Monday, March 29, 2010

HD Video: The New Standard

By Brendan Keenan, Penn Camera Tysons Corner

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So, what is HD? To keep it simple, HD is just a designation for a higher resolution picture. Just as digital cameras offer higher mega pixel still images, video recording also offers a higher resolution format. It can get a little confusing when you hear about 720p, and 1080i, and 1080p. Which high definition is the high definition? To understand the differences, just remember two things: the number (720 or 1080), designates the lines of resolution in a frame, and the letter ( “i” or “p” ) specifies the type of frame. 1080p is the highest quality. It has 1080 horizontal lines of resolution, and the “p” designates a progressive frame rate. Progressive means that every frame you see, typically up to about 60 frames per second, is one solid frame. The “i” designation means each frame is interlaced, or a combination of two half-frames creating one frame. Progressive, or “p” is the best. Full HD video is almost 3 times more detailed than standard definition, which makes a huge difference in video quality.

So which cameras will give you good HD video? It is a feature now on many DSLR and point and shoot digital cameras, and has become the standard for today's camcorders. SLR cameras like the Nikon D90 and D5000, and the Canon Rebel T2i are mid-range models that offer HD recording. It is also becoming an almost standard feature on mid-range point and shoot cameras from almost every manufacturer. The differences are important. An SLR may offer interchangeable lenses, and more photographic control over things like exposure, and depth of field, but offer far shorter recording times, and a loss of auto-focus with most models. Point and shoot cameras with HD also offer shorter recording times, without much control over video settings, but can be the perfect all in one camera for the casual photographer who wants the option of video in something that will fit right in a pocket. Some shoot in full 1080p, while others may only record in 720p.

A camcorder will give you the best video quality, and longest recording time, and higher end models do offer lens options and advanced color, exposure, and focusing options. However even an entry level HD camcorder, like the popular Flip HD makes recording home videos in HD and transferring them to your computer simple and easy. Mid-range and high-end camcorders will offer longer recording times, most commonly to an internal hard drive or flash memory, as well as SD memory cards, which is what most DSLR's and point and shoot cameras will be using for storage. It is important that you use a high speed memory card for HD video, Class 6 speed is recommended for full HD (1080p) recording. Also be sure you have the correct cables for connecting to an HDTV for viewing your videos, since not all cameras that shoot video in HD come with an HDMI or a component video cable, which is required for playback.

The bottom line is, HD video is here to stay. If you love to record your family moments, your vacations, or if you just like to record everything in between, HD is a necessity. It doesn’t matter if you use a compact digital, an SLR, or a camcorder for your video, HD is available, and now is the time to take the plunge. Stay tuned for our HD buyer’s guide, which will go more in depth, covering the different models available, different HD formats, and software that will help you get the most out of your videos. Until then, get out there and start shooting!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Gallery Opening at Penn Camera Rockville - Al Teich

Join us!
Gallery Opening for Photographer Al Teich
Penn Camera Rockville
March 26th
7pm until 9pm

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In his day job, Al Teich is Director of Science & Policy Programs at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the largest multi-disciplinary scientific organization in the world and publisher of the journal, Science. Al regards himself as a serious amateur photographer and an enthusiastic convert to the digital mode. He has been taking pictures since winning a box camera in a jingle contest at the age of ten.
His series of black & white kaleidoscope photographs have been exhibited in one-man shows at the Black & White Gallery in Arlington, VA, in the fall of 2005 at the AAAS Art of Science & Technology Gallery in Washington, DC in the summer of 2006. They were also the subject of an article in The Washington Post in July 2006. Other photographs of his have been included in exhibits at the National Press Club in Washington and the American Folk Art Museum in New York City.

