Digital Insider – A Potpourri of Accessories for your Digital Cameras
f you are planning to purchase a new digital camera or D-SLR anytime soon, be sure to see our Editors’ Picks article in this issue. And after you get your new camera, don’t forget about all those wonderful accessories that can make your digital imaging experience more exciting and fun. These accessories can range anywhere from external hard drives (now so common and very inexpensive), to a bag (or bags) to protect all your newly acquired gear, and new software to make your digital image captures more creative. Of course, I have to mention a camera in this column as well— after all, Nikon has just announced a new flagship D-SLR. Read on.
Seagate External USB Hard Drives
If you are like me, you are suffering from too many digital images consuming precious storage space on your home computer. Traditionally, if you needed more space, the solution would be to update the internal hard drive in your computer to a much higher capacity model— up to 1 Terabyte (1000 GB) is very common today. But that involves the hassle and inconvenience of shutting down your computer, removing an existing hard drive, installing a new one, reinstalling all your programs (and also the Windows OS if it’s on the drive you are replacing which is not without its own idiosyncrasies like getting the software re-authorized). In short, it’s a HUGE hassle. The better solution today is to go with one of the external high capacity USB drives.
In my opinion, one of the best external hard drive manufactures is Seagate (www.seagate.com). If you didn’t know it, Seagate is a household name in selling replacement drives for internal upgrade use, but they also make a wide variety of USB type external drives. These external USB drives have got to be the easiest way to expand your hard drive capacity. Just connect the drives up to your USB port, and away you go— no re-installation necessary.
All of the models in the FreeAgent hard drive series from Seagate work with USB2.0, and are backwards compatible with standard USB. Each FreeAgent drive is available in three model types: Go, Desk, and Extreme. The Go model drives are ultra-compact and available in 250GB ($120), 320GB ($150), and 500GB ($200) capacities, and come in ten cool colors (think pink, ruby red, orange, spring green, forest green, royal blue, sky blue, champagne gold, titanium silver and tuxedo black). An optional desktop dock and travel kit make the Go series practical for mobile or desktop applications. The Desk series models are available in 500GB ($130), 640GB ($150), 1TB ($200), and 1.5TB ($250) capacities. At the top of the line, the Extreme FreeAgent drives come in 500GB ($160), 640GB ($180), 1TB ($230), and 1.5TB ($280) capacities.
In addition to USB2, the Extreme models also sport eSATA and Firewire 400 ports for the maximum flexibility in connectability. I am constantly running up against the 1TB limit of my internal hard drive for stored images, so the FreeAgent Desk and Extreme models gave me blessed relief. From my personal experience, these two advanced models are without a doubt the easiest way to expand the capacity of your internal hard drives. For more advanced users with eSATA (Serial ATA interface) ports on their computers, the Extreme series run at top speed, capable of file transfers 6X faster than using USB2. FreeAgent drives are also available in pre-formatted Mac versions as well.
Toshiba External USB Hard Drives
Toshiba is another one of those companies well known for making internal hard drives for laptops and desktop computers, but until now it’s kind of been a big secret. Well now they are coming on strong as a supplier of high quality external USB2 hard drives. Toshiba (www.toshibadirect.com) offers three different capacities— 400GB ($180), 320GB ($160), and 250GB ($130). These models are very compact (.65” H x 3.2” W x 5” L), lightweight (about 6oz), and are available in a variety of colors: electric blue, black, carbon grey, hot rod red and gecko green. Also pre-loaded on each drive is NTI’s Shadow software, which allows for hassle-free file backup. The drives are compatible with Windows XP/Vista and Mac OS 10.3.9 or later.
New Camera Bags from Lowepro and M-Rock
For years I have been known as the “bag man” around the office here, and for good reason. I am constantly on the move with cameras, lenses, and other accessories that need continuous protection. If you think about it, a good carrying bag is just about the best, most inexpensive investment you can make in the care and well being of your equipment. Two of my favorite bag manufacturers are Lowepro and M-Rock. Lowepro is the most seasoned veteran, but M-Rock is coming up very strong as an alternative source of quality bags.
Lowepro’s Classified AW series (www.lowepro.com) are designed for hardworking photojournalists. They are available in four different models based on size: 140, 160, 200, and the 250. The fast-access main compartment with an angled opening makes camera or lens selection fast and secure.
If you’re into ecologically “green” products, you’ll love Lowepro’s new Terraclime series of multi-purpose bags. Terraclime series bags are made from more than 95% recycled products. The Terraclime series is available in four models—10, 30, and 50 pouches, and the100 shoulder bag. Each model is also available in three colors: black, plum, or grass. Terraclime bags provide durable, soft-sided protection for a variety of cameras, D-SLRs, and other digital gear.
