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Preview for Raw

Many Mac OS X "Tiger" users don't realize that they have a powerful Raw converter bundled with their operating system. Every 10.4 Mac comes with a handy application called Preview that most folks think of only as a PDF viewer. Even Apple touts its PDF capabilities without going into much detail about its hidden powers. The most notable of these lesser known features is Preview's ability to decode Raw files and convert them to other formats.

It's true. You don't need Photoshop Camera Raw. You don't need Aperture. If you want to open a common Raw formatted image, just drop it on the Preview icon on your Dock. Preview will decode the Raw file and display it on screen. But wait, things get even better. Go to Tools > Image Correction and you're greeted with a handy set of adjustments that include Exposure, Gamma, Saturation, Contrast, Brightness, Sharpness, and even Sepia -- all of which you can use for manipulating your Raw file.

Would you like to read the metadata embedded in the file header? Go to Tools > Get Info and click on the Details tab. Tons of image data are revealed including dimensions, aperture, shutter speed, color space, and even the camera model used to capture the shot.

When you're ready to convert the file, go to File > Save As and choose among four different formats: Photoshop, Tiff, PNG, and PDF. With the first three options, you can choose between 8-bits or 16-bits per channel. And if you choose the PDF format, you have more options including file encryption -- that's right, you can assign a password to your image to protect it from prying eyes.

File Encryption

And yes, there's still more. You can rotate the Raw file, flip it, assign a Colorsync profile, then print the image. If you go to View > Customize Toolbar, you can add a cropping tool and even a Scale resizer. So not only can you zoom in and out with the Zoom tools, you can set the numeric amount to scale the image, such as 25 percent. Then crop it if you wish.

Preview is an amazing photo editing application that's right there under your nose. If you haven't done so already, I recommend that you add it to your Dock, and use Preview whenever you have to make quick edits to a stray Raw file, or to save it to another format. For many simple jobs, this tool is faster than Photoshop.

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FotoMagico

I used to resize all of my images to 640x480 before adding them to my slideshows, but that was before zooms and pans were easily included in these presentations. I still crop and resize many of my pictures, but now I take into consideration the resolution needed for zooming and panning. Those images have to be bigger than your finished slideshow dimensions.

For example, let's say your finished presentation is going to be 640x480. But you want to have an image where you zoom in on a portion of the frame, maybe to show some detail. That picture needs to have enough resolution to maintain top quality as you zoom in.

My rule of thumb is that I like to have at least 1280x960, but often I will go 2560x1920 if I think I'm going to zoom in tight. When choosing among candidates for zooming, examine the photo at 100 percent magnification. If the detail looks good, then the image will most likely hold up as you zoom in during the slideshow. Both iPhoto and FotoMagico enable you to create this effect in your presentation. It's not a technique that you want to overuse, but I think a few well-placed zooms or pans give your movies a real professional touch.

This tip is to help you prepare your entry for the FotoMagico Slideshow Showcase. Submit your Entry Form today (to get on the books), then start working on your presentation. Deadline to submit Entry Forms is May 30, and your presentation itself is due by June 15. Don't delay!

And don't forget... iIf you wish to use FotoMagico to create your show, you can get a $10 discount off the software by entering "Digital Story" in the discount code box. Visit the order page and select FotoMagico. You'll be able to enter a coupon code at the first checkout page. The code is set to "Digital Story". Once the code is input, and the Checkout button is clicked, the $10 discount will be reflected on the final order total page.

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Lowepro Roller Backpack

When you want one camera bag that provides everything you need for travel, take a look at the Lowepro Rolling CompuTrekker AW. Use its top handle to carry it, padded backpack straps to wear it, or in-line skate wheels to roll it. If the weather turns foul, pull out its all-weather cover to keep both bag and equipment dry. Need to go for a hike with your tripod? Expose its hidden tripod holder and attach your "sticks" to the outside of the bag. Oh, and want to bring your 12" or 15" laptop? No problem, there's space for that too.

This $199USD bag (available from Adorama.com and other retailers) fits in the overhead compartment of an airplane or neatly in the trunk of your car. Zip open the main compartment to reveal enough room to fit a DSLR with an 80-200mm f-2.8 lens attached, plus room for lenses, flashes, and other accessories. There's a nifty digital goodie pouch (that's removable) that I use to store my batteries so they're always handy. You can arrange the padded dividers in the main area in various configurations to accommodate your particular needs. I like to bring a smaller Lowepro bag and tuck it inside the CompuTrekker. That way, when I head out for street shooting, I have a super-portable bag to complement the larger roller unit.

