Gear Geek

Widget for Cameras: ioShutter

July 10th, 2012 | Widgets | 1 comment

Back in the days of yore, we all carried metal cable releases with us. If you were locked down on a tripod and needed to either trip the shutter without touching the camera or hold the shutter open for a long time, this was your tool of choice. One end had a plunger or bulb on it, the other screwed into some threads in the middle of your shutter button.

Life was simple … and then electronics took over cameras and, with it, came electronic shutter releases. While the shiny, braided metal ones cost about $10, the new wired ones ran to almost $100 at times.

Eek.

The folks from Enlight Photo (who also brought us the Frio) have decided to Go Big when it comes to small shutter release cables, tying your camera in to your smartphone for a ton of control.

Check out the video for details.

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The ioShutter is about $70 from your favorite online retailers and both the free and Pro apps are available in the App Store now. Android versions coming soon, they say.

And if you need a chuckle, read the reviews on the free version where people complain it doesn’t work unless you buy the cable …

If you’ve got a tip, if you’ve got a trick, if you’ve got a widget, if you’ve got a gadget that you think everybody else in the industry should know about, send me some information on it and I’ll get it out there.

Widget for Video: Cineskates

December 31st, 2011 | Video | No comments

This looks like a really cool solution to creating high quality video movements – much more flexibility than traditional dollies or tracks.

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Cineskates systems start at around $300, which includes the skates, tripod, head and a carrying bag.

Of course, before employing a system like this, you have to ask yourself if there’s an actual need for video movement in your piece. They look fancy, but they can also easily distract from your story – and it’s always the story that matters.

Shopping for Widgets

November 28th, 2011 | Widgets | No comments

By definitions, we photographers (of the still, moving or hybrid kind) love our widgets. From big expensive widgets (like the newly announced Canon EOS C300) down through little things (like the Glif we highlighted here a while ago), we fall in love with the tools that help us tell stories better.

But, we’re also notoriously cheap. We work in an industry where every penny gets watched like a hawk, where we need to find the best deal on everything so we can keep at this. So the allure of online deals, particularly today, is hard to resist.

The idea of “Cyber Monday” – the day when online ordering is at its highest – is mostly a myth. But retailers like to use it as a lure to get you on their sites and, well, since it’s today, I’m a little surprised you’re even here.

So, a few quick tips about online shopping …

  • Go Big: Or, at the very least, go reputable. Every year I get reports from colleagues and students who say they found the best deal ever on the camera or lens of their dreams, hundreds of dollars less than everywhere else. Can I believe it? The answer, sadly, is no. If the deal seems way too good to be true, it probably is. Before entering your digits into that sexy ordering page, do your journalistic research – type the name of the site along with the word “review” into your favorite search engine and see what pops up. If you spot that Nikon D3S for the price of a D300S, something’s wrong. Most often, it’s a bait-and-switch tactic. After placing the order, you get a phone call to confirm your shipping address, then the hard sell starts. There’s no battery included. Nor cables. Nor manual. Nor … well, there’s nothing included at all. You have to add on all these other things to get a useable kit. And, if you say no, then you’re backordered for months.

  • Go for Service: Customer service is a big deal. If something goes wrong, whether it’s a defective item or a shipping problem, you want someone to answer the phone. Going with reputable retailers will make that process a whole lot easier. Think about who you see sponsoring NPPA events, think about the places where, after you’ve ordered, you’ve never had to think about them again. Think about the places that have saved your proverbial bacon. Those are the places you want to give your business to.
  • Go Safe: Online fraud is huge right now. My Discover card was declined this weekend because the last three purchases, all legitimate, were made in three different states. It was a hassle, and a bit embarrassing, but I guess I’d rather be safe than sorry. Don’t buy online with your debit card, use an actual credit card. And even with credit cards, many will let you generate a “virtual” card number for specific retailers. All it takes is one person on the phone to write your number on a sticky note to start problems. (My wife’s numbers were stolen a few weeks ago, someone tried to order $3,000 worth of chicken caesar salads in Florida with it.)
  • Go Secure: Make sure that when you’re logging into a web site you’re on a secure site (meaning you see https in the URL) and you’re on a secure connection. Free wifi hot spots are extremely convenient but also a great opportunity for folks to monitor your web traffic, including grabbing logins, passwords and credit card info.
  • Go Call Your Accountant: Silly, I know, but if you’re thinking about making some major purchases, check with your accountant or tax preparer first. Depending on how you’re year is going and how you think next year will go, saving 10% now instead of buying after December 31 may not be the best choice. Look at your income and expenses this year and think about when your deductions would be more advantageous.

