GGS Glass Screen Protector

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When I buy a new camera one of the first things I do is affix a GGS glass screen protector over the LCD screen. I did this even on my prosumer digital SLR despite its scratch resistant glass screen. The reason why is that while they may be scratch resistant, they also feature anti-reflective coatings that simply do not last the life of the camera. And as that slowly wears away the screen begins to look like it’s lost a battle with sand paper. Not to mention that scratch-resistance does not equate to scratch-proof.

I’m always amazed at how many people buy plastic-film screen protectors (commonly seen on touch sensitive smartphones) that do little if anything to protect the screen. More often than not they occlude the screen as they quickly become scratched. They offer little to no protection from hard objects, and they frequently need replacing (especially given how easy it is to trap air bubbles beneath them).

GGS screen protectors, on the other hand, are different as they are made out of optical quality glass. They are thin, sturdy, and affix tightly to the back of the camera. Once on, they almost appear built into the body (this is where careful application is key). They don’t scratch easily as they are made of glass, and when they do you know you’re investment has been justified.

I’ve personally scratched and shattered a GGS screen protector, and I know without it I would have been left with a potentially ruined screen instead of a cracked $8 investment. The only downside is that when the GGS screens shatter glass shards can fall off despite being laminated. Removal of the broken screen is simple: slide a credit card (or other rigid plastic object) under a side and slowly work your way around until it pops off (if it’s really stuck, warm it with a hair dryer). Depending on how long it’s been in place the adhesive may leave a sticky residue that is easily removed with nail polish remover or a Goo Gone equivalent.

Other brands of glass screen protectors exist, and some even feature anti-reflective coatings that cost 5-10 times more. But none that I have tried are as consistently well reviewed, as minimally invasive, or as affordable as the GGS models. It’s the rare case where the best also happens to be the cheapest.

-- Oliver Hulland  

[These glass protectors are NOT meant to be used with capacitative touch screens.--OH]

Available from Amazon
$4-$8

Manufactured by GGS (I can’t seem to find a manufacturer’s website, but if you have better luck let me know and I’ll update this)



LowePro Fastpack

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I’ve been an amateur photographer for over a decade now, and in recent years my collection of gear has grown a lot. Back in 2008 I was planning a trip to Europe and needed to get a good camera bag that could handle my dSLR, lenses, my laptop and various bits and bobs. Recommendations from friends led me to the Lowepro Fastpack series. They hold a ton of stuff, and have a unique side-loading system for your camera. It allows you to keep the backpack on one shoulder and swing it around to get your camera out without having to put it down.

I bought the 250 model, and fell in love with it. It traveled all over the world with me for the last four years: Europe, Mexico, Burning Man and more. It’s extremely light when unloaded and roomy enough to hold a massive amount of gear when full. The laptop sleeve and camera chamber both have enough padding that my camera, lenses and laptop have survived a few terrifying falls when the bag was knocked off to tables, cars, etc.
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Recently the plastic logo on the shoulder strap came apart, leaving a hole in the shoulder strap. I emailed them asking about it, since their website says they have a lifetime warranty. They asked me to send them a photo of the damage, then shipped me a brand new one without having to send back the old one. Awesome customer service!

List price is $129, but it sells on Amazon for less. I was hesitant to spend that much on a camera bag, but after seeing $5000 worth of gear come out of it unscathed after a nasty fall on to a concrete floor, I am glad I did.

-- Mike Alberghini  

Lowepro Fastpack 250
$75

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by LowePro



Nasty Clamp

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Clamps are an essential tool in any photographer’s toolbox, and it would be difficult to improve on them. Nasty Clamps have done just that by taking flexible arms similar to those found on the previously reviewed Gorillapod and attaching it to, you guessed it, a clamp.