I have rolling luggage that I use all the time, but none of my suitcases are as balanced or easy to tote as the CompuTrekker. The extending arm arcs to the perfect angle making the unit very easy to roll for extended distances. Other nice touches include a dedicated memory card pouch that's very accessible and a removable 12" laptop sleeve. 15" computer users can ditch the sleeve and slide their laptops directly into the front compartment of the CompuTrekker.

In practical use, however, I prefer the bag without the laptop inserted. It makes for a slimmer profile that's easier to stash in tight compartments on the plane. If you need to fit the bag in even a smaller space, pull out the backpack straps and waistband from their hidden compartment. It's handy to stash them when using the bag as a roller, but the bad is slimmer when they're exposed.

The Lowepro Rolling CompuTrekker AW's outer dimensions are 12.2W x 4.5D x 13.4H (inches) -- 31 x 11.5 x 34 (centimeters). It weights 8.8 pounds -- 4.4 kilograms. This is as close to a perfect travel bag as I've used. I have mine filled with one Canon 5D, 5 lenses, 2 flashes, Canon Rebel XT, and a handful of accessories (including the lighter "street bag." This one is a winner.

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Lightsphere II

I took the Lightsphere II on assignment to cover a cocktail party in San Francisco. The location was the Scott Howard restaurant on Jackson St. that had a high center ceiling with 10' drop ceiling around the perimeter of the room -- perfect for testing a bounce flash device.

The Lightsphere slips over the head of the Canon 580EX flash I use with a 5D. It's made of flexible clear vinyl and doesn't require any adapters. (There are four different versions that work for most popular flashes.) The fit is snug and secure. The device diffuses light in all directions. The light from the flashhead bounces off the inverted dome atop the Lightsphere and travels through the ribbed sides of the device. Light also passes through the dome and bounces off the ceiling above. The goal is to produce a much softer light than with direct flash alone. Plus, you don't have to use a flash bracket.

I started out the shoot my normal way with direct flash mounted on a bracket. I then added the Lightsphere for another series of shots. I noticed that the Lightsphere worked best in the areas where the ceiling was lower and I could be closer to the subjects. Under these conditions, it does diffuse the light and produce softer results than with a direct flash. Here are two comparison shots.

Direct Flash on Bracket
Direct Flash on bracket with no Lightsphere

With Lightsphere
Lightsphere added to flash

One thing you'll notice is that the direct flash is also "cooler" in color temperature than the shot with the Lightsphere, which is warmer. The Lightsphere picks up the slight tint of the ceiling. I also noticed that the light was broader with the Lightsphere, providing illumination for more surrounding subjects than with direct flash.

The Lightsphere does use more light however, so my flash didn't recycle as fast as I'm used to. I had more underexposed frames with the Lightsphere, mainly because I shot before the flash was fully charged again. In the area with the high open ceiling, the Lightsphere didn't perform as well. My sense is that it really requires a low enough ceiling for bounce flash to provide best results.

With its $48 price tag, it's not cheap. But if you photograph a lot of people indoors, such as events and weddings, the Lightsphere could be a handy addition to your bag of lighting tricks.

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Sony W50

Hobbyists looking for a solid 6-megapixel pocketable digicam for less than $250 might want to take a look at the recent review of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W50 published on Imaging-Resource.com. In addition to its ample resolution, the DSC-W50 sports a 3X optical zoom, 2.5" LCD monitor, fast shutter response, fun multi-burst mode, great battery life, fast USB 2.0 interface, and cool accessories such as an underwater case.

The DSC-W50 also features high ISO settings up to 1000, but before you get you hopes up that you have a low-light gem here, read what Imaging Resource says about picture quality at settings above ISO 400. Their opinion is that print quality is unacceptable at these high settings, but very good at 400 or below.

Overall, seems like a great camera to toss in the pocket and hit the road.