Some of you might be serious nature photographers, and that generally means you have an assortment of super telephoto lenses. The 600mm lens is considered a staple in telephoto lenses for nature photography. The only problem is how to carry such a long, heavy lens. Lowepro comes to the rescue with its Lens Trekker 600 AWII lens carrying case. The Lens Trekker AW carries not only a huge 600mm lens safely, but also your D-SLR body.
M-Rock (www.m-rock.com) recently sent me a couple of their latest offerings to test— the Zion 525 Laptop/backpack and the 516 Glacier. What I like about the Zion 525 is that it’s compartmentalized up the max for storing several digital cameras and lenses, and has a protected space at the back for up a 15-inch laptop computer. It all fits quite nicely on my back. The Glacier 516 is more of a conventional shoulder-carrying bag, with spacers and dividers for a single D-SLR and an assortment of lenses. It comes in two additional sizes— 515 and 517.
M-Rock also sent me a unique water hydration system called the Great Lakes 550. It’s actually a water bladder with a tube and mouthpiece and comes in a neoprene case with an insulated lining. It fits inside the rear compartment of the Zion and McKinley bags, but it can also be used separately. The bladder is easy to fill with water, or another liquid you might wish to drink while hiking on your photography excursion. Drinking is a simple matter of sucking through the provided plastic hose, and the valve seals to prevent leakage.
onOne Photoshop Plug-In Suite 4.5
onOne Software (www.ononesoftware.com) has long been a leader in releasing software plug-ins. While these plug-in software tools are targeted towards use with Adobe Photoshop, they will work equally well with Adobe’s Lightroom 2 and Apple’s Aperture 2. The plug-ins work on both Windows and Mac platforms.
The powerful plug-ins in the Plug-In Suite 4.5 include:
Genuine Fractals 6 Professional Edition (PE), which resizes digital images over 1000% with no claimed loss of detail or sharpness. PhotoTools 2 PE utilizes the power of Photoshop Actions to provide a complete library of effects created by Kevin Kubota and Jack Davis. PhotoFrame 4 PE creates stunning border and edge effects. Mask Pro 4.1 creates high-quality masks and selections even from tough subjects like hair and glass, making it easy to place a subject in a new background. PhotoTune 2.2 provides professional-quality color correction in an easy-to-use interface. PhotoTune 2.2 includes ColorTune for general color correction and SkinTune for color correcting skin tones accurately. FocalPoint 1.0 simulates selective focus or tilt-shift lenses, helping photographers blur and/or vignette an image to focus a viewer’s attention. Plug-In Suite 4.5 is now available to new users for about $500. This represents a total savings of almost $800 if each of the applications were purchased separately.
Nikon’s Capture NX2 Software
You don’t normally associate Nikon with software, but due to a co-development with Nik Software, Nikon has released a very powerful image processing application— Capture NX2 (www.nikonusa.com), which rivals Adobe Photoshop in many instances, and in some cases is much easier to use— without the learning curve of Photoshop. Capture NX2 works with Nikon NEF RAW files (no other manufacturer’s RAW files, however), but more importantly with all other manufacturers TIFF and JPEG files.
Capture NX2 utilizes revolutionary U Point technology (developed by Nik) to give photographers access to powerful Control Points that enhance color, exposure, and other image quality settings quickly and easily. This is a much easier process than using masks and layers with Photoshop. Capture NX2 works on both Windows (XP or Vista) or Mac platforms (OS 10.4 or higher) and is available for $179.95 (full version) or $109.95 (upgrade). A 60-day free trial version is also available.
Nikon’s new “Extreme D-SLR”— The D3X
If you’re a professional into no-holes-barred digital photography, you just might be interested in Nikon’s latest D-SLR— an extreme version of its flagship D3— the D3X (www.nikonusa.com). Like the D3, it sports the FX format full-frame sensor, so you achieve every bit of performance your lens offers without the focal length magnification issue. You also get an extreme resolution of 24.5 Megapixels, which is DOUBLE that of the D3! More importantly, this camera is wicked fast, capable of capturing extreme resolution images at speeds up to five frames/second. This is a very powerful tool for commercial, high fashion, fine art, and landscape photographers.
For the ultimate in flexibility, image files can be recorded in TIFF, JPEG, or NEF (Nikon’s proprietary RAW format), in either 12-bit or 14-bit compressed or uncompressed formats. Low noise capture is possible at ISO settings as high as 6400. This low noise ISO feature will be a boon to professional studio photographers, who until now had to be restricted to using larger format digital cameras to achieve a noise-free capture for large image blow-ups. Low noise capture with high ISO can help capture compelling images under extremely low light conditions. Twin CompactFlash slots are available, and the faster UDMA writing speed standard is supported. Like everything else in this high tech world we enjoy, professional performance has its price. The new Nikon D3X retails for about $8,000, body only.