Review: DJI Mavic 2 Zoom

The post Review: DJI Mavic 2 Zoom appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Adam Welch.

Photography is an ever evolving medium. New gear, new technology and new ways of seeing the world make it an extremely exciting time to be a photographer right now.

Over the last year or so I’ve become more and more interested in aerial photography and getting new perspectives for my work. And wouldn’t you know it, DJI just released another brand new tool for aerial photography in August of 2018. So when I had the opportunity to test it out, I didn’t hesitate. I give you…

…wait for it…

…the DJI Mavic 2 Zoom.


Out of the box

Sleek, compact and understated; that’s how I would describe the appearance of the Mavic 2 Zoom. DJI has chosen a color scheme that should be familiar to those who have experienced the previous model upon which they have based the Mavic 2 Zoom upon – the Mavic Pro. The drone itself is dark gray with a silver belly and matching silver accents. You’ll notice that while the overall lines have been maintained, the Mavic 2 Zoom is a completely different animal when compared to its predecessor.




The gimbal cover of the Mavic 2 has also been updated to protect the camera during transport. While easy to remove, I have to admit reattaching the gimbal cover was slightly confusing the first time I attempted it. Luckily, DJI has included a quick diagram to help with this.


Who knows, maybe it was just me being clumsy? In any case, once you get the hang of the new gimbal cover, reattaching it becomes essentially like riding a bike.

The Mavic 2 Zoom has incorporated a set of legitimate landing and take-off lights to aid in low-light situations when the bottom-facing obstacle sensors may have difficulty discerning where the ground may be. Speaking of sensors, DJI has enhanced the Mavic 2 Zoom with Omnidirectional Obstacle Sensing technology (more on that later) for side, front and rear obstacle avoidance. These sensors are readily visible throughout the breadth of the aircraft yet somehow the body of the drone doesn’t appear overly cluttered.


The controller for the Mavic 2 Zoom has received a light makeover as well. I was happy to see the addition of the fantastic “stow and go” joysticks present on the Mavic AIR controller to this new iteration of Mavic controllers. When not in use, the joysticks can be packed away beneath the folding wings of the controller.

This makes stashing your controller in your bag much easier and less likely to snag or less ideally, break.


Shown with joysticks attached

Most of the contact surfaces are rubberized, and the controller feels great even when using a larger smartphone like my Samsung S8 Active.

Speaking of phones, an incredibly cool feature of the Mavic 2 Zoom controller is that it charges your phone should your phone’s battery level drop to below 40% during flight. How cool is that?

Thanks for having our backs, DJI.

With that said, you will almost certainly need to remove your phone case (should you have one) to make everything fit within the controller. Of course, you might not have to, but keep that in mind before you fly.

Another feature, albeit possibly not as overtly impressive for some as it was to me, is the addition of an integrated charging cable built right into the included battery charger.

This controller is also identical and interchangeable with the controller for the Mavic 2 Zoom

This enables the user to always have a way to charge their controllers should they misplace or not have another cable to charge the controller.

With the introductions complete, let’s get down to business and see how well the Mavic 2 Zoom performs in the air.

Flight performance

In comparison to the Mavic Pro, it’s safe to say that DJI has improved virtually every area of flight performance in the Mavic 2 Zoom. They have increased the maximum speed and the overall flight time and distance capability. Even though descent/ascent speeds have remained the same as the Mavic Pro (impressive in its own right), it’s easy to see that the Mavic 2 Zoom is very much an upgrade in terms of its ability to fly further faster and with more confidence.

  • Dimensions Folded: 214×91×84 mm (length×width×height)
  • Dimensions Unfolded: 322×242×84 mm (length×width×height) with 354mm at diagonal
  • Weight: 1.99 lbs(905g) with battery and propellers attached
  • Maximum flight time: 31 minutes at constant 15.5 mph(25 kph)
  • Maximum hover time: 29 minutes(no wind)
  • Operating temperatures: 14° F to 104° F(-10°C to 40°C)
  • Maximum speed: 44.7 mph(72 kph) (S-mode)
  • Maximum ascent speed: 5 m/s (S-mode), 4 m/s (P-mode)
  • Maximum descent speed: 3 m/s (S-mode), 3 m/s (P-mode)
  • Maximum altitude: 19,685ft above sea level (6000m)

The Mavic 2 Zoom is about 2g lighter in total weight but all other performance statistics regarding speed, dimensions and flight are precisely the same as the new DJI Mavic 2 Pro drone. In fact, it’s safe to say that the Mavic 2 Zoom and Mavic 2 Pro use the same drone body. The only difference being their respective camera systems.

Don’t believe me?

Here is the Mavic 2 and Mavic 2 Zoom side by side. If you can’t tell, why should I?


In flight, the Mavic 2 Zoom is nimble with great response time. The propellers have been redesigned to make them quieter when compared to the Mavic Pro. Unfortunately, this also means that the propellers are not interchangeable between the two aircraft. So, you won’t be able to buy a set of Mavic 2 props to quiet down your older Mavic. Sorry folks.

Acceleration is quite impressive, with stops being not overly abrupt. Of course, many of these observations depend on how you have the responsiveness of your controller configured. Speaking of that, DJI has placed the three main flight modes for the Mavic 2 Zoom on the right side of the controller. These modes are Tripod (T), Positioning (P) and Sport (S).


When in T-mode, the speed of the drone becomes greatly reduced as well as the acceleration and deceleration making it great for slow and controlled pans. Also, all of the Mavic 2 Zoom’s Omnidirectional Obstacle sensors are enabled.

P-mode could be called the “standard” flight mode. In P-mode, all of the Intelligent Flight modes are available.

Lastly, we have blazing-fast S-mode. In sport mode, all obstacle avoidance is disabled which means you’re entirely on your own. The fun part? The Mavic 2 Zoom can then hit a top speed of nearly 45mph (72.4kph). The Mavic 2 Zoom can also allow the pilot to select from pre-programmed intelligent flight modes which are great for obtaining footage that would otherwise be difficult for the average user.

Intelligent Flight Modes

  • ActiveTrack 2.0(with improved 3D subject tracking) Capable of identifying up to 16 subjects and track 1
  • Cinematic Mode (dampens the drone’s movements for increased stability) Softens the breaking period for increased video smoothness
  • Hyperlapse Moves the drone through out the acquisition of time lapses
  • QuickShots (outlined below)
  • Points Of Interest (POI 2.0) Allows the user to choose a subject and instruct the drone to keep it in frame based on a predetermined altitude and speed while circling
  • Waypoint Navigation The Mavic 2 Zoom will fly to a series of locations chosen on the map
  • Tap-to-Fly Select a map area and the drone will automatically fly to that spot

QuickShot Intelligent Flight Modes

  • Dolly Zoom An interesting cinematic zoom effect…Hitchcock style
  • Asteroid Essentially contorts your scene into spherical illusion
  • Boomerang The drone will fly in an ellipse around the subject and automatically start and stop filming in the same place
  • Rocket The Mavic 2 Zoom will take off vertically with the camera flowing your subject
  • Circle Enables the drone to fly in a circle around the subject at a predetermined altitude and distance
  • Dronie Pre-programmed upward flight with the drone moving backward all the while tracking the subject
  • Helix The drone will upward and away while maintaining view of your subject

Zoom Zoom

If you’re like me, then I figure you’re extremely interested in the camera of the Mavic 2 Zoom. After all, unless you just like flying a drone around the sky (which is fun too), the real reason you’re doing it all is to get awesome aerial photos and videos.

The elephant in the room is, of course, the zoom feature which is the Mavic 2 Zoom’s namesake. It has a 2x optical zoom plus an additional digital zoom capability (which DJI reports being lossless) when shooting video in FHD 1080p. DJI also reports the Mavic 2 Zoom to be capable of producing images with 13-stops of dynamic range. That’s impressive.

Here’s a rundown of the major camera features from the DJI website:

  • Sensor: 12MP 1/2.3″ CMOS
  • Focal Length: 35 mm equivalent of 24-48 mm
  • Maximum Aperture: f/2.8 (24 mm) – f/3.8 (48 mm)
  • Shutter Speed Range: 8–1/8000s
  • ISO Range: 100-3200 for video, 100-1600 (auto) 100-3200 (manual) for photo
  • Internal Memory Storage: 8GB
  • Image Formats: JPEG / DNG (RAW)
  • Video Formats: MP4 / MOV (MPEG-4 AVC/H.264, HEVC/H.265)
  • Video Resolution: 4K: 3840×2160 24/25/30p
    2.7K: 2688×1512 24/25/30/48/50/60p
    FHD: 1920×1080 24/25/30/48/50/60/120p

The camera of the Mavic 2 Zoom also incorporates some flashy new in-camera functionalities. It’s “Super Resolution” feature is incredibly interesting. It is essentially an onboard image stitching tool which can create images with a total resolution of approximately 48MP.

