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>> Dan: Welcome to another edition of the CNet Editors Office Hours. I'm Dan Ackerman, and joining me here today is Laurie Grunin. Now, Laurie, what are we going to be talking about today?
>> Laurie: We are going to be answering your questions about digital cameras and camcorders: everything about digital imaging that you have a burning desire to know about.
>> Dan: Okay, well, if you've got a question for Laurie, and I'm sure a lot of people do, there are a couple different ways to answer. This show's all about audience participation. You can participate in our chat. That's that black box right down there, and you can talk to us and other people who are also watching the show. Or even better, you can submit your question in the white question box over on this side of the screen. Just type it right in there. You do need to be a logged-in CNet member to do that. And if you're not a CNet member, it's actually really easy. You can do it right from this page. All you need is an email address and a password and you're good to go. So start typing your questions, and now we're gonna get to as many of them as we can. Our first question for Laurie, Josh wants to know, "Is there really a difference in performance between brands of SD cards and classes of SD cards?"
>> Laurie: That question has a lot of answers. Mostly the short answer is yes, there is a difference, both between brands and between classes. First of all, classes make a big difference when you have a very fast camera, like a digital SLR. They come in--when he refers to classes, for those of you who don't know, there's like class 2, class 4, class 6. And those are, refer to the speed with which the card can be written to or can be read from. Now, if you have a cheap point-and-shoot, doesn't really matter how fast your card is. The camera is slower than the card. When you get midrange digital SLRs and expensive digital SLRs, although they tend to take Compact Flash, not SD--the really high end ones--the camera is faster than the card. Now, do you need the fastest SD card possible in that situation? The answer is no. This is why lots of people are getting really confused about which card they need for their camera.
>> Dan: Now, if I go to like Best Buy or some other retail store and they have just the junky bulk SD cards on the rack, the bargain ones, what class are those usually? The super cheap ones.
>> Laurie: These are probably at best class 4. Now, class 4 is actually perfectly fine for a lot of cameras. Actually, going back to what the class system means, unfortunately there's no standardization, so not all class 4 cards are created equal. If you have any history in this industry, you know going back to the X, you know the 3X, 4X, whatever-X, it comes out of that where the rating is sort of 150, or some X multiple of the base 150 kilobits per second that started the whole thing. So class 4 can be a brand name, a really good class 4 card, will usually be faster than some random, off-the-shelf class 4 card.
>> Dan: Okay, and classes, as they go up, does the card get faster?
>> Laurie: Yes.
>> Dan: Okay, so class 1 is like the fastest.
>> Laurie: No, no, as they go up, they [laugh]
>> Dan: Five would be faster than four.
>> Laurie: Correct. They actually only come in 2, 4, 6, and 6 is currently the fastest.
>> Dan: Okay, so what brand should we recommend?
>> Laurie: Eh, wait, we're not done. 'Cause classics cards are the fastest; however, Sandisk just announced their Extreme 3 cards, which are technically class 6, but they now have a 30 megabytes per second version, which is faster than class 6.
>> Dan: And they call it Extreme.
>> Laurie: And it all uses the same branding, which is really confusing. I rant about that on our podcast. You may wanna check out our podcast--sorry, plug--and I'll give more details about that later so people can actually find it. But the thing about different brands when it comes to SD cards is they're not equally reliable when being written to in the camera. And I've found frequently that these sort of the mid-tier brands, and I consider Sandisk is, you know, first tier, and Lexar* is first tier for the most part, depends upon what you're looking at. Kingston I consider--actually, they're sort of a B-plus. You know, there's class A...B-plus. And I found, for instance, and this was Compact Flash, when they first shipped some cards with new cameras, I was getting all sorts of errors. So sometimes with the not first-tier vendors, it takes maybe a generation to work out some of the kinks with new cameras. >> Dan: And if you have card that's not reliable, does that mean it's gonna mess up one shot you're taking, or it's gonna drop all your data and you're gonna lose everything that you did?
>> Laurie: Yes.
[ Laughter ]
When I say unreliable writing to the card, the images can come out completely...corrupted, meaning unreadable, or they can come out with different pieces of different images mixed up in one image, which actually a reader just recently sent me an example of that.
>> Dan: Could be fun if you're doing deliberately, but that's not--unexpected, not so good.
