The $499 Olympus PEN Mini E-PM1 : The best value in interchangeable lens cameras?

 

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Olympus recently introduced three new PEN Micro Four-Thirds cameras and as might be expected, the top-of-the-line E-P3 ($899 with kit zoom lens) received the most attention. Rave reviews quickly followed, praising the E-P3’s image quality, focusing speed, and 1080i video as well as its beautiful touch screen and built-in flash. Advanced photographers will undoubtedly be drawn to the E-P3 and I am buying one myself.

Looking past the E-P3 for a minute, though, I have to wonder if the PEN Mini E-PM1 is the one that will be remembered as a worldbeater in the interchangeable lens camera market, and the model that makes the biggest splash. At only $499 list, the PEN Mini E-PM1 packs the E-P3’s good stuff… the image quality, 1080i video, and super-fast focusing… into a very compact body about the size of an iPhone, for $400 less. There is no built-in flash but a removable flash is included, and the camera works with all the PEN accessories such as the lenses (from both Olympus and Panasonic) and removable viewfinders.

Most family photographers would probably prefer the smaller camera body anyway. Olympus is known for producing pictures that are pretty much perfect right out of the camera with no tweaking necessary, making it ideal for anyone wanting professional quality results with little effort. The fast focusing (said to be on a par with very expensive professional digital SLRs used for photographing sports) makes it perfect for photographing children. It looks to be a real winner and could be one of the biggest hits of the holiday season.

The E-PM1 is shipping soon and is available in six colors. You can read more at the links below.

E-PM1 at Amazon.com

E-PM1 at Olympus website

I will have more on the E-P3 and the middle model, the $699 E-PL3, in future posts.

Questions? Email Don

Affordable Pioneer speakers- good news for those wanting quality on a budget!

Pioneer SP-FS51-LR Floorstanding Speakers

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Longtime readers probably remember The Speaker Company and the great speakers they sold at very low prices. Sadly, they are not around any more and though there are lots of high-value lines out there (such as Arx) not everyone can spend $249 per pair for bookshelf speakers or $500 or more per pair for towers. They say nature abhors a vacuum, and I have been hoping something would come along to fill the void left by The Speaker Company’s departure.  Something offering quality, good looks and good sound without breaking the bank.  You do not have to be an audiophile to want something satisfying for yourself.

The answer may be here and the company is Pioneer, the same Pioneer that is so well known for their receivers, which I have come to favor for their MCACC setup and  room equalization system.  Pioneer’s new Home Theater line features some great choices at prices anyone can afford, including the floorstanders shown above for only $199/pair.  Customer reviews have been very favorable and I have contacted Pioneer about loaning me a pair to review.  Check back soon for updates.

Questions?  Email Don

Back in the saddle and posting again

As you can tell by Beni and Gabby sulking in unison, they have not been getting as much attention as usual lately, and neither has the website!  I had some home projects to work on and  now that they are underway and I am back from summer trip #2,  I am going to start posting again at the frequency I did before so keep your eyes on the site.  I am going to have a series of giveaways starting next week, for some truly nice stuff.

I think Gabby has taught him well but she is probably telling him to work on the eyes, keep them open to stare at me and inflict maximum guilt, LOL.. enough work already, let’s play!

Panasonic 42-inch ST30 3D plasma for only $799 at Best Buy, $785 at Amazin.com

I have been singing the praises of Panasonic’s ST30 series of TVs for months now.  It was a good deal at the MSRP of $1,099, and at the typical $900 street price, an amazing bargain for such a top-performing, feature-laden TV.  You can see what I have to say about the ST30 here and here.

I stopped by Best Buy today and saw the 42-inch TC-P42ST30 on sale for $799.  WOW! Amazon is a little cheaper at $784.99 delivered.  I never thought I would see the day when so little would buy so much.  I hope the trend continues, as consumers are winning big time.