Not only that, but the Mavic 2 Zoom also sports DJI’s new “Hyperlight” mode for increasing image quality during extremely lowlight flights.

Here are a few test images made with the Mavic 2 Zoom.




To give a better understanding of what that 24-48mm focal length actually brings you in terms of zoom capability, here are two frames for comparison. The first shot at 24mm….


24mm at f/2.8

…and the second at 48mm


48mm at f/3.8

Why not two more? Each one is a 1-second exposure which speaks to the stabilization of that 3-axis gimbal.


24mm at f/2.8

Then zooming in to 48mm on that tower the distance.


48mm at f/3.8

I feel it’s worth mentioning that those last two nighttime images were made in a well-known and open area with the drone constantly in site. Be extremely cautious should you operate any aircraft in dark conditions.

Lastly, here is a quick bit of video footage shot using the Mavic 2 Zoom and a few of its features.

Final thoughts on the DJI Mavic 2 Zoom

The ability to zoom with the camera of the Mavic 2 Zoom adds in a new flavor of excitement to an already exciting drone. The aerobatics of the DJI’s latest entry to the Mavic lineup is impressive for any drone. Especially one marketed as a “consumer grade” aircraft.

With a camera capable of all sorts of high-end feats of imagery, it’s hard to draw the line between consumer and professional performance. From the Intelligent Flight features to the increased flight time and speed, refined obstacle avoidance system and compact form factor, the Mavic 2 Zoom is very much a welcome breath of fresh air to the aerial photography and videography community. Not only does it produce excellent still images and video, but the overall experience of operating this little aircraft is an absolutely enjoyable experience.

Have you used the Mavic 2 Zoom yet? Let us know in the comments how you like it and how it compares to any other drones you might have piloted.


review of the DJI Mavic 2 Zoom Drone

The post Review: DJI Mavic 2 Zoom appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Adam Welch.

Polarr Online Photo Editor Review

The post Polarr Online Photo Editor Review appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Glenn Harper.

It’s hard to evaluate photo-editing software without comparing it to Photoshop. You tend to have preconceptions about what it should be capable of and how it should behave – even how it should look. In terms of functionality, many programs will struggle to compete against Adobe. In this Polarr online photo editor review, you’ll find out what you can get for free. Or not much more than free.

Polarr image editor review

The colorful interface of Polarr. You can create specific effects under “Toning” by setting the hues of shadows and highlights.

Online photo editors work in your browser. They can be sophisticated, but the days of some of them (namely, flash-based programs) are numbered. Adobe will stop supporting flash in 2020, so anything that runs off it is likely to vanish or wither away.

Modern online editors are written in HTML5 code. They load quickly, but they also tend to be more basic than flash-based equivalents. Polarr is different. You can use Polarr online in a browser, or you can download it for offline use. There’s also an app for your phone.

Good first impressions

One of the best things about Polarr is its design. It doesn’t try to be Photoshop, and it’s intuitive to use. With filters on the left and most of the tonal and color tools on the right, there are shades of Lightroom about it, but it has a look of its own. You open Polarr, and you want to use it – or at least I did.

Polarr Image Editor review

A favorite Polarr feature of mine is its histogram. It’s neater than any other I’ve seen in online editors. It shows a colors histogram by default, which you can expand into separate RGB histograms. In the absence of a clipping display, it’s useful to see what your edits are doing to the image. You can drag the semi-opaque histogram wherever you want in the frame.

Not-so-good things about Polarr

Like most browser editors I know of, you can’t open hefty 16-bit files in Polarr. You’re limited to editing 8-bit JPEGs. This isn’t bad as long as the quality of the JPEG is high and it hasn’t been saved many times before. However, theoretically, you must submit to a lower-quality workflow.

A more limiting aspect of Polarr is that it exports everything in an sRGB color space. This might be a constraint of its coding, but it’s less than ideal if you want to print your files on an inkjet. For the web and online photo labs, it’s fine. In mitigation, it does embed a profile when saving, which some rival products neglect to do. You do know where you stand with it.

Who’s it for?

Polarr has one or two shortcomings, but it’s still a program with a lot of depth. Who would use it? Anyone looking for the following:

  • A free or cheap alternative to Photoshop and other costly pixel editors
  • Includes built-in special effects and retouching tools so you don’t have to learn complex editing methods or buy plug-ins
  • Auto image enhancer often a good quick fix for eye-catching web pictures
  • Intuitive to use, especially if you are familiar with sliders in other programs
  • No big downloads required and quick startup
  • Aesthetically pleasing user interface
  • Ideal for editing images for web or online labs
  • Backed up by an extensive library of online tutorials at Polarr Wiki
  • Option for more complex edits with the Pro version (subscription based, but low cost).
Polarr imaage editor review

The Polarr Wiki website has had a lot of work put into it and includes many written and video tutorials.

Editing with Polarr

Polarr is nice to look at – clean and colorful – but how is it in use? I set out to learn what it could do. If I couldn’t do things the same way I can in Photoshop, what workarounds could I find? Polarr is sophisticated, so I was confident I could perform the most basic processing tasks and more.

Auto Enhance

I never shy away from hitting “auto” or “auto enhance” buttons in editing programs, because sometimes they give you a better starting point. In Polarr, Auto Enhance is aggressive with the Dehaze slider, and that tends to block shadows. You can tweak the result, of course, with the shadows, blacks and contrast sliders for instance. Auto-enhance does work well with flat, hazy images and can create eye-catching results in a single click.

Ploarr image editor review

This was a flat-toned file that has been made quite dramatic by Polarr’s auto enhance feature. The shadows have started to clip, but not anywhere important in this case.

Color and Tone Adjustments in Polarr

Leaving the auto settings and moving onto manual adjustments, Polarr offers Lightroom-style color and tonal controls (the latter called “Light”). It has Temp and Tint sliders for white balance, but no auto-white-balance tool to outrank your eyesight. A Vibrance slider boosts color without clipping.

When adjusting tone, Polarr offers highlights, shadows, whites and blacks sliders, which you move to achieve a full tonal range while watching the histogram(s). This replace a levels adjustment. Whites and blacks adjust large areas on either side of mid-tones. Highlights and shadows adjust only the brightest or darkest parts of the image.

Polarr image editor review

Some basic editing in Polarr (original shown in inset – not part of software). Balancing the exposure a little, warming the color temp and adding some vibrance.

Again, the controls in Polarr are neatly laid out and colored according to their function. The controls haven’t been arbitrarily renamed, so you quickly know what things do if you’ve used other editors. Being mildly obsessive about detail, I miss the clipping display and being able to correct color by numbers (which is what auto-white-balance tools basically do). However, Polarr still has much to offer.

Polarr Curves

Polarr’s curves are modishly minimalistic, and they’re useful for some basic color correction. You have a composite RGB curve for adding contrast, and then there are the separate red, green, and blue (RGB) curves.

Polarr image editor review

Not the finished result, but you can see how the color neutralizes as the histograms align. The left-hand picture is typical of artificial lighting. A blue histogram leaning to the left indicates yellow.

Used in conjunction with the RGB histograms, you can use RGB curves to remove color casts. You do this by adjusting any necessary curves so that the histograms roughly align with each other.

You can place a point in the middle of the curve and pull it up or down, or for shadows and highlights, place a point in the bottom or top corner and pull it along the outer axis. Polarr gives you the input and output RGB values while you work.

Sharpening in Polarr

Sharpening always strikes me as a bit of a dark art in that; whatever method you use, there’ll always be experts out there espousing a better way. In Polarr, you get a clarity slider that sharpens mid-tones and generally adds punch to images (easy to overdo) and a very basic sharpening slider with no radius control. The sharpening might be smarter than I’m giving it credit for, but there aren’t numerous fancy ways to sharpen in Polarr. I’m doubtful that that matters.

Other features and effects

Other useful features I haven’t yet mentioned include an elegant crop tool, a spot-removal tool with heal and clone modes, and distortion correction. Spot removal was a bit frustrating at first with my laggy browser, but it works.