Al Tompkins at the Poynter Institute linked to a Mashable piece on 10 Tips to Avoid Cyber Monday Scams, some more good advice in there.

Spend some time looking at what you have in your kit now. What needs to be replaced? What will need to be replaced in the next few months? Does it make sense to buy-ahead on some items?

My guess is external storage prices won’t drop much. The floods in Thailand have hampered a lot of manufacturers and supplies are pretty tight. Memory cards, though, may drop for the day. Cameras and lenses won’t flex much, but there might be some software deals out there. Perhaps some deals on accessories like filters or camera bags and straps.

Let me know what you find. If I see anything great between classes I’ll post them here.

Widget for Mobile: The Wingstand

November 14th, 2011 | Mobile, Widgets | No comments

I love elegant, efficient and functional design and, this week, we hit them all beautifully.

I came across the Wingstand as a Kickstarter project a few months ago. If you’re not familiar with Kickstarter.com, you should be. If you have an idea you can post it online and seek pledges to make it come true. Once you’ve reached your pledge goal, your supporters pay up and you do whatever it is you said you’d do. If you don’t raise enough, no one gets billed.

The initial pledge for the Wingstand was $20 and I saw a use for it immediately. They showed up a few weeks ago and I’m using them all the time. Upcoming travels will see me use them even more. If you try to travel light and do a lot of writing on the road, using these to connect your tablet or smart phone to Apple’s Bluetooth keyboard will be heavenly. Check out the video …

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You can get them in white or black for about $15. Worth evey penny, even if you’re just looking for a cheap, light and portable reading stand for your tablet or ereader.

If you’ve got a tip, if you’ve got a trick, if you’ve got a widget, if you’ve got a gadget that you think everybody else in the industry should know about, send me some information on it and I’ll get it out there.

Widget for Stuff: The Grid-It

October 31st, 2011 | Widgets | No comments

Stuff. We have a lot of … stuff. And much of that stuff is small and tends to get tangled up. FireWire cables, USB cables, audio cables, power cables … and then there’s all the stuff we have to connect with them.

Is your bag just a mess of stuff? Yeah, mine has been, too.

But now, there’s the Grid-It from Cocoon Innovations – a neat way to keep everything organized and visible. Check it out …

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Prices start at about $10 for a 7.5 inch by 4.5 inch panel and top out at $50 for a panel that also serves as a sleeve for your laptop. I’m going to order a few more for my different bags …

If you’ve got a tip, if you’ve got a trick, if you’ve got a widget, if you’ve got a gadget that you think everybody else in the industry should know about, send me some information on it and I’ll get it out there.

Widget for Cameras: The Black Rapid RS-7 Strap

October 10th, 2011 | Widgets | 2 comments

With every new camera you purchase you’re going to get a camera strap. It’ll be functional, maybe moderately stylish – but is it the best one for you?

For more than 20 years, I’ve swapped out the factory straps for aftermarket ones, usually Domke Gripper Straps. Reader Roxanne Evans, though, sent me some info on a newer style of strap from Black Rapid. Take a look.

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As noted, with one camera and a moderately sized lens this is a great option. It feels very natural and it keeps the camera out of the way if you’re moving though crowds. Check the Black Rapid web site for their other straps and solutions, as well as for some demonstration videos.

If you’ve got a tip, if you’ve got a trick, if you’ve got a widget, if you’ve got a gadget that you think everybody else in the industry should know about, send me some information on it and I’ll get it out there.

Widget for iPhone Users: The Gymbl

September 26th, 2011 | Mobile, Video, Widgets | No comments

There are some days that I worry about the spelling ability of our society. The word gimbal, for instance, came into my lexicon when I first watched Apollo 13 but now Youbiq is marketing something called … a Gymbl. Which seems a few letters off, to me, but take a look.

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Who should buy this? Well, if you have an iPhone*, shoot handheld video (the grip setting is much easier to hold steady) or do a lot of panoramas, this be worth tossing in your bag.

If you’ve got a tip, if you’ve got a trick, if you’ve got a widget, if you’ve got a gadget that you think everybody else in the industry should know about, send me some information on it and I’ll get it out there.

* It may seem like it’s an Apple-centric world out there, what with all the cool widgets available for the iPhone. There’s a reason for this: while whether it is the superior smartphone OS is open to debate, the simple fact that there is just one phone allows inventors to build something that lots of people can use. I’d love to feature some Android-centric widgets, but with so many different phones running the platform, there’s no way to design a physical tool for all of them.