Questions?  Email Don

Color calibration for Panasonic plasma HDTVs, good sounding, affordable home theater using tiny speakers

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Sound Advice
By Don Lindich

Week 13, 2010

Q. We recently purchased a 58-inch Panasonic VT25 series 3D plasma TV. The installer strongly recommended we get it color balanced by a professional service person for $200. Do you think it is worth it?

-Anand Kumar, Pleasonton, CA

A. I think calibration can be worthwhile for picky owners of high-end HDTVs, but most people don’t need it. Professional calibration adjusts the picture so color, brightness and contrast is as accurate as possible. Many big-box stores are pushing $200 calibrations on $499 TVs. I’m getting an increasing amount of email about this lately and think spending 40% of the set’s cost to adjust the picture is silly. Most TVs will produce a pleasing, reasonably accurate picture by setting the picture mode to “Custom,” “Movie” or “Standard” and color temperature to “Warm.” The $29.99 Digital Video Essentials Blu-ray can be used to tweak your TV, as well.

Read the rest of this entry »

On the road- posting more soon

Gabby and Beni at a rest area- they love road trips!

Regular readers have probably noticed I have not posted much the past ten days… that’s because I have been on the road for a little R&R, with Gabby and Beni in tow.  This was Beni’s first time in the car for more than a day and he handled it pretty well.  If he is going to hang out with me and Gab he better get used to it!

I have been on the road since 3am this morning and just got in, so expect many more posts soon.  I was on a new schedule of almost one per day and I plan on getting back on it.

Computer connected to home audio system, image stabilization and shaky hands, soundbar home theater for $1,000

Sound Advice
By Don Lindich

Week 12, 2011

Q: I have a desktop computer I use with powered computer speakers. Nearby I have a vintage stereo receiver with speakers. Is it possible to run the computer audio through my receiver and speakers, and will it work when using Netflix or iTunes?

DALE NIELSEN
Shoreview, Minn.

A. This is very easy to do and the receiver and speakers will play all audio from the computer, be it music, movies, video games or Web content.

All you need is a $5 miniplug to RCA cable. Connect the miniplug end to the output you currently use with your computer speakers. Connect the other end to an RCA input on your receiver, using any input but phono. Select the input on the receiver, turn the computer volume to 75 percent so you send out a strong but undistorted signal, and adjust the volume on the receiver. The sound will now come from the speakers.

Q: After reading your column on the Olympus PEN cameras I am considering buying one. Due to a medical condition (familial tremors), my hands are very unsteady. I am concerned this will affect picture quality. I was also planning on getting the telephoto lens. Will the telephoto lens compound my problem?

Name withheld for reader’s medical privacy

A. Any hand movement at the moment of exposure will likely affect picture quality. Though I do not know how pronounced your condition is, I am afraid that the tremors may cause some fuzziness and with the telephoto lens it will be more pronounced. Using a higher ISO so you can use higher shutter speeds may help, but it is dependent on factors such as lighting, the lens used and the shutter speed.

You may want to try a Tamrac ZipShot, an ultra-compact 11-ounce tripod not much longer than a foot when collapsed. You hold out the collapsed tripod at arm’s length, release your grip and it automatically extends and locks the legs in place. It’s a useful tool for any photographer and costs $49. You can use it as a tripod or monopod to combat the problem. See it at www.tamrac.com.

System of the week

This week’s system is a complete home theater for less than $1,000, using a powered soundbar so you do not need to run speaker wires. This compact, simple setup combats one of the most frequent complaints I receive these days, namely thin, weak sound from the speakers in flat-panel TVs.

The Samsung PN42C450 is my favorite TV selling for less than $500. This 42-inch 720p plasma regularly sells for $499 and has a sharp picture with vivid yet natural color. Providing sound is Sony’s HT-CT150 Sound Bar system, $299. It has been playing to rave reviews from customers and is simple to set up and use.

Add an Insignia NS-WBRDVD2 from Best Buy for $129. It will play Blu-ray movies, DVDs, CDs, and wirelessly stream content from Netflix, Pandora and CinemaNow.

