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Gadgets :: November 14, 2018

by Gregg Ellman
(@greggellman)

The Nixplay Iris frame with WiFi connectivity easily displays cell phone images. Along with the Nixplay app and 10GB of free cloud storage, you can send images from anywhere to be displayed in the 8-inch frame.  Once everything is set up, images display instantly. The frame has a high resolution (1024 x 768) and automatically adjusts brightness based on ambient light levels in the surrounding room. Easy settings allow for choices of shuffling, playlists and image transitions. Both JPEG and PNG files formats are supported and an AC power adapter is included 

www.nixplay.com $199.99 in silver, copper or bronze

The Rabbit Charger Duohas is a charging system for all your power-hungry accessories. It attaches to a standard AC duplex outlet (not compatible with GFCI or décor outlets) in seconds and includes a 28-inch retractable cable. The bottom of the charger has a standard AC pass-though plug, which you can use for another charger, lamp or whatever. Where the top plug would be is now a touch-activated ambient light. The top sided cable has swappable charging tips for USB-C, Apple and Androids. With a total of 3.0 amps output, you can charge a tablet and a phone simultaneously.

https://www.rabbitcharger.com $49.95

Ventev’s Cablekeeper Stay is so handy you’ll end up getting yourself a pack. Everyone has cables so why not keep ‘em neatly organized with this ultra compact cable management solution? Each four pack (one large multi-cable keeper and three single cable keepers) has non-marking adhesive to stay in place and allows your cables to snap in and out instantly. While you’re at it, the Ventev Cablekeeper Tie (2 pack) is a magnetic closure that secures computer or headphone cables, keeping them tangle free.

https://mobileaccessories.ventev.com $14.99

What coffee lover doesn’t want an endless supply of java? You get that with the WePlenish Java Smart Container. It’s equipped with Amazon dash replenishment, so when your supply gets low a WiFi connected smart sensor detects the coffee order needed and along with the WePlenish App automatically re-orders your coffee. The container (10-by-5-by-9.75-inches) holds and reorders most all the popular coffee pods, including K-Cup and Nespresso. 

www.weplenish.com $39.99

Imagine giving someone 150 Bluetooth speakers and being able to pair and play together. Thats just one of the features of the Megaboom 3 from Ultimate Ears, which has everything you would want from a Bluetooth speaker. This includes incredible 360-degree sound with an amazing amount of bass at all volumes, waterproof and it even floats. A magic button on top of the speaker offers one touch access to playlists from Apple Music and Deezer Premium. The battery will last for about 20 hours of play before a USB charge is needed or you can purchase the Ultimate Ears Power Up charge dock ($39.99) for wire-free charging. And if thats not enough, it looks great with a high-performance fabric exterior available in seven color choices.

www.ultimateears.com $199.99

The RCA Beverage Center holds 24 wine bottles or 110 cans or a combination of both stored in perfect view with a double tempered glass front door. Chrome racks inside are removable for easy cleaning and customized configurations. Interior blue LED lighting gives it a modern look and the electronic temperature control and can be accessed from the outside.

www.RCA.com $119.00

The Kodak Scanza digital film scanner is an easy-to-use way to re-live memories that haven’t been seen in years. The scanner comes with all the adapters and inserts to convert 126, 110, super 8 and 8 mm, 35 mm film negatives and slides to jpeg files. A fold-out 3.5-inch LCD color displays the image you’re working on, which is scanned into optimized 14-megapixel or interpolated 22-megapixel digital files. Scanned images go directly onto an SD card so you can do your one-touch one-step scan scanning without being connected to your computer.

www.KodakPhotoPlus.com $169.99

 

 

Gadgets :: November 7, 2018

by Gregg Ellman
(@greggellman)

Scosche’s Boombottle MM, waterproof wireless speaker with built-in MagicMount is amazing when you look at the features packed inside. And it’s even  better when you hear the sound.

With many Bluetooth speakers, when you push the button the volume keeps getting louder but most often something inside you ears tells you when the speaker hits its optimum volume level based on the sound quality and distortion.

With the Boombottle, you almost want to it keep getting louder past the maximum volume levels, it sounds that good.

The speaker is 7.2-inches high with a rounded cup holder-friendly body 2.9-inches deep and weighs 1.25 pounds. Inside is Bluetooth 4.2, a pair of 12 W (6 W x 2) 45 mm speakers and a 4000 mAh battery to keep the music playing for up to 12 hours. A 4 level LED battery indicator shows you how much power is left before a USB charge is needed.

With an IP67 waterproof rating, the speaker can withstanding being submerged in up to three feet of water and the body has a dust-proof construction. A built-in microphone is for handsfree calling.

