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China has long been a source of inexpensive products for the rest of the world due to lower labor costs and a large labor force. Recently, however, a spate of bad publicity and long brewing policy initiatives are combining to raise wages and overall costs. Consumers around the globe may feel the results in their wallets soon.

Foxconn is one of the largest and most well known Chinese electronics manufacturing companies. They have contracts with almost all the major electronics business, including Apple, HP, Dell, and others. To their chagrin, a series of recent suicides at their plants has caused conditions there to fall under global limelight, and although they have denied conditions are bad and the number of annual suicides within their 800,000 strong facility is actually below the national rate of China, they have ceded to the pressure and increased wages. Workers at Foxconn, on average, will now be receiving roughly 2000 renminbi per month, or the equivalent of $300 - a 100% increase from the current average. And they're not alone in raising wages - a Honda plant located in China is increasing wages to end a worker strike there, and Beijing has raised the minimum wage of the city to 960 renminbi.

There are a number of strictly political reasons why labor costs might go up as well. There is a widening gap between the rich and poor in China as wealth has flowed in during recent years, and the government has an interest in pushing manufacturers to more high end goods, rather than T-shirts and similar low-end products.

China has also long promised to free its currency from the dollar, and may do so soon, increasing costs to exporters.One of the effects of these changes is that companies are looking to other Asian nations, like Vietnam and Indonesia, to be their manufacturing centers - much like many American companies operating out of Mexico for the same reasons. Another will be, very likely, a ripple of increased prices in the global market for everything China produces - which is, pretty much, everything.

So get out there and shop, people - this is one case where waiting may not assure you the best prices. But if it means conditions will rise for the average Chinese worker, hopefully we can accept the price increases as a good thing overall.

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I always hear people saying how they only get their camera out when something special is going on like relatives coming over, Christmas, birthdays or traveling somewhere. When I ask them why they don’t get the camera out more often, they usually say there is nothing to take pictures of. Most of us hardly notice the little things right in from of us, but there is another world that can be captured with macro photography.

Macro photography can be a fun and educational thing. Macro photography allows you to take close up pictures of basically anything. It's amazing to look at these extremely close-up photos of insects or flowers or even moss. I recently took some photos of snow on a branch and the little ice crystals are amazing.

Here are some tips to get started:

  • Like any other photo that you take, simplify.
  • Fill the photo with your subject.
  • Sharp focus is a must.
  • Try shooting from different angles. If you’re looking for deep saturation of the colors, use front lighting. If you’d like to bring out the texture of your subject, side lighting is the way to go.
  • due to the narrow depth of field, the background will usually be thrown completely out of focus, which allows the natural background to be nice backdrop,. Just make sure you don’t have anything distracting in the back that’s recognizable (branches, cigarette butts, etc.).

Try taking a photo of a bee in resting in a flower. You’ll be astonished by all the little details your camera will pick up. Now I know for some of you that’s a bit of a risky thing. So try taking a picture of a little pebble. You wouldn’t believe how nice nature photos are when taken close up. A picture of a raindrop barely clinging to a leaf or tree branch can really get some good reactions from friends.

There is so much out there that we forget about. Next time you think there's nothing to take pictures of, just look a little closer.

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Even slimmer and more compact than its predecessor, the Sony CyberShoy W-Series boast a bright f/2.4 Sony G lens with 5x optical zoom and 24mm wide angle to take full advantage of the CCD sensor’s 14.1 effective megapixel resolution. With an extra wide aperture, this high-quality lens opens up fresh creative possibilities, from smoothly-defocused portraits to atmospheric low-light shooting without flash.

Sweep Panorama

This feature makes it uniquely fun and easy to capture landscapes, city skylines, group portraits and more. Just press the shutter button and sweep the camera to take in the whole scene. Sweep Panorama automatically stitches together a burst of images in moments, creating a single ultra-wide image with a huge field of view up to 185 degrees.
  • 14.1 effective megapixels resolution-Captures very high quality images allowing detail-packed enlargements
  • 4x optical zoom Carl Zeiss lens-Vario-Tessar lens with 4x zoom range and 26mm wide angle to cover wide range of shooting situations
  • 6.7cm/2.7 LCD-Clear Photo LCD screen (230k dot) offers excellent detail high contrast and wide viewing angle
  • Double anti-blur-Optical SteadyShot and high sensitivity ISO 3200 with Clear RAW Noise Reduction for high quality handheld images with less blur even in low light
  • Intelligent Auto -Automatically adjusts exposure and other settings for optimum results in a wide range of shooting situations
  • Face Detection-Automatically adjusts focus exposure and white balance for clearer portraits: priority selectable between children and adults
  • Smile Shutter-Automatically fires shutter when subject smiles: with adjustable smile threshold and priority selectable for children/adults
  • Easy Shooting mode-Fuss-free operation for beginners with simplified controls and easy-to-read on-screen instructions
  • PMB Portable-Built-in transfer software allows quick easy uploads to image sharing sites when camera is connected to any web-enabled PC
  • In-camera retouching-Fun in-camera image retouching functions including trim and red-eye correction

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As one half of the Micro Four Thirds consortium, Olympus was one of the originators of the mirrorless interchangeable lens or system camera. In a little under two years, this new breed has established itself as a credible alternative both to compact cameras and DSLRs. However, while manufacturers regularly talk to us about watching and wanting to exploit the gap between these two established types of cameras, all the models released so far have tended towards the DSLR-end of that space. So far we've seen models from both Panasonic and Samsung that have aped the functionality, handling and even appearance of entry-level DLSRs, while the small, rangefinder-styled MILCs (The E-P1 and GF1) have still behaved like DSLRs without mirrors, rather than compact cameras with large sensors.

