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We've had some interesting discussion around Adobe's DNG format, both here on The Digital Story, and on the TDS Flickr Public Group. The main focus has been: should you consider converting your existing RAW files to DNG when you upload them to your computer?

However, we're seeing the occasional digital camera writing natively to the DNG format, and the latest entry is the Ricoh GR Digital II. Over at PhotographyBLOG, Mark Goldstein puts the camera to the test in his complete review of the Ricoh GR Digital II. Mark writes:

"The Ricoh GR Digital II is not your usual run-of-the-mill compact digital camera. The fast 28mm fixed focal length lens, Adobe DNG RAW format, external hotshoe and 1:1 aspect ratio for square format photos all point to a serious camera for the seriously keen photographer. As does the £399 price-tag, which could alternatively buy you a DSLR camera with kit lens. The Ricoh GR Digital II is also not the only compact with a fixed 28mm lens, being recently joined by the much-delayed Sigma DP1, which offers a much larger APS-C sized sensor. We wanted to know if the Ricoh GR Digital II is a worthy addition to Ricoh's extensive line-up of digital compacts for the professional."

Whether or not you think the Ricoh is a tempting camera after you read Mark's review, the trend for some manufacturers to use DNG as their high-quality format seems to be on the rise.

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To Convert to DNG, or Not

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In the workflow class I taught last weekend, we had some discussion about the Adobe DNG format, and if RAW shooters should convert to DNG when uploading their images to the computer.

I've published a fair amount on this subject. In Digital Photography Podcast 114, Julieanne Kost talks about on Lightroom and DNG, and she's a big proponent of the open file format. Anyone who has been to one of my workshops knows that if you're not using Lightroom or Aperture, I recommend Photo Downloader, which comes with Adobe Bridge and allows you to convert to DNG during the upload process (as does Lightroom).

But, just because you can convert to DNG easily, does that mean you should? I'm not as worried about my RAW files becoming unreadable someday as others (a big reason some advocate converting to DNG). But what I don't like about the RAW workflow (outside of Aperture and Lightroom) are the XMP sidecar files cluttering up my picture folders. So, believe it or not, one of the reasons I do like DNG is because it's tidy. All those metadata files are stored in the container and not out floating around.

I am curious though... do you have a strong argument either for or against converting your RAW files to DNG? If so, I'd like to hear.

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Want to know the fastest memory card to buy for your Canon 40D, Nikon D300, and a host of other DSLRs? Rob Galbraith's CF/SD Performance Database is a collection of memory card write speed results from Canon and Nikon DSLR cameras. You'll also find card-to-computer transfer results for the latest CompactFlash cards, with more CompactFlash and SD/SDHC results to be posted soon.

The Card-to-Computer Transfer Speed section is new, and really interesting to pour over to see the best combinations for readers and memory cards.

If you want the best read/write performance with your DSLR, I'd bookmark this page and refer to it before purchasing new memory.


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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I had a chance to shoot with a preproduction model of the Panasonic DMC-TZ5 at PMA in January. The "TZ" stands for travel zoom, and this is a terrific "on the go" camera.

Starting with the 10X Leica DC Vario-Elmarit optical zoom (28-280mm equivalent), the little compact can handle a variety of shooting situations. The image stabilization works wonderfully, and having the option of choosing among aspect ratios (4:3, 3:2, or 16:9) is a creative plus. This latest version provides HD movie capture at 1280 x 720 @ 30 fps. The accompanying audio is recorded with an onboard mic, so it isn't as good as the visuals, but still a great option to have while traveling.

The picture of Hoover Dam that I shot with the TZ5 is featured on the fourth page of The Digital Photography Companion across from the credits. I was able to add the image just as we were going to production.

DP Review has posted an in-depth examination of the Panasonic TZ5. If you want to know more about this little travel gem that sells for about $300 US on Amazon, I would take a look at what Lars Rehm has to say.

