February 29, 2008

Buying a Tripod: What to Look For

For shake-free photography, a tripod is a must! Of course, you can rest your camera on any solid surface and the effect will be just as good, but if you use a tripod, you can tilt your camera any which way you want and still take pictures without a blur. A tripod is especially important if you're taking pictures of yourself or a person, place or thing in low lighting. But, before you embark on a tripod shopping spree, here are a few tips you should keep in mind. Let's check them out!

Weigh the Issue

This one depends on the type of camera you're using. If you're a hobby photographer who carries several camera lenses and flashes, it's important for you to buy a tripod that can handle the additional weight of the lenses and flash. On the other hand, if you use a point-and-shoot compact camera that doesn’t have any additional flashes or lenses, even the most light-weight tripod will do. Another thing to consider is "how much is too much." A tripod is something you have to lug around, so the lighter it is, the better it is for you. But going for a solid tripod that can take on a lot more weight than you really need isn’t a good thing either. Just go for the one that suits your needs the best.

Go for Stability

Some tripods can take the burden, but aren't really good at standing on their feet. By this, I mean they are prone to being knocked down even if someone so much as brushes past them. Some might not be able to take heavy wind either. So, the best way to test the stability of your tripod is to place your camera on it and test it out with all its legs in full position. If it feels awkward and wobbly, abandon it right away and move on to another choice.

Watch the Legs

Locking the legs is as important as stability of a tripod. Since manufacturers differ in their ergonomics, it’s best to check out half a dozen of them before buying the one that suits you best. The ergonomics of the leg angle release mechanism and the quick action leg locks allow for effortless adjustments. Not only will it seem less cumbersome, but it also promises safety of your camera equipment, as the tripod has to be in place with the full weight of your camera on it.

Extensions Do Matter

Most tripods come in two and three extensions. While some are most comfortable with two extensions, some find three to be a lot better. In hindsight, there are advantages to both. If you choose a tripod with only two extensions, you’ll have canada online pharmacy viagra a longer piece to haul around when it’s folded up. On the other hand, there is less messing around with extending and locking the legs. Three extensions will give you a smaller folded up tripod and a more sturdy hold.

It’s All in the Length

Tripods come in all shapes and sizes. Go for one that’s about your height when it's fully extended. That way, you're buying something that’s custom made for you. Also, height matters depending on the kind of photography you do. If it’s tabletop or group photography, a tripod is a must and the higher it is, the better. But, if those are shots you rarely take, you don’t really need an ultra-tall tripod. Therefore, choose judiciously.

Look for a Comfortable Tripod Head

Every tripod comes with headgear that is uniquely different from one another. Some are easy to use, while some are very cumbersome. It’s also very subjective, so you need to judge it yourself by attaching your camera to the tripod and testing it out. Does it take a lot of time to set up your camera? Or, is it quick and secure? You need to look at those things before you zero in on a tripod. Doing that will also determine how much flexibility you have once the camera is attached. Some photographers prefer tripod heads that can be removed very easily so that they can hand-hold their cameras for a few of their shots. Others like tripod heads that offer a lot more flexibility when the camera is attached.

There are two main kinds of tripods. The "ball and socket" tripods are highly flexible and offer a smooth touch and feel. The second kind is the "pan and tilt" tripod, which is inexpensive and it locks its heads into place much more firmly and securely. However, you can’t move out a lot with those heads. If you don’t like the tripod head you're currently using, you can buy one separately if your tripod allows for it.

And Finally…

Though it’s best to ask your friends and relatives which tripod they use, the best advice is to check out at least three to four shops before honing in on one. That's because most of your relatives and friends might be using tripods that are old fashioned and some may not even be on the market today. So, the best thing to do is check out the latest models and opt for the one that suits you the best!

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How do I… Compress a GIF or a JPEG graphic in Photoshop CS3?

Date: October 26th, 2007

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Author: John Lee

When you prepare graphics for the Web, choosing the proper format for them is the key to ensuring that your Web site loads quickly in client browsers, regardless of the end user’s connection speed. Despite the escalating saturation of broadband connections, it is always a good idea to get your graphics media down to the smallest size possible while maintaining the best quality. I’ll show you how Adobe Photoshop CS3 makes this process simple and quick.

Nearly everyone involved in creating or maintaining a Web site is aware that the two most widely used graphics formats for viewing in browsers and other Web-connected devices are GIF and JPEG. Yet outside of the Web design profession, very few people seem to know which format is appropriate for what kind of graphic.

If you don’t own a copy of Photoshop CS3, you can download a fully functioning 30-day trial. This blog post is also available in PDF format in a TechRepublic download.

Small graphics

Start by saving the two graphics files below to your hard drive. The photograph of the woman getting a massage (Figure A) is a JPEG graphic at 100 percent quality — that is, it has little to no compression. Likewise, the fake Northstar Publishing logo (Figure B) is a GIF format graphic at 100 percent quality.

