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Sometimes a great deal is nothing more than that. A perfect example is Aperture 3.1.1 for only $79 in the new Mac App Store. This is a great price compared to the $199 it will cost you in the online Apple Store.

I read some speculation today that the $79 offering represented a "closeout sale" for Apple's professional photo management software. Really? Rumors of Apple abandoning Aperture have been around about as long as the application itself.

My take on all of this? This is a fantastic price in the Mac App Store. And if you don't have Aperture already, and want it, buy it now. I predict that Aperture will with be us for quite some time.

Aperture Tips and Techniques

To learn more about Aperture 3, check out my Aperture 3 Essential Training on Also, take a look at our Aperture 3 Learning Center. Tons of free content about how to get the most out of Aperture.

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Tonight at CES, Olympus announced the new E-PL2 system camera with updated MSC ED m14-42mm f3.5/5.6 zoom lens and an affordable price tag of $599. This latest addition to the micro four/thirds line includes a number of welcome refinements.

Olympus E-PL2 The Olympus E-PL2 system camera with new MSC ED m14-42mm f3.5/5.6 zoom lens. Click on image for larger version. Here's a complete gallery of E-PL2 images.

The first thing you'll notice is the redesigned MSC ED m14-42mm f3.5/5.6 zoom. This is not your standard kit lens. It uses a improved inner focus mechanism to make it fast and nearly silent when recording high-definition movies. The focusing speed is also quite snappy for still image photography. After two weeks of testing it in the field, I very much like this new version of the standard zoom that covers 28-84mm range.

My second favorite improvement is the 3", 460,000 dot fixed-monted LCD with a 176 degree viewing plane. Photos look great on it during review, and the live image holds up well when panning and recomposing.

Overall, the E-PL2 feels lighter, sleeker, and more refined. The on/off button on top, and the movie record button on the back are now recessed to prevent accidental pushing. The front grip is more contoured and quite comfortable, even with larger mits. It's very easy to hold this camera in one hand.

E-PL1 and E-PL2 Side by Side The Olympus E-PL2 and E-PL1 (right) side by side. Click on image for larger version. Here's a complete gallery of E-PL2 images.

Other nice touches include Art Filter variations and enhancements so you can creatively play with images in the camera. The ISO now goes up to 6400, but lots of luminance and chroma noise come with that setting. I still limit my shooting with the E-PL2 to ISO 1600, which I think is quite decent. Playback on an HDTV via the E-PL2's HDMI port is a lot of fun. Once the two devices are connected via an optional HDMI cable , you can control the E-PL2's menus with the TV remote.

Image quality at ISO range of 200 to 800 is quite good, both indoors and out. ISO 1600 is well within the acceptable range when you need it.

Bike Riders The Olympus E-PL2 is so light that you can take it just about anywhere. And the images it records are clear and colorful. Click on image for larger version. Here's a complete gallery of photos of the E-PL2.

There are a handful of new accessories that are compatible with the E-PL2. One that I tested was the PENpal. When connected to the new Accessory Port 2 on the E-PL2, the PENpal can transfer pictures to a Bluetooth device such as a smart phone or to another PEN camera. It doesn't work with iOS devices including the iPad and the iPhone. But I was able to have the PENpal send images to my MacBook Air via Bluetooth. It's fun, and at times could be a very useful convenience.

Olympus PENpal The Olympus PENpal is a Bluetooth accessory that allows you to send images from the camera. Click on image for larger version. Here's a complete gallery of photos of the E-PL2.

I do have a few nits with the latest PEN. The control wheel on the back spins with the lightest touch, and I often found that my exposure compensation was set to -1 or +1 unintentionally. I also think there's still room for improvement with the menu system. It's still not as easy to navigate as Canon and some other competitors. And I would like the external mic jack to be built into the body instead of requiring an accessory port adapter. But that's about it for complaints. Overall, I'm very happy shooting with this camera, and I can easily recommend it to photographers at all levels.

The Olympus E-PL2 should be available in February for $599 US. If you've been waiting to get a PEN, or if you'd like a second body to go with your existing system, I think you'll enjoy shooting with this handsome micro four/thirds camera.

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Episode Extras

If you've purchased the TDS Podcast App for the iPhone or iPod touch, then you should be aware that there are two different types of "Extras" included. I just received mail from a listener who didn't realize that there are Extras with each individual episode as well as the standing Extras when you first launch the app.

To see the "Episode Extras," click on any podcast in the list of shows. Once you have a particular show open, click on that Extras button in the upper righthand corner. That reveals a second menu. For example, this week's show, "11 Photography Goals for 2011," you have another photographer's survival kit movie (from Stefan) waiting for you in the bonus content (as shown in the illustration).

I try to add a goodie at least every other show, and sometimes more often. It's all for fun. I save my serious work for the daily posts and the weekly podcasts.

