How to pick the perfect camera for kids

As a parent, one of the most enjoyable aspects of photography for me is sharing my love of photo-taking with my two kids. My wife and I enjoy taking pictures of our two boys, looking through old family photos with them, and involving them as much as we can when we are using our cameras.

However, when our oldest was about five years old he started wanting to get in on the action as well, and that’s when we hit a bit of a road block. We wanted to get him and his younger brother a camera, but with so many options we didn’t even know where to start. Fortunately we found a solution that has worked wonders for us and could be great for you too.

The Options

When we started looking more seriously into cameras for our kids we realized we had several options, all of which we ended up discarding for the following reasons.

Let them use our cameras. As much as we wanted them to get a real hands-on experience with photography, the cameras and lenses we use for formal photo sessions are much too expensive to hand over to our little boys. When they’re older we will certainly let them use our camera gear, but not at such a young age.

Invest in rugged point-and-shoot cameras. Some cameras made by Olympus and Panasonic are designed to take a bit of punishment and seem ideal for kids, but we didn’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on a camera that our kids might enjoy for a few days and then put aside in lieu of something else. (As parents we have learned that our kids’ enjoyment of a particular toy or object is rarely correlated with the amount it costs, and just because something is expensive by no means ensures they will like it or use it more than once!)

I have no idea why, but my six-year-old is obsessed with taking pictures of ceiling fans. This has led to some good discussions about shutter speeds and also the effect of flash when freezing motion.

Purchase a kid-oriented camera. If you search online you can find dozens of kid-oriented cameras that have big buttons and bright colors, but all the ones I have used have been quite unimpressive. Tiny low-quality LCD screens, slow response times, horrible image quality, and awful sound effects all seem like they are designed specifically to suck the enjoyment out of photography altogether.

Let them use an old mobile phone camera. This seems to make a lot of sense given the prevalence of tablets, phones, and other devices with cameras and touch-screen technologies, but we ultimately decided against it. We didn’t want the hassle of dealing with internet restrictions and app downloading, especially when our kids are so young. In the future we might open this door, but for now we’re more comfortable giving our kids an actual camera instead of a device that has many functions, including a camera.

The more we looked at choices available to us the more we seemed to hit dead ends, until we came up with a solution that seemed to check many boxes all at once: we would buy each of our kids a used point-and-shoot camera.

Old point-and-shoots can’t match modern cameras, but they’re not too shabby either. And when a kid can snap a picture of a sunrise with their very own camera, it’s a fun moment to witness.

The solution

A used point-and-shoot camera hit every one of our criteria. And the more research we did, the more we realized that this plan had almost no drawbacks and a variety of benefits including…

Price. You can look on eBay or used gear sites like KEH.com for used point-and-shoots and find plenty of options for $25 to $50. That’s well within the range that we are comfortable spending on a toy, and if our kids lose interest or break their cameras accidentally, we haven’t lost a lot of money.

Selection. The sky really is the limit when it comes to selecting a used point-and-shoot, and no matter your budget you can probably find one that suits your needs – especially if the goal is to give it to a child. As a starting point search for “Powershot”, “Coolpix”, or “Cyber-Shot” and sort by price to see plenty of low-cost point-and-shoot options.

A quick eBay search for Canon PowerShot digital cameras between $25 and $50 turns up dozens of results.

Features. I owned a few small pocket cameras way back in college and over the years I had forgotten how many features these old things had! Most of the ones we looked at included things like optical viewfinders, video recording, optical zoom lenses, self-timers, limited manual controls, white balance options, various metering modes, macro/portrait modes, custom scene settings, and instagram-style filters. Some of these require digging through menus, but it’s all there for children to explore and figure out, which is part of the fun of photography in the first place.

Image quality. Can a decade-old point-and-shoot match the quality and megapixels of a modern DSLR or smartphone? Of course not. Most of the cameras you are likely to find will be in the 3-megapixel range, which pales in comparison to any modern camera. And good luck taking pictures at high ISO values. But the point is to use this as a way to get kids interested in photography, and no child I know is going to balk at having only 3 megapixel images. That’s plenty big enough to crop and print. (Remember, a 4×6 photo at 300dpi is only 2 megapixels.)

Image quality on a used point-and-shoot can’t rival a DSLR, but it can be easily and cheaply replaced if dropped in water when taking pictures of turtles. And that’s almost what happened when this photo was taken.

After all our investigating we ended up getting our boys each a Canon PowerShot DS450 Digital ELPH from eBay. We paid $27 for one and $29 for the other, including shipping. Our kids (age 6 and 3 when they received them) were so thrilled they could hardly put them down. They called them their “Professional Cameras” and quickly started taking pictures, experimenting with different options, and figuring things out in the menu screens while teaching each other what they had learned.

Over time our kids have learned a lot more about photography and how to use their cameras to get the images they want. And they really enjoy experimenting with the self timer and taking short videos too. We made albums for each of them within our Apple Photos app. Over the past year they have built their libraries up with thousands of pictures which they like looking through and sharing with others.

This picture of grandma and grandpa’s dog isn’t going to win any awards, but my son had fun taking it and it helps him remember this visit.

At times their interest has waxed and waned, and sometimes a month will go by without them picking up their cameras. But that’s how kids are with most toys, and I don’t think the situation would be any different had we spent $200 on a brand-new kid-friendly point-and-shoot. The situation isn’t all sunshine and roses though, and there have been some drawbacks and risks that any parent would need to take into account when buying a used camera.

The risks

Purchasing anything used, whether it’s a camera or a car, carries with it its own set of risks and parents should be aware of what they are getting into.

Gear condition. If you get a new camera, whether it’s a brightly-colored toy camera or an advanced drop-resistant point-and-shoot, you can be fairly certain that the product you pay for is the same as the product you receive. It will also likely come with a warranty, but neither of these is the case with used cameras. Reputable sites like KEH, B&H, and Adorama rate their items with a scale that gives you a pretty good expectation of their condition, but what you get in the mail might have scratches, dents, or other defects you might not expect.

Both of the cameras we got on eBay had dings and dents, but my kids didn’t mind at all and I would suspect most kids (especially very young ones) wouldn’t even notice.

Beware of auction sites. If you have never used eBay or other auction sites before, navigating their options can seem like a bit of a digital minefield. Look closely at seller ratings, return policies, and buyer-protection options before making a purchase. And if you come across a camera deal that seems too good to be true, it probably is. The same goes for cameras you might find on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the seller.

Accessories not included. Depending on where you get your camera it may or may not come with niceties like a wrist strap, a memory card, or even a charger or working battery. The cameras we got for our kids had batteries that barely held a charge, so we got a pair of third-party batteries for about $15. It wasn’t too big of a deal but it served as a good reminder of the difference between buying used vs. buying new. Things like this aren’t deal-breakers and your pocketbook will be still be much happier, even if you do have to buy some of these additional items.

On a recent trip to the local botanic gardens my kids finally got to be the ones taking pictures of daddy, not the other way around. Simple wrist straps definitely helped them keep track of their cameras in the process.

The lesson here is one that has rung true for ages, ever since humans began trading for goods and services: caveat emptor—let the buyer beware. If you do a little bit of research, ask questions, and trust your instincts you will probably end up with a perfectly good camera that will be great for kids.

It’s been well over a year since my wife and I got used point-and-shoot cameras for our boys, and despite a few hiccups, the experiment has been a resounding success. It has not ignited some latent passion for photography, but our boys have had fun experimenting and exploring and creating – and thus far they haven’t broken their cameras either.

My three-year-old took this with the pocket camera we bought him for under $30. I asked him why, and he told me he just liked the colors of the bike.

Meanwhile my wife and I rest easy knowing that they can’t access harmful internet sites or download strange apps onto their 2005-era digital cameras. And if our kids do end up breaking or damaging their point-and-shoots it will be a very cheap problem to solve. (As a bonus, if they do break their cameras we plan to use it as a financial lesson and make them save up for replacements.)

If you or someone you know has kids who are interested in photography, I highly recommend checking out the many used cameras available to you before shelling out hundreds of dollars on a brand-new model or buying a cheap kid-friendly camera with actual bells and whistles, but limited capacity for photography. The risk is fairly minimal, the results can be quite rewarding, and you might even find yourself renewing your own excitement for photography simply by helping teach the younger generation what makes the art form so special to you.

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How to Make a DIY Lens Hood to Eliminate Lens Flare

Not all lenses come with lens hoods, and that can mean you can suffer the effects of lens flare. This occurs when light is scattered across the glass elements of a lens, often caused by bright sunlight at a particular angle, and it produces coloured spots around your image. Lens hoods shade the lens, almost entirely stopping lens flare in the majority of situations.

Sometimes this can be used to creative effect, but for the majority of the time you’re going to want to get rid of it. Building your own DIY lens hood is a way around this problem, and this 2-minute tutorial from COOPH shows you how to do just that.

