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Casio has found a way to squeeze a 7X optical zoom in a pocketable 7.2 megapixel beauty. The just-announced EXILIM Hi-Zoom EX-V7 also features blur reduction technologies with the new CCD shift system, the redesigned EXILIM Engine 2.0 image processor, and now captures movies with H.264 encoding (which should be QuickTime compatible right out of the camera).

Casio is showing off the camera at the CES show in Las Vegas, NV. It will retail for $399 or less when available in March. This is a compact to keep our eyes on as the hands-on reviews begin to surface.

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Boinx Software has released a public beta of the redesigned FotoMagico to garner user feedback before making the final version available. Major improvements in 2.0 include the ability to create a standalone player for your presentations, watermark capability, fresh user interface, and performance enhancements.

Oliver Breidenbach of Boinx Software comments, "FotoMagico 2 enters the Public Beta testing phase. FotoMagico 2 represents a significant step forward by introducing high resolution, standalone slideshow players that can be shared with people who do not have a license for FotoMagico. In order to test this new capability thoroughly, FotoMagico 2 is now available as a public beta with a final release planned for March, 2007."

You can download the public beta today and give it a spin. Be sure to let Boinx know what you like and what needs improvement.

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iPhoto Slideshow Tips and Tricks

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iPhoto's slideshow authoring tools have come a long way since the early days of the application. You can author very good presentations without ever leaving your digital shoebox... that is if you know a few tricks.

In a recent article I wrote for Macworld Magazine titled, Create stunning slide shows, I show many of the techniques that I've perfected over the years to create terrific presentations with my iPhoto images. If you're an iPhoto user, you might want to give it a read.

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An Australian scientist has calculated how many frames you need to record during a group shot to give you the best odds that at least one image will have everyone with their eyes open. In the article, Picture Perfect: How to Make Blink-Free Holiday Photos, physicist Piers Barnes calculates the average number of times a person blinks (10 per minute), how long a blink lasts (250 milliseconds), camera shutter speed (8 milliseconds in a typical setting), and the number of people in the group.

The article goes on to provide some rules of thumb for shooting in both good light and bad. It's interesting stuff, and the formulas work out to about the same as experience has taught me over years of working weddings -- I average about 5 frames for most group shots.

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Those eagle-eyed shooters at Popular Photography have identified 25 great products from 2006 and recognized them with Pop Awards. This is a terrific list including many products I've covered here on The Digital Story, such as Apple Aperture, the Epson R2400 printer, Canon PowerShot G7, and the Lumix DMC-LX2.

I also read with great interest other items in the Pop Awards that I wasn't familiar with, and now have some new gear to investigate further. There's lots of good stuff here, and it's really worth spending a few minutes perusing the list.

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The December 2006 photo assignment, pool of light closes at the end of day on Sunday, Dec. 31. You still have a little time to send in your entry.

Participating is easy. All you have to do is attach your assignment photo to an email and send it in. Title your subject line: Photo Assignment [month, year]. Attach your entry making sure that it is no wider than 600 pixels. Include a few sentences about why you took this approach, the camera you used, and any setting details that you think are important. Address your email to: derrick@thedigitalstory.com.

If you can, don't remove the EXIF metadata as you prepare your image. I like to list this information with the picture when it's displayed in our gallery.

As an example, this image of Apple CEO Steve Jobs was captured in Oct. 2005 when he unveiled the iPod 5th Gen video at a press event. Steve is standing in the pool of light while others mill about in the shadows.

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I've been testing fine art papers for Epson and HP "B" sized printers, and I've come across a real diamond in the rough. Epson's Watercolor Paper Radiant White costs less than half as much as their Velvet Fine Art Paper, but produces comparable results with a higher archival rating.

Both papers have a bright white surface that produce vibrant images, feature texture and weight that feel good in the hands, and dries instantly for easy handling. I've done many side-by-side prints with both stocks, and the watercolor images come very close to the vibrancy of those printed on Velvet Fine Art. The kicker is, you can get 13" x 19" (Super B size) sheets of Epson Watercolor for about a $1 a sheet, and the Velvet Fine Art runs about $3 a print.

Another interesting note is that the archival permanence for the Watercolor is 92 years compared to 61 years for Velvet Fine Art. I can use the regular sheet feeder on an Epson R2400 for the Watercolor, but had to use the manual sheet feeder for the Velvet, which is a heavier paper stock.

No doubt, the Epson Velvet Fine Art paper is fantastic. It is heavier than the Watercolor and has a better D-Max rating. But when I put large B&W images next to each other (printed on both papers), I'm thrilled by how well the Watercolor prints hold up to those on the Velvet Fine Art... for about a third of the price.

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Gorillapods Are Great!

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I'm a big fan of portable, sturdy tripods, and I have a decent collection of three-legged critters that I use regularly. During the holidays, I received a new addition to my stable, my first Gorillapod -- the original model. And I'm having a blast with it.

The original model, which is also the smallest, is perfect for my Canon PowerShot SD 700IS. It's a 150mm tall (6") and only weighs 45g (1.6 oz). Yet this little creature can steady your camera (up to 275 grams - 9.7 oz). in just about location -- from table top to tree limb. The legs are constructed of 10 flexible joints that enable you to quickly position your camera in just seconds. You even get a nifty quick-release head so you don't have to screw and unscrew every time you want to mount the camera.

You can purchase the original Gorillapod for $21.95, and the larger sizes for DSLRs for $40 and $50 each. The Joby site has a fun photo gallery of Gorillapods in action. In fact, there's even a flickr gallery called Gorillapod Love dedicated to these little beasties. Good pictures and good fun.

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Sponsor Note...

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Canon G7

In a recent review on Photography Blog, the Canon PowerShot G7 earned high praise, with the reviewer commenting that "Though I'd hate to use the word great, in almost all aspects the Canon G7 is certainly very, very good. If I had to choose a back up compact for an SLR, the Canon PowerShot G7 would currently top the list. Superb. If you haven't yet submitted your list to Santa, or want a new toy to play with to beat those post-festive blues, seek out this sophisticated contender for some serious results."

The G7 is a 10-megapixel beauty that fits in your coat pocket, but offers big features such as a 2.5" LCD, 6X optical zoom, image stabilizer, DIGIC III processor, 80-1600 ISO range, and just about every camera control you'd find on a standard DSLR.

As I've mentioned before, there is no RAW mode, and the LCD is now fixed to the back of the camera: two features that I miss from earlier models in the Canon G series. But I've talked to two photographers who own the camera, plus have read a handful of reviews such as the recent one on Photography Blog, and this camera is resonating with users. I can tell you one thing, it feels good to hold. And the images it produces are terrific. But I have to say, I really want RAW mode on a camera of this caliber.

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Hot off the press with over 3 hours of tips and tricks, Aperture 1.5 Beyond the Basics is now available from lynda.com. I team up with Scott Bourne to cover Aperture workflow, importing images, using image previews, wrangling with metadata, output, and plenty of new features including edge sharpening, centered loupe, and referenced libraries.

Lynda has made a couple of the chapters available for free so you can see if they're your cup of tea. If you find them helpful, you can subscribe to the service for as little as $25 a month (for unlimited access to all titles), or you can purchase the Aperture title on DVD for $99.95.

We had a lot of fun recording Beyond the Basics, and I hope it proves helpful for all levels of Aperture users.

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