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October 2009 Archives

October 1, 2009

Sony Vegas Pro 9 for Pro Editing

Sony Vegas Pro 9, the latest version in the Sony Creative Software line of professional video and audio editing software, was released in May 2009. The product also includes DVD Architect 5, which adds support for Blu-ray Disc authoring.

Vegas demonstrates interesting developing trends in professional video editing software, from the interface to features to performance.

The most visible change is to the interface, with a darker palette. The more muted look fits better in darkened editing rooms and provides a more neutral background for working with clips. This has become popular as well in consumer applications like the Adobe Elements products, since the colors pop more against the plainer background.

Inside, Vegas is showing the way into higher performance computing and extended precision by including both the standard 32-bit application, and a native 64-bit version of the application, opening up the ability to address and processes more frames and higher-res frames directly in memory. And for extra precision during final rendering, Vegas supports shifting up from the standard 8-bit video mode to 32-bit floating point arithmetic and extended color space modes.

Another clear trend in Vegas Pro 9 is broader support for professional camera and imaging formats beyond broadcast to motion pictures, now supporting up to 4K resolution (4096x4096). Vegas supports import and native editing from the RED ONE digital cine camera, and has native import of Sony XDCAM EX cameras. It captures XDCAM-compatible MXF files from SD/HD-SDI sources. It has native import and export for the DPX and OpenEXR high-precision image formats. And it supports working with gigapixel-sized images.

More generally, Vegas tracks the transition from capturing from linear tape to importing from digital cameras with the new Device Explorer to browse AVCHD and XDCAM cameras to select clips for native import and editing.

For actual video editing, Vegas Pro 9 adds new professional lighting effects and workflow enhancements to work more efficiently. But it also adds automated assists, including automated adjustments to the source media to better match your project or rendering settings (i.e., though cropping or padding the frame size or adjusting the interlacing).

And Vegas continues to build on its heritage in audio editing -- Vegas 9 extends the precision of audio edits so that audio-only edits are no longer quantized to the nearest frame boundary by default.

The range required for professional videographers continues to broaden, from broadcast to film resolution, SD to HD to Internet videos -- and Vegas Pro 9 steps up to meet those needs for professional formats and higher performance.

Sony Vegas Pro 9 is currently available for around $599. Sony also has released a separate Vegas Pro Production Assistant plug-in with automation and productivity tools for broadcasters and editors, priced around $169. This automates a variety of frequent tasks and processes and creates customized presets for batch processing.

Sony offers trial version downloads of its products from its website, including Vegas Pro and DVD Architect. Current users can download the recent product updates for the latest versions and bug fixes.

See my full article: Walkthrough: Sony Vegas Pro 9

See summaries of video applications and versions in my Video Editing Software Gallery.

    Find Sony Vegas Pro 9 on Amazon.com

October 6, 2009

Digital Content for Set-top and Handheld - Sony PS3 and PSPgo

The differences between today's console gaming systems can be reduced to sound bites: the Microsoft Xbox 360 is for hardcore gamers, the Nintendo Wii is for casual fun, and the Sony PlayStation 3 is for games and media. But the battle here is not about gaming -- it's about establishing a permanent beachhead on the home set-top as your home media hub, and then becoming the toll-keeper as digital media flows into the home.

In the past, the path to the home was through optical discs, going back to Sony's support of DVD with the PlayStation 2, and then its use of the PS3 to swell the installed base of Blu-ray players in the recent "format war" with HD DVD.

However, the success of Apple iTunes -- it's now the #1 U.S. music retailer (see previous post) -- has shown the importance of digital delivery for music and now television and movies, albeit mostly to handheld media players. And on the set-top, the cable companies like Comcast still have strong positions as the central device for delivering TV and on-demand content.

With over 20 million units sold by the end of last year, Sony has moved the PlayStation 3 strongly in the digital direction as well, developing the PlayStation Network, now with some 27 million registered accounts, and the associated PlayStation Store, with over 15,000 movies and TV shows (see press release).

Which explains why Sony is selling PS3 systems with 80, 120, and 160 GB of hard disk storage. That's clearly more capacity than you need to save game state, but comes in handy as you get involved in downloading and saving trailers and demos, and buying media content and game titles. The new slimmer PS3 with 120 GB hard drive for $299 has shrunk about two-thirds in size to better squeeze in to your TV cabinet.

