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Travel Light, Travel Easy, Travel Smart and Remember . . . Self-Entitled Attitude is a Bad Idea

The last time I looked carefully at the loads that typical travelers are hauling around, I shuddered. It seems to me that - unscientific observer of this that I am - as air travel has become increasingly onerous each year for the past 20 years or more, so too are travelers not getting the message as clearly as they should be getting it. Travel light, travel easy, travel smart and stay humble.

Travel Light. Whether you're on an organized tour, a private exploration, a safari, a walkabout in the heart of some European cities, a shopping blitz in New York, an historical romp through London, a slowly unfolding sojourn in Venice or wherever, travel with a single, carry-on rolling suitcase and a single personal shoulder bag. Any more than that and you're just asking for trouble, fatigue, long lines at check-in counters, lost luggage, delayed luggage.

It gets worse. Travel smart. All those documents that are recommended are actually required.

A U.S. citizen on vacation walks up to a British Customs counter at Heathrow. Customs agent ask, "Purpose of your visit?" The tourist says, "Holiday in London." Customs agent looks at the guy's U.S. passport and says, "Not this trip, mate. Your passport expires at the end of this month. This gentlemen over here will escort you to a holding area for a time, after which you'll be sent back to the U.S. on the next available flight unless your Consulate can renew your passport immediately."

A French national heading to New York for some sightseeing, Broadway shows, shopping and you-name-it is held up in Newark because he's carrying over $10,000 in undeclared U.S. cash. He refuses to admit that he intends to spend most of the money at Aaron Faber Gallery on an exotic wristwatch. Did I mention that he packed the cash in his checked bag? Did I mention that it's not a crime to carry over $10K in cash, but it is a crime not to declare it.

Dumb and dumber, for the most part. But it gets worse. Travel light and travel smart.

An 58 year old amateur photographer was near collapse at Orly airport near Paris a couple of months ago. He was reportedly and allegedly out of shape, carrying a backpack containing something near 10 kilos (22 lbs.) of camera gear, and had been walking the terminal and standing in line for a couple of hours. When asked why he was carrying such a heavy load, his response was, "You never know what you might run into to photograph." To which an airport security officer replied, "Then why not carry a big telescope lashed to your backpack in case the night sky is beautiful too?"

Unlike most cities in Canada and the northern U.S., the beginning of April is a time when gardens are starting, trees are leafing out and temperatures are temperate in London. Don't tell that to the travelers who each packed a large checked bag with, among other things, heavy winter coats, long underwear, insulated mitts, toques and warm scarves. When queried by friends who visited their hotel room about the needless load of winter gear, they responded as though they were traveling to another cold part of Canada in early April rather than a salubriously agreeable part of the UK.

There are travel budgets (healthy and wealthy), travel budgets (moderate and healthy) and there are travel budgets (lean and meagre), admittedly. In no case should any sort of budget include the acquisition and transport of all sorts of needless clothing, photography gear, multiple laptops and tablets and smartphones.

Amateur photographers are often the worst sorts of travelers, with large backpacks or large shoulder bags packed with every lens they own, multiple camera bodies, a laptop loaded with their preferred photo editing software, a tablet for solo photo viewing, a smartphone with a data roaming plan, cables and individual battery chargers for each device, lens filters, spare batteries, a dry camera sensor cleaning kit, a wet camera sensor cleaning kit, and sometimes also a tripod and head. On top of that, they're dragging another personal carry-on bag and a larger suitcase that they check in. I get tired just thinking about hauling around all that weight, waiting patiently while security agents paw through everything and untangle the maze of cables and battery chargers to make sure some middle-aged, overweight non-profilable 'terrorist' isn't trying to sneak on board with the dumbest disguise ever conceived. No wonder TSA and so many other security agents around the world are cranky - they have to wade through far too much useless crap far too often just to get to the same conclusion yet again, i.e., that yet another dummy overpacked. I also get tired just thinking about hauling all that weight and bulk up and down streets and sidewalks, in and out of taxis or train platforms, up and down hotel steps and so on.

Is your scheduled return date at least six months before the expiration of your passport? If so, you're good to go. If not, renew your passport today; you know - before you go away.

Like to pick your teeth, pick your nose, pick your zits and do you generally have lousy hand-washing habits? Hmmm - scratch that. Better to ask if you're just traveling to any place in which you don't personally control how food is prepared, which basically means everywhere. Get your Twinrix vaccinations against Hepatitis A and B now. Get at least one booster shot before you go away. Hep A or Hep B can be nasty. Especially when traveling, wash your hands thoroughly before every meal, wash your hands after handling a lot of public door handles and spending time sightseeing, wash your hands before sorting out a cup of coffee at a local boite.