Polarr photo editor review

I made the inset darker so you can just about see the original dust spot, which has been cloned over by the right-hand circle.

Polarr also includes film filters, a text tool with various graphics, and a face retouch tool with skin smoothing for flattering portraits. Plus, you’ll find grain, diffuse, pixelate and fringing effects. You can also add frames to your pictures.

Polarr image editor review

One of Polarr’s film filters (M5) looks suspiciously like the teal-orange “movie” effect, which you either love or hate. Once I latched onto that, I started seeing it everywhere (Outlander, recently). Therapy is ongoing.

Pro Version

The Pro version of Polarr is subscription based, but it’s at a price you may not balk at. The Pro features are cleverly integrated into the free version, except you can’t save a photo that includes Pro edits. A pop-up appears asking if you want to upgrade or try the feature. What are the features?


The chief advantage of Polarr Pro is the inclusion of masks for localized adjustments. They include radial, gradient, color, brush, depth and luminance masking tools. These are all ways to select specific parts of the image for editing, and they work well.

Polarr image editor review

Masking a bronze equestrian statue for some localized editing. Overlapping edges can be tidied up later.

You can use the brush tool if you want to manually select an area for better control. This includes an optional “Edge Aware” aid that, if used carefully, helps avoid overlapping edges when you’re painting areas in for selection. Brush size, compare, hardness, flow, feathering, erase, view mask and invert options are also present with masks.

Polarr image editor review

In this picture, I’ve brought detail out in a near-silhouetted statue. Of course, I can alter shadows without masking, but other edits like clarity, contrast, exposure and saturation are usually universal.


Whether with a mask or separately, you have the option of inserting an overlay effect. That might be your own added background or one of the many included ones (e.g., clouds, sky, weather, backdrops). This is all good stuff for people that like to experiment and create digital composites. A choice of blending modes helps you achieve the effect you’re after.

Polarr image editor review

The sky in this photo was a little washed out, so I’ve dropped one of the more subtle Polarr skies in as an overlay.

Noise reduction

In Polarr, you can’t mask off sharpening in large single-tone areas. So, if your images are noisy and you think the noise will show in the final result, the Pro version offers color and luminance Denoise sliders. These are universal edits that don’t currently combine with masks.

Polarr image editor review

The denoise tool is part of the Polarr Pro offering. Here you can see a before and after with quite a lot of luminance noise reduction applied to the right.


Aside from the sRGB constraint and occasional lag (perhaps my sluggish PC), I enjoyed Polarr. The sRGB thing may be universal among browser editors, and if you think of Polarr as a way of prepping photos for online labs or the web, it’d be hard to beat. Polarr is uncommonly pretty, which seems superficial, but the attention paid to aesthetics invites use. I’d love to know what you think!

The post Polarr Online Photo Editor Review appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Glenn Harper.

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.


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.


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


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.

Review of the Westcott Eyelighter for Headshots and Portraits

The portrait and headshot industry in photography is likely the craft’s most popular niche. As such, it isn’t a stretch to say that there is a multitude of headshot and portrait photographers in every state and country. So, you need to find a way to stand out from the herd. The Westcott Eyelighter is one such way to differentiate from the masses, a unique reflector unlike any other I’ve seen before.

Review of the Westcott Eyelighter 2 - studio portrait of a model

What is the Westcott Eyelighter?

Much like the name implies, the Westcott Eyelighter is curved to mimic the shape of the human eye and illuminate the bottom part of the iris (something that many photographers tend to add in post-production). The eyes are the windows to the soul, and often the very first thing most viewers notice about an image. This highlight creates an eye-catching image (no pun intended).

As all working photographers understand, the more time you spend in front of a computer screen is less time out there shooting. So taking advantage of a tool that creates a commonly edited effect is grand. This product certainly diminishes the time spent at the computer.

portrait of a model in a black and white dress - Review of the Westcott Eyelighter for Headshots and Portraits

What’s in the box?

The Westcott Eyelighter kit features the reflector itself and a carrying case, with additional accessories sold separately. The physical makeup of the Eyelighter includes a durable aluminum frame and a highly-reflective silver surface. Tension rods are utilized to pull this material taut, maximizing the light cast on the subject.

I was quite impressed by the durability and quality of the Eyelighter’s build, this is not an addition that will snap or break easily.

Review of the Westcott Eyelighter for Headshots and Portraits - b/w of a model in the studio


Assembling the Westcott Eyelighter is not much of a task on paper, but can be a bit of a handful in practice. Myself, as a 5’ 5” 98lb female, did struggle to put the Eyelighter together with no help, but it is most certainly possible.

Westcott released a very helpful YouTube instructional video (see below) on how to properly assemble this reflector for those that don’t find the instruction manual helpful. The real difficulty comes from the tension rods as I found it requires quite a bit of strength to put together.

Had there been a second pair of hands to help, the assembly would have been more of a breeze (so photographers that have studio assistants, there won’t be much concern there). On average, after practicing the assembly process several times, it finally took me 10-15 minutes to put together.

Review of the Westcott Eyelighter for Headshots and Portraits

What’s included with the Westcott Eyelighter.

Transporting the Eyelighter and portability

The Eyelighter is a rather large piece of studio equipment and really is intended as a permanent addition to your studio. As I did not want to assemble and disassemble the kit every time, I wanted to test to see if I can transport the reflector in its fully assembled state.

From personal experience, I can attest that this product can fit into a car fully-assembled (minus the tripod). I drive an SUV, and I did not need to place the seats down to fit this reflector in horizontally across the backseat. Seats may need to be put down for smaller vehicles, but the height of the kit poses no issue fitting inside of a car.

The Eyelighter does come with a carry case and can be disassembled and assembled, but the assembly does take a bit of time. At least, for me it took a significant amount of time, so I would rather transport the reflector fully-assembled.

Review of the Westcott Eyelighter for Headshots and Portraits - studio setup showing it in use

Using the Westcott Eyelighter

Using the Eyelighter is rather simple and doesn’t require any advanced studio knowledge. Like any reflector, the Eyelighter works by bouncing light off of its reflective panel.

The Eyelighter is already tilted upon attachment to a tripod (which must be purchased separately). As such, all you need to do is take a large softbox (I personally use an octagonal one for this but a square or rectangular softbox is just as valid), place it directly above the Eyelighter, and aim downwards.

It may take a bit of maneuvering and brief trial-and-error test to find the correct placement of the reflector underneath your subject, but the general consensus is that it belongs below the chest area of your model. This piece of equipment will not affect your additional lighting setup, which allows you the freedom to light the rest of the subject in any which way.

Unique catchlights

Review of the Westcott Eyelighter for Headshots and Portraits - dramatic b/w portrait

The Eyelighter reflects light toward your subject, leaving a catchlight that follows the natural curve of the eye. If the silver reflector is too bright or causes too stark of a reflection, Westcott has a white sheet available for purchase that will cover that whole panel and soften the effect.

My favorite aspect of this is how seamless the catch light is, there are no odd or unflattering gaps. As well as this, it really does soften the light on the neck and chin. Paired with your other studio lighting kits, this is a must-have for anyone looking to add something fantastic to their collection.

That being said, it is important to keep in mind that due to the necessary position to create the effect, this reflector really is for portrait and headshot use only – you won’t be able to catch a whole body image with this.

Review of the Westcott Eyelighter for Headshots and Portraits - white panel



In conclusion, the Westcott Eyelighter is a fun, eye-catching, and simple to use reflector that can really help you stand out from the competition.

With a retail price of $299, this isn’t the absolute most expensive item in your photographic arsenal but can make a huge difference to your portraits and headshots.

The post Review of the Westcott Eyelighter for Headshots and Portraits appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Review of the Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 Art Lens

Every photographer’s kit needs to include both a wide and ultra-wide lens. These lenses provide the flexibility to shoot a variety of subjects such as portraits, landscapes, astrophotography, and food. Wide lenses provide a unique and fresh way to portray subjects and are a great way to shoot contextual scenes that emphasize foreground elements. New to the market in 2018 is the Sigma 14-24mm f2.8 DG Art Series Lens.

It provides a constant fast f/2.8 aperture and a zoom that transforms your field of view from wide (84.1 degrees) to ultra-wide (114.2 degrees).  I took this lens for a test-drive to give you a glimpse of its performance.