Meanwhile, Sony is following the same path with portable players, positioning its PlayStation Portable gaming system as also a media player, and then adding the PSP-3000 with microphone for Skype calls last year. Sony also is moving away from its proprietary UMD mini-discs on the PSP to a digital download model with its upcoming PSPgo, with 16 GB internal flash memory for $249 (see press release).

With both the PS3 and the PSP, on the set-top and hand-held, these devices play local games and media, and then go online for multi-player action, social interactions, and Web browsing. Sony also is developing bridges between these devices, linking the hand-held to the PS3 with Remote Play, TV to hand-held with LocationFree, and now the PC to the PlayStation Store and PSP content with New Media Go.

But the real key is in networked access to purchased content. Apple does well with the PC download model to sync to iPods, but the iPhone and iPod touch have demonstrated the attractiveness of immediate access for downloading apps and content, especially over Wi-Fi. Sony is following the same Wi-Fi access model with the PSPgo, as is Nintendo with the DS systems.

So the player device is the platform to lock in the store, and your account with the store is the lock in that helps keeps you wedded to the same player line. Apple is leading the way in selling both applications and content into its devices, making a much more interesting business with far fewer devices than selling ringtones to mobile phones. And, as on the desktop, Apple's control over both software and media delivery provides a much more comfortable user experience than other smartphones like Windows Media and Blackberry and Palm and Android can provide.

It's now up to competitors like Sony and Nintendo to develop their own digital services that can provide the range of features and content that users will demand.

See my Portable Media Players Gallery for more on the PSP and other media players

See my High-Def Gallery for more on the PS3 and other set-top gaming systems that seek to become your media hub.

    Find the Sony PSP-3000 and PS3 slim on Amazon.com

October 8, 2009

Protecting Your iPod nano - Griffin iClear Cases

Apple's iPod designs are beautiful objects, particularly the iPod nano -- so clean and slim and graceful, and in happy vivid colors. It's almost a shame to actually use your nano, and risk getting it roughed up or scratched from banging around in your bag or pocket.

So you want to protect your precious object, but it would be a crime to enclose it in a standard case, which would cover up the attractive coloring that you selected, or bulk up the svelte design with padding.

One possible answer is to wrap your device with an adhesive protective film like ZAGG invisibleSHIELD to protect it from scratches (see previous post). Or you can protect the back from scarring with a snap-on cover like the Belkin Micra Cases (see previous post). This kind of transparent polycarbonate case also can be decorated with fun designs or patterns that play off the nano's original colors.

The new iPod nano generation 5 introduces another issue for cases and covers -- even though the player looks to be the same size (albeit with a larger screen), the new built-in camera adds a lens to the formerly pristine back of the device (see previous post).

So Griffin Technology has responded by expanding its iClear line of cases with new designs for the new iPod nano. These cases are a clear polycarbonate hard shell, with two pieces that snap together over the back and the front of your device. It has cut-outs to provide access to the click wheel and the camera lens, and the top and bottom ends are open for the hold switch, headphone jack, and dock connector. The result is durable protection for your player, including the screen, without too much additional bulk.

- The iClear cases are available for iPod models including classic, touch, and nano; the iPhone; plus Zune, Sansa, and BlackBerry. The nano gen 5 case is $19.99, or $29.99 with removable clip and armband.

- The iClear Shade for $24.99 overlays the original color of your nano with an ombre shaded finish, with a graduated tint that fades from clear to dark grey.

- The iClear Sketch for $24.99 adds a variety of decorative translucent designs, from patterns like Plaid, Tartan, Camo, and Baroque, to images like Pipeline (waves), Summit (mountains -- shown here), Landmark (N.Y. City), and 8-bit (space invaders).

See my Portable Peripherals and Accessories Gallery for more fun options, organized by company.

See my Portable Media Players Gallery for more on the iPod line.

    Find the Griffin iClear cases on Amazon.com

October 9, 2009

Altec Lansing Orbit USB-Powered Portable Speaker

Are you a laptop person, or a smartphone kind of person? Can you keep connected well enough on the small screen, or do you tend to lug a laptop around with you for the full experience? The laptop gives you immediate access to all your files, and media, always ready for giving business presentations, or for just listening to your favorite music in your hotel room.

