Deep Backgrounder
Need a portable invisible background? OK, maybe it’s not technically invisible, but Photoflex’s FlexDrop2 (street: $200) can disappear from your shots later, to be replaced by…any scene you want! The reversible blue/green backdrops can be used in the same way as the blue-screen (Chroma Key) technology that enables TV weatherfolk to appear in front those maps and satellite photos. Just take the 5×7-foot FlexDrop2 with you (it’s lightweight at 4-1/2 pounds, flexible, and folds down to one-third of its size), and place it behind the subject you’re shooting. After importing the shot into an image-editing program, you can easily knock out the background and drop in a new one. (Photoflex; 800-486-2674; www.photoflex.com)

The Paper Chase Is Over
Do you flinch at the price of big-name inkjet papers, but are frightened by the quality of off-brand “bargains”? Adorama, the Manhattan-based photo dealer, says it has a solution-the company’s own Projet line of inkjet papers that match the big guys in quality, but not in price. Starting at $6 for a 20-sheet pack of 4×6 with a satin pearl surface, Adorama paper comes in hundreds of surfaces and sizes. For instance, there’s double-sided paper for quick album insertion, along with Fine Art Canvas Matte surface for the fine-art printer in all of us. Want a 40-foot roll of 44-inch Delicate Fine Art, Semi-Matte? For $430, it’s yours. Adorama’s web site is being loaded with print profiles and instructions for all sorts of printers, Mac- and Windows-based. (Adorama; 800-223-2500; www.adorama.com)

The Ape’s Got My Camera!
Norazza’s new line of camera bags is designed with digital shooters in mind. Its Ape Case line includes six different bags and one media case (street: $10-$25) with black or blue exteriors, and banana yellow interiors that make it easy to see what’s in there. Plenty of pockets hold all your media cards and extra batteries; the largest bag, the AC220, also has a pocket for your cell phone. (Norazza; 954-583-8545; www.norazza.com)

Knitted, Not Printed
Now your photos can give viewers a warm and fuzzy feeling…literally. Have your pix woven into photo pillows ($80 and up) or blankets ($115 and up) by the ELFworks Knitting Mill. Pictures are actually woven by a computer-controlled loom that alternates cotton yarn colors to make photo afghans, pillows, throws, and blankets. Offered in a variety of colors, the products are machine washable. Other options: Add text, or build grid-like blanket montages with up to 21 different photos! (ELFworks Knitting Mills; 714-429-1773; www.goelfworks.com)

Olympus E-1 Debuts
After several years of development and secret glimpses of camera prototypes, the new Olympus E-1 digital SLR has arrived-well, almost.

According to Olympus, the camera won’t ship until October, so you’ll have to wait for Pop Photo’s full test. But the early production models we saw at this 5MP digital SLR’s June debut had most features activated.

The E-1 is the first digital SLR based on the Four Thirds Standard designed by Olympus. The number 4/3 refers to the size of the image sensor in the camera, and is derived from an older method of measuring video tubes in TV cameras. While the majority of other interchangeable-lens DSLRs from other manufacturers use lenses originally intended for the larger imaging-area of 35mm, Four Thirds Standard models will use lenses that are designed from scratch, exclusively for the smaller-sized sensor.

Olympus also debuted several Zuiko Digital lenses that it claims are smaller and lighter than comparable 35mm lenses, while offering better corner-to-corner color definition. In combination with a 5.5MP full-frame CCD from Kodak (capturing an effective 5MP, or 2560×1920-pixel resolution) and advanced image-processing capability, the E-1 is billed as providing image quality on par with higher-MP sensors.

The E-1 has several other features that should appeal to pro and advanced-amateur photographers as well, including a rugged, splashproof magnesium-alloy body, and an innovative Supersonic Wave Filter that vibrates dust off the CCD sensor. It also sports both FireWire (IEEE1394) and high-speed USB 2.0 connectors, and can capture up to 12 images at 3 fps in burst mode. Metered shutter speeds range from 2 to 1/4000 sec, and the camera has a wide range of exposure controls and metering choices, plus image-quality settings that include color space, saturation, sharpness, contrast, and white balance.

About the only feature missing from the E-1 is a built-in pop-up flash. In Japan, however, built-in flash is disdained by pros-and a pro camera is what Olympus calls the E-1.

We were hoping for a lower price-at $2,199 (list) for the body, $599 for the 14-54mm lens shown (equivalent to a 28-108mm 35mm lens), and $499 for the FL-50 flash unit, the E-1’s cost puts it in between a slew of 6MP SLRs and the 13.5MP Kodak Pro 14n. Stay tuned for our full test of the E-1.