I will save my very positive overall numerical rating for the end. So let’s get into some of the nitty-gritty findings of this functional and flexible piece of glass.

Review of the Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 Art Lens

Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 DG Art lens on a Nikon D800.

First Impressions

There’s always a thrill the first time you unroll a lens from its packaging and lift it from the box. I immediately noticed the weight of the lens (officially ~40oz; 1,150g) giving it a quality feel. The metal construction of this lens is on display and the only plastic parts are the lens cover and lens hood.

I was struck by the large size of the lens – it is much larger than my Sigma 24mm f/1.4. However, this makes sense as the extra size is necessary to accommodate the zoom from 14-24 mm. Overall my first impressions on the look and feel of this lens were excellent.

Sigma 14-24, Nikon D800 - Review of the Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 Art Lens

I tested the Sigma 14-24mm f2.8 on a Nikon D800 and Nikon 810 body. It fit that body well and has a good feel on the full frame body.

Build Quality

Sigma did not cut any corners when constructing this lens. The all-metal build gives it a sturdy feel and results in the weight I eluded to in my first impressions.

The metal construction includes the rear mount to give the lens longevity and life. The zoom ring and focus ring are textured for a solid grip and operate very smoothly. I was happy to note that the construction of this lens is dust and splash resistant which are valuable traits to me as a landscape and nature photographer.

The lens cap has a snug fit and amply covers the aspherical lens.

Review of the Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 Art Lens

The outer element of the Sigma 14-24mm f2.8 lens has a aspherical, dome-shaped glass.

Review of the Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 Art Lens

The lens is large (5.3 inches long) and well built. Texturing on the focus and zoom rings provide a good grip.

Review of the Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 Art Lens - rear element

Metal mounts will provide longevity for this lens. A large rear element helps with light collection .

Image Quality

In the Lab

To conduct sharpness tests, I took the lens into a variety of conditions both indoors and outdoors.

Let’s first take a look at the results of a traditional test using the pages of a book to determine sharpness and chromatic aberration. For that test, I adjusted the camera to Aperture priority mode and adjusted the aperture throughout its range (f/2.8 – f/22). All images were shot with a tripod with the exact same lighting in a lightbox.

Individual results for each setting are available below showing a 1:1 ratio crop of the same numbers at the edge of the lens. I found the lens too soft when wide open at f/2.8. That is an expected result, but the softness was very noticeable. It was very sharp all the way to the edge of the image at f/8 and f/16. Sharpness declined at f/22. Image sharpness was maintained to the edge of the lens – impressive for an ultra-wide lens.

I found there to be a limited chromatic aberration that is easily correctable in Lightroom. Particularly in the corners of the image there was distortion at 14mm, but that is a common result in ultra-wide lenses.

Review of the Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 Art Lens

Here is a test of the lens for sharpness at f/2.8 at the edge of the image. You can see blurring along the edges of the numbers which is expected at the edge of an ultra-wide lens when shot wide open.

Review of the Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 Art Lens

The lens became much sharper at f/8. You can see clear, crisp lines out to the edge of the image.

Review of the Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 Art Lens

At f/16 I found this lens to be even sharper than f/8. Very crisp lines out to the edge of the image.

Review of the Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 Art Lens

At f/22 the lens lost some of its sharpness. This is not unexpected with a lens fully stopped down.

In the Field

Similar to the lab test results above, I cropped images at 1:1 taken in natural lighting conditions to look at the sharpness of this lens. The results showcase sharp images even when taking hand-held photographs.

In particular, you can see the lens is extremely sharp in the middle and how the stars become distorted at the edge of a crop after a long exposure.

Review of the Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 Art Lens

Stars shot with the Sigma 14-24mm. This is a crop at the edge of the lens and you can see due to the long exposure that some star trails are seen. This is due to the distortion that occurs to the image’s edge at 14mm

Review of the Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 Art Lens - sharpness test

This 1:1 crop is at the center of the lens and shows off how sharp this lens is in the middle.

Review of the Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 Art Lens - zoom showing image sharpness

This 1:1 crop of an eagle passing overhead shows good sharpness in the wing edges – even at the edge of the image.

Focus, Accuracy and Speed

As is my experience with other Sigma Art Series lenses, the autofocus is fast, accurate, and does not produce much (if any) noise. This lens integrates a hyper sonic motor (HSM) to pull off the noiseless focus.

A huge benefit of the lens is the small minimum focusing distance of 10 inches. That gives you, the photographer, unlimited options on what foreground element to leave in focus. In low-contrast situations such as a cloudy day the autofocus did not hunt for the subject, and focusing from 10 inches to infinity was very fast.

Shots from the Field

The images below are meant to show off the flexibility of this lens ranging from 14-24mm, the shallow depth of field you can achieve with an open aperture, and its usefulness for different subjects. I’ve featured some landscapes, people, and food that I was able to photograph.

Review of the Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 Art Lens - sun burst between wooden pier

I was really happy to have the maximum f/22 aperture to create brilliant starbursts. This is a nice creative technique for landscapes, and the ability to stop down to f/22 gives flexibility for shooting flowing water as well.

Review of the Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 Art Lens - sunset through a metal ring

The ultra-wide angle and close minimum focusing distance allow you to put foreground elements in perspective.

Review of the Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 Art Lens - b/w photo of a tree

This tree is nearly 50 feet (15m) tall and I needed a wide angle to capture the whole thing. The ultra-wide lens tilted the tree creating a slight distortion which is characteristic of ultra-wide lenses.

Review of the Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 Art Lens - logs near the water

Using the wide-angle to capture a whole scene along the beach. I took this image at 14mm and stopped down to give sharpness to the logs and distant mountains.

sunset over a hill and wooden walkway view - Review of the Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 Art Lens

A ship, sunset, eagle, and beach house captured in a single frame thanks to the wide-angle lens.

Review of the Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 Art Lens - low light photo at a dance

The wide aperture helped me shoot this shot in low light during a local dance.

Review of the Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 Art Lens - food photo

The minimum focusing distance is helpful for food photography and the shallow depth of field can draw your eye to foreground elements.

food shot with beer - Review of the Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 Art Lens

Increasing the f-stop can capture the depth of an entire scene. I found this useful in this food scene to emphasize the food and show off some Alaskan Brewery products, too.

Review of the Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 Art Lens - blue hour

This image was captured at 14mm. The next image was captured at 24mm with the camera mounted in the same position. These images give you insight into the field of view at a wide and ultra-wide focal length.

Review of the Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 Art Lens - blue hour 24mm

This image was captured at 24mm to compare to the 14mm image above.

Pros and Cons of the Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 Lens


  1. Close minimum focal distance – I found the 10″ focus distance to be very helpful in creating interesting landscapes and in scenes where a foreground element needed to be emphasized and placed in context with its surroundings.
  2. Fast and accurate autofocus – A solid autofocus system can be a photographer’s best friend!
  3. Flexibility – The 14-24mm zoom range gives you the flexibility to transition between a wide and ultra-wide lens. Effectively replacing two lenses is a huge benefit.


  1. Large size – I was pretty surprised at how big the lens is, and it’s worth noting that it will take up quite a bit of space in your kit as well. Fortunately, it can replace an ultrawide and wide lens perhaps saving you space in the longrun.
  2. Lack of sharpness at wide open apertures – The weakest part of this lens is the softness at open apertures. Fortunately, it is a very sharp lens when stopped down.
  3. Aspherical glass – As a landscape photographer I like to use neutral density filters and polarizers to make the most of a scene. The aspherical dome of glass requires carrying a separate filter set.

Final Rating and Product Value

Sigma 14-24m, Review

Overall Rating : 9 out of 10 – this lens provides some excellent features, great build, and overall quality. Sharpness in the center of the image is excellent and the edges maintain sharpness as well.

My main reason for pulling this lens down to a 9 is the size of it. Those looking for a concise and smaller kit may benefit from a prime ultra-wide to decrease the lens bulk in their kit.

The value of this lens on Sigma’s website is $1,199 USD (check here for pricing on Amazon). Although that figure seems a bit high, the build quality warrants the price. You also have peace of mind knowing that the lens is effectively replacing the value of two other lenses in your kit.

The post Review of the Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 Art Lens appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Review of the Lensbaby Burnside 35 Special Effects Lens

Review of the Lensbaby Burnside 35 Special Effects Lens

A Lensbaby lens is a dream come true for artistic, creative, and ground-breaking photographers. A company made famous by their innovative effect lenses and optics, Lensbaby has captivated the industry for nearly 14 years. This company’s newest pride and joy is the Lensbaby Burnside 35, an f/2.8 lens that is unlike any other in their arsenal.