But while a laptop display works well for sharing the visuals for your work or for enjoying your media, a laptop's built-in speakers just won't do justice to the audio, whether in a meeting or in a hotel.

Instead, you can pack portable sound like the new Altec Lansing Orbit USB Speaker, available for $49. It connects via USB, so it's plug-and-play, and are powered through the same cable -- with no separate batteries or power cord required.

The Orbit USB is easy to pack, at around 3 3/8" by 2 1/8 inches, and under 6 ounces. And it's easy to carry, with a straightforward design of aluminum and composite, and a neoprene carrying case. The 16-inch cord wraps up to store in the base.

The speaker is designed to sit flat, with a 360-degree sound field, but also has a retractable stand to tilt up and aim the sound. The digital sound is clean, and loud enough for a room, without being ear-shattering.

There's also the Altec Lansing Orbit-MP3 Speaker with an analog connector, for $39 (see previous post). The analog jack means you can use it with a variety of other devices, including the iPod, iPhone, MP3 players, and laptops. But without the USB cable to provide power, it does require separate batteries.

You also can decorate your Orbit speaker with graphics from Skinit for around $12. These are glossy 3M Scotchprint graphics which peel and attach, but also can be removed without leaving a residue.

The Orbit speakers are mono, obviously. You can step up to stereo with a pair of LaCie USB or FireWire Speakers, USB for $29 and FireWire for $79 (see previous post). These are larger, at around 5.3 x 3.9 x 3.5 inches each, but can pack up to travel for events or can plug in quickly when you're back at your desk.

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for more on portable speakers and earphones.

Find the Altec Lansing Orbit USB Speakers
and Orbit-MP3 Speakers on Amazon.com

October 13, 2009

Noise-Reduction Bluetooth Headsets: Aliph Jawbone Prime

While some technologies may be over-hyped, the introduction of noise-reduction technology in Bluetooth headsets is the real deal. These headsets can work amazingly well with mobile phones, especially in noisy environments like on city streets or even when standing near noisy machinery.

These headsets use digital signal processing to extract your voice from the surrounding noise, without distorting the voice unnaturally. Newer products add dual microphones and physical windscreens, especially to deal with wind noise. They can enhance the incoming voice as well, automatically adjusting the volume to compensate for outside noise.

Since its introduction at the end of 2006, the Aliph Jawbone has been the exemplar for noise-reduction headsets (see previous post). Its unique design bulges out with a small nub that rests against the cheek to sense your voice when speaking. The original Jawbone was a bit bulky, and required using an earloop hung around the ear to keep it pressed against the face.

The "New" Jawbone, introduced in mid-2008, cut the headset size in half, but still had the problem of swinging away from the face (see previous post). Aliph then introduced a New Fit earbud design with an air-filled base plus an integrated loop to catch in the folds of your outer ear, allowing the Jawbone to be worn comfortably without an earloop, if desired, without requiring jamming it in the ear canal to hold tight (see previous post).

The new Jawbone Prime is the latest generation in the line, with even better noise elimination, especially in reducing the effect of wind noise (see demo videos). Aliph claims an order of magnitude improvement in the noisiest environments, up to 6 to 9dB improvement. The idea is to combine the best signal from the two microphones (high frequencies) and the voice sensor (low frequencies).

Interestingly, however, the Prime no longer requires that the voice sensor touch the face -- Aliph claims the processing is as good as or better than other noise cancelling headsets even without the sensor, and that the sensor then provides an additional turbo-burst of clarity.

The basic design of the Jawbone Prime is close to the "New" Jawbone, still curved to follow the face, with a bulge for the voice sensor. It also continues another Jawbone design trademark -- the absence of visible controls. The buttons are hidden under the surface of the back face and side of the unit, which does require some training time to get used to (with up to triple-tap commands). The Prime has added a slight tactile crease to help your fingers locate the buttons.

The Prime continues the Jawbone's position as a top noise-reduction headset. The voice quality was very good, after totally eliminating background noise like fans and running water. And it held up well whether or not the sensor was touching the face. (The Jawbone has an option to turn the noise-reduction feature on and off, so you can hear the background environment for comparison.) The outgoing voice can get choppy as the surrounding noise ramps up. The incoming voice was strong, but a bit muffled against the background noise.

