

Lots of news on this front since then. LightZone now runs on both Windows and Mac OS X. The new Universal Binary version is compatible with both PowerPC- and Intel-based Mac computers. Version 1.3 is available to all current owners of LightZone as a free software update. The company claims it provides increased performance and camera compatibility. Plus, they've also reduced the price to $149.95.

Seems like high-end photo managers are coming back to earth. With Apple's recent announcement of Aperture 1.1 with better performance and a new price tag of $299 (down from $499), and now Lightzone's reduction to $149.95, I'm curious to see what price Adobe is going to announce for its new product, Lightroom, later this year.

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Aperture 1.1

Want to learn more about the tinkering under the hood that Apple did with the latest version of Aperture? Scott Bourne, the photo guru behind the great ApertureTricks website, had delved into Aperture 1.1 and posted his review on Mac DevCenter. If you're a current Aperture user, or tempted to try it now that the price has been reduced from $499 to $299, you should read what Scott has to say.

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Is Your Firmware Up to Date?

Firmware Menu

Digital cameras are really computers with a lens attached. And just like our desktop computers, their operating systems need an occasional upgrade. These are called firmware updates, and they're designed to fix known problems and sometimes add new functionality. The procedure usually goes something like this: You download the firware update from the camera manufacturer's website, copy it on to a memory card, put the card in your camera, initiate the firmware update, don't touch anything during the updating process, then clean off your memory card and go take pictures.

If you haven't updated your camera since the beginning of time, you might want to check your manufacture's website to find out the current version of firmware available. If you're not comfortable updating your camera yourself, you can always have technicians apply the update for you. Here are a few recent updates that are available:

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Canon 30D

DP Review has published an exhaustive look at the new Canon 30D. Among their "pros," they cite excellent resolution with very good per-pixel sharpness, welcomed spot meter, low noise at high ISOs, great long exposure capability, spacious 2.5" LCD monitor, and excellent construction.

For the "cons," the auto white balance has only average performance, and the ISO sensitivity is not displayed on the top panel. Even though some people have complained that there wasn't a megapixel upgrade with this model, DP Review said there is really little "real world" difference between 8 and 10 megapixels.

You can read the complete report here.

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Color Readouts in HUD

If you have Aperture already, version 1.1 is available right now via Software Update. If you haven't purchased it yet, Apple has lowered the price to $299 (down from the original $499).

I've been using Aperture on a PowerBook from the beginning, and have been waiting for the 1.1 release to provide better performance when working with big RAW files. That day is here. I downloaded the update and went to work.

Many people will comment on the new color values readout that's available in the HUD and the Digital Loupe. Nice addition, but the three truly important changes are improved RAW decoding, faster performance on a PowerBook G4, and UB compatibility on the new MacBook Pro. After just a morning of testing, Apple appears to deliver on all three counts.

When you first fire up 1.1, you're greeted with this screen (below). The library update went smoothly on one of my smaller libraries, and I'm going to test updating a bigger one later today. The workflow was smoother on the G4 that previously with the 1.0 version, and I'm looking forward to burning through a large project with this update, just so I can get to know how all the different functions perform.

Welcome Screen

As for RAW decoding... well, that's going to take some side by side testing with 1.0 decodes. I do like the new RAW Fine Tuning control in the HUD. It allows me to stick with my previous 1.0 decode, or switch to the new 1.1 interpretation with added controls. My first impression is that the new rendering of my .CR2 files from a Canon 5D and Digital Rebel XT look good. Very good.

RAW Fine Tune

Of course the real temptation is to get a MacBook Pro now that Aperture is Universal Binary. Alas, if only they had the 17" model ready. Overall, I think this is a fine upgrade, and I'm looking forward to testing all of its nooks and crannies.

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iPhoto 6

How would you like to own a complete, unaltered chapter from the just-released iPhoto 6: The Missing Manual that covers two of iPhoto's 6 newest features: photocasting and iWeb publishing? For free!

You can right now by visiting the O'Reilly iPhoto 6 catalog page and clicking on the Chapter 9: iWeb, Photocasting, & Network Sharing (PDF Format) link. This PDF download is 35 pages and a 7.4 MB download. You'll learn everything you need to know about sharing your images via RSS (photocasting), building iWeb pages from your iPhoto 6 library, and iPhoto's networking capabilities.

And remember, iPhoto 6 runs on the new Intel Macs too...

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iPhoto6 TMM

"Don't let the rumors fool you. iPhoto may be simple, but it isn't simplistic," say David Pogue and Derrick Story. "It offers a wide range of tools, shortcuts, and database-like features; a complete arsenal of photo-presentation features; and sophisticated multimedia and Internet hooks. Unfortunately, many of the best techniques aren't covered in the only 'manual' you get with iPhoto--its slow, sparse electronic help screens."

That's where their new iPhoto 6: The Missing Manual (Pogue and Story, O'Reilly) comes in: it's the iPhoto book that should have been in the box and a complete course in digital photography.

Dramatically faster than previous versions, iPhoto 6 can handle 250,000 photos and boasts dozens of new features for storing, searching, editing, publishing, and sharing digital pictures. In full color, this authoritative, witty guide delivers the technical expertise to take advantage of each and every iPhoto detail, as well as the artistic know-how to shoot consistently great photos--including professional tips for composition, lighting, and manual exposure.

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PhotoFocus Radio

iPhoto 6 continues to impress casual and serious photographers alike. In an recent interview with Scott Bourne on Photofocus Radio, Derrick Story, co-author of iPhoto 6: The Missing Manual discusses with Scott the new features in version 6, including Photocasting. The interview begins about half way through the show.

Scott also covers news in the world of photography and provides a hands-on review of Apple's MacBook Pro. Lots of good stuff to listen to. You can download the show here or visit Photofocus.com and click on the April 8 entry.

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Exposure Plug-In

The folks at Alien Skin Software market their latest Photoshop plug-in, Exposure, as a film simulator. That's right, they've analyzed dozens of film stocks and brought those unique characteristics to your digital photos. So if you're in the mood for the vivid colors of Velvia or those rich Kodachrome blacks, you can have them with just the click of a mouse.

Where Exposure really turned my head though was how effortlessly it handled Black & White emulation. Most of my favorite films were there -- Tri-X, T-Max, Delta 100, Neopan, and HP5 -- and they look great. Never has film grain been such a welcomed sight. And unlike the old days, I can control the grain in the shadow, midtones, and highlights... and even the size of the grain itself. The Alien Skin presets for the different film stocks are all you'll probably ever need, but if you really want to tinker, they can be the starting point for you creating your own film stock (and saving it for future use).

Needless to say, Exposure is a terrific B&W converter for your digital images. Not only will they look like "real" B&W photos, you have an array of "film looks" to choose from. Print one of these conversions on a quality B&W printer, such as the Epson R2400, and you'll never yearn for the stench of Rapid Fixer again.

You have all sorts of additional controls beyond film emulation, such as curves, sharpness, and toning. There are some nice UI features such as a variety of split preview panes to choose from, a toggle button to see the original photo, and a magnifier. All of this functionality and convenience comes at a price however; Exposure will set you back $199. To decide if you think it's worth the money, you can download it and play with a fully functional version for 30 days. I recommend that you give Exposure a try. It works on both Mac and Windows platforms.

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