Apple Announces the iPad 2

New Product

iPAD2_facetimeYesterday Apple announced the imminent arrival of the new iPad 2, scheduled to commence selling at 5.00pm on the 11th March in US Apple stores. A successor to the much hailed original iPad which, when released in April 2010, brought about a paradigm shift in the world of portable computing. Pad devices seem the de rigueur device at present, with seemingly almost every computer manufacturer and then some releasing iPad clones, albeit most running Google’s free and much heralded Android operating system.
It’s is with no doubt then, that the industry must have waited for yesterdays announcement with bated breath to see how far Apple has moved the goal posts. Well, if you listen hard, you can probably hear the Apple iPad competitors let out a huge sigh of relief, as the shift is not that far.

New Specifications

imageThe new iPad is 33% thinner, 15% lighter, comes in a white version as well as the previous black, and has front and rear cameras for Apples FaceTime face to face video calling. Apart from being thinner, It’s the same dimensions however and features the same 9.7-inch LED display and bezel. It does feature a much faster, dual core A5 processor providing Apple say, 9 times faster graphics, and enhanced video processing but still allowing 10 hours battery time. Rather disappointingly it does not come with any increased RAM capacity, with the choice remaining at 16gb, 32gb and 64gb as before. Sadly their are no change to the ports either, still no USB connection or SD card slot. although it does appear the Screen Rotation lock button may be re-enabled after all the fuss when it’s functionality was changed to a mute switch as part of the iOS 4.2 software upgrade. Apple plan to release a rather nifty Smart Cover which attaches magnetically, wakes up your iPad when opened and even folds back to make a stand; it does however, cost $39, so you can guess it will be near £39 for us Brits. The price of the iPad 2 in the US will remain the same as the original iPad so hopefully the same will hold true when the iPad 2 goes on sale within the UK.

For Photographers

If you’d thought the iPad has no use for the budding photographer, then you’d be wrong. It makes an ideal back-up device in the field and is an ideal RAW file viewer, which clearly put devices like the now defunct Epson P-4000 Multimedia storage view and all alike to some considerable shame. If you’re in any doubt of this please read Doug Chimney’s excellent article on The iPad for Photographers here. Doug uses his on all his workshops.
There are already many good photography Apps for the iPad, such as the Photographers Ephemeris, Golden Hour, and several Depth of Field calculators, and some great eBooks from Craft&Vision. However, the vast majority of so-called photography Apps currently available for download , have to be said, tend to be on the gimmicky side. Apple had pre-announced that they would be developing a high-end photography App for the iPad 2 and with the much faster graphics processor on-board this does give significant scope now for developers. Sadly, all Apple announced yesterday was an enhanced version of the fun, comic App, Photo Booth, so hopefully that wasn’t it and we can look forward to seeing some high-end RAW file processors making their way onto the iPad 2 in the near future.

Upgrade or Not?

I love my iPad. It’s a terrific little device, and one I use more than ever for internet browsing and reading, as well as music, movies and videos. It’s great for travel especially if you spend as much time on long haul flights as I do. I have all my PDF camera manuals and many photography eBooks on mine. I also use it for business and note taking.
Will I upgrade. I doubt it. FaceTime may be a big thing for many, but has no appeal for me, and it remains to be seen how good the camera is. More processing power is always welcome, but until I see some Apps using that, then I think many may wait. What I really was hankering after didn’t happen, increased RAM options, and the ability to add memory via an SD or micro SD card. I guess I’ll just have to see what the iPad 3 will bring?

Online Resources

Benro C-298 Carbon Fibre Tripod

Equipment Review & Retrospective

Reviewing a tripod nearly 5 years old may seem that I’ve missed the boat somewhat, but there’s a message to this story …

Back in October 2006 I purchased what I thought was my first professional quality tripod. Up until then I’d survived using a Manfrotto (Bogen) 190 Pro B aluminium tripod which, although adequate, I’d found weighty and not particularly stable, with the metal centre column being quite prone to vibration and an elastic wobble. This hampered the use of a large or heavy lenses and was especially prevalent under windy conditions. I also wanted a lighter, more compact tripod I could take on my travels. Carbon fibre tripods

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New Prototype 200-400mm f/4.0 Zoom Lens goes on Show from Canon

Equipment Announcement

EF 200 400mm f4L IS USM EXTENDER 1.4P-2

LAKE SUCCESS, N.Y., February 7, 2011 – Canon Inc. today announced the development of a new super-telephoto lens, the EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXTENDER l.4x, for use with all EOS SLR cameras. A prototype of the new lens will be exhibited at the CP+ tradeshow, held in Pacifico Yokohama, from February 9 – 12, 2011.