One issue for travelers is that the Jawbone uses a custom connector for the charger, instead of the standard micro-USB connector used by other products, so you'll need to bring along the special Jawbone charging cable.

The Jawbone Prime is priced at $129, or around $100 street price. It's available in classic matte black, satin brown, or platinum, or in a new line of EARCANDY colors with vivid hues -- red, yellow, green, purple.

As a side note, expect to see more use of color for personal style and self-expression in consumer products. Aliph says that this reflects fashion trends "in which bright colors are made approachable and wearable, resonating with women and younger users who care about products that fit into their lifestyle." The colors provide "great skin-tone complements and contrast," so the result "reinforces the basic notion that anything that the consumer wears makes a statement, and it should be designed as such..."

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for details and related products.

    Find the Aliph Jawbone Prime headset on Amazon.com

Noise-Reduction Bluetooth Headsets 2: Plantronics Voyager PRO

Compared to the Aliph Jawbone (see previous post) and other in-ear Bluetooth headsets, the Plantronics Voyager PRO is a very different beast. It's an over-ear design, with the electronics in a pod that rests behind the ear, and a boom microphone. Instead of a tiny unit that uses the earpiece to keep the unit in place, the Voyager PRO hangs on the ear, with the earpiece nestling gently in the outside of the ear canal.

The behind-the-ear pod is actually larger than some other headsets, but has room for the power button, distinct volume controls, and a standard micro-USB charging connector. There's also a call control button at the base of the boom. The boom extends some 2 1/2 inches to get the dual microphones closer to your voice. It also has both stainless steel and acoustic fabric windscreens as barriers to wind noise.

Plantronics then packs the pod with its next-generation AudioIQ active digital signal processing technology to remove ambient noise and wind while still maintaining the natural sound of your speaking voice. The inbound audio quality also is improved with an adaptive 20-band equalizer and automatic sound level adjustment based on the environment noise.

The result is very impressive noise reduction. Both the incoming and outgoing voices were quite clear, even in noisy environment, with a little hiss. This is especially tricky, since the earpiece is not particularly secure in the ear, and therefore does not provide much passive noise reduction.

So the Voyager PRO may seem an ungainly design -- not very sexy or sleek or colorful (at 17.5 grams, compared to 10 for the Jawbone Prime). Even so, Plantronics reports that its predecessor, the Voyager 510, has continued to be very popular. And while it's obviously not the best choice for jogging or action sports, the over-ear design and strong noise reduction can be very comfortable for extended use in more stable environments, like around the office or when driving.

The Plantronics Voyager PRO is available for around $99, or $84 street.

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for details and related products.

    Find the Plantronics Voyager PRO headset on Amazon.com

October 14, 2009

Flip MinoHD Upgrade: Better Simplicity

Pure Digital has had tremendous success with its Flip Video line of pocket camcorders. It turns out there is a place in the market between camera phones and more traditional digital camcorders -- these small, truly pocket-sized devices are easy to carry, simple to use, and fun to share.

But as a market matures, it's tempting to bulk up new versions of products with additional options and features. After all, even Apple has succumbed to this trend by loading up its newest iPod nano, adding FM radio, microphone, speaker, video camera, and even a pedometer (see previous post).

Similarly in pocket camcorders, products like the Kodak Zx8 and Zx1 do it all, with multiple video resolutions, still photos, and an external memory slot. Others, like the RCA Small Wonder line, offer a broad array of different models and designs, with features including removable batteries, flip-out displays, and a DVD recorder dock.

In contrast, the Flip has maintained its focus on simplicity, so you just power on and shoot, without worrying about set-up or options. The Flip line has two models: the sleek Flip Mino at around 3.3 ounces (see previous post), and the slightly larger Flip Ultra with removable batteries at around 6 ounces (see previous post). Each of these models is available in two versions, standard-definition (VGA 640 x 480) and HD (720p, 1280 x 720).

The key trade-offs in these designs are size and weight vs. screen size and recording time (memory capacity and battery life). As a result, the Ultra models have 2" screens (960 x 240 resolution) and shoot for two hours, while the compact Mino models have smaller 1.5 inch screens (528 x 132) and shoot for only one hour. (The HD models look and work the same as the SD versions, they just shoot in higher resolution -- and have double the storage to provide the same recording time.)