Get three $5 HDMI cables from Amazon or Monoprice. Use them to connect the Blu-ray player and your cable/satellite box to the soundbar, then connect the soundbar to the TV. You will have an easy to use system with a great picture, great sound, and the ability to use both discs and online sources to watch movies and listen to music.

Questions? Email Don

The dim state of the movie theater business

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Animation and car buff that I am, I recently went to see Disney’s Cars 2 in 2D at a late showing at a local theater.  The projected image looked awful… dim, flat, with dull color.  I commented to a friend it looked like the theater had the projector at the lowest power setting.  If this was the case I felt as if I had been ripped off as the visual splendor is one reason people go to see Pixar movies.

Two days later I saw a feature about director Michael Bay (Transformers) in the USA Today. The pertinent quote:

“For all the bravado, Bay still is covering his bets. Last week, he sent a letter to more than 2,000 theater projectionists, urging them to set bulbs at their highest setting. (Bay has accused theater owners of keeping bulbs too dim to save on energy costs.)”

Looks like my suspicions are confirmed.  The past few years movie theater owners have complained about poor attendance.  If they want attendance to improve a good first step would be  to give people what they pay for when they buy a ticket.  I won’t be going back to that theater again.  If I see it everywhere I’ll start waiting for the Blu-ray 100% of the time.

How about you, dear readers?  Have you seen evidence of this, and what theaters are the worst offenders?

Questions?  Email Don

Sound Advice Week 11, 2011 : Connecting computer to receiver and speakers, holding camera steady, home theater with Blu-ray, streaming and soundbar for under $1,000

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Sound Advice
By Don Lindich

Week 11, 2011

Q. I have a desktop computer I use with powered computer speakers. Nearby I have a vintage stereo receiver with speakers. Is it possible to run the computer audio through my receiver and speakers, and will it work when using Netflix or iTunes?

-Dale Nielsen, Shoreview, MN

A. This is very easy to do and the receiver and speakers will play all audio from the computer, be it music, movies, video games or web content. Read the rest of this entry »

Nagaoka MP-110 phono cartridge

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I’ve recently finished reviewing the Nagaoka MP-110 phono cartridge and it is now my favorite cartridge selling for under $100.

The Nagaoka name may be unfamiliar if you are not an audiophile.  Nagaoka is a Japanese OEM producer of phono cartridges and many of their products are sold by other companies under different brand names.  They have their own line of fine moving magnet cartridges, the MP-110 residing towards the entry level of the line.

The Nagaoka MP-110 is not the last word in transparency or detail, as few would expect it to be given the very affordable price.  Detail is certainly good, however, as is the clarity, which is delivered with just the right amount of warmth.  What makes the Nagaoka MP-110 stand out is the way it  provides a musical performance that is completely satisfying and fulfilling, while still having the ability to create those “oh, wow” moments because the music just sounds SO good. Tracking and bass impact are exceptional and the music has an effortless ebb and flow no matter if you are listening to classic rock or pure classical, with everything in-between.

I usually use an Audio Technica AT-OC9 MLII cartridge that normally sells for almost $500.  While I definitely prefer the Audio-Technica over the Nagaoka, I wasn’t in a hurry to end my testing and put it back in my system.  That tells me all I need to know about the Nagaoka being a winner.

If you would like to try the MP-110 I recommend LP Gear.  I have ordered many products from them over the past few years (including this cartridge) and have found the service to be efficient, friendly and personal.

Questions?  Email Don

Rocket videos coming soon

I did get some in-flight footage Sunday but not quite what I planned. I’ll have more info in the next few days, along with the videos. Stop back soon and check it out!

More in-flight rocket videos tomorrow night… maybe!

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My in-flight model rocket video, taken with an $8 keychain camera, has been very popular online.  You can see it above and if you want to learn more check out the page on the amazing $8.00 keychain camera.