Widget for Transmitting: The Eye-Fi

September 12th, 2011 | Widgets | 1 comment

For many years I’ve wanted to pick up a wireless transmitter for my DSLR cameras. Not that I set up a lot of remotes, but because it would make my life a whole lot easier in the classroom. Currently, I tether my cameras when we’re doing a demonstration, but that gets pretty limited.

The wireless transmitters, though, are a bit pricey. But then I heard about the Eye-Fi and I started to wonder if this consumer level transmitter, built into a Secure Digital memory card, could work. Here’s what I found …

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My answer, for my classroom: probably. Transfer speeds are quick enough and if I can build an action to automatically display the images on screen, I think it’ll work.

Now to convince my boss to spend the $100 so I can have one.

If you’ve got a tip, if you’ve got a trick, if you’ve got a widget, if you’ve got a gadget that you think everybody else in the industry should know about, send me some information on it and I’ll get it out there.

Learning Video: Simplifying Multi Cam Edits

September 5th, 2011 | Video | No comments

It’s the standard interview set-up these days: A main camera up front, a second off to the side for cutaways. Maybe a third to show some more environment.

But then you have to get all of those clips synched up in your NLE and that can be a hassle. If only you had more eyes to work on these edits … well, you do. Here’s a look at Plural Eyes from Singular Software. It’s a handy chunk of code that will automatically sync up the footage from multiple cameras quickly and easily.

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Now, it isn’t cheap at $150, but it is available for most of the major editors out there like Final Cut Pro 7, Avid Media Composer, Sony Vegas, Adobe Premiere Pro and Edius. Thinking about it? There’s a free 30-day trial available which is what I used for the demo.

Thanks to Mike Roy up in New York for the lede on this one.

If you’ve got a tip, if you’ve got a trick, if you’ve got a widget, if you’ve got a gadget that you think everybody else in the industry should know about, send me some information on it and I’ll get it out there.

Learning Audio: Fixing Levels

August 29th, 2011 | Audio, Mobile | No comments

Ever been out recording audio and suddenly notice your subject moved closer or further away from your mic? Or you weren’t paying attention and moved that mic?

Yeah, me too.

Here’s a solution for you: The Conversations Network’s Levelator.

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You can use it on Mac, Windows or Linux machine and it’ll work on AIFF files as well as WAV files. It’s also free, but if you find yourself using it a lot you may want to leave them a little tip.

If you’ve got a tip, if you’ve got a trick, if you’ve got a widget, if you’ve got a gadget that you think everybody else in the industry should know about, send me some information on it and I’ll get it out there.

Learning Video: Converting Everything

August 22nd, 2011 | Mobile, Video | 1 comment

We deal with it all the time, it seems – Codec Crashes. You have a bunch of different video cameras at your disposal, but almost none of them play nice with your video editor. Some go in, but the audio just beeps at you. Some sound fine, but you get a big, blue UNRENDERED message when you try to play it.

What’s a multimedia journalist to do? Here’s an idea …

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MPEG Streamclip is available for both Mac and Windows operating systems, though I still cannot believe the price Squared5 is putting on it. How do they do that?

If you’ve got a tip, if you’ve got a trick, if you’ve got a widget, if you’ve got a gadget that you think everybody else in the industry should know about, send me some information on it and I’ll get it out there.

Learning Light: Cold Shoes

August 15th, 2011 | Lighting, Widgets | No comments

For a group of people who make their living with it, we sure can be photophobic. What is it about bringing a little light of our own that scares us?

This week, we take a look at the Frio – a $15, dual-locking cold shoe that should be in your bag. And, if you attended one of The Flash Bus tour stops earlier this year, it may already be there.

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If you’ve got a tip, if you’ve got a trick, if you’ve got a widget, if you’ve got a gadget that you think everybody else in the industry should know about, send me some information on it and I’ll get it out there.

Learning Video: Going Wide

August 8th, 2011 | Mobile, Video, Widgets | No comments

Those fantastic pocket video cameras (like my beloved Kodak Zi8 or the Flips) and smart phones that can do video sure are handy. But sometimes those fixed focal length optics are just not wide enough. This week, we take a quick look at an option for giving your subjects a little more space.

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You can find these on eBay or as part of a kit over at Photojojo.com (which looks an awful low like the one I bought off of eBay a while back). Prices run from $20 to $40 for the wides, most of which are two-parters that give you a macro mode, too.

I have played with some of the telephoto optics and they’re … uh … interesting. Steven Sande over at The Unofficial Apple Weblog took the Photojojo kit for a spin and the long glass turned his world to mush.

As my good friend Woody Marshall down at the Macon Telegraph always says, use your sneaker zoom instead.

