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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Keep Your Gear Dry :: Eva-Dry Mini Dehumidifier Review

Here's a little toy that should find its way into every camera bag: the Eva-Dry Mini Dehumidifier. This little device is full of water hungry crystals that will help keep your gear dry, and mold free. This is a must if you are going from hot to cold or cold to hot a lot. It will pull moisture from the air in your bag and around your gear. Clever. At $17 its a no brainer.

Order Eva-Dry From Amazon

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Cash Back with ev'reward

Why? This is a photographic thought, because ev'reward is one of the few ways I know to double up on cash back on sites like B&H Photo, Adorama and other pertinent stores (examples).

As many of you know I am the self-proclaimed king of the good deals. If there is something online, I can probably find a good deal on it. ev'reward is a great tool that I use everytime I purchase something online. How it works is you go shopping online like you normally would, find what you want to buy and then click a button to ask ev'reward what cash back site gives the best return. This will include sites like Fatwallet, Big Crumbs, Jellyfish, and Mr. Rebates. Each of those sites usually pays a different amount in cash back if you click through their site.

There are two ways to use ev'reward. For example, if you wanted to purchase something from Buy.com then you could either 1) install the ev'reward toolbar booklet, which will place a button on your bookmark toolbar. Which allows you to shop like you normally would at Buy.com and then click the ev'reward button. That would take you to the Buy.com page at ev'reward (click here to test). There you will see there are several choices to choose ranging from 1% - 3%. Not earth shattering cashback, but better than a kick in the head. Often, there are also coupons for the store. The other way to use ev'reward is simply to go to www.evreward.com, search of the store you want to shop at and click your favorite cash back site.

Yes, it does add some time your online shopping. But I think the additional discount is worth it. Neither
ev'reward nor any of the cashback stores cost anything to sign up, though some of them do require a PayPal account to cash out for less than $100.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Little Things in Life

I just love a good close-up. Seriously, there is nothing better than a full frame still life to me. I have bought a lot of crap that I thought would get me where I wanted to be photographically and have been let down. Shooting small is just the same. The basic rules of buying macro gear applies to pretty much any other kind of gear. 1) Research, 2) Research, 3) Acknowledge that the quality of your gear will only get you so far, 4) toys are toys, and 5) Don't be afraid to spend money where it will do you good. With those as my basic assumptions, here are some thoughts on shooting the small.

Macro (or Micro in Nikon talk) is simply the ability to shoot subjects that are small at a closer distance than your "normal" lens will allow. The amount of magnification is measured as a ratio. 1:1 is considered true macro. Think of it as, what is 1" in real life would take up 1" of film or your digital sensor. The image to the right is a raspberry dropped into some wine. Because the images wasn't cropped, and because we know that a raspberry is approximately the same size as my Nikon D80's sensor, that image is a 1:1 macro. If I was to print the image out as a 4x6 the berry would now be much larger than life size. So goes the sexiness of macro.

Here's your macro choices:
1. Close-up Filters [Sucks] ~$20
2. Extension Tubes[Clunky] ~$165
3. 60mm Nikon [I Own] ~$380 or 150mm Sigma [I'm thinking about] ~$575
4. Reverse Ring [I own a wonderful macro, so never bothered with this step.]

So the first thing I bought was a set of close-up filters. Perhaps the biggest waste of money I have ever spent on camera equipment. The idea behind these filters is you can use your normal lenses and just screw these little guys on to be able to focus closer. Sounds great. They are cheap. They suck. They can world great if all you are shooting are flat objects. You have very limited depth of field. Perhaps what I hate most about them is once they are on, all you can shoot are subjects at close range. Blah. I want useful and versatility. The meter in your camera will still work as well as the auto-focus features - so those are both pluses.

Next up, the extension tubes. These are glassless tubes that all you to attach a normal lens to your camera, but move the optics away from the film or sensor. This allows you to focus much closer than you otherwise would. While the image quality you will get from these are better than what you would expect from a set of close-up filters, the usefulness is still lower than a real macro lens. To use the extension tubes, you still have to remove your lens, and add one or more tubes, replace your lens, and then take your picture. The amount of magnification will increase the more tubes you use. But be warned, so will the amount of light loss you will experience. Nikon makes a nice set of tubes, but I have read over and over, that Kenko's tubes are superior if for only the reason that they allow the auto focus features of your camera to work.

Another alternative is the reverse ring. This is a doodad that allows you to take your perfectly good lenses and turn it around backwards. I do actually have one of these, sort of. I have a holga lens that has been mounted on a Nikon body cap. I can unscrew the lens, turn it around backwards and move it in and out from the camera body to focus. I does surprisingly well for a lens cut off a $20 camera. I consider the reverse ring another solution that is good if you don't do macro all that much.

Here is where things get good in my book. Macro lenses. When I lived in Europe for a year, I took my trusty, now retired, X-GM and two lenses: a Vivitar 100mm 1:2 macro (yes, I said Vivitar) and a Minolta 28mm. I hardly ever took that macro off my camera. It was just a wonderful lens that was very versatile for me. I believe I paid $80 for it in 1996. The wonderful part about macro lenses, is they are pretty hard for camera manufactures to screw up. They have realtively few elements and they should NEVER EVER EVER EVER be a zoom lens. These are simple lenses that will give you a sharp image at a variety of distances. The wonderful part about using a macro lens for a travel lens, is if you are walking around, say Berlin, you can take all the images you want of Berlin Wall art and "zoom" in as close as you want by just moving closer to the subject. At the same time, if you wanted to take a nice portrait of someone, you have the focal length to give you a flatter image. Another bonus of the macro lens, is they usually come in f2.8. As autofocus lenses go, getting a 2.8 is a big deal. Just remember that depth of field is your friend, especially with macro. So don't get all excited that you are going to leave your lens at 2.8.

As you look at macro lenses, you will find that they usually come in flavors usually somewhere around 60mm, 100mm and 150mm. Every brand will be a bit different it seems, but overall, those are the common focal lengths. Shooting digital with a 1.5x crop factor, the 60mm micro I loved on film is now a 90mm. I can't complain one bit for the extra "zoom". If you are shooting flowers and other things that don't move on you too much (wind is your enemy), then 60mm will take you a long ways. If you are shooting things that tend to have no sense of humor for you being close, think bugs, then a longer focal length would be in order. I am seriously looking at adding a 150mm macro to my bag for that reason. Sometimes, things just don't like it when you get right on top of it to photograph it, think angry bees.

As you can see, there are all sorts of choices for you to spend you money on. In the end, you just have to look at the type of photography you do or want to do. If you want to take a lot of close-up images, and you don't mind carrying around another lens, and you have $375 - $600 to spend, then a macro lens is up your alley. If you just want to mess around for a while, you can go the filters or extension tube route. If you do go this route, don't get frustrated if you don't get the clear results you had hoped for. Same is true if you think macro is just a lot of work- it gets easier with a true macro lens.

Happy shooting.