Swirly Bokeh

The Burnside 35 features the iconic “swirly bokeh” that Lensbaby is famous for. This effect is seemingly influenced by the Petzval objective which causes a swirly bokeh and vignette, and it is created by pairing two doublet lenses with an aperture stop in between.

The first lens corrects spherical aberrations and the second lens corrects for astigmatism. However, the pairing creates the swirly distortion that we all love.

You can adjust the intensity of the swirly bokeh by changing the aperture: f/2.8 will be most intense, while something like an f/16 won’t have any swirl at all. The thing that I find most compelling about Lensbaby is the fact that all of the effects are in-camera/in-lens, hence saving you a lot of time on the editing front.

Review of the Lensbaby Burnside 35 Special Effects Lens

Built-in vignetting

I was very intrigued to stumble upon this lens, as it has a feature I have never before seen in any other – a built-in vignette slider. Instead of needing to darken the edges of your photograph in post-processing, you can do an in-camera effect and save yourself the editing trouble.

Review of the Lensbaby Burnside 35 Special Effects Lens

Review of the Lensbaby Burnside 35 Special Effects Lens

It’s a manual lens

That being said, much like other lenses in the Lensbaby collection, this one is fully manual. The aperture is adjusted by rotating the aperture cuff at the very back of the lens rather than in the camera as is common for other lenses. The vignette slider is located near the cuff on the opposite side of the lens.

When rotating either the vignette slider or the aperture ring, you can feel each stop as there feels to be a minor indent that pops into place – a welcome feeling when wanting to make quick adjustments without looking up from the lens.

Review of the Lensbaby Burnside 35 Special Effects Lens

The focus is also manual, which may cause a bit of a learning curve for photographers that rely heavily on autofocus. However, I found that it was rather easy to see when the focus was captured or not and I was able to become proficient in a matter of a half hour.

Keeping the fully manual aspect of the lens in mind, this may not be the right piece of equipment for fast-paced action shooting. That being said, the artistic look of Lensbaby Burnside 35 can even make out of focus images look intentionally fuzzy (although any stylistic choice should look intentional, not as a mistake).

Review of the Lensbaby Burnside 35 Special Effects Lens


The lens’s build feels incredibly sturdy (it’s made of metal) and it is visually striking. Though I’d consider the lens fairly light in comparison to other 35mm lenses, it is still a significant weight that adds to the impression of a very sturdy build.

The lens does not come with a case, and I’d highly recommend one. Despite a sturdy build, a good bump could crack something, and that’s not a risk worth taking.

The metal front lens cap is easy to slide on and off but holds very tight when it’s on; exactly how you’d want it to be. The rear mounting cap is equivalent to all the ones I’ve seen from other lenses. The box comes with a user guide with tips and tricks on how to get the most out of your lens, a welcome addition to any lens purchase.

Review of the Lensbaby Burnside 35 Special Effects Lens

The vignette slider in action

The vignette slider makes a significant, visual difference in the image. It’s great to be able to see right-off-the-bat how the image will look at the various vignette stops. As well, from a purely aesthetic perspective, it can be rather fun to watch the vignette open and close on the glass itself – it’s a bit like a reptilian creature blinking.

Do keep in mind that the frame will darken significantly when the vignette slider is set at its most closed point. As such, I actually found myself using the vignette slider almost like a neutral density filter to bring out the colors of a very bright sky.

The versatility of this lens is also notable enough to bring up. You are certainly not obligated to photograph at a low aperture number and a shallow depth of field, when bumping the aperture up to f/16, architectural photographs are exceptional at the 35mm focal length. Add the vignette slider and you have a dramatic image worthy of any gallery.

Review of the Lensbaby Burnside 35 Special Effects Lens

The vignette slider at the dark end of the scale.

Review of the Lensbaby Burnside 35 Special Effects Lens

Review of the Lensbaby Burnside 35 Special Effects Lens

Review of the Lensbaby Burnside 35 Special Effects Lens

The vignette slider at the light end of the scale.


This 35mm lens is nice and wide and can focus up to 6 inches away from the glass itself, excellent for macro photography. There isn’t much distortion on the subject that is in focus in the center, which is much appreciated.

Compatible with both full-frame cameras and crop sensors, I tested the Burnside 35 on my Canon 5D Mark IV (full-frame) and Canon 7D Mark II (crop sensor) to see how well it performed. I was brilliantly satisfied with its abilities for both, though it was clear to see that the full-frame yielded even more fantastic results than the crop sensor.

It’s worth mentioning that I was exceptionally pleased with how fluid the manual focus was as well as the vignette slider, both moved with ease and can be adjusted with just one or two fingers! This lens is exceptionally sharp when the focus is right, making sure that whatever you want to be the subject is very clear.

The equipment is small and easy to carry, another welcome sight in lenses.

Review of the Lensbaby Burnside 35 Special Effects Lens

At a retail price of $499.99 (available now), the Lensbaby Burnside 35 is worth every penny if I do say so myself. The Burnside 35 is available in the following mounts: Canon EF, Nikon F, Sony E, Sony Alpha A, Fuji X, Micro 4/3, Pentax K, and Samsung NX.

The post Review of the Lensbaby Burnside 35 Special Effects Lens appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Review – Shimoda Explore 40 Camera Adventure Bag

I love to hike. I love to head out into the backcountry, and I regularly take my camera gear with me. Funnily enough, my first article here on dPS discussed just this fact. So it seems rather fitting that I got to review the Shimoda Explore 40 Camera Adventure Bag.

The opportunity to review the bag was also timely because I’m currently in the market for a new backpack and had been looking at several brands before the arrival of this Shimoda pack.

Review - Shimoda Explore 40 Camera Adventure Bag

The view from my hike. I love this area of Ontario, Canada.

The Shimoda Explore 40 pack is designed to be used as a daypack. It’s not meant to be used for weeklong treks into the wilderness with your camera gear.

If you’re looking for a pack to suit those needs, Shimoda makes the Explore 60 which more resembles a trekking bag. It’s similar to my 55 L Vaude Bag but it’s designed to hold camera gear whereas my Vaude bag was designed solely to carry backpacking gear. That doesn’t mean I haven’t adapted the bag to carry my camera gear, but it’s nice to have something designed specifically for photographers.

Review - Shimoda Explore 40 Camera Adventure Bag

Here’s the complete Shimoda Explore 40 kit.

The Material

Review - Shimoda Explore 40 Camera Adventure Bag

Here’s a close up of the material. It’s smooth, not rough like my other bags.

The first thing I noticed about the pack was the material. It is distinctly different from the material of my other bags. I took the Shimoda Explore 40 out of the packaging and was surprised by the feel and texture. It’s a smoother surface that is deceptive at first.

I am used to a bag that has a sort of canvas type material that feels rough like an old tent. At first touch, I was a bit sceptical about the durability of this material. I needed time to get used to the differences. The material is, in fact, double-resin coated nylon. It does not feel like the material of my Vaude hiking pack or my Lowepro Backpack.

I tested it in my kitchen sink. The water easily beaded on the material and rolled off without soaking through. The zippers are also water-resistant. The Explore 40 does not come with a rain cover, though. Most of the time you won’t need one but to be on the safe side, there’s plenty of room to pack a generic rain cover, just in case.

Review - Shimoda Explore 40 Camera Adventure Bag

Here’s a close-up of the zippers with leather pulls. You’ll notice they are heavy-duty, not likely to break.

The Structure

The Shimoda Explore 40 is very well constructed of a heavy-duty material and also comes with a reinforced frame. Shimoda has inserted aluminum rods into the frame of the pack to help it maintain its shape and durability. I like the structure of the bag and how truly sturdy it feels.

The Core Units

Review - Shimoda Explore 40 Camera Adventure Bag

I packed the core unit just to see how everything fit. Later, I changed the configuration for my hike as I didn’t take my extension tubes or the flash components.

The Shimoda Explore 40 is designed for lighter travel. It comes with two small core units as well as a medium sized one. The units are strong and durable. The dividers are easy to use and configure to the needs of your camera gear. I was able to remove pieces and reposition them quickly and easily without the Velcro becoming stuck to the sides and annoying me.

The camera gear is quite safe within the core units. They are designed to protect the gear and cushion items from the bumps and bangs that often occur when out on the trail. On my hike, I slipped down a rocky section of the trail and landed at the bottom of a steep hill. My gear was safe and secure within the core unit.