Which brings us to the new Flip MinoHD 120 minute model, just announced today. This doubles the recording time of the original Flip MinoHD 60 min. model, increases the screen size to 2 inches (matching the Ultra), and adds a HDMI connector so you can play videos directly on an HDTV.

Yet the new MinoHD still keeps the same form and size -- albeit with a new brushed metal front (yes, metal, not plastic). As a result, it is slightly heavier, growing from 3.3 to 4 ounces. But it keeps the same basic simplicity of operation, with only subtle refinements like the ability to zoom before recording and a new more rugged all-metal pop-out USB connector.

The built-in FlipShare software also has been upgraded, adding direct sharing to Facebook, and Magic Movie creation to automatically trim and arrange selected videos into a movie. The software will be rolling into the entire Flip line later this month, and can be downloaded from the Flip website (see previous post).

As a bonus, the new Flip MinoHD 120 min. model is priced at $229, the same price as the original 60 min. model when it was introduced last year. The current Mino model prices also have been reduced: the Flip Mino (SD) is now $149, and the original Flip MinoHD 60 min. is $199. The Flip Ultra continues at $149, and the Flip UltraHD at $199.

The Flip Mino design works great as a take-anywhere camcorder, small enough to keep in your pocket or bag to catch the spontaneous moments that you would never get if you had to think about bringing along a conventional camcorder along with its assorted accessories. The new Flip MinoHD 120 min. is a welcome addition -- The two-hour recording time gives you more of a safety margin when you're away from a computer, and the two-inch screen is a significant improvement, brighter and with truer colors.

Check the Flip site to compare the Mino and Ultra models

See my Digital Camcorders Gallery for more on the Flip line and other digital camcoders.

    Find the Flip MinoHD 120 min. on Amazon.com

October 16, 2009

Noise-Reduction Bluetooth Headsets 3: Plantronics Discovery 975

The Plantronics Discovery 975 Bluetooth headset is another interesting design approach from Plantronics, albeit not quite as different as the Voyager PRO (see previous post). The idea is to pack the electronics in a square-ish base unit, with the microphones in a 1 3/4-inch boom that gets closer to your voice, all with an understated and gently rounded design. This update to the Discovery 925 (see previous post) has less of a "designer" / jewel tone look, and is intended to be a more subtle or timeless design.

Beyond the looks, the clever element of the Discovery 975 is the included charging carrying case. This is a small padded case that includes a rechargeable battery, so you can dock the headset to recharge, tripling the headset talk time when on the road.

You can charge the headset and case separately through a standard micro-USB connection, or charge them together when docked. The case has been upgraded from the Discovery 925 to include a handy eject button, plus a LCD status display showing the battery levels of the headset and case and the Bluetooth connection status. It also provides longer and faster charging.

The Discovery 975 uses the Plantronics AudioIQ technology to remove background noise while maintaining the voice quality. It protects against wind noise with grooved vents and acoustic fabric on the boom, plus electronic filters in microphone circuitry. The result was very good in my testing, but not quite as clean and natural sounding as the Voyager PRO. It also provides handy voice prompts for muting, low battery, and lost connections.

The headset uses silicon gel eartips with a small flange plus a stabilizer loop that fits in the folds of the outer ear. This is designed to fit comfortably and securely, and be easy to insert and remove.

The Plantronics Discovery 975 is priced at $129, on the high side of its competitors, but it delivers a simple, functional design plus the clever charging case.

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for details and related products.

    Find the Plantronics Discovery 975 headset on Amazon.com

October 19, 2009

Bluetooth Headsets 4: Jabra BT530

Compared to some other sexy designs, the Jabra BT530 is a wonderfully straightforward headset, especially good for occasional use. It has dedicated single-use buttons, instead of requiring memorized multi-tap sequences. There's actually a separate power slide switch on the bottom, individual volume up and down controls that cover the entire back of the faceplate, plus the small answer/end button on the side.

The design is also compact -- shorter and thinner than the Jawbone Prime (see previous post), for example. It's also designed with lots of wearing options -- eight ear gels in two styles and three sizes, plus two sizes of optional earloops to hold over your ear for active wear. The ear gels have a flange to help hook inside the opening of your ear canal, and come with and without an additional open rung loop to stabilize the unit in the folds of your outer ear when you wear it without the earloop.

