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Posts Tagged ‘photography’

Joby GripTight, GripTight Micro Stand

October 24th, 2012 No comments

5 Stars

JOBY GripTight Micro Stand

Amongst my family and friends it’s no secret I like taking photos. To be exact, I like taking photos with my iPhone. We’ve all heard the saying about the best camera is the one you have on you. Well, it’s true. And more often than not, my iPhone is my camera.

So naturally, I like to find and use iPhone accessories to help me look like a better photographer than I really am. When I heard Joby was going to be releasing a smartphone accessory, I had to say yes to the offer of being sent a preview sample without even knowing what it was.

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Eye-Fi 8GB Mobile X2 Wireless Memory Card

June 17th, 2012 No comments

4 stars
Eye-Fi Mobile X2 8GB Memory Card

Chances are, you’ve heard of Eye-Fi wireless memory cards. For years, Eye-Fi memory cards have been making the process of transferring photos from cameras to computers a simple, cable-less affair. Not being satisfied with being a one-trick pony (albeit an amazing trick), Eye-Fi introduced a new feature called Direct Mode. Direct Mode allows photos from your camera to be wirelessly transferred to your smartphone or tablet, even without a Wi-Fi connection.

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Carson Optical C6 Lens and Screen Cleaners

April 9th, 2012 No comments

5 Stars
Carson Optical C6 CS-10

Carson Optical makes a variety of optical products like binoculars, telescopes, microscopes and accessories. At CES 2012, they introduced a line of screen and lens cleaners, to go with some of their other optical cleaning products.

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BlackRapid RS-7 Camera Strap

April 7th, 2011 2 comments

5 Stars- techdad
BlackRapid RS-7 Camera Strap

If you read my review of the BlackRapid SnapR, then you already know how much I love BlackRapid straps. BlackRapid’s original R-Strap was created by a professional photographer named Ron Henry. His idea to turn a camera strap into a “sling” was ingenious. The RS-7 strap is one of seven available R-Straps from BlackRapid. The RS-7 is unique from their other single straps because it was designed as a modular system with an ergonomically curved pad. Though this review is specific to the RS-7, much of the review about the R-Strap system applies to all of their R-Straps.

PROS

  • Very well built and durable
  • Clear advantage in ease of use
  • Very comfortable
  • MODS can be daisy-chained
  • Easily adjustable

CONS

  • Bumpers can be a little tough to undo

Inevitably, the question, “why do I need to buy a strap when my camera already came with one?” will be asked. The answer is that OEM camera straps tend to be uncomfortable when worn for extended periods of time and aren’t usually secured very well when worn around the neck. Have you ever tried bending down to pick something up or tried to give someone a hug with the camera around your neck? It doesn’t work out that well, does it? From the perspective of a parent, having my camera around my neck makes me nervous. My toddlers require me to constantly bend down, pick them up, carry them, or run after them. Taking my camera and my kids to the park is a chore because I have to decide whether or not I want to be involved in their play (and safety) or taking their photos, but not both. The BlackRapid RS-7 changed all that.

BlackRapid RS-7 Mesh BagBlackRapid RS-7 with MODSBlackRapid RS-7 OpenBlackRapid RS-7 FastenRBlackRapid RS-7 Side

DESIGN & BUILD
The R-Strap name is a bit of misnomer because they’re actually slings. They are meant to be worn over the shoulder. Due to the ergonomic curvature of the pad, it’s specifically meant to be worn over the left shoulder. At the end of the strap is what BlackRapid calls a ConnectR that works like a locking carabiner. The ConnectR attaches to your camera via a metal loop, called a FastenR, that screws into the tripod port of your camera or lens. After placing the R-Strap on, your camera actually hangs upside down on your right hip. When you want to take a photo, you simply grab your camera and glide it up the strap to eye level. When you’re done, you slide it back down the strap. There are also two “bumpers” on the strap that keep your camera from moving. The bumper located on the rear of the strap allows you to position the camera at its resting point, while the bumper on the front of the strap can be adjusted to keep the camera from shifting forward. The bumpers are intended to be adjusted on the fly to remain flexible to your needs. If you need to free up your hands, you can adjust them so that the camera cannot be shifted at all then move them back when you’re ready to shoot again. Adjusting them was fairly easy but I think having an easier to grip material on the clip would make it easier to open for quick adjustments.

The build quality on the RS-7 is top notch. The ballistic nylon material is durable yet attractive and the metal hardware appear to be very high quality. They really paid very close attention to all the details. Even the “R” logo looks very cool in my opinion and BlackRapid warranties all R-Straps for one year.