Review - Shimoda Explore 40 Camera Adventure Bag

This is the interior of the small core unit.

The two smaller core units come with a very basic strap that allows you to turn the unit into a shoulder bag for carrying around one or two lenses and a camera body. But the strap isn’t designed for all day walking through a city.

I could see the bag possibly digging into my shoulder if I were to use it to peruse a city with my camera for 8 hours. The unit is designed more for quick jaunts around the campsite or for short walks.

Review - Shimoda Explore 40 Camera Adventure Bag

The inserts are very sturdy and I found the tapered edges made it easier to configure the unit for my camera gear.

Storage within the Bag

Review - Shimoda Explore 40 Camera Adventure Bag

Here’s a shot of the front compartment. I stuffed a trail guide in here.

The Shimoda Explore 40 is designed to hold more than just camera gear. I was able to pack food items as well as a water bottle. If need be the Explore 40 is equipped to carry a water bladder and hose. For this trip, I chose to take a small mug and water purifying drops, so I didn’t test out the water bladder compartment.

The bag comes equipped with tons of pockets. I was able to store my lunch, extra socks, my phone, a map, a rain cover, mug, and extra mittens within the pack. There was certainly room for more gear inside the pack.

The outer straps allow you to attach items to the exterior of the pack. You could choose to carry a small tent at the bottom of the bag.

Review - Shimoda Explore 40 Camera Adventure Bag

The bag is pretty spacious when opened.

The bag also comes equipped with a sleeve in which you can fit a 13” laptop. The padding of the back panel would protect the laptop from any bumps or bangs that might cause possible damage to the gear.

The Shoulder Straps

The pack comes with several different adjustable should heights. I put the bag on the smallest setting. To give you an idea I am 165cm (5’5″) tall.

The pack fit nicely on my torso at the smallest setting. The hip belt rested just above my hip bones, and the adjustable straps allowed me to set the shoulders comfortably so that I felt no strain and carried the majority of the weight on my waist.

The last thing you want is a bag that places most of the stress on your shoulders, and by the end of the day, you’re regretting your decision to take your gear.

Review - Shimoda Explore 40 Camera Adventure Bag

There are four different settings for the height of the torso.

My one complaint about the strap configuration has to do with the chest strap. It comes across the front and helps to keep the shoulder straps in place. This takes some strain off the top of the shoulders.

The issue is pretty much based on anatomy. The bag is designed as a unisex item. It does not take into consideration the female chest. Many women’s bags are designed so that this strap sits above the bust. I was able to slide the strap up somewhat but not enough to keep it from resting on the bust.

It’s a minor complaint that only female photographers will struggle to overcome. Believe me, we are used to this. It would be nice one day for someone to take the risk and design a camera bag specifically for the shape of a woman (hint, hint, Shimoda).

Review - Shimoda Explore 40 Camera Adventure Bag

The bag sits comfortably on the body, even when you’re wearing a thick sweater.

Accessing Camera Gear

The Explore 40 comes equipped with both side and rear access to your camera gear. For my test hike, I used the medium core unit and tested out the rear access. It was easy to get to my camera and to switch lenses when needed.

The core unit easily held my 5D Mark III, a 70-200mm, a 16- 35mm and a 50mm prime lens. The side access works quite well also. At home, I inserted the small core unit and stuffed the bag with towels to hold it in place. It was easy to sling the bag sideways and remove my 70-200mm while it was attached to my camera body.

In Conclusion

Overall the bag is beautifully designed. I tested it on the Bruce Trail. It was a cold and rainy day. I completed a 15km hike over rough terrain. The design of the bag ensured it fit snuggly to my body. I didn’t ever feel burdened by the gear I was carrying.

The hard frame of the core unit did slightly dig into my lower back, but I was able to make a few adjustments to the straps and solved the issue. Over time I can see myself breaking some of the plastic clips, but this is pretty common in most bags. I have replaced the clips on my Vaude trekking bag on several occasions.

Review - Shimoda Explore 40 Camera Adventure Bag

At the start of the trail with the Shimoda Explore 40 pack.

I wouldn’t use the Shimoda Explore 40 for long overnight hikes. The shoulder straps are not designed to carry the weight of camera gear plus all of the items necessary for a backcountry trip. Shimoda recommends their Explore 60 for those types of activities.

After looking on their website I discovered that they also offer a carry-on unit for planes as well as several accessory packs that can help make packing your gear easier to manage. I’ll be honest, I’m considering the carry-on the unit. The core units fit into this bag, so it’s easy to transfer items from carry-on to your pack once you arrive at your destination. I like this feature an awful lot. It would have helped me out a great deal last year during my trips.

Review - Shimoda Explore 40 Camera Adventure Bag

The straps are comfortable and durable but definitely designed as a daypack. I’m told the Explore 60 has much heftier straps for longer hikes.

See the bag overview in this video:

Shimoda recently completely a Kickstarter campaign. Check them out and see what you think of their products.

The post Review – Shimoda Explore 40 Camera Adventure Bag by Erin Fitzgibbon appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Review of the Breakthrough Photography X4 CPL Circular Polarizing Filter

Make no mistake, this is, in fact, a review of the X4 Circular Polarizer from Breakthrough Photography. That being said, the entire subject requires a little bit of photographic geekiness in order to grasp the full understanding of the product being reviewed. So, if you absolutely don’t want to add any more brain wrinkles feel free to skip the next couple of paragraphs. If you do skip…shame on you.

Geeky stuff about polarizers

Polarizers – we’ve all heard of them and the majority of us photographers have used them extensively from one time or another. How do they work? And more importantly, how do you know when you’ve found a good one?

These are all great questions and oddly enough these things aren’t always well known by even some experienced shooters. Polarizers are just filters. These filters work to sift out polarized light which commonly occurs in our photographs from reflections and glare. The noticeable byproduct of this filtration is the reduction of said reflections and glare as well as the deepening of colors and most noticeably, the darkening of the sky.

Review of the Breakthrough Photography X4 CPL Circular Polarizing Filter

Polarizers come in two flavors: linear and circular. It’s somewhat of a weird concept as all polarizers are in fact linear…but not all linear polarizers are circular. That might sound slightly cryptic but that is not the intention.

At their most basic definition, the way polarizers work is to filter our non-linear rays of light. Circular polarizers further enhance this effect by adding what’s called a quarter-wave plate to the camera side of the linear polarizer. The quarter wave plate serves to essentially convert the incoming light into a helix and the polarization effect can then be dialed-in to whatever degree is needed. This is of great benefit because the majority of SLR and DSLR cameras are sensitive to polarization and linear polarized light can cause internal camera metering to malfunction.

The X4 CPL Circular Polarizing Filter

Now that you’ve had a crash course in how circular polarizers work, it’s time to talk about the X4 CPL Circular Polarizing Filter by Breakthrough Photography. This will be my fourth time evaluating filters by the folks at Breakthrough. With each piece of gear I have been consistently impressed with the build and optical quality to such an extent to where I find it difficult to list any faults. The X4 CPL is no different.

Breakthrough Photography currently markets this polarizer as being the “world’s most advanced circular polarizer” so I put the X4 CPL Circular Polarizing Filter to the test to see just how this claim holds up in real-world shooting.

Build Quality

The construction of theX4 CPL Circular Polarizing Filter is blackened brass, much like their line of X4 ND filters. The filter housing is robust and feels extremely sturdy. Deep traction grooves are cut around the bezel and provide for a solid grip even with gloved or wet hands.

Review of the Breakthrough Photography X4 CPL Circular Polarizing Filter

An interesting property of brass is that unlike other metals such as aluminum it is non-galling. This means that it is less likely to bind and become stuck when stacking multiple filters. The filter bezel turns quite smoothly when engaging or disengaging the polarization effect.

The optical element is made from SCHOTT Superwhite B270® optical glass. Each side of the glass is then treated with eight layers of Breakthrough Photography’s proprietary nanotec® and MRC (multi-resistant coatings) optical coatings which cause dirt and moisture to essentially slide right off of the glass itself.

X4 CPL Circular Polarizing Filter

Overall, the build quality of theX4 CPL Circular Polarizing Filter is exceptional and it looks great to boot. The company also backs the filter with a 25-year guarantee.

Optical Performance

Of course, the real question about the X4 CPL concerns its optical quality, which in turn will greatly impact the final quality of your finished photographs. When it comes to photography filters, the sharpness, vignetting, and color cast, are the three main points of interest for most photographers.

