Marksta

Photographs are up for grabs on the Internet. Post a picture anywhere – on your personal Web site or Tumblr, via Twitter, on Facebook or Instagram, or anywhere — and it’s possible it will be appropriated without permission. Or, if you’ve marked a photograph as being available for use under a Creative Commons license, it often pops up without the proper attribution or under the right circumstances (used commercially with a non-commercial license).

The iPhone and iPad app Marksta lets you easily watermark photos with visible text as well as add embedded metadata as a method of informing and deterring those who might use your image inappropriately.

Because many people may not have mastered the vagaries of copyright law (and why should they), having a visible mark could ensure that your image is passed along with your notes intact. Software like this abounds on the desktop, or one can use image-editing software to add text labels, but this app lets you snap shots, label them, and then post them all on the device.

For those who might take the effort to erase your watermark through a rubber-stamp tool or “healing” brush, Marksta’s marks makes it an easier matter if you wanted to pursue having an image taken down, obtain compensation, or even sue, as they would have engaged in a purposeful effort to hide ownership. For most of us, we’re looking for credit where it’s due: an acknowledgement of whose image it is and a link back to wherever it came from. Marksta can help with that.

From an aesthetic standpoint, a nice element of the app is that you can create quite lovely labels, copyright aside. The app lets you pick fonts, colors, placement, and other details, and then store the choices for reuse.

Marksta ($1.99, App Store)



Really Right Stuff Lever-Release Camera Tripod Clamp

Most tripod and camera quick release systems stink. The majority of them are bulky, clumsy and weak. Except for the Really Right Stuff System. Yes, the name is a bit off-putting.

Attaching a camera to a tripod by screwing it on doesn’t sound like a big deal to you, but for a professional it severely inhibits mobility. The cam lever with the RRS system eliminates any excuses for not mounting a camera onto a tripod when you know you should. The ease in switching between horizontal and vertical is life changing.

The beauty of the L-plate is that in the vertical position, it keeps the weight of the camera directly over the tripod – not hanging overboard.

I have been using a Really Right Stuff system for about 15 years. I still own my original tripod lever release and I have acquired new L-plates for different cameras over the years.
Be certain, these items are pricey but they will last several lifetimes.

-- David Barry  

B2-40 Lever-Release Quick-Release Clamp
$105

Manufactured by Really Right Stuff



The Glif

I use my iPhone to shoot video because the quality is excellent and I like the many different inexpensive video apps available for the iPhone (such as stop motion apps). I also like being able to email iPhone videos or upload them to YouTube directly from my phone instead of having to first transfer them to a computer.

The main drawback with using the iPhone to shoot video is that you can’t put it on a tripod — you have to hold it in your hand or precariously lean it against something. The best iPhone mounting solution I’ve found so far is the Glif, a tiny hard-rubber clip with a metal 1/4″-­20 thread that attaches to any tripod mount. Simply slide the iPhone into the Glif’s slot and you’re ready to go. (The Glif was one of the first breakaway hits on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter, taking in almost $130,000 more than its $10,000 goal in late 2010.)

glif-tripod

The Glif has one other function: it’s a “kickstand” that lets you use your iPhone as a mini-display on your desktop or airplane fold down tray.

glif-stand

If you want to use the Glif when you’re on the move, pay the extra $10 for the Glif Plus, which includes a separate plastic piece that locks your iPhone onto the Glif so there’s no chance of it falling off.

-- Mark Frauenfelder  

The Glif
$20

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Studio Neat



Clearviewer

More and more cameras, especially compact ones, have no viewfinder other than the LCD screen on the back. I find using the LCD as a viewfinder to be ergonomically awkward. Additionally, in bright light it is nearly unusable. There are other workarounds. Some cameras offer an external electronic viewfinder (EVF) that fits in the hot shoe. These tend to be expensive, and an additional electronic gizmo that could potentially break. There are also add on hoods to shade the screen from glare, but these do nothing for shooting awkwardness.

Enter the ClearViewer. This little device attaches to either the tripod mount or hot shoe of the camera and holds a high diopter lens about 2 inches from the LCD screen. You hold the camera so that your eye is right up on that lens, much like you would hold a camera with a traditional viewfinder. This makes the LCD display fill your entire field of view. Additionally, since your eye is so close to the screen, the brightness is adequate even in bright sun.

When you aren’t using it, it folds flat against the camera. If you want to use the screen, you simply fold the lens out of the way. It is not the most attractive camera accessory ever made. But it is very useful, and, at $35 (or $53 with a “premium plano-convex lens”, which is recommended for larger LCD screens), it is pretty inexpensive compared to EVFs.

-- Clark Case  

Clearviewer
$35

Manufactured by and available from Clearviewer



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.
lowepro fastpack 2.jpeg
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

lightscience.jpeg

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:

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

*
raking light.jpg

*
light science p 98-1.jpg
(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)