GigaPan EPIC is out and we're cracking the 2 Million Mark

First off, a big huge THANK YOU to all my readers!

HDRLabs has officially shot past the 2 Million visitor milestone. It's a bit intimidating to know that I'm speaking to such a large audience here. But also feels good to be heard.

What really pushed traffic over the edge was the Open Camera Controller project.
Since it's launch just about a month ago this project has made huge leaps forward: CircuitBoardsToGo started to feature the OCC board on their front page, volunteers are working on a list of European part suppliers, Achim Berg contributed an improved circuit board layout, and there is even talk about designing a dedicated cartridge housing. Great work guys, I'm really happy to see the community adopt this project so quickly.

GigaPan EPIC: First look by Greg Downing

Photographers that feel more comfortable with ready-made products will be happy to hear that the GigaPan EPIC Pro robot is now available.

The original GigaPan unit has been around for a while. It's very easy to use, and I shot several panos with it (Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Arches, Hollywood Hills). Still, it bothered me to that it was limited to point-and-shoot cameras. GigaPan EPIC Pro changes that.

Compared to mine, this new unit seems like a worthy upgrade: Much better battery solution, real remote release cable (instead of that clunky lever pushing the camera's release button), and a U-shaped bracket to hold the weight of a DSLR.

Here's Greg Downing's review:

Gigapan Epic Pro (DSLR version) Review from xRez Studio on Vimeo.

The wobbly construction is easily fixed and seems to be a manufacturing exception. Michael James from reports the unit arrived in sturdy condition.

Read more: Greg Downing's full review on the XRez Blog.

More sIBL sets for you.

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If you missed the March issue of 3DWorld (or got one without DVD), this is your lucky day. Until May 4 you can download all 8 exclusive sIBL sets directly from the 3DWorld blog.

On top of that, I just updated the sIBL-of-the-Month. A little late, but worth the wait...

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Contests, Conferences and a Coupon Code

Catchy headline, eh? We’re dealing with three completely separate news items here, each of them awesome on its own.

Unified Color launches “True Vision HDR Contest”

The maker of HDR Photostudio are launching an HDR photo contest. It will run all year long, with three rounds of winnings, the first one coming up in May.

Now, I know what you’re thinking - “they just want to fill their gallery with my photos”. But hold on - I wouldn’t drop this hint if it wouldn’t be worth it: They have insanely great prizes!!! Literally a pile of great photo gear is waiting for you, topped with a professional workshop from National Geographic Expeditions and a MacBook Pro.

May 12 is your first submission deadline, sign up here.

International Panoramic Photography Conference

On April 14 − 18 the small town of Tucson, Arizona will turn into a buzzing hub of pano fanatics. The winning formula is:

Top Speakers + Scenic Location + Great year for new Hardware/Software = Kick-Ass Conference!

I will be there as well, talking about “HDR and what Hollywood needs your panoramas for”. You'll get to see a good part of my SIGRRAPH presentation (which was always well received), enhanced with some exclusive clips and making-ofs from EdenFX.

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Check out the full schedule to see what the real big stars in the pano scene are talking about: Jook Leung, Greg Downing, Jeffrey Martin, and many more.

April 14 is approaching quickly, and the hotel is filling up, so better sign up now.

Get HDR Darkroom for 15% off

Frequent visitors of this site know that my readers get unmatched discounts on most commercial HDR software. You just need to punch the password from the HDRI Handbook into the sidebar on the Software page.

The great folks at HDR Darkroom, newest member of the HDR utility/tonemapper family, join this tradition now. Your special rate is $67.15 - that is 15% on top of the introductory 20% discount on $99. Pretty cool, eh?

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CS5 and Magic Bullet

Photoshop CS5

Adobe started a countdown page, in search for some big social networking hype. The big selling feature is Content-Aware Fill, and it looks very useful for cleaning up panoramas after stitching.

Here's a less popular, but much more informative sneak peek video:

More feature goodness:
Better Edge Selection and Masking - Sounds simple, but may turn out to be most awesome.
Paint Tools - new brush bristles, and several handy shortcut enhancements.

If it would be for me, I'd be happy with a simple Curves Tool in 32-bit mode. But let's see, maybe there's more in CS5 than they dare to disclose yet...