The BT530 includes Jabra's Noise Blackout technology with dual mics for background noise elimination with natural voice quality, plus intelligent volume control to adjust the level of received audio, and Audio Shock Protection to guard against sudden noise surges. The result is good, but a bit below the Jawbone and Voyager PRO, with a more choppy outgoing voice with background noise, and somewhat muffled incoming voice.

The Jabra BT530 is priced significantly less than these other headsets at $79, with even lower street prices. It's a nice design, particularly for occasional use, with clear and obvious controls to make it easy to set up, use, and then put away.

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for details and related products.

    Find the Jabra BT530 headset on Amazon.com

October 20, 2009

Noise-Reduction Bluetooth Headsets: Wrap-up

The bottom line from our mini-series on Bluetooth headsets is that noise-reduction technology is the real deal, pulling your outgoing voice from the surrounding ambient noise without significant distortion. The technology has improved, typically with dual microphones, dampening of wind noise, and also boosting the incoming voice as well.

But as these four models show, your choice is not just about noise reduction. Looks are at least somewhat important, and these have very different designs for different kinds of users, and different types of uses. And comfort is a big issue, especially for long-term wear. Today's headsets have moved away from rooting the earpiece in your ear canal, and typically avoid the need for over-ear earloops except for particularly active use. Instead, they add a hollow loop to the earpiece, so the loop can nest into the ear's folds to stabilize the earpiece just inside the ear.

The result is a wide array of options to fit your style and comfort:

- The Plantronics Voyager PRO has an almost-retro utilitarian over-ear design with a boom mic and behind-the-ear pod. It has great voice quality and is good for long-term comfort resting on the ear, albeit not for active use.

It's priced at around $99, or around $84 street price. (See the Plantronics Voyager PRO on Amazon)

- The Aliph Jawbone Prime has a snazzy design with vivid colors. It's particularly good for heavy users on the go who can mind-meld with its "invisible" button interface (and don't mind the custom charging cable).

It's priced at $129, or around $100 street price. (See the Aliph Jawbone Prime on Amazon)

- The Plantronics Discovery 975 has an understated design with blocky base and small boom extension. It's good for extended use, since it comes with a small charging / carrying case that can recharge the headset for triple the talk time.

It's priced at around $129 with the case. (See the Plantronics Discovery 975 on Amazon)

- The Jabra BT530 has a compact and functional design, with dedicated single-use buttons. It's particularly helpful for occasional use, since it's so straightforward to turn on and use, albeit with somewhat less effective noise reduction.

It's priced under the others at $79, with lower street prices. (See the Jabra BT530 headset on Amazon)

That's four clearly differentiated options for your listening and speaking pleasure.

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for details and related products.

October 21, 2009

Get Hands-On at PhotoPlus Expo in New York

PhotoPlus Expo is back in New York for its 25th year at the Javits Convention Center, with three days of seminars and exhibits. It runs from Thursday, October 22, through Saturday, October 24.

This is the biggest photography trade show and conference in the U.S., with some 27,000 attendees, 300 exhibitors, 100 seminars, plus other special events.

PhotoPlus is a great opportunity to check out new cameras and accessories from the major manufacturers, including Canon, Kodak, Leica, Nikon, Olympus, and Sony. You can get hands-on time with the equipment and talk details with the staff.

(See coverage from the 2008 conference at PDN Online)

The Exhibition is open from 10 am to 5 pm on Thursday and Friday, and closes at 4 pm on Saturday. (It opens at 9 am the first two days for Gold Expo Pass and Seminar Attendees.)

The Special Events and Keynotes feature presentations by world-renowned photographers. Plus there's a PhotoPlus Expo Bash party on Thursday night (separate admission).

The three days of Seminars (separate registration) cover the art, technology, and business of photography, with eleven tracks including lighting, marketing, Photoshop and color management, portraits / wedding, commercial / editorial, and business management.

See also my list of Digital Media Conferences in 2009, including regional events around New York City.