Much to everyone’s surprise Canon announced a whole host of stuff yesterday including two new entry level DSLR’s, two new flash units, and upgrades to their wildlife long focal length specialist lenses. The latter comprise the EF 500mm f/4.0 MII and the EF 600mm f/4.0 MII, both of which are expected to be commercially available some time in March, but as you’d probably expect these are going to be very, very expensive and as such only available to serious pro’s and those blessed with wads of spare cash.

However, what really caught my eye was the announcement of a prototype EF 200-400mm f/4.0 IS USM EXTENDER 1.4x lens. That’s some title! Nikon wildlife photographers have long since been extolling the virtues of the Nikon 200-400mm f/4 AF-S lens which also received an upgrade last year. This is a lens favoured by British wildlife photographer Andy Rouse and is generally accepted as just about the best multipurpose, wildlife zoom lenses around. It’s also a gap in the market place that Canon had failed (as yet) to match. Canon do of course have their EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6mm IS USM lens ( one of which which I own), but this design is getting quite long in the tooth and whilst it performs admirably on sensors sizes up to 12mp, todays 21mp plus sensors highlight it’s short comings in the digital age.

If you examine the press release picture above you can’t help but notice that peculir looking bulge on the left side rear of the lens. This houses the in-built 1.4x extender, and has a lever just above to engage or disengage the extender elements. The 1.4 extender can boost the zoom range from 200-400mm to 280-560mm. On an APS-C sized sensor then this would be the equivalent of a staggering 448-896mm! However, don’t get your hopes up as Canon failed to state whether this configuration will autofocus on the semi-pro and consumer bodies. The new lens will feature Canon’s high-performance Image Stabilizer technology and advanced optics materials such as fluorite crystal to provide top notch optical performance.

You may also notice the camera has a fixed tripod collar, 3 stabilization modes and also features a Focus Pre-set button. All new stuff.

A a wildlife photographer this sounds like a dream lens and one I’d truly love to own, however it is just a prototype and still obviously at the development stage. I just hope that when it does eventually hit the market it’s not going to be priced so ridiculously that photographers like myself will never be able to afford it. Maybe I am just dreaming though!

2010 Gadget of Year – the Apple iPad

Hardware Review

There’s no competition really, whether you love them or hate them, Apple have changed the face of personal computing yet again. I’ve never been a particular fan of Apple equipment and I’ve always thought them overpriced. I’ve admired the beauty of their designs for sure, but have never particularly bought in to that Apple ethic, until the iPad that is.

Some say the iPad is just a big iPhone without the phone bit (I don’t have an iPhone), true, perhaps it is, but who would 20091015_zaf_c99_002.jpghave thought that simple change in size would provide the most unique and innovative device of 2010.

I discovered the iPad quite by accident when I was thinking of getting iPods for my kids. All their peers at school seemed to have iPods and the paltry, but functional, little Sansa clip, MP3 players (no offence SanDisk) that I had bought them a couple of years ago were beginning to look seriously un-cool in the face of the latest touch screen iPods. It was while visiting my local Apple store in Sheffield that I chanced upon a young assistant demonstrating the then brand new iPad to some potential customers. Bingo! That’s just the device for my wife I thought. She’s never been particularly interested in computers, doesn’t really understand the internet (bless her!), and no matter how many times I’ve showed her how to send email on a windows laptop, something has always gone amiss whilst I’m away. Whilst all my work mates receive regular emails from their spouses when working overseas, for me it was a 2 to 3 time a year affair.