By recycling an old plastic bottle, whilst using some black spray paint, you can create your own “foldable” lens hood to work with whatever lens you need.

For more tips about handling lens flare, check out some of our tutorials:

The post How to Make a DIY Lens Hood to Eliminate Lens Flare appeared first on Digital Photography School.

5 Tips for Underwater Photography with a GoPro

Jumping from a cliff. Diving with whale sharks. Documenting a road trip. The compact, rugged technology of the GoPro has created incredible opportunities for capturing the action of events like these. And while the GoPro is known mostly for its video capabilities, improved senor technology means it’s also a camera capable of high-quality imagery that can withstand harsh conditions such as water and dust.

And being able to shoot in adverse conditions opens new opportunities for creative photography.

In the past few months I’ve been experimenting with a GoPro Hero5 to shoot underwater photography. Although shooting underwater is a new realm for me, I’ve found that by applying generic photography knowledge I’ve grown quickly and made the GoPro work for me.

I hope you can learn and adapt what I’ve learned for your own purposes with these five tips for underwater photography with a GoPro.

GoPro, Hero5, Underwater, Photography,Salmon, Alaska

I used a GoPro under water to capture the behavior of these breeding salmon in Alaska.

1. Know the Minimum Focus Distance

You may already know that the GoPro has a very wide field of view (FOV), which lets you frame a subject with the contextual scene around it. When searching for an image, focus on your desired foreground element and then get as close to it that foreground element as you ethically can. Place your camera close and take advantage of the GoPro’s 12-inch (~30cm) minimum focus distance. Placing the foreground element about 12 inches from the camera will emphasize it while still providing surrounding context.

GoPro, Hero5, Underwater, Photography, Hawaii, Coral

I kept the minimum focusing distance in mind for this coral. The image was taken from very close while snorkeling.

2. Pre-set your Camera Field of View

Following in line with the minimum focusing distance, be sure to pre-set the FOV for your GoPro before entering the water. Even though GoPros are waterproof, I use a third-party housing to further protect the camera. And if you use a housing you can’t engage the touch screen, so you need to set the FOV first.

If you can’t get close enough to your subject, set the field of view to “Narrow”. This will require you to aim your camera precisely, which can be difficult if snorkeling or swimming. Of course, you can keep an eye on the back screen to help you compose the shot.

GoPro, Hero5, Underwater, Photography, Hawaii, Triggerfish

I used a narrow field of view to capture this image of this large trigger fish in Hawaii.

3. Set Your Camera Defaults to Maintain Image Quality

Setting your default settings ahead of time will help you capture quality photographs. GoPros have pretty good image quality in well-lit conditions, but the image graininess (noise) will increase quickly as the camera adapts its ISO to low-light conditions. You can control the image quality by setting a maximum ISO setting. With your phone connected to your GoPro, go into your settings and change the maximum ISO to a value of 800 or less. While you’re there, you may want to set the default mode to “photo”. Doing this will ensure you can quickly take a photo if your GoPro shuts off while underwater and you need to turn it back on.

GoPro, Hero5, Underwater, Photography,

Underwater conditions can be very murky and may cause your camera to boost the ISO, which will result in greater image noise.

 

GoPro, Hero5, Underwater, Photography, Herring, Alaska

A slower shutter speed due to low light caused some of the darting herring in this image to blur.

4. Stabilize Your Camera

If the water is cloudy or the day isn’t sunny the camera will shoot at slower shutter speeds, which may result in blurry or non-sharp images. This will be particularly noticeable if you can’t keep the camera  stable. If you’re hand-holding the camera, keep it as stable as possible. You can also mount the GoPro to a tripod and place it in a suitable location. This is more useful when a phenomena or animal is predictable, such as salmon in a river. Just as it does on land, using a tripod will help stabilize the image.

GoPro, Hero5, Underwater, Photography,Salmon, Alaska

I captured this image from a tripod. This was necessary because this salmon was wary of any movement in the river that reminded it of a bear.

If you’re out of the water and photographing something near you (think of tide pools) you can keep the camera stable by mounting it on a extension pole. You can buy one, or even build one relatively easily. A long pole will help you photograph something far away, and if you have a long pole (say 12 feet) the top of it will help counterbalance the GoPro at the bottom. If you’re using the pole in shallow water try bracing it against the bottom for further stability.

GoPro, Hero5, Underwater, Tide Pool, Photography, Sponge, Orange, Alaska

I used a long pole and a GoPro to capture an image of this sponge during a low-tide cycle in Alaska. I braced the pole against the bottom to take this image.

 

GoPro, Hero5, Underwater, Photography, Tidepool, Tidal, Octopus

This image combines a couple of the concepts discussed in this article. I kept the camera on a pole and maintained the minimum focusing distance to capture the image of this octopus in a tide pool.

 

GoPro, Hero5, Underwater, Photography,

I used a pole and a GoPro to photograph these colorful tube worms and anemones under a dock.

Another camera setting useful for stability is the time lapse mode. Set the camera to time lapse (say, one shot every second) and start taking images. Compose your shot underwater, and then hold the camera in place while it takes pictures. Since you won’t have to fumble for the trigger button it will be easier to keep it still and ensure your images are sharp.

GoPro, Hero5, Underwater, Photography,

I used the time lapse mode to capture this school of fish in the clear waters of Hawaii.

In some situations you may be able to trigger the camera with your phone. The GoPro’s wifi network will cut out under deep water, but if the camera is on a tripod with only a small covering of water you can trigger the camera remotely from a distance. You’ll need to experiment with how much water is too much for the wifi network. Remotely triggering the camera may help you ethically and safely photograph wildlife.

GoPro, Hero5, Underwater, Photography, Bear, Brown Bear

I remotely triggered this image of a large coastal brown bear moving up a river in Alaska.

Although I don’t use underwater lighting, you can avoid blurring by using strobes or other versions of underwater lighting. These will help keep your shutter speed up and your ISO low. But use them with discretion depending on your subject. In some circumstances they may be detrimental to wildlife.

5. Use a Housing for Split-Level Photography

Split-level imagery is a way to help give an image context and tell a story. To create the effect, use an underwater housing with a convex dome and then place the dome half-in and half-out of the water. By doing so you get to observe both the underwater world and the terrestrial world. I use a housing by GoPole to create split-level images capturing the streams and local salmon runs of Alaska. You can use this technique anywhere to create compelling images. You can create split-level images by hand-holding the camera or using a tripod as I mentioned earlier.

GoPro, Hero5, Underwater, Photography, Brown Bear, Coastal Brown Bear, Alaska

A GoPole dome housing was used to create this split-level image of a large coastal brown bear.

 

GoPro, Hero5, Underwater, Photography, Salmon, Alaska

The split-level shot helps tell the story of these spawning pink salmon under a large log in Alaska.

The Takeaway

I want to reiterate that I’m not an expert at underwater photography. But I’ve enjoyed extending my capabilities and skills to that realm. The GoPro is a fun way to learn underwater photography techniques without breaking the bank. And since GoPros are naturally waterproof, the likelihood of destroying gear is lowered substantially.

As I like to say, “pixels are cheap,” so I hope you make a lot of pixels while shooting photographs underwater with your GoPro.

The post 5 Tips for Underwater Photography with a GoPro appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Review: Peak Design Travel Backpack

Back in 2015, when my wife and I were looking for a bag she could carry her laptop and other work-related items in, we stumbled across a Kickstarter project for the Everyday Messenger from Peak Design. It wasn’t the cheapest option, but it looked like it would stand up to the wear and tear of daily use. And it looked like the company had put a lot of thought into making a solid bag that would meet her needs.

After a bit of research, and comparing it with other bags, we bought one. It was our first experience with Peak Design products. But it certainly wasn’t our last.

Photo of Peak Design's Travel Backpack

Photo courtesy of Peak Design

My wife, who is not a photographer, still uses it every day. In fact, we were so impressed with it that I bought their follow-up product – the Everyday Backpack – for myself.

I take it on my bicycle commute to work every day. I also use it to carry my camera gear when I shoot photos for clients. Its quality, usefulness, and thoughtful design touches are impressive, and illustrate how Peak Design made these products to suit photographers as well as everyday people.

When I found out Peak Design was expanding its offerings from everyday-style bags to a line of products that focus on travel, I was intrigued. The Messenger and Backpack bags have served my wife and I well over the years, and I was eager to see whether the Travel Backpack could live up to the legacy created by their other products.

Travel Backpack filled with camera gear.

The Travel Backpack isn’t specifically focused on photographers, but Peak Design has clearly kept photographers in mind with this bag.

Testing the Traveler

To thoroughly test the Travel Backpack I used it to carry everything I needed for a five-day, 1800-mile road trip up and down the midwest United States to see friends and family. I stuffed it to the brim with:

  • my camera
  • shorts, socks, shirts, and pants
  • my personal care items
  • a Nintendo 2DS XL
  • a host of chargers
  • an iPad for watching Netflix in hotel rooms.