I have a few of the keychain cameras lying around and built a couple of models that should yield dramatic in-flight video.  I say “should” because I don’t know if I will get either of them back.  Both are built for speed and altitude- each should hit at least 2,700 feet.  (if you have ever seen the CN Tower in Toronto, that’s about 1.5 CN Towers high.)  My club is having a launch event so I am going to launch them then.

Besides my friends in my rocket club I have a friend who is going to help me track them by standing downwind when they launch.  I figure I have a 50-50 chance of recovery with each one so I am hoping at least one will be recovered so I can post the video tomorrow.  I have a sonic locator for one of them so it may help the  odds.  I’d be happy to sacrifice one to the rocket gods in order for one to be spared!

Longshot

The Longshot, seen above, was built from parts I had lying around.  It has a plastic fin unit because under the thrust of the E15 composite motor going into it balsa would get shredded into confetti.  It should hit at least 500 mph.  I am sending this one up first.  It has a huge recovery streamer to help us see it on the way down. 

Astro 2

The Astro 2 is my own design and is two-stage D12 to E9 power.  (It is twice as long as you see above, I have not mounted the upper fuselage yet.)  This one is as skinny and lightweight as the engine size would let me make it and I didn’t spend much time finishing it because, again, I may not get it back.  Just a single coat of flourescent paint and up we go.  If I get the video back from this one it should be a hoot.  The D12 won’t take it up unduly fast because it is lifting the weight of the upper-stage E9 engine, but it should separate around 500 feet going 300 mph when the E9 kicks in.  The E9 has a longer burn with lower thrust and will take it  up very nicely without shredding the fins.  It will coast 8 seconds before the recovery device deploys.

I’ll take some videos of them taking off so you will get to see something one way or the other.  Check back Sunday night for my report, and hopefully some cool videos from way high up!

Questions? Email Don

 

Sound Advice Week 11, 2011 : Connecting computer and sound system, image stabilization and unsteady hands, under $1,000 complete home theater with soundbar and streaming

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Sound Advice
By Don Lindich

Week 11, 2011

Q. I have a desktop computer I use with powered computer speakers. Nearby I have a vintage stereo receiver with speakers. Is it possible to run the computer audio through my receiver and speakers, and will it work when using Netflix or iTunes?

-Dale Nielsen, Shoreview, MN

A. This is very easy to do and the receiver and speakers will play all audio from the computer, be it music, movies, video games or web content.

Read the rest of this entry »

One more post about the Pentax Q

Engadget has some nice video coverage of the Pentax Q. Pentax claims it can produce good results at ISO6400 and did a demo to prove it. They only used the camera’s screen and it is a preproduction model, but it looks and promising. Image noise is easily seen on a camera’s playback screen and if they did not see any then it is quite an accomplishment.

Pentax has been doing a great job with high ISO settings in their digital SLRs and if it translates over to the Q, the image quality could be very nice indeed. Clean at ISO 6400 likely means very clean at ISO 100 or ISO 200. I will reserve judgment until I try one myself but the news is encouraging. It won’t make it the equal of a large sensor camera but it would make it an outstanding picture taker.

See it here: http://www.engadget.com/2011/06/23/pentax-releases-q-worlds-smallest-interchangeable-lens-digital/

I also spoke with Chris Pound of Pentax USA this afternoon. He said that they studied the market and wanted to do something different and very small in an interchangeable lens camera, something really unique and convenient to carry. When asked about the image quality to price ratio and the implications of the small sensor, he said they are doing great things with teh Q’s backlit CMOS sensor and end users would be pleased. He “gets it” and related that they weren’t going to bring out a camera like this and charge $800 for it if it only delivered image quality comparable to other small sensor compacts. We should start seeing the Pentax Q for sale around the end of September/early October.

Questions? Email Don

The TINY Pentax Q


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It is one thing to read specifications, but seeing is a whole new ball game.  These pictures go a long way to showing how truly diminutive the Pentax Q is. Courtesy of imaging-resource.com.

The sensor may be small but after seeing the picture of the camera attached to the keychain, I want one!