>> Laurie: "Oh no! Why is the top half my son and the bottom half my daughter!" Yeah [chuckle]. So yeah, so actually the media makes a big difference. And you know, especially if you're leaving on vacation, don't just buy the cheapest, biggest card you can find and stick it in.
>> Dan: If it's at one of the airport kiosks.
>> Laurie: Always, always test it before you use it and make sure.
>> Dan: Good point. Let's change tracks a little bit. We have another question from Mark, and that is, "I have noticed that there are several small camcorders with YouTube branding on the box. Do these do anything different than non-YouTube branded camcorders?" I guess it's a sticker that's on the box to promote it.
>> Laurie: Yeah. Frequently, basically what they're trying to do is capitalize on the, you know, like the foot minnow, all those YouTube--YouTube camcorders, what it means is that the software that comes with it will directly re-encode and upload your images to YouTube. So really, you know, the difference is one or two steps easier and idiot-proof. But I don't know, I'm a control freak. I don't like giving up that kind of control, right. I'd like to tweak the video, et cetera, and...
>> Dan: Maybe edit it, you know.
>> Laurie: But so you'll find like, you know, you have the YouTube camcorders like the Flip Minnow that are sort of one-trick ponies. Now you have some manufacturers who are--I don't even say re-engineering; it's not that complex, but you know, they're changing the bundled software to provide the same sort of functionality, which, you know, to me they're kind of missing the point of the real YouTube camcorders, which is the neat design and sort of the different user experience than you get with a traditional camcorder. So they're just trying to, marketing capitalizing, you know.
>> Dan: So mostly just a sticker you can put on the box. And if you're a control freak or you wanna, you know, edit your stuff, you're gonna have to take it off the camera, do all that stuff and upload to the YouTube website anyway.
>> Laurie: Yeah.
>> Dan: Okay, let's see, we do have another question here. This is a little confusing; maybe you can help me figure this one out. "I bought a camera that records digitally to SD cards, okay? But when I play back the video on my LCD HD TV," if that's not enough abbreviations for you, "the quality is horrible. Shouldn't they be in HD, or is my camcorder defective?" I kind of understand what the question here is, but let's see if we can figure that out.
>> Laurie: Well, I think what he's saying is it just, "I bought this HD camcorder, why does the video look bad?"
>> Dan: Why is that?
>> Laurie: It could be several things. First, TVs are notoriously bad at scaling the video. You should never leave it up to the TV. If you have a camcorder, directly hook it up to the TV and let the camera do the video scaling. Unfortunately sometimes, they cut corners and they don't wanna spend the money on the logic for to have it in the camcorder to do a good job, so you may not get anything better. In any case, it doesn't necessarily mean that it's not recording in HD; it just means that it's not a very good camcorder or you're just playing it back wrong.
>> Dan: Right, right, right. Okay, let's...we'll take a question from our chat room right now. Punk D something says--listen, everyone's got their online tags. It's not up to me to decipher them. "I'm a new D40 owner." I assume that's a--
>> Laurie: Nikon digital SLR.
>> Dan: "...with a 55-200 milimeter lens with VR. And while I like it, I've wondered if I really need to look at getting something other than my old Photoshop CS1 and switch to the raw format. Should I?"
>> Laurie: Getting rid of Photoshop CS1?
>> Dan: "Getting something other than my old Photoshop CS1 and switch to raw format." So I guess...
>> Laurie: His point, I believe what his point is, that that older version of Photoshop does not support the Nikon D40 raw format, because what Adobe does is, when they change the version of Adobe Camera Raw, they get rid of all the old support for--I shouldn't say they get rid of the old support. They stop supporting and adding new camera raw formats to the older version. So for instance, they just took CS4, and the question is when are they gonna stop supporting Adobe Camera Raw for CS3 and stop shipping new camera formats? So you know, you don't have to update to the latest version of Photoshop to get D40 support. There are tons of third-party raw processing software that cost a lot less than Photoshop. There's Bibble, there's actually Light Room, which is like a third of the price of Photoshop even though it's another Adobe product. So the answer is yes, you need to upgrade your software, and you definitely wanna be using--you definitely wanna be shooting with raw. It's just--you have so much more control than JPEG. Are we sensing the control pattern here?