Got a condition? You know - a condition? Hypertension, heart condition, arthritis, etc., etc. Don't forget to renew your prescriptions and then pack at least as many pills, salves, ointments or whatever is needed for the duration of your trip, plus an extra week's worth in case of travel delays. You should have heard the panicky freak-outs at the front desk of my favourite hotel in London when Eyjafjallajokull erupted, spewed high altitude ash and grounded most European air travel as a result. "I need my meds and I've run out! AIYEEEE! What am I going to do!?" delayed departure guests demanded of the hotel front desk staff. To which staff replied, "Please use your emergency cash or an emergency credit card or your travel medical emergency insurance to pay for a visit to this doctor," as they handed over a couple of different local doctor's office cards. "But we don't have any of that!" a few of the hotel guests screeched. "You have to help us!" Hmmm. Not really.

Staying in a hotel (or several)? First make a quick stop at a local grocery store or supermarket and pick up several packages of cleaning wipes. As soon as you get into your hotel room, liberally use the cleaning wipes to clean the TV remote control, nightstands, sink, taps, toilet handle, toilet seat, shower handle, shower/tub floor, door handles and clothes hangers. It takes all of two minutes. Do not sit on or use the bedspreads - they're vile and probably haven't been steam cleaned or dry cleaned in over a year. Use flip-flips or slippers at all times - at all times. You and your wife are not Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie padding around barefoot on a movie set. Hotel rooms are filled with real life - the real life detritus of dozens of others who've used that same hotel room in previous weeks and months. No need to panic, but a sensible application of cleaning wipes to all surfaces that you're going to touch is perfectly reasonable. Funny though  - a few days into the hotel stay, you'll still be feeling fine and fresh and not suffering from any mysterious travel 'bug'. Use a cleaning wipe after the hotel housekeeping service is done with your room each day - or whenever you return to the hotel later in the day, after housekeeping has done its thing. Think you don't have to bother with any of this in an upscale or luxury hotel? Think again.

The less you pack, the less you have to worry about. The less camera gear you travel with, the easier it will be to decide what camera and lens to carry. If you carry one camera body and one versatile, high quality zoom lens, then your daily decision will always be easy. If you also carry a high quality compact backup camera with a built-in lens, you'll be able to continue doing good photography even if your main rig fails. Travel light.

You purchased a data roaming plan from your mobile phone provider at home, but did you remember to activate it and actually set your phone to roam just before you left home for the airport? If not, you will get a nasty surprise when your mobile phone bill shows up the following month. Don't be a dummy. Note also that the average 10-14 year old boy or girl (e.g., your kids)can easily send ten or more photos per hour to as many as a dozen different friends back home - and do it for hours and hours on end. So the data roaming plan that you think will do just fine is probably going to collapse under the strain after the first two days of a fourteen day vacation. Get the right data roaming plan and be realistic about how your kids are going to beat it to a pulp.

Self-entitled nonsense is being tolerated far less sympathetically these days. The practice of digital photography by absolutely everyone with a smartphone, compact system camera or DSLR camera is now so pervasive in so many tourist destinations that a lot of regional and municipal governments are trying to stop or restrict photography in certain areas or at certain times in certain areas. It's called social overload - we all feel it from time to time these days, so when we're being tourist photographers it shouldn't surprise us that other people in the places we're visiting feel social overload too sometimes when we point our cameras at them. So-called photographers' rights be damned, for the most part, when you're a tourist trying to debate a photo refusal by a member of the local constabulary or a private security guard or a shopkeeper. Shut up, move on. You're a guest in the city and the country, so act like one and remember that doing so sometimes means cheerfully accepting whatever rules you're read even when you know they're legally wrong. The worst place to spend a few hours of your hard-won vacation is in a holding cell or an interrogation room at the local police station. No cleaning wipes there at all.

Great travel experiences begin with sensible preparation, packing the things you really need, including emergency provisions in your planning, traveling as light as possible, and traveling with a smile on your face and courtesy in your tone of voice. Do so and you'll have a blast.

My favourite carry-on rolling luggage: Briggs & Riley Baseline 20"

My favourite camera bag: Billingham f/Stop 1.4 Shoulder Bag

My favourite main travel camera: Nikon D800 and Nikkor 24-120 f/4 VR Zoom Lens

My favourite backup travel camera: Fujifilm X100S

My favourite travel and long distance walking shoes: Ecco Torre Semi Mid GTX

. . . and I could write a book about the quality, wearability, usefulness and packability of Tilley Endurables and ExOfficio travel clothing.



The Typo Keyboard Case for iPhone 5/5s

It took a few days for me to find someone who has actually used one of these Typo Keyboard Case things. I tracked down several people who actually now own and use the things in order to get a range of subjective end user reports. Two of them have done product reviews for Kickstartnews in the past, and they're both telling me that the Typo Keyboard Case is excellent. Both of them also told me that once the Typo Keyboard Case is installed, your iPhone 5 or 5S is also no longer precisely the same iPhone. Both reviewers (Jack Reikel and Kippy Rensalaer, in case you were wondering) remain of the opinion (and I share it) that the iPhone can be a moderately useful productivity device if you have the small-ish hands and slender finger tips and/or long fingernails best suited for typing on the touch keyboard.