It was tossed around in my car, loaded and unloaded multiple times, and hoisted up and down so many flights of stairs that I lost count.

It performed flawlessly.

I was immediately impressed at the level of design and consideration that went into the Travel Backpack. They’ve made dozens of tweaks and flourishes to every aspect of this bag that separate it from most run-of-the-mill carrying companions. It’s the attention to detail you’d expect with a bag of this caliber and price. The fabric is thick, the fasteners and clips are sturdy, and the zippers are easily accessible. It’s got pretty much everything I wanted in a travel container, as well as some things I didn’t even realize I was looking for.

Photo courtesy of Peak Design

When I returned my wife, who’d recently attended a work conference on the East Coast, said she wished she’d had the Travel Backpack instead of her usual carry-on suitcase. And I’d say the same would hold true for just about anyone. We have a nice set of luggage that works just fine, but having used the Travel Backpack I’d rather take it over our other travel gear.

Pockets, Pockets Everywhere

The Travel Backpack is big enough to hold everything from cameras and clothes to shoes and shower items, yet small enough to fit in an airplane carry-on cargo hold. Pockets abound in the Travel Backpack, with every nook, cranny, corner and flap having a cavity or pouch tucked away for all manner of trinkets, tchotchkes, memory cards and power cables.

The well-padded shoulder straps can be tucked away beneath thick flaps that snap shut with a satisfying magnetic click. When the bag is zipped up and read to be tossed into a trunk or overhead airplane bin, additional pockets on the sides let you get to your essentials at a moment’s notice.

Photo courtesy of Peak Design

Of course, all those extra are useless if you can’t get to them easily. Thankfully the Travel Backpack gives you plenty of ways to get to your cargo. The back of the unit (the part that you actually carry on your shoulders) unzips and folds back to reveal the entire contents of the pack, leaving nothing hidden or tucked away behind recessed side panels. In a nod to the Everyday Backpack, the sides unzip so can grab something quickly without having to open up the entire bag. And the front zipper lets you access a separate portion of the bag, which can be useful for stowing laptops, tablets, notebooks and other thin items.

One of the hallmarks of the Travel Backpack is how you can tweak and change it to suit your needs. Want more space? Gussets on the front unzip so you can stow significantly more cargo. Need less space? You can squeeze the bag down to a more manageable size by collapsing the top with two convenient snaps. Don’t need  the shoulder straps? Tuck them away behind the magnetic flaps to keep them out of your way.

A tall thin pocket runs from top to bottom on the inner back flap for stowing super thin items, with another pocket inside it. Or you can keep the pockets closed with the Velcro attachments and ignore them altogether.

Whatever you want to bring, there’s probably a pocket to hold it. Photo courtesy of Peak Design.

If you simply want a massive, cavernous, well-designed duffel bag, unzip the divider separating the small front portion from the spacious main portion to create a single massive chamber that can hold just about anything.

This illustrates the many ways the Travel Backpack would be great for just about anyone on the go.

Sweating the Details

Peak Design has incorporated a number of small details in this bag that make it ideal for travelers. Interlocking external zipper straps discourage unscrupulous tourists from swiping your gear. Attachment points on the inside give you convenient locations to strap down your items so they don’t move around. Handles on the top, bottom, sides and back let you carry the Travel Backpack in whatever way suits your needs. And the entire product is just the right size to fit neatly into an airplane overhead bin.

Photo courtesy of Peak Design

The all-round build quality is astounding, just as I’d expect after owning two other Peak Design bags for several years. And no, I’m not being paid to say this. I was a K-12 teacher for five years, and completely wore out several bags inthat time. Let’s just say I can tell a cheaply made bag when I see one, and the Travel Backpack is anything but.

The outer shell is made from thick Kodra fabric, which feels tough and sturdy while still having a degree of flexibility that lets the bag squish and stretch as needed. The main zipper is thick and chunky, and all zippers are hidden beneath long thin flaps that, presumably, providing a degree of weatherproofing and  a sense of security. A casual observer probably wouldn’t even see them.

Even though I wasn’t exactly gentle with the Travel Backpack on my road trip, five days isn’t nearly enough time to assess long-term durability. For that I look to my Everyday Backpack and Everyday Messenger which, after years of near-daily use, barely show any signs of wear and tear. I’d expect no less from the Travel Backpack. Admittedly some of the inner pouches and flaps don’t have the same degree of thickness, but it’s nothing I’m worried about. Peak Design products have a lifetime warranty, so if anything did fail it would be taken care of by the manufacturer. It’s nice to see a company willing to stand behind their products like this.

Photo courtesy of Peak Design

While the Travel Backpack itself is highly useful, customizable and durable, it really excels when paired with accessories such as the Tech Pouch, Wash Pouch, Camera Cube and Packing Cubes. These are optional, but highly recommended if you have specific use-case scenarios in mind, such as carrying cameras and lenses with your clothes and toothbrushes. These accessories are designed to fit inside the Travel Backpack and, in the case of the Camera Cube, include mounting points and special hardware to ensure minimal movement and shuffling around.

If you want to use the Travel Backpack for carrying camera gear, you will definitely want to get the optional Camera Cube. Photo courtesy of Peak Design

The Camera Cube is specifically designed to fit the needs of people who carry cameras and lenses. It comes in three sizes – small, medium and large – with each one using Velcro dividers to create spaces to hold your gear. While other bags use similar systems, the flex-fold dividers used by Peak Design can be folded and reconfigured to a greater degree than I’m used to seeing.

Apart from the Camera Cube, my favorite packing accessory was the Tech Pouch. It help every electronic item I brought with me (other than my iPad), and neatly stowed all my cables, chargers and game cartridges too. It stands upright when open, revealing the entire contents and giving you instant access to anything inside. The Wash Pouch is fine for holding toiletries for a single person, but if you’re traveling with a companion don’t expect everything to fit in a single pouch.

The Camera Cube is secured in place by sturdy anchors you can detach. But they’re a bit tricky to operate, and constantly inserting and removing the Camera Cube can be frustrating, especially if you have larger fingers.

More of a curiosity are the Packing Cubes, which hold clean and dirty clothes. They do a good job, but I’m not sure they’re worth the price when you can do essentially the same thing with a plastic bag. But to be fair, plastic bags aren’t made of lightweight breathable fabric, nor do they have zippers to close them up tight.

Travelers, Photographers, and Photographers Who Travel

At this point you might be asking what all of this has to do with photography. After all, Peak Design has been designing straps and clips and cases and bags for photographers since the company was founded.

But the Travel Backpack is unique in their lineup. While it’s certainly useful for photographers, particularly with the Camera Cube, it’s designed to fit the needs of anyone who finds themselves on the road and need a durable, versatile, customizable solution to carry their stuff.

The 45L Travel Backpack compared to my 35L Everyday Backpack, with a DSLR and 70-200 lens for scale.

If this sounds like you, and you regularly carry cameras, lenses, filters, spare batteries, small tripods and other items, you’ll be pleased with the Travel Backpack providing you also buy the Camera Cube. But if you need a bag specifically designed to carry camera gear to gigs, or just a versatile all-in-one carrying solution, the Travel Backpack may not be for you. For those situations you might want something smaller, such as the Everyday Backpack or another bag that isn’t quite so bulky.

And therein lies the rub. While the Travel Backpack is an outstanding product, it’s hard to unequivocally recommend this bag because its usefulness depends on your expectations and how you use its many features. If you’re frequently on the move and need to transport a lot of camera gear, clothes, electronics, or even everyday items then the Peak Design Travel Backpack will definitely suit your needs. It surpasses almost every other small suitcase, backpack and carry-on luggage – and then some. I can’t think of a scenario where the Travel Backpack wouldn’t be ideal if your goal  involves traveling.

Photo courtesy of Peak Design

As a daily multipurpose bag for schlepping cameras, lenses, lighting, clothes, documents, laptops or anything else of that nature, another product would more likely suit your needs. It’s sheer size precludes it from being a solid solution for students. And even though the top snaps to reduce its overall size, it’s still too big for photographers who need to transport a few cameras and lenses around town. But if you have a lot of camera gear the Travel Backpack, combined with a large-sized Camera Cube (which almost takes up the backpack’s entire available packing space), could be the solution you need.

Another issue is the price, and I’d be the first to admit the Travel Backpack isn’t the cheapest option on the market. The MSRP for the backpack alone is $300, and that doesn’t include any pouches, camera cubes or even a rain fly, all of which can drive up the cost significantly. If you’re used to carrying your clothes and camera items around in a $30 duffel bag, you might balk at the idea of spending ten times as much for something that, in some ways, isn’t much different.

Snaps at the top allow the bag to shrink in size, but it’s still pretty large and cumbersome for everyday usage.

