[A NICE NIGHT’S ENTERTAINMENT]

A reader writes asking for advice on buying a camera. He specifically mentions the fact that he likes “converting photos and video into slideshows for my family.”

Any camera will produce the source images for a slideshow, but it so happens that we are engaged in this very process of slideshow creation when the email arrives and that got us fiddling with different ways of doing the job without using bought software.

By far the easiest way to share photos with family and friends is via Flickr, the amazingly generous service that gives you 1TB of free space for photo storing. Sending a link to a Flickr album is the easiest way to share a photo collection, and it is possible to make an automated slideshow for inclusion in a personal blog. Type “slideshow” into the Flickr search query box for the instructions.

With high definition televisions now ubiquitous it makes sense to make the slideshow in the form of a movie that can be saved to a USB memory stick or burned to a DVD. iPhoto on the Mac does this easily and well – and Windows Photo Gallery will do the same.

In iPhoto the starting point is to create a new Album and to populate it with the photos for the show. Click on the Album name and go File/New Slideshow.

Under Themes (on the bottom toolbar) there are varieties of appearance and transition options. At the top is the famous (infamous?) Ken Burns pan-and-zoom effect and down the bottom/right is the plain display-and-change image. The Music icon opens a box to choose either from presets, which are generally awful, or music of your own. Next to Music are settings for control of display time, transition effect and time, captions and aspect ratio. Check the effects as you go using the Preview button.

When the show is running as you want it hit the Export button and you get three choices for output, depending on the viewing device. For HD TV choose 1080. Or choose Share on the toolbar and select one of the options from the drop-down list. Easy!

Windows Photo Gallery works in much the same way as iPhoto except that there is no button for Slideshow. After selecting the photos for inclusion in the show from the pictures automatically loaded click on Create/Movie after which all the options of theme, transition (under animation), music, slide duration, titles and credits are available.

One word of warning about Photo Gallery: only the latest version gives the same output options as iPhoto. (download from tinyurl.com/m2xvc2l )  The important difference between the old and new versions is the ability to output a 1080 video in mpeg4-H.264 which will play on all devices.

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THIS DEMONSTRATION SLIDESHOW WAS CREATED IN iPHOTO AND EXPORTED AS A 420 LINE VIDEO. WINDOWS PHOTO GALLERY, AS LONG AS THE LATEST VERSION IS USED, WILL OUTPUT THE SAME FINISHED SHOW.

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[REVIEW—OLYMPUS E-PL7]

Price: $787
Retro styling, modern performance

THE LOW-DOWN: This newest addition to the retro styled Pen series of 16mp compact interchangeable lens cameras comes as a kit with the 14-42mm retractable lens. The LCD aspect ratio has been changed to 3:2 and an added control dial will appeal to those who like to be in charge. The LCD is touch sensitive and the Super Control Panel places all camera settings ready for selection by a finger touch. The LCD can fold into a forward facing position for selfies. The accessory port is used for the flash, included in the kit, or for an optional electronic viewfinder or macro light set. Focus peaking is provided for manual focus assistance. An electronic shutter setting eliminates the problem of  shutter shock blur. The camera can be controlled with a smartphone, via WiFi and the Olympus app.

LIKE: All the Pen cameras, from the E-P1 onwards, have been a joy to behold and a pleasure to use. Olympus jpegs are consistently excellent and RAW is better. The supplied Olympus Viewer software is excellent and may be all that anyone needs for RAW conversion and editing. The Australian price is the same as the US price. 

DISLIKE: You can’t use the optional viewfinder and a flash at the same time – they both use the same accessory port.

VERDICT: We are passionate (biased?) about compact system cameras – not just from Olympus but also from Sony, Samsung, Nikon, Panasonic and Fujifilm. Olympus and Panasonic, in collaboration, were the first to demonstrate the merits of the smaller, smarter camera form and they have continued to  improve their products. The only caution we would offer to anyone considering the E-PL7 is that the Olympus OMD E-M10 is only $20 dearer and comes with a built-in EVF. 

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[KEEP THE NOISE DOWN]

We are ultra-sensitive to noise, both the earhole and the eyeball variety. We don’t like noisy restaurants and we abhor little black and random coloured specs in our photos. We’ve given up on restaurants, but we have had an epiphany of sorts with noisy pictures. It is called DxO Optics Pro.

Serious photographers record the RAW image and attend to unwanted noise in the computer using any one of a number of noise reducing processors to do the job by inspection and trial and error, moving sliders this way and that until a clean enough image is produced. At least that is how we did it with limited success until last February when we became acquainted with DxO Optics Pro 9. This program examines the picture at pixel level and distinguishes between the good pixels – the fine detail – and the bad – the noise. It’s ability distinguish and to clean is almost miraculous.

This month DxO released the latest version of Optics Pro, version 10. (www.dxo.com) There are changes, improvements and a significant drop in price. The basic Essential version is USD129 and the Elite version is USD199. There are upgrades from version 9 and a 31 day fully functional trial version.

DxO claim a one stop improvement in noise reduction which we had difficulty seeing until we reached a stratospheric 25600 ISO, at which point 10 was definitely better than 9. This is not really a criticism because 9 already does such an astonishing job of cleaning up the noisiest images.

In 9 it was obligatory to purchase the more expensive Elite version for use with any full frame camera. This is no longer the case. The big difference between the two versions is in the noise reduction engine. Elite has the ultra effective Prime function while Essential has the basic High Quality setting. High Quality will do an adequate job up to 1600 ISO, after which Prime shines.

What makes Optics Pro 10 stand out from other programs is its degree of automation. It is not necessary to remove noise by inspection and trial and error. Optics Pro knows all about the characteristics of your camera/lens combination and uses that information to apply exposure compensation, colour correction and sundry lens aberrations instantly. Everything can be manually tweaked but the need for correction is remarkably rare.

One interesting new feature that has the feel of a work in progress is the “Clear View” haze removing function. (Only in Elite) It doesn’t quite do what it promises but it is a needed process that no doubt will be improved in future releases.

Now, let’s crank up the ISO and boldly go into new low light experiences.

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[REVIEW—PANASONIC LUMIX DMC-GM5]

 

Panasonic GM5

Price: $1099
Small, stylish and capable

THE LOW-DOWN: This update on the GM1, the smallest micro four thirds model in the Panasonic range, has a 16mp sensor, like its predecessor, but has been made more user-friendly with revisions to control butons and dials. The retractable 12-32mm kit lens gives a film equivalent range of 24—64mm. The LCD is higher resolution and an electronic viewfinder – very small but useful – has been added. The in-built flash is no more and its place has been taken with a hotshoe and external flash included in the box. The GM5 is slightly larger overall than the GM1, but that makes it a little easier to handle. It also, in our opinion, makes the camera more attractive. The magnesium alloy body is skinned in a leather (faux?) finish – the red looks tres chic.

LIKE: Image quality is fine, with excellent jpeg processing. RAW was difficult to assess as the camera comes with the Silkypix converter and neither DxO nor Adobe has yet included the camera in their converters. Video is good.

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DISLIKE: The price is steep for a camera of this type. The Olympus OMD E-M10, a camera with better specifications if not as cute, costs about $200 less.

VERDICT: This is a brilliant little camera. It won’t fit in a shirt or jeans pocket but it takes up little space in a bag. The electronic viewfinder and add-on flash have elevated the GM5 to serious camera status rather than just a fashion accessory. The only serious omission from the feature set is a swivelling LCD. The Samsung NX Mini is a comparable camera, albeit with a smaller 1” sensor, at less than half the price and it comes with Adobe Lightroom. Check them both out before deciding.

Sample03a

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