>> Dan: Yeah. People often mention that. I hear raw format a lot. Can you briefly just tell me what that means? Is that a universal format? Is it a name that everyone uses differently? What does that actually mean in real-world terms?
>> Laurie: It means, it's a proprietary format on a--both on a manufacture, by manufacture basis as well as a camera-by-camera basis. The camera raw put out by the Nikon D40 is different than the camera raw put out by the Nikon D3. Which is why every time the manufacturer ships a new camera, they have to update all of their, if they have their own software, or if you're using Adobe, it requires a new codec to--
>> Dan: You need to get all the new patches for your software...get those files off the camera.
>> Laurie: Now raw is basically, it's sort of...it's usually said, it's the data that's come right off the sensor before it's been through the image processing in the camera. So white balance hasn't been applied to it, sharpness hasn't been applied to it, exposure adjustments haven't been applied to it. So it's, it's like a negative, an undeveloped negative, which you bring into the software and you develop it.
>> Dan: You do all that stuff in the software.
>> Laurie: Right.
>> Dan: Rather than doing it in the camera.
>> Laurie: But the difference, unlike a negative, you can develop it differently in different--over time. So the, so that's why you always wanna shoot raw, because JPEG is essentially, it's fixed in stone. You can bring it into Photoshop and make exposure changes, but that will always be more degrading to the image.
>> Dan: So the raw format is much more flexible.
>> Laurie: Yes.
>> Dan: Okay, now here's a question that I get all the time. I'm sure you get ten times more than I do. "I'm looking to buy my first digital SLR. What do you recommend for a fledgling photographer?" I'm sure it's the most generic question in the world; it's also probably the most common question, 'cause that's what everyone wants to trade up to now. So what are the good entry points there?
>> Laurie: Well, you have several different entry points. The first is like the cheapest thing you can possibly buy, and a lot of fledgling photographers, that's what they're looking for. I think we're getting to the point where it makes more sense to spend a little more money for something that is just a really good, what's the cheapest good digital SLR you can buy that will last a long time? And these days, my answer is the Nikon D90. Just like it's predecessor, the D80, was my favorite pick for the entry-level crowd. It's just solidly built, excellent image quality, excellent performance, and I think it's a camera that people will be happy with for more years. And these days, of course, we're trying to--we're gonna be trying to make our electronics last longer. Can't change cameras every two years.
>> Dan: Not anymore.
>> Laurie: Nope.
>> Dan: Not since Monday.
>> Laurie: [Laugh] For some of us, not since before that. But so you really, I think it's as good, an investment as well as a good camera.
>> Dan: Okay, now what does one of those run, generally?
>> Laurie: That one, with the kit lens, it's about a thousand dollars, which seems to be sort of the, it's one of the magic price points.
>> Dan: A sweet spot for a decent entry level camera with a lens.
>> Laurie: It's the sweet spot for a, for the discerning entry level camera with a lens. The sweet spot for the real entry level is about $700.
>> Dan: And that's with a lens or without?
>> Laurie: That's with a lens. But there, you generally--
>> Dan: You're playing with fire.
>> Laurie: [Laugh] Well, you're playing with your future memories.
>> Dan: It's like buying the cheap SD card.
>> Laurie: Yes, exactly.
>> Dan: Speaking of that camera we were just talking about, here's another question about it. "Nikon's new D90--" this is from REA--"features video recording. Do you think other DSLR makers will follow suit? Is this a useful feature or is it just a novelty?"
>> Laurie: That's a really interesting question. I think, yes, every manufacturer's gonna have at least one model that will do it at first. I think it's more than just a novelty for the same reason that with point-and-shoots it's more than just a novelty, because you don't look--there are certain things you wanna shoot as video and certain things you wanna shoot as stills and it's not fair to restrict--unfair. You shouldn't have to restrict yourself; go with whatever you feel at the moment. And so I think that's been one thing that's been a drawback of digital SLR is that when you move up from a point-and-shoot, you've lost that capability.
>> Dan: Now do these cameras do great pictures and just kind of so-so video? Is it just kind of a cheap add-on...?
>> Laurie: I don't feel comfortable generalizing yet, because the only--basically we have two digital SLRs now that do video. First is the Canon 5 Demark* 2, which, based on the sample clips that I've seen, does excellent video. It's also a really expensive camera. The Nikon D90 is the other one that now does video, and it has some issues. I'm not crazy about the video quality. It's 720p, but it's 24 frame-per-second, 720p, and it's not--no, it's basically, that's the...least you can do and still call it HD.
