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One of the advantages to being the Photography Evangelist for Lowepro, is that I can test any bag that I want. I've had my eye on the Fastpack 250, so I loaded one up for recent trips to New York City and Washington DC. Since I'm traveling from California (and spend a lot of time walking around these cities once I arrive), this has been an excellent introduction to this backpack-styled bag.

As Time Magazine recently pointed out when they named the Fastpack one of the best 25 travel gadgets of 2009, this bag holds a lot of gear, but fits nicely under airline seats and in overhead compartments. Its wide shoulder straps, padded mesh back, and comfy waistband have enabled me to carry all of my gear, all day, without fatigue. The top handle makes it easy to pick up the bag or pull it out of a storage compartment. In fact, I won't use a bag that doesn't have this feature.

For my urban road trips, I carry a MacBook in laptop pocket (that holds up the 15.4" computer), Canon 5D Mark II body with 24-105mm L lens attached, 70-200mm f/4 L zoom, Speedlite 270EX flash, Canon 85mm f/1.8 lens, Olympus E-P1 with both 14-42mm and 17mm lenses, two external hard drives, M-Audio digital recorder, Audio Technica external mic, cables, accessories, and personal items such as toothbrush, etc. The laptop has its own protected area behind the backpad that's easily accessible via a long zipper that runs the length of the bag. This is particularly nice when going through airport security and I need to remove the computer in a hurry. The Canon 5D Mark II can be quickly reached through a side opening. I found that I can slide the Fastpack off my right shoulder, open the side access, and pull out the Canon in just a few seconds -- terrific for street shooting.

I organize the bag by keeping the camera gear in the bottom compartment with the side access, and stowing my personal gear in the top compartments. Speaking of the bottom compartment, if you unbuckel the security flap that covers the bottom of the bag, you can unzip the entire front area for easy access and organization, as shown in this illustration (click on photo to enlarge it). This also reveals another zippered pocket that's handy for documents. On the other side of the bag is a mesh pocket that's perfect for water bottles, or anything else that you want to grab quickly.

My favorite color combination is the arctic blue and black available at Amazon for $89.95. I was telling a friend today who also has a Fastpack, that I really should be testing other bags too. Problem is, I like this one so much that I don't want to leave it behind.

"Simple" is harder than you think, especially when composing a compelling photograph. But the Sept. 09 Photo Assignment participants created a stunning gallery of images that show how beautiful simple can be.

The November 2009 assignment is "Wrinkled." Start working on your contribution now. Details can be found on the Member Participation page. You can submit photo assignment pictures up to 600 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: November 2009." 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 Gary Stiles. You can read more about how Gary captured this shot, plus see all of the other great images on the Sept. 09 Gallery page.

Good luck with your November assignment, and congratulations to all of the fine contributors for September. It's a great collection of images.

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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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Is the Canon S90 the New G11?

Canon PowerShot G11

When Canon brought back the Raw file format to the PowerShot G9 in 2007, I thought it ruled the roost of pro-capable compacts. Now, 2 years later, much has changed with the competition thanks to the Olympus E-P1, Panasonic GF1, and upcoming beauties from the likes of Leica and others. It's a whole different world that the new Canon PowerShot G11 must compete in. Is it still to "go-to" compact for serious shooters that it once was?

The folks over at Luminous Landscape were wondering the same thing. In their review of the G11, they noted improvements such as the 2.8-inch Vari-Angle LCD and the ISO 3200 capability. Their bottom line, however, at least as I read it, is that the G11 is a good value for $490, but it doesn't compete image quality wise with the more expensive micro four thirds systems.

The nice thing about the G11, and what I still like about my G9, is that you have everything in one compact package that fits in your coat pocket. Plus, for another $150 you can get a great underwater housing (I have one for the G9), that allows you to shoot Raw in just about any environment with a zoom lens... $650 for the whole set up.

From my perspective, I don't feel the need to upgrade my Canon G9 to the G11. I'm having too much fun shooting high quality images with the Olympus E-P1. My friend, James Duncan Davidson is having the same positive experience with his Panasonic GF1. But I'm happy that I have a camera such as the G9 available to me.


But here's what occurred to me. I'm thinking that this high-end compact evolution will go more in the direction of Canon's new PowerShot S90. It's a little more affordable at $430, has a fast f/2.0 lens, shoots Raw, includes great features such as the control ring, and is very compact. The S90 could be the camera that you grab on your way out the door when even the micro four thirds systems are too big. In fact, the S90 might be Canon's high quality compact answer to the competition. I'm certainly more attracted to it than the G11.