But when you see how the Travel Backpack is so much more than a duffel bag, along with the quality of the materials, the care and attention to detail, and the way it’s designed specifically to meet the needs of busy people on the go, you might think twice. When I think about the ways my Everyday Backpack and my wife’s Everyday Messenger have come through for us over the years while showing hardly any signs of wear, and compare it to our many bags that have disintegrated, broken or fallen apart, the price of a Peak Design product starts to make more sense.

I’m a big fan of the Travel Backpack, and I hope you can see why. If you’re frequently on the road or in the air, this bag will suit your needs impeccably, especially when used in tandem with the Camera Cube, Tech Pouch, Wash Pouch and Packing Cubes. I have a closet full of duffels and suitcases to carry things on trips. But if I had to pick one bag for my travel needs, it would certainly be this one.

Durability: 5/5

Flexibility: 5/5

Cost: 4/5

Overall Rating: 5/5

 

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Review of the SKOUT Handsfree Camera Carrying System by Cotton Carrier

If you want an alternative to using the regular camera strap for hiking or walking around town type of activities, then this review is just the thing for you! Read on to find out about the SKOUT Handsfree Camera Carrying System and whether it will suit your needs.

Review of the SKOUT Handsfree Camera Carrying System

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to review the SKOUT handsfree camera carrying system by Cotton Carrier during a backcountry camping family trip in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park over a period of five days.

To say I was impressed with the performance and comfort of the SKOUT would really be an understatement. I was super impressed with the way Cotton Carrier’s handsfree system worked. It actually held up really well over 30 miles of hard terrain for the duration of the entire trip.

If you have ever been hiking in the mountains, especially the backcountry, you know that total weight and back comfort are very high on the list of priorities for any hiker. I have broken down my review of the Cotton Carrier in terms of the following factors.

Review of the SKOUT Handsfree Camera Carrying System

The first day of the hike was without the SKOUT carrier and just using the camera strap around my neck. I was uncomfortable and the strap was so annoying to hold especially after 2-3 hours of a tough incline hike.

Review of the SKOUT Handsfree Camera Carrying System

A much happier me with the SKOUT sling on a day hike. Being handsfree was the best part.

#1 – Ease of use

The SKOUT design is a one-size fit all solution for almost any camera and lens attachment. I used it with my Canon 5D MKIII and 16-35mm L lens as well as the 24-70mm L lens. The first setup with the 16-35mm lens was definitely lighter than with the 24-70mm lens. But with both lenses, the sling held up really well.

The side-strap provided the support needed and balanced the weight effectively. Since I was already carrying a heavy camping pack on both my shoulders, the side strap ensured the camera was well balanced on my back. I was really impressed with the SKOUT’s patented “Twist & Lock” mount that attaches and detaches the camera from the anodized aluminum hub with a simple twist.

I have to admit I was a little nervous the first few minutes after attaching the camera to the SKOUT, being completely handsfree. But my body and my back quickly adjusted to the freedom and I loved not having to constantly pull up the camera strap from my shoulders while walking and hiking in the rough terrain.

Hidden inside the system is an internal stash pocket that fits a phone or a few credit cards. There’s also a rain cover/ weather guard so the gear stays safe and dry in less than ideal environments. I actually ended up using this a couple of times during my hike when we got caught is a mild downpour in the moutnains.

#2 Comfort

Attaching the SKOUT was fairly simple. After wrapping it over one shoulder, there is a single strap that wraps around the torso and snaps into place on the front, securing the entire system. The shoulder strap is really padded well, so even heavier camera systems don’t put too much stress on the body.

Review of the SKOUT Handsfree Camera Carrying System

The bracket attaches right where you would attach your tripod insert.

Review of the SKOUT Handsfree Camera Carrying System

The bracket then connects to the sling body with a twist and turn and it is quite secure.

Review of the SKOUT Handsfree Camera Carrying System

The crossbody sling with the camera attached to it along with the rain cover.

The cotton fabric is very breathable. I was hiking for almost 5-6 hours every day on some pretty rough terrain. Yet the shoulder and body straps were soft and did not rub against my back. The padding on the shoulder straps is thick and really does support the camera weight across your shoulder nicely.

#3 Durability

Like I mentioned earlier, I used the SKOUT camera sling system over a span of 10 days in the mountains of Colorado. I used it on backcountry hiking days as well as day hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

After the first few minutes of figuring out how to attach the camera and secure the system in place, I really forgot it was even on my body. I absolutely enjoyed being handsfree and having the camera readily available to snap a photo when I saw a beautiful landscape or wildlife.

No more taking the camera out of the daypack and risking missing the moment. The straps, the clasp, and even the camera attachment held up really well to some rough use during my trip.

Here is a video of the SKOUT handsfree camera system in use during my trip.

Conclusion

All in all, I would definitely rate this product a 9/10 and highly recommend it for anyone looking to do photography on a trail or during a backcountry hiking/camping trip.

It is easy to use, comfortable to wear for extended periods of time and seems reliable even after some rough use in the outdoors.

The post Review of the SKOUT Handsfree Camera Carrying System by Cotton Carrier appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Review: Peak Design Everyday Backpack 20L

If you’re on the hunt for a stylish camera backpack, look no further than the Peak Design Everyday Backpack. Peak Design is well known for supplying photography accessories that not only look good but function extraordinarily well. The Everyday Backpack is no exception.

Despite being designed for photographers, the Everyday Backpack doesn’t look like a camera bag. This acts as both a deterrent to potential thieves, but also makes the backpack great for use even if you’re not intending to fill it with camera gear.

There are many reasons to use the Everyday Backpack, but unfortunately, it’s far from perfect. In fact, there are some quirks that could make an unideal bag for you. Read on for my take on what’s great about this bag, and what needs to be improved.

Peak Design Everyday Backpack Camera Laptop Bag - woman with backpack on

Why the Everyday Backpack?

First off, here’s how this backpack ended up in my camera bag collection. I’ve spent 7 years carrying my camera gear in a Think Tank Retrospective Messenger Bag and hauling a separate laptop bag. It was a lot to carry, and I wanted to consolidate my gear into a single bag. A backpack was key to balance weight, but most backpacks are too bulky.

Until recently, the InCase DSLR Pro Backpack had been my camera and laptop backpack of choice. It’s incredibly comfortable and spacious and was great when I was shooting primarily with Canon DSLRs. But when I switched to Sony mirrorless cameras, I wanted a smaller backpack. Enter Peak Design!

Here’s a quick video overview.

Pros

Stylish Design

True to its name, this backpack is full of stylish design touches that truly stand out. Composed of several different materials including leather handles, anodized aluminum clips, and weather-resistant fabric, there is lots of visual appeal to the Everyday Backpack.

During my one month of traveling with this backpack from California to Florida, I’ve had multiple people stop me on the street just to inquire about the bag.

Peak Design Everyday Backpack Camera Laptop Bag

Sturdy, weather-resistant material

The Everyday Backpack is composed mainly of a weatherproof nylon canvas shell. It’s a nicely textured fabric, and it’s available in four different colors (black, tan, ash and charcoal). The two zippered side pockets are also reinforced with weatherproofing material, preventing liquid from entering. As a result, this bag is reasonably weatherproof without having to put a protective coat on it.

Flexible dividers for safely stowing gear

Inside the backpack are three of Peak Design’s FlexFold Dividers. These unique dividers aren’t flimsy like the ones you find in most camera bags. Instead, the FlexFold dividers are quite rigid, giving you peace of mind that your gear is being protected and not rattling around when being transported. Best of all, these dividers can also fold down to secure your gear and give you an added layer of space for stowing extras such as a small monopod or tripod.

Peak Design Everyday Backpack Camera Laptop Bag

Side zippers for easy access to gear

Unlike conventional backpacks that only give you access from the top, the Everyday Backpack gives you three points of entry. You can access your stuff from the top via the MagLatch flap, or from the two zippered side flaps.

This helps you better organize your gear and find it without having to rummage through the entire bag.

Peak Design Everyday Backpack Camera Laptop Bag

Lots of pockets for stowing gear

Besides the main compartment, the Everyday Backpack has several extra internal spaces. Each side flap is lined with a spacious internal pocket for storing small accessories like batteries and memory cards. Within the MagLatch flap, there’s also a small magnetized pocket that’s the perfect size for sticking your keys or wallet (be careful you don’t demagnetize your bank cards though!) for quick access.

On the outside, there’s a separate laptop compartment and two expandable side pockets. Finally, the back panel slightly detaches to allow for the backpack to slide easily onto a luggage handle, but I like using this area to secure bulky items like a reflector.

Peak Design Everyday Backpack Camera Laptop Bag

Discrete carrying straps

Thankfully, the Everyday Backpack comes with straps to help you carry heavy loads or bulky items. Specifically, there is a chest strap, waist strap, and tripod straps. All the straps are quite thin and easily tuck into the bag’s external pockets when not in use.