>> Dan: In terms of the frame rate, 'cause that's like a film, like a movie frame rate as opposed to like a video frame rate.
>> Laurie: Yeah. And they sort of spin it as it looks cooler and it's fun...
>> Dan: Takes me back to my film school days, 24 frames per second. Come on.
>> Laurie: But it's...that has some issues, yeah, which I will probably talk about in my review, except--if I ever get to write it.
>> Dan: If you're not sitting here taking questions from the audience. Speaking of which, it's time for us to take a quick break here. We're gonna take a look at a product video right now, and what is this a video of?
>> Laurie: I guess it's for the D90, yeah!
>> Dan: How apropos. We will be back in just a few seconds, after this video.
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>> Hi, I'm Laurie Grunin, Senior Editor at CNet, and this is the Nikon D90. First, if you're considering getting the D60, I heartily suggest that you spend the extra few hundred dollars and get this instead. It's a completely different class of camera. It's made much better. It's not really weather sealed the way they high end cameras are, but it's still built like a tank, as I'm fond of saying. And it's actually kind of heavy. It's slightly heavier than the D80, which was about a pound and a half. However, it's great to shoot with. It has very nice responsive burst performance, it's fast--it's about the same speed as the D80--and the image quality is very, very good. It goes up to ISO 6400, and you really don't wanna use that, but it's extremely clean up to ISO 3200. This upgrade to the D80 has a 12-megapixel sensor as opposed to the 10-megapixel in that model. And features a new kit lens, which is an 18 to 105 milimeter. It's simply a very, very nice $1000 camera. Plus it's the first digital SLR to support movie capture. You do the movie capture in live mode and it supports 24-frame-per-second, 1280 x 720 video, which is technically 720p HD. There's some limitations. You can't, of course, autofocus while you're in movie mode. And once you get used to some of the odder button placements such as the white balance and ISO on the left side of the screen, you'll get used to it. Otherwise, it's very, very nice sub-1000 digital SLR. I'm Laurie Grunin, and this has been the Nikon D90.
>> Dan: And we are back with the CNet Editors Office Hours. If you've got a question for Laurie, it's really easy to ask it. Just type it into this big white box over here on the side, and we will get to as many of them as we can. We spent a lot of time talking about digital SLRs already, but you get a camera and a lens in a box; what are some of the other things you might need in order to take some decent pictures?
>> Laurie: Well, one of the things I think is an essential accessory is a flash unit. One of the real nice things about digital SLRs is that you can get--you don't have to use the horrible on-camera flashes that give you no control, et cetera. So, you know, some of the--
>> Dan: So you can get after-market ones and they all plug right into the top.
>> Laurie: Right. However, there's no standard that--so you have to go with either the manufacturer's flash or a third-party that makes a manufactural companion. Isn't it lovely? Everything's proprietary. So anyway, I was gonna talk about some of the features that you should look for in a flash unit. Especially with entry level cameras; they promote these smaller flashes. The differences for those is that they generally don't have a head that swivels. And I find that the ability to swivel the head is essential. In part because it's the only way you can keep it from--you can bounce it properly. Bounce flash is literally bouncing the light off a wall or something like that. The indirect lighting gives you a much nicer effect. The other thing, and to me, it makes me crazy when the flash unit doesn't have this. It's stupid, but it's this little white card that comes out that actually has the built in bounce. So the light comes out, and the card reflects the light, and you get the lovely little catch lights in people's and animals' eyes. It makes them look more alive rather than that sort of dull, blank expression that--okay, some people you can't get rid of that dull, blank expression, but...there's also been some innovations in flash, and this is, this is kind of why I wish flash weren't proprietary to the camera, because Sony has one of the more well-designed flashes that we've seen. They released it this summer. And they did something brilliant that, you know, we just looked at each other and say, "Why wasn't this done years ago?" and that's the entire body rotates this way. So if the flash is sitting--well, can't fit that on that, but if the flash is sitting on the camera and you shot vertically--oops...we're used to not doing this live.
>> Dan: Slide it into the little top there.
>> Laurie: Usually it just slides right in. There we go, okay. So if you shoot vertically, there's no way to make the light come that way. So that was Sony's innovation, is when you're shooting vertically, you can get the same light direction. So that's really, I can't say how much I like that enough.