Figure A

The low-compression JPEG graphic that we’ll be using

Figure B

The low-compression GIF file

One of the biggest mistakes most people make is saving a graphics file in a format for which it is not really suited. This leads to graphics with poor visual quality, and worse, graphics that are not saved with a compression scheme that complements their content are more bloated in file size.

An easy way to remember when it is appropriate to compress a graphic as a GIF or a JPEG is this simple mnemonic:

  • JPEG – Just for Photographs and Gradients

JPEG stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group, and its compression scheme operates by dropping information from a graphic and then filling in the missing data with blurry artifacts based on adjacent colors in the picture. JPEG compression is best used for photographs and graphics that feature a lot of gradients.

  • GIF – Graphics with Flat colors

GIF stands for Graphic Interchange Format, and its compression scheme works by dropping colors from a graphic. The maximum number of colors a GIF can hold is 256, and any colors that are dropped in the compression process are gone forever and are not interpolated by the Web browser. GIF compression is best used for graphics that have areas of flat colors with minimal (if any) gradients.

Open the two graphics above in Photoshop. Select the window that has the massage customer and from the File menu, select the Save For Web & Devices option. You will see a large dialog box, as shown in Figure C.

Figure C

The Save For Web & Devices Dialog box

At the top of the dialog box, select the tab that says 4-up. This lets us compare the original photo to three potential compression schemes. We can set different levels of compression in the three new windows and see how the final file will appear and how much it will weigh. (Figure D)

Figure D

The 4up window will let you compare the results of different compression settings.

Click on the magnifying glass tool in the upper-left corner of the dialog box and click a couple of times in any of the four windows to zoom in. All of the views will update. If you need to, click on the hand tool and move the photo in any of the windows until you can see a close-up of the woman’s face and some of the rose petals (Figure E).

Figure E

Zooming in and adjusting the view with the magnifying glass and hand tools

Here is where you can see the differences in the varying levels of compression. The first window in the upper left shows the original file. Click on the window immediately to the right and from the Optimization menu, select the JPEG option and set the quality to 100. Repeat these steps for the two views on the bottom, but set the JPEG quality for the lower-left view to 50 and the JPEG quality for the lower-right view to 25 (Figure F).

Figure F

Configuring the JPEG quality for the comparison windows

Look closely at each window, and you will see that as the quality level decreases, the number of compression artifacts increases in each photo. You can also see that Photoshop gives you the file size (weight in KB) of each version of the final compressed JPEG file. Here is where you must consider if you would rather sacrifice quality for file size, or vice versa.

The JPEG setting of 50 quality seems like a good compromise — fewer artifacts and 23KB — but let’s see what our photo would look like if it were compressed as a GIF. Click the lower-right window to select it and from the Optimization menu, select the GIF option and set the colors to 128, as in Figure G.

Figure G

Setting the Optimization option to GIF

As you can see when you compare the GIF version of the photo to the JPEG versions (Figure H), if you were to save the photo as a GIF, not only would you lose color and detail, the size of the file would more than double, compared to the JPEG photo at 50 quality! This is why the rule of thumb here is always compress photos as JPEGs.

Figure H

Comparing a GIF compression scheme to a JPEG

Select the window in the lower left and then click the Save button at the top of the dialog box. Photoshop will then let you save a copy of the photo using your custom compression setup. The best part of this is that the original photo is left untouched at 100 percent quality, allowing you to compress and recompress the original graphic as much as you need to — a handy, nondestructive feature.

Now that you are back in Photoshop, select the Northstar logo and open the Save For Web & Devices dialog box again. As you did with the massage photo, open the 4-up view, but this time, since this graphic is a flat black and white drawing, set all three compression views to GIF format. For the view in the upper right, set the Colors option to two. The view in the lower left should have a Color option of 16, while you should give the view in the lower right a Color setting of 256. Now, select the magnifying glass and zoom in on the spiral section a couple of times. Your dialog box should resemble Figure I.

Figure I

The Northstar logo in the Save For Web & Devices dialog box.

As you can see, the two-color GIF takes away too many of the gray colors to give us a smooth appearance to the curves of the graphic, while the 16-color GIF is nearly identical in quality to the original. Yet, it weighs only 5.4KB — we have a winner! The view in the lower right shows that even though we selected a 256-color compression palette, there are really only 83 colors in the graphic.

But let’s see what happens when we save a graphic that should be GIF file as a JPEG. Click the lower-right view to select it and from the Optimization menu, select the JPEG option and set the Quality to 50.

You will see that because you have applied a JPEG compression scheme to a graphic with flat colors, the JPEG compression artifacts are glaringly noticeable; giving the crisp lines a smudgy, dirty appearance. And the file size is double that of the GIF version! (Figure J)

Figure J

The effects of JPEG compression on flat colors

Select the lower-left window and save your new GIF file.