It was a strange birthday present (she’s not into tech), but I can honestly say the iPad has been a huge hit with my other half. Now she’s browsing the net, shopping online, exchanging emails with her friends, downloading the kids homework and school schedules, and even checking out relatives abroad on Facebook. These things she could never manage on a PC without getting into a muddle. I can honestly say the iPad has changed her life. OK, I had to set it up for her, synchronise it with iTunes and set up an account for her, but this simple little device has been a huge, huge hit.

I too was impressed with the iPad so plundered the piggy bank and bought my own not so long ago. It connects to the home WiFi faster and easier than any of my numerous laptops and desktops we have around the house. It was easy to setup, recognised all our email accounts, and is just so easy to use. I’ve never been a fan of touch screens (I have 2 redundant mobile Windows devices sitting in the bottom of my desk drawer) but the touch sensitive screen and inertia scrolling on the iPad just work brilliantly and so responsively. So much now I want every screen to work like that. I never though I could do without a keyboard, but typing on the iPad is a dream. And for browsing the internet, I haven’t come across a better device yet. If you’ve ever sat in bed trying to use a laptop (go on admit it, I bet you have!), whether it be for emails, late night work or just watching movies, you know it’’s just not designed for that, but hey, the iPad is a dream (no pun intended) to use. Now I can download and watch movies, watch my DVD’s, email, browse, listen to music or audio-books, read my blogs, journals, newspapers, magazines, my photography books, novels and much, much more, all in comfort on my iPad. I find I use the iPad around the house more than my laptop now. It’s just plain and simple fun and I can even use it out in the field on photo-shoot to back-up and review my RAW files.

Sure, it has a few caveats. Mr. Jobs in his arrogance, refused to implement Adobe Flash into the Safari web browser, so many websites (and that’s about 70% of them)are not fully functional, and what’s worse, I can’t watch the replays of the goals on the BBC football pages! It has no USB port although you can be duly ripped off by paying another 25 quid to Apple for a little plastic plug-in one. You can’t upgrade the memory, it has no SD card slot, and you have to do everything through the rather prohibitive and cumbersome iTunes. However, I can can live with all that, because I just love my iPad.

Never Trust the Devil

The Devils’ Golf Course, Death Valley

Devils Golf Course (Jul 2009) 0005

This is a place I won’t forget too easily as it was ‘nearly’ the site of one of my photographic disasters. I’d been up since before 4:00 am that day and had driven down from our hotel at Furnace Creek for a dawn shoot at Badwater. Unfortunately the dawn sky colour failed to really materialise and the desired reflections in the sparse salt pools were a bit meek to say the least. Never-the-less

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Tripod Woes

Equipment Failures (Gitzo GT3541LS Tripod)

I have had my fair share of disasters in the past with photographic equipment. Usually it’s odd items like scratched or broken grads and lost lens caps but I also have had my tripod blown over at Robin Hood’s Bay damaging my EF 24-105mm lens and a fall in the field in Africa which required a new IS unit to my EF 100-400mm zoom lens. Fortunately in both cases I was insured and the bulk of the repairs were covered.

Recently however, I had a rather an odd mishap and lost (yes lost!) a leg from my tripod. This was from my much prized Gitzo GT-3541-LS carbon fibre tripod; not a cheap item either and a tripod you expect to be built to the highest of standards too. But I guess you’re wondering how on earth I could loose a leg. Well it’s not quite as difficult as you may think.

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The Great Canon Rip-off – Sky High New Lens Prices!

EDITORIAL

Lens Price If you are a full frame Canon user like me I sure it won’t have escaped you that Canon have recently released a plethora of new highly desirable new L lenses. These include an EF 70-300 f/4.5-6.6 L IS zoom, an EF 8-15 mm f/4 L fisheye zoom lens, an EF 300mm f/2.8 IS Mark-II lens, and an EF 400 mm f/2.6 IS mark-II lens, not to mention version III of their 1.4x and 2x extenders. Plus new mark-II versions of the 500mm f/4 and 600 mm f/4 lenses are also in the pipeline. That’s quite a lot of new glass. But have you seen the prices!