Those features alone would be enough for a great speaker, but there’s a unique feature on the outside; the BoomBottle Opener. The built-in opener is right there on the back of the speaker, so as long as the speaker is packed for vacation, you’ll have an opener with you for your favorite beverage.

Scosche’s MagicMount technology lets the speaker magnetically attach to most metal surfaces. This lets the sound play from any direction and when you pair two of the BoomBottle speakers and mount them further apart, the true stereo sound is even more impressive.

The mounting system also lets your smartphone magnetically secure itself to the top of the speaker with the included magic plate and 3M adhesive film.

A carabiner loop is built into the top and of course a carabiner is included.

While the looks have no bearing of the sound, the black speaker grill makes it an attractive speaker. All the controls are easily accessed on a rear vertical rubber panel. A 3.5 mm aux input port is there for connecting your music source directly, but is not waterproof at that point.

www.scosche.com $129.99 available in choice of black or black camouflage

Even with some of the most functional and best computers made, the sound produced from the built-in speakers is just OK, if they even have speakers. Internal speakers are not directional; the speakers are stationary and the sound can’t be sent one way or another.

What caught my attention from the Stage Air from Creative is the functionality with a friendly cost. The soundbar, instantly solves any computer’s sound problem.

It’s designed for under-monitor use with a compact 16-by-3-by-2.75-inch size and all the controls are on the right side.

My wife uses her iMac and doesn’t like clutter and accessories all over her desk. Since she  often plays music while working, I quietly set up the speaker and placed it exactly where it’s promoted to be, under the monitor.

As I sat there watching her turn on some music, she instantly turned around and said “that’s pretty cool” when the sound played from the Stage Air.

With Bluetooth pairing, the speaker isn’t limited to computer use, its ideal for using with a TV or any sound source. And if there’s no Bluetooth inside your TV, you can’t make a direct 3.5 mm connection.

There’s a standard USB port on the back, which lets the Stage Air work as a standalone music player. If you have music loaded on a USB storage device, just plug it in and the playing starts. 

You get about 6 hours of playback from the 2,200mAh internal battery before a charge is needed or just plug the USB cable into your computer or an AC power source for endless power and sound.

The modern looking speaker has metal front facing grills covering a pair of 5 W speakers. 

https://en.creative.com $45.54

 

Gadgets :: October 31, 2018

by Gregg Ellman
(@greggellman)

Momentum’s Cori HD smart home security camera is an affordable do-it-yourself system that you can have up and running in just a few minutes.

Each camera can be connected to a cloud service to save your recordings (monthly fee required for each camera) or you can avoid the charges by using your own SD memory card (up to 128GB), which inserts directly into each camera.

I used the quick start guide for setup, which was really easy. After creating an account in the accompanying Momentum mobile app, the app walks you through a few steps including pairing and naming the camera. 

Once everything is connected, the app’s user-friendly dashboard lets you view the cameras, record and create rules for your system. The rules include what you want recorded and when, along with notifications.

Each camera has a 110-degree viewing angle, records with a 720p HD resolution and sends alerts for sound and motion detection. The audio is two-way though the app to the camera, which has a speaker and microphone.

The Cori has a built-in infrared LED, enabling it to capture clear color video recording during day and black and white at night.

I used the microSD slots for storage but if you want online storage, you have choices of monthly plans for accessing a week or a months worth of recordings. The plans are also priced per camera. You do get a 30-day free trial with 24/7 live stream to start.

Each camera has a base for sitting on a flat surface and lets the camera turn and tilt to get the angle you want. A wall mounting kit is included along with a microUSB cable and power adapter for each camera.

www.momentumcam.com $59.99 for a pair of cameras

The first and probably the most important feature of the Soul Run Free Pro Bio voice coaching wireless running earphones is it’s impressive sound.

While the sound is a critical aspect, the features don’t end there. Believe it or not they include a fitness coach, giving you workout tips in your ears. 

Soul touts the headphones as the world’s first A.I. Earphones with GAIT Analysis technology to monitor your running form and provide real-time voice coaching.

The voice-activated coach is in your ears to help you improve efficiency on-the-go and to prevent injuries.

Powered by Beflex Biomech Engine technology, it uses biomechanical data from critical aspects of your run. Built-in sensors track the statistics to guide the coach. Data are  recorded and displayed on the Soul Fit app. This includes speed, distance, steps width and length, head tilt angle, balance and many other measurements.

The attractive sport design includes an LED light and a reflective cable to add a nice safety feature for night runners. Multiple sets of ear tips are included to ensure a snug fit with the ergonomic earphones. 

You’ll get about 11 hours of playtime before a 2-hour USB charge is needed. They are IPX5 water-resistant for protection from sweat and an in-line controller lets you adjust the volume and music tracks and a built-in mic is there for handsfree calls.