Another Few Tips

You'll notice that at the top of the screen for every podcast episode, there's a star that is outlined. If you tap on that star, you have the option of adding it to your starred list, and you can download the show to your iPhone. This is handy if you have bandwidth at the moment, but are concerned that you might not be able to stream the show in real time when you're ready to listen to it. Tapping the Download button puts the show right on your mobile device.

When you are listening to a show, you may have noticed the "round arrow" surrounding the number 30. This allows you to jump backward 30 seconds. It's quite helpful if you miss something that I say, and you want to hear it again. Just tap the number 30, and back you go.

When I add a wall paper to the Extras for a show, as I did for the "Canon EOS 60D Review" episode, it is downloaded to your Camera Roll in your Photos application. This is yours to play with as you see fit.

Android Users

I don't have an Android phone, but I did have a chance to look at the TDS Podcast App on an Android device, and it looked quite similar to the iPhone version. But the one omission seems to be the Extras button. I'm going to see what I can do about that. If I can add it to the app, I'll be sure to post about it.

And Finally, Thanks!

As you may have guessed, no body is getting rich off this podcast. I have ISP fees, two sys admins to help with improvements and the constant battle against spammers, and I spend a lot of time each week generating original content. I provide the podcast app as a service and as a way to generate an extra bit of revenue. For each app that is purchased, $1 goes towards supporting the show. The other 2/3rds is split between Apple and the developer of the app. But every bit helps, and I appreciate your support.

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One way to make 2011 memorable is to accomplish something you've always dreamed of doing with your photography. So why not make it happen? In this week's podcast, I discuss 11 noteworthy photography projects for you to consider. Choose one and start making plans now to achieve photographic greatness.

Listen to the Podcast

You can also download the podcast here (33 minutes). Or better yet, subscribe to the podcast in iTunes. You can support this podcast by purchasing the TDS iPhone App for only $2.99 from the Apple App Store.

Monthly Photo Assignment

Ground Level is the January 2011 Photo Assignment. You can read more about how to submit on our Member Participation page. Deadline for entry is Jan. 31, 2010.

TDS Summer 2011 Photography Workshop

We're making plans now for the Summer 2011 TDS Photography Workshop. If you want your name on the reserve list, just drop me a line.

More Ways to Participate

Want to share photos and talk with other members in our virtual camera club? Check out our Flickr Public Group. It's a blast!

Podcast Sponsors

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Blurb believes passionately in the joy of books - reading them, making them, sharing them, and selling them. Learn more by visiting Blurb on The Digital Story.

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I have a small collection of VHS tapes that contain some terrific content. My favorite of the bunch is American Photography, a Century of Images, which is a wonderful resource for students of the medium. I decided to digitize these tapes and put them on my iPhone and iPad so I could watch them whenever I wished. The process is quite simple. All you need is an affordable digitizer, a computer, and a VHS player.

VHS Recording Setup

Here's an old 1.33 GHz PowerPC G4 being used to digitize VHS tapes for my iPhone. Click on image for larger version.

I spent very little money on this project. I dusted off an old PowerPC 1.33 GHz laptop running Tiger that wasn't being used, and connected it to a Sony VHS player using an iGrabber that I bought on sale on Meritline for $21 (normally $36). That was the sum total of my investment.

Basically, I fired up the digitizer, started playing the video, and saved it to my computer as a QuickTime movie in standard definition (640x480). I then added the movie to my iTunes library, including information about the production that I copied off the VHS dust sleeve.

At this point, I can watch the digitized tape on my computer. It plays fine. But if I use a CODEC during the digitizing process that the iPhone doesn't like, such as PhotoJPEG, then I have to have iTunes convert the file to MPEG-4 to make it compatible with my iOS device. To do so, I clicked on the movie, then selected Advanced > Create iPod or iPhone Version. iTunes created a second version of the movie that can now be viewed on a mobile device.

Software Download

For some reason, the Mac version of the software that was on my iGrabber DVD was corrupt. Fortunately, I could use the serial number on the envelope and download a good version of the driver from the MyGica site. Once I did that, everything worked great.

Recording CODECs

I initially tried using H264 as the recording CODEC as I was digitizing the content, but my older G4 just couldn't handle the load and I had sync problems. So I captured using the PhotoJPEG CODEC, then converted the file for iPhone playback in iTunes on an Intel Mac. It's an extra step, but I like being able to dedicate the old computer to this project. As for audio, I've been using "uncompressed." It doesn't add that much size to the file, and it really sounds good, both on the computer and my iPhone.

As we all know, VHS tapes don't last forever. So if you have a few cherished recordings that you would like to save, then this setup will probably serve you well.