Questions? Email Don

Pentax enters the interchangeable lens camera market with the Pentax Q

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The Pentax Q  is not what many of us expected when predicting a Pentax interchangeable lens camera.  One of the main reasons to buy an interchangeable lens camera is the large sensor such as the APS-C sensor found in Sony’s NEX cameras.  Internet message boards have harped on Pentax’s outstanding Limited series of prime (fixed focal length) lenses and what a perfect match they would be for an APS-C  interchangeable lens compact. It would be a Leica for the masses and I have no doubt it would quickly become a very hot seller.

Now we see that Pentax has created a tiny interchangeable lens camera with a small 1/2.3″ sensor.  This is the same sensor size as a high quality point-and-shoot and much smaller than anything we have seen in an interchangeable lens camera before. I have not spoken with any Pentax representatives about their reasoning but it could be they feel the market is already saturated with the Olympus, Panasonic, Samsung, and Sony offerings and they wanted to offer something different. In this regard the Pentax Q kind of reminds me of the classic Pentax 110 SLR.

For all we know a Pentax camera with a larger sensor could still be on the way . Though the Pentax Q is not what people were expecting as the latest entry in the interchangeable lens compact category, the camera is unique and I do think there is a market for it.  Recently I have been shopping for a new small point and shoot camera myself (something smaller than my NEX and PEN cameras) and a tiny camera with fast lenses and high-end specification certainly is desirable and has been embraced by serious photographers in the past, as shown by the Rollei 35, Leica Minilux, and the Contax T.  (Of course, these used the same film size as full-sized cameras.) The closest thing to that these days is the amazing Olympus XZ-1.

In the end it will all depend on image quality. If the images from the Pentax Q are exceptional then this could be the pro’s pocketable point-and-shoot camera of choice and the go-to compact for consumers who want the best.  As sensors improve over the years image quality will get better and a micro-sized system such as this one would be even more desirable.  You could keep the lenses and just upgrade the camera bodies.

Hmm… I just realized Pentax is now the only manufacturer offering interchangeable lens cameras in medium format, APS-C digital SLR, and compact sizes.

Official Pentax Press release is below.

Questions?  Email Don

 

PENTAX UNVEILS THE PENTAX Q:

The World’s Smallest, Lightest Interchangeable Lens Camera

GOLDEN, CO.  (June 23, 2011)…PENTAX Imaging Company has announced the PENTAX Q – the world’s smallest and lightest interchangeable lens camera (ILC).*  The Q offers the versatility and precision of an advanced DSLR in a body that  is significantly smaller  than every other digital ILC body available on the market today. * The world’s smallest and lightest digital interchangeable lens system camera, as of June 15, 2011 (based on PENTAX research).

The camera’s tiny size, lightweight design, and superior image quality are made possible by an innovative PENTAX-developed imaging system.   With a high-resolution 12.4 megapixel, 1/2.3 inch CMOS image sensor, the Q carves out an entirely new camera category that extends beyond traditional digital compact, APS-C or 4/3 digital cameras.   The backlit sensor is a highly efficient light-gathering instrument that produces very little noise at high sensitivity levels particularly in low light settings.   Further, the new Q lens mount is a perfect match with the new sensor and every interchangeable Q lens is designed for more advanced image quality than may be found on traditional compact digital cameras. This innovative PENTAX design is the foundation of the Q’s position as the world’s smallest, lightest ILC system with superior image quality.