October 23, 2009

Joby Gorillapod Flexible Tripods and New Gorillatorch

The Joby Gorillapod line of flexible tripods was refreshed earlier this year, tweaking the original set of four models

The Gorillapod Original is for holding compact digital cameras (up to 11 oz., $21), the Gorillapod SLR is for lightweight SLR cameras and camcorders (1 3/4 lbs., $39), the Gorillapod SLR-Zoom is for tripod mountable cameras (6 1/2 lbs., $49), and the Gorillapod Focus is for professional rigs with zoom lenses and video cameras (11 lbs., $99) -- see previous post.

But the focus at PhotoPlus was the mobile stands, based on the Gorillapod Mobile (previously the GoGo) for handheld devices, including mobile phones through gaming systems, and compact cameras through mini camcorders (up to 7 oz., $29).

The new Gorillapod Mobile for 3G / 3GS, then adds a soft-touch case for the iPhone 3G / 3Gs to attach to the tripod to stand ready or attach securely as needed ($39).

But the new clever extension to the line is the Gorillatorch hands-free light, a bright LED light (maximum 65 lumens) with the now-familiar flexible legs, for $29. It is water resistant, and has a dimmer switch to control the light intensity and extend the battery life (from some 20 to 80 hours on 3 AAA batteries).

Between the wrappable legs, rubberized grips, and magnetic feet, the Gorillatorch should allow you to get the lighting you need in almost any situation -- by standing, hooking, twisting, or otherwise sticking it on an available surface.

See my Digital Cameras Gallery for more on these and other tripods.

    Find Joby Gorillapod Mobile
    and Joby Gorillatorch on Amazon.com

October 24, 2009

Lensbaby "Selective Focus" Lenses

Another updated product at PhotoPlus is the Lensbaby line of special-effect lenses, now with swappable optics. The Lensbaby idea is a wonderful hack, in the positive sense of the word. It lets you achieve "selective focus" by mounting the lens in a movable bellows -- so you then can compress and tilt the optical elements to focus precisely on a limited area in the scene, the "sweet spot," which pops out against the surrounding graduated blur.

This is a bit hard to explain, so the best way to understand it is to look at the images in the online Lensbaby Gallery in a variety of genres.

The current Lensbaby line offers three lens models, depending on the amount of hacking you like -- precise setup with the Lensbaby Composer, as the ball and socket design holds the position ($270), fast and loose with the Lensbaby Muse, as you manually set and hold the position ($100 / $150), or methodical with the Control Freak, which you set up, lock in, and then can further fine-tune both the focus and tilt.

All the models use the Lensbaby Optic Swap System, with four swappable elements: Double Glass (sharp), Single Glass (soft, dreamy), Plastic (softest, ethereal, abundant chromatic aberration), and Pinhole / Zone plate ($94 for the kit). Again, see the online Optic Comparison showing the results of using the different lenses and swappable optical elements.

Lensbaby also offers a variety of accessories, so you can shoot these amazing images for everything from wide-angle landscapes to portraits to table-top and macro set-ups.

See my Digital Cameras Gallery for more on these and other tripods.

    Find the Lensbaby lenses     on Amazon.com

October 27, 2009

Nikon D90 Digital SLR as an HD Video Camcorder

There never have been so many options for shooting images, stills or in motion -- with digital cameras that shoot video, camcorders that shoot photos, and ubiquitous camera phones that shoot both.

Yes, today's consumer digital cameras can capture video sequences, but these are typically of limited length and quality. But there's also a developing category of "HD DSLR" cameras clearly in evidence at PhotoPlus -- Traditional Digital SLR cameras that also now shoot high-definition video that's suitable for serious video editing (see previous post).

The Nikon D90, introduced in August 2008, was a trailblazer in integrating HD movies and sound into an advanced, full-featured Digital SLR camera. The D90 is a 12.3 MP digital SLR with full-up Nikon optics and processing. Plus it adds D-Movie mode with 720p HD video (1,280 x 720) shot at cinematic 24 fps frame rate. It's priced around $899.

Of course there are trade-offs with retrofitting video into DSLR cameras, including limited shooting times (around 5 minutes for HD video), lack of full autofocus (the D90 offers three AF options in Live View mode), and some visual artifacts in the D90 from horizontal pans, fast movement, or bright lights.