>> Dan: Now what is an external flash even gonna cost me if I've already spent a thousand dollars on a camera and a lens?
>> Laurie: That's why they make those cheap little ones, 'cause they're cheaper. Something like this will cost you a few hundred. I think, especially if you do use flash a lot, it's really worth it. However, if you're on a budget, stuff like this is really neat. It's...this one happens to be from Lumiquest. It's called the soft screen. And what it does is it goes into the hot shoe and comes right over and hooks there and it diffuses the flash.
>> Dan: That's nice.
>> Laurie: You still have issues with the on-camera flash, where it's very, very directional, so if you shoot like this, you'll sort of throw half of what you're shooting into shadow, top, bottom, et cetera. But this is a real, you know, real cheap alternative. So...I like that too.
>> Dan: That's great. Now, what does one of those cost?
>> Laurie: I don't remember, but it's definitely less than a couple hundred dollars.
>> Dan: So the hot shoes, when you plug the flash in, those are proprietary, but the lenses on SLRs are--
>> Laurie: Also proprietary.
>> Dan: Also proprietary.
>> Laurie: Everything. It's a closed system. The raw, the lens, the flash.
>> Dan: Just like every other tech industry.
>> Laurie: Yeah, and for instance, Olympus and Panasonic came up with the 4/3 system, which is basically is lens mounts for the rest of us. It's for anybody who didn't have a proprietary lens mount, "Here, you can use this one that we came up with." Hasn't been really adopted, so.
>> Dan: That sounds like it could be useful.
>> Laurie: In a perfect world, but you know, Canon and Nikon have been doing this for so long that there's really no incentive for them. Sony bought Konica-Minolta and has, you know, and they have all those users they don't wanna alienate. So they--and Sony of course, the king of proprietary.
>> Dan: Yeah, but they still use memory sticks in their cameras?
>> Laurie: Oh yes. They do--in their SLRs, though, they do have a Compact Flash slot as well. I haven't seen any SD. But yeah, they're still using memory stick. As a matter of fact, today, I was just seeing, they just announced a faster memory stick dual pro that's still not as fast as any Compact Flash or SD card.
>> Dan: ...in my PSP though.
>> Laurie: Oh.
>> Dan: Now, here's a practical question here. "I've recently gotten into wildlife photography. Mostly just pictures of my cat and birds and flowers." I guess that's local wildlife. Wildlife in your house.
>> Laurie: If you're in the suburbs, that's wildlife.
>> Dan: "...the cat, the birds, the flowers. I'm using a Canon SD 770 IF and would like something with more control. What do you recommend?"
>> Laurie: It depends upon what kind of control you're talking about. If you're looking for more manual features, frankly, especially wildlife, I'd probably--the next step up would be a mega zoom, which has the long enough lens that you could probably get more wildlife than just your cat an anything that comes up on your porch. And the mega zooms tend to have more manual controls as well. They're sort of like digital SLRs that are--I don't wanna say crippled, but you know, they have electronic viewfinders, they tend just not to be as good. But that's, you know, and their performance, will--depending upon which one you get. Because the performance differs; that's why we still have jobs.
>> Dan: That's why we review stuff. One to five stars.
>> Laurie: [Chuckles] So they'll be--some of them are faster, they're just, you know, the long zoom is really what you need for wildlife.
>> Dan: ...even make the cat stand still while you're trying to take its picture. You photograph a lot of cats. I'd think you have all the secrets to this down by now.
>> Laurie: Yes, they're all in cages! So...and even then, you know, I've tested digital SLRs that can't keep up with cats, and you know, you laugh at the Ike and Hess cheeseburger and wildcats and everything, but some of those photos are actually really good. And I look at them, and I say, "How did they get that shot?"
>> Dan: It's that one in a million shot and that's why people keep reusing it in funny little internet photo thingies 'cause they're so magical. I think every cat photograph I've ever taken has been a cat lunging at me with the claws and teeth out.
>> Laurie: I've had nose prints on mine, so.
>> Dan: Okay, "I'm going to be traveling across Europe and would like a new, lightweight camera to take backpacking. Any suggestions?"
>> Laurie: Well, I mean...
>> Dan: That's a good [indecipherable] question. Maybe something that's not an SLR then.