While it’s great to talk about all these points actual test images speak louder than words. So have a look at the sample images as you read my thoughts on the results and judge for yourself.


In terms of sharpness, the X4 CPL exceeds all expectations. No image degradation was observed even at the maximum strength filtration.

X4 CPL Circular Polarizing Filter

To left is the image without the X4 CPL applied. The image at the right is with the X4 CPL. Both zoomed to 1:1 for comparison.

Images remained crisp and detail was not lost due to the addition of the filter.

Color Cast and Vignetting

A common problem seen with polarizers and most filters, in general, is the unwanted color casting sometimes encountered. The color cast happens due to the coloration of the optical glass and often worsens in lower quality filter systems.

X4 CPL Circular Polarizing Filter

An image with a high color cast from an ND filter. Low-quality polarizers can carry the same effects.

The images produced by the X4 CPL seem to be completely free of this discoloration just as they are advertised. No discernible color cast was observed in any of the test images I made using the filter.

X4 CPL Circular Polarizing Filter

The same is true for vignetting. Darkening of the corners of the photos was not observed even at the strongest filtration setting.

X4 CPL Circular Polarizing Filter

Final Thoughts on the X4 CPL

There’s a certain feeling of uneasy optimism which begins to surface whenever I come across gear which does not seem to have any obvious weak points.”Have I missed something? Is this really that good?”

Having reviewed multiple pieces of kit from Breakthrough Photography I can say that they have consistently produced insanely high-quality photographic gear that is innovative, sturdy, and relatively cost-effective. I use quite a few of their filters in my own personal photography work and have put them into environments from Death Valley to the coast of the Atlantic Ocean and everywhere in between (or least it seems).

The X4 CPL has thus far given no reason for me to believe that its quality would not serve any serious photographer’s needs for years to come. The build quality is heavy-duty and the image quality, especially sharpness, is outstanding. It retails for $129-159 USD (depending on filter size) at the time of this review. Find out more details about the X4 CPL here, or shop Amazon for the size you need here.

Rating 5/5 stars – my first ever! 

The post Review of the Breakthrough Photography X4 CPL Circular Polarizing Filter by Adam Welch appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Review of K&F Concept KF-885 Speedlight

A few weeks back I received the K&F Concept KF-885 Speedlight to test out and review. Now before I get into the review for this flash, I have to say that I have been a Canon photographer ever since I started my business in 2010. Even before I was photographing for clients, I always gravitated towards Canon gear just because I have consistently had great results with this brand. My very first film camera Canon AE-1 is still in my gear bag and continues to give me stellar results!

I completely understand and acknowledge that branded gear does tend to be expensive and is not in everyone’s budget, especially for those just starting out on their photographic journey. Having said that, there are some great companies with comparable gear in terms of quality and performance. In fact, sometimes, the quality and results are even better than their branded counterparts. This just goes to show that the skill and experience of the user makes a good photograph and not necessarily the gear you use.

Review of K&F Concept KF-885 Speedlight

For this review, I used the K&F Concept KF-885 Speedlight on a couple of different assignments – for wedding reception photos and an outdoor portrait session. I have to say that I was very happy with the results from this flash.

I have used my Canon external flash for the past four years and found the K&F Concept flash very comparable to the Canon 600 EX-RT version in terms of performance, look, and feel. Definitely worth looking into if you are in the market for an external flash for your photography needs.

#1 – Specs, Look and Feel of the KF-885

the K&F Concept KF-885 Speedlight looks very similar to the Canon 600EX-RT external flash. In fact, when I compared the two side by side, they looked almost identical in terms of size, weight, and the accessories that were included in the package.

The KF-885 flash has a slightly bigger monitor display compared to the Canon but having used the Canon brand, I had no trouble figuring out the menu options. In fact, I almost felt that the K&F Concept flash menu options were simpler and easier to figure out. The flash also comes with a built-in reflect board and a built-in wide diffuser to enlarge the shooting range.

K&F Concept KF-885 Speedlight

The flash on the left is from K&C Concept and the flash on the right is from Canon. They both come with a flash case, a base stand, and a plain white diffuser cap.

K&F Concept KF-885 Speedlight

The flash on the left is from K&C Concept and the flash on the right is from Canon. As you can see, they are almost identical in size and weight.

K&F Concept KF-885 Speedlight

The flash on the left is from K&C Concept and the flash on the right is from Canon. The two flashes look almost identical to each other.

K&F Concept KF-885 Speedlight

The flash on the left is from K&C Concept and the flash on the right is from Canon. The cosmetic difference is in the shoe mount for the flash. The K&C Concept one has a circular dial to tighten the flash to the camera shoe mount whereas the Canon one has a lever that is moved from left to right to lock in the flash to the camera body.

#2 Display Screen and Menu Options

The K&F Concept KF-885 speedlight has similar menu options to the Canon external flash. The On/Off button turns the flash on and off. The Mode button is to select auto and manual controls, multi-modes, and wireless modes (master/slave mode operation).

The circular set of five buttons is used to adjust the power of the flash when used in manual mode. The flash head also has a vertical rotation angle of 7-90 degrees and horizontal rotation angle of 0-180 degrees.

K&F Concept KF-885 Speedlight

#3 Usage

Being used to my Canon 600 EX-RT flash in manual and ETTL mode, I was able to quickly adjust to the K&C Concept KF-885. I also used both flashes for a couple of photos by setting the Canon flash as the master and the K&C Concept flash as the slave. The two flashes communicated with each other and I was able to use setups of both on-camera and off-camera flashes seamlessly.

K&F Concept KF-885 Speedlight

An indoor wedding portrait session made easy with the K&C Concept KF-885 External Flash

K&F Concept KF-885 Speedlight

The K&C Concept Flash handled poorly lit wedding reception areas quite beautifully.

K&F Concept KF-885 Speedlight


Overall, I was very impressed with the K&F Concept KF-885 Speedlight. At a price point of $86, that is significantly less than its branded counterpart. This is a great option for someone who is looking to add an external flash to their gear kit but doesn’t want to spend a lot of money.

The post Review of K&F Concept KF-885 Speedlight by Karthika Gupta appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Image Editing Software Review: PortraitPro 15

mWhen it comes to portrait photography, there seem to be two predominant schools of thought. The first says that retouching is bad, that people should be presented as they are and retouching is a no-no. The second school of thought says that when people have their portrait taken, it should be an idealistic representation of the person, flattering the subject and minimizing any flaws.

The truth, however, probably lies somewhere in the middle. When people have their portrait taken, they want the photographer to make them look as good as possible. Most portraiture requires some level of retouching, and truth be told, retouching was in vogue long before the digital age. Digital photography, however, has brought with it some new tools. One of those tools is PortraitPro 15, from Anthropics Technology.

An example of a portrait retouched using PortraitPro 15

An example of a portrait retouched using PortraitPro 15.

Overview of PortraitPro 15

PortraitPro 15 is available as a standalone application, or as a plugin for Photoshop, Lightroom, or Aperture. There are three different versions available; Standard, Studio, and Studio Max. PortraitPro Standard is the standalone version, which also has a few other limitations. PortraitPro Studio and Studio Max can both be used as plugins, and they also offer a variety of other options including RAW file support, color profile support, the ability to read and write TIFF and PNG files in 16-bit mode, and a batch dialog. The Studio Max version also offers a Full Batch Mode to greatly speed up your workflow. Compare all editions of PortraitPro 15 here.

Before and after using PortraitPro 15

Before and after using Portrait Professional 15

Getting started with PortraitPro 15

Getting started in PortraitPro 15 is simple. If you’re using the standalone application, simply open the file you wish to work on. From Photoshop (if you’re using the Studio or Studio Max version), go to the Filters menu and Select Anthropics > Portrait Professional.

Once your image is open, PortraitPro 15 will detect the facial outline of the subject. It will sometimes detect gender and age, or it may ask if the subject is male or female or a young girl or boy under 12. You will then be shown a side-by-side comparison, with the image on the left showing the outlines of the face that the software will use for its retouching. These outlines can be adjusted to provide better accuracy, but the software does a pretty good job of selecting facial features on its own. On the right is a preview of what the subject will look like after the retouching is applied.