Bluetooth 4.1 makes a solid connection to your smartphone, which you’ll obviously have to carry.

Back to the sound. It was crystal clear at all levels with my eclectic playlist. Over the years I’ve tested many Soul headphones and they rock and roll in your ears, except when the coach is talking.

www.SoulElectronics.com $149.99 available in passion red or power grey

Gadgets :: October 10, 2018

by Gregg Ellman
(@greggellman)

The Misfit Path is high on my list of favorite activity trackers. 

So many trackers out there are just plain ugly. The Path, though, is timeless with a classic look. It’s a hybrid smartwatch that’s really fashionable, with the look of a traditional watch. 

I tested the stainless steel watch with the black sport strap and it replaced my regular watch because of all the cool things it allows me to do, along with having the time.

The Misfit Path hybrid smartwatch has a sleek, minimalist design that automatically tracks steps, distance, calories, and light and restful sleep. It lightly vibrates when I get a call or text, and can be set it to vibrate for smartphone app alerts. There are also smart alarms and movement reminders for when I sit too long. 

There are two buttons on the side; one shows me my progress and the other controls music, taking pictures, and a find your phone feature.

Two great features I love are the integration with fitness apps like My Fitness Pal. The Misfit app connects my Path (or other Misfit device like Shine or Ray) to the app to share my activity for the day, allowing me to add negative calories from my daily activities and working out automatically. The other changes time zones automatically so  the Path sets the analog time for my location.

It is swim-proof and water resistant to 50 meters and has a non-charging, replaceable CR2025 battery, which lasts up to 6 months. The straps are easily interchangeable, making it fashionable for any look I want.

https://misfit.com $149.99, Available in four colorways

Kingston’s Nucleum USB Type-C Hub is one-stop shopping for connecting just about every device and accessory you’ll need to your laptop.

The Hub is only 5.0-by-1.8-by-0.6-inches with a single cable attaching to a USB-C connection, which plugs into the computer. Your computer gives it all the power it needs.

From there you can connect up to seven devices simultaneously, including power, smartphone charging and other accessories like a mouse or keyboard. An additional monitor can also be connected.

It also has an HDMI port to output to a 4K UHD or Full HD 1080p monitor or projector. There’s a build-in memory card reader for SD microSD cards or you can connect an external card reader to one of the USB A slots.

One of the USB-C ports has a power icon, which tells you it can be used for pass-through charging.

No matter what I tried to connect, everything worked perfect on my Apple MacBook Pro.

www.kingstongo.com $50.93

The Nanoleaf remote is a dodecahedron snapped remote to control HomeKit smart home accessories and Nanoleaf Light Panels in colorful style.

The 12-sided, light-up Bluetooth-enabled device looks like a speaker, but it’s not. Instead, each face of the remote can be programed for a different smart home scene or command, which is controlled by sensors inside the Nanoleaf. 

You can easily create a common scene with specific lights, temperature and entertainment devices turned on. Your devices are connected to your HomeKit’s hub, which then connects to the Nanoleaf for controlling. 

After you plug in 2 AA batteries for power and snap the remote together, you can start programing it with the HomeKit or Nanoleaf app or even use the pre-programmed scenes.

I personally find smart home devices entertaining and useful. The Nanoleaf 12 Sides of Paradise just adds another feature to all of them.

According to the Nanoleaf site, with iOS, the Nanoleaf remote is a HomeKit experience and requires iOS8 and above, along with a Home Hub (Apple TV, iPad, or HomePod). On Android, the Nanoleaf Remote requires Android 5.

https://nanoleaf.me $49.99

Gadgets :: October 3, 2018

By Gregg Ellman
(@greggellman)

Injuries such as forearm strain or wrist pressure caused by a mouse are more common than one would think.  The new Logitech MX Vertical wireless mouse is built with an ergonomic design to reduce these injuries.

Something I found interesting while reading about the mouse, before I had my review unit, is that the mouse is scientifically tested and ergonomist approved. The design is a natural handshake position, which I kept in my mind as I sed  MX Vertical the first time.

Along with the handshake design, it has a 57-degree vertical angle, reducing muscular activity up to 10 percent compared to an everyday mouse.

So if any of that makes you think it’s too complicated for a mouse, remember a mouse is something many of use for hours each day. I found the comfort of the MX Vertical like night and day compared to a standard mouse.

If you have never used anything but a standard mouse, the look and feeling of an ergonomic mouse might take some getting used to but after an hour or so, trust me, you’ll never go back.

Included software is easy to program and customize  all the features you expect and need. This includes left and right buttons for clicking and a smooth clicking scroll wheel. 