In practice, the chest strap does come in handy, but the waist straps are too thin and not padded, making them uncomfortable. The tripod straps are quite sturdy and reliable, but I find very few instances when I want to add the weight of a bulky tripod to this bag. More on that below.

Peak Design Everyday Backpack Camera Laptop Bag

Zippered pocket inside the side panels, very handy for small items.

Cons

All in all, the Peak Design backpack looks great and functions really well. But there are some problems that arise mainly when the bag is packed to capacity.

No wiggle room for extra gear

If you’re like me, your camera bag is often stuffed to the seams with gear. Most camera bags are built with expandable sections so you can add a few extra items to your bag. This is not the case with the Peak Design bag. It’s designed to snugly hold a set amount of gear.

From then on, there’s really no room to throw in extras. This is due mainly to the fact that the bag’s material is really rigid, probably to add support and protection to your gear but at the expense of flexibility.

The backpack is really uncomfortable when too heavy

At the expense of looking pretty, the Everyday Backpack fails at one basic thing: making the back panel and backpack straps consistently comfortable. Both the back panel padding and straps are rigid and they cut into your back and shoulders when the bag is heavy.

This isn’t a problem if the bag isn’t weighed down with tons of gear. But it’s unwearable for long periods of time when filled with too much gear.

Compromise – use this backpack with a belt pack

Since the backpack is comfortable when not packed to the brim, my compromise has been to use the backpack in conjunction with the Think Tank waist pack. The belt pack is typically what I’ll wear during shoots anyway, so I stick my extra lenses and flash in the belt pack.

My camera body, laptop, and computer accessories go into the Peak Design bag. I simply carry them both to shoots. So far it’s been a much more comfortable way to carry my gear without feeling too bulky or weighed down.

Peak Design Everyday Backpack Camera Laptop Bag

Zippers tend to slide open if not secured

Another problem that results from the backpack being too full is that the side zippers tend to slide open. Luckily, Peak Design did supply a solution. All zippers are equipped with little black loops that can connect to each other and prevent accidental spills.

Peak Design Everyday Backpack Camera Laptop Bag

Not possible to lock or secure bag when not in use

One of the key points of the Everyday Backpack is the “revolutionary closure system” called the MagLatch. According to Peak Design, it is the only bag closure system that is “no-lock, one-handed, quiet, and secure.”

In practice, the MagLatch is a unique way to quickly access to the top section of the backpack. But the fact that the MagLatch doesn’t lock makes the bag questionably secure. I wouldn’t leave this bag unattended since there’s nothing to prevent a thief from reaching in.

Peak Design Everyday Backpack Camera Laptop Bag

Expensive

At $259.00 a pop, there’s no denying that this a pricey purchase. Compared to the myriad of comparable camera laptop backpacks out there, this backpack might seem too expensive. However, the Peak Design Everyday Backpack truly has a standout design and high-quality design touches that could justify the price.

In Conclusion

The Peak Design Everyday backpack is a truly stylish bag with some great features. I use the backpack often when carrying mirrorless camera gear around and absolutely love it. But if you plan to carry heavy camera gear or stuff this bag to capacity, consider another backpack such as the Incase DSLR Pro Pack for a more comfortable experience.

The post Review: Peak Design Everyday Backpack 20L appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Tips for Using Neutral Density Filters for Cityscape Photography at Blue Hour

Neutral density filters (ND filters) are essential tools when it comes to shooting cityscapes at blue hour. Even without an ND filter, you could shoot for a few seconds of exposure (using a small aperture like f/13) when the light falls towards the end of dusk.

But those opaque filters let you take even longer exposure photos (minutes, not just seconds), and create beautiful effects such as light trails, silky smooth water, rushing clouds, etc., by slowing down the shutter speed by a certain number of f-stops.

Singapore - Using Neutral Density Filters for Cityscape Photography at Blue Hour

This Marina Bay (Singapore) photo was shot with a 2-second exposure (at f/13) without using any ND filter. The sky looks good, but the water isn’t smoothed out at all, as that exposure is way too short to create silky smooth water effect that is seen in the photos to follow.

How ND Filters Make Your Exposure Longer

ND filters come in different strengths, some popular ones are 3-stop, 6-stop and 10-stop. The bigger the number, the darker the filter (i.e. the less light that is let through) and the longer the exposure will be.

For example, a base shutter speed of one second (i.e. when no filter is attached) can be extended to as long as 1024 seconds (over 17 minutes) with 10-stop ND filter attached, as each “stop” doubles the exposure time:

 

1 second > 2 seconds [1 stop] > 4 seconds [2 stops] > 8 seconds [3 stops] > 15 seconds [4 stops] > 30 seconds [5 stops] > 64 seconds [6 stops] > 128 seconds [7 stops] > 256 seconds [8 stops] > 512 seconds [9 stops] > 1024 seconds [10 stops]

 

It’s easy to calculate when a base shutter speed is a simple number like one second, but what about starting with, say, 1/15th of a second? This is where the Long Exposure Calculator app (for iOS) comes in handy and makes your life easier, as it automatically calculates a required shutter speed for you (look for an Android equivalent here).

ND filter and app - Using Neutral Density Filters for Cityscape Photography at Blue Hour

Neutral density (ND) filter (left) and Long Exposure Calculator app (right).

Using Different Strengths of ND Filters for Your Desired Effect

In this article, we’ll take a little deeper look at when to use which ND filter for your desired effect at blue hour.

3-Stop ND Filter

I don’t use 3-stop ND filter when taking cityscapes at a waterfront, as the strength is too mild to create a silky smooth water effect. Hence, my use of 3-stop ND filter is limited for scenes that have no water to be smoothed out, such as the photo below with light trails of moving cars, which doesn’t require a very long shutter speed.

Shanghai skyline - Using Neutral Density Filters for Cityscape Photography at Blue Hour

Shanghai skyline (China) shot with a 25-second exposure (f/8) using a B+W 3-Stop ND Filter (77mm). The base shutter speed was 3 seconds, ISO 100.

Singapore - Using Neutral Density Filters for Cityscape Photography at Blue Hour

Singapore skyline shot with a 10-second exposure (f/13) using the same 3 -stop ND filter. The base shutter speed was 1.3 seconds, ISO 100.

This mild strength 3-stop ND filter (i.e. not so long exposure) isn’t all bad, though. It allows you to take a number of photos during blue hour, unlike more dense filters like a 6-stop ND filter where you can take no more than a few photos due to a longer exposure time required per photo.

6-Stop ND Filter

I almost exclusively use a 6-stop ND filter when shooting cityscapes at a waterfront. To create silky smooth water effects, slowing down 3 stops isn’t quite enough, but a 10-stop one is way too strong. For example, a base shutter speed of 2 seconds (i.e. with no filter attached) gets extended to 15 seconds (with 3-stop ND filter), 128 seconds (with a 6-stop ND filter) and whopping 34 minutes and 8 seconds (with a 10-stop ND filter) respectively.

Shanghai - Using Neutral Density Filters for Cityscape Photography at Blue Hour

Shanghai skyline (China) shot with a 164-second exposure (f/11) using a B+W 6-Stop ND Filter (77mm) in order to achieve my desired effect of silky smooth water. Had I used a 3-stop ND filter, the water wouldn’t have been smoothed out this much (base shutter speed: 2.5 seconds, ISO 100).

Singapore - Using Neutral Density Filters for Cityscape Photography at Blue Hour

Marina Bay (Singapore) shot with a 163-second exposure (f/13) using the same 6-stop ND filter (base shutter speed: 2.5 seconds, ISO 100).

I typically aim to shoot with a base shutter speed of 2-3 seconds when using a 6-stop ND filter, which extends the exposure to 128 -192 seconds respectively. In order to create a silky smooth water effect, 2-3 minutes of exposure seems just right.

By the way, if you’re planning to buy only one filter for cityscape photography at blue hour, I’d recommend nothing but a 6-stop ND filter. I’ve probably photographed 90% of my cityscapes at blue hour using a 6-stop ND filter. It’s really a game changer if you are interested in doing this kind of photography.

10-Stop ND Filter

A 10-stop ND filter is a kind of special filter that lets you expose extremely long (longer than necessary in most cases!). Personally, I don’t really find 10-stop ND filter useful for shooting cityscapes at blue hour, as the exposure goes too long (even starting at a base shutter speed of 1/2 second gets extended to 8 and a half minutes), and digital noise caused by long exposure becomes too unbearable (even with in-camera long exposure noise reduction turned on).

So, this extreme filter’s use is rather limited to pre-dusk or even earlier in the day, not towards the end of dusk. In fact, one big advantage of a 10-stop ND filter is letting you take long exposure photos while the sky is still bright, which is something 3 and 6-stop ND filters aren’t up to the task of doing.