Yes, a lot has changed in the last 2 years. The Canon PowerShot S90 is available on Amazon for $429. Very tempting.

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"Bloomers and Thongs" - Grab Shot 189

"Driving thru a small town in Oklahoma, my wife yells 'there's where you took the photo of the bloomers,'" writes John Badgerow. "I made a quick loop around the block, and shot the scene again with my Nikon D300. Times have changed. Now you can buy bloomers and thongs!

As John mentioned, he used a Nikon D300 with a 16-85mm Nikon lens. ISO was set to 400 in Aperture priority mode: 1/160th at f/10.

Photo by John Badgerow. Click on image to zoom to larger size.

If you have a candid you'd like to share, take a look at our Submissions page, then send us your Grab Shot. We'll try to get it published for you on The Digital Story.

And you can view more images from our virtual camera club in the Member Photo Gallery.

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Have you thought about bundling up a batch of 35mm slides and having them scanned so they can live alongside your digital images? The problem is, who do you send them to?

I can give you a headstart on your research in my latest Macworld article titled, Outsource your photo scanning projects. For this piece, I sent a batch of 35mm slides, negatives, and 4x6 prints to three popular services: ScanCafe, DigMyPics, and ScanDigital. All three did a good job and were great at communication along the way. But there were some differences between them also.

As a bonus, the folks over at posted the scans they made from my test batch. At the time they did the job, they didn't know I was doing research for an article. You can take a look at the work they did here.

If you're thinking about testing one of these services, make sure you read this article.

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The SkyShutter AeriCam has a 3-axis camera mount built into a radio controlled helicopter. So you can fly your DSLR or videocam over the area that you want to cover, such as a car chase, and shoot it from angles that would be otherwise hard to achieve.

While I was at PhotoPlus Expo, Jason Lam from AeriCam had a SkyShutter set up. First, it's a beautiful piece of equipment to look at. It's constructed out of 7075 aluminum with custom anodizing. Even though it only weighs 3 pounds, it can carry a payload of 7 pounds. It has direct gear drive providing lots of power, and 360 degree pan, tilt, and roll to get great shots.

In my case, I would want it to come with a pilot too. Because the last thing I would want is to crash both helicopter and camera. You can find out more at

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Tom Hogarty, Lightroom senior product manager, talks about Lightroom beta 3 that was announced on the eve of PhotoPlus Expo in New York. What I wanted from this interview were aspects of this release that excited Tom. And he was more than happy to tell me. We recorded our chat in Javits Center the day after beta 3 had been posted. Lots of great insights here, and if you plan on trying this version, you need to hear what Tom has to say.

Lightroom 3 Public Beta is available now for download at the Adobe Labs site. You can compare notes with others via Adobe's community forum.

Listen to the Podcast

You can also download the podcast here (18 minutes). Or better yet, subscribe to the podcast in iTunes.

Monthly Photo Assignment

Feet is the Oct. 2009 Photo Assignment. Shoes, bare feet, paws, manmade objects, my gosh there are so many possibilities. You can read more about how to submit on our Member Participation page. Deadline for entry is Oct. 31, 2009.

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!

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For my recent New York trip, I brought two cameras: the Canon 5D Mark II and the Olympus E-P1. For the first three days, I shot exclusively with the 5D2. I was working at PhotoPlus Expo for Lowepro. I needed to take photos in the booth of photographer activities, and the 5D2 with the 24-105 zoom worked great.

All images by Derrick Story, captured with an Olympus E-P1 with a 17mm f/2.8 lens. High ISOs were used for all pictures. You can see more at the Digital Story Flickr site. Click on images to enlarge.

But on the fourth day, after I had completed my assignment, it was time to hit the streets of Manhattan. And for that gig, I packed my Olympus E-P1 with a 17mm f/2.8 lens and a Jobo GorillaPod. That was it.

I like to go out a little before dusk. This was a problem in the past with compact cameras because they didn't perform well at high ISO settings. But the E-P1 shoots great at ISO 1600, and lately, I've even pushed it to 3200 with solid results. Because it was raining while I was on the street, I needed the speed even more to offset the cloud cover.

My technique is fairly simple. I turned off the LCD viewfinder and framed the shots with my eyes only. The E-P1 is usually hanging around my neck at chest level or positioned at some odd angle to get the shot. About every 15 minutes or so, I'll turn on the LCD, review the recent shots to make sure I'm not screwing up, then turn off the viewfinder and look for another place to photograph. Since the shutter is fairly quiet anyway (then add a little street noise), I don't draw much attention to myself -- certainly less the holding the 5D2 with big zoom lens up to my eyes.