Despite Jack's and Kippy's extensive famliarity with literally dozens of different smartphones through their testing and product review work over the past 8-10 years, neither of them have ever become as fully productive with touch keyboards as they have with the physical BlackBerry keyboard. The only touch keyboard that has come close for either of them is the one on the larger-screen Samsung Note smartphones. I agree. Touch keyboards need a dead zone between the top of the space bar and the row of letter keys immediately above. Tap sensitivity has to be reduced to an area that is dead centre on the screen keys so that inadvertent adjacent-key taps are reduced in frequency. There are a lot of inherent problems with touch keyboard designs for people with normal/average or larger hands - problems that are intrinsic to the physical limitations imposed by the available on-screen space for the touch keyboard in the first place.

Every single one of the goofy online and TV touch keyboard speed typing/speed text messaging 'competitions' is won either by a skinny little girl or a skinny little boy with small hands and spindly fingers. For people with normal size hands, the latest formal smartphone typing speed and accuracy testing shows clearly that the delete/backspace key is used more often that any other (to correct screen typing errors and incorrect autocorrect selections). The testing conclusions are almost invariably showing that it takes users with normal/average size or larger hands 30% more time to reply to email and send text messages than it does using a BlackBerry hardware keyboard. The testing conclusions also show that it takes, on average, 10% less time to reply to email and send text messages using a smartphone touch keyboard (compared to a BlackBerry hardware keyboard) if you're a person with the aforementioned small hands and skinny fingers or long fingernails.

One of my senior staffers just retired. She packed it in as of December 31, 2013. Of course she returned her new-ish BlackBerry Q10, and that phone - with its superb hardware keyboard - is now calling out to me. The original BlackBerry hardware keyboard was the best design of its kind and it was extremely well engineered. It has only gotten incrementally better over the years. Other business users take heed too, because the misspelled, poorly formatted email you send from a frustrating or inaccurate-for-you touch keyboard is exactly what's being read by the recipient. If you insist on using a iPhone 5 or 5S for business purposes, the Typo Keyboard Case might just be the solution you need to leave people with the impression that you did not fail grade 5 spelling.


All 3rd-Party Batteries are NOT Create Equal

It's important for anybody considering the purchase of a spare/second battery for a digital SLR, compact system camera, interchangeable lens camera or high-end compact to choose very, very carefully. You have to distinguish between a 3rd-party brand that manufactures something for specifically for your camera maker under license and/or contract, versus a different sort of 3rd-party brand that has no business relationship with with the maker of your camera but is trying to capture some of your camera maker's spare battery sales.

Take a current Nikon digital SLR (D7000, D7100, D5300, D600, D610 or D800, etc.) as a case on point. In the case of a license or contract relationship between Nikon and Sony (as the bona fide, high-end battery manufacturer that is making batteries branded with the Nikon logo), the batteries are made to Nikon's strict specifications designed specifically to power Nikon cameras in the way they are meant to be powered and to report to each camera to a great degree of accuracy the charge state and general usable life expectation of the battery. Obviously, they're the best and most expensive choice for any Nikon camera. No warranty hassles, no threats of non-service due to the use of off-brand battery junk, and no problems with camera operation.

In the case of an unlicensed, non-contract 3rd-party battery maker, the 3rd-party company's 'engineers' that develop the batteries are reverse-engineering real Nikon batteries. They disassemble real Nikon batteries, examine and analyze all of the materials with which real Nikon batteries are made, then choose cheaper alternative component materials, inferior controller chips, thinner contacts, thinner outer shells, cheaper plastic for the shell, smaller amounts of battery compound, and then make molds for either vaccum forming or stamping to create the outer shell. Those sorts of cheap 3rd-party batteries are then labeled with all sorts of nonsense including wildly inaccurate capacity ratings, false CE stamps and other stupidity.

Rip-off Alert . . . Some of those awful 3rd-party batteries are actually shelled with deceivingly accurate Nikon look-alike outer casings, labels and printing to deliberately deceive prospective buyers into thinking they're real Nikon-branded batteries. Those are the illegal knock-offs. Some online discounters that are not authorized Nikon dealers have taken to flogging grey market Nikon and Canon cameras, and substitute the knock-off batteries for the vastly higher quality Nikon and Canon originals in the box. When your knock-off battery conks out after a week or two of regular use, the online discounter will take your complaint call and then try to sell you (at a slight discount of course) a replacement which is actually the proper OEM battery that you should have received in the box in the first place. There are lots and lots of nasty tricks out there. If an online camera discounter's price seems to good to be true, there's a reason.