With a 10-stop ND filter, I usually aim to shoot with a base shutter speed of 1/4 or 1/3 second which is extended to 256 and 341 seconds respectively. I tend to avoid an exposure that exceeds 6-7 minutes, as long exposure noise starts to creep in.

Such a base shutter speed (1/4 or 1/3 second) can normally be achieved around sunset time or before, therefore you don’t really see deep bluish hue that’s typically seen at the prime time of the blue hour. Instead, your photo will have a surreal look that is very unique and distinctive to 10-stop ND filter.

Singapore - Using Neutral Density Filters for Cityscape Photography at Blue Hour

Singapore skyline shot with a 258-second exposure (f/8) using B+W 10 Stop ND Filter (77mm) with a base shutter speed of 1/4 second, ISO 100.

Singapore Using Neutral Density Filters for Cityscape Photography at Blue Hour

Singapore skyline shot with a 259-second exposure (f/7.1) using the same 10-stop ND filter (base shutter speed: 1/4 second, ISO 100).

Conclusion

I hope this post helps you get started with shooting cityscape photos at blue hour using neutral density filters. I’m sure that you’ll be hooked in no time and can no longer shoot cityscapes at blue hour without one!

If you have any questions or tips to share, feel free to do so in the comments below.

The post Tips for Using Neutral Density Filters for Cityscape Photography at Blue Hour appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Why Your Camera Gear Doesn’t Matter

graffiti wall - Why Your Camera Gear Doesn't Matter

Many discussions in online photography groups and discussions revolve around “What’s the best camera brand?” or “What is the best lens for x?” or “Thinking about upgrading, should I pick between camera x or camera y?” and so on.

It seems that a lot of people think that there is a Holy Grail of camera gear that will solve all their problems if only they can achieve it. However they fail to understand that it isn’t the gear that matters, it’s what you do with it that counts.

Why Your Camera Gear Doesn't Matter - pink flower

So many people praise Ansel Adams or Cartier-Bresson as peers of the craft, yet those photographers were dealing with old film cameras. The camera in your cell phone is more powerful and advanced in technology by light years in comparison.

If all the photographers in history were capable of making lasting impactful images with old film camera hardware and development techniques – if you have a modern camera (of whatever brand you choose) or even just your cell phone – what is your excuse?

old cabin b/w - Why Your Camera Gear Doesn't Matter

It isn’t about the gear. It has never been about the gear and as soon as you realize that, you will be free to create and shoot in a new and exciting way.

Why Your Camera Gear Doesn't Matter - still life image

Let’s Count the Ways That Gear Doesn’t Matter

  1. The camera doesn’t decide what brand or model you buy, or what lens you opt for. You do your own research (presumably), make your choices, place the order and pay the money. Or perhaps you were gifted with some gear or loaned it. Maybe you just have a phone with a camera. It doesn’t matter, they are all cameras with essentially the same capability to capture images.
  2. Your camera doesn’t haul itself out of bed early in the morning to get to the desired destination for a sunrise shot. It doesn’t drive for hours to get to a pretty lake, nor does it pack itself into a backpack and hike its way into the mountains to get the perfect shot – would be nice if it did though!
Why Your Camera Gear Doesn't Matter - ice and snow in the sun

This image was taken on a recent camera club trip in the mountains – roughly 4 hours drive from home. Lying full length on a snow bank to brace to get this shot, I chose to do it backlit for the desired creative outcome.

  1. The camera doesn’t decide what the composition will be, it doesn’t walk this way and that way, crouch down low, or climb up looking for a better vantage point.
  2. The camera doesn’t go without its daily latte for a year, while it saves up to go on holiday to an exotic destination so it can take lovely new photos while its there.
  3. Your camera doesn’t sit for hours on the side of a river, lake, or estuary waiting for the birds to come close enough to shoot.
  4. The lens doesn’t decide, “Hey I want to be the lens on your camera today, shoot with me all day”.

Why Your Camera Gear Doesn't Matter - rolling hills landscape

  1. Unless you are a complete beginner and shooting with everything on Auto, the camera doesn’t decide what settings it’s going to use. Nor does it decide when to click the shutter, when is exactly the right time to take the shot.
  2. The camera doesn’t say, “I don’t want to shoot macro today, instead let’s do architecture instead, I’m bored with flowers”.
  3. The camera doesn’t go, “I know it’s going to be cold and frosty tomorrow in the snow but it will be super pretty so let’s get up early to take photos before everyone walks all over it”.
Why Your Camera Gear Doesn't Matter - food photo setup

A behind the scenes shot of what it takes to stage a food photography shot – I haven’t even got the camera out yet.

There are so many decisions that you, the photographer make, that are essential to the image being created. But you could get the same shot with a Canon, or Nikon/Pentax/Sony or whatever brand you have.

For many of the shots that are taken, a recent cellphone has a pretty good camera in it and will do a good job too.

Why Your Camera Gear Doesn't Matter - flower abstract

Specifically mounted and lit against a black background, this was deliberately shot with selective focus and edited for a dark moody rich color tone.

What the Photographer Does Matters

  • You are the one saving up to go on the exciting holiday, deciding where to go, what time of year, what places to visit, what things you might want to see and photograph.
  • It’s you that decides how your image is going to be composed – portrait/landscape, close in or far away, what the subject is, what aperture or shutter speed to use for the desired creative outcome.
  • You choose your subject, you decide how the image is going to look, where you will shoot from, what height/angle, and what settings you will use.
  • You make the creative choices such as is it going to be macro, or shot with a very wide open aperture for a blurred background. Perhaps a long telephoto lens to separate the subject from the background. Maybe an ultrawide or fisheye lens for a different look, or even an old vintage lens with swirly bokeh.  You choose the gear and decide how you are going to use it at any given point in time.
  • It’s you that makes the sacrifice to get out of bed early in the morning for the sunrise shots.
  • You load up the gear, put on walking shoes, load up a drink bottle and head off into the unknown for an adventure and you earn your blisters and sore feet.
  • If you are a food photographer, you might spend hours baking in the kitchen to create tasty treats which you then spend ages styling and propping before you eventually shoot.
  • If you are a portrait photographer you might dabble in hair or makeup, and you absolutely need to have control of the light, shaping and modifying it to suit the desired outcome.
  • Maternity photographers probably have to do some hair/makeup/clothing as well as set design and lighting for newborn shots.
  • If you are a wedding photographer you probably have a bag full of tricks and emergency supplies to cope with any last minute drama or wardrobe failure, plus you have to wrangle all of the people on what is often a stressful day.
Why Your Camera Gear Doesn't Matter - frosty morning mountains

Minus 6C Hoar Frost – yeah it was pretty cold getting out of bed that morning but it was totally worth it.

There are so many creative choices that you can make – high key or low key, black and white or color, cool or warm tones, tight abstract or bigger picture, low to the ground or eye level, morning/daytime/evening light – but none of these references your gear at all. These are all things you may even decide before you even pick up the camera.

So much of what we do is visualizing the image in our heads, and putting in place the required circumstances or situations to make that image happen. You may have to save for a couple of years to afford the trip to Patagonia or Alaska. Perhaps you might chase storms for months before you get the absolute best cloud formation or lightning shot you were after.

You might get up night after night to capture an aurora or every morning for a month to get the stunning sunrise. Maybe you have to wait until the next breeding season to get the shot of the bird that only flies in once a year. Plus you have to stake out a nest, build a hide and keep it secret.

Why Your Camera Gear Doesn't Matter - cutlery still life

Sometimes Gear Does Matter

Yes, there are absolutely situations when having a specific piece of gear totally matters. It is difficult to take macro shots of things if you don’t have a macro lens, or extension tubes or similar options.

Having a longer lens makes those birding shots a lot easier as well, not only are birds skittish, they can fly away from you. Plus you should be a responsible environmentally aware photographer and stay out of their habitat and not scare them deliberately.

I don’t shoot astrophotography but am aware that there are recommended lens choices to get the best outcome for your night shots.

Sports, action, and wildlife photographers usually want a camera with a high burst rate for the action shots, fast focus action, and reasonably good high ISO for low light situations and a really long lens.

Wedding photographers need high-performance camera/lens options that are adaptable to a range of situations and can work in low light.

If you want to do soft flowing waterfalls and waves, neutral density filters, a tripod, and a remote shutter are usually requirements.

So yes, there will always be situations where you do need specialty gear, but the same rules apply. You still need to make all the creative choices and decisions. Adding that extra hardware choice into the mix just becomes part of it.

Why Your Camera Gear Doesn't Matter - flowing water frozen in the air

To get this shot I needed a 70-200mm lens mounted on a tripod and then I experimented with fast shutter speeds to get capture the motion in the water and the splashes.

Conclusion

Being there matters. Having the right light matters. Your subject choice matters. How you choose to frame up the composition matters. Your creative choices matter. Post-processing matters.

What gear you use to take the shot – doesn’t matter.

Any general camera gear can do the job for the vast majority of images taken. Does the brand matter? No.