If you’ve got a tip, if you’ve got a trick, if you’ve got a widget, if you’ve got a gadget that you think everybody else in the industry should know about, send me some information on it and I’ll get it out there.

Widget for iPhone Users: The Glif

August 1st, 2011 | Mobile, Video, Widgets | 2 comments

This one is totally for iPhone 4 users, AT&T or Verizon, doesn’t matter. The Glif is a $20 piece of plastic that lets you attach your iPhone to a tripod and doubles as a small stand so you can watch content. Check out the video for details.

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The Glif is available only online from the makers and you can get free shipping if you order two or more of them. Find a friend and save a few bucks.

If you’ve got a tip, if you’ve got a trick, if you’ve got a widget, if you’ve got a gadget that you think everybody else in the industry should know about, send me some information on it and I’ll get it out there.

Learning Mobile: Audio On the Road

July 25th, 2011 | Mobile, Software | No comments

I’ve just wrapped up an intense three-day seminar for university journalism educators down at the Poynter Institute. Teachapalooza, as it was called, was a mind-expanding event. If you’re in the academic realm, get this on your calendar for next year – there were hundreds of things you can haul into your own classroom.

There were several sessions on mobile journalism, both from a creation and a consumption point of view. My plan had been to talk with some of my fellow educators and get them to name the geekiest things that had seen, but the last day was a frantic rush to cram information into our brains … and I ran out of time. (Of course, I had it all planned out. I headed over to Poynter early Sunday morning and shot my intro and outro … but then never got to the middle part. Sorry about that.)

So here are the top mobile apps I learned about and will be pushing around for the next few months. All of these are available for iOS devices and, if I spot an Android version, I’ll let you know.


Dragon Dictation:
This one has been sitting on my phone for the last year but I hadn’t been using it. That’s going to change. Launch it, hit the “tap and record” button and then start talking. It does voice recognition on the fly, so when you hit the done button, you get a textual transcription. And here’s where it gets cool. You could copy that and paste it into an email, text file or some other such thing. But when you tap an odd little button in the lower right corner, it gives you five options of what to do with the text: send it to an SMS message, email it, copy it, send it to Facebook or send it to Twitter. And the cost? Free. (There appears to be something called FlexT9 for Android, unclear if it has the same functionality.)

Monle: This is an audio editing app for the iPhone. You can use pre-recorded files or record with the device. It allows cuts, transitions, fades and up to four tracks – pretty much everything you’d need in a basic audio editor. It also has the ability to FTP your final version so getting it back to the office should be a snap. Cost is $10.

Reel Director: This is a video editing app for the iPhone and iPad. I’m going to pull this one onto my iPad and give it a full run, comparing it to Apple’s Movie app in the coming weeks. Several folks gave it a thumbs up. Will let you pull video clips from your library as well as still photos for inclusion in you packages. You can get it for less then your average cup of coffee – $2.

Those are the highlights. I have a long list of other things I’m going to take a closer look at, but what are you using?

If you’ve got a tip, if you’ve got a trick, if you’ve got a widget, if you’ve got a gadget that you think everybody else in the industry should know about, send me some information on it and I’ll get it out there.

Learning Light: Cheap LED Light

July 18th, 2011 | Lighting, Video | 2 comments

The cheapness continues … We’ve all been faced with it, whether it’s an indoor shoot or a late night spot news scene: Available Darkness Photography. If you come from the stills side, you pull out your speedlight and start bouncing light off of ceilings, walls, houses – whatever you can find.

But what do you do in video? The little pocket video cameras we carry have terrible low-light sensitivity, so we need to bring a little sun with us.

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You can pick up that Opteka VL-126 direct from them or from many of the online sites. That Adorama L-bracket with two shoe mounts is available online, as well.

If you’ve got a tip, if you’ve got a trick, if you’ve got a widget, if you’ve got a gadget that you think everybody else in the industry should know about, send me some information on it and I’ll get it out there.

Learning Audio: Cheap Lavalier Mics

July 11th, 2011 | Audio | 2 comments

There is a part of me that wanted to title this week’s post, “Everything I Need to Know About Audio I Learned from Robert Capa, Depth of Field Scales and the Inverse Square Law.”

I didn’t because, well … who would read it?

We’re taking a look at two very inexpensive (around $20) lavalier mics this week – the Olympus ME-15 and the Audio Technica ATR-3550. Check the video out for some tips on these.

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Are you wondering what my unused title meant? Here are the three parts …

Capa’s most famous line was, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” Audio works the same way – you need to get your mic as close to your subject as you possibly can. The mics built into cameras are going to be too far away which is why you should never shoot video, especially interviews, with the built in mics.