Anyway, the unusually low-priced 3rd-party brands and knock-offs are inexpensive because the battery maker does not pay a license fee or sales royalty to Nikon, and because the batteries are made with cheaper materials than the real Nikon batteries, and because the battery maker's so-called warranty is shorter and impossible to invoke. Retailers simply exchange bad 3rd-party batts over the counter (within 30 days usually - sometimes allowing exchange within only a week), then feed the bad ones back to the regional distributor who jobs or wholesales them, after which they go into the recyclers or (worse yet) landfills. It's bad business.

Not so bad though are the 'tweeners such as Hahnel and some of the house brands such as Watson (which B&H Photo & Video is selling and warranting). Those companies originated primarily as marketing businesses that chose products segments in which to market 3rd-party manufactured items emblazoned with their respective logos. A few such companies, Hahnel in particular, have gradually found merit over the years in upping their quality approach because they realized it was a more profitable way to do business. The Hahnel replacement for the Canon LP-E6 (for the 5D Mark III, 6D, 7D, 70D, etc.) is reportedly very good. Hahnel went from just picking products out of non-name 3rd-party factory catalogs to actually disassembling and reverse-engineering Nikon batteries (among other products) and finding true economies in an effort to produce reasonably competitive, safe, generally reliable products at competitive price points (but naturally considerably more expensive than the awful 3rd-party cheapos). Hahnel now has some direct manufacturing relationships. Good for Nikon users looking reliable alternatives to an OEM battery. The batteries these sorts of companies make are somewhat less costly than OEM Nikon batts, but are nonetheless considerably more expensive than the cheapos while still offering a respectable price/performance ratio.

Last but not least - and they're the only type of 3rd-party battery I'd ever hazard to recommend - are the products made by dedicated, reputable battery manufcturers (e.g., Mallory/Duracell, Energizer, Varta and a couple of others) that also reverse engineer existing Nikon and Canon batteries (or perhaps pay a license fee up front or a royalty on sales - or nothing at all - that sort of corporate information is truly hard to find), and produce reliable, fully warranted products through existing global distribution networks that are familiar with and make good money from all their other (more common) battery products. Those companies market and merchandise their products quite visibly around the world. They're also putting Nikon-compatible camera batteries on the market at an average of about 15% less cost (at retail) that OEM Nikon and Canon batteries SKU-for-SKU.

Apropos of nothing . . . if I'm traveling and lose a battery (it's happened to me - probably my own fault), and the local camera dealer does not have a real Nikon EN-EL15 (or whatever model I happen to need) but does have a choice between a cheapo $£€12-$£€20 thing and a Hahnel, Duracell or Energizer at about $£€75, I'm going to choose the Duracell or Energizer every time no matter what sort of budget I've got, and the Hahnel as a last resort. If there's nothing at the shop except for a $/£/€12 cheapo, I'm going to pull out my iPhone 5 and starting shooting with it until I can find another camera store or a mass marketer like Best Buy (or PC World, FNAC or Media Markt, etc., or some other big-box electronics store depending on what country I'm in) and get a real brand with real quality.

Why risk screwing up a $£€500-$£€4000 camera with a $£€12 battery. It's senseless.


The Latest DSLR and Mirrorless Cameras and Lenses are Tough

I found a thread on this week that echoed a concern about lens and camera body mounts expressed the week before in a discussion on (or possibly Nikongear) . There were pics in the thread. The pics made it clear to anyone who cared to look closely that the DSLR camera and lens were smashed apart by a tremendous shearing impact during use or by heavy weight while the camera was stowed during travel. In that thread, one photo of the mounting ring on the camera body seemed to show that it had been left in a very slight oval shape. Nasty. However, the author of that thread insisted that an acknowleged bump was (in his opinion) not severe enough by half to have resulted in such major damage to the camera and lens and/or that his stowage of the camera during travel could not possibly have resulted in such damage. He was questioning the inherent quality of (in this case) a Nikon D610 DSLR body.

Clearly there are many, many photographers over the years who've tried to rationalize some carelessness on their part or some otherwise rash handling of their gear by claiming afterward that the gear was somehow deficient because, "No way was the impact/bump/drop/weight anywhere near severe enough to cause this kind of damage, so what kind of junk did Nikon/Canon sell me!!?!" Ninety-nine percent of the time that's utter nonsense. Either the photographers are wrapped up too deeply in a chase to get some perceptibly terrific shot and simply aren't aware of how hard the camera and lens get hammered in some situation, or they lose track of luggage or some other sort of weight piled on top of a camera bag that puts some huge amount of direct strain on a mounted lens whiel traveling, or they mis-mount and jam up a lens/body connection, or they hang a huge and fast lens on a small body and then used the combo heavily with the camera mounted on the tripod instead instead of the lens foot mounted on the tripod. We rarely hear any admissions of that last bit either.