Stepping in to fill this void is the Olympus E-PL1, a camera that brings a stripped-down body and simplified interface to the Micro Four Thirds format. This means no control dials (and therefore an awful lot of button-pressing the further away from the automated exposure modes you venture), but it also brings a simple results-orientated 'Live Guide' interface to allow you take control of the i-Auto for people happier to point-and-shoot (sorry Mr Spacey).

Its simplified, button-press based interface dictates that it'll be best suited to compact camera users who want to get better photos straight away and learn about things such as apertures in their own time. Experienced users who regularly want to take control of individual shooting parameters are likely to find themselves frustrated by the sheer amount of button-pressing induced by the loss of control dials.

The cost savings, which extend to a lower-cost, plastic mount version of the collapsible 14-42mm kit lens, means the E-PL1 comes to market with a suggested selling price some $200 (or €150) below that of the E-P1. The body manages to maintain styling cues from the E-P1, mixing them with hints of the company's fondly remembered 'C' series of high-end compacts. The I.S unit has also been simplified, with the company claiming only 3 stops of compensation, rather than the 4 ascribed to the E-P2.

However, it would be a mistake to assume from this that the E-PL1's specification is commonplace - although the body, screen, lens and interface have been pared-back, there are a couple of areas in which this entry-level/beginners model trumps the more stylish, more expensive PEN models. Most obvious is the addition of a built-in flash, which was one of the most glaring omissions from the E-P1 and EP-2. There's also a revised version of the TruePix V image processor, that's been tuned to take account of the lighter low-pass/anti-aliasing filter fitted in this model. The L1 also features the EVF/accessory port under the flash hot-shoe - a feature it shares with the E-P2 but absent from the E-P1.

Key features

  • 12 megapixel Four Thirds sized sensor
  • In-body image stabilization (with claimed 3-stop effectiveness)
  • Simplified 'Live Guide' interface
  • 2.7" LCD screen (230,000 dots)
  • Built-in flash
  • Direct record movie button
  • 720p HD video (MJPEG compression)
  • ISO 100-3200
  • 6 'Art Filter' creative effects
  • Accessory port for add-ons such as electronic viewfinde
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Ever since Panasonic and Olympus created their Micro Four Thirds mirrorless system, all the talk has been about what the other players in the market will do. Micro Four Thirds has been steadily building its market share, seemingly without response from the three companies that account for over 80% of DSLR sales (Canon, Nikon and Sony), to the extent that 'Micro' risks becoming the generic term for these mirrorless systems ('When will Brand X make a Micro camera?' has become a fairly common thread title on our forums).

The waiting is now over as, following the showing of some mock-ups at PMA and a torrent of teasers and leaks, Sony finally officially announced its NEX system last month. The details are exactly what you'd expect - HD video capable APS-C sensors in small bodies. What might take you by surprise is just how small the bodies are - the NEX-5 in particular being tiny. In fact the cameras are too small to include in-body image stabilization units, as found in Sony's SLRs, and instead use lens-based 'Optical SteadyShot'. These NEX cameras will come under the Alpha brand but do not make use of the Alpha lens mount, instead using the completely new all-electronic E-mount.

Sony has made clear that it is aiming for compact camera users who wish to upgrade (a market it estimates at around 10 million potential buyers), rather than trying to offer a second camera for existing DSLR users. And the NEX models have more in common with compact cameras than DSLRs - including very few buttons and a resolutely unconventional interface.

As part of this interface it offers not only the standard Sony option of showing a small description of each selected option, it also has a full user guide built in to the camera. Relevant sections of this guide are available in each shooting mode to give hints and advice about everything from how to hold the camera to how to achieve an out-of-focus background.

The company told us that it felt its competitors had merely miniaturized, rather than revolutionized, so it's no surprise that the NEXs are more than just the company's SLRs with the mirrors removed. Instead you get a wholly new system with metal-bodied kit lenses (something we didn't expect to see again in a mainstream product), and an accessory port instead of a conventional flash hot shoe.

As with Samsung and Panasonic, Sony's background is electronics (rather than cameras) so the incentive to move away from the optically complex DSLR design to one based more around electronic displays makes sense. Sony's situation is a little different in that it bought the respected Minolta brand and know-how but, despite plenty of new models, it has only been able to make a big impression on the DSLR market in a few selected regions. Consequently, it's understandable that it might want to combine its DSLR knowledge with its electronics expertise to establish some compelling competitive advantage.

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