If you have an old enough lens around, haul it out and look at the depth of field scale. Pick an aperture, focus the lens at, say 20 feet and look at how much of your image would be sharp. Now adjust your focus to something closer, say, 5 feet. What happened to your depth of field? It plummeted – as you get physically closer to your subject, backgrounds (visible or audible) become less apparent.

The inverse square law probably has you nervous, but it’s the law that dictates the rate that light falls off as it travels. Important to know when calculating flash exposures.

And with that, whatever readers I had just left … oh, well.

If you’ve got a tip, if you’ve got a trick, if you’ve got a widget, if you’ve got a gadget that you think everybody else in the industry should know about, send me some information on it and I’ll get it out there.

Learning Video: Where To Start

July 4th, 2011 | Video | 3 comments

For those of us who have come up through the still side of photojournalism, we will never forget those fateful words: You need to learn video.

When I talk with folks in the industry, most have said okay, I’ll do it. But there are a few who are hesitant, so we’re going to help them out. Where do you start? What tools do you need? How much is this going to cost?

This week, we take a look at the Kodak Zi8 pocket video camera. Granted, it’s at the end of its lifecycle (you can pay too much for it new or pick up a refurbished one for under $105), but the replacement – the PlayTouch – has essentially the same functionality.

(There are reportedly some image quality differences between the two and the PlayTouch has a slightly wider lens on it.)

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We picked up 18 of the Zi8s for teaching tools in the Journalism Department at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. After more than a year’s worth of student use, they’re holding up very well – no camera failures. Because of the simplicity of the camera, the fear threshold is very low – it’s not intimidating and it allows students to learn storytelling, not the tool.

In the coming weeks I’ll be looking at some add-ons – all cheap – that will help improve your video storytelling skills.

If you’ve got a tip, if you’ve got a trick, if you’ve got a widget, if you’ve got a gadget that you think everybody else in the industry should know about, send me some information on it and I’ll get it out there.

Let the Geekiness Begin

June 27th, 2011 | Coda | No comments

Hi. My name is Mark E. Johnson and I … I am a Gear Geek.

It pains me to say that in public at times because, really, what I care about is telling stories about my community and my Constitutional responsibility to commit acts of journalism. I take that very, very seriously.

By day, I am a teacher – the Photojournalism Lecturer for the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. Prior to coming here in 2005, I did my grad work at Syracuse University (where I also did my undergrad work – a twice squeezed orange, you might say) and before that I did time as a freelancer, staff photographer and director of photography at too many wire services, newspapers and magazines to really want to admit to.

And while I will always say the story comes first – because, let’s face it, it does – I understand that the tools we use are integral to our storytelling. And out storytelling is changing. Two decades ago, the choices you made were Canon or Nikon (with a few making arguments for Olympus, Pentax and Minolta and the real artsy-fartsy ones screaming it had to be a Leica or it wasn’t worth anything). (Okay, I may have been one of those, but mostly because I could barely afford my M4-P and wanted them to produce more so the prices would drop.)

But now … now, when we glance down at the tools we can use to tell stories, it’s just an amazing time, isn’t it? For those of us with a still photo background, we carried a couple of bodies, an assortment of lenses and a couple of flashes. We had a few little widgets that we clung to, but that was it – we froze time with glass and brass devices.

Even our broadcast brethren were limited to one camera and one lens most of the time because that’s what their station issued them.

Just a quick glance around my office here and I see snippets of the new tools of our trade. I have four different audio recorders – devices that let me bring my subjects voice straight to my audience, no reporter translations involved. Within my sight I see seven devices that will record video – and there are more in that cabinet over there. And the number of widgets, microphones, adapters and little chunks of software that are out there … it’s a fine time to be a geek is all I’m saying.

So that’s what I’ll be doing here – taking a look at some of the little tools that make our lives easier. I play with a lot of these things in an effort to keep abreast of what’s happening in the industry and because I need to find the tools that will let me teach the next generation of storytellers. (I work for a state university – we have no budget, so whatever funds I can cobble together I need to spend very, very wisely.)

What can you do to help? Point me to the things you’re using. I can’t find them all on my own, that’s for sure. But if there’s a little thing that makes your life easier, that helps you commit acts of journalism better – share it. Leave me a comment, send me an email, give me a call.

Let the geekiness begin …

 

(Not Here Yet … Be Patient)

June 23rd, 2011 | Coda | No comments

(We’ll launch on Monday, June 27 … but get us in your RSS reader to be ready.)