There are all manner of silly statements made in various discussion forums about how Nikon/Canon/Sony/Olympus/Fuji/Panasonic, etc., are cheaping out on the metal used for body and lens mounts and how the plastics used in body construction are weak or suspect. We all need to also, from time to time, recognize angry trolls when they show up in a discussion forum. Anyway, the non-troll photographers making such statements sometimes point to posted photos of their sheared-off flanges and torn out mount plates and then get angry at responders who point out that metal used in mounts is as good (or better) than ever and that the torsional/impact/lateral/frontal and/or shearing forces needed to to have done such damage are really large. "NO!" the complainants reply, "I hardly touched it! It just (catastrophically) broke!" It's nonsense. They've somehow rationalized that their carelessness was not really that careless and switched responsibility for the damage away from their handling and onto the manufacturer's choices for construction materials. It's nonsense.

I remember one thread from a couple of years ago (can't remember positively which forum it was - possibly in which a photographer complained that an 80-200 f/2.8 zoom lens had simply dropped off while he was hiking with a Canon 1D X rig on his shoulder. It was only three pages of posts and three days later that he casually mentioned that a month before the "totally unacceptable Canon quality control failure" that he'd been fiddling with the flange screws "but he'd made sure they were tight because he'd never do anything so stupid as to leave the flange screws loose let alone forget to put any of them back in."

Right. Uh-huh. Sure.

The psychology at work which makes some people slightly uncomfortable about the sheer volume of response posts in the thread they started in an effort to vent frustrations (suspecting full well that the whole problem started with some inappropriate fiddling on their own part) is clear. In many such threads (and they range widely, e.g., about firmware bugs that nobody else has encountered, lenses that just seem to have mysteriously fallen off as if by ancient family curse or a spell cast by a evil witch, a camera maker's warranty service department's refusal to repair something under warranty because the service technician found internal water damage even though - according to the camera owner - "my camera has never been within a thousand miles of water!" etc., etc.), the errant photographers sometimes can't stand the pressure of all that discussion participation and leak some admission of possible culpability late in the online discussion thread.

What I object to most of all is the fact that, for many people, unsubstantiated and (more important) unsubstantiable damage claims and structural weakness claims place an obstacle in the way of making what should otherwise be a perfectly valid purchasing decision which will help get them closer to creative photography as a hobby or passion that is genuinely fulfilling. I'm really just saying that it's more important than ever before to make sure our BS filters are always running on the Full Power setting.



Forget About Camera Sensor Pixels - Concentrate on Photography Instead


Pixels, pixels, pixels. They're the bane of my existence because camera makers babble about pixels so often and because photographers get confused about them. Here's the thing - forget about pixels because your previous digital camera model and your new camera have more than enough pixels to make high quality prints all the way up to large (poster) sizes. Absolutely.

The key to great photos and great prints is a three-part thing.

Part 1: Get the photo right in the first place. That means framing tightly and composing the shot containing only the things you want to photograph. Frame too loosely and you end up, later on, cropping off all the excess junk. With a given print size in mind, the more of the original photo you crop away the less image data there is to spread out across that given print size (which then means that the resolution of details - i.e., the specific number of pixels being used to make up the photo - goes down). The result is less sharpness, less clarity of fine detail, flatter colours and other problems.

Part 2: Most printing devices (desktop inkjet printers including the pro models, high-end dye sublimation printers, etc., etc.) have an optimal output level that is based on a simple formula. Essentially, how many ink dots (that's how ink is laid down on paper by printing devices) per inch appear as a solid line or solid edge to the unaided eye looking at an 8"x10" print from two feet away? The answer, for typical quality printing, is 240 dots per inch (DPI). The answer, for high quality printing, is 300 DPI. Those DPI work for 16"x20", and so on up the 3:2, 4:3,16:9 and square finished print and display size ratios. The smaller the print size, the closer you stand to look at the print (in the old formula). The larger the print size, the farther away you stand (in the formula).

Part 3: Choose a color space and stick with it througout the whole photograph-to-print and photograph-to-web (or computer) process. I use AdobeRGB. But Standard RGB (sRGB) is perfectly great too. One way or another, when you bring a finished image file to a printing company, make sure you someone there what color space you use. What that does is provide the printing company with the information needed to optimize color (inks, dyes) during actual print output. Better yet, ask the printing company (in advance) which color space they prefer.

For photos that are going to be displayed online, remember that even though the default color depth (the number of colors that can be simultaneously rendered) in Nikon cameras is 12-bit (with an option to set color depth to 14-bit - all other camera makers do the same thing), the vast majority of computer monitors out there have a maximum color depth (the number of colors that can be simultaneously displayed) of either 6-bit or 8-bit. Only the high-end graphics monitors and the latest prosumer IPS LCD monitors offer 10-bit or higher color depth. JPG image files are saved in 8-bit color depth.

So what's the point of all this? If you frame and compose tightly, which results in little or no cropping during post-processing, you'll have a 16mp or 24mp image ready for printing at 300 DPI. If you shoot NEF/RAW, after editing save the file as a lossless compressed TIF and you'll be providing to a professional printing company an image file which retains all the color depth in your chosen color space (AdobeRGB or sRGB).

