Right angles: Photographic creativity lies in the choice of focus. Being able to isolate the subject while the rest of the picture is reduced to a blur is an eye-catching technique.

The unique Lensbaby lenses have in recent years proved to be useful aids in creating such effects. Unlike a normal lens, Lensbaby bodies are not rigid but are made like small bellows with flexible tubing. This allows the photographer to twist the front of the Lensbaby and, with some manipulation, create unique focal-length effects. Lensbaby is bringing out a trio of new lenses — The Muse, The Control Freak and The Composer — to replace its current lineup.

The Muse replaces the original Lensbaby and the Lensbaby 2.0. This simple design allows the photographer to swivel and twist the lens barrel ring to achieve the proper focal “sweet spot,” or depth. The Muse is intended for quick photography situations.

The Control Freak is more sophisticated, with three small control rods running along the sides of the lens bellows. A barrel focusing ring adjusts the general focus, and the rods can be manipulated into a more exact position. The name gives the game away, and it’s aimed at users who want precision in their photo tricks.

Both The Muse and The Control Freak employ Lensbaby’s new Optic Swap System, which allows for the use of optional optic inserts to achieve more blurring or other lighting effects.

Completing the new lineup is The Composer. This is a radical new design, with the front and back elements of the lens connected via a ball-and-socket arrangement that allows for both greater focus control and ease of use.

All of the new Lensbaby lenses are lightweight, 50-mm focal length designs and will be available for all major digital SLR brands.

Kenko handles the Japan distribution for the Oregon-based Lensbaby, with the new lineup to hit the market in November. Prices are listed as open, but consumers can expect to pay from around ¥10,000 for the basic Muse to close to ¥30,000 for The Composer.

These aren’t the kind of attachments that the average shutterbug would use a lot, and they require at least an understanding of the mechanics of manual focus. But the freaky Lensbabies are great for those who want to get creative in their DSLR photography and are willing to work to achieve the results. www.kenko-tokina.co.jp

DVD life: Toshiba Corp. is a fair definition of stubbornness. Having lost the high-definition war to Sony and Blu-ray, the electronics giant is resorting to guerrilla warfare with its upscaling technology for improving DVD playing.

The idea of its XDE (eXtended Detail Enhancement) is that it sharpens the contrast and improves the colors in the picture from a standard DVD when shown on a high-definition TV. Toshiba is not going so far as to claim it outpoints Blu-ray, but it is offering a cheaper alternative that reportedly produces a better picture than you get from a standard DVD player.

Most observers deem the XDE improvement to be marginal, but Toshiba may be onto something. Blu-ray remains an expensive replacement for DVD, a technology that most people are still happy with. Give them something that gets them closer to Blu-ray at the lower DVD cost and you might have a winner.

Beyond XDE, Toshiba is also offering a milestone 1 terabyte of hard disk storage capacity with its new RD-X8 DVD recorder (¥138,000), which will go on sale in November. It also sports a digital TV tuner, a dual-layer DVD burner and supports the MPEG4 AVC/H.264 codecs, which can compress video files all the way down to iPod size. Two downscaled models also to be released next month are the RD-S503 (¥99,800) with a 500-gigabyte hard disk and the RD-S303 (¥79,800) with a 320-gigabyte hard disk. www.toshiba.co.jp

All purpose: Canon deservedly has a reputation for producing top-notch multifunction printers. In truth, while it does a good job with general-purpose print jobs, pictures are its real forte.

The flagship model of its latest lineup of Pixus printers is the MP980, which serves as a printer, scanner and copier. It has a printing resolution of 9600×2400 dpi and a scanning resolution of 4800 dpi. It also has a 3.5-inch LCD screen, uses the Wi-Fi b/g protocol to send images wirelessly and accepts Memory Stick, SD, xD and CF cards.

The printer betrays its photographic instincts with its use of six-color hues, including gray and photo-black inks.

Going down the line, the MP630, which replaces the MP610, has a smaller monitor at 2.5 inches and deploys a five-color system. Both models include software to enhance photos, such as reducing red eye and correcting facial tones.

The low-end model is the MP480, with its 4800×1200-dpi resolution and four- color inks.

The new printers are due out this month, with the MP980 costing ¥36,980, the MP630 priced ¥27,980 and the MP480 a modest ¥14,980.

Considering their prices and increased quality, multifunction printers, which seem to be ditching their fax-machine functions, are still a wise choice for the average consumer. cweb.canon.jp


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