Cool Stuff: Your 2008 Christmas Gift Guide

18 economical, expensive, and just plain weird tech gifts for your friends and family

Digital photography

These days, almost anyone can produce photos that look professional -- if they have the right equipment. If you want your friends or family members to have the right imaging stuff, make sure they have a really great camera and a really great photo editor. And for an extra thrill, you can give them the ability to show off in three dimensions.

On a Budget: IrfanView

If you've been into digital photography for more than a week, you know that you need photo editing software, an essential tool for removing that ugly green skin tone or cropping your ex-boyfriend out of the image. You could try the US$700 Photoshop CS4, which is so complicated it will upgrade to CS5 before you learn to use it. Or you can get IrfanView, a free toolbox of digital photography utilities.

IrfanView was created by Irfan Skiljan, who calls the software a photo viewer. But it is much more. For example, I recently sent 50 TIFF images, all about 50MB, through the IrfanView batch conversion utility.

I asked it to resize the pictures to 300 dpi with the long dimension at 1600 pixels; to apply moderate sharpening; to "auto-adjust colors"; to rename the files; and to output them in JPG format. I could have also asked it to crop, flip or rotate; convert to black and white; adjust brightness, contrast, color saturation or color balance; or a half-dozen other things.

That's a huge amount of processing, but it took just 160 seconds, or about three seconds per image, on my midrange Dell desktop. It's the sort of thing you might want to do when preparing photos for production of a book (as I was), for uploading to a Web site, or for downsizing and making bulk improvements to your images before archiving them. Or when you simply want to make your ex disappear.

But wait, isn't this supposed to be a gift guide? If you must stand on ceremony, just download the software, put it on a CD, maybe make a nice CD cover, and voila! Instant stocking stuffer.

-- Gary Anthes

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