>> Laurie: If you're trekking lightweight, then yeah, a point-and-shoot--
>> Dan: Probably get your backpack stolen three times while you're doin' it. So what are some--we talked about SLRs kind of the whole show here. What are some point-and-shoots that we like?
>> Laurie: Things like the Canon SD 870 and actually we haven't tested yet its replacement, but the--any of the Canon SDs that start at the 28 milimeter equivalent. 'Cause for something like that, you want something small, reliable and that has a fairly wide angle of view because, I assume you're going to be taking pictures of the places that you see.
>> Dan: Stuff in Europe. Europeans, maybe.
>> Laurie: So mostly you wanna look for something with a relatively wide angle of view, fast and, you know, small and reliable.
>> Dan: Do megapixels really count anymore? I thought I heard the megapixel race was over, kind of like the CPU gigahertz race.
>> Laurie: You know, spec races are never over.
>> Dan: As long as I have to fill out that catalogue copy, the spec race will never be over.
>> Laurie: Yeah, basically I just say, unless you have a specific size that you want to print in mind, just ignore it. Don't even pay attention to what the resolution of the camera is. At this point, the lowest resolution cameras that are on the market are more than enough for anything. So just go with the camera that produces nice images, does it fast and you'll be fine.
>> Dan: Now what is--if you come into the market now and you're gonna get a point-and-shoot, what are you lookin' at? Three megapixels, four, is that kind of the entry level standard then?
>> Laurie: No. The entry level standard now is more like seven--
>> Dan: Which shows you how long it's been since I [indecipherable] camera.
>> Laurie: Yeah, actually that's a camera phone, is what you're talking about.
>> Dan: Okay, so you're already talking about a huge...
>> Laurie: And even at seven, we're still not seeing a whole bunch of new ones. They tend to be on the really cheap ones. So I think ten is now considered mainstream.
>> Dan: Okay, okay. Well, this has been completely fascinating talking about digital cameras. You know what? You had one other accessory I did wanna see. I saw on here, I've seen this before, and I don't really know what it is. We have like a minute or two left; let's talk about this 'cause I see these all the time and I'm not really sure what they are, but I find them fascinating.
>> Laurie: This is called Gorillapod, yes, and this one happens to be specifically for point-and-shoot cameras like the Canons I just mentioned, and they--this is a tripod mat. It's basically a desktop tripod that can, let's say I wanted to be shooting your wedding ring or something. I'd need it down here. That's too high. So it's very flexible both literally and figuratively, yeah. They also make sturdier ones that can handle digital SLRs and I think I just saw an announcement for yet another class up that can handle a heavy digital SLR with a lens. I mean, they're really a great accessory to have, they're small, you can--they're lighter than a regular tabletop tripod or whatever. You can throw it in your bag. And frankly, I just find myself playing with it incessantly when I'm sitting in my office. So it's a desk toy, yeah.
>> Dan: Now, what does one of these guys cost?
>> Laurie: Oh, see? I wasn't prepared to answer that. I haven't looked at the price in a while.
>> Dan: Fifty bucks?
>> Laurie: I think so. I think it's at 49.
>> Dan: I think everyone's gonna be looking for less expensive gift items for the photographers in your life this year. This might be the stocking stuffer gift here. And do other people make these little, flexible little stands...?
>> Laurie: I've seen some knockoffs. As a matter of fact, I think I saw a knockoff in the pharmacy. So they haven't quite come mainstream.
>> Dan: We just got the wrap it up sign, and that means we are out of time. We've talk a lot about cameras today. I think you, Laurie Grunin, for joining us. I'm Dan Ackerman. Tune in every day for a different CNet Editors Office Hour, and of course you can watch this episode on demand on CNet TV whenever you like. And Laurie's got a podcast. She's gonna tell you where it is.
>> Laurie: Matt and I do a weekly podcast. You can find it at indecentexposure.cnet.com. And we're on iTunes under Indecent Exposure. That's the name of it. And every week we answer reader questions as well as talk about news and--
>> Dan: What day does the new episodes go up?
>> Laurie: Thursday.
>> Dan: Thursdays, okay.
>> Laurie: Unless one of us is sick, in which case they go up Friday.
>> Dan: Excellent. Well, we'll see you next time around the internet.
[ Music ]
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