A sampling of the images you will see at his gallery this Friday:

His photos have been published in several books and magazines and may be seen on his web site at

Would you like to host your own Gallery at Penn? Highlight and exhibit your, or your student's finest artwork with a Gallery at a Penn Camera store. High School students, College students, Amateurs & Professionals welcomed. Email us for information.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Canon Powershot SD1400IS: Product Review

By Brendan Keenan, Penn Camera Tysons Corner

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Looking for a compact camera that looks good, and still takes great pictures and video? Look no further than the Canon Powershot SD1400IS. Small, sleek, and stylish, this camera is the perfect pocket-sized pixel powerhouse. When it comes to ease of use, this camera comes with some of the best automatic features around, and it follows in the Canon tradition of outstanding image quality. This little gem is one ultra compact that doesn’t skimp on performance, or features.

The SD1400IS incorporates many of the same great features. Available for $249.99, for a mid-range compact, the feature set is surprising. Even its main specs are great; 14 mega-pixels, 4x zoom (with a 28mm wide angle, ideal for those scenic or group shots), HD video, rechargeable Lithium battery, and a large 2.7” LCD screen.

But that barely scratches the surface of the features on this camera. Do you like things simple? Do you want great pictures, but also want a camera that does the work for you? This camera will get that job done. With its “smart auto” setting, the camera can recognize the type of picture you are trying to take, and automatically optimize the settings to get the best focus and exposure. With features like face detect, and smart auto, it doesn’t matter if you’re shooting a portrait, a landscape, or a close-up of a flower, the camera will know without you having to do a thing.

Though it lacks some controls like full manual control over aperture and shutter speed, it does features some new shooting modes like low-light, and fisheye, as well as a long shutter mode, to help you get creative and create dramatic images. There is the ability to adjust ISO and EV compensation, as well. It even uses automatic red-eye correction, and has a feature that automatically snaps the photo when it detects a smile! This is wonderful for getting pictures of kids, as soon as they look at the camera and smile, the camera does its thing. You just have to hold it. You don’t even have to hold it very steady, since it has the image stabilization found on all SD series Powershot cameras. Sound easy? It is.

If there is anything to find fault with on the SD1400 it might be that it is actually too small for some people. If you have large hands, the small buttons and zoom control could make operating the camera tricky. Some people may need more than the 4x optical zoom offers. It is the slimmest Powershot yet, so someone looking for a more substantial camera, or something with some heft to it should look elsewhere. The bottom line here is: Superb image quality, HD video, and the easiest automatic system around make this camera a perfect ultra compact for anyone looking for great quality in a tiny package.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Facebook Photo Contest Winners for February!

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This month's contest was an exciting one, with over 400 entries! The contest theme was "Snow", and we weren't suprised to see the number of submitted photography consider the HUGE amount of subject matter you had to work with. But as usual, we saw lots of amazing images! Congratulations to the winners, and our thanks to everyone who submitted their photographs!

1st Place
Winner of $100 Penn Camera Gift Card
Serena Sachko Hinkel

2nd Place
Winner of a $50 Penn Camera Gift Card
Kim Baker

3rd Place
Winner of a $25 Penn Camera Gift Card
Bob Sales

The next contest theme (selected by our loyal fans) is "Black & White". The broader theme should allow you to get create - can't wait to see what you come up with! Enter the March Facebook Photo Contest.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Essential Travel Photography Checklist

By Brendan Keenan, Penn Camera Tysons Corner

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Vacations and trips are what help us to relax, to enjoy a break from work, or school, a time to take it easy and just enjoy every day. But our journeys around the world also document where we have been, what we have seen, and serve as an important testament to our achievements. With the right equipment, the right preparation, and a little know-how, a trip can become a photographic adventure.

The first step is planning. Depending on the type of travel, some accessories could be more important than others. But some rules are universal. If you are traveling with an SLR, you need a wide angle zoom, and a telephoto lens. We will discuss why shortly. If you are a novice and only plan to use a point and shoot camera or a video camera, there are still many things you will need to know. First of all, where are you traveling? Is it somewhere tropical, or particularly scenic? Maybe your destination is more metropolitan, and cityscapes and landmarks are your subjects. Perhaps you are going somewhere especially exotic, or maybe even on safari? These situations all call for preparation, and specific equipment.

So what do you take with you? Do we plan for natural or man-made subjects? How do we capture the essence of the places we visit? With a combination of candid and well thought out photographs. We need shots that remind us where we are, and still tell a story. Let’s focus on travel photo tips, and we'll focus on equipment later.

