New gear that has impressed our editors
Tower of Power Boutique PC-maker Velocity Micro's hand-assembled, silver metal-cased custom computers come to life with a cool blue glow when you start them up. Look inside the 17-inch diagonal side panel windows and you'll get an up-close view of wires carefully folded and neatly tied back for the healthy airflow essential for long processor life. But it's not just looks that tell you these go beyond typical, plain-vanilla Windows PCs. Inside is an image-processing powerhouse with AMD's new lightning-fast Athlon 64 FX-57 2.6GHz processor, a built-in 7-in-1 USB 2.0 card reader, two 74GB hard drives that work together for speedy photo editing (along with another 200GB hard drive for storage), and two 16X DVD+/-RW/CD-RW dual-layer-capable optical drives. Warranty? Try three years with one year of 24/7 tech support and on-site service. Top-of-the-line models start for under $4,000. (Velocity Micro, Inc.; www.velocitymicro.com; 800-303-7866)
Hold the phone It's only a matter of time before somebody's cell phone voicemail says, "Sorry I can't take your call, I'm too busy taking pictures with my phone." Which phone will make screening your calls worthwhile? Nokia's N90 is a "smart" phone featuring a rotating 2MP camera and autofocusing Carl Zeiss lens. (Yes, Sony has a lock on Zeiss glass for its digital still cameras, but Nokia beat Sony Ericsson-a separate cell phone company-to the punch by locking in Zeiss optics for its camera phones.) With an estimated street price of $900 (minus rebates), the N90 isn't cheap compared with a standard 2MP digital camera. But it does have some redeeming camera qualities: manual exposure controls, macro-focus capability, and an LED flash with a 5-foot range. Plus it has the ability to capture and transmit images to other phone cams, the Internet, or a local lab for prints. It also records, sends, and lets you edit MPEG-4 movies. You can even video conference with other N90 owners or listen to MP3 audio files via the stereo headphone jack. Try that with a digital still camera. (Nokia; www.nokia.com; 888-256-2098)
Stacked card The memory-card-capacity race is heating up; card makers realize that photographers like having enough gigabytes to photograph everything in sight with capacity to spare. How many images can you pack onto SanDisk's new 8GB Ultra II ($700 street)? Figure around 650 8MP RAW images or 2,000 8MP JPEGs. Rated at 60X, SanDisk Ultra II cards have a top sustained write speed of 9MB/sec and read speed of 10MB/sec depending on the camera or card reader. (SanDisk Corp.; www.sandisk.com; 866-726-3475)
Shoot between the raindrops Wet weather got you down? Don't let that stop you. Rain covers, such as Vortex Media's Storm Jacket Camera Covers, let you keep shooting through monsoon season. The covers are made of tough, waterproof nylon, and have bungee drawstrings on the front and back. Just tighten one end around your lenshood and other around your right wrist. They come in red, yellow, or black, and three sizes. Small ($36 direct) fits SLR-and-lens combinations that measure up to 9 inches from the back of the camera body to the front of the lens. Medium ($38) works best for 7 to 15 inches. And Large ($40) covers from 14 to 23 inches (for those really long lenses). Each come with a zippered carrying case and clip (Vortex Media; www.stormjacket.com; 888-852-6593).
Medium-Format Megapixels Do you own a film-based medium-format system? Feeling a tinge of envy over the Mamiya ZD and forthcoming Pentax 645D medium-format DSLRs? Now you can give your filmosaur a digital lease on life-if you have $29,999 to spare. Leaf's new Aptus 22, a 22MP digital back, works with just about any Bronica, Contax, Fuji, Hasselblad, or Mamiya body, and with many view cameras. This way, you can swap backs for the best of both worlds. The Aptus 22's sensor measures 48x 36mm (for a 1.2X lens factor), has a dynamic range of 12 f-stops, and color depth of 16 bits. A 3.5-inch, 211,680-pixel color LCD touch screen lets you browse photos you've taken, view file data, or change camera settings. ISO ranges from 25 to 400. While the capture speed of 1.2 sec per frame is fast for a digital back, it isn't for action shooters. But you can store your images on CF cards, Leaf's optional 20GB Digital Magazine ($2,300 alone, or $800 bundled with the back), or to a portable FireWire disk. (Creo, Inc.; www.creo.com; 800-929-9209)