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SizzlPix in a Fine Art Gallery

I recently had lunch with Don Sherman of SizzlPix fame, and then we visited the Aurora Art Studios in San Rafael to see the works of photographer Alan Plisskin. Why were we so interested in Alan's work? In part because he's a very good shooter. But we also wanted to see the SizzlPix that Alan had hanging in the gallery.

sizzlpix_gallery.jpg Inside Aurora Art Studios with Alan Plisskin's work on display and the curator talking about Alan's work.

If you have a SizzlPix in your own gallery, you'll understand the next thing I'm going to say... Those images jumped off the wall. They were quite impressive. We chatted with the gallery owner about reactions to these unique photographs. He said that they weren't for everyone, mainly because some people are looking for traditional framed prints to go with their existing decor. But for those who liked the SizzlPix, they really liked what they saw.

I think Alan Plisskin is on to something here. Photographers often look for ways to distinguish their work from others. He's certainly done that at Aurora Art Studios.

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Mark Garbowski "High ISO"

I've talked a lot about daring to push your ISO setting up the dial. This month, TDS shooters proved that great imagery is possible in any light. Check out the High ISO gallery from members of our virtual camera club. And which one will be the SizzlPix Pick of the Month?

The Jan. 2011 assignment is "Ground Level." Start working on your contribution now. Details can be found on the Member Participation page. You can now submit photo assignment pictures up to 800 pixels in the widest direction.

Please follow the instructions carefully for labeling the subject line of the email for your submission. It's easy to lose these in the pile of mail if not labeled correctly. For example, the subject line for next month's assignment should be: "Photo Assignment: Jan. 2011." Also, if you can, please don't strip out the metadata. And feel free to add any IPTC data you wish (These fields in particular: Caption, Credit, Copyright, Byline), I use that for the caption info.

Photo by Mark Garbowski. (Click on it to see enlarged version; it gets even better.) You can read more about how Mark captured this shot, plus see all of the other great images on the November 2010 Gallery page.

Good luck with your January assignment, and congratulations to all of the fine contributors for November. I love this gallery!

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Now Available! The Digital Photography Companion. The official guide for The Digital Story Virtual Camera Club.

  • 25 handy and informative tables for quick reference.
  • Metadata listings for every photo in the book
  • Dedicated chapter on making printing easy.
  • Photo management software guide.
  • Many, many inside tips gleaned from years of experience.
  • Comprehensive (214 pages), yet fits easily in camera bag.

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Camtastic Photo Fun for iPhone 4 & 3GS

I've been playing with Camtastic on my iPhone 3GS. It's a fun camera app that provides scene modes, film choices, sequence shooting, and a variety of self-timer options. Once you take a picture, it sends the image to the "lab" for processing (shown below). When the image is finishing processing (it doesn't take long), you can send the picture to your photo library on the iPhone, to Facebook, or via email.

camtastic_film_process.pngTwo different film processes just completed in the virtual darkroom.

This is a real workflow difference with Camtastic; it doesn't send images directly to your iPhone photo library, but holds them in the "darkroom" until you decide to move them along (or not). At first, I wasn't sure how I felt about this. But now I kind of like making the final decision.

The film options are interesting, and unlike what we're used to in the digital world, you have to wait a few seconds for the image to develop in the darkroom before you see the effect. In way, it brings back that bit of anticipation from the chemical days.

I didn't find the scene modes quite as useful, and left the camera in auto mode most of the time. But I did like the self-timer options (2, 5, 10, 15, & 30 seconds) and the sequence shooting choices (1, 2, 4, 6, & 8). The built-in electronic level is also quite handy for lining up your shot.

Camtastic is available in the iTunes App Store for $1.99. I'm keeping it on my iPhone.

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Stefan's Photographer's Survival Kit

When I published my original version of the Photographer's Survival Kit, I received lots of mail with terrific variations on that original theme. And in this case, Stefan Rusche sent me a movie detailing his version of the kit that he carries with him. He gave me permission to share his work with you. So, without further ado, from Hamburg Germany, here's Stefan.

"Photographer's Survival Kit" by TDS member and photographer, Stefan Rusche.

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Stylish, Compact Bags for ILC Cameras

The new Lowepro ILC Classic 100($49) and the Lowepro ILC Classic 50($39) are two rugged, stylish camera bags for your Olympus PEN, Sony NEX, and other interchangeable lens cameras (ILC).

Both bags are designed to protect your gear, yet are so light and compact that you can take them anywhere. You can see a quick tour in this short video featuring both bags in use with Olympus PEN cameras.

Another online tool to help you find the perfect bag is the Lowepro ILC Fit Chart that matches the right bag for your particular camera set up.

Video recorded with a Canon EOS 60Dwith a Canon 17-40mm f/4 zoom and an external lapel mic. I used iMovie '11(which is part of iLife '11) for titles, final production, and uploading to YouTube.

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