Shoot people in shaded or indirect lighting, the effect of large pupils speaks to us, and makes us empathize and wonder at the thoughts behind the eyes. When shooting landscapes, or cityscapes, polarizing filters are crucial! Whether in the city or on the beach, a polarizing filter will add depth and contrast to any scenic shot, with the added benefit of giving glare and reflection reduction. The effects can be staggering. SLR users, be sure to pack a wide angle zoom. Nothing captures the views you see like a lens that encompasses an entire scene in one broad shot like a super wide angle lens. When traveling, sunrise and sunset can be used to create wonderful photographic memories. It is actually useful in many cases to use a telephoto lens, since a wide angle can shrink the sun down too small in the photo, making a telephoto ideal. By adjusting the f-stop, you can even create a sort of cross-screen filter effect, which can compliment a sunset perfectly. A tripod is your best friend for these shots.

Which brings us to gear. The equipment that you bring is as important as the memories you take away. I already mentioned a tripod, which is indispensable; if you don’t already have one, get one. It’s also important to consider power now. Do you have enough batteries? How often can you recharge? Can you recharge? When can you download your images? How many memory cards do you need? Does your charger work overseas? Address these issues before you go, and avoid unpleasant surprises later. Also bring cleaning supplies, for SLR users don't forget a sensor cleaner, for all others LCD protectors and lens cleaners are necessary. Trust me, you will need them, especially if you don't have them. So what kind of case do you carry? Well it depends on your equipment. Let’s say there is small, medium, and large, though there is every variation in between. A small case will work for the very casual, pocket point and shooter, even with a small camcorder. Medium will let you carry enough equipment to use different lenses, and make the most out of every photo. A large bag will give the aspiring photographer the ability to use multiple lenses, flashes, carry a tripod, a laptop, even serve a dual purpose as a day bag, carrying things like water, and lunch.

This is just a guideline. Your needs can, and will vary depending on the type of trip you are taking, the length of the trip, and other factors. But if you make sure to be prepared, and have the necessary equipment, you will get the most out of every vacation. You will return with more than just memories to last a lifetime, you will also return with a gorgeous photographic record that captures the essence and the uniqueness of the places you visit.

Have a great trip!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Gallery Opening at Penn Camera Laurel – Stuart Gaines & Norman Paratore

Join us!
Gallery Opening for Photographers Stuart Gaines & Norman Paratore
Penn Camera Laurel
March 19th
5pm until 7pm

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Two photographers will be joining Penn Camera for a gallery opening on Friday March 19th - Stuart Gaines and Norman Paratore. All are welcome at this casual event where you can view their collection of images and enjoy light refreshments!

Stuart Gaines - Gallery Narrative

"Most of us intentionally or unintentionally record specific events or points in time as images that are reflective of our visual perception. Images could be identified as a point in time as viewed and recorded thru the eyes of photographer A. This of course implies that the event may be recorded as a different image by photographer B. However before the shutter opened the visual aspects of the event was governed by natural physical laws, that under identical physical conditions would be expected to produce a point in time common to each photographer. With the exception of medical, criminal or photojournalism the event or point in time is often subjected to human bias as the event is captured in the camera. Since the image post shooting can in the digital age be easily altered, discipline is required in order to record it with a certain degree of accuracy. We as humans can with this thing called emotions or mental filtering become a small or large variable with regard to our reaction to or interpretation of our environment, But physical laws remain as central control points that are the framers of accuracy, and reality. We as photographers often capture and manipulate images with varying degrees of accuracy, but do we actually alter an event or specific point in time? Would the final image of a specific event from camera A change what was actually occurring or captured at the same time by camera B? Cameras like all instruments are dependent for accuracy on the photographer's sub conscious or conscious effort to combine what actually existed at a point in time with concepts/ideas from our subjective creativity. Photographers strive to produce images that are good - acceptable - different - something that meets an emotional requirement. The manipulation of reality will always be the tools of artist. As recording instruments and software makes it easier to alter the image of a specific point in time, a central question remains. How can a photographer recognize the importance of reality, accuracy, the salient event as presented by the universal law of nature while continuing to strive for that subjective characteristic that will cause the final image to be emotionally satisfying?"