The software lets you customize the buttons and add other features depending on your tasks. Wirelessly, the mouse can be used with the included USB dongle or Bluetooth. Both worked fine; I stayed with the dongle, mainly so I wouldn’t lose it. 

On the bottom is a button to switch the channel, which is great if you use multiple computers. You can even copy and paste between computers. 

The left side has a thumb rest and your other fingers are positioned on the right with each having easy access to the controls.

How it works to reduce or eliminate pain, injuries or just add comfort, depends on each user. I’m lucky since I don’t have wrist pain and I know I just jinxed myself by saying that.

With the internal battery you should get about four months of use; if it runs out in the middle of work, a one-minute charge will get you running for three hours.

It’s impossible to say if it’s the best mouse I ever tried but with all the features it has to be near or at the top. Logitech is known for well-built products, which continues with the MX Vertical.

www.Logitech.com $99.99

True wireless earbuds aren’t as unusual as they were a year ago but they are still new to some. The latest to get some play time in my ears are the Yevo Air.

Recently I got a few reader emails, were asking about the true wireless category with good sound and a reasonable price. I was happy to reply that the Yevo Air is a great choice. 

The most important feature is the sound and it  didn’t disappoint, with great clarity even at high levels and a nice amount of bass.

Calls, voice assistants and music are easily managed with on-ear controls.

But before even turning them on, I made sure I had the right sized silicon tip attached to the earbuds (three sizes included) to ensure a comfortable and critically important secure fit. 

Each earbud has a 6mm driver and the iBluetooth 4.2 connection worked perfect. You’ll get about 3.5 hours of battery life, but that can be more or less depending on the volume. 

When a charge of the lithium polymer battery is needed, just place the earbuds in the included pocket sized storage case, which gives you up to 10.5-hours of extra listening.

The sweat and splash resistant earbuds are built with a contemporary look which only adds to the value of a solid listening product.

www.yevolabs.com $129 in choices of black or white

Gadgets :: September 19, 2018

by Gregg Ellman
(@greggellman)

Adaptive Sound Technologies’ LectroFan EVO is designed to be a dream come true for poor sleepers.

I’ve always had to fall asleep with a TV, radio or some sound playing in the bedroom.  Using a nighttime sound gadget like the LectroFan EVO has solved the problem. I’m not trying to play a sleep doctor, but I know what works for me and using a sound machine does the trick.

The desktop speaker has 22 unique digital sounds to neutralize unwanted noises; fan sounds, 10 white noises and two ocean surf sounds.

The hexagon-shaped speaker (4.4-by-2.2-by-4.4-inches) has a timer (30, 60, 90 or 120 minutes) and volume controls to adjust in 1dB increments from 10x quieter-10x louder than fan machines, according to the company’s website.

On the other side of my bed, I’m told my snoring is still heard but it’s drowned out and way less intrusive. I was also interested to read before testing the unit that it helps reduce startling noises, which diminishes pet anxiety. I have an older dog, and while she won’t discuss with me if the sleeping is better, she didn’t wake up during a recent rain storm, which very often she did in the past.

If you don’t want the sounds broadcast out loud, there’s an audio jack to connect other sound sources (not included) such as headphones or a pillow speaker.

The LectroFan is also good for office use, helping you focus on work tasks and keeping conversations easier to concentrate on with the elimination of background noises.

An AC adapter, USB source and travel case are included.

www.soundofsleep.com $59.95

Skylum software has introduced Photolemur 3.0 software to help consumers easily enhance images.

The software uses Artificial Intelligence with a simple drag and drop application to make adjustments almost instantly. This includes auto face enhancement, skin retouching, teeth whitening, skin and hair smoothing, sharpening, lens correction and exposure adjustments. There are 14 different AI technologies incorporated into the software, which makes the images instantly ready for social media.

The software analyzes the image and enhances each photo accordingly.

You can adjust up to 200 images simultaneously, which could help consumers who took more than 1.2 trillion photos in the U.S. alone last year, according to InfoTrends.

Photolemur 3.0 is available for Windows and Mac system for $99 with no annual subscription fees.

https://skylum.com

TravelPirates is a new app designed for those who are traveling the world and want to see it on a budget.

To make it unique, TravelPirates uses a combination of smart travel search technology and the human touch, resulting in low prices for destinations many consider unreachable on a fixed budget. This includes luxurious tropical getaways, trendy experiences, quick domestic city trips and even affordable private islands.

The free app is available for Android and iOS users and in a sleek user friendly interface, provides a feed of the latest and greatest travel deals. Everything is in real time,  created by the company’s team of internationally renowned deal hunters. This way you won’t be looking at anything expired while trying to plan a vacation for a month ahead.

Users can customize the deals based on their preferences, with filters to sort your destinations, departure locations and travel period. You can also get push notifications when a match becomes available.