I’ve used mine by clamping it to the chair in front of me and attaching my Olympus audio recorder (via the 1/4″ tripod mount) when I’ve needed to record lectures, choral concerts, and interviews. I’ve also attached external flashes to two clamps and had a quick, lightweight OCF setup. And while it’s not supportive enough to hold up a dSLR, it more than accommodates my Panasonic GF2 as a lightweight alternative to a tripod (or GorillaPod for those who don’t own one). Unlike the GorillaPod the flexible arm is expandable, and you can also pick up a hotshoe adapter that makes it easier to attach OCF flashes (which can be used on an any 1/4″ tripod screw, not just a Nasty Clamp).

While the made-in-USA Nasty Clamps are a bit pricey their utility more than makes up for the cost.

-- Oliver Hulland  

[For those who are looking to save a bit by going DIY here's a nifty guide to make something similar at home.]

Nasty Clamp
$44

Available from and manufactured by Nasty Clamps



Light: Science and Magic

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This is the essential book for learning about how light and lighting works in photography. It is used as the textbook for many college photography studio lighting courses (which is how I discovered it, when taking a studio lighting course at CCSF).

Even after taking the class and “mastering” all the exercises, I still re-read this book frequently, and am surprised at little tricks or nuances I never learned before, or learned and then forgot (because that particular thing doesn’t come up with most of my photography work).

-- JC Dill  

[Note: For those interested a sample chapter on how to light a glass of water is available for free. --OH]

Light: Science and Magic
Fil Hunter, Steven Biver, and Paul Fuqua
2011, 326 pages
$29

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

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This is the lighting diagram that the authors used to photograph the cover.

*
raking light.jpg

*
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(p. 98)




Alien Bees Vagabond Mini

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The Alien Bees Vagabond Mini is a lithium battery pack which gives USB and AC power, and includes battery, inverter, and charger. I originally bought it to run photo flashes (which it does quite nicely), but I also use it to run my laptop, and it will also run any AC device less than 300 watts.

After seeing the low quality available for other lead acid battery packs, I decided to build my own. Then this came out. The whole package is about $40 more than the price of an equivalent battery pack, and it is a complete package. Other people have verified that it has a “PureSine” inverter.

There are some reports of them not working in 120 degree ambient temperatures of the desert outside of Dubai. They can also apparently be burnt if you run them at 500 watts, and keep pulsing them at 2kw for several hours. I suspect that it is the continuous load and high temperatures internally when pulses are demanded which causes the failures.

Take a look, it really is a cool tool for portable power, and for powering strobes.

-- Michael McMillan  

[Photo guru Rob Galbraith has a very thorough review of the Vagabond Mini for those interested in specifics.--OH ]

Alien Bees Vagabond Mini Lithium Power Pack
$240

Manufactured by and available from Paul C. Buff



Petapixel

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This blog focuses on photography rather than just cameras. To paraphrase Lance Armstrong, it’s not about the camera. It’s about the eyes, about seeing, about technical compentance, about tricks, techniques, creativity, and what you do with all the images you make or take. It’s about having fun with photography, as well as making money with it. There’s also a lot about the rights of photographers and the complex issues of copyright and “borrowing” from other photographers. There’s plenty about low tech pinhole cameras, and point and shoots, and phone camera photography. And yes, there’s bits about the newest cameras, but that part is not overwhelming. I’ve been reading it daily (about 3 or 4 short posts per day) for the past 18 months and it is continually helpful. The site is brisk, surprising, informative, current, and is not trying to sell gear. It’s one of the better blogs for enthusiasts of any stripe that I’ve seen. Almost anyone taking pictures will find it useful.

-- KK  

Sample Excerpts:

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San Diego-based wedding photographer Aaron Willcox won 1st place in an engagement photo contest with this shot showing a feat of incredible strength. No Photoshop trickery or invisible wires were used in making this image (nor does the guy have Superman-esque strength)




Black Rapid RS-4 Camera Strap

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I’ve been shooting photographs for years and the common neck strap has always given me nothing but neck pain. My father though he had found a solution with a neoprene neck strap, but eventually it had the same shortcomings as its predecessor.