Several important features of the PENTAX Q include:

  • A newly designed PENTAX Q-mount lens system for convenient interchangeability with a variety of specialty Q lenses including prime, zoom, fish-eye and more.
  • Exceptional image quality in 12.4 megapixels from the Q’s 1/2.3 inch backlit CMOS image sensor. Capable of producing 12 bit DNG RAW and JPG images, the backlit CMOS sensor is a highly efficient light-gathering instrument designed specifically to produce very low noise at high levels of sensitivity.
  • Extremely compact, durable, lightweight, scratch resistant magnesium alloy body.
  • The power and flexibility of traditional DSLR shooting modes such as Program, Aperture/Shutter Priority, and Metered Manual exposure control as well as highly convenient PENTAX Auto Picture and 21 scene modes for casual shooting, including new Forest and Stage Lighting options.
  • A variety of creative modes, Smart Effect options, or camera settings that assign to the Q’s Quick Dial located on the front of the camera. Smart Effects modes enhance digital photography by applying a series of effects to images to achieve high quality finishing. Brilliant Color, Vintage Color, Warm Fade, Bold Monochrome, and Water Color are just some of the Smart Effects available and may be assigned on the Q’s Quick Dial.
  • In-camera HDR capture mode shoots 3 images of varying exposures, blending them to bring out the details in even the darkest shadows and brightest highlights of extreme contrast shots.
  • High quality motion video with stunning full 1080p HD clarity at 30 frames per second. The Q  processes the full HD video using high quality h.264 compression for superior color and detail and offers creative video effects through custom image modes, digital video filters, and interval shooting.
  • A sensor-shift Shake Reduction system with integrated DRII Dust Reduction for blur and dust free images even in low lighting.
  • 5 frames per second continuous shooting mode for any fast action setting.
  • Effortless bokeh control with the Q’s Bokeh Control filter. (Traditionally controlled through a DSLR lens’s aperture, bokeh is the out of focus part of the background that helps to emphasize the subject, drawing the viewer’s eyes to the most important part of the photo.) The Q offers a fine degree of extra control over image bokeh via an in-camera filter operation.
  • Powerful USER modes allow the creative photographer to save a series of favorite camera settings, filters, and custom image modes for instant reuse.
  • Shutter speeds range from 1/2000 to 30 seconds for freezing fast action or capturing long nighttime exposures. Bulb mode adds flexibility for low light photography and motion effects.
  • A built-in popup flash adds the perfect amount of extra light to an image with a high extension to naturally reduce the redeye effect common to compact cameras. The Q’s flash is effective to 23 feet at 200 ISO, and covers a wide angle 28 degree field of view.
  • Compatibility with the latest generation SD, SDHC, and SDXC memory cards for ultra-high capacity storage as well as outstanding image file portability.

Along with the Q, PENTAX introduced the PENTAX 01 Standard Prime kit lens and an optional optical viewfinder.  The unifocal standard lens has a focal length equivalent to 47mm in the 35mm format. The lens offers a natural perspective similar to that of the human eye and is ideal as a multipurpose, everyday standard lens for various subjects including landscape and portraiture. With a maximum aperture of  F1.9, it performs superbly in dim lighting and may be easily adjusted for bokeh.  Incorporating two high grade aspherical optical elements, this lens compensates various aberrations to a minimum .

Featuring high-end optics incorporating special optical glass elements and PENTAX exclusive lens coating technology, this lens delivers beautifully defined, high quality images that are sharp and high contrast even at the edges. The AF motor installed in the lens assures smooth, quiet focusing operation.  The lens shutter mechanism allows the PENTAX Q’s built-in auto flash to be synchronized to the camera’s top shutter speed of 1/2000 second (or 1/250 second when using an accessory flash unit).  This lens is also equipped with a built-in ND (neutral density) filter, which comes in handy when shooting with open aperture at bright locations or when using slower shutter speeds.

The shoe-mounted viewfinder attachment is an optional accessory.  This External Viewfinder O-VF1 offers outstanding compositional framing, even in the brightest sunlight where viewing an LCD screen is traditionally a challenge.  (Note: The Viewfinder offers framing marks for the Standard lens.)

The PENTAX Q will be available in white or black body models and shipped in a Standard Prime lens (available in silver) kit. Initially, the PENTAX Q system will ship in Japan. Anticipated shipping time to the United States is early Fall 2011 at around $800 for the standard lens kit.