In the booking section, you’ll see hotel and flight comparisons and a vacation booking engine, which allows users to secure deeply-discounted rates when booking a hotel bundled with a flight.

www.travelpirates.com 

Gadgets :: September 12, 2018

by Gregg Ellman
(@greggellman)

Surviving the cold at football games and other events will be a lot more comfortable and luxurious with the new Hot Seat from Pro Design.

The Kickstart campaign just started for what Pro Design calls the world’s first heated stadium chair. With USB-powered ThermaGridz technology, your bottom will stay cozy warm with the heat, which will penetrate deep into you.

According to Pro Design, ThermaGridz, uses low-voltage USB-powered heating, in  a grid pattern of single core wire wrapped around glass fiber and coated in silicone, which produces Far Infrared Ray heat.

With your portable USB battery (not included), you’ll stay warm for 1.2 hours with a 2500mAh battery or up to  7.25 hours with a 15,000mAh battery.

There are three temperature controls (high 115F, medium 110F and low 100F) and 600D fabric covers the chair to avoid any hot spots,

SoftTushion foam is built into the seat’s armrests and adjustable back for long-term weather with comfort even without the heat.  The welded steel-frame chair is 16 inches wide, but you can drop down the armrests for a larger 20.5-inch wide seat. An adjustable back is 16-inches and you get 16-inches of depth in the seat.

Other features include hidden pockets, which unfold from the armrests for items including smartphones or keys. There’s a larger 15-by-4-inch pocket on the back.

One of the hidden zipper pocket on the front of the left armrest also acts as a cup holder and the bottom of the chair is anti-slip and waterproof. After the game, it folds flat and has adjustable backpack straps.

Pricing starts on the campaign with early bird specials of $79.99, which go fast.

http://popdesignproducts.com, www.kickstarter.com 

Roccat’s new Vulcan keyboard is ideal for gaming, daily use or just looking flat out cool. 

Often I’ve had discussions with friends or coworkers who think a keyboard is a keyboard until I let them try a different one. The same is the case with the Vulcan: try it and you’ll see.

While the looks are amazing, the performance is key and it works as well as it looks. I’m open to admit I’m not a gamer, never have been and never will be. With the amount of computer work I do, I’m able to give any keyboard a workout and the Vulcan shined.

For gaming, I let a friend give it a few hours of use and his reported to me that the comfort and response time of the Vulcan is outstanding and the customization was crazy good. He also mentioned that he’s not giving me the Vulcan back. 

The Vulcan has dedicated media keys, which I know gamers will love, along with Roccat’s in-house-developed Titan Switches. These were specifically designed for gamers craving a key stroke that was swift and precise while still being tactile, with an instant response and comfort.

When you first see the futuristic looking keyboard, you notice how cool it looks. It’s built with a Roccat’s Aimo RGB lighting system with long-life LEDs producing beautiful lighting of every one of the keyboard’s dust resistant low profile switches (keys), which are also spill proof. 

The transparent keys along with an aluminum backing produce the effect, which you can customize on a per-key basis in 16.8 million colors.

Three versions are available, the Vulcan 80 ($129.99) with black anodized aluminum, single blue illumination and two media keys. The Vulcan 100 ($149.99) has gray anodized aluminum, RGB AIMO illumination and professional grade media controls and the Vulcan 120 ($159.99) with grey anodized aluminum plating, RGB AIMO lighting, professional grade controls and a magnetic detachable wrist rest.

www.roccat.org

Gadgets :: September 5, 2018

by Gregg Ellman
(@greggellman)

Whether you’re cutting the cord of cable or satellite TV subscriptions to save money or you just need local channels during a weather emergency, I have a simple and easy solution with the Winegard FlatWave Amped indoor amplified HDTV antenna.

I’m being honest when I say it took less than five minutes from the time I opened the antenna box to having my local channels on my screen.

The antenna is just 12-by-13-by-.6-inches and is attached to your TV antenna port with the included 18.5-foot coax cable, which has a USB power supply built in.

The quick setup included attaching the antenna to a window with adhesive tape, connecting the coax cable to my TV and plugging the USB cable into a port on my TV. You can also connect to an AC power supply with the included 110-volt adapter.

Once everything is attached, put your TV remote in scan mode for a search of the local channels. The scan only takes a minute or so but do some experimenting with the placement of the antenna. I tried three different places and then scanned, with each one having somewhat different results. Just do the placement and scan until you have the channels you want or are critical to you in an emergency.

Once your signal is set, you’ll receive local channels’ content 4k Ultra HD and Dolby Digital Surround Sound within an amplified 50-mile range. 

The flat antenna (imagine a small stack of letter-sized paper) has an ultra-low noise digital amplifier embedded directly in the antenna element, resulting in an unprecedented 100 percent signal boost that increases range and eliminates pixilation and dropout, according to Winegard.