On the far right, you will see a navigator window that allows you to move around the image easily. Beneath that is a list of presets so you can easily apply a particular look to your subject. Beneath the presets is a group of “Portrait Improving Sliders”. These sliders include;

  • Face Sculpt Controls
  • Skin Smoothing Controls
  • Skin Lighting Controls
  • Makeup Controls
  • Eye Controls
  • Mouth and Nose Controls
  • Hair Controls
  • Skin Coloring Controls
  • Picture Controls

Each of these groups of sliders affects different aspects of the image and provide an incredible amount of control over the retouching process.

Before and after using PortraitPro 15

Before and after using PortraitPro 15.

Some of these sliders, particularly Face Sculpting may seem a bit controversial. Like most digital photo editing tools, you can certainly go too far with its use. But, there are times when it has come in handy and improved the subject, such as when one eye may not be fully open. As with all things, moderation is the key to using these sliders.

The Basic Retouch

Gender Selection in PortraitPro 15

When you open an image using PortraitPro 15, the application will ask you to confirm the gender and age of your subject.

Whether you choose to use the plugin version or the standalone version, the workflow is the same. From Photoshop you’ll select Portrait Professional from the Filters menu, and from Lightroom, you’ll select “Edit In”, which will open the current image in PortraitPro 15. If using the standalone version, simply go to File > Open.

Facial features selection

PortraitPro 15 will try to automatically detect the age and gender of your subject and try to select their eyes, nose, and mouth. If it is unable to detect the gender and age, or any facial features, you will be prompted to do this. Selection, if needed, is easy. You’ll click the outer corner of the left eye, hit next, then click the outer corner of the right eye. Hit next again, and you’ll be prompted to click the tip of the nose. You’ll continue until the eyes, nose, and mouth are selected. PortraitPro will then find the top of the head and the jawline.

The main screen of PortraitPro 15

The main screen of PortraitPro 15

First editing steps

Once the selection is made, PortraitPro will automatically adjust your image using the Standard settings. From here, you are free to choose a different preset or start moving the sliders to better retouch your portrait.

The first slider I adjust is the Face Sculpt Controls. I will say that I’m not a huge fan of this adjustment so normally I just turn it off. There are times it can get too aggressive and will really alter the look of the subject’s face. You can minimize the amount of adjustment using the Master Fade slider to amend the overall look, or the individual sliders to only affect certain features. For instance, I will often set all the sliders to zero but then use the Eye Widening slider if the subject happens to have a sleepy eye. I do try and keep the digital plastic surgery to a minimum.

Skin Smoothing

The next slider group is the Skin Smoothing Control. This set of sliders does a nice job of minimizing wrinkles and removing blemishes. You do need to be careful when you have a subject with freckles or beauty marks that you want to retain. Again, adjusting the individual sliders will help you find the right amount of smoothing without making things look too plastic, and the Touch Up Brush will allow you to remove strong blemishes without affecting the overall skin texture.

Skin Selection PortraitPro 15

If you need to adjust the area affected by skin smoothing and lighting, you can manually paint in your selection.

PortraitPro offers some quick tips when you select the various sliders. In addition, you may notice that the application hasn’t quite selected all of the skin you want to be retouched, due to changes in tone. Or, conversely, that it has selected areas which you don’t want to be affected, such as clothing with colors close to the skin tone, or hair. You can adjust the skin selection by clicking View/Edit Skin Area and adding or subtracting from the skin selection using a brush, similar to applying a selection by using a layer mask in Photoshop.

Before skin smoothing

Medium skin smoothing applied.

Heavy skin smoothing applied.

Skin Lighting

The Skin Lighting slider controls can actually adjust the lighting on your subject. This is another set of sliders that are best used with care, but a judicious adjustment can help improve your image. Going too far with it, on the other hand, will result in images that have a definitive fake look to them. You have the ability to adjust shadows to the left or right, a kick light to the left or right, and even adjust the angle of your main light.

Before skin lighting effects applied.

Skin lighting medium applied.

Skin lighting heavy applied.


The Makeup Controls sliders allow you to add digital makeup to your subject. Everything including lipstick, mascara, eye shadow and eyeliner can be added or enhanced here. As with the Face Sculpting and Lighting Controls, you will want to be careful not to overdo things here. But again, I’ve had occasions where a little eyeliner or a change in lipstick color has helped the image.

By the same token, if you are taking a portrait as a starting point, you can create some incredibly different looks by changing the subject’s makeup. This makes it an excellent tool if you are creating a digital illustration from a photo.

Skin Smoothing Controls PortraitPro 15

The skin smoothing controls inside PortraitPro 15

Before make-up applied using PortraitPro 15.

Make-up added.

Make-up added heavily, this is over done.

Facial feature control sliders

The Eye Control sliders do a nice job of enhancing the subject’s eyes and bringing them out. Brightening the irises, sharpening the eyes, and whitening them are all done here. You can even change the eye color and add catch lights. The biggest mistake I’ve made (and seen others make) is going too far with the whitening, giving the eyes an unnatural glow. Eyes can be adjusted individually, so you have a lot of control over their look.

Before eye controls applied.

Eye controls medium applied.

Eye color change applied.

Mouth & Nose Controls are sliders to enhance the mouth and nose. Here you can adjust the saturation of the lips, their brightness, and contrast. You have the ability to make the same adjustments to the nose.

Hair and skin sliders

Hair Controls is a set of sliders that I like a lot. You have the ability to re-color hair, adjust the shine, reddening, and vibrance. In addition, as with the skin selection, you can adjust the hair selection. Especially cool is the Hair Tidying Mode, which allows you to smooth and soften the hair. It can give the hair an almost painted look, which is one I tend to like, but again, it is possible to go too far.

Skin Coloring Controls allow you to adjust skin color, add a glow, or a bit of a tan. In addition, you can add cheek coloring here and adjust the exposure on the face.

Before skin coloring

Tan skin coloring applied.

PortraitPro 15

On the right side of the application window, you’ll find a navigator, a list of presets, and the Portrait Enhancement Sliders.

Picture Controls

Finally, the Picture Controls slider allows overall adjustment of the color temperature, tint, exposure, contrast, and vibrancy. You can also crop here. If you’re using Photoshop or Lightroom, these adjustments are better handled there, after retouching. But if you’re using the standalone version, this is an excellent way to finish off your image.

Once you’ve finished with the face you’re working on, you click the Next button at top right, and either click “Return from Plugin”, or “Enhance Another Face”, if you have more than one subject in your photo.

Pros of PortraitPro 15

PortraitPro 15 is an excellent application for quick and easy retouching of portraits. Blemish retouching, eye enhancing, and cleanup of hair is simple and can PortraitPro 15 can provide a nice finished look to a portrait. In addition, the ability to adjust lighting can give added pop and make a flatly lit portrait much more interesting. The same goes for the ability to add or enhance makeup. It’s easy to see the effects of the changes you make usingPortraitPro and compare them to the unretouched photo, so you can judge the edits as you work.

Before and After

Before and After

Cons of PortraitPro 15

My biggest issue with PortraitPro 15 is that it’s easy to go too far with an adjustment and suddenly your image looks fake or digitized, almost like a 3D animation. Like most photo-enhancing filters, a little goes a long way and moderation is required. In the right hands, PortraitPro can be an awesome editing tool. In the wrong hands, it can return some ugly results. Additionally, PortraitPro appears to have some issues when one eye is covered by hair or a hat, or when the face is at a 3/4 angle to the camera. So in those situations, you’ll need to pay extra attention to your selections, and in the case where one eye is hidden, set all sliders for that eye to zero.

My other issue with PortraitPro is that it does seem to be a resource hog. As soon as I enter the plugin from Photoshop, the fan on my 2014 iMac (with the max amount of RAM) starts up and keeps going until I’m done. Some of the adjustments are slow, and on my machine, adjusting the outlines takes a moment as my computer catches up.

Before & After PortraitPro 15

Before & After

Bottom Line

Overall, I love PortraitPro 15 and the ability it has to retouch portraits quickly and easily. While I prefer not to use all of the features all of the time, such as face sculpting or skin lighting, things such as skin smoothing and eye retouching really help give my portraits a finished look. The learning curve is not terribly high and it is fairly easy to tell when you’ve gone too far. It’s become an essential part of my portrait workflow.

See the three editions available on Amazon. The Studio version is a great value.

Before & After PortraitPro

Before & After PortraitPro

Before & After PortraitPro

Before & After PortraitPro

The post Image Editing Software Review: PortraitPro 15 by Rick Berk appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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