THE REAL WORLD
Some of the coolest gadgets and devices ever made were also some of the most useless. The RS-7 isn’t just cool, it’s functional. I love being able to take my kids to a park and take photos of them and the beautiful landscape around them. Before I invested in a DSLR, I was using my mobile phone for that task, which was convenient as heck, but didn’t usually result in terrific picture quality. The problem with my DSLR was the bulk. I had to carry it in a camera bag to the park then once I got to the park, I’d have to strap the camera around my neck. Interacting with my kids at this point was challenging. With the R-Strap, I am now able to leave my bag behind and just carry the camera to the park with me. If my youngest needs me to carry her, I can just bend down and pick her up without worry. When I want to take a photo, I can quickly adjust the strap to allow me to shoot, then secure it back again. It’s a liberating experience.

MODS
The RS-7 is made to work with all of BlackRapid’s MODS accessories. It has a built-in loop that allows accessories, like the JOEY, to securely attach to the strap.

JOEY – The JOEY is a storage pocket and comes in two versions, the JOEY J1 and the JOEY J2. They are exactly the same except that the J1 is small and the J2 is large. The J1 can fit up to an iPhone without a case and the J2 can fit up to an iPhone with a small case. The J2 fit my Motorola Droid X with a slim TPU case on it. It was a little tight at first but it loosened up a little bit after a few uses. The neat thing about the JOEY is that you can securely daisy-chain them to gain more pockets.

BRAD – The BRAD is an essential RS-7 MOD in my opinion. It’s basically another strap that attaches to the RS-7 that helps secure your camera even further. It sort of makes the strap look like a shoulder holster. The BRAD is ideal for active shooting and I recommend it for parents as well. The only slight downside is that it adds an extra step when putting the strap on or taking it off.

BUCK – The BUCK is a nifty little buckle cover for the RS-7. It securely covers the buckle so that thieves can’t just unbuckle your strap and run off with your camera. It also ensures that the buckle doesn’t accidentally get unbuckled while you’re wearing the RS-7.

BERT – The RS-7 is 60″ long from end to end. If you need extra length, you can get it with the BERT MOD. It adds an additional 15″.

CONCLUSION
BlackRapid R-Straps are easy to use, comfortable, and have superb build quality. The RS-7 and its MODS system offer a flexible alternative to the RS-4 and RS-5. The RS-7 isn’t the only strap I own, but it’s the only one I now use. It won’t make my shots turn out like Ron Henry’s, but it will give me all the advantages that his strap provides. Pay the man and get the RS-7. You’ll be glad you did.

Available from Amazon.com or directly from BlackRapid.

* Review sample courtesy of BlackRapid Inc.

Categories: Reviews Tags: ,

Adobe Photoshop Elements 9

March 24th, 2011 No comments

5 Stars- techdad
Photoshop Elements 9 Box Shot

It seems like just yesterday that Adobe first introduced Photoshop Elements to the enthusiast market. In fact, it’s been almost a decade, which is right around the time I bought my first digital camera. With the introduction of the digital camera in the mid-90s and widespread adoption in less than 15 years, the demand for an easy-to-use, but powerful photo-centric program for enthusiasts was inevitable. Adobe met that demand with great fanfare, though version 8 disappointed some users. Will Photoshop Elements 9 quell the unsatisfied voices of the previous version?

PROS

  • Amazing tools to manipulate photos
  • Keyword tags allow quick searches & easy organization
  • Editor supports layers
  • Good help tools and tutorials
  • Solid, stable performance

CONS

  • Organizer import is finicky
  • People recognition sometimes misses

ORGANIZER

Photoshop Elements 9 Organizer
The organizer is a highly integrated part of the Photoshop Elements 9 experience. It’s not just a tool for organizing your photos, but also the hub for fixes, creative projects and easy sharing.

Organize Tab If you’re like me, then you probably already have a sizable library of photos. Mine consists of over 18,000 photos, taking up nearly 80GB of space, from a wide variety of sources including several different digital cameras, mobile phones, scanners, and webcams. Until about five years ago, I used to just organize them within my file system (windows explorer) and managed to get by okay. Then I had kids.

An explosion of photos followed and it was becoming impossible to manage, so I enlisted the help of Google’s free Picasa software. PSE9’s organizer has many of the features and capabilities of Picasa including people recognition, multiple album support, tags, geotags with maps, rating, cropping, simple fixes, effects, creative projects, and sharing. Most of those features tend to be more advanced or more flexible on Photoshop Elements. For example PSE9 has an auto-analyzer feature that will use Smart Tags to allow you to distinguish your photos using some preset tags like, photo quality or contrast. The people recognition feature worked about as well as Picasa, though I preferred PSE9’s because I could name the faces quicker and easier in PSE9 than Picasa. Some photos were completely ignored though, even if they had clear, unobstructed faces in them. Interestingly, Picasa and PSE9 both missed the same photos.