The optional shoe-mounted viewfinder will be available at the same time for $249.95 USD.  The PENTAX 01 Standard Prime kit lens will not be sold separately. More information is available here: www.pentaximaging.com/news

PENTAX Imaging Company is an innovative leader in the production of a variety of adventure ready digital cameras including weather-resistant digital SLRs and stylish, compact, waterproof cameras, as well as lenses, flash units, binoculars, scopes, and eyepieces.  For more than 90 years, PENTAX has developed durable, reliable products that meet the needs of adventurous consumers and businesses.  With headquarters in Golden, Colorado, PENTAX Imaging Company is a division of PENTAX of America, Inc.

Sound Advice Column Week 10, 2011 : Superzoom cameras, film scanners, vacuum tubes and Bluetooth Audio System

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Sound Advice
By Don Lindich

Week 10, 2011

Q. I am going to Alaska and want to buy a superzoom camera to get good pictures of the glaciers. My budget is $300 or less. I was looking at the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ40 (24x zoom) for $299, but heard image quality was lower than the older DMC-FZ35 (18x zoom) that is $219 on Amazon right now. What do you think will make me happiest long-term?

-Josh Kroll, Minneapolis, MN

A. The better image quality pays off every time you take a picture. The extra zoom range, rarely, and 18x is pretty good to begin with. Even when you need more magnification you can always crop in software. At $219 the DMC-FZ35 is almost 50% off, and was always a top pick in its class. I think you figured it out for yourself already, but I’d say get the DMC-FZ35.

Q. Could you recommend a device that can convert slide images to digital images? What should I be looking for as far as quality and what kind of prices would I be looking at?

-Jim Baran, Milwaukee, WI

A. You need a film scanner, which uses backlighting and optical scanning to create a digital image that is sent to your computer via USB. There are flatbeds with transparency backs but you are better off with a dedicated film-scanning unit. You can also scan film negatives and convert them to positive digital images.

You can spend $50 for something little better than a toy, up to $5,000 for a professional model. Usually $250 or so for a model from Pacific Image or Plustek is a good fit for amateur use.

Vacuum tubes and Bluetooth: This week’s system combines the warm sound of vacuum tube audio with the wireless convenience of Bluetooth. Sound like a contradiction? Read on!

In the past I have written about the $799 Neuhaus Laboratories T-2 vacuum tube amplifier with USB connection. The recently introduced Neuhaus Laboratories T-1 is a hybrid design that combines transistors and vacuum tubes to provide warm tube sound in a smaller package selling for only $499. The T-1 has two analog connections, an optical digital connection, USB, and built-in Bluetooth. Pair your iPad, iPhone or other Bluetooth device with the T-1 and you can wirelessly stream music to your system from wherever you are in the room. You will have both a remote control and media server in the palm of your hand. Of course, you can connect your computer to the USB port as well. See the T-1 at www.neuhauslabs.com.

In my office I use a T-2 with Arx speakers from The Audio Insider, finding them to be a match made in Heaven. The exotic leaf tweeters of the Arx sing when combined with vacuum tube amplification. I can’t think of a better match for the T-1, and the Arx A1 bookshelf speakers sell for only $249 at theaudioinsider.com.

Many would consider this elegantly simple mix of high tech and retro complete at $748. If you want to listen to the radio, either stream Internet radio from the Bluetooth device or add the Sony XDRF1HD tuner for $99. Want vinyl? The Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB will plug right in for $199.98, or you can go up to the $499 Pro-ject Debut III USB for something a bit more audiophile.

Question?  Email Don

Audio-Technica ATH-M35 Headphones : A truly great buy

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Audio-Technica ATH-M35 headphones are quite a market standout. I have been enjoying my own set recently and thought it might be a good idea to mention them to anyone looking for headphones, or who are thinking of adding headphones to their system.  Though marketed as “monitor headphones” for professional applications I find them to really stand out in home audio usage.

The Audio-Technica ATH-M35 headphones have an MSRP of $139 but can be purchased at Amazon.com for under $55. They sound like the $139 headphones that they are, with clean, crisp sound that doesn’t sound the least bit cold, and with a tremendous amount of sonic detail.