So I say, forget about pixels and concentrate on getting the shot as right as possible in the camera, so that you effectively eliminate cropping during editing. Set the camera to the color space you prefer (or the one your printing company prefers), make sure your photo editing software is set to the same color space, calibrate the monitor you normally use when editing photos, and then process your NEF/RAW files into TIF files.

There are tricks, mainly using speciality software, to dramatically enlarge photos for printing that have previously been heavily cropped. Perfect Resize and other similar software products are a whole other discussion. They're difficult to use, results can be alternately great or terrible or just average, and they'll don't take the place of getting the photo right in the first place. You can't manufacture image data from thin air.

That's it. The best way to eliminate any worries or even random thoughts about pixels is to get your photos right - in the camera - in the first place. As always, framing, composition, interesting subject matter, light, the right depth of field, the right exposure and the right camera position are what help make a great photo and a great print. Pixels have nothing to do with it.


Apple iWorks is Eroding into a Damaged Product

iWorks is Apple's office suite for Mac OS X. Apple has been pushing a merger of OS X and iOS 'experiences' by encouraging and pushing its operating system and software developers to use development kits which essentially merge the two different user interface designs. My view is that if Microsoft can successfully foist the Ribbon interface on Microsoft Office users, then Apple can certainly play around with its iWorks user interface too. I don't like that sort of idiocy, but I understand it. The underlying issue of torturing software office suite end users by forcing them to re-learn the location of features, functions and controls in the software is pointlessly anti-consumer. Bring end users to new interfaces in a measured, fully supported and easy-to-learn-and-absorb way in order to maintain existing product loyalty and encourage and attract new customers.

The latest iWorks fiasco seems to show that Apple is slowly becoming immune to the imposition of market research involving end users of its software. My fundamental complaint about iWorks is that unless you make a copy of every file you created with iWorks 09, the newest version of the iWorks office suite will change the 09 document format without your consent whenever you reload and re-edit any of the files created with iWorks 09. The new document format is then unreadable by iWorks 09. The situation is outrageous for anyone using iWorks as their general productivity or office productivity software.

Microsoft has maintained all of its legacy document loaders for literally decades. It even provides document converters so that files created by newer versions of Office can be loaded and edited using older versions of Office. It's one of the reasons that Microsoft Office continues to dominate. As an office suite and general productivity suite, iWorks is perfectly good. But Apple's absolute failure to respect older document formats is unforgiveable. Every version of Microsoft Office can save a document in an older Office format. iWorks can't.

Apple drops legacy compatibility as a matter of policy. There are many examples. It's part of Apple's product design culture. Apple has never made a secret of it. The problem with such a policy when it affects document editing and file compatibility is that it costs end users a lot of money in time, effort and product upgrades. That's just needlessly unfair.

Whomever is running the show at Apple needs to get control of the iWorks product managers and lead developers who are clearly out of touch with end users of productivity software and iWorks in particular. If Apple fails to do so immediately, I'll simply dump the MacBooks used to augment our Windows 7 productivity machines in my offices. We do not have the time to take personalized special care of Apple products and Apple software files simply because Apple software developers are insular and insensitive to the day-to-day needs of end users who buy and use those products. Smarten up!


Durability - Cameras, Lenses and Portable Devices Can Take a Lot of Abuse

There is a debate going on which confuses emotion, fashion and personal preferences with engineering materials choice. What is stated or implied is that a number of these discussions lack the science needed to back up the appropriate use (i.e., daily use for pro camera bodies and lenses in conditions for which the bodies and lenses were designed) of certain materials for the manufacturing of professional quality products. If we each define "professional use" and "moderate use" and "casual use" without lying to ourselves in an effort to 'cheat' our way into using lower physical quality products (i.e., usually less expensive products) for rougher applications and more frequent applications, then I think it becomes easier to trust the use of various types of polycarbonates and carbon fiber or graphite fiber and mag alloys and so on.

A number of people I've met over the years have talked about plastics as though there is only one sort of plastic. They've had a problem with cheap plastic of one sort or another at some time in the past and then equated polycarbonate camera bodies with some piece of polystyrene that snapped off a kid's toy too easily. That demonstrates only that the individual with that attitude just hasn't taken the time to do a brief bit of online investigation into the various sorts of plastics and composites in use today and how good some of them are and how appropriate some of them are for use as both casings and structural material for camera bodies and lenses.

Nikon, like manufacturers of other products, has traded on the notion of heavier products always being implicity higher quality. That's marketing, not science. Several generations of consumers around the world have been raised on heavy materials being representative of higher quality and a lot of us are still around. By contrast, my kids don't have any qualms or other negative concerns about plastics and composites.

Drops, bumps, bangs and various sorts of rough use to which smartphones, camera bodies and lenses are subjected are rarely described by the careless product owners as accurately as they need to be in order to correctly and definitively define the situations in which damage has occured. I also personally get the impression that there is an expectation on the part of some product owners, especially  photographers, that their cameras have disappointed them because of a failure to survive a drop unscathed.