I’m sure that a few of these lenses may have been on your wish list as well as mine, but when I saw the prices I must admit I was simply gob smacked!

Lets take the extenders for a start. The current version II of these sell at about £260-£270 within the UK, but the suggested retail prices of the new versions are £549.99. That’s a price increase of around 107%. Sure there may be some improved optics, but a price increase of that much…wow.! They are going to have to be really, really good.

EF300mm-f2-8L Lens Next I’d like to mention the EF 300 mm f/2.8 IS USM lens. This is a lens I’ve have coveted ever since I had the chance to borrow one for a brief time at one of my kids school sports days. It’s a simply fabulous lens, receives 10/10 reviews and is generally regarded as one of the best pieces of glass in Canon’s current line-up. One wonders just how this could be improved? It’s also a lens that really seems to perform with the 1.4x and 2.0x extenders so would be ideal for wildlife photography too. Ever since that sports day I’ve paid close attention to the price of this lens, which was around £2,500 and just too much to fork out back then. To my horror the price of this shot up to around £3500 plus in January 2010 with Canon citing falling exchange rates (more on that below) necessitating an across the board increase in lens prices. To be honest the lens then became just a pipe dream.

The new version II of this lens is priced at a staggering £7,499.99 which is a inordinately large sum for a 300 mm lens no matter how good it may be. This is an increase of over £4000 on the previous model. How on earth can Canon possibly justify such an increase no matter how good the lens performs?

According to Canon the new 300mm f/2.5 mark-II has a the new IS version II, is a lot lighter due to new titanium components, and has 16 lens elements with high performance fluorite elements. However, the current 300mm f/2.8 has 17 elements, weighs only 150 grams more, and is practically the same size at only 4mm shorter. They look practically identical. IS-II is supposed to give quicker stabilisation and a up to 4-stops, but on spec. the new lens is going to have to have some sort of mind boggling, blistering, optical performance to be able to justify such a hike in price.

It will be very interesting to see what happens to the price of the EF 300mm f/2.8 IS mark-I. Normally you’d expect a lens to come down in price when superseded, but version-I is so good you may see existing supplies being snapped up quickly as many will view the mark-II as simply unaffordable.

The Yen Exchange Rate debacle

At the end of January 2010 the retail price of Canon lenses increased by an average of 30-40% across the board within the UK, with Canon citing the strengthening Yen against the British pound necessitating the price hikes. Well lets just have a look at that shall we. image At the beginning of 2009 you’d get around 130 Yen to your pound, but from January through till August the value of the Yen to the British pound actually fell reaching almost 157 yen to the pound. This meant Canon were actually earning more Yen for their British sales within that period. Were prices reduced in the UK? No they remained pretty much the same. During the later part of 2009 the exchange rate stabilised at around 147 yen to the pound which continued through to the start of 2010.image

At the end of January 2010 the rate fell to from 147 to around 133 and Canon duly increase their prices. The pound has continued to fall steadily against the Yen throughout 2010 but even by September this year the average rate is 130 Yen to the pound. That’s exactly the same as it was in January 2009. Yet why are the same Canon lenses still 30-40% more dearer than 21 months ago?

Summary

I see little evidence from exchange rates for justification of such a huge increase in retail prices from Canon earlier this year and I also feel that the new lenses prices seem simply extortionate. To the serious amateur like myself, and no doubt millions others, Canon is simply pricing us out of the market and items such as these will be left merely for the super rich and high earning professionals. There’s no doubting Canons expertise, research and technology is absolutely top notch, but to see new models being priced at twice the price of the previous one smacks of greed and could alienate a large portion of it’s previously expanding customer base. It’s a real shame to see this happening as there is, without any doubt, a boom in photography and many more photographers are aspiring to acquire better quality glass. It seems to do this Canon will require a substantially larger slice of your hard earned dosh from now on.

I guess I for one, will have to keep buying the lottery tickets and hope!