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In this week's podcast show notes for "After Every Shoot", there's a downloadable Jpeg graphic listing the 10 reminders I encourage you to follow after each camera session. The reference graphic prints nicely on a 4 x 6 sheet of photo paper, enabling you to stash it in your camera bag or use as a bookmark for The Digital Photography Companion.

Go get yours today. Print one for yourself, and a few to share with friends.

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After I published the Drobo podcast, some readers commented that picture backup seems more complicated than it should be. That's a great point. The answer is yes... and no

Those of us who have been wrestling with this issue for a long time probably have more redundancy built into our approach than the average photographer wants to think about. I totally understand that. What happens is, as I develop one archive system, and use it for a while, I begin to observe places where it is vulnerable. I then think about how to plug those holes. But if such matters are not your cup of tea, you can keep things simple and be reasonably safe. Here are three methods for doing that.

Method 1: Optical Disc for your Best Shots

Start with a photo management application such as Aperture, Lightroom, or iPhoto. Rate your images to identify the best ones. Put those heros in a folder and burn copies to DVDs once a month. I recommend that you burn two copies and store in different locations.

Method 2: Dual FireWire Drives

Here's where I really like Aperture. Set up a managed library where Aperture stores all of your assets, including the masters. I use an external FireWire drive for this so I don't fill up my computer's internal hard drive with Raw files. Connect a second FireWire drive, and use the Vault system in Aperture for incremental backups to that drive.

In Lightroom, you have another very good option. Have both FireWire drives connected. When you upload your images from your memory card, Lightroom can automatically backup a second set to a separate drive during upload. Very nice.

Method 3: Image Catalog System

This is also a two FireWire drive approach. But instead of using a photo management application, you organize your images by folders (usually labeled by date and name), then use a cataloging program such as Expression Media to rate and keyword the pictures. You can then use an incremental backup program such as Chronosync or SuperDuper to back up your images to a second hard drive.

So, backup doesn't have to be hard. And if you don't have a system now, start one today, no matter how simple. I admit that I am overcautious and spend too much money on hard drives. So view my approach as the extreme end of the spectrum, find a place where you fit, and go from there.

As always, your comments and alternative approaches are welcome!


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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"We found this beautiful place in some old growth rain forrest, and Maki did an installment in her Makirama series," writes Peter Krogh. "I was running camera for her -- pushing the button when she was ready. After a series of images, I handed her the camera for review."

This is just a taste of the compelling imagery being posted from the Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Adventure 2008: Tasmania, where a team of more than 20 photographers "traveled to the end of the world, literally, to the remote island of Tasmania. Their mission is to road test specialized digital photography software designed by Adobe [Lightroom] while capturing images from one of the world's most mysterious and varied geographic locations."

In addition to the bounty of great photographs, there are blog posts discussing the event itself. It's truly a modern adventure, and I thought you might want to see what these artists have captured.

Photograph by Peter Krogh.

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TDS member Jason writes: "Over the last year, as I began looking at my photographs with a more critical eye, I realized that my prints were always noticeably darker than what I was seeing on my computer screen -– specifically, I was losing a lot of shadow detail in the prints."

"Shadow details that were easily visible on my screen disappeared into black on my prints. At the time, I was doing my editing using iPhoto and Photoshop Elements on a 20 inch iMac G5 running Panther. I didn't have my own photo printer, but I tried several different print services (Apple's, Snapfish, Shutterfly, Ritz), and always got similar results. Not only did I notice the problem with my prints, but I also noticed it when I viewed my pictures on PCs."

"I began to research the issue, and the first thing I came across was the difference between monitor gamma settings on Macs and PCs. So I ran a monitor calibration on my iMac for the first time and changed the gamma from 1.8 to 2.2. That helped, but it wasn't enough. I then lowered the brightness on my display, which got me closer, but still not perfect. What I got in the habit of doing was using Elements to boost the shadow detail of my images by a few percent (since I couldn't do that with iPhoto 6), knowing that I would lose a bit of it when it was printed. This worked okay, but it's a hassle, and it seems like it shouldn't be this way."

"I thought I'd write you to see if you had any thoughts or recommendations. Have you encountered anything like this? Am I the only one?"