After testing the antenna on a TV, on which I still had seldom-used cable TV installed, i began thinking if I need to make a switch.

www.Winegard.com $59.99

Trulia is a new site for homebuyers, which not only shows the homes for sale, but also extensive information about the area you might be looking to move to. The site’s goal site is to help consumers discover a place where they will love to live.

Included are  original photography, drone footage, information on local safety, commutes, and parent reviews of nearby schools. Trulia already has enhanced photography and drone footage from more than 300 neighborhoods in San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Austin and Chicago with more than 1,100 more neighborhoods expected to be introduced this year

Trulia content gives potential residents a feel for daily life including what they call “Inside the Neighborhood” stories of what life is like there. The site includes features with input from local residents of your search, with feedback on dog-friendly areas and parking.

With all the information, Trulia gives you an informative feel for what it might be like to live in the neighborhood of the homes you’re looking at.  They put all the information consumers would search for on multiple sites in one place.

www.trulia.com

BlackBerry, yes that same BlackBerry, is alive and well with this week’s launch by TCL communications of the new, hot and slick looking BlackBerry Key2LE smartphone.

I haven’t tried one, but as a former BlackBerry user for many years, the press release has me intrigued.

The touchscreen smartphone is available in three color variants – Slate, Champagne and Atomic with a redesigned chassis for a more modern look and feel with a full-HD display. 

Android operating system is inside, including support for Google Assistant and other Google applications. Speed Key is a new feature, giving you a customized shortcut experience. This gives you 52 customizable shortcuts, allowing each to be programed to instantly bring up the contacts and apps you use most. 

Other features include lightweight polycarbonate frame and a newly designed soft textured back that provides better in-hand grip to prevent drops. There’s a dual rear camera (13MP/5MP) and a front camera (8MP) with an LCD flash and many modes such as portrait, selfie and face beauty.

Next month, models with 32GB of storage will be on sale in the US for $399 or with 64GB for $449. Each model has expandable storage MicroSD support. The rechargeable battery is expected to last up to 22 hours.

https://blackberrymobile.com  

Game Night: High Impact and High ISO Sports Photography by Jeff Swinger

Game Night: High Impact and High ISO Sports Photography by Jeff Swinger

When I was a young athlete, there was nothing more exciting than playing under the lights. It was not the norm to have lighted fields or stadiums, so it was truly a special occasion and a real rush when those lights kicked on. It really felt like the focus was on us under those giant spots. The sound of the announcer echoed from the press box on top of the stands, and you could hear the fans more than you could see them due to the shadows.

Even after all these years, there is still something special about Friday night lights. So many things that come to mind: the strains of the marching band, cheerleaders preparing, the smell of hotdogs on the grill. It’s funny how so many sounds and smells trigger my visual memory. It can be so rewarding to shoot under the lights despite the challenges that come with it.

Night Sports = Low Light Levels

Little did I know that years later, the glow of those bright lights wasn’t so bright after all. It wasn’t until my first assignment shooting Friday night football that I realized it was really dark. When I put my camera up to my eye and metered the situation, I found I was stumped. I didn’t have the fastest of lenses and the luxury of using an ISO of 10,000 like with modern digital cameras. I was lucky to have anywhere from 800 ISO to 3200 ISO. I tried many combinations of film speeds and pushing the ISO on a roll of film to a higher ISO. You could essentially fool the camera and film by using different chemicals and temperatures in the darkroom. This allowed us to have a little extra latitude in raising ISOs. There also were many times where I used on-camera flash to light my subjects. I did this for a long time and tried several different systems to get the flash as far from my lens as possible, such as flash brackets generally used by wedding photographers. But using long lenses and on-camera flash always created red eye in my photos. Even in black and white, the eyes glow and look totally unnatural. So between pushing film in the darkroom and using strobes, I was able to shoot football under the lights, although it was not ideal.

Camera technology has really grown by leaps and bounds since the days of film, darkrooms and chemicals. Now we can shoot under the lights with just about any camera Canon makes. We don’t even need the super-fast long 2.8mm lenses to do it. With the advancements in sensors, we can shoot under the light in most stadiums and arenas with most kit lenses and cameras.

The beauty of shooting youth or high school sports is the ease of access. Once access is secured and you’re able to hit the sidelines to take pictures, keep a few things in mind:

• Safety is always the first thing I preach. It’s incredibly important to be aware of your surroundings.

• Now that you are really close to the action, you won’t need as long a lens as you do on a college or professional field. There are no extra lines painted on the field or security making sure you are way back. Essentially you can police yourself and just stay off the field of play.