They come with a miniplug for use with portable devices and an adapter for use with home theater receivers. Give them a try, you will most definitely not be disappointed!

Audio Technica ATH-M35 Headphones on the Audio-Technica website

Questions? Email Don

Sound Advice, Week 9, 2011 : Digital SLR Focusing, replace DVD with Blu-ray, $400 stereo system

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Sound Advice
By Don Lindich

Week 9, 2011

Q. My digital SLR (an Olympus E-520) focuses much slower in live view mode than it does when I use the viewfinder. I really prefer using the live view. Is there a problem with my camera and is there anything I can do to speed it up?

-F.P. Woodside, North Hills, PA

A. Your camera uses different autofocus systems depending on whether you are in through-the-lens viewfinder (TTL) mode or live view mode. TTL mode uses a focusing system called phase detection, which focuses much faster than the contrast detection focusing of the live view mode. Contrast detection is inherently slower and there is not much you can do about it other than choose your focus points with care so the camera has a good place to focus on.

Q. I have an older Mitsubishi 65-inch projection TV with no HDMI. I am not ready to replace the TV and I need a new DVD player. Is my best bet to buy a Blu-ray player with component outputs and use it to replace my DVD player?

-John Adams

A. Yes, that is absolutely your best bet, especially since an entry-level Blu-ray player can be had for under $100 these days. That’s not much more than a decent quality DVD player and it gets you a lot more picture and sound quality. A 65-inch TV will really show the difference between an ordinary DVD and true high definition from Blu-ray. When you do decide it is time for a new television you can use your new player’s HDMI outputs with it. Act soon though as component outputs are starting to disappear as the industry goes HDMI-only.

Build some systems with Don: Every week I get several dozen emails from readers building systems for music or home theater, asking about different components they are considering or a direct recommendation on what to buy. Over the next few weeks I am going to build some systems for both music and home theater to show readers how easy it can be to get great results and to build something truly unique if you want something different. I hope the system building exercises will entertain as well as give you some ideas for building or adding to your own system as you are introduced to some great products.

To start us off, how about a nice sounding stereo music system, complete with USB turntable, for under $400?

Start with the warm, crisp sounding NS-B2111 bookshelf speakers from Best Buy, $87.98. Power them with a new Sherwood RX-4105 stereo receiver, which was recently improved with a cleaner amplifier section. It can be had for only $79.99 at Amazon.com or jr.com. DVD and CD playback will be well handled by Panasonic’s DVD-S38 DVD player for 29.99. The crowing touch is the $200 Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB turntable for $199.98.

Your total? Only $397.96 for a system that plays DVDs, CDs, vinyl records, and can import the vinyl records into your computer. If you can spend just a tad more, speaker stands will make your system sound better and look better. Get some Sanus Systems BF-31B stands for the speakers for $30.97 and you are all set at a very affordable price.

Questions? Email Don

Digital camera shopping tip

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A common mistake many consumers make when shopping for a digital camera is paying too much attention to the telephoto end of the zoom range. Having enough magnification is rarely a problem, and if you can’t get close enough you can always crop in software.

A bigger problem is when the camera lens isn’t wide angle enough at the low end of the setting. Probably 95% of the public will find a zoom range of 24mm-200mm more useful and more satisfying than a camera with a range of 35-400 or even 28-400 (35mm equivalent). There is a tremendous difference between a 24mm and a 28mm wide angle. The difference between 200mm and 300mm and 400mm? Not so much, and as I said, you can always crop in software and not to mention you should be using a tripod over 300mm if you want really crisp results. Usually when your camera is zoomed to the widest angle you can’t back up any more and you lose the shot, especially when photographing buildings, etc.

I’ll be posting visuals to demonstrate this in the near future. In the meantime, if you are shopping for a digital camera try and compare models with a 24mm or 28mm wide angle and see how big the difference really is.

Questions? Email Don