One day, while attending a convention, a friend pulled a Black Rapid strap out of his bag. Within an hour I had found and purchased one for myself. The strap slips easily over one shoulder and allows your camera to hang comfortably at your side with no strain on your neck.
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The camera attaches to the strap through a custom tripod mount and a carabiner connecting kit that allows the camera to be brought up to shooting position without having to shift the strap (the metal connection slides across the fabric strap). This makes it easy to swing your camera up and shoot in a simple fluid motion, and return the camera back down to your side the same way. Another benefit of this connection method is that it reduces strain on the camera body when shooting with large lenses that have tripod collars.
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The straps are sturdy, well built and come in a variety of sizes and styles including the RS-DR-1 which can hold two SLRs at once, although that’s really more for the professional photographer.

-- Tim Edwards  

Black Rapid Rs-4 Camera Strap
$53

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Black Rapid



Cotton Carrier Camera System

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This harness keeps large-lensed cameras (full sized SLR’s) tight to your body as you go through rough country. It prevents the camera from swinging wildly in a bag or around your neck.

I also use it when I am expecting to have a camera around my neck for a 10 or 12 hour day. I shoot locations for films. I have used it for about two months, and the reason for its superiority is that it keeps the camera tight to your body and quickly makes your camera accessible. Also comes as a two camera system. Great for long fashion shoots as well, I’m sure.

-- Dan McWilliams  

Cotton Carrier Single Camera System
$150

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Cotton Carrier



Hakuba Camera Neck Strap

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Most compact digital cameras come with a lousy wrist strap. I say “lousy” because they often lack a slider to fit them to your wrist (which makes them more prone to fall off). And in any case you can’t put them around your neck, which is often a better choice if you need both of your hands when you’re out and about.

That’s why I’ve replaced those straps on my compact cameras with this Hakuba neck strap. I first found one about six years ago when I nearly smashed my Nikon CoolPix 880 on rocks while on a hike with my newly wedded wife in the Virgin Islands.

The strap is thick nylon which feels sturdy around your neck. Wearing the camera around your neck gives you both hands free to hold onto rocks or your spouse (hey, we were newlyweds then!). It also has a slider so that you can turn it into a wrist strap (albeit a long one) when you don’t want to look like a dork with a camera around your neck, and it has a quick release for when you need to quickly detach it from the strap.

There are other straps that might be OK, but I like the durability of the Hakuba strap.

-- Ben Rothfeld  

Hakuba Digital Camera Neck Strap
$6

Available from B&H Manufactured by Hakuba



Rubber Band Lens Filter Wrench

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Recently, I read a photography blog that said that everyone needs to own a filter wrench (a specialized tool to help remove filters from lenses), because sooner or later you will need to remove a filter that has been tightened onto your lens and you can’t remove it without one of these special tools.

A few years ago I had a stuck circular polarizer filter. These are more difficult to remove than the usual filter because the front element rotates freely – it’s the back element that you need to grasp to remove the filter from your lens. For most people it’s a bit difficult to position your finger tips to just grab the back element without also grabbing some of the lens.

I went to the rental department of my local photography store to see if I could borrow a wrench to remove it. They didn’t have a filter wrench in their rental department tools, but instead of trying to sell me something I didn’t need, they showed me how to use an ordinary rubber band as a filter wrench!

The ideal rubber band will stretch some, but not too much, as you place it on the threaded edge of your filter. It provides just enough extra grip to your fingers to grab onto the slippery and thin edge of the filter for you to simply unscrew the filter from your lens. You just need to carefully place the rubber band so that it is only touching the edges of the filter and not the edges of the lens.

Now I keep several rubber bands with my lens filters, and haven’t yet had a filter that I couldn’t remove with a rubber-band wrench.

-- JC Dill  

Rubber Bands
75 for $3

Available from Amazon