Overall, I preferred working within PSE9’s organizer. Unfortunately, I won’t be giving up Picasa as my primary organizer because of a major issue I had importing my photos. For some unknown reason, the PSE9 organizer failed to import my photos. I selected a top level directory and told it to scan subfolders. After a few thousand photos, I got a message saying that the import failed and none of my photos showed up in the catalog. I resorted to importing individual folders and began to notice that it was hanging up on importing photos I had taken with an LG Dare phone, though it didn’t have any problems with photos taken with a Blackberry or Android phone. If it had been one or two photos, I would have been okay with omitting them from the catalog, but not ALL of them. Until I can figure out why those particular photos were rejected, I can’t stop using Picasa in favor of PSE9’s organizer, which is too bad because I would prefer to settle on one organizer so I don’t have to double up on tagging.

Photoshop Elements Fix Tab

Fix Tab

Fix Tab Within the organizer, there are a few options for fixes, though they are all auto fixes, except for the crop feature. I love the crop feature because you can free crop, or use one of the preset aspect ratios. For example, if you wanted to crop a photo using the 4×6 preset, PSE9 locks the ratio so you can’t use an odd ratio that won’t print on 4×6 paper. Most novices will be reasonably happy with the auto fixes available but for advanced users, you can also launch the full blown editor from the fix tab. A cool touch is the ability to also launch a different editor of your choosing.

 

Photoshop Elements Create Tab

Create Tab

Create Tab Within the create tab, you have the ability to create projects like photo prints, photo books, greeting cards, calendars, etc. It’s a neat touch to allow users to create the projects from within PSE9, then print them locally or use a vendor to have the project printed. The problem for me is the limited number of third-party vendors to choose from. If you happen to use Shutterfly or Kodak Gallery, I guess you’re okay, but I use Costco and they are not an option. Ideally, Adobe would make available every major photo site there is so that users have choices and can use their preferred print provider.

 

Photoshop Elements Share Tab

Share Tab

Share Tab The share tab allows you to upload photos, create discs, or email them. The built-in share sites include Flickr, Facebook, SmugMug, and Kodak Gallery. Some of the features are only available if you happen to also have Premiere Elements 9, which can be purchased separately or as part of a bundle with Photoshop Elements 9. Again, more choices for sharing sites would have been awesome, but Flickr and Facebook are probably two of the biggest photo sharing sites around so it’s a good start.

 

 

EDITOR

Photoshop Elements 9 Editor
When it comes down to it, the meat of Photoshop Elements 9 is the editor. If you just wanted the organizer, you really could just get by on cheaper or free alternatives, but what really sets PSE9 apart from the others is the editor. A really nice feature of the editor is that you can use it in three modes: Full, Quick, and Guided. The full editor provides full control over all the editing while the quick editor focuses on a few specific areas of editing –– lighting, color, balance, and sharpness. The guided editor is a very nice feature for inexperienced users. It basically guides you through the process of making all kinds of edits, enhancements and effects, while explaining each change in detail. It is so useful for learning that I’d recommend everyone but the most experienced users try the guided editor at least once to learn everything that’s possible with PSE9.

I can’t possibly go over every single effect, tool, and feature of the editor. I would however, like to show an example of one of my favorite tools –– the spot healing brush tool. Since most of my photos tend to be of people, the ability to touch up a person’s face (usually my own) is really cool. Hey, not everyone can look beautiful all the time, right? I still have an occasional breakout now and then but with the spot healing brush tool, it’s like it was never there. You can take it a step further and use it to repair old damaged photos or even remove objects from a photo.

Spot Healing Repair BeforeSpot Healing Repair After

In the example above, you can see the dramatic improvement from the before photo (left) and the after photo (right).

San Francisco- beforeSan Francisco- after

The photo above was taken from the fire escape of my old apartment in San Francisco. You can see the large black cable/wire across the top that sort of ruined an otherwise nice photo of the San Francisco skyline. The spot healer did an amazing job removing it from the photo and the whole process took me less than a minute to complete! Blown up on a computer screen, you can tell where the cable was, but on a 4×6 print it’d be very hard to spot. The spot healing brush tool is one of many useful, interesting, and fun ways to edit your photos using Photoshop Elements 9. With this kind of creative control, you can snap your photos without worry because PSE9 can remove unwanted clutter, enhance lighting, add cool effects, and much more.