Positioning yourself

One of the best tips I can give for shooting in most high school stadiums is to shoot from the sidelines. Not just any sideline, though. I always check out the light and make sure I’m on the side of the field with the most light. Each side might have the same amount of light poles and structures, with the same amount of lights, but sometimes the light poles are pushed farther back on one side than the other. I also make sure I’m on the side that has fewer burned out lights. So many times I’ve wanted to be on the opposite side of the field, but I generally lean towards having the better light at my back. As a rule of thumb, the side of the field with the press box is generally lit better than the other (or visitor) side. I also don’t shoot from the end zone or end lines very often in small stadiums because there are usually no lights at the ends of the field. Sometimes I’ll actually go up high during pre-game and look at how the light hits the field. This allows me to get a general overview of how the light hits the grass or turf and an idea of where the light falls off around the field. Once we have assessed the light, it’s time to set up the camera for exposure.

The advantage to shooting in fixed lighting situations is that you can set your camera on Manual exposure and ISO, and you won’t really need to change it very much. Manual is always the most predictable setting. Unlike auto settings that move around to accommodate the changing lighting conditions or compositions, Manual doesn’t change unless you change it. The beauty of digital cameras with handy LCD screens on the back is that you can take a picture and check your exposure easily. First I set my shutter speed so I can stop the action. I will set it at a minimum of 1/1000th sec, and then I set my aperture to the widest setting on my lens. Most kit lenses have a variable aperture. This means the aperture changes as you zoom the lens. The brightest point on your lens is at the widest focal length setting. As you zoom to a higher magnification, the aperture gets smaller. Set your aperture to the brightest setting at the long side of your magnification. This will give you the largest opening of your lens at its longest magnification. Canon also makes other lenses that have a constant aperture that don’t change as you zoom. Let’s say we are set at 1/1000th sec at f/5.6, now we need to find an ISO that finishes our exposure. This is a different way of thinking now with DSLRs because they are so good at high ISO. I used to pick my film speed (ISO) first and then work around that.

If this all sounds too complicated, don’t sweat it. We can work around this with no problem. All Canon cameras have an automatic setting to make life on the sidelines easier. The basics still apply where you need to be able to stop the action. You can set the camera on Tv mode (time value) where you set shutter speed and the camera sets the rest. In this setting you can also set the ISO yourself or use the Auto ISO setting. There are lots of options depending on your ability. For those of you who want to make great pictures without having to think about it, I recommend cameras that have an automatic Sports Mode setting, like Canon’s Rebel series. With this setting you can spin the dial or go into the menu and put it on the setting that shows a person in a running position. This setting gives you all of the things I’ve talked about, except the camera is choosing the shutter speed, aperture and ISO for you. This sounds just like a P mode (program) except the camera is making the choices based on stopping action as opposed to giving you a general average setting. The beauty of Sports Mode for novice photographers is that it also chooses your focus points as well as sets the camera for the continuous AI Servo AF you need to follow the action. And it automatically sets the camera’s Drive to Continuous — hold the shutter button fully down, and it fires continuously. Canon has a very sophisticated focusing system that keeps you from missing a shot. For sports you need the focus to follow a moving subject. Once activated, the focusing system engages on the moving subject and follows the subject as you take pictures.

This same AF feature is available when shooting manually, too. It’s called AI Servo AF, and you cannot shoot sports without your AF Operation being in that continuous AF mode. One way I demonstrate to students on how AI Servo AF works is to first put the camera on One Shot focus in the menu. I have them point the camera at a stationary subject about 30 feet away while depressing the shutter button halfway to engage focus. Without lifting their finger, have the subject walk towards the camera slowly. The subject will quickly be out of focus as they walk. I then have the subject change direction, generally moving away from the camera. They will not be in focus until they make it back to the original spot. This is because One Shot focus locks focus on your subject as you depress the shutter button and will not refocus until you lift your finger up and push it down again. Next, in the camera menu change the focus to AI Servo AF and try this exercise again. You will notice that when the subject is stationary the camera will focus perfectly the same as before, but as the subject moves towards you or away from you the camera will continually focus as long as you keep the button depressed. This is generally a lightbulb moment for students who have issues getting moving subjects in focus. For me as a young photographer, this was the biggest advancement in camera technology and what separated Canon from all the rest when it came to autofocus. Following focus manually was very difficult as you had to truly rely on your eyes and the ability to turn your lens the right direction as your subject moved. Once Canon EOS hit the market, I quickly realized it was impossible for me to manually focus faster than my camera.

In the old days of film, you had to advance film with your thumb one frame at a time or attach an optional power winder or motor drive. Now that we don’t use film, all cameras advance automatically. I keep my cameras set to High Speed Continuous mode, where the camera fires as I hold my finger on the shutter button. Although shooting sports is about timing, it’s great to have that continuous mode to be able to shoot sequences ensuring you won’t miss the action.