I have paid just as much as everyone else Nikon, Canon and Leica gear, but that large amount of money has never created in my thinking any sort of notion that expensive-ness means drop-resistance. A number of people I've met over the years and with whom I've discussed the subjects of relative quality, materials and construction, product toughness and so on, have expressed the completely illogical and unsupportable assumption that because they paid a lot for a particular product "It should be strong enough to survive a drop from some notable height" or words and thoughts to that effect. That's false logic. The smartphone, camera and lens manufacturers claim for some of their products durability and toughness in general terms, but none of the makers claim any sort of resistance to drops or many other kinds of abuse.

A small number of smartphone, camera and lens users on Nikonians, DPReview and many other discussion forums have expressed the idea that they treat their gear roughly because "they really use it" (whatever that actually means, although it implies that the rest of us don't really use our stuff). Anecdotal information is frequently offered that essentially suggests certain camera drops are not repairable because of crackedframe parts. Frankly, I don't believe such claims - or rather, I believe the posters are writing about what they may have been told by a repair shop but without a clear understanding of what they were told. I've heard repair shops and Nikon Canada techs too state that a particular camera body was unrepairable because the cost of repair would amount to some significant percentage of the cost of a brand new body. At least one person thereafter told me that Nikon had said the camera was not repairable. Period. But that wasn't the whole story! That person just didn't like the answer and that person didn't like the fact that he'd been careless enough with his camera to cause so much damage that it had become cheaper to simply replace the camera than repair it. He then whined about the product quality online. It's nonsense.

Partial information posted in discussion forums in an effort to ameliorate guilt by soliciting sympathy is a common enough practice. But it shouldn't also then become an indictment of Nikon or Canon camera body quality or a knock on the use of polycarbonate and other perfectly good materials. To hear some people talk you'd think that Apple, Samsung, Nikon, Canon, Olympus and Sony have never ever tested any of the materials used in the manufacturing of body cases and frames. That's more nonsense.

We should not drop our cameras, lenses or smartphones. We should not drop them on grass or tile flooring. We should not drop them on broadloom covered living room floors. Don't drop them on concrete. Stick a crowbar in the wallet and lever out enough money to buy a protective camera case and a top quality camera strap, then use the cases and straps for something other than decoration. If we make a mistake and drop something, we can't then blame the manufacturer for using polycarbonate instead of mag alloy or steel instead of mag alloy or mag alloy and polycarbonate instead of whatever. Talk about getting emotional without taking any responsibility for sloppy or careless handling! Nobody (and no manufacturer) ever promised or even implied that smartphones, camera bodies and lenses could be dropped.

Anybody who props a Nikon D800 + 70-200 VRzoom lens on the dashboard of a moving Land Rover (as described in a recent article by Thom Hogan) in rough country and then acts surprised when the rig breaks after it falls and hits the steel floor of the vehicle needs to be spanked. Anybody who props his camera on top of his camera bag which is sitting on the edge of a sink in a restaurant WC (ahem, that would be me a couple of years ago) has only himself to blame when the pop-up flash housing on his Nikon D700 cracks, the left-top mode control dial stop breaks (taped the thing for the rest of the trip, the top LCD cracks (still worked properly) and the 24-120 f/4 VR zoom lens hood snaps (picked up another one at Jacob's, a great pro shop that is now closed), has only himself to blame. Whining about it later is disingenuous and pointless. Rather, after my own carelessness, I was impressed that the full and accurate operation of the camera and lens continued without fail for the three weeks I was on the road in the UK at the time. If my own carelessness had resulted in the rig toppling and hitting the ceramic tile floor at a different angle, there might not have been any damage at all. At another angle still, the impact might have rendered the rig totally unusable.

Don't drop your stuff. Show me any camera, lens ever made for retail sale in the last 50 years and I'll show you how to drop it and break it really badly. Same goes for any smartphone made since the things first appeared.

Hundreds of thousands of Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Pentax and Sony camera and lens owners use their cameras in all sorts of weather, dust, temperature, travel, domestic and indoor and outdoor conditions and situations. They clean their cameras, they maintain their cameras, and many of them use their gear every day. But they don't drop their cameras. The cameras don't mysteriously crack or split or stop working. Occasionally, a shutter stops working or a PC board dies or some other part fails. That's what warranties are for. But if someone drops his camera and lens, all bets are off. Plastic, mag alloy, composites or magic pixie dust - drop a camera or smrtphone and bad things happen. Believing anything else is foolish.


Learn to Use Your Smartphone Camera Properly

. . . but before I get started, what's up with tourists using full size iPads and Android tablets to take travel photos? It's weird looking, the photos are blurry, shaky and useless, and the 'photographers' look silly trying to hold the tablets steady in anything stronger than a faint breeze.