PERFORMANCE & STABILITY

My computer is no slouch, but it definitely can’t compete with computers you can buy off the shelves today. That said, I had no problems maneuvering around Photoshop Elements 9 and did not once experience a crash during my week or so of testing. Other than when running the auto analyzer and when PSE9 was busy building thumbnails from huge imports, I found it to be quite responsive.

My system:
Windows 7 64-bit
Intel Core 2 Duo E4500 (2.2GHz)
Nvidia GeForce 8600GT (256MB RAM)
4GB system RAM

MISCELLANEOUS

I am not a fan of launch screens. When you launch PSE9, you get a welcome screen that’s used to log in to your Adobe ID and or launch the Organizer or Editor. I prefer to have separate shortcuts for each than having to go through a two-step process for getting into whichever part of PSE9 I want to use. You can configure it to automatically launch the editor or organizer, but after it launches, you still have to close the welcome screen.

If you sign up for an Adobe ID, you get 2GB of free storage at Photoshop.com and access to basic tutorials. That’s twice the storage of Google’s Picasaweb. For an additional $49.99/year, you can upgrade the free account to a “Plus” account that allows for 20GB of storage and more tutorials as well as access to more backgrounds, frames, and artwork for projects.

For more help on using PSE9, go check out The Missing Manual series from O’Reilly.

CONCLUSION

Photoshop Elements 9 is a fantastic photo editing tool for enthusiasts. The organizer in PSE9 could still use a couple of improvements, but mostly needs to stop being so finicky about importing photos. In all honesty though, even if Adobe removed the organizer altogether, the editor itself would be worth the asking price. With its solid performance and an array of powerful editing tools, it looks like Adobe’s Photoshop Elements is back on track as being the best photo editing program for enthusiasts, not just the best selling.

For a 30-day trial, go to http://www.adobe.com/go/tryphotoshop_elements.

Available from Amazon.com.

* Review license courtesy of Adobe Systems

Categories: Reviews Tags: , , ,

BlackRapid SnapR Bag/Strap

February 3rd, 2011 4 comments

5 Stars- techdad

BlackRapid SnapR Bag/Strap

If you haven’t heard of BlackRapid, it probably won’t be long before you start to hear about them more often. To great fanfare, they took the standard camera strap and ingeniously created an innovative camera “sling.” Until BlackRapid came along and introduced the R-strap, the only innovation in camera straps were related to padding and comfort. I see many DSLR owners out and about with their original OEM camera straps around their necks. To that, I say “ouch!” With a small but growing product line, BlackRapid decided to introduce a new solution for point & shoot cameras. Their hard work paid off with the new SnapR Bag/Strap. If you’re a Canon G-series or Nikon P7000 owner, you should keep reading.

PROS

  • Perfect fit for Canon G cameras (G9-G12) and Nikon P7000
  • Quality construction including zippers
  • Two side pockets for accessories
  • Unique, yet practical method for carrying your camera
  • Very easy to bring the camera up to shooting level from hip level
  • 3 ways to use the SnapR

CONS

  • Could use a small grab handle

SIZE & CONSTRUCTION
The first thing I noticed about the SnapR was the build quality. The quality materials were well put together and the zippers opened and closed smoothly. I’d dare say that the build quality surpasses that of Lowepro, who you might already know I’m a big fan of. The attention to detail was very refreshing. From the buckle covers to the expandable side pockets and the rubbery bottom, you can tell that someone at BlackRapid was paying very close attention. The SnapR is not a small bag. It’s not meant to be. The SnapR is an advanced bag/strap for your advanced point & shoot. So Canon G12 and Nikon P7000 owners, this is the bag you didn’t know you wanted, needed or even existed.  BlackRapid states that the SnapR fits cameras up to the following dimensions, 5.25″ x 3.25″ x 2″. The Canon G12 is 4.41″ x 3.00″ x 1.90″ while the Nikon P7000 is 4.5″ x 3.1″ x 1.8″.

BlackRapid SnapR Bag/Strap

USAGE
The SnapR in its basic form, is a camera bag with a removable shoulder strap. The strap has a thin but comfortable shoulder pad that is also removable. The strap has a non-slip side that keeps it from venturing off on its own. The opening where you place the camera inside is unique in that it’s actually on the small side (not the side with pockets) of the bag, not on the top. This works well in combination with the strap function of the SnapR.

In the strap configuration, you screw a stainless steel fastener to your camera via the tripod socket. The fastener is unique to the SnapR and is referred to as the FastenR-SnapR. Like their other fasteners, it has a loop that you thread a short male buckle strap to, which you then connect to a female buckle end that is attached to the long shoulder strap. In this configuration, you can let the camera hang down on your hip and when you need to take a photo, you can slide the camera up to your shooting level very quickly. The female buckle end on the main shoulder strap glides freely up and down the strap. This also has the advantage of securing your camera in case you drop your camera while handling it; it’ll just slide down the strap back down to your hip.