Derrick responds: You are not the only one, Jason, who has run headfirst into this problem. The first issue is the inherent difference between glowing, backlit computer monitors and reflective sheets of printing paper. They are two different animals, and you will never get an exact match. So your expectation should be to get a good print, not an exact match to what you see on the monitor.

That being said, you can take steps to get the best results possible out of your printer. First, start with one of your best images. Sharp, well-exposed pictures print better that lesser shots. Then, make sure your monitor is calibrated. I've written about the ColorMunki, the Spyder3Elite, and the hueyPRO. You should be using a tool like one of these. They not only set the color, they calibrate the tones.

If I'm using a very bright monitor, such as my 23" Apple Cinema Display, I usually reduce its brightness about 3 notches. This helps bring it in line with the reflective surfaces that come out of the printer.

I then make sure that I'm using the proper ICC profile for the paper I'm printing on. You can usually download profiles from the paper manufacturer's site. They ensure that your computer and printer are talking the same language during the print job.

Finally, experiment with different paper stocks. If you're using only glossy, for example, it is more contrasty than say a nice matt paper. Paper choice is a huge variable in printing.

If you do these things, and take notes along the way, you'll soon develop a printing formula that results in consistent, attractive output. I've dedicated a chapter to printing in The Digital Photography Companion. Best of luck to you Jason!


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Events! See the TDS Event Calendar for photography workshops, speaking engagements, and trade show appearances, including my Beginning Workflow with Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom on June 22-28, 2008 in Sante Fe, New Mexico.


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The Drobo is labeled as "Fully Automated SATA Robotic Storage Array," which sounds a little intimidating, like something that will taunt the cat when you're not around. But actually, it's a fairly clever device about the size of a toaster that you can insert up to four SATA hard drives. After doing so, Drobo takes it from there. It stores any data that you write to it, automatically backs it up, and constantly monitors the situation making necessary adjustments and repairs while you're out doing what you should be doing, taking pictures.

As a passionate digital photographer, I had pledged to figure out my storage solution in 2008. Prior to the Drobo, I would purchase a standalone 500 GB hard drive, use it until it was full, catalog it, put it on the shelve next to the other drives, and start all over again. I was storing big Raw files, music, movies, and all my other data. I decided that I wanted to separate my photography data from the rest of my stuff. And if I could find a good photo storage solution, that it would take pressure off the rest of my backup needs. After asking around and reading some research online, I decided to try the Drobo to store my photos.

I purchased the Drobo for about $465 and two 750 GB SATA drives for $165 each, making for an investment of just under $800 -- fairly sizable for sure. In return I get over a Terabyte of automated, backed-up storage that I can expand with additional drives whenever I want.

Preparing the Drobo for Network Sharing

My thought was to put the Drobo on my AirPort Extreme network that also handles my Internet and printing. I had saved one open port on the USB hub for network storage, and that's where the Drobo was going. Setup, as advertised, was easy. I unpacked the Drobo, inserted the two hard drives and connected it directly to my MacBook Pro running Leopard. I did this so I could use the Drobo Dashboard to initialize the hard drives. Unfortunately, Dashboard doesn't recognize the Drobo on an 802.11 network, so you have to perform the initial set up with the Drobo directly connected to a computer. You only have to do this once. When you add SATA drives in the future, Drobo automatically prepares them for you.

After initial set up using Drobo's Mac formatting for the drives, I connected the robot to my network and accessed it via the "Shared" tab in the sidebar of any open Finder window in Leopard. You'll see the name of your network, and when you click on it, it will reveal the Drobo. At this point you can copy files just like you would with any connected hard drive. Drobo manages the information once it has it in its procession, and presumably you can go back to work with the peace of mind that your pictures are safe. And so far, this seems true.