Is it a cell phone? If you can take images you are happy with on a cell phone, then keep doing it.

Are there situations where specific lenses or gear makes a difference? Absolutely, and yes you probably will need to have what’s required to make those images.

But not everyone wants to do macro. Lots of people have no need for a tilt-shift lens for those architecture shots. 600mm lens that weighs several kilos? No thanks!

Street art in Melbourne, Australia. Some of these laneways are so hidden away only a local knows where to find them.

But even when you do get the specialty gear, there are usually multiple choices of options to purchase. But again, the brand doesn’t matter.

Even if you do have the top-end camera with the fanciest tripod, the longest lens with all the bells and whistles…unless YOU take it out and use it, it isn’t going off and having photography adventures on its own.

As the saying goes, “The best camera is the one you have with you” so work with what you have, learn to use it to the best of your ability. Experiment, be creative, try different things, push your boundaries and have fun.

My camera does landscape, nature, birds, macro, food, still life, fine art self-portraits, flowers, cats, long exposures, black and whites, high key, low key, sports, abstract, events and probably many other things I have yet to point it at.

What does matter is that you are out there, with whatever gear you have, and are using it.

Happy shooting!

The post Why Your Camera Gear Doesn’t Matter appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Light Review: The PiXAPRO CITI600 Portable Strobe (Godox Wistro AD600BM)

In this review, I’ll put the PiXAPRO CITI600 portable strobe (also called the Godox Wistro AD600BM) through the paces and give you my thoughts on it.

Despite the innovations to all manner of photography equipment, studio strobes haven’t changed much in the past few decades. Sure, a handful of features get added here and there every once in a while, but for the most part, you know exactly what you’re getting: a powerful light source with a very short duration that is plugged into an electrical outlet.

But this has changed in the past few years. Manufacturers have begun to incorporate features like batteries, TTL (through the lens metering) compatibility and high-speed sync into their strobes. These features make the humble studio strobe more useful and more versatile than ever.

Light Review: The PiXAPRO CITI600 Portable Strobe (Godox Wistro AD600BM)

The PiXAPRO CITI600 is the Godox Wistro AD600BM rebranded for the UK market.

The PiXAPRO CITI600 does all of these things. The CITI600 is a battery powered strobe whose features include high-speed sync and TTL metering (through the use of a separate camera mounted trigger).

Rebranded

Pixapro is Godox rebranded for the UK market. The CITI600 is the same product as the Godox Wistro AD600BM. The only difference is that the battery can be safely charged via a 220v power outlet.

High-Speed Sync

Light Review: The PiXAPRO CITI600 Portable Strobe (Godox Wistro AD600BM) - outdoor portrait

High-speed sync allows you to better control how your ambient and strobe lighting mix together.

If you own a speedlight, you are probably already familiar with high-speed sync (HSS). In short, HSS allows you to sync your flash with your camera at significantly faster shutter speeds than normal.

Doing so provides you with the means to overpower the sun on bright days, easing the effects of harsh lighting. It also allows you to darken backgrounds and use larger apertures to obtain a shallow depth of field in situations that you would normally be relegated to small apertures such as f/11 and f/16.

Because of the small size and limited power of speedlights, HSS has always been a bit of a specialist technique. However, put that functionality into a high powered strobe with a large modifier mounted to it and those limitations disappear. This opens up a world of new possibilities for you.

Battery Powered

outdoor portrait setup - Light Review: The PiXAPRO CITI600 Portable Strobe (Godox Wistro AD600BM)

No cords and no generators make the Citi600 as portable as possible. If you’re willing to carry it, you can have a high powered strobe wherever you want.

Even without HSS, it has always been possible to use studio strobes to great effect outdoors. The limitations, however, made it impossible for most photographers. Because strobes are electrically powered, to take them on location, you need external battery packs or generators.

Both of these things were/are expensive and difficult to lug around. With the inclusion of a high capacity battery in a strobe, these concerns disappear and your strobe can now go virtually anywhere a speedlight can.

TTL

Light Review: The PiXAPRO CITI600 Portable Strobe (Godox Wistro AD600BM)

TTL metering makes mixing ambient light and artificial life much, much easier.

Through the lens metering (TTL) allows your camera to take a meter reading and relay that information to your strobe, making it much easier to mix flash with ambient lighting. It’s not perfect and won’t likely ever be, but in a pinch, TTL metering can make getting a good exposure quick and easy.

For example, if you are on location and you know that you want a dark background with a well-exposed subject, you could set your camera’s exposure to underexpose the ambient by two stops and fire the strobe at whatever the meter is reading. Fine tuning the strobe’s exposure can be as simple as dialing in a few stops of exposure compensation on your trigger.

PiXAPRO CITI600 – Godox Wistro AD600BM

Light Review: The PiXAPRO CITI600 Portable Strobe (Godox Wistro AD600BM)

Combined, these three features take the already versatile studio strobe to a whole new plane of utility and the PiXAPRO CITI600 with the ST-IV trigger does a fantastic job of it. In the months that I’ve owned mine, I can attest that the HSS functionality works perfectly without flaw.

On top of that, there are a few other things worth discussing.

Specs

As you’d expect from a modern, feature-laden strobe, the spec sheet for the CITI600 (Godox Wistro AD600BM) is rather impressive. There’s no need to bore you with the full specs, but some notable highlights include:

  • A guide number (GN) of 87m @ ISO 100
  • A color temperature of 5600k
  • HSS up to 1/8000th of a second
  • 100m range with the ST-IV trigger

ST-IV Trigger

Light Review: The PiXAPRO CITI600 Portable Strobe (Godox Wistro AD600BM) - flash trigger

The ST-IV trigger gives you complete wireless control over the Citi600 from the top of your camera.

For the trigger, I opted for the hotshoe mounted ST-IV (Xpro-C for Canon as it is called in the USA – $69.00). This trigger offers access to the full functionality of the CITI600 in an extremely easy to use interface with an LED display.

Controls

Light Review: The PiXAPRO CITI600 Portable Strobe (Godox Wistro AD600BM)

All of the controls on the CIti600 are clearly marked and very user-friendly.

On both the PiXAPRO CITI600 (Godox Wistro AD600BM) and the ST-IV (Xpro) trigger, the controls are intuitive, clearly labeled and easy to use. Dialing in exposure compensation is simply a matter of turning the dial on either device. Most of the functionality can be accessed by a single button push.

It is also worth pointing out that while the controls are easy to use, all of the displays are clearly labeled and easy to read.

Battery Capacity

PiXAPRO claims that a single charge of the battery will provide 500 flashes at full power. I can’t confirm these exact numbers, but I’ve had the strobe out on a number of occasions where it was in use for several hours at a time. Never once did I have to turn the strobe to full power. The battery indicator never even got to halfway.

It may be possible to drain the battery in a full day, but every indication seems to suggest that this battery is not going to run out on you.

Supposing that you do somehow burn through the battery in a single session, Pixapro does sell spares and at $180.00. That is more than reasonable for the amount of power that they provide.

Duration

Light Review: The PiXAPRO CITI600 Portable Strobe (Godox Wistro AD600BM) - LED display

The display on the CITI600 is large and easy to read with all relevant information clearly represented.

This one’s a bit new to me, but it may be a useful feature for you. For whatever settings you have dialed in, the display on the CITI600 tells you exactly how fast the flash duration will be, up to 1/10,000th of a second.

Do you absolutely need to freeze the movement in your frame? Just choose a setting that will give you the desired flash duration and you should be good to go.

Mount

Coming from the Bowens system, all of my modifiers are S-mount. The fact that S-mount is an option on the CITI600 just makes life so much easier. If you’re unsure about it, there are tons of affordable modifiers available for the S-mount. You will never be lacking in choice should you buy into the S-mount system.

Modeling Light

The Citi600’s modeling light is a fairly powerful LED. This has several advantages.

The LED draws less power than your traditional modeling bulb, meaning that there is less strain on your battery. LEDs also do not get anywhere near as hot as tungsten bulbs. For your subjects, this means more comfort as they’re less likely to get too warm under the heat of the lights. It also means that certain modifiers and gels pose much less of a fire risk.

It is also entirely possible to light a scene with just the modeling light. You probably won’t want to do this for a portrait session, but for table top setups and the like, you can use the CITI600 as a continuous light and put even less strain on the battery.

I will add that using the modelling light on location during daylight hours will not usually work due to light levels.

Build Quality

Light Review: The PiXAPRO CITI600 Portable Strobe (Godox Wistro AD600BM) - lighting setup outdoors

The PiXAPRO CITI600 is well built and feels solid. Although it is significantly less expensive than similarly featured strobes from companies like Elinchrom, every aspect of the CITI600 feels like it is built to last.

Price Point

If you think all of this sounds great, than there is one surprise for you. The PiXAPRO CITI600 comes with a price tag of around $600.00 making it significantly cheaper than similar offerings from Elinchrom, Broncolor, or Profoto.