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New Adobe Lightroom Tips Site

Inside Lightroom

I've been spending a lot of time with Lightroom these days, Adobe's photo management software for serious photographers. I'll have lots of surprises for you around this application, but for now I want to let you know about a new site I'm running called Inside Lightroom.

Inside Lightroom is loaded with tips and techniques for mastering this photo workflow software. Right now, you can listen to an audio interview I did with published author Julianne Kost as she discusses Lightroom's impact for digital photographers.

Then go the the Adobe Labs page and download the latest version of the public beta. To help you get comfortable quickly, also download the free 22-page "getting started" PDF by O'Reilly author, Ken Milburn, titled From Darkroom to Lightroom.

I'm firing up the blog posts too. For example, do you know how to add music to a Lightroom slideshow? Check out this slideshow tip to get the scoop.

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iTunes

There's a saying in filmmaking that "sound is half the picture." This adage applies to your slideshows too. Adding music to your presentations strengthens their emotional appeal. But where do you find music for soundtracks, and how do you add it to your pictures?

One of the first places to look is in your iTunes music library. You're allowed to use the songs you buy through iTunes Music Store (iTMS) for personal use, including your slideshows. (Commercial use of your iTunes music requires specific permission from the license holder of the material.). If you're using iPhoto to create your presentation, you can pull music directly out of your iTunes library and add it to your images (by clicking on the iTunes icon in iPhoto). Find out more by reading this brief tutorial.

FotoMagico users also have direct access to their iTunes music. Click on the Audio tab to reveal all of the music in your library. Find the song you want, and click on it once to highlight it. You can preview it by clicking on the Play button to make sure it's the track you want to use.

There can be a snag however. Even though you're allowed to use music purchased through iTunes Music Store, FotoMagico won't let you export your slideshow with iTMS music in it because of the DRM embedded in the track. There is a workaround, however.

  • Go to iTunes and select the songs you want use for your presentation. I usually create a special playlist for these.
  • Click the Burn button in the upper right corner. You'll be asked to insert a blank CD.
  • Burn an "Audio" CD (not MP3 or Data). You can set this choice in iTunes Preferences under Advanced > Burning.
  • Eject the audio CD after burning, then reinsert it. Now import the songs back into your iTunes library. I usually adjust each song's title slightly so I know the it's not the original track. You can do this by choosing Get Info.
  • Keep the songs in a special "Slideshow" playlist so they're easy to get to.
  • Reopen FotoMagico and navigate to the music you want to use.

Now when you drag the song to the timeline, you'll no longer get the warning that you won't be able to export this slideshow. And unlike slideshows created with iPhoto, you can add more than one song to a presentation, creating a more interesting movie.

This tip is to help you prepare your entry for the FotoMagico Slideshow Showcase. Submit your Entry Form today (to get on the books), then start working on your presentation. Deadline to submit Entry Forms is May 30, and your presentation itself is due by June 15. Don't delay!

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Pentax Optio A10 on DPReview

pentax_optio

Pentax's latest Optio features a 3x optical zoom, 8 megapixels, a "high sensitivity" scene mode (ISO 800), and a spacious 2.5-inch screen. Other features include a CCD-shift image stabilization system, in-camera effects and frames, and the ability to record movies in MPEG-4 DivX format.

If you want to find out more about this handsome, capable shooter, check out the full review on dereview.com.

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Camera Raw 3.4

Adobe announced an update to the Camera Raw plug-in for Photoshop CS2, extending raw file support to eight additional digital camera models, including the popular Canon EOS 3OD. This brings the total number of supported camera models to over 120. The update is available immediately as a free download at the following location.

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Color Restore

For decades, you faithfully recorded your most precious moments on film, picked a few snapshots from the bunch for photo albums, and then carefully stored the rest. But now those prints are fading. If they're stored in nonarchival albums or -- heaven forbid -- in the attic or garage, they may be aging even faster.

You can save them. By scanning old photos and film into your Mac now, you'll be able to stop the aging process and preserve irreplaceable photos. With the help of image-editing software, you may even be able to reverse some of the worst damage.

In a series of articles I have published in Macworld Magazine, you can learn how to set up a photo archiving workflow using a scanner and software you probably already own. First, take a look at New Life for Old Photos, then you might want to read Selecting a Scanner. You might also be interested in Tools for Turning Back Time. And finally, don't forget my podcast titled, Scanning Tips.

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