Power for your pocket, armless heads for tripods, upgraded software for
novices and pros, and more.
Newbies shopping for studio strobes often go for watt-seconds over quality of build, but they're making the wrong call -- for portraits and small product shots, 200 watt-seconds are usually enough. That cheaply made 800 Ws head will be useless if a bump or fall takes it out. But Elinchrom's rugged new 2.4-pound D-Lite 2 monolights (www.elinchrom.com) will probably survive such a tumble. The 200 Ws kits ($900, street, for two lights, stands, softboxes, and bags) offer very sturdy heads and wobble-free stands. Still convinced you need more power? Start with the 400 Ws D-Lite 4 ($1,100, estimated street).
Deep Pocket Cam
Much as you'd like to walk around with your DSLR strapped around your neck 24/7, there are times when it's just not appropriate. That's when the Canon's new 10MP PowerShot G7 ($600, street) might be the best thing to bring instead. It's no bulbous, hey-look-at-me camera -- it's got classic looks that will make you feel much more like James Bond than The Terminator.
With its new DIGIC III image processor, your low-light pictures (it shoots up to ISO 3200) should be reasonably low on noise. It's got optical image stabilization and a hot-shoe, too. Shoot in the aspect ratio of your choice (including 16:9 to suit your widescreen TV), and customize the fast and sharp f/2.8-4.8 6X optical zoom lens (35-210mm, 35mm equivalent) with a wide-angle, telephoto, or close-up adapter.
There's a new "My Colors" function that lets you choose color, sharpness, and saturation that will come in pretty handy, since the camera doesn't shoot RAW.
Pentax DSLR shooters who need a wide-angle lens should take note of Pentax's 21mm f/3.2 P-DA AL Limited lens. In this case, the term "Limited" refers not to the production run (which is not, in fact, limited), but instead to the high-end production values: These are metal lenses vetted carefully for defects, and there's not a sticker or a decal on them -- they're almost always etched or engraved. This landscape-friendly lens weighs just under 5 ounces, so it won't drag you down while you prowl the countryside for a great shot, and its slim profile adds little bulk to your camera. Look for our test online at www.PopPhoto.com/december2006.
Have a ball
Nothing gets in the way of smooth tripod operation like cumbersome handles. And while ballheads can help you set your camera right the fastest, you've got to make sure you've positioned the knob just so, or when you go to make a quick adjustment without looking, you'll be flummoxed.
Two new tripod heads offer a solution to the problem: the Freedom Ballhead ($290, direct; www.freedomballhead.com) and Savage's Twistol Grip ($200, street; www.savagepaper.com). Both hold about 8 pounds of weight and are suitable for the average DSLR, and each offers an innovative locking mechanism that should save you time and help your precision.
The Freedom features a compact design and a horizontal collar-like lock that can be loosened or tightened from any direction. The Twistol is bigger, has a quick-release plate, and locks by twisting the main body. With such simple heads, you'll have no excuse for leaving that tripod at home.
There are two categories of Paint Shop Pro fans: those who came to it because they preferred not to shell out the big money for Adobe Photoshop, and those who say it's just plain better.
In the newest version, Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo XI, you'll find loads of new features: there's a depth-of-field function so you can fake selective focus, a color changer that lets you make a blue shirt red, and filmic filters that let you warm up, cool down, or mimic favorite film looks. It also has an interesting timeline feature that teaches you the history of photography while it converts your pictures to look like daguerreotypes, linotypes, and more all the way up through the present. It remains a friendly but powerful program that includes a great organizer. Paint Shop Pro Photo XI may be the practical choice for serious photographers who'd rather save their money to spend on equipment. ($100, direct; www.corel.com)
How to... Print Tiny
So many of our pictures never make it off the computer, and the ones we might like to post on the fridge or give to a friend get lost in clogged inboxes. But upload those pictures to Flickr.com (see "More Great Photo Freebies," in this issue) and you can get 100 of your favorite pictures printed fast and tiny. MOO will cull them, print your text on the back, and send you a box of precious, glossy, 1.1x2.8-inch photos that you can hand out to promote your website, show off your new puppy, or slip into your holiday cards. (www.moo.com, $20)
How to... Size Up Cameras
Shopping online for a point-and-shoot but can't tell if the "pocket cam" will really fit in your pocket? Check its bulk at Sizeasy (www.sizeasy.com). Type in the camera's dimensions, then compare a mock-up of its bulk to a deck of cards, a matchbox, or even a wine bottle. Sizeasy's also useful for figuring out how the new camera compares to your current one, or which of the ones you're considering is the most compact.