Read/Write Speed on a Network

I work with three different laptops. What makes this configuration so nice is that I can back up files and print from any of my machines without ever connecting a wire. I can also grab files from the Drobo and copy to any machine. But there is a price for this convenience, and it is read/write speed. For my first test, I copied and Aperture archive that was 14 GBs. It took 90 minutes to complete the transfer over the wireless network. I did a little more research and found an article on AppleInsider titled, Exploring Time Capsule: theoretical speed vs practical throughput. There is a table near the bottom of the article that compares throughput speed with different connections: direct USB, Ethernet networking, and wireless networking. The chart shows a big difference between direct USB connection (30 MB/sec) and 802.11g connection (3 MB/sec). So, there's a major bump in speed when connecting the Drobo directly to a computer compared to putting it on a wireless network. My one hope was that a 802.11n network has a 9 MB/sec throughput, which isn't bad. So, I revisited my network setup to make sure I was taking full advantage of the AirPort Extreme's 802.11n capabilities.

I opened the AirPort Utility (Applications > Utilities > AirPort Utility), clicked on the Wireless tab, and selected "802.11n only (5 Ghz)" from the Radio Mode. (Previously, I had been using 802.11n (802.11b/g compatible.) I then ran my 14 GB test again. This time the Aperture archive transferred in, well, 90 minutes. So, apparently I was getting as much out of my network as it had to offer. Further messing around with settings didn't make any noticeable improvements. Well, at least now I know.

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I tried making a few changes to my network, but performance remained the same.

The good news is that file copying can happen in the background. So I just start uploading when I first arrive, and everything is finished by the time I'm ready to pack up and hit the field. If I wanted to spend another $200, I could purchase a DroboShare that lets me use Gigabit Ethernet (40 MB/sec). That should speed things up considerably, and if the current 802.11 network begins to drive me crazy, I might start saving my pennies for the upgrade. (Or do I want another hard drive for that third slot!)

I have a couple of tips too. If you get a "Connection Failed" message when trying to access the Drobo, you probably just have to click the "Connect As" button and enter the network password. That did the trick for me. And if you want your Drobo icon to display on the Desktop, open Finder Preferences and check the "Connected servers" box under the General tab.

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Final Thoughts

Drobo is both Mac and Windows compatible. If you use it on a Mac, I recommend the latest version of Leopard, and make sure you have the current firmware update for AirPort Extreme (7.3.1 at the time of writing). This allows you to use the Drobo with Time Machine, which is fairly nifty. The Drobo web site contains a wealth of information, and is worth investigating if you have a particular strategy in mind.

As for me, time will tell. Right now, I'm still fine-tuning my backup gameplan that includes Drobo for much of the heavy lifting. I don't plan on using it for any realtime work, such as Aperture or Lightroom referenced files. The network performance would be too slow for me. But, so far, I do like this solution for archiving my work. Last night I sent a 42 GB job to the Drobo for safe keeping. This morning everything was there safe and sound. If I continue to like the way it performs over the long haul, I'll probably purchase another for offsite storage too. For the time being, I'll continue to use 500 GB drives offsite for redundancy, and count on the Drobo as my primary storage.

What really jumps out at me after this exercise is that there is still no single solution that handles all of my storage and backup needs the way that I want. The Drobo moves the ball forward, and I appreciate that. But I still have a ways to go.

If you've tested the Drobo yourself, please post a comment with your thoughts, and any tips you have for fine-tuning your backup strategy.

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Canon compacts with DIGIC II or III processors have more capabilities than appear on their menus. Functions such as high-speed shutter and RAW mode can be unlocked using firmware available via the CHDK project (Canon Hacker's Development Kit). WIRED Magazine helped shine a light on this work with their recent article, Supercharge Your Camera with Open-Source CHDK Firmware. It's a terrific overview piece with lots of links, and I suggest you start there if interested in this project.

I have a Canon SD700 IS that I'm going hack. It's a wonderful little camera that I use primarily for underwater because I have a matching housing for it. I want to be able to capture in RAW while snorkeling, and CDDK seems like the way to go.

Of course, anyone trying this does so at their own risk. But if you've tested CHDK, please post a comment and let us know how it went. And if you're interested in trying it, here's a list of cameras.

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