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New gear that has impressed our editors

Lost in the Carmagne Forest
Hakuba/Velbon, known principally for its ultracompact Maxi tripods, has grown a forest of four new, larger, moderately priced, carbon-fiber-legged magnesium-bodied tripods said to be one-third lighter than aluminum. The El Carmagne series has interchangeable two-way, double-handled heads; lever leg locks; marked leg lengths; split center columns for low-angle shooting; Neoprene grips; tripod cases; bags; and accessory hooks. Model 530 ($300 street) is 24.8 inches closed, 64.7 inches extended, and weighs 3.8 pounds. Model 540 ($320) is 20.4 inches closed, 58.3 inches extended, weighs 3.7 pounds. Model 630 ($330) is 26.8 inches closed, 68.5 inches extended, 4.7 pounds. Model 640 ($340) is 22 inches closed, 64.8 inches extended, 4.6 pounds. They join four larger, headless Neo Carmagnes with knurled leg locks, low-angle leg spread, spiked and rubberized leg tips-two with geared centerposts, two without gears-from $480 to $640. ToCAD America; 973-428-9800; www.hakubausa.com)

RoboSack to the Rescue
Kata’s Rucksack R-102 ($167 list) takes its inspiration from military gear, and it shows. This matte-black, extra-rugged photo backpack features protective, rib-shaped, shock-absorbing walls that are said to offer 30 percent more protection than common, closed-cell-foam padding. Designed to hold a 35mm-scale SLR system, the R-102 has a stowable shoulder harness with a special load-distributing design. Weighing 2.8 pounds, the R-102 offers a waterproof outer shell for emergency dust and moisture protection, a detachable hip belt, and (our favorite) a built-in camera strap that distributes camera weight across your torso. (Bogen Imaging; 201-818-9500; www.bogenimaging.us)

Panel Discussion
If less is more, Samsung’s new flat-panel LCD monitor is the most. The 17-inch SynchMaster 173P ($650 street) is nothing but on-screen color and simple, functional design. The silver-finished case has just one button-power. All adjustments are made with the computer’s mouse, using Samsung’s MagicTune software, which includes a color-calibration wizard that sets an sRGB color space according to your preference and ambient light. Samsung claims an amazingly wide, 178-degree viewing angle. But you also can swivel it on the built-in lazy susan. For vertical shooters,the monitor rotates up, and the accompanying Pivot software lets you edit the supersized vertical image. (Samsung; 800-762-7746; www.samsung.com)

Back to the Darkroom
It’s been nearly 10 years since Kodak offered a new black-and-white RC enlarging paper, so (fanfare!) meet Professional Polycontrast IV Paper. New features: additional highlight detail (with no sacrifice in the shadows) and a fine-luster “D” surface, which Kodak describes as “pearl-like.” Replacing both Polymax RC and Polycontrast III, the newcomer will share their pricing: $12 for 25 8×10 sheets. (Kodak; 800-235-6325; www.kodak.com)

Up the Organization
Picasa automatically scans for image and video files and displays them as thumbnails organized chronologically. Version 1.6 ($29 download) adds a meaty set of organizing tools, including the ability to build html “storybook” albums and create slide shows with soundtracks. What we like best is the “Hello!” image-sharing feature that sends pics over the Internet, which pop up on a recipient’s screen like instant messages while you’re text chatting. (www.picasa.net)