Everything is recorded in Raw. This really helps when trying to control deep shadows and specular highlights. I process the images in Adobe Lightroom 2.5 because it provides excellent Raw decoding for the E-P1. And since the camera handles white balance and color so well, combined with Lightroom's excellent processing, most of my post production is limited to cropping and minor exposure tweaks. This enables me to quickly post the shots online after the shoot is over.

On that Saturday night in New York City, the rain showers gradually broke open into a downpour. By 8:30 pm, I was back in the room sorting my images on a MacBook, and by 10 pm they were online at my Flickr account.

What an enjoyable way to finish off a great trip!

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As happy as Lightroom fans are about the announced posting of the Adobe Lightroom 3 beta, Aperture users are dismayed by Apple's silence. During my stay in New York, I've met with many photographers comparing notes about our shared community. One question seems to come up more than any other: What About Aperture?

Concerns seem focused on two issues. First, we've had Aperture 2 since Feb. 2008. That's a long time between releases in the hotly competitive field of advanced photography. And there's been no communication from Apple to photographers as to when they can expect an upgrade. During that same period, Aperture's primary competitor, Lightroom, has been very active and gaining market share. Many Aperture users are feeling left behind while their Lightroom counterparts are seeing their software move forward.

The second complaint centers on Raw file support. Many cameras are simply not supported. And the ones that are often see Raw updates long after the competition has released theirs. For example, the very popular Olympus E-P1 still is not supported in Aperture.

One photographer commented today, "I understand Apple controlling the message on new iPods, iPhones, and Macs. But when your professional software doesn't support the gear you want to use, we should at least hear what's going on with that."

Many shooters, myself included, had pegged PhotoPlus as the event for an announcement about Aperture 3. It seemed like the perfect time. New York is buzzing with top tier photographers. Nikon, Canon, and Adobe have muscled up their respective product lines. Photography news is getting lots of attention. And we don't have another major photo show in the US until PMA, which is having its own problems right now.

So, when I'm asked the question, "What about Aperture 3?" I have to say, I'm out of guesses. I put my money down on PPE, and the dealer has just swept it away. I know Aperture 3 is out there somewhere. But your guess is as good as mine as to when we will see it.

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Adobe Lightroom 3 beta Available

Adobe has put much work into the beta version of Lightroom 3. Now it's your turn. Lightroom 3 public beta is available now for download at the Adobe Labs site. This is your opportunity to test the next generation of Adobe's comprehensive photo management software.

Although there are plenty of new features in this beta release, a key focus is image processing. Adobe is striving for the best image quality possible and has once again paid lots of attention to the Develop module. You'll be able to see the difference with your own eyes because you can process a Raw file with either the older Lightroom 2 algorithms or the new beta 3 processing -- in the same application. This "processing versioning" is a first for Lightroom. They are retaining the version 2 processing for older images. Adobe doesn't want to change an image you've already adjusted. But you will have the option of reprocessing an older picture with beta 3 algorithms too. You'll be able to compare notes with others via Adobe's community forum. In the tests I've seen from Adobe, there's an improvement between Lightroom 2 processing and beta 3.

Screenshot 1 :You can now create HD slideshows with music... and export them as movies. Click to enlarge.

In terms of features, a few improvements that I really like include:

  • Image import interface redesigned. Instead of having the import dialog as a completely separate function as it was in Lightroom 2, it's now integrated into the main program interface. It's quite attractive and easy to use.
  • Slideshow authoring has also been improved, but what I really like is the ability to export your slideshows to movies using the H.264 codec. You can also include music in these HD beauties.
  • Major improvements to sharpening and noise reduction. From what I've seen, these built-in tools look as effective as third-party plug-ins.

Computer Requirements

Mac users will need to have an Intel processor running Mac OS X 10.5 or 10.6 to launch Lightroom 3. Windows users can use Windows 7 or most of the currently supported operating systems by Microsoft.

Screenshot 2: The import dialog has been integrated into the Lightroom interface. Click to enlarge.

You don't have to be a current registered Lightroom user to try beta 3. So if you've been curious about this application, here's your opportunity to see the latest version for free. The beta will be in English only. Adobe wants your feedback, so be sure to participate in the forums if you give this a try.

Remember, this is beta software. Keep your important Lightroom libraries in version 2 and create test libraries for this beta 3. You won't be able to import version 2 libraries into beta 3. I recommend that you grab a handful of duplicate Raw files and just play.

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