When All Else Fails – The Gold-N-Blue Polarizer

Equipment & Techniques

As a amateur photographer and working man, achieving quality time for my hobby is more often than not quite difficult. For me, the main opportunity often turns out to be the family summer holiday. However, unless you’re off to sunnier climes and spectacular scenery overseas, here we have to put up with the unpredictability of the British climate. Many’s the time I’ve crawled out of bed at some ungodly hour, half asleep, and set off in the dark to some distant location

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A Non Mac-man’s View of the iPAD (and loss of faith in Microsoft?)

Editorial

You’ll probably wondering what an article an about the Apple iPad is doing in my photography blog. Well, so am I, really. But hey it’s my blog and it may just have some relevance in a rather convoluted way. You’ll notice I’ve stated View and not Review as I don’t intend to review the capabilities and functionality of the iPad. There are far too many reviews out there already from better qualified people, so I couldn’t really do it justice in that department. But I will however, present some of my opinions on why I may just be heading down Apple Way.

Steve Jobs Presents the iPad

I’ve been contemplating trying (buying) a Macbook pro for quite some time now (thus comes the relevance). If you have ever read my review of Windows 7, you’ll know why, but to put it in a nutshell I’m pissed off with Microsoft. For years I was a huge devotee and happily enjoyed each stage of Windows evolution, and by Windows XP SP2 felt pretty comfortable with a then stable OS system. Through work requirements, although never a huge fan, I grew to become a competent user of Microsoft Office, particularly Word and Excel, although Outlook has always left a sour taste in my mouth. Like similar persons of ‘my age’, my first serious foray into word processing was via the text-based WordPerfect and later the windows version, which at the time, was light years ahead of any thing Word could produce.

For spreadsheets it was Lotus 1-2-3, and then the fabulous Quattro from Borland, but eventually, by a process of attrition, Microsoft’s world dominance and client demands, I found myself having to use MS Word. Word is quirky, a tad clunky, and sometimes not the most intuitive program to use, however, through some not inconsiderable time, I’ve become accustomed to all it’s quirkiness and would happily describe myself as a competent and experienced user. That was until, the dreadful Office 2007 and the hideous Ribbon!

MS Ribbon Horror

Having spent a considerable number of years using Microsoft products and so many hours of my life invested in becoming an experienced user, Microsoft, in it’s infinite wisdom, suddenly decided that the toolbar style and menu style interface that we all were perfectly at home with was no longer valid, and turned to some school teacher to design the ‘Ribbon’ interface. This, I’m afraid, simply awful implementation of a UI is so obviously designed for school children. But can we have our grown-up toolbars and menus back? No way! Microsoft has decided we can’t. I’m afraid this is where MS have simply become far too big for their boots. I’ve tried Office 2007, several times, but have simply given up since I just don’t have the time nor inclination to relearn what I know works in Office 2003. For Microsoft to not give users a choice of UI is absolutely unforgivable and a monumental mistake. Nobody likes being imposed upon.

Say No to Vista

And now we come to Vista. A defining moment in Microsoft’s history without doubt. Quite simply the biggest OS flop, period, and the best bit of advertising that Apple has ever had..and for free too! Vista looked flash for sure, when it worked that is. But was (still is?) the most unstable, and certainly the most annoying modern OS ever released. Unfortunately for me, a defunct desktop, meant a replacement with Vista. I also plumbed for a system supposedly tailor-made for photo-processing comprising an over-clocked quad core processor, 8GB ram and wait for it…..Vista 64 bit OS. Huge mistake!

Not only did half my hardware not work because there were no 64 bit drivers around, you also had to get used to daily crashes, the green line of death (a change from the BOD but just as deadly), and the incredibly pedantic and most annoying implementation of UAC (User Account Control) there ever could be. Vista just wasn’t stable, and would drive me up the wall.

The Great Windows 7 Ripoff

Herald the arrival of Windows 7. It got great reviews, and I had just about reached a point where I was sorely tempted to remove Vista and down grade (or perhaps that should be upgrade) to Windows XP 64 bit. More fool me… I waited and eventually decided to give MS just one more chance. I’ll say it again, one more chance!