Norman Paratore - Biography

"I was born in...well that goes back a little too far. Let's just say I’m retired and I am what I call a serious amateur photographer who spends way too much money to not be making it a profession. While I have made a few bucks on photography, I have never made my living as a photographer. I have used Nikon cameras from 1964, with the exception of a few years with a Minolta. Have owned Bronica and Rolleiflex 120/220 cameras but I always staying in love with the 35mm due its versatility.

My first camera, as a kid, was a Kodak box camera that used roll film. While in the Air Force and stationed in Germany I found myself getting more serious about photography. I bought a Nikon Photomic FtN, 50mm f1.4, 105mm f.25, and a 300mm f4.5. Since I was in a photo reconnaissance outfit I had access to the photo equipment and developed and mounted my slides, developed and printed Black and White shots, and even bought bulk film and rolled my own cassettes.

When I returned to the US I worked in a retail photo store, made manager within three months, and finally supervised seven stores. But, my photography was limited to family photos. And, I traded in my big Nikon for a smaller Minolta SLR with through-the-lens metering.
Then about a decade or so ago my interest in photography was again rekindled. Bought a used F4s on eBay and then a new F5. But, wouldn’t you know that right after I bought the F5, Nikon introduced the D1. While I had played around with the swing-lens digital models (900 – 950), I was never satisfied with the results. So, now I had the F5 and the D1 in my camera bag. Didn’t take me long to realize that I invariably picked out the D1 to shoot with. Sold the F5 and I’ve been digital ever since."

Would you like to host your own Gallery at Penn? Highlight and exhibit your, or your student's finest artwork with a Gallery at a Penn Camera store. High School students, College students, Amateurs & Professionals welcomed. Email us for information.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Gallery Opening at Penn Camera Fair Lakes – Art Cole

Join us!
Gallery Opening for Photographer Art Cole
Penn Camera Fair Lakes
Friday, March 12th
7pm until 9pm

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Art Cole is a lifelong native Virginian, with degrees in Commercial and Studio Art from Northern Virginia Community College and George Mason University. In 2000, he purchased his first digital camera, an Olympus 2020z. Using this compact camera, he quickly developed a passion for digital photography. He loved the ease of capturing images on a compact flash card, having the immediate feedback of seeing if the image was a keeper, while you still having access to the photo subject, and finally having the ability to download these images to tweak or enhance them in the digital darkroom of the computer. Digital photography is a fantastic medium in which to learn the art of photography..

A sampling of his work from this exhibition:

In 2002 he was given an opportunity to join a group of digital photographers that lived in the US, Norway, Germany, and Australia to form a digital photography group called Digital Photography Internationale. They did this through an exhibit of their digital images that traveled throughout the United States from 2002-2003. The local exhibit of their work was held at the N.V.C.C. Woodbridge Campus Gallery in August 2003. In 2005, with the help of on-demand publisher Lulu, they worked together to create a table top book of our digital images called, Images to Brighten Our World. Proceeds from the sale of this book went to help the victims of the December 2004 Indonesian Tsunami.

Mr. Cole’s photographs have been the photos of the day on many online photo sites, and have been recognized in many local and national photo and art competitions. This includes a merit award at the First Regional Fine Art Exhibition organized by the Lorton Arts Foundation a few years back. In addition this Art has been published in the Wildlife Refuge Magazine and as well a Fish and Wildlife Calendar.

Currently Mr. Cole uses the Canon EOS 7D although in the past he has had the pleasure of owning and using Olympus and Minolta digital cameras. His choices in subject matter are very eclectic, but his passionate about the challenge of capturing birds in flight.

You can see more of Art’s work at his website,

Would you like to host your own Gallery at Penn? Highlight and exhibit your, or your student's finest artwork with a Gallery at a Penn Camera store. High School students, College students, Amateurs & Professionals welcomed. Email us for information.