But the advantages of shooting video with a photo camera come from the flexibility control provided by using DSLR optics: interchangeable lenses, the range of control over focus and exposure, i.e., for shooting in low light, and the precise control over depth of field, to pull out the subject in a shot with shallow depth of field for a more emotional and cinematic look.

So if you're a hands-on photographer used to working with Digital SLRs, this kind of hybrid camera adds short HD video clips to your repertoire. And if you're a videographer who may have been hankering to shoot photos, a HD DSLR offers a whole new array of interesting creative options to explore.

See full article: Nikon D90: Digital SLR Cameras as HD Video Camcorders

See my Digital Cameras Gallery for more on the D90 and other cameras.

    Find Nikon D90 on Amazon.com

October 28, 2009

Jack It Up: Verbatim Easy Riser Adjustable-Height Mobile Mice

It's interesting that we ended up interacting with computers by dragging a block around on a table. It just has turned out that sliding a mouse around is more comfortable than lifting up your arm to touch the screen, and more practical than talking to your machine, especially in public.

And even though laptops have touch pads, it's still often more convenient to use a separate mouse. But you may find that full-size mice are bulky for travel, and miniaturized mice are uncomfortable for prolonged use.

So try out the new Verbatim Easy Riser line of adjustable-height mobile mice. These are not quite transformers, but they do jack up to provide for more comfortable handling.

The basic Easy Riser mouse design closes up for travel into a basic tapered block with rounded edges, symmetric for right or left hand use. When you use the mouse, you can lift up the back to provide more height and a better fit for your hand. The scroll wheel also is programmable, to click for favorites.

The Verbatim Easy Riser line is available in three models:

  • Bluetooth Wireless Mouse, no separate receiver, $39
  • Nano Wireless Mouse, 2.4GHz wireless technology, $34
  • USB Retractable Wired Mouse, long retractable cord, $19

The Nano includes a tiny USB receiver (see photo) that you can leave plugged in to the laptop, or stores in a slot in the back of mouse.

The Easy Riser mice come in a clean silver and black design, with "invisible" left and right buttons. Jack it up and add your own racing stripes as desired.

See my Portable Peripherals and Accessories Gallery for more on these and related products.

   Find the Verbatim Easy Riser Mice on Amazon

October 30, 2009

Business Card Mice -- The MoGo Presenter Mouse

Choosing a mobile mice for travel requires trading off size and comfort -- squeezing the bulk and weight versus fitting well in your hand for prolonged use (see previous post).

But what if the bulk of the mouse could disappear completely? This is the magic of the MoGo Mouse line from Newton Peripherals -- business-card sized mice so thin that they dock in the PC Card or ExpressCard slot of your laptop.

Just store them away when not in use, as they hibernate and recharge. Then pop them out to get to work -- They connect using Bluetooth wireless, and have a flip-out "kickstand" to lift up the back for a more natural hand position.

The MoGo Mouse line also includes Presenter versions that switch modes to become a wireless control for your PowerPoint presentations.

For laptops with a PC / PCMCIA Card slot, the MoGo Mouse BT is $79, and the MoGo Presenter Mouse PC is $89. The kickstand strip along the back also serves as the power switch.

For laptops with an ExpressCard / 54 slot, the MoGo Media Mouse X54 is $89, with the ability to control iTunes, Windows Media Player and other media players, and the MoGo Presenter Mouse X54 Pro is $89 with a laser pointer.

These charge in 30 minutes, and have a battery life of 8 to 10 hours of use. There's also the MoGo X54 / BT Charging Cables for $19 to connect the cards to a USB port to recharge, and the MoGo Bluetooth USB Adapter for $29 if needed to add Bluetooth to a laptop.

The MoGo Mice are clearly not intended to compete with ergonomically designed desktop mice, with contoured grips and precise button action. But for a credit card design, they are impressively functional, with two buttons and even a center scroll wheel replacement -- a scroll button on the PC card designs (press and hold to scroll by moving the mouse), and a scroll strip on the ExpressCard.

So for minimal weight and no extra bulk, you can carry a mouse and presenter tucked into your laptop, ready to pop out and start scurrying along whenever you need it.

See my Portable Peripherals and Accessories Gallery for more on these and related products.

   Find the MoGo Presenter Mouse on Amazon

Manifest Tech Site

About October 2009

Entries posted to Manifest Tech Blog in October 2009, listed from oldest to newest.

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