Windows 7 is certainly more stable for sure, it’s workable, but it still crashes, and it’s 95% Vista code with the same Vista bugs. But hey, haven’t I already paid for Vista? Yes. Then 95% of what I’ve paid for I already have? Yes. And that didn’t work too well either? No. And you paid how much? 175 quid! Boy have I been ripped off. Yes the great MS rip-off has conned millions, myself included, big time. Windows 7 is really only a Vista Service Pack in disguise, putting right the things that didn’t work. But SP upgrades were free in the past weren’t they? Yes. But not this one.

When first installed Windows 7 uses a default task bar designed with huge icons for a touch screen PC. Who the hell has one of those? I think the first thing everyone does, is re-configure the taskbar back to the previous incarnation.

What I find so annoying with Microsoft is that they are imposing things upon us and not giving their seasoned users the choice anymore. I know many people love the Office 2007 ribbon, I don’t, I hate it. I want the choice to choose which interface I use. Will they listen? I don’t think so.

The Apple iPad

And so at last to the iPad. When they first came out I just couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. A large iPhone duh! But whilst eyeing up a 15-inch MacBook Pro at my local Apple store in Sheffield, I and my two kids listened in on a quite knowledgeable young sales girl demoing the iPad to a potential customer. Well I was quite taken, so were the kids. This I thought, was the ideal device form my wife and what with her birthday coming up, and having no idea what to buy the woman who already has everything (sorry darling). How about an iPad?

My wife (I hope she won’t mind me saying), is a complete computer numpty. She has many talents, but operating a simple PC is just not her thing. Other guys in my industry who work away from home like me, receive regular emails, pictures, skypes and videos from their other halves. Me, well I’m lucky if I get 2 or 3 in a year. However, with an iPad maybe there’s hope. It’s so beautifully simple.

That was a couple of months ago and I judge the iPads success by how many emails I have received from my wife whilst I’ve been away overseas. In that case it’s a barnstorming success. I’ve had more emails in the last month than the previous 3 years put together. And guess what, she’s even using Skype now too. The iPad has been great for that and the kids can join in too since the built-in microphone is good enough for conference calls. It works a treat. I know for many of you this is pretty basic fodder, but for us it’s a huge leap forward.

My wife now happy browses the internet, buys stuff on Amazon, checks out the school site, communicates with her friends and many more things. She’s using the scheduler, notebook and contacts list, and playing Sudoku and the kids have been downloading games.

One thing Apple have really cracked is the touch screen keyboard. I’ve always hated such things but this one just works perfectly. The iPad is elegant, simplistic and a joy to use and probably the most convenient tool I’ve seen to browse the web with to date.

It’s been a huge hit in our house all round. The kids are now fighting over it and Dad has had to say it’s Mum’s device hands off.

I’ve enjoyed using it too. It’s great for browsing whilst sat in bed so I can envisage a ‘his’ and ‘hers’ iPad in the not too distant future.

Apple have a real hit here, and once again have set a new standard in the computer industry. I had though at one stage of buying the wife a netbook. The netbook is dead.

One the down side, there are some limitations, and things I miss. Having to do every thing through iTunes is a real pain. Not having the ability to connect an external USB HD or memory stick to download all your favourite photos, documents, music or videos directly is a huge oversight as is not having a USB port. And Apple still insist in not supporting flash, a technology embedded in over 70% of all websites. I really don’t understand that one.

I used to thing Apple goods were for snobs. Not not any more. Microsoft has had enough of my money. My next laptop is going to be an Apple, but that will be another story…

Lowepro Pro Trekker 400 AW Backpack Review

Review of the Lowepro Pro Trekker 400 AW Photo Backpack

LowePro Trekker 400AW-1
I must confess to being bit of a camera bag junky. I’ve tried loads of bags and have so far failed in my quest to find THE prefect camera backpack. I guess the perfect backpack simply doesn’t exist as there is always something that could be improved, and personal tastes vary too. However, the Lowepro Pro Trekker 400 AW for me, comes seriously close.
By far the majority of my previous purchases have been bags by Lowepro as I’ve found them particularly well constructed, but I have also sampled bags from Kata, Crumpler and Tamrac. I’ve read countless reviews of bags too numerous to mention, and have scoured the net for useful user feedback, so with this particular purchase I took my time and did my research before I was ready to part with my hard earned cash.

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