In Use

Light Review: The PiXAPRO CITI600 Portable Strobe (Godox Wistro AD600BM)

It can be awkward to carry the CITI600 with a large modifier about on location. But if you can be bothered, it is more than worth the effort.

Honestly, the PiXAPRO CITI600 works like a dream. I’ve had it out over the past few months as often as I can because it’s just so simple and fun to use. Sure, lugging it around on location with a five foot Octabox can be tricky, but the extra effort is beyond worth it.

Here are a few examples of images achieved with the PiXAPRO CITI600 (Godox Wistro AD600BM).

Light Review: The PiXAPRO CITI600 Portable Strobe (Godox Wistro AD600BM)

Light Review: The PiXAPRO CITI600 Portable Strobe (Godox Wistro AD600BM)

Light Review: The PiXAPRO CITI600 Portable Strobe (Godox Wistro AD600BM)

All in All

Since the demise of Bowens, I have been looking for a new system to eventually buy into. Without a doubt, that is going to be Pixapro/Godox.

The PiXAPRO CITI600 (Godox Wistro AD600BM) is as close to perfect as you can get from my perspective. This portable strobe is high in functionality and easy to use. That’s before you even consider the HSS, TTL and the fact that it is battery powered. Basically, it’s everything you could possibly want with a much lower price tag than you should reasonably expect.

The post Light Review: The PiXAPRO CITI600 Portable Strobe (Godox Wistro AD600BM) appeared first on Digital Photography School.

dPS Writer’s Favorite Lens: Why I Love My 35mm F1.4

I’ve used a multitude of different lenses over the years, but never one that I have loved using so much as my 35mm f1.4.

This lens fits with my style of photography. I like things fairly natural and unmanipulated. I love isolating my subject and enjoy being able to photograph in low light without a flash. Also, I prefer getting close to what I am photographing.

Buddha Face - dPS Writer’s Favorite Lens: Why I Love My 35mm F1.4

My 35mm lens gives me a slightly wider field of view than our typical visual attention. Our visual attention is around 55 °, not including peripheral vision, and the angle of view of a 35mm on a full frame camera body is 63 °.

At wide aperture settings, this lens charms me. In most lighting conditions I can achieve super sharp focus and beautiful bokeh in my backgrounds. I am not left shaking in my boots wondering if my shutter speed is too slow.

This is not a review. This is an article about why I love my 35mm f1.4 lens and how I make the most of it in everyday use.

Why I Bought a 35mm f1.4 Lens

Nikkormat FTN with 50mm lens - dPS Writer’s Favorite Lens: Why I Love My 35mm F1.4

My original Nikkomat FTN and 50mm f1.4 lens

My first camera, purchased second hand in 1983, was a Nikkormat FTN with a 50mm f1.4 lens. After using this lens for 28 years it was no longer consistently producing sharp photos. I think it was just worn out.

At the time I had the popular 24-70mm and 70-200mm f2.8 zooms but was not happy with either of them. They were big, heavy third party lenses that also did not always produce sharp images. For a number of reasons, I was gravitating back to using prime lenses. I’ve always had a collection of older primes and love them.

I became so familiar with my old 50mm. I loved the wide aperture but preferred a wider angle of view. After checking online for example photos produced by the 35mm f1.4 lens, I convinced myself it was worth the money. At US$1696 it is not cheap. But I figured that if I use it for 10 years it works out to less than 50 cents per day.

Versatility in Most Situations

Lotus Flowers - dPS Writer’s Favorite Lens: Why I Love My 35mm F1.4

Capturing a diverse range of images with a single lens is a common reason people often prefer zooms. But I find I can use my 35mm lens to photograph just about anything. It just suits my style. I am not a sports or bird photographer so much.

For travel, street, environmental portraits, and even more standard portraits, I am happy to use my 35mm. At times I’ll need a telephoto to get in closer so I switch to my 105mm or a longer lens.

During the photography workshops I teach, this is often the only lens I take with me now. I can use it to demonstrate and make examples of anything that I am teaching. For the subjects I like to photograph I most often use this lens.

The great photographer Robert Capa said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.”

I find the 35mm lens is the perfect focal length to get close enough.

Street and Travel Photography

Poi Sang Long Festival - dPS Writer’s Favorite Lens: Why I Love My 35mm F1.4

Whether you’re shooting wide, medium or close-up street compositions, the 35mm f1.4 can capture them all well.

Taking in the feeling of a market or parade with a wide photo is essential to have in a series of images. Often using a 24mm or wider lens can squeeze too much into one frame. Choosing a location far enough back from the scene to include a good amount of it works best with a 35mm.

Medium range compositions, where you photograph some of the environment and one main subject, are perfect for a 35mm lens. You can get in close and still easily show enough of the surroundings to keep your subject in context with your photo story.

I do like controlling how much or how little of the background is in focus in a medium range composition. I don’t always choose the widest aperture setting as too much detail from the story could be lost. Having the widest aperture of f1.4 gives me more flexibility in how far back I can get from my subject and still control the bokeh.

Macro photos are not possible with this lens, but I can get pretty close. The lens can focus down to about 30cm (1 foot). For including some detail in a photo series, this is often good enough. If I need a macro image I swap lenses for my 105mm or 55mm micro.

Malu young Thai girl - dPS Writer’s Favorite Lens: Why I Love My 35mm F1.4

Environmental Portraits

Portraiture which includes some of the surroundings, telling more of the story, is my favorite genre of photography. I love using my 35mm f1.4 lens for creating environmental portraits. Being able to get in close enough to my subject and still see sufficient background is vital.

Connecting with my subjects is also important to me. Often I will be chatting with them while I am photographing. Other times I will be silent, only communicating with a smile and some gesturing.

Photographing with my 35mm I can create more intimate portraits than when I am further back with my 105mm.

Silver Temple Artist - dPS Writer’s Favorite Lens: Why I Love My 35mm F1.4

I’ve photographed this guy working on his pressed metal art many times. He’s at the Silver Temple in Chiang Mai that we visit during one of our photography workshops. I know he is comfortable being photographed.

When he’s busy we don’t talk much, if at all. I can be close enough to him to exclude a lot of the clutter in the background and show just what he is working on. Then I can come in closer and capture a little more detail.

Silver Temple Artist close up - dPS Writer’s Favorite Lens: Why I Love My 35mm F1.4

Regular Portraits

Photographers often prefer a longer lens than a 35mm for making regular portraits. I do use my 105mm much of the time for photographing people in posed positions. However, I like to create a variety of styles during a portrait session and I find my 35mm lens provides pleasing alternatives.

With wider lenses, you start to see some distortion, which is not all that great for portraits. At 35mm there is no real noticeable distortion, but even still, I usually will not place my subject at the edge of the frame.

Working with a model and using a 35mm lens it is important to build a rapport with them first. You do not want them feeling uncomfortable with you being so close. Showing them a sample of the photos you are taking will often help them relax and build their confidence in what you are doing. This is especially so if the model is concerned that being so close to the camera may be distorting their features.

This young woman was very confident and experienced in being photographed. Still, she was a little wary of me being so close. I had started the session photographing with my 105mm lens. Once I changed to the 35mm I made sure to show her some of the pictures I was taking with it and she loved them.

Thai Dancer - dPS Writer’s Favorite Lens: Why I Love My 35mm F1.4

Architecture and Landscape Photography

It’s not at all uncommon to use a 35mm lens for landscapes or photographing buildings. There’s no huge advantage of having such a wide aperture for these subjects as I will typically want more rather than less in focus. At times I will focus on an element in the foreground and intentionally blur out most of the landscape in the background.

Lack of distortion makes the 35mm a good choice for architectural photography. Having a similar field of view to what we see naturally also helps structural photos look more natural.

Chedi Luang, Chiang Mai, Thailand - dPS Writer’s Favorite Lens: Why I Love My 35mm F1.4

Loving a Lens

I’ve gotten a huge amount of use out of my 35mm f1.4 lens. The experience of using it frequently and really enjoying it has helped me to get to know it well. Being so familiar with a lens means you can make more creative photos with it.

35mm f1.4 Lens well loved - dPS Writer’s Favorite Lens: Why I Love My 35mm F1.4

My 35mm f1.4 looking well loved.

I love this lens and I have a feeling for it. I know, often by instinct, how much my background will be blurred. With the 35mm, I can be close enough to my subject to comfortably communicate with them. Also, I am able to include or exclude as much or little background detail as I want.

Lens love is different than lens lust. You can lust after a new lens every day of the week. To build a loving relationship with a lens you must be committed to taking it out frequently and enjoying spending time with it.

Here’s a video with more about why I love my 35mm f1.4 lens. Do you have a favorite lens? Which one, and why?

The post dPS Writer’s Favorite Lens: Why I Love My 35mm F1.4 appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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