Anticipation is another key word in shooting sports. Think ahead to where the action might go and put yourself in position to get the shot you’re looking for. It’s not ideal to use a short zoom lens for sports action, but it’s not impossible. You might have to chase the action a little more than when using longer lenses. Long lenses allow you to be a bit farther away and wait for the action. With short lenses you still want to fill your frame with the action, so you have to be closer. When shooting with zoom lenses, I recommend not zooming at the same time you are pushing the shutter button. That movement in zooming will decrease sharpness in images, and as tempting as it is to follow the action and zoom, it’s important to pick a focal length.

When I started shooting there weren’t a ton of options for zoom lenses. The only zoom I had was a manual focus 70-210mm. Now the options are abundant in many variations of focal length. If you are starting from scratch, I recommend buying a camera kit that comes with at least a wide-angle zoom, and picking up a longer zoom for shooting sports. Some kits actually come with two lenses and the nice thing about this is the longer lens picks up where the short lens stops. This gives you a lot of continuous focal length. For many amateur-level sports, Canon’s 75-300mm (or, the faster-focusing 70-300mm USM lens) is a great lens to get started with for shooting sports. It’s lightweight and has a lot of focal length for the price. It’s as much magnification as you will need for shooting most outdoor, amateur sporting events. Canon does have higher-end options that are brighter with large apertures, but don’t get caught up in having the most expensive gear. It’s really important to match your gear to your experience, mastering what you have before going bigger.

Finally, don’t be afraid to shoot under the lights — experience all the excitement and challenges. You’ll find not only is it not as scary as you might think but also very rewarding. Expand your photographic experience to more than bright sunlight and daytime shooting. Practice in all lighting situations and understand what your camera is doing. Practice zooming and following moving subjects as well as learning to anticipate the action. Look for the light, master your exposure, don’t be afraid to use high ISOs, be safe on the sidelines and most importantly, have a great time making pictures.

Original Article Link: Canon Digital Learning Center

*Published with permission.

Gadgets :: August 29, 2018

by Gregg Ellman
(@greggellman)

We finally had rain. I say this for two reasons; first and most importantly, I live in Texas and we need the rain. The second is I got a chance to  try the UnbelievaBrella reverse umbrella.

For the most part it looks like an umbrella and works like an umbrella, but the fun in innovative starts when the rain stops.  The UnbelievaBrella is built with reverse technology, allowing you to walk in the house right after the storm and not have the umbrella drip all over the house. 

The technology reverses the umbrella when you close it. Instead of what happens when you  close a standard umbrella – push the inside up and all the  water drips down on you – with the UnbelieveaBrella you pull the inside down, causing the umbrella to act as a funnel holding all the water.

When it’s in a place you can dry it, flip it over to have the water drip out of the funnel side.

It;s well made with a easy to hold rubber coated C-shaped handle with steel and fiberglass construction. 

When opened, you get 48-inches of coverage and when the sun is out, it folds into 36.5-inches for easy car or closet storage. The outer canopy is black when opened and the inner comes in choices of six colors: black, charcoal, lime green, ocean, pink and red.

https://shedrain.com $20

The Soundcast VG1 Bluetooth speaker is ready to blast your sound pool side or in a dorm room of any size.

The portable has been out a little while, sorry, it got buried in my closet, but definitely worth the wait.

You’ll get really strong and clear sound from the speaker (6.8-by-2.3-by-2.9-inches, 1 pound), which is weather resistant (not water proof), dust, drop and shockproof. Inside is what the company calls a unique down-firing weighted bass radiator, along with premium 2-inch aluminum drivers with powerful neodymium magnets.

What it means to you is the speaker sounds great, is party ready and can withstand the elements of various degrees of the weather.

If you want to plug your music in, there’s a 3.5 mm aux port. A speakerphone will keep your call handsfree for everyone to hear and Siri is accessible. 

A pair of VG1 is better than two, so if you want a great stereo sound, get a second and they sync with dedicated right and left playback with Bluetooth True Wireless Stereo.

Inside is a long lasting rechargeable battery for up to 15 hours of playback, the included lanyard attaches directly to the speaker and on-board controls are there for volume, play and pause.

www.gosoundcast.com $134.86

Aside from your powered portable gadgets, the most important gadget to get is portable power.

With the smaller-than-pocket sized (2.75-by-.75-by-1.37-inches) Ventev powercell 2600, the  small price tag just north of $20.

You’ll get a full charge for most smartphones from the 2600mAh portable battery’s single USB port.

A microUSB cable is included for charging the battery and an LED indicator light shows the battery level.

https://mobileaccessories.ventev.com $23.92