With the introduction of the iPhone 4s and the Samsung Galaxy Note over two years ago, smartphone photography began approaching the technical quality of inexpensive pocket point & shoot cameras. If you were careful with those two smartphones though, as with inexpensive point & shoots from Canon, Fujifilm, Nikon, Panasonic and Sony at the time, you could get usable results and even some great photos from time to time.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and the Apple iPhone 5s have changed the game yet again. Basically, the point & shoot pocket camera has been rendered obsolete unless you've got the need for a zoom lens or unless you've got absolutely no use for a smartphone. Samsung and Apple have done it, and in the process they've also made us all start using a prime, fixed focal length lens again. No problem. Zoom in or out with your feet.

Rule #1 - If you're wondering why all your shots are blurry, stop holding the phone with one hand and using your thumb to push the shutter icon. Instead, brace both elbows against your chest or ribcage, holding the phone with one hand around the back and the other hand on the screen side. Frame and compose your shot, then gently touch - don't tap - the shutter icon. Pushing or tapping that shutter icon will jar the phone and cause blur. Holding it with one hand and using the thumb on the same hand to tap the shutter icon also causes blur. Don't do that.

Rule #2 - Shoot tight. That means taking a picture of only your subject - whatever it was that caught your eye - but not the whole world in which it's contained. Trying to get in all sorts of stuff around your subject - the stuff that isn't your subject in other words - usually makes your subject look small in the composition, irrelevant or unimportant or uninteresting. Smarten up. Shoot tight.

Rule #3 - There are lots of nifty iOS and Android photo editing apps that can be used to tweak, enhance, sharpen, post-process, add special effects and do all sorts of other marginally interesting things to your photos. Always remember that careful composition, tightly framed subjects, nice light and positioning the camera perpedicular and level with your subject (to get rid of ugly perspective distortion and keystoning) usually help make far better photos than anything you end up with after correcting problems later in photo editing software. Besides that, getting the shot right in the camera means you don't have to spend time 'fixing' the shot later in software.

Rule #4 - You're not a photojournalist. If you see a collision, a slip & fall, an injury or some other mess, don't just stand there taking pictures and video. You're not a reporter, no matter how much you thnk you'll be able to get for the shot or the video from your local TV news station. Smarten up. Call emergency services first, lend whatever aid you're qualified to give until emergency services arrive, and only then take your pictures or video.

Rule #5 - The best reason that museums and art galleries have for prohibiting flash photography is that it distrubs other visitors. How on earth do you think you'll feel if someone walks up in front of you, holds up a smartphone, and then blinds you with a flash while taking a photo of the painting hanging on the wall behind you? Unpleasant? You bet. Remeber that the next time you're tempted to sneak in just one shot. More and more, museum and gallery docents and security people are throwing out all the rude, thoughtless fools who seem completely oblivious to the presence and sensibilities of people around them. Just because you can sneak in a photo, doesn't mean you should.

Rule #6 - Smartphone cameras, as good as they are, can't be all things in all places. The cameras still perform poorly in low light, they don't have optical zoom lenses, they don't have the amazing dynamic range of even the cheapest compact system and digital SLR cameras, and no matter how good your handheld technique gets, smartphones can't be held as securely and steadily as bigger cameras.

Use your smartphone camera all the time. Just remember that good technique and respect for the technical limits of those tiny lenses and sensors will help you make better photos.


Tomato Tycoon is a Fun Game App for Everyone

Kickstartnews just launched its first game app. Tomato Tycoon is a fast-paced, colorful arcade-style scroller for kids age 4-10. Boys and girls. No favorites here. Our adult beta testers liked it too though - a great time killer while you're sitting in the dentist's office. We've been working on it with our brilliant developer, Julius Oklamcak, and our brilliant game designer, Elise Coppola, for about 8 months. Turns out it takes a serious amount of time to make a rock solid, iOS game app! Play tested, approved and launched. The game is a lot of fun and early reviews are good. Scrolling, tapping, funny sound effects, delightful graphics. Look for it in the Apple App Store now.



It's Not the Lens, It's Not the Camera - It's You

The need for any so-called optical improvements in lenses is entirely a marketing-driven and profit-driven bogeyman. That actual differences exist between various lenses made by Nikon, Canon, Tamron, Sigma and Zeiss recently and in the past, is I think functionally irrelevant in the context of practical photography and the technical skills of the photographers using the gear.

Every market analysis and most photography seminars tell the same story. Most of the camera and lens makers are intent on trying to convince as many existing customers and as many new customers as possible that if they'll only spend money on yet another new camera body and yet another new lens, their photography will measurably improve. The fact remains though that the reason some photographers start making better photos shortly after acquiring new gear is largely because they're out and about with the new gear, motivated by the expenditure to use the new gear far more than they had been using their old/existing gear. Practice, critique and more practice makes perfect - there's no substitute. Too many amateur photographers just don't get it.

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