If you decide you just want to carry it in your hands, you can unbuckle your camera from the shoulder strap and attach it to the included wrist strap. When you’re done shooting, just unbuckle it again and store it inside the bag. Amazingly clever, don’t you think? If you want to put your camera down on a flat surface, give the FastenR-2 a few twists to remove it, otherwise you’ll have to lay your camera down on the LCD or lens.

The official SnapR video below requires a few seconds to buffer up before it starts.

MISC
The MSRP of the SnapR is $39.95, which is a very small price to pay to help protect and conveniently use your $400+ camera. The only thing I hope BlackRapid will consider adding in the future is a small grab handle at the top. When setting the bag down, I’m forced to either grab the entire bag by the sides or use the long shoulder strap. Neither of those are as convenient as having a small grab handle.  BlackRapid warranties their R-strap for 1 year and I assume it is the same with the SnapR.

CONCLUSION
If you own an advanced point & shoot camera, this is an amazingly functional bag/strap to pair it with. Even users with smaller cameras will likely find it useful. The build quality is top notch and bests even industry stalwarts like Lowepro. The BlackRapid SnapR is one of my favorite camera bags of all-time.

Available via 3rd party sellers on Amazon.com or directly from BlackRapid.com.

* Review sample courtesy of BlackRapid Inc.

Crumpler Industry Disgrace Camera Strap

January 24th, 2011 2 comments

5 Stars- techdad

Crumpler Industry Disgrace Camera Strap

Why review a camera strap? Don’t cameras come with a strap in the box? Yes, but there are two reasons to buy a replacement strap. One, the straps included with cameras are typically not that comfortable, especially if you have a heavier body and a big lens. They can truly become a pain in the neck. Second, the OEM straps have the manufacturer’s logo and sometimes the actual model of camera written all over it, drawing unnecessary attention to you and your expensive gear. Comfort, is definitely the better reason to pay for something you already got for free. The minor theft deterrence is just an added perk.

PROS

  • Added comfort will keep you focused on your subjects, not your neck pain
  • Secure loops will keep your camera off the pavement
  • Discreet appearance may deter the unscrupulous
  • Flexible neck pad stores well in camera bags

CONS

  • Initial sticker shock

I looked at all sorts of straps ranging from about $15 all the way up to over $50. I initially liked the idea of getting a strap with a quick-release system but too many of those straps had poor reviews from flawed quick-release buckles. Thoroughly frightened of dropping my camera onto concrete from failed buckles, I focused my search on standard strap systems, with comfort in mind. The search led me to Crumpler. The Crumpler Industry Disgrace stood out because of all the positive user reviews at multiple online stores. Once I received the strap, I understood why it was so universally acclaimed.

COMFORT
The Industry Disgrace is very comfortable. The part of the neck pad that touches the back of your neck is made of neoprene and is slightly stretchy. It’s not bungee stretchy, but has just enough give to relieve some of the stress from the weight of your camera. The parts of the neck pad that go around the side of your neck are made of an air mesh material that should prove beneficial in warmer temperatures. Other than that, there’s not much to the strap.

SECURITY
As previously mentioned, the strap loops that connect the Industry Disgrace to your camera are the standard fare. I originally threaded the loops normally but whenever I lifted the camera up to take photos, the 1-2 inch loose end of the strap threatened to poke my eyes out. I re-threaded the loops so that the loose ends were hidden inside of the looped strap instead and my eyes were relieved of the danger. Aesthetically, the Industry Disgrace is nondescript and the only way you can tell who makes it is the circular Crumpler logo on the side of the strap. The “Crumpler” name is also written on the inside of the neck pad but is hidden when you put it on.

Crumpler Industry Disgrace

MISC
An additional benefit of the Industry Disgrace is that the neck pad is flexible and folds into thirds so that it can be stored more easily in a variety of camera bags. It easily fit into my Timbuk2 Snoop Camera Messenger Bag.

CONCLUSION
For photographers who want to carry their cameras around their neck, the Crumpler Industry Disgrace is a great choice. The added comfort and discreet styling make it infinitely better than using the OEM straps that Canon, Nikon, Sony, and others include in the box. The $30 USD price tag will seem steep only until the first time you put it around your neck. From then on, you’ll only be thinking about your photo subjects, which is how it should be.

Available from Amazon.com and other retailers for $30 USD.

Categories: Reviews Tags: ,