Files that should be GIFs and are instead JPEGs are the most common graphics errors to be found on the Web. But with the fundamental knowledge presented here, you have the means to save your site and your company plenty of bandwidth.

John Lee is a consultant specializing in design and illustration and a freelance technical writer. You can visit his Web site at johnleestudio.com.

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RIAA File-Sharing Complaint Fails to Support Default Judgment

The recording industry's litigation campaign against individual file-sharers suffered a setback earlier this month when a federal judge ruled in Atlantic v. Brennan that the boilerplate complaint used by the recording industry in these cases would not support a default judgment.

Default judgments may be entered against defendants who never respond to a lawsuit, but only if the complaint lives up to certain minimum standards. In ruling that the recording industry's complaint fell short of this mark, the judge specifically rejected the recording industry's "making available" arguments, thereby endorsing the argument that EFF recently made in Atlantic v. Howell.

It remains to be seen whether the recording industry has the particularized evidence necessary to back up their boilerplate complaints. But this ruling suggests that courts are not prepared to simply award default judgments worth tens of thousands of dollars against individuals based on a piece of paper backed by no evidence.

For Ars Technica's summary of the legal standards involved in the ruling:

http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20080225-riaa-fails-again-to-get-default-judgment-in-uncontested-case.html

For the judge's ruling on the RIAA's motion for default

judgment:

http://www.eff.org/files/atlantic_brennan_080213OrderDenyDefaultJudgment.pdf

For can women take viagra this complete post by EFF Senior Staff Attorney Fred von Lohmann:

http://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2008/02/riaa-file-sharing-complaint-fails-support-default-judgment

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FISA News and Updates

The battle against telecom immunity continues in Washington DC, with a fear-mongering press blitz from the Administration and other supporters of immunity for lawbreaking telecoms.

EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl counters some of the many myths delivered by the White House Press Secretary Dana Perino during a recent briefing:

http://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2008/02/myth-facts-about-retroactive-immunity-and-attorneys

EFF buying viagra Designer/Activist Hugh D'Andrade documents the "slips and stalls" perpetrated by proponents of immunity, whose yowling arguments for immunizing the telecoms are later contradicted by facts that they must acknowledge:

http://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2008/02/republican-slips-and-stalls

And this past week, four former senior level intelligence officials wrote to Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell to challenge recent statements on telecom immunity and its relationship to surveillance and security:

http://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2008/02/four-former-intelligence-professionals-write-dni-mcconnell

For the text of the letter from the former intelligence officials to DNI Mike McConnell:

http://www.nsnetwork.org/node/253

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EFF Lawsuit Demands Records of Contacts Between Former Justice Department Official and Google

DOJ's Top Privacy Lawyer Left Government Post for Job with Online Giant

Washington, D.C. – The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed suit against the Department of Justice (DOJ) this week, demanding information about communications between the DOJ's former top privacy official and Google, the official's current employer.

Jane C. Horvath was named the DOJ's first Chief Privacy and Civil Liberties Officer in February of 2006. At that time, Google was fighting a massive DOJ subpoena asking for the text of every query entered into the search engine over a one-week period. The DOJ request — part of a court battle over the constitutionality of a law regulating adult materials on the Internet — ignited a national debate about Internet privacy.

The DOJ later scaled back its request, and a judge eventually allowed access to only 5000 random Google search queries. In a subsequent news article, Horvath was publicly critical of the DOJ's initial subpoena, saying buying viagra in uk she had privacy concerns about the massive request for information.

Horvath's new job as Google's Senior Privacy Counsel was announced in August of 2007.

EFF asked the DOJ for information about communications between Horvath and Google with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request as Horvath prepared to leave the agency, but the DOJ has not responded to the request more than six months after it was submitted.

"Google has an unprecedented ability to collect and retain very personal information about millions of Americans, and the DOJ and other law enforcement agencies have developed a huge appetite for that information," said EFF Senior Counsel David Sobel. "We want to know what discussions DOJ's top privacy lawyer had with Google before leaving her government position to join the company."

EFF's suit demands records of all correspondence, email, or other communications between Horvath and Google, and asks the court to order the DOJ to immediately process the documents for release.

This FOIA lawsuit is part of EFF's FLAG Project, which uses FOIA requests and litigation to expose the government's expanding use of technologies to invade privacy. Previous EFF FOIA requests have uncovered misuse of National Security Letters (NSLs) by the FBI, as well as improper FBI access to email from an entire computer network.

For the full complaint against the DOJ:

http://www.eff.org/files/filenode/doj_google/foia_complaint_filed.pdf

For more on EFF's FLAG Project:

http://www.eff.org/issues/foia

For this release:

http://www.eff.org/press/archives/2008/02/26

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