Magic Bullet PhotoLooks

Magic Bullet used to be one of our secret weapons at Eden FX when it comes to color grading and finding just the right look. And now you can have that same magic in Photoshop as well.

According to the feature list it works in 32-bit. And yes, it includes Curves and all the other tools you're missing in Photoshop (until CS5?). Haven't yet tested it myself, but if it's half as good as the original After Effects plugin it's worth its weight in gold.

Read more about it on Stu Maschwitz' blog.

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Introducing the Open Camera Controller

What if you had a programmable touchscreen remote with an 8 hour battery life, that can be fitted to any DSLR? With free apps for extended HDR shooting, timelapse, controlling an affordable telescope mount, sound triggering, and more. All Open Source, driven by a community of enthusiastic photographers like you.

Then you must have an Open Camera Controller.

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The catch: you have to build it yourself. Out of a Nintendo DS.

It will be a cool garage project, easy to do and very rewarding. We've done everything to document the whole process. The hardware is subject to Open Source rules as well, so if you're a wizard with electronics we highly welcome your improvement ideas.

This project is brought to you by Steve Chapman, HDRLabs' newest collaborator.

Steve is sort of a legend in Hollywood, known as the go-to-guy for scanning actors, props and sets. In fact, in 2001 my very first job duty in the VFX industry was to character-rig Captain Archer of the Enterprise, which I later found out to be scanned by Steve Chapman himself. And Steve's quite a character as well, which you will discover when you're looking at the comments in his source code...

The Open Camera Controller (OCC) was previously known as PanoCamera. It’s just that the project has grown out of bounds, and while the core program is still the ultimate HDR-panorama-bracketing machine, it now also does astrophotography, sound triggering, e-book manuals, the whole nine yards. And who knows what the Open Source community will come up with… That’s why we put the emphasis on “Open” as in “Whatever you want your camera to do”-platform.

OCC fits HDRLabs like a glove, similar in spirit and open accessibility. That's why it is a top-level project now, housed in the main menu right next to Picturenaut. What was previously the PanoCamera forum, is now a category in the HDRLabs Community. It had only 15 active members, but a ton of great discussions and ideas. If you’re one of these 15 early adopters, congratulations and welcome!

Read more on the OCC project page.

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And the Oscar goes to … Paul Debevec

I’m talking about the Technical Oscar, the stepchild Academy Award that was already out handed last month. It’s dedicated to the unsung heroes of the movie biz, the inventors of groundbreaking technology that makes those flickering lights more and more spectacular every year. After all, it’s still the “Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences”, right?

Paul Debevec, Tim Hawkins, John Monos and Mark Sagar got honored for the design and engineering of the Light Stage capture devices and the image-based facial rendering system developed for character relighting in motion pictures.

Their Light Stage is what fueled the production of Avatar, Benjamin Button (VFX Oscar Winner last year), Harry Potter, Superman 3, ect. So, it really is the star behind the scenes; the “thing” that makes photo-real digital actors possible.

Read more on the Lightstage Project page or watch Magic Paul's TED Talk on Digital Emily.

Oh, and my congratulations to everybody who worked on Avatar. Well deserved VFX Oskar. I seriously considered quitting my job and opening a t-shirt shop when I walked out of that movie. It's disturbingly good VFX work!

Christian Bloch

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Smart IBL gets on the 3D-World Cover DVD

It's sometimes funny how communities develop.

At this point there are 4 vendors offering HDRIs as ready-made sIBL sets:

You'd think they're competitors, but no. It's actually a very friendly community that helps each other out all the time. And as Bob Groothuis lands a gig with 3d-World, he happily gives us all a lift.

Winner of this situation is you, the 3d artist community. You'll find a most precious gift glued to the cover of the March issue of 3D-World:

8 Premium sIBL sets for free.

My contribution is an exclusive select from Tokyo, the Tatami Room B. And there's Helipad Night A from our in-house library at EdenFX, with all best wishes from my boss John Gross. This is something you'd normally wouldn't get your hands on. Ever.

See, pure gold on that 3D-World DVD. The US issue comes out in April, UK readers get it mid-March already. Make sure to check for the DVD - not all of the mags actually have one.

This issue also has some really interesting topics about the Linear Workflow and new-school Color Management.

Christian Bloch

PS: As you've come to expect, there's also a new sIBL-of-the-month and new chances to